Thursday, July 21, 2011

Are You an Initiator or Responder?

An initiator spends their time trying to think big and solve problems…a responder spends their time trying to figure out how to keep people happy and tries to extinguish fires.

An initiator spends their time taking risks…a responder spends their time trying to stay safe.

An initiator spends all of their time as a servant leader…a responder spends all of their time trying to please people.

An initiator will lead without fear of the consequences…a responder will say what makes people happy for self gain.

An initiator spends all of their time trying to figure out what’s next…and a responder spends all their time trying to figure out how to guard the past and the present.

An initiator seeks to achieve the impossible…a responder seeks to save face.

An initiator will surround himself with people who will speak their minds…a responder want people around him who will say what they want to hear.

An initiator wants to meet with people who do not think like him…a responder is threatened by people who aren’t just like him.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Thoughts on Social Media: A Pragmatist's Point of View

There isn't enough time in the day to ponder and discuss all the things that puzzle me and intrigue me about the social media evolution. After much thought, I realized it was time to put these things into perspective. Listen to what the self-proclaimed experts are saying and apply it to what I know based on my own 15+ years experience in the business world. So, here is my take on several different topics related to social media....

1. Social Media Coup

When I heard that Google was attempting to stage a coup to usurp the Facebook domination of the social media world, I wondered what they were thinking. After all, basic principles of marketing apply...even to Google. Facebook is the leader and all those that follow will likely be limited to early adopters. Does Google really believe that it will persuade over half of the American population to switch? After receiving my invite, and perusing Google+ I became even more perplexed. After all the hype and attempt at intrigue (Invite only? Really?) I'm disappointed. Its...OK, but its just not that compelling.

My advice to Google? If you want to be seen as a leader in a category...define a new one and stop trying to be what you aren't. Right now, you're just a day late and a dollar short.

2. Tool vs. Strategy

I'm not sure where it began or how it took hold, but it seems as if there are people that believe that social media is something more than another tool in the marketing tool belt. As if somehow its different from all the other trends that have expanded and collapsed over decades of the advertising life cycle. Take for example the trends in Radio, starting with the first radio commercial in 1922; followed by television then the Internet and websites. And now, here we are again at the onset of a trend. Call it an evolution or revolution: regardless, in terms of its application to business, social media is another trend that can be used as a tool to reach a myriad of consumers. As exciting as this trend appears, participative advertising is nothing new, we just have a more powerful medium of delivering it. That delivery must still be dictated by smart marketing strategy and in conjunction with every other tool.

I once used an analogy of a planting a garden. Think of your brand as a garden. In order plant awareness and grow equity, you must develop the plan first; decide where to put your seeds, incorporate techniques and processes to nurture and finally harvest your existing and potential customers. There are many tools you may need to do in this process: social media, customer retention and referral programs, traditional media, etc. Regardless, if all you're doing is using one tool on an empty patch of may dig your way to China...but you wont do much for your brand.

3. B2B vs. B2C

Social media can be a successful tool when its not something you do just because you can (or because someone says you should). The reality is, participative advertising and social media is most effective when your targeting directly to the consumer. As an example, lets look at the top 5 brands on Facebook:

1) Facebook (9,024,542 Fans)
2) Starbucks (7,217,370 Fans)
3) Coca-Cola (5,529,595 Fans)
4) YouTube (5,082,221 Fans)
5) Disney (3,475,487 Fans)

Note that not one of these is a B2B organization (you won't even find one in the Top 20). Each successfully markets directly to consumers. Compare these numbers to one of the US's top B2B brands, Cisco, with only 54,580 'Likes'. B2B and B2C organizations are as different as night and day; black and white; apples and oranges. To suggest that because you are a business you 'should' be engaging in social media just isn't reflective of reality. In truth, social media outlets like Facebook (and even Twitter) are most effective for engaging directly with consumers. Sure, we could discuss using participative advertising to augment a pull-through strategy, but even then the success rate is likely to be limited to the existing brand awareness.

