Sunday, June 26, 2005

Two Big Words -- Context and Consensus

Those who know me, know that two words tend to drive my actions. The first is obvious if you’ve been paying attention to this blog … CONTEXT. The second also flows a lot here … CONSENSUS.

The better we understand the context of the buyer’s situation, the better we can customize the marketing and sales resources so that they deliver the value message so that it is personally relevant to everyone on the buying committee. Context must be understood if we are to gain the trust of the customer. Context shifts the discussion from how great we are to how great they are. Context brings purpose into the marketing and sales process by focusing on the customer’s situation and using your knowledge of the situation to deliver more personally relevant value.

Consensus is a different breed of cat. It is focused back on the internal team. Our businesses are a maze of silos, each of which is important to success, but each of which seldom marches along the same path. Internal politics. Individual goals accentuated by reward systems that often create more internal barriers than senior management realize. Individual processes and cultures that grow up in the silos and stand apart from the organization.

Effective marketers must pay attention to consensus building if major programs stand a chance of being successful.

I first learned this lesson some 25 years ago when I was responsible for running marketing programs at a manufacturer of home building products. I lost support for several good programs because I failed to build consensus with the managers in manufacturing and finance. Once this pain became severe enough, I decided to drop down out of the marketing ivory tower and get input from these other managers before I created big marketing programs. When people get the chance to provide input, they begin to buy into the program. Then when it launches, they have a sense of ownership and they do everything they can to help make it successful.

My next lesson in consensus building came about five years later, at the promotion marketing agency that I had helped found. We were producing promotion programs for major global clients, and doing it with significant success. Well, sort of. The programs did generate tons of sales leads, and the leads were qualified by our telemarketing team before they were sent on to the client’s sales team. And that’s where progress stopped. The marketers we worked for were confounded at their inability to get sales reps to follow-up on the leads being sent to them. On our end, as the agency developing the programs, we were well aware that if our programs did not result in closed sales, then our future was rather dim.

So we pulled the consensus thing back out of our bag of tricks. We convinced several of our clients to let us work directly with the opinion leaders in their sales teams. We involved these reps in the program development. Once they had a sense of ownership in the program, they were more likely to engage in the whole process. Result: A significant and measurable increase in pipeline activity.

Lesson learned: Come out of the ivory tower and get input from the internal team, including sales team opinion leaders. Incorporate their ideas into the marketing programs. Build the consensus across the organization. Result: more effective marketing programs and greater flow into the sales pipeline.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Marketers Need to Invent New Ways
to Get Our Messages to our Customers

The battle is nearly over. The customer has all but won. Customers can strip advertising out of their lives at will. In print, we scan past the ads. On television, we TiVo them. Online we launch our ad blockers.

Now that does not mean we don't watch the television shows, read the newspapers and magazines, read the websites and blogs. We find great value in the free content -- as long as we can block out the advertising.
But in a world with no advertising, who will pay to produce the content we all want to absorb?

Doc Searls discusses the dilemma in an excellent post.

How will we as marketers who are trying to simplify how we go to market, how will we endure. It is a problem we must resolve.

For me, it is making our advertising, promotions and public relations initiatives more valuable than they are today. We need to see these ads from the customer's point of view, and build value into them. We will need to innovate a new way of communicating. This is an exciting proposition, but the rules are changing, and changing fast.

We can take a lead from some early movers -- the pharmaceutical companies. They have shifted from marketing to the physicians and now go direct to the consumer. They appeal to our concerns. They provide programs to educate those specific individuals who are most in need of the knowledge and ignore the rest of us. Then they launch compliance programs to help motivate the consumer to stay on the proper medication program as recommended by the physician. All of this is adding value to just the people who need the help.

In the Box or Outside the Box?
Which Yields More Innovation?

Are boxes friends or enemies. Some boxes – the ones that become paradigms for how we get work done efficiently – these are good boxes. But even these can become traps to fend off innovation. So we always say “let’s think outside the box.”

But Dr. Peter Suedfeld, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, has completed research that puts people into a box of sorts – a dark room with no outside stimuli. And the people in the experiment exhibited increased creativity. He says “to the extent that a box keeps the outside world away, it may be better to think inside a box.”

That runs counter to the method used so successfully by Doug Hall where innovation happens inside a box -- the box being his Eureka Ranch, just north of Cincinnati. Doug can point to thousands of new products that resulted from Eureka experiences where teams are exposed to novel stimuli that spark new ideas. In large part, his process works because of his brilliant leadership in the sessions … but his use of stimulus exercises in a team setting is more than successful.

It might be interesting to have Suedfeld and Hall in a dark room and then in the think tank at Eureka Ranch to see which method results in more innovation. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Stupid Marketing Tricks

Ameritrade has offended blogger Chuck Salter ... seems he was transferring his account to another provider and Ameritrade charged him a $25 termination fee. That's $25 for cancelling an account because their service was rotten or their prices were high ... or any number of other vendor-caused problems. These days, such really stupid marketing mistakes hit the blogosphere with ferocity. Having read Chuck's calamity, I felt an obligation to viral his story and I am sure other bloggers will likewise alert Ameritrade's prospective customers on this abysmal customer service.

Those of us in marketing, hopefully will see such policies as a form of really terrible service.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Branding – Now that’s What I’m Talkin’ ‘bout!

KFC (that’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, for those of us who knew the brand before fried foods became a curse word) has revamped itself. According to Hub Magazine, KFC management took the brand back to its roots to help reverse a long and serious decline in revenue. Back to its roots meant regaining context with its core customers … people who wear their opinions on their sleeves and have bumper stickers on their cars and are pro NRA. Fried chicken is a meal straight from the ole South. In addition to a new message strategy, KFC also focused its menu on Southern fixings – candied yams, seasoned collard greens and sweet potato pie.

What I admire about this marketing shift is the courage it took to focus on a specific target audience profile and not to try and serve up chicken for the masses. Good marketing has to speak to the individual and do it within the context in which that individual lives. Most marketers strive for mass market share and dilute their messages and products so they appeal to everyone.

This is what I call “lowest common denominator” marketing. Say something that is so broad that it is true for everyone and not true for anyone.

