Tuesday, September 02, 2008

September 2, 2008

It Takes More than a One-Trick Pony

For the first time in a decade, catalogue/Internet retailers have seen their first decline in Internet sales as a percentage of total direct sales. Speculation is that the decline is caused by reducing the number of catalogues mailed to customers who primarily buy over the Internet.(That reduction is a result of ever-increasing costs in postage.)

Without the support of direct mail, Internet sales declined. Makes sense, when you think about the value of multiple ways of communicating with a customer in multiple ways.

But the seduction of Internet communications (especially seductive because they can be so targeted and so measurable) risks blinding us to the value of a multi-channel approach.

There's been some experimentation recently with introducing the personal touch to online selling by analyzing online visitors in to hot and cold leads and then making personal contact via online chat with the "hotties." It's a complex slice and dice of prospects, but by adding the personal dimension to just the right targets, it's already proving to improve conversion rates by 15% or more.

All of this points to the need to continuosly improve and refine our marketing processes, never depending upon a single medium to carry the day. Furthermore, the selective infusion of personal contact in the Web-based sales process takes us back to the fundamentals of marketing and communications...building a bond with the customer, a bond that is customized and personalized.

The Lands End folks get it, as they spend time talking on the phone with customers talking about lots more than the company's products. And Piggly Wiggly gets it, empowering Smile Managers not only to solve people's problems but also simply to treat people as people. These companies most definitely have genuine relationships with their customers...building loyalty and trust and confidence. And, even in a tough economy, that'll beat "price and item every day."

It takes an optimal blend of channels, a strong dose of personal touch, and the ability to listen.

And Speaking of Listening...

I liked Geoff Livingston's book Now is Gone which has been making the rounds in our office. A couple of quotes worth noting:

"Participation affects all marketing. Fewer and fewer companies are able to retain the public's trust as faith shifts to the peer space. Today's customers expect to be listened to and understood. By being involved in social networks, a company can be in tune with what their customers' wants and needs are, and can apply what they've heard to their traditional and new media marketing programs.


"I talk about brand, and people think you are talking about a trademark of a logo, but the brand itself is the way the consumer reacts when they hear your company name or see your logo or a product of yours on store shelves. That is all based on their experience and the one way, top down , pushed advertising and marketing is only part of that experience." [my italics]

Friday, August 29, 2008

August 29, 2008

Are You Kidding?

Anyone who knows anything about marketing to women is either chuckling or dumbfounded or downright angry at John McCain's pick for vice president.

Can't you just see a bunch of well-intentioned white guys sitting around saying, "Hey, those Hillary women are upset. Their dreams have been shattered. Why don't we put a woman on the ticket and scoop them all up onto our side?"

Nice try.

Earth to well-intentioned white guys: women don't make decisions that way. Women are so much more thoughtful and considerate and painstaking in their buying decisions than men. Women seek information. They dig deep. They want to know more. They want to see more.

Governor Palin may be terrific. But beyond her native state of Alaska, she's an unknown. And women are not going to get to know her and be comfortable with her and vote for McCain based upon her with less than 10 weeks to go before the election. It's simply not going to happen.

If you're for McCain, you've got to be pulling your hair out wondering what the heck were these neanderthals thinking. If you're for Obama, you've got to be deleriously happy. And, if you're into marketing to women, you've got to be stunned that so many people still don't get it.

One More for the Bloggers!

The power of the blogging community is really amazing. In July, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's majority opinion in a Supreme Court case relating to whether the rape of a child should be a capital offense in the military was based in part on the conclusion that because child rape was a capital offense in only six states, and not under federal law, the death penalty for the crime did not meet the "evolving standards of decency" by which the court judges capital punishment.

In fact, child rape in the military is a capital offense under federal law. And that was pointed out not by any of the government lawyers who most certainly should have known that fact, but instead by a civilian Air Force lawyer Daniel Sullivan on his military law blog.

And now a computer security specialist Mike Walker has revealed on his blog the results of his hacking into Chinese records to discover the true ages of those miniscule Chinese gymnasts.

It's tremendously exciting to see this democratization of journalism and the incredible ingenuity and curiosity of individuals in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008

On Reading

It's clear that I haven't been writing much lately. In part, it's because I've been spending more time reading.

A recent New Yorker article quantifies the decline of reading in our country. According to a research from the Census Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts...in 1982, 56.9 percent of Americans had read a work of creative literature in the last 12 months. That proportion had dropped to 46.7 percent by 2002. And, according to the NEA chairman, "Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement."

We are all aware of the decline in newspaper readership. In 1970, there were 62.1 illion weekday newspapers in circulation...about 0.3 papers per person. By 2006, there were just 52.3 million, about 0.17 per person. A decline of almost 50 percent.

Book sales are also down....from 8.27 books per person in 2001, to 7.93 in 2006. The NEA reports that, adjusted for inflation, American household spending on books is near its 20-year low.