So let this be a warning. If you are running a B2B organization and are fending off solicitors of social media that insist you need to be participating in the trend...consider it carefully...and with your overall marketing strategy in mind. Once you have done that, begin by limiting your social media presence to Linkedin and other specialized business platforms.

4. Talk, Twitter, Talk

If there is one thing that I have yet to figure out about Twitter is this: Why is everyone talking about social media?? I like to think that the lists of those that I follow is somewhat indicative of the average professional: Some "experts" (primarily in marketing), news organizations, and local businesses. With this massive assumption in mind, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I spent one hour just watching the Twitter feeds roll; listening to the subtle sounds of TweetDeck. As I watched this virtual carnival of information fly, I realized that at least half of it was discussing the power or potential of social media. Even more interesting is the fact that the primary point was engagement with consumers. So here I am, watching my lists talk about engaging...and yet only a handful of the hundreds...are actually engaging.

So, to my fellow tweeters, stop talking at me and start engaging. Isn't that what you're trying to sell in the first place?

5. Opportunity to Inspire

It occurred to me that it may appear that I'm down on social media which couldn't be further from the truth. I greatly enjoy using social media to engage with my friends, family, peers and business contacts. I have Facebook pages and I tweet. My Linkedin network is quite substantial and I enjoy learning about every new facet of the trend. There is, however, one thing that social media offers to a global society that we as marketers do not talk about enough: inspiration.

Millions can be inspired by one tweet or post, and not to buy something or to 'Like' a page, but to change a country, clean up the planet, or donate to save a life. It is the non-profits of the world, that serve for the common good, that seem to get the least amount of attention in all the social media buzz when it is they that are best served by this trend. Access to millions of people that before, did not know how access information, help or contribute can now do so at the click of a button. The opportunity to inspire is all around us in the social media evolution (or revolution) and yet we marketers spend most of our time figuring out how to increase our ROI and conspire to persuade people to like us.

So, here is a challenge to all the social media experts out there: use this trend for good as much as for profit. Donate your time and expertise to help a non-profit make an impact through social media. Inspire others to do the same by tweeting about it. Trends die because they cease to be profitable...if you want social media to thrive in a global economy, make it socially viable and relevant for good much as profits.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 'Field of Dreams' Myth

If You Build It, They Will Come

The movie Field of Dreams inspired people to believe that all it took was a decision to make something happen. The building of a baseball field in the midst of cornfields and dirt roads would drive people in droves to experience something.

"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack." Terrance Mann, played brilliantly by James Earl Jones, convinced the Costner character that all it took was building the opportunity. As occurs in just about every movie, the impossible became a reality and the people came.

Too often, those of us in the business of providing marketing services and solutions to clients fall victim to the belief system that if we build it, they will come...and stay. Once the logo is designed and the website is built; the SEO strategy in place, we can wear the banner of success...touting our victory to all who will listen. "Look at us. We are marketing experts. Now they will come." The reality is, if were doing our job well, the efforts we employ in partnership with a business need to create more than just short-term spikes in traffic. We need to develop an environment in which evangelists...those customers that remain long after the shelf-life of an agency...are developed and nurtured.

Unfortunately, unlike in the movie Field of Dreams, the process of attracting new and repeat customers is far more complicated. Developing evangelists, which is the ultimate goal of any marketer, is even more complex. Consumers that are willing to be your greatest evangelists aren't doing so because you built a great website, have a cool logo or the most fans on Facebook. Potential customers may find the visual representations of your brand appealing and may even be inclined to act on it but its no guarantee that they will stay and become evangelists. Enter the difference between marketing and advertising.

As described in a previous blog, Marketing is not a website, an ad or a cool technology. Rather it is a process...a process that encompasses far more than just the development of external elements that may sway customer perception of your business.