The real gratification for KFC might be that they know they had this courage to do what their best customers wanted. It does not hurt that year over year sales have been growing since the transformation.

Developing the Value Proposition Statement

One CMO I recently talked with hit the issue on the head: “I know we’re different, I just don’t know how to say it.”

Adding to his woes, the company had something like 35 different products that could be purchased individually or as an integrated solution. The company sold these products into multiple vertical industries – each of which had different situations, language and issues. And there were multiple different kinds of customers who came together to form the buying committee – and each of these people had different roles and therefore different axes to grind. Without spending a fortune, how does this CMO possibly get a handle on his company messaging strategy? How does he resolve the cost of message validation against the value of the message?

Most large B2B companies like the one I work for … but you can name scads of others from 3M, to Cisco and HP to Toshiba Electronics … most are very complex organisms that are hard for customers to understand. So we engage in message development and validation research to boil our complexity down to a simple, understandable, relevant and valued message that can be stated so that it differentiates your business into one unlike any other.

Getting this message right is critical to long-term business success. Said wrong and prospective customers will not include you in the set of companies that they consider relevant to their needs. We tend to make this hard on customers. They have to wade through piles of vendor literature and websites, all making the same claims.

I look at Value Messaging as arriving at a paragraph that provides four essential statements.

Defines the business the company is in
Describes the value delivered to customers
Delivers proof that you actually deliver this value
Provides differentiation … unlike any other

This should not be confused with writing a company tagline, or an advertising campaign strategy. A Messaging Strategy precedes all that creative executional stuff that in the end will serve to make the message memorable. The 4-point message strategy likely will be a matrix of statements that descend from the company message to the divisional message to the product message. Everything should hold together, like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

The error most companies make is developing messages that are corporate-centric. They make the few people at the top feel good. They tend to ignore what it is that customers seek. Such messages tend to be descriptions of the products or services the company sells or an embellishment of product features. Booooring! Irelevaaaaant!. Meaaaaaningless!

Value Messaging requires input from key opinion leaders within the company – especially those that have customer-facing contact. If these people do not feel they had input in the message strategy, they can well stand back and subvert it later. There usually are lots of opinions, many of which conflict with each other. And there is usually very little in the way of facts to back up any of the opinions. And each opinion carries with it a potential for political bias. But the information gathered will play an important role in the final message strategy.

Getting there demands conversation with prospective and current customers. The customer’s voice can come only from the customer. It calls for qualitative research, analysis, interpretation and word crafting and visualization. The work involved is time-consuming and costly. It is demanding, often dealing with subtle nuances and fractional points of difference.

The customer will tell you the obvious. I want a bigger return on investment. I want speed to market. I want to increase shareholder value. I want to cut costs. Listening skills are essential … remember Peter Drucker: "The most important thing about communications is hearing what isn't said."

After all the research is completed. After all the customer comments are tabulated and scored and ranked. Then this process requires the skilled marketer to interpret the meaning and to write up what I would call the “message hypothesis.” With this in arm, we head back to the internal team and the customer to get validation and buy-in. This re-testing of the hypothesis hopefully proves out the message; if not, it is necessary to determine where the concepts went wrong and edit to get them right.

Or you can do as so many others who have come before us – screw the investment of time and money and pull out your pencil and use your experience to craft the message. So many others have done this. So many failures. So much wasted opportunity.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Did I hear an echo at Seth's Blog?

Seth Godin's post "Marketing has a Marketing Problem" closes out with a sentiment that reinforces my recent post at MarcomBlog -- "Choosing Words Carefully" and further echoed in my post on this blob -- "Marketing is a Sacred Trust."

We need to tell the story of marketing more effectively. If we were working on a Brand Message Strategy, we'd have a full-blown process to arrive at the message: The value for marketing at Company X is ...

Well, aside from the sacred trust we should all have to promote the wonders of ethical marketing ... let's take promoting marketing as seriously as we take promoting the brands under us. What is the value we bring to our companies? What is our proof statement? Now, that's something an internal blog can deliver but first we need to make it relevant to the people in sales, the people in finance, the people in IS, the people in HR.

Seth closes with: "Marketing is not about trickery or even insincerity. It's about spreading ideas that you believe in, sharing ideas you're passionate about... and doing it with authenticity. Marketing is about treating prospects and customers with respect, and realizing that it's easier to grow the amount of business you do with happy people than it is to find new strangers to accost."

That's what I call a sacred trust.

Best Face Forward is Key Differentiator

Jeffrey Rayport, former Harvard Business School professor, is another believer in the value of context. A new book reviewed by CMO Magazine -- Best Face Forward" -- Jeffrey co-authors with Bernard jaworski to argue that the way you touch your customers will be your competitive edge. Companies will differentiate not by what they sell, but by how they sell it. By understanding the desired customer experience outcome, we can work backward to manage the appropriate customer interactions more effectively.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Where Will "Best Practices" Take Us?

Few "tools" are more widely abused these days than so-called best practices. It's no wonder that most banks, supermarkets, airlines, retailers and professional services firms look astonishingly similar—they've been busy copying each other's best practices for decades. This warning comes from Michael W. McLaughlin on

There's no question this is a problem. Smart marketers know best practices are destroying differentiation. When we adopt another company's processes, we become less unique. Consider then, the danger of adopting an enterprise CRM software solution that requires the marketer to adopt the best practices hardwired into the software. Another five years of this and Delta Airlines will look like Kroger Supermarkets, and Kroger will look like Fed Ex. Look for flexibility so you can still own your own processes that separate you from the competition.

Lean Marketing's Mindset Principles

The Three Practices that Support the Transition to Lean Marketing

Lean marketing can benefit from the three fundamentals that underlie lean manufacturing not so much as a recipe of tasks to complete as it is a cultural mindset that crosses three different ways of thinking.

The 3 Reals” -- These three concepts about reality enable marketers to see the marketing environment more clearly and with less baggage from the past. The “Real Situation” helps us get real with reality. The “Real Thing” helps us see our products from the customer’s point of view so we can improve our product and service offerings. The “Real Place” focuses on the customer’s perspective for improving their experience; for you it will help see distribution and customer touchpoints more clearly.

