Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store.

On my recent trip, I finally got around to making the obligatory visit to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store.

When you read about this place, you tend to read about the zany merchandise and the humour of the place. But while that's all there, what I saw was a great example of marketing to different audiences.

The store itself is designed to be remarkable. It's their display advertising aimed at people such as me who will be intrigued enough to visit and then spread the word about the store and its real purpose.

Interestingly, a number of local people with whom I spoke thought it was just a retail store and were amazed to be told that it was really a front for an after-school education programme. They'd have been even more amazed to know the minuscule amounts that the store earns every day.

But the kids who stream in to use the service are reacting to different marketing. They may well have been intrigued by the display advertising initially, but they pay it no attention now. For them, this false shelving is the marketing. It's the door to the classroom.

They're much more interested in their secret place, their ownership of that place that's inherent in their sharing in that secrecy and their knowledge of what it's giving them.

Display advertising works for some people. To really hook your users you need something more powerful. I made one visit - they keep coming back.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Glass Half Empty.

Marketing is generally focussed on encouraging people to acquire something they don't have.

But what if people are motivated more by the fear of losing something they have rather than the disappointment of not getting something new?

If people are motivated by avoiding negatives such as fear, regret or death, how do you reframe your approach?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Questions Are you Answering?

I spent some hours yesterday critiquing the usability of a forthcoming expensive website and did so largely on the basis that the designers had not asked what journey they expected their users to be taking. So, it was particularly apposite to see Ben pointing out the excellence of Google's print dialogue box as reproduced above. A dialogue box that is designed with the user's journey/questions in mind.

Businesses provide answers for and to customers' questions. Marketing which starts with the design of your product/service should be similarly predicated on those questions. Putting yourself in the customers' shoes is what you have to do, but that does not mean asking yourself or pointless focus groups whether they would like a certain new feature.

Putting yourself in the customers' shoes is all about imagining the journey they want to take in using your product/service. It's about predicting the questions they are going to want answered and it's about making sure you answer all of them better than anyone else.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Think Local.

I caught up with an old friend/client who runs three business locations in Manhattan - downtown, midtown and uptown. It turns out that even within that small area, the effectiveness of various media is different.

Downtown people are more susceptible to online, midtown density lends itself to outdoor and uptown needs the direct marketing route. The customers are similar but their environments and lifestyles are different.

It's a good reminder that aggregating an audience geographically can be as naive as doing it demographically.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Markets Are Presentations.

"A bullet-point that wraps around is not a bullet-point, it's a badly written sentence."

Another great quote from SXSW. This time from a panel about presentations and said by a trail lawyer turned presentation expert.

It's applicable to presentations, of course, but to so much more. After all, a presentation is simply the act of marketing information to an audience. So when you endure your next presentation, use the time effectively. Work out why you're hating it and make sure you're not subjecting your customers to a similar experience.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Kubrick's Five Marketing Lessons.

Marketing is everybody's job and yet many people deny their role in it. They do so either by neglect or ignorance. Neglect occurs when people forget that every interaction is a marketing occasion or, more accurately, the opportunity not to create a bad impression/experience. Ignorance is often more benign and occurs when people are living by marketing principles without knowing it.

I witnessed a great example of the latter here in Austin while sitting in on a fabulous chat with Jan Harlan - brother in law of, and executive producer to Stanley Kubrick. He explicitly denied any real involvement in marketing campaigns, but so many of the things he said about his production philosophy were steeped in great marketing thinking.

1) Get the first three minutes right.

That's nothing other than engaging the customer. Ensuring that you rapidly pique their attention and curiosity while not confusing or boring them.

2) If there's something wrong with the ending, check the beginning.

In other words, focus on getting the product right by focussing not just on where you're aiming (because as I keep saying, your actual customers may not even be there), but on where you're starting from.

3) You've only got one chance.

His full statement was, "you've got just two hours and an audience that comes once". That might seem movie-specific, but it's really not. Think of your customers as a movie audience with their attendant expectations and word of mouth potential and you'll be reminded that "always in beta" is more about continuous improvement than an excuse to make mistakes.

4) Trust your audience.

A corollary of point 1 in my eyes. Not giving them what they want is bad enough, patronising them in any way is worse. Don't keep them in the dark for sure, but don't treat them as idiots either. Give them the tools and the opportunities to understand and appreciate the full potential of your product/service. Their discovery will enhance their enthusiasm.