Creating Evangelists

The evangelist is the most important person to your business. This is the person that tells everyone they know about the contribution your business has made to their life. Whether it be the vaccuum cleaner that finally picks up all the dog hair or the solution you developed to save their business. Regardless of what it is, this person can make or break your brand. No matter how cool your new website is. If a business is relying predominantly on the tool of advertising to create these evangelists, its most likely they will find themselves with little to no credibility. Building and maintaining a brand that generates evangelism requires multiple tools from the Marketing Toolbelt:

Loyalty Modeling

Maritz Research provides the following definition of Loyalty Modeling: "Competitive Loyalty Model (CLM) addresses loyalty from a brand research perspective. It provides information on what drives brand choice and brand repurchase in a competitive context, thereby helping companies understand how to increase customer loyalty versus the competition. It helps address quite tactically the question of what levers, including product or service attributes, the organization can address to grow customer loyalty relative to competitors?"

Once a business understands what consumers believe about the brand, why they do and dont come back, they can begin the steps to a strategy that will help in the development of evangelists. The value of loyal customers expands beyond just evangelism: Long term customers are less inclined to switch brands and are less price sensitive, are more likely to purchase ancillary products and high-margin supplementals, are less expensive to service due to familiarity, and promote employee satisfaction which ultimately feeds into the cycle of customer satisfaction.

Determining what drives your customers will help you develop not only creative, but strategic and more successful advertising strategies.

Customer Experience

Seems like a pretty simple and basic concept. Every business has at least one person dedicated to ensuring the customer is happy and has a great experience. What some businesses fail to recognize is that each person is responsible for customer service...and the customer is not always who you think it is. If we begin to define a customer as anyone we interact with on a daily basis (from the President of a company to the IT guy) the likelihood for it to carry over to our customers improves.

I am reminded of a situation in which I was stopping in at a company (which will go unnamed) to chat with their Marketing Director. The person behind the desk was unbearably rude and inhospitable. So much so that I decided the company itself wasn't worth my time...and left. Each and every instance of interaction, whether it be with customers, peers, outside reps or vendors is an opportunity to create an evangelist through a personable and enjoyable "experience". Just as someone who has utilized your product or service can generate great buzz for you...anyone whose had a negative experience can generate negative buzz. Its not enough to smile when they walk in the door and shake their hand when they leave. Each step in the process must be conducive to creating a great experience. If your operations arent equipped to create a superior experience over the competition, your cool logo and website designed to bring in swarms of new customers, will provide only a short term bubble.

If You Build It, Nurture It....and They Will Stay

Seems logical. If you say you're going to do it. If you claim to be the the best. If a customer feels that you have somehow not followed through on the promises of your advertising strategy it will cost you dearly. could take years for you to feel the impact...just ask Toyota. But once its happened, the recovery is a long, uphill climb of rebuilding your credibility and brand. A comprehensive approach to any branding initiative must include holding up a mirror to how you conduct every day business and the impact it has on your bottom line.

Before you spend enormous amounts of money on that cool new website, the social media strategy and everything else that will solve your business woes....remember...its not enough to build it. You have to be willing to nurture it, believe in it...and become it. Successful brands understand this, some had to learn the hard way, while some acted upon it immediately. Your business must reflect your brand...and vice versa. Building an image through advertising is not enough. Your business must nurture it and live it each day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Consider this - Choosing an Ad Agency

In the United States alone, there are over 50,000 advertising agencies, most offering a range of services and products; all proclaiming they alone possess the solution to even your most daunting challenges. Visit with an agency and, unfortunately, you will often find that how they handle you as a potential client is much like they built their own website: Void of valuable insight into your actual needs. Rather, it is often a regurgitation of agency jargon, unrealistic expectations for success, and my personal favorite, a one-size fits all approach. Sound familiar?

Beware of The Pitch

You've, undoubtedly, received the dreaded cold-call from an agency sales rep with his or her quick tongue and catchy phrases like "we'll work shoulder-to-shoulder with you" to find the right solution. Unfortunately and all too often, those that are selling for an agency have spent their career in sales, and may not really be equipped to provide you with the answers you need to make the best decision. You cannot fault the sales people for doing their job, after all, they are given their marching orders from the top. So how do you make the right choices? Consider the following before signing with any agency, and you are more likely to find the right fit for your business.