The "5 Processes” -- These are akin to “best practices” that address the way we innovate, manage and improve marketing. It begins with processes to shift us from corporate-centricity to customer-centricity. Then we analyze the entire flow of marketing activities to eliminate waste, redundancy and inefficiency. Next, we shift marketing from its traditional silo mentality to one where activities are linked across a longitudinal horizon. Once we have programs that are effective and efficient, we begin the tracking of results so we can identify how marketing is performing. And last, we borrow from the Japanese business culture new approaches for continuous improvement.

“The 5 S’s” -- These are more of an ideological approach to improve productivity of marketing personnel so we can all get better at our skills. The 5S’s integrate common-sense with scientific methodology to improve analysis and problem solving, and to develop internal process standards for how we do marketing. The last of the S’s charts ways in which we can sustain our skills so that we get better and better at doing marketing.

Combined, they are Lean Marketing – a new mindset that will enable us to support our CEOs as they pursue the double mandate of creating value for customers and shareholders.

More US Manufacturing Ships Off to China

No sooner than I posted about Wal-Mart escorting in a wave of manufacturing moving to China than McKinsey announced The Haier Group, a Chinese diversified manufacturer, is in negotiations to buy the US appliance maker Maytag. The evidence is mounting.

Should We Keep On Meeting Like This?

Microsoft recently conducted an online survey. 38,000 of us responded and the conclusion is staggering. The Microsoft study discovered that workers average only three productive days per week. The main culprit: unproductive staff meetings. 69% of the 38,000 people surveyed considered meetings to be an unproductive use of time.

My conclusion is that we need to take meetings more seriously. Start with a goal and an agenda. Cover the agenda and get out. Sounds so simple. But like so many others, I am guilty of letting meetings wander around. For me, the dialogue is what I find helpful so I can make better decisions. But clearly this is not the most productive means of gathering input. Get rid of meetings? I doubt this would help either ... if so, we could all work from home and save the gas money.

To Wal-Mart or Not to Wal-Mart?
That is the Question.

Consumers are deeply divided over Wal-Mart, sending it to the top of the charts as both the best and the worst retailer, according to an American Demographics Perception Study.

It's sort of another example of "we get what we want."

We want cheap prices so Wal-Mart figures out how to deliver them. And we flock there. Wal-Mart is likely the largest customer for most consumer brand manufacturers, and these manufacturers have to make changes to meet the low price demand while still holding onto profit. So they move their factories to China and jobs disappear in America.

We like the cheap prices, but we want to keep our jobs.
So we both love and hate Wal-Mart.

What Women Want

Great mysteries have baffled men for ages, but there has never been one so vexing as how best to attract the opposite sex. Cargo magazine conducted an exclusive survey to find out what women really want. 866 women answered dozens of questions on hairstyles, shoes, scents, and even underwear to help you figure it out. Here's a preview of what they had to say.

What's Hot? 58 percent of women say men look sexiest in jeans and a T-shirt.

What's Not? Avoid anything overly trendy. 92 percent of women hate leather pants, 91 percent frown on chest-baring shirts, and 76 percent can't stand pleats.

Boxers or Briefs? A whopping 94 percent of respondents prefer boxers or boxer-briefs. Only 4 percent like tighty whities. 21 percent of women say go au naturel.

Hair or Comb-Over? Good news about hair loss - it doesn't bother women as much as it does men. 48 percent of the survey takers say guys shouldn't even worry about losing it, while 32 percent say go-with-the-flow and cut it all off. Only 1 percent suggested hiding it under a cap or a comb-over.

Keep it all in context!

Business transformation.
Change or perish!

Resisting change is a natural order of things. We get fat and happy with the way things are. Even if they are not ideal, it is easier tolerating the status quo than dealing with change and the unknown reality it can bring. But then the rules get changed on us by people we didn’t even see coming over the horizon. Take a little European company like Skype Technologies S.A. with a technology that lets people share their own resources with one another – legally.

Skype users allow the company to access their spare computing power and web connections as a collective resource to route phone calls between users. The network becomes a self-sustaining phone network. Users connect with other Skype users via headsets connected to their own computers. Better sound quality at no cost. Business Week Online gives an example … 35 employees at Meiosys, Inc., collectively connected to Skype. The company’s monthly long distance phone bill of $2,000 simply disappeared into the Internet. So, the folk at AT&T and MCI were sitting around fat and happy. No need to change, right? Think again. The once powerful phone companies are now losing an estimated 150,000 customers to Skype every day

Confirming the Obvious
Multi-tasking Dilutes Attention Span

Research will be released tomorrow that confirms people who multitask across two or more media at the same time dilute their attention to both media. This makes intuitive sense and is fairly obvious, but it provides facts to support what we all might logically have arrived at. Facts are good things.

The study was done by BIGresearch and will be presented at the ARF/ESOMAR Worldwide Audience Measurement Conference in Montreal on June 22. "It's apparent that multitasking and simultaneous media consumption creates competition for the same time and space attention," said BIGresearch's Joe Pilotta, who will present the findings along with integrated marketing guru Don Schultz of Northwestern University's Medill School.

The Significance of the Obvious

For marketers, the significance of bringing this obvious factor to the surface is that simultaneous media consumption can change the communications effectiveness of various media during the advertising process.

"When they simultaneously consume media, one of the media can morph into the background and back to the foreground intermittently." Not surprisingly, the study also revealed that electronic media - especially online, TV and radio - are most apt to be used in conjunction with other media. Print media are least likely.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Be Back Next Week

Blogging will have to wait. Got a wedding to go to in Buffalo so we're heading north tomorrow morning. Gee, this might be the longest span I've been disconnected in the last few years. Check back next week to see if I survived the drought.

Fast Facts from Harte-Hanks Webinar

A fast summary of an excellent webinar by Harte-Hanks and Forrester Research. The gems I picked up included:

-- The proliferation of new media devices like iPods are changing consumer behavior in ways that marketers must learn how to capitalize on.

-- The average tenure for a Chief Marketing Officer these days is less than 24 months. This is not a cushy job and leadership carries its perils.

-- Database marketers point to a common set of pains, one of the main issues unresolved is the enterprise coordination of a customer contact strategy.