5) Go and get.

In typical self-deprecating style, he remarked that "Executive Producer is a meaningless title. What I do is I negotiate. I go and get what's needed." This included making four trips to Venice to buy face masks for Eyes Wide Shut because the costume designer was better employed back at base. Marketing departments are all too often about the business of marketing and not about going and getting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Problem With Marketing.

If someone says they work in marketing, the next response is frequently "What do you market?" As if all expertise was sector or product-specific.

The problem with marketing (well one of the many) is that its practitioners do a lousy job of marketing themselves and what they do.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Trust Your Users.

In the space of about ten hours last Saturday, a large room full of geeks and coders created twenty nine different "manipulations" of government data sources with a view to "Coding A Better Country" because:

"Government isn't very good at computers. They spend millions to produce mediocre websites, hide away really useful public information and generally get it wrong. Which is a shame."

They adapted and mashed-up existing websites to generate unbranded utilities that delivered something they, as citizens, felt was better than that which already existed.

You can see an archive of what was produced here (videos here) and dwell on the fact that, yet again, it's a case of what can be achieved if you help your users decide how they want to use your product/service rather than imposing on them your view of what they want.

It doesn't lead to a diminution of your business. It makes people more likely to be your users/customers.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Joy To The World.

When the going gets tough, there is a tendency to talk everything down. But what people really want is to be told that there is hope out there, that there is a route to something better. Maketers know this and it's leading to a surfeit of advertising designed to elicit feelings of joy.

But joy is a feeling of deep happiness and contentment. It is not some fleeting moment of a smile when you see a gorilla or a station filled with "dancers". This is not a time for coating your product/service with a patina of positive thinking. It is a time to shape that product/service so that people feel utterly content when they use it with nothing going wrong at a functional level and their spirits lifted by your having eased them through some aspect of their day

Tougher to do, but much more arresting than mere entertainment.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Instant Identification.

Q Why was a gas company collecting money from an office?
A Because it's a security company with a bad logo (G4S).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Customer Says No.

It's been a while since I linked to Seth Godin (and let's face it he needs the traffic) so let me commend his recent post in which he reminds us that if your potential customer hears you saying yes rather than no, they are far more likely to keep coming back to you. It's such a simple thought, but so often systems, the removal of initiative and lack of incentives mean that it doesn't happen.

But saying yes isn't enough. You also have to minimise the reasons for your customer to say no. Not hearing yes from you would be one reason they might say no, but there are many more. They include the prolonged telephone tree that gives you numerous filters before you get to a human being, the unwanted upselling of unrelated financial products and the confusing user interface. Eliminating anything that puts an obstacle between your customer and the sale is far more worthy of your time than dreaming up ways of getting attention or increasing awareness.

Get people's attention when you're sure that there's a direct route from that attention to their becoming a customer. Not before.

Monday, March 02, 2009

You Have A Website?

So Skittles has done what digital agencies Modernista and Zeus Jones did some time ago and turned its website into a series of social media links. But where Zeus Jones and Modernista were demonstrating that they undestood the arena in which they were operating, Skittles have really just changed their website.

There's no branded utility here - if I didn't want to visit their website, I surely won't change my mind because there are more options now. If I'm web savvy, I'll have all those links on my desktop anyway. And inevitably, there are software conflicts - I was asked to upgrade my browser before gaining access. Is it only me who wonders how large a proportion of internet users have a set-up that works for them but falls some way short of that felt to be the norm by early-adopting website designers?

Yes, it's generating a lot of noise in the social media village, but where's the interaction that is at the heart of the tools to which they're linking? Why do I want a widget sending me what will inevitably be corporate-influenced RSS feeds on my computer? Where's the permissive engagement? To me, it's too close to an old-school awareness exercise.

Now people will say that Skittles (or anyone else) will be able to "leverage" that awareness for the good of their product, but there's no such deal here. Getting a widget onto people's computers is like the worst kind of sponsorship that just plasters its logo all over an event with no reference to the context - it's all about presence and very little about purpose. When you view it in those terms, leverage becomes a synonym for exploit and people don't like to be exploited.

Bottom line for me - people don't visit websites to be promoted to and they certainly don't return to them, so trying to update one beyond providing constant accurate infomation seems like an expensive exercise in futility. What you mean to your customers is no longer - if it ever was - determined by your website.