Not surprisingly, then, the average reading skills of young people are declining. The reading scores of twelfth graders fell an average of 6 points between 1992 and 2005...and the share of proficient twelfth-grade readers dropped from 40 percent to 35 percent. According to the article, "the deepest declines were in 'reading for literary experience' - the kind that involves 'exploring themes, events, character, settings, and the language of literary works.'"

The article goes on to say that this trend isn't confined to our country.

This decline affects us all. After all, according to the NEA, readers are more likely than non-readers to play sports, exercise, visit art museums, attend theater, paint, go to music events, take photographs, and volunteers. Proficient readers are also more likely to vote.

In his masterful play, The History Boys, Alan Bennett captures one of the joys of reading in a conversation between the wonderfully colorful teacher Hector and one of his students: "The best moments in reading," says Hector, "are when you come across something...a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things...that you'd thought special...particular to you. And here it is!...set down by someone else...a person you've never met...maybe even someone long dead...and it's as if a hand has come out and taken yours."

Do we really want to become a world of non-readers?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December 4, 2007

Calling All Cowards

Look up "coward" in the dictionary, and the definition ought to read "anyone who expresses an opinion and hides behind anonymity." As an important and powerful form [and forum] of communication, the Internet is being corrupted by cowardly people who - through anonymity - either deceive others or express irresponsible views for which they are not at all accountable.

We all know the story of the head of Whole Foods. He ended up apologizing for hiding behind a pseudo identity while expressing views about his company and its competition.

Now we hear that Target was paying students to rave about the company on Facebook.

And here in Charleston, today's paper reports that the Solicitor (who's kind of like the local D.A.) has a press secretary who has been commenting on local newspaper stories (under a masked name, of course) with some pretty radical opinions and dispersions about his boss's political opponent.

Read what some of his opinions were and you'll no doubt be shocked. But what's most shocking to me was that he was outraged at being outed.

In other words, he - like so many who post opinions on newspaper sites - could rant and rave on whatever he wanted, make outrageous claims and not be accountable for them. I blame the newspapers who permit such anonymity as much as I blame the cowards who hide behind it.

We have a very good local paper. They try to write accurate balanced articles. It would be great to see a responsible dialogue about the issues they're covering. Instead, their comments page is filled with extremism - anonymous, often inaccurate, and almost always irresponsible.

These are just "grown-up" versions of the phony identities people create on MySpace or Facebook. I guess it's relatively harmless in a make-believe environment. But doesn't it risk making the validity and veracity of the Internet space suspect?

Why don't people dare to be themselves? And, if it's because they don't like "themselves," what then makes them think that hiding behind anonymity will make them any more likeable?

The world craves authenticity. It's the hottest currency going. And it starts with each individual.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 10, 2007

Pop Quiz

Great discussion from the Miami Book Fair with Frances Fitzgerald and others. One of the panelists gave the audience three combinations of two words each. I can't remember them exactly, but let's say they were "moon" and "ocean"....then "floor" and "hood"...and I can't at all remember the third combination.

Now...count backwards from 100 to 97.

OK....name the first laundry detergent that comes to mind.

Now name the first automobile that comes to mind.

More about this later.

The Million-Plus People March

In little more than a week after Stephen Colbert announced his "candidacy" for president, more than one million people had joined a group called "1,000,000 Strong for Stephen Colbert."

By contrast, Barack Obama's "million strong" group took more than eight months to get 380,000 members.

Then there's Ron Paul who raised more than $4 million on the Internet in one day. And he's not anywhere near the front runner in the polls.

It's a brand new world out there...thanks to new technologies and new ways of communicating.

Watch out for Mike Bloomberg early in '08.

The way we can reach people now...the way people can change, and change the dynamics of the marketplace...these are conditions that are filled with possibilities.

More On Pop Quiz

If you're in the majority, the detergent you named was Tide. And the automobile you named was Ford.

That's because those word associations set you up to make those choices.

What the panelists were discussing was a new book called What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics by Andras Szanto and Orville Schell.

They were pointing out how successful the Republicans are in using a vocabulary that carries with it a controlled message. Examples include Bush's constant linkage of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The two had no contact to speak of, and one had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. But the constant linkage has caused Americans to infer that they are one and the same.

Similarly, the constant usage of the phrase "war on terror" fits right into the Bush vocabulary based on one single concept: fear.

Walk into an airport and you'll hear an announcement saying that the current threat advisory level is something like "orange." What does that mean? Who knows? But it contributes to the atmosphere of terror...an atmosphere that has kept the Bush administration in power.

The Republicans are geniuses at coming up with the vocabulary to lead people to the responses they [the Republicans] want....just as "moon" and "ocean" may very well have led you to Tide.

Reagan did it with his "comfort food" vocabulary...."Star Wars" was going to be a protective shield to prevent any invasions..."Morning in America" was a world of hope.

As communicators and as consumers, we can learn so much from these choices of words and phrases. They demonstrate the value and importance of wisely choosing an appropriate vocabulary, repeating it frequently, and making certain that it is evoking the responses and associations that you seek.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

October 28, 2007

Looking for the Common Thread

I'm looking at this August article about the General Motors online campaign customized to match each targeted consumer based upon their Web habits. The three customized versions of the ads may as well be ads for three completely different products.