-- C-level folk do not seem to trust customer data and trust even less what the data says. That's a biggie for all of us in direct marketing.

-- With complex products that require extended sales cycles, you need a strategy that includes "dialogue marketing" to help educate prospects one step at a time.

-- It is harder than ever to find qualified marketers with the range of skill sets and the experience to effectively do direct marketing. Which is a fact that makes the people at Harte-Hanks smile a bit because they're loaded with these people and look forward to more companies outsourcing dm to them.

How Many CEOs Care About Customers?

Everytime I think we marketers are making the shift to customer-centric marketing, I get this rude bucket of ice water pitched in my face. This time it came from reading “Tracking the Trends” in Pepper + Rogers’ 1to1 Magazine. Actually, it was two buckets of ice water packed into one blasting paragraph:

“Business news channel CNBC interviews CEOs every day, and Peppers & Rogers Group recently tracked those interviews for one month. In that time, 23 CEOs discussed their company strategies, and only six used the word customer. And in March, a Deloitte survey of 150 technology CEOs found that only 6 percent say building customer loyalty is their biggest challenge to sustaining growth. They are most concerned with bringing new products to market (27%), hiring salespeople (18%) and developing strategic relationships (15%).”

If this is where our CEOs are, then contextual marketers face a long, grinding uphill battle to get attention in the corner office … where we can make substantial positive impact for the companies we work at.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Context Impacts High Tech Marketing

HBS professors Gary Pisano and Robert Huckman discuss the implications of their research on how organization adopt technology in an interview with Sara Grant, Publications Coordinator, HBS Working Knowledge.

They did their research in hospitals but the findings impact technology adoption in other industries. The key, it turns out, is surprise, surprise: context. The better we understand the social context we are marketing and selling to, the more successful we will be.

The HBS interview notes: “The key lesson for managers is to be aware of the social context, or environment, of their organizations and to understand what aspects of that context interact with the specific requirements of a given technology.“

More from the interview: “For example, if it is clear that a new technology transfers more responsibility from the leader of a team to the team's members, it is important to think about how that requirement meshes with the social context of the firm. This assessment of fit will help a manager determine whether the technology is incompatible with the social context of the organization and, as a result, should not be adopted. If the technology is compatible, it may be the case that it is appropriate only for particular groups or individuals within the firm. If a manager decides to adopt a new technology for only part of the organization, he or she will need to remain aware of how that decision may affect the relationship between formal or informal social groups within the firm."

The key in such situations is for high tech marketers is to use their knowledge of a prospect’s particular social context to prevent turf battles from hindering the adoption of technologies that would otherwise improve productivity.”

Save the Trees and a Ton of Money

B2B Marketing Trends writes: “Shoot the Donkey: How one man’s vision saved a company $60,000 and a lot of trees.” That one man is my friend Steve Kayser. Thanks to him I have a spiffy "Shoot the Donkey" T-Shirt. Steve's career job is PR Director at Cincom. At night, he's kept busy writing scripts for movies. I've written about him before and because he's such a character and because he gets in the news so often, I will likely be writing about him again in the future. At any rate, if you are not yet a subscriber to his eNewsletter Expert Access, you should be!

Marketing is a Sacred Trust

So going to Seth's blog to help him celebrate winning the Blog of the Year Award, I hit his post on Tom Peters. It was powerful to see how Seth respected Tom and they entered and left the same presentation stage.

Which then caused me to go to Tom Peters' blog. I have not been back there for many moons. My last visit caused me such disappointment that I emailed him. The blog seemed overly engaged in promoting his services and books and the postings lacked interest. But now, this is a reaallly good blog full of more interesting stuff to read.

Like the post on "Sacred Trust." Looking inside at a jury through his eyes shows the seriousness that jurors take when delivering a legal decision.

The same should be true of each of us who are marketers. We must see our work as a sacred trust that brings value to our clients, and profit to our companies.

MarketingSherpa Best Blogs of the Year

Congratulations to Seth Godin on winning the Marketing Sherpa Individual Blog Award. Count me as one who voted for this always-interesting blog. Adrants is also top-notch.

The rules for selecting the winners provide a good guide for the rest of us who want to get better and better at blogging our hearts out ... which hopefully is the real result of any awards program:

#1. Personality:
Is there a clear personality? Do you feel like you know the writer(s)? Is there a feeling of intimacy that may be missing from mainstream media?

#2. Usefulness:
Is the information either darned useful or very enjoyable to read? Did it make you think, or laugh, or click? Are there handy links to other places?

#3. Writing style:
Is it a sales pitch badly disguised as a blog? Is it a long-winded column instead of a snappy, slightly-informal blog? Is it just news briefs without analysis or insight?

#4. Usability & design:
Is the typeface easy to read? Can you find links to archives? Is the writing concise and skimmable? Are graphics limited to what's useful or fun?

#5. Would you revisit?:
Is it useful or engaging enough for you to visit it again someday? Or will you forget it the minute after you vote?

Thought Leadership is
Kingpin to Contextual Marketing

I love it when other writers help me bring greater definition to what I call contextual marketing ... and to promote the benefits of being contextually relevant. So when I found this blog entry, you can imagine that it resonated with me.

This one at Revenue Roundtable is on using thought leadership as a business building tool and it includes some good tips on how to use context:

1. It must be relevant to your target audience or their sphere of influence.
2. It needs to be timely and address the issues faced by your target audience.
3. It needs to demonstrate your value and tie into your value proposition.
4. It needs to give more value than the time it takes to process and digest it.

Establishing thought leadership in a category of interest to a target audience has been a staple of contextual marketing, as we practiced it at WBK (my former promotion marketing agency) for two decades ... and it never failed to pull in customers for our clients. The blog medium is perfect for creating a position of thought leadership where you share some of your intellectual capital so that you establish rapport and trust with people who can purchase your products or services.

Corporate Blogs:
A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

One of the things corporate blogs can do well for their sponsors is to give the company a human face … to make it more approachable, more friendly, more personal.

Here’s a thought on adding context to corporate blogs: More and more, we are willing to accept photos that are not of “professional quality” just as long as the picture is relevant to the content, and the content is relevant to the reader. That’s what I mean by contextual communications.