1. Do they understand the difference between Advertising and Marketing?

One thing needs to be very clear. Marketing is not a synonym for advertising. Despite many agencies efforts to confuse the potential client that they are one in the same, being clear on the definitions will be a big asset when making your investment decision.

According to the AMA (American Marketing Association) marketing is defined as "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

The AMA defines advertising as "the placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas."

Marketing is not a website, an ad or a cool technology. Rather it is a process...a process that encompasses far more than just the development of external elements that may sway customer perception of your business.

Definitions matter when selecting an agency. If an agency professes their 'marketing' prowess (as opposed to 'advertising') then the services and advice they offer should reflect a clear understanding of the difference. If the services they offer or the language sets they use don’t and they continually refer to advertising as marketing, move on to the next candidate.

2. Are they prepared to offer services based on the kind of relationship you are seeking?

Before you begin the process of selecting an agency (whether your new to the process or looking to make a switch) a decision about the kind of relationship you are seeking has to be made. There are a number of considerations that go into this decision and it should never be taken lightly. Its important to keep in mind that this is an investment in the business. The relationship definition is of equal, if not greater, value to the financial investment itself.

When selecting an agency, think of it as if you were selecting a physician for your own family. Do you want a leader in the field providing lasting solutions or a follower that is pushing the latest fad? Do you want a clear and concise strategy for achieving your goals or is it a simple matter of execution? Do you want discussion about options and ideas or should they just do what you want? In knowing and stating what you want up front will you be better equipped to judge the candidates. Once your decision for the kind of relationship you want to have is made, be sure they understand and are prepared to reciprocate in kind.

3. Are they interested in understanding your needs or pitching the latest fad?

Of all the key elements to consider, this is crucial. Many agencies will, without a clear understanding of your company goals and objectives, industry, challenges and history, immediately pitch something that may (and often may not) be something that will lead to achieving your goals. Use caution when silver bullets are laid out on the table...the reality is...they are too often duds when it comes to practical application. Only in asking questions and learning as much as possible about your company and industry will an agency be able to decipher what will actually help you in achieving your goals. Ideally, seek an agency that takes a consultative approach. If the agency is pitching at the first meeting, instead of asking questions, move on to the next candidate.

4. Does the agency team have any real-world business experience?

This will tell you a great deal about the kind of agency you will be working with. Too often, those who work in agencies have done so from the time they stepped out of college. They may lack the perspective (and possibly the professionalism) that is required to truly understand your business challenges and thus are slaves to their own industry jargon and belief systems. More likely than not, you are looking for more than just cool ideas (which agency lifers usually are great at coming up with). Your business is in need of a solution...a comprehensive solution to what is likely a business challenge. Those with a practical understanding of how businesses truly operate and succeed (or fail) are more likely to provide you with credible solutions. Ask questions about their experience outside of the agency world and be sure the team you are selecting is well-rounded in its business experience.

5. Are they prepared to provide you measurable data that reflects the success or failure rates of their work?

Trust. That is essentially what this all boils down to. Will the agency you select own up to failures and celebrate its successes with you? Of all company-partner-vendor relationships, the agency relationship can be the most celebrated or the most unfulfilling. Realistically, your agency relationship will fall somewhere in the middle. One key element to ensuring it leans towards celebrated is accountability. Up front establishment of goals, milestones, measurement and accountability will make for a far more productive relationship. If the agency you are meeting with makes no effort to ensure that the relationship is built on a foundation of trust and accountability...move on.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself am working in an agency and have done so in the past. However, I also have many years of experience working in, with and consulting business large and small and have seen the mistakes time and time again. These five key ingredients are not a silver bullet (remember - beware of silver bullets)...but they will certainly help when the time comes to select the right agency for you.