And I'm thinking about a conversation I had the other evening with Charlotte Beers. (Last week when I was writing about how important math majors may become in our industry, I had forgotten at the moment that Charlotte was indeed a math major. So she would no doubt be as formidable a force in our industry during this century as she was in the last!)

Anyway, I was talking about this whole trend of customization and "having-it-your-way," and Charlotte made the powerful reminder that people are more alike than they are different. There are core emotions that all humans share, and a brand's challenge is to connect with those emotions in an authentic, resonant way.

That's the heart and soul of effective marketing. And anything else is "cutting corners" or wishful thinking that technology could possibly take the place of smart and creative brand positioning.

I wonder if some marketers aren't running the risk of dilluting brands - or not adequately defining them - by their over-concentration on customized communications.

Having customized products is one thing. Starbucks certainly provides an extraordinary array of choices. But, when it comes to marketing and communications, Starbucks is laser focused and consistent in its brand position - to be "the third place" beyond people's homes and offices.

Apple is equally focused in its marketing and communications...and offers, interestingly, a much more limited product choice than its PC competitors. I'm fascinated by that, as it seems to be so contradictory to the individuality of Apple's "think different" customers.

Making a Difference

This morning, there was an author on The Today Show talking about his book on what makes a job miserable. He said there are basically three reasons people find they feel miserable at work. The first is anonymity...no one knows who they are or acknowledges their work. The second is relevance...they don't feel their job is especially relevant. And the third is they don't feel they are making a difference.

Actually, I would say all the first two are both part of the third: making a difference. People want to feel they are making a difference. It is such a basic, vital human need.

One way that companies can help their employees feel they are making a difference is by making a commitment to cause marketing. A recent survey shows that 40 percent of employees wish their company would do more to support a cause. What do they care most about? Health issues (80%), education issues (77%), environmental issues (77%) and economic development issues (77%).

Getting a company involved in cause marketing can boost pride, loyalty, and productivity. But it works best when you can find a way to get the employees involved as well. Don't let it be just a corporate undertaking. Figure a way to enable everyone to be involved, hopefully in ways that fit their individual interests and abilities.

Monday, October 22, 2007

October 22, 2007

Blog Action Day Follow-Up

More than 20,000 blogs participated in Blog Action Day...writing about the environment...and blogger.com has put out a list of a dozen blogs focused on environmental issues.

It's really exciting to see the revolution unfold. Institutions all around us are making major commitments to the environment. Individuals are activated. I find myself in offices looking at the conventional light bulbs and other impediments and making a mental list of ways to save energy. I'm sure I'm not alone.

One of the Most Basic Rules of Smart PR - Admit Your Mistakes

It's so interesting to watch the candidates for president, especially as the campaign heats up. Giuliani's past is riddled with mistakes, and he wisely admits them and totally disarms people in doing so. Bernard Kalik? Just a bad hire, in Rudy's mind...a mistake that he learned from. Wow! Can you imagine Bush ever saying that about Rumsfeld? Giuliani even admitted that it was pretty dopey to take a cell phone call from his wife in the middle of a speech.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is darned if she'll ever admit doing anything wrong. Her Iraq vote will haunt her forever, because she simply will not own up to it. She says she did the best she could do with the information she had. (I suppose Giuliani could say the same about Kalik.) But, looking back and knowing what she knows now, would she vote the same way again? And, if not, does she think she made a mistake voting as she did? What the heck is wrong with admitting to a mistake? Isn't it the most basic of rules in our business...or any business?

Math Majors into Marketing?

Booz Allen's Richard Rawlinson has written a great article in Strategy + Business about the changing landscape of our industry. "The typical business marketing career has attracted gregarious people who operate comfortably within a familiar professional culture with well-defined techniques," writes Rawlinson. "But now marketers must not just select and purchase proven instruments. They must envisage, shape, and develop new tools for designing and engendering more effective consumer connections. This demands an openness to experimentation, an inclination toward pioneering, and an ability to integrate marketing with strategy as never before. The new marketing team must do this while honing the number crunching analytical ability that is needed to justify and fine-tune new strategies."

Rawlinson goes on to describe what he calls "number crunching creatives." He writes, "To conceive, evaluate, and invest in new commercial propositions that engage audiences across many dimensions, marketers will be called upon to make decisions that reflect broad marketing savvy, close awareness of the product's or service's current position in the marketplace, and in-depth knowledge of quantitative techniques and the capabilities of new technology. Thys, one of the new marketer's key skills is the ability to marry fluency in higher mathematics and computer modeling to marketing flair and creativity."

Looking carefully as some of today's most innovative and successful marketing initiatives substantiates this conclusion very clearly. It represents a major shift from the more narrow (and less deep) skill set of yesterday's marketers. And it sets forth an extraordinary challenge and opportunity for us all.