Consider how cell phones with cameras can now eMail a photo for uploading on your blog. That let’s you take a picture of a customer service rep who is on the line day in and day out talking with your customers … now it’s easy to visually connect customers to your staff.

How Not to Learn from Customers

Well, I know there are a lot of people who look at me like I just hit them in the face with a cold salmon, but getting input from customers during a sales call on the customer is about as useful as a third ear. The setting of a sales call is not conducive to acquiring real, honest, useful information. The sales call is a negotiation, with each side trying to win. Yes, you can learn some useful information but if you don't balance this with calls on customers and prospects in a non-sales mode, you will have a very strange and biased point of view.

Better to take the time to do research interviews where your only goal is to listen to customers about their unmet needs. Record these and transcribe them. Then underline all the key statements made by the people being interviewed. Let their language come through; not your jargon. Let their emotions talk to you. Let them tell you about their needs and, more important, about their unmet needs. Record these underlinings into a spreadsheet and sort them, quantify them, rank them ... until you have a clear picture for how you can best help them in the future.

Drucker and Berra on Listening

To my previous post on listening to customers, from Peter Drucker: "The most important thing about communications is hearing what isn't said." What would Yogi Berra have to say about that? "You can see a lot just by listening."

Are They Real?

So you tell me, when is a blog real and when is it fake?

When movie directors like Peter Jackson invite fans in on the production of a movie while it is being produced, clearly he has a marketing agenda behind the blog. But the dialogue with his fans is something they crave. I'd call it a real blog that is 100% contextually relevant to the customers most likely to see the movie when it hits the theaters. Thanks to Business 2.0 for this alert.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Corporate Blogging? Get On With It Now!

My colleague Jim Robertson, product manager for Cincom Smalltalk, has some good advice for corporate bloggers on his blog with a post this morning "Slamming a Blog Stragegy."

This rant got started when Robert Manning at UPS dinged corporate blogging and Microsoft's Scoble countered with a devilish plan to prove to UPS that a blog reference would move UPS (or FedEx)up in a Google search.

Jim points out other reasons why blogging should be part of the corporate strategy. If you are hanging in the balance, Jim will provide the tipping point.

Ranting about Fake Blogs

Once in a while, I get caught up in ranting. I'm in one of those rants on a blog at
Buzz Marketing with Blogs, a blog that promotes a book by Susannah Gardner.

Susannah got a sliver of wood under my fingernails when she mentioned a talk she was going to be giving on "fake blogs."

She wrote: “Blogging continues to move out of the realm of personal diarists and into the hands of business professionals and marketers. The transition isn’t always smooth, especially as creative marketers use blogs in new ways to promote products, businesses and business strategies. Long-time bloggers often refer to these efforts as “fake” blogs, and the resulting hue and cry generates publicity – of the negative kind."

My rant stems from marketers in a sense condoning the terminology of “fake blogs” when referring to corporate sponsored blogs, to drive marketing objectives. Fake carries with it an interpretation of dishonest, deceptive and I firmly believe marketing should never be dishonest. It pains me when I see people looking at marketers (like me) as fake and deceptive people.

There is nothing fake about a marketing blog as long as it is relevant to the target audience most likely to read the blog. The technique might be one of creating what I would call a “character blog” designed to be a creative communication that entertains. That is a clever use of a medium – in this case of a blog to deliver a brand message in an entertaining manner.

Surely we can find a better term than “fake blogs” to describe those that are not traditional diaries. It seems so exclusionary, even snobby to imply that marketing blogs are fake. That would mean our direct mail is fake mail. Our TV commercials are fake TV. Our news releases are fake news. Some of these blog initiatives might be poorly done, but the rest should not be cast out with the bad.

A PR practitioner commented on my comment, basically confirming that she did see marketing communications as fake. “I think a large portion of the population would agree with these three statements (as being examples of fake communications) ... I know I do. That doesn’t mean I’m against them, just that I recognize a difference between the medium itself, and the advertising that exploits it.”
That’s where the danger line gets crossed. I fully realize there are many people that look at marketing as fake and exploitive.

The word ‘exploit’ is not in my vocabulary when it comes to how I view marketing. I see marketing as being helpful to prospective and current customers, as long as it remains relevant to their needs. It might be interruptive, but good marketing should never, ever be exploitive. If I felt that way, I’d find another way to make a living.

Which gets me back to my pickiness over words like “fake”—there’s nothing fake about good marketing whether it is on TV or on a blog. The blog we are creating at Cincom, the company where I do marketing, is designed to provide content to help managers simplify complex business processes so they can be more competitive ... it does not promote our products ... it is relationship marketing ... and it is certainly not fake.

We'll be putting our acclaimed eNewsletter Expert Access out in blog format soon. And it certainly is not fake.

We also have blogs about our products and our development of these products (Cincom Smalltalk, for instance)... which customers find very useful. They generate far more traffic than our website because customers want this information. I don’t think they see these as fake blogs.

Okay, now I have ranted. I can now move on to enjoying my Saturday. After I cut the grass, my mother is coming over this evening for lemon chicken and some good wine. Maybe I can talk my wife, my daughter and mother into watching "Lord of the Rings. Return of the King." NOT!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Transcendental Future of Marketing

David Wolfe continues with his thought-provoking postings at Ageless Marketing. His post on Transcending Our Primordial Roots hit me. He ponders the effect of genetic science coupled with a whole host of scientific advances will transcend us to a society where the well being of all surpasses the current human nature. He then ponders how this will impact marketing.

David writes: “The notion that the well being of all transcends the well being of self guts the foundation of traditional consumer marketing. Most such marketing makes the individual consumer the center of attention. This promotes egocentrism. In the Age of Transcendence, this will increasingly seem crude and unwarranted. This means marketers should be realigning the values they project to regain synchronicity with consumer values. The bottom line takeaway is that gradually but persistently people are becoming less concerned with the pettier needs of the individual self.”

It strikes me that designer babies do not point to “the well being of all” but rather a continuation of self interest – “my baby will be the smartest, prettiest one of all and most assuredly will be the president of the nation.”

Transcending to a place where “the well being of all” is not a genetic, nanotech outcome. It will come only when we begin truly caring for others above ourselves.

This transcendent concern for others is or should be the underpinning of CRM. When we as marketers move from loving our company to loving our customers, we will finally have the breakthrough that makes CRM a reality. When customers realize you love them, they will reward you with their business. That’s when we will enter the Age of Marketing Transcendence.

This transcendental future of marketing is in our hands.

Take the Next Step Is All We Ask

Here’s the real secret behind contextual marketing for . I’m not talking about establishing relevance. That’s the purpose of context. But once you have established this relationship with the customer where s/he sees you and your products as being relevant to unmet needs. Then what? Most marketers would say to go for the sale. That’s still the old model sneaking back into your old habits.

The secret is to know what steps your prospect must go through before they can make a buying decision – some of these are formal and stated, some (perhaps the most important) are hidden. But if they stay hidden from you, you will never be able to guide the prospect to a place where they will purchase from you. They might get there on their own, without help from you.

But the role of contextual marketing is to help them buy. That means you have to help them, one-step-at-a-time. Your communications goal for each outbound initiative is simple to get them to take the next step.

Maybe that next step is to convince them you have the experience to resolve their problems. Maybe it is to visit their facility and thus demonstrate that you care about them. Maybe they need to meet a senior executive from your company. Or you need to pass a credit clearance.

Contextual marketers break the customer’s buying process into finite steps and then plan outbound initiatives that remove barriers and move the prospect a step closer to making a positive purchase decision. It is a longitudinal process. Pre-planned. Measured. Calculated. If you do not get a “yes” at each step, you need to back up and try again. When you get the “yes” two things should happen – first go for a trial close and if that doesn’t work, you go back to the buying decision path with another outbound initiative to move the prospect one step further.

I know from experience that when we do this process correctly, the sales closure rate climbs.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Share Flippers Are Yet One More Barrier
to Effective Long-Term Marketing

I was reviewing a new ad campaign we are producing for Fortune Magazine with Cincom CEO Tom Nies ... and along the way the conversation veered off onto other topics.

Tom was lamenting the struggle public companies have in balancing the needs of shareholders with those of the customer. Shareholders, he noted, on average hold their shares in a company for just a bit over one year. Which is to say that that "share flippers" really don't have a vested interest in the companies they "own" and have even less interest in the customers.

What hit me about this observation was the impact that share flipping has on contextual marketing, which flat out is a long-term business strategy. The question that kept pounding through my head all day is: How can a CEO commit to a sound business strategy like contextual marketing if his/her only focus is on how shareholders will evaluate the next quarter's performance?

Maybe this is one of those fundamental reasons so many companies fail to take marketing seriously.

As marketers, this is one of those not-so-subtle barriers to achieving long-term marketing success, and is yet one more thing we have to get good at countering.

Are High Tech Analysts Doomed?

Speaking of high tech (my previous post), Louis Columbus -- fellow marketer at Cincom and a former analyst with one of the top high tech analyst consulting firms -- sees bloggers sharply cutting into the analyst business. He's got a point worth pondering. What good is an expensive analyst when you can head to the blogosphere and read what actual users of technology have to say?

Well, likely not. Seems we will always appreciate the thoughtful comments of a good analyst who reports objectively and honestly. It is one more example, from my perspective, of an important thing to remember about blogging -- it is part of the marketing and information mix, and it supplements richly and often with enormous impact. But we likely will continue to value the opinions of smart analysts when we are getting ready to plunk down a couple of hundred thousand bucks for a new technology.

But then, that's my opinion. Lou has his, and his opinion is supported by another active Cincom blogger ... Jim Robertson who has always held analyst firms as of questionable credibility. How else can you explain that analysts fail to see the beauty and power of Smalltalk as an application development environment that has many, many advantages over Java.

Long live controversy!

Harte-Hanks Delivers IT Contacts

Okay, enough about the fashion industry. Back to high-tech where I spend a lot of my time >>> specifically direct marketing. Anyone in the business knows there are three things that most impact direct mail success: list, list and list. But finding lists to drive results has not always been that easy. Now Harte-Hanks is delivering a database that is great for contextual marketers ... mostly because it is confirmed on a monthly basis ... this past April, they called 38,000 businesses and validated personal information on nearly 200,000 key people working in IT departments. I have a high degree of confidence in this information because a friend of mine, Andrew Ignatow, now works at Harte-Hanks and over a few beers he was bragging how this is no hyped-story. And because we use the HH lists where I work at Cincom. So, Andrew, here's a little plug for HH!

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Risk and Reward ... Your Call

Sarah at Tomato Nation might be an isolated complainer (with a great sense of humor) and the companies she’s ripping on might have done the proper customer discovery to know with minimal risk that the colors they chose for their fashions were spot on with their primary target audience. But her story rings true based on a career working for many, many companies. Way too often, we fail to even ask what they want. How contextual is that?

Case in point, one CEO I worked for begrudgingly agreed to a customer research project to help us hone our first-ever network TV advertising, providing he could complete the survey himself and compare his answers to the survey results. He had a lot of it right. But, he was shocked to find that price was not one of their concerns. We focused the message against unmet needs and launched at a higher price point than he believed possible. The customer won. The company won.

Skip the discovery and risks go straight up. Your campaign will miss the real needs. Your message will be seen as lacking relevance – the customer likely will not even open the mailer or notice the product on the shelf. Do it right and customers will reward you with their business.

Tomato Nation Nails Fashion Industry

Sarah Bunting -- the author at Tomato Nation has a humorous lecture about pockeless-skirts and the ever-changing seasonal fashion palette. Her lecture smacks right at an industry more interested in itself than in its customers ... certainly one that she feels could use a little old fashioned luvin (or what I would call contextual concern). She writes in her blog about how fashion designers pick colors that make no sense to her:

"I can't wear off-toned acid-y colors; I can't wear aqua or fuchsia, or that yellow that looks awesome on the African-American model on Banana Republic's website but "correctional facility" on me. I am a brunette who, doctor's orders, is also quite pale, it is what it is, I don't want special treatment -- but if you pick a palette that's problematic for some people in a given season, you need to offer basic black and white choices too. Otherwise, it's like you…don't care about my feelings or something. I mean, I don't love how everything has a cascade of ruffles around here these days, but I can live with it…in black. Burnt rose? Will not happen. Teal? Also will not happen, ever. "Purple is the color of rrrrrroyalty!" That's nice. Let royalty wear that hideous Pat Benatar top, then. Don't do that shit where you don't offer it in black because then everyone will buy it in black instead of in the traffic-cone-orange you stupidly manufactured umpteen thousand pairs of -- not my problem."

Read her full text if you want a good belly laugh, and a pointed lesson in contextual marketing.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Procter & Gamble Shutters Reflect

I got an eMail from P&G the other day notifying me that they were closing their Reflect business. Reflect, launched in the midst of the dot-com surge, was a P&G experiment to mass-customize beauty products. Reflect pushed contextual marketing to the outer limit. Women could order special cosmetics that were personalized to accentuate their personal style … there were, for example, thousands of shades of lip gloss.

I was fascinated at the concept and registered (under a female name) to get first-hand view for how mass-customized cosmetics would be marketed online.

As you might expect, the HTML eMail messages were compelling, attractive and personalized. But in the end, Reflect no longer fit P&G’s business model to stay focused on their big brand name products.

While Reflect is gone, you can bet that the marketers at Procter gained insights into their target market that will impact their other brands.

Apple Says "So Long IBM"

Apple's CEO Steve Jobs apparently caused an eruption today across the blogosphere. BlogPulse reports that more than half of today's top links refer in some way to Jobs' announcement Monday that Apple is switching from IBM to Intel chips in its computers by 2007. Among the reactions: There's the official Apple announcement, blogger commentary on PC vs. Mac by MacManX, live coverage of the event from MacObserver and the blogger at Northwest Noise offers some insights on the merging of Apple and Intel, two differently cultured corporations.

The Product Ecosystem at Apple

Alex Williams at Corante writes: "I listened to the Gillmor Gang Monday night and heard Adam Curry talk about his conversations with Steve Jobs about podcasting. Striking is how much Apple seems to get it. Podcasting fits into the DIY [do-it-yourself]decade of self-expression, which increasingly seems to be the theme of Apple's product ecosystem.

Apple sees clearly the context of its customers and has stunned the tech world by constantly reinventing itself around the customer.

... see the rest of the article at Podcasting.

Is Customer Love at the Root of our Success?

Contextual marketing (in my opinion, the pinnacle of efficient and effective marketing) has a tough time taking root where a corporate-centric, or product-centric attitude exists. Instead of making the shift to customer-centric, the messages we send out stay stuck in time. Locked on features and benefits. Geared around “how wonderful we are” copy that has little value for the customer.

This dilemma came roaring back to me one weekend when Dr. Tony Campolo led a retreat that I attended. He talked, joked and inspired … but mostly he challenged us. Did we reflect love to others in all that we did? If so, we’d probably act a whole lot different than we do. Can we care enough to share our love and support with a third-world boy or girl who lives in poverty. Dr. Campolo has started many organizations to help us share our love … you can link to one of them at

Could it be that love is at the heart of doing contextual marketing correctly?

If we really loved our customers, cared about their issues and pains, their desires and wants, the expectations that they hold out for us … would we act a whole lot different that we do today? Could caring love change the corporate scene and produce more valuable marketing communications?

If we loved your customers as much as we love our companies, how would the content on our websites change? How would our service offerings get better? Is it possible that customers would love us back?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Shifting to Customer-Centric Marketing

Put on your consumer hat on for a moment and ask yourself the following: Do you want to purchase products that a provider believes will make you more productive? Or do you want the provider to understand your situation and work cooperatively with you to solve your business problems?

If you prefer that providers focus on your needs instead of how they can shoehorn their products into your infrastructure, then you’re well on your way to recognizing the need for customer-centric business models.

Shifting to customer-centric business models is a tough multifaceted, complex issue. Companies in most categories – manufacturing, financial services, software, etc., struggle with this transformation every day. Product focus is bred into everything we do and undoing it is hard work.

Look at the financial services industry for an illustration of how far companies and customers can be from one another. In a study conducted by First Manhattan Consulting Group, 54 percent of financial-services respondents reported that "a lack of understanding of customer needs" was keeping them from finding a profitable Internet strategy.

At a recent Bank Administration Institute conference on retail delivery, bankers were asked to answer a series of questions posed earlier to consumers. Interestingly, with few exceptions, the bankers were out of synch with customers in a number of areas. For instance, when asked what service most financial consumers would pay for, 48 percent of bankers said advice and planning. In reality, only 20 percent of consumers said they'd pay for those services. When asked whether consumers would agree with the phrase "My life is different because of the Internet," 80 percent of bankers said yes, while only 33 percent of consumers did in fact agree.

Financial-services firms have to work hard to get into the minds of their customers. Most firms, when asked to list customer needs, mention “CDs” or 'investments' rather than 'long-term savings' or “aggressive portfolio growth.”

One of the direct benefits of detailed profiles is the ability to home in on customer needs and find ways to meet those needs. Firms moving into this realm recognize this as a critical component of their personalization strategies.

Unfortunately, shifting from thinking about products to thinking about customers can be a challenge. Most firms are organized around products, and even those that have shifted still focus more on product sales than customer needs.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Transcending Old World Marketing
Where is it all Headed?

Can we agree that marketing must change?

P&G’s chief exec, A. F. Lafley, thought so when he said, “We need to reinvent the way we market to consumers. We need a new model. It does not exist. No one else has one yet.” Laffley’s marketing director, Jim Stengel, sees the same thing when he tells an ANA audience that “Marketing is broken.” This from the most successful marketing firm in the world, and certainly one that would prefer to stay with the old world order of things.

First our strategy. Then the media. Then the medial

Again, in my last post here, Laffley pointed to the strategy for change: it's the customer. Give here what she wants.

Then the media ... how we talk with them. The media are in a mess.

It doesn’t help when CBS and the New York Times shoot themselves in the foot, and it doesn’t help when big advertisers try to muscle control over the editorial of news media. The world of Big Mass Media has been tailspinning for quite a long time. Demographics are working against them. Media proliferation is working against them. The Internet – along with blogs, the newest extension of the WWW – this is working against them. Culture is working against them.

The facts confirm the notion. Newspaper circulation has been declining 0.5% to 1.0% annually since the mid-1980s. Cable now has more viewers than the networks. iPods and iTunes are revolutionizing how we consume music.

As marketers, we are well aware of the shift.

The immediate implication is on how we select media to deliver our marketing messages.

Media directors at agencies, big and small, have been experimenting with all sorts of new permutations of media. Cable TV, online contextual advertising, satellite radio, XM radio, podcasting. All are more personalized media carrying content that niches find more relevant to their needs than the half-hour sit-coms and reality shows or an afternoon cuddled up with the New York Times. No wonder we have media directors experimenting with advertising in movie theaters and a resurgence of direct mail – the only medium that has grown while the big media are shrinking (see my post at MarcomBlog).

The secondary implication is being realized more slowly, and being addressed successfully even more slowly.

This is the message content that we deliver as marketers.

No longer can these messages stroke on and on about how wonderful our products are. Marketers who stick to this old song will fade away into history along with the mass media they have lived on for so long.

The messages today must be ever more relevant to the customer. This goes beyond the simple flipping of content from “features” to “benefits.” Today, our marketing programs must be more helpful to customers. We must fit into individual lives with a relevance that surpasses anything we’ve ever done before. We must earn their trust before we can sell to them. This shift is transcendent. Product brochures don’t cut it in a time when customers have all the power, and where they want to know what you will do for them – in addition to selling them something they need.

Essential is a better understanding of customer profiles and the kinds of things that targeted customers find interesting and useful. When we start marketing initiatives now, we look back at the “topic tree” – a quantitatively scaled tree system of content that individual customers find most interesting when they traverse the website. Building from this base of knowledge, we can create content that will be more in tune with what the customer wants, and we can lead the customer, step-by-step, along their buying path to get our offerings in the considered set, and then eventually to convince them we are the best company with which to partner.

This is a whole different way of marketing. I think it is different enough to call it transcendental.

Friday, June 03, 2005

P&G Has One Simple Rule
for Doubling Share Value

Procter & Gambles CEO A.G.Lafley leads what has historically been the most powerful consumer marketing company in the world. It is a vastly complex company (and one I was proud to serve for 20 years when I owned my promotion marketing agency). But Wall Street Journal this week reports that despite the company's complexity, Lafley has one simple rule: Find out what she wants and give it to her. Take care of the customer and the customer will respond. With a touch of humor, Lafley notes that this simple rule has worked in his marriage for 35 years and it works just as well for laundry detergents.

His statement is about women consumers and, it reflects a philosophical shift on the part of P&G to look outside the company for solutions to problems. Now, P&G is spending hours watching women use their products to learn what women care about most. With such observations, P&G marketers become increasingly aware of the context in which their products get used ... it is the context that then increases product relevance.

The nice thing about context at P&G -- following Lafley's simple rule the company's stock has doubled since he took over the helm.

Maybe context pays off :-)

Don't Fall to Hubris;
Hilton Hotels Latest Example

Joe Baldoni, leadership consultant, gives us all reason to pause over what he calls "hubris" and what I might call "arrogance." Either word is danger to successful marketing.

It's in an article called "Avoiding Hubris" on Darwin's online newsletter, he writes: "Hubris is a human failing. The Greeks originated the word and Greek playwrights made liberal use of it in their tragedies. Most of us mortals are guilty of it. And to deny that guilt is an act of hubris in itself. Hubris is a divisive act. When leaders make mistakes they fail to acknowledge yet punish others for similar failing, they are guilty of the “superiority complex." That is, the rules do not apply to me."

Baldoni cites several examples of hubris -- Bud Selig and the Baseball Players Union, Michael Eisner, even Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Well written and thought provoking!

Marketing is in a predominant place at most companies, so when we as marketers fail to observe the rules, fail to realize the customer should be honored, and fail to be scrupuously honest ... then we pull the whole business down.

Such is the case where marketers at Hilton Hotels have apparently asked ad agencies to give up their rights to all speculative material created for the hotel's $45 million agency review. Joe Jaffe calls the requirement "highway robbery and the worst possible insult to every last bit of integrity left in the ad business to have ideas from losing contenders implemented down the line without compensating for them."

If you fall to hubris, don't be surprised to find yourself pulled to task in about a half million blogs where you cannot hide the mistakes.

Clear Channel Podcasting is
Contextually Right On

Opt-in advertising will grow as podcasting provides audio content that selective consumers want to listen to.

Clear Channel Radio will offer podcasts of Phone Tap, a popular sketch that airs on New York’s Z100 morning show. This initiative is the first in what Clear Channel it hopes to be a national podcasting strategy that allows listeners to download snippets of popular programming, either individually as an MP3 file or as part of an RSS stream. The podcasts, free to consumers, will be ad-supported and the company is reportedly shopping 15-second spots to advertisers.

This is yet another foray into contextual marketing where the audience is in control of what it listens to or views. Smart marketers are learning the power of context over the more intrusive mass-communications. This calls for a whole new breed of media analysts who are really good at understanding the customer profiles that will drive business success.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Simple is Powerful.
RSS is Changing the Rules.

Web journalist Matt McAlister writes: "The day InfoWorld's top news RSS feed received more requests than our home page, I started thinking a frightening thought: RSS is doing to the Web today what the Web has been doing to print for the last several years. We have disintermediated our Web site by offering our news in an easier to access format...again."

Now that should get us all to thinking. Admittedly not all the RSS feeds at InfoWorld's news feed will actually get read, but the metrics are mounting so rapidly that any of us in marketing had better get smart on RSS, if we're not there yet. For one, I've been scrambling like crazy these past six months when I finally decided I had to begin blogging just to understand this new delivery technology.

Where will this RSS thing take us? Will we lose control of the messaging we so meticulously cultivate?

What we have now is a new tool. What we do with it is up to our own ingenuity.

That's one of the things I love about marketing as a career. I've been at it for 30 years and I have been fortunate to work with some of America's best marketing companies along the way. I think I have a pretty good handle on the discipline. But I learn something new everyday. It makes life a bit hectic, but keeps you young.

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