Parenting Mags and Mad Men: Connecting Via Media

Research care of Parenting Magazine notes some interesting findings:

  • 76% of moms feel that parenting magazines have less information of interest to them once their children start school.

  • 76% of moms would rather connect with moms who are dealing with the same issues they are, regardless of their age or the age of their kids.

This research underlies the larger issues that print media is facing. With the level of interactivity social media offers users, users are coming to expect that sort of interactivity from all media they consume. New media makes one-to-one connection possible. In the mommysphere, blogs and online communities are delivering content that allows people to enter into conversations with other moms. Once a mother experience’s that level of interactivity, the stale articles in parenting magazines fall flat.

It’s not just moms who want to connect. All across the media spectrum, people want ways to connect. The user-generated Twittering of Mad Men characters offers viewers of the show a chance to make a connection with the characters that pre-social media viewers could not have imagined. Expect this type of activity to become more prevalent, not less. While the Mad Men characters are simply fans taking control of the brand, there are no doubt marketers that have taken an interest and are planning ways to harness this for other brands.

How do we feel about this as marketers? This sort of phenomenon raises the bar for content. It urges us to take campaigns down to a personal level. That is not an easy thing to do.

But as the Mad Men Twitterers have shown us, if marketers don’t go there, users will.


Five tips for conducting interviews

I am a big believer in informal, qualitative interviews. There is certainly a place for statistical, quantitative research, but when you want to uncover motivations or capture specific details, you cannot beat just sitting down with someone for a good 30-minute conversation. This can be a difficult task, though. Here are five tips to facilitating more in-depth interviews:

  1. Ask why. You may have been told to never ask “yes or no” questions. This is a nice idea in theory, but I gotta tell you, it is nearly impossible in a long form interview. So, instead of simply never asking a “yes or no” question, just follow them up with a “why?” and see what happens.

  2. Ask for examples. This gets people to tell a story. Sure the story may not be riveting, but at least it is a story. This type of question forces people to get down to details. The details are where the real meat lies. And if they cannot give you a real example, then they are probably not answering truthfully.

  3. Ask about the subject. You may want information about something else, but you might want to start by asking about the person you are talking to. You see, it is far easier to talk about yourself. You have more information about yourself and your perspective. This is a good way to get people comfortable with answering questions. Once they are comfortable you can take the conversation to different places.

  4. Tell a story yourself. We live in a sound bite culture. Therefore we sometimes think that the proper answer to a question is short and concise. Well, in an interview situation where you are trying to get to underlying motives or issues, sound bite answers don’t help the cause. Feel free to tell a story about yourself related to the topic. It shows the subject that it is okay to take time to fully answer the question by providing concrete examples.

  5. Don’t try to fill awkward silences. When someone is actually trying to form a solid answer to a question, it is natural for them to think for a few moments. This may create periods of silence, but that is okay. Give them a moment to collect their thoughts.

The idea here is not to try to manufacture conversation. This is not an exercise in controlling the other party. You don’t want to force answers on the other person. Instead, you want to enable a conversation to go where it may. If you do this, you will never be disappointed with the answers.

What are some tips you have on conducting qualitative interviews?

Photo courtesy of Flickr user wok.


Branding in Simple Words and the Worst Movie of All Time

So I have been reading “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. I know. I’m late to the game on this one. But they spend time talking about the importance of simplicity of ideas and how that helps them become sticky. Not sure they meant for this level of simplicity, but Phrazit is taking reviews and boiling them down to mere words.

Phrazit describes itself as “a way to browse and share condensed reviews on anything: movies, sports, restaurants . . . you name it.” Basically, users create a cloud of words and phrases around a topic. For instance, I added “Troll 2” to the cloud around “Worst movies of all time.” This is similar to Brand Tags which creates user generated tag clouds associated to popular brands.

This shows a couple of things:

  1. Brands can be boiled down to simple words. When this is done, it can be scary and exciting.
  2. A big part of brand perception is out of the hands of the branders and in control of the market. To better define your brand look for shared equity, or what you and your customers both find valuable about your company.

So what words would people associate with your brand?


Take Control of Your Brand Experience

Think about all the elements of your customer’s experience that you control. There are many and they all work to shape your perceived brand.

I was grabbing lunch at the Rib Crib in Derby, Kansas yesterday. I got seated, peeled open the menu and noticed that the restaurant was playing a local country radio station over their sound system. Seems to fit, right? A Texas-style BBQ joint pumping out some country pop to add to the ambience of hard wood floors and cow skulls on the wall.

However, when a block of ads came on the air that included a 60-second spot of one of their competitors, this seemed like less of a good idea. I sat there along with every other patron and listened to a catchy jingle and description of mouthwatering BBQ from another restaurant—you may know the place, but don’t be late they close at eight.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not wild on broadcasting competitor’s ads at my busiest time of the day. A few patrons got a chuckle out of it, but you could tell that it was awkward for some of the staff. It has to be hard enough to differentiate one BBQ joint from another, without letting things like this happen.

This should remind us all to look at the details of our customer’s experience that we control. Sure half of your brand value is out of your control and locked within the confines of your customer’s mind. That should not keep you from controlling what you can. Check your music, clean up your space, dress appropriately, smile, make your Web site easy to navigate and say hello to people. There are so many things we can do to make experiences better regardless of what we sell.

These things may be small, but they make a big difference.


New Media Education

Our agency gave a presentation to a little over a hundred business people at the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce’s Sunrise Scrambler event last week. I had the privilege of handling the section on new media. A few things struck me about the whole process and initial feedback:

  1. Covering new media is not an easy thing. It involves addressing technology. When presenting to an audience where there are people who know boatloads about the technology and others who could care less, it is hard to strike a balance. I hope that I didn’t bore those who are up to date with new media or that I didn’t lose anyone in the tech stuff. I wonder how others that are educating people about new media manage this issue.

  2. There are many aspects of new media, so it is hard to touch them all. We talked about the changing role of Web sites and search. We touched on SEO, SEM, online display advertising, e-mail marketing and social media. Honestly, it was so much that we couldn’t go too deep into any of these areas. We really scratched surface and left stuff out. Deciding what to cover and what to leave out was very tough.

  3. People want to learn about this stuff. We had initial feedback that the new media was a strong area of interest. Some were trying some of the tactics themselves, while others were just trying to get a better understanding of these new media terms that they had heard so much about. The high interest level gets me giddy, because it means that more and more people are seeing the power of the medium.

Just this week I was also able to attend a local PRSA meeting where a panel of media experts discussed different vehicles. Todd Ramsey was on hand to talk about new media, mainly blogging. It was interesting to see a group of traditional and new media people all talking about the shifts in their business model and how they are all affected by emerging new media.

So, for others playing in the new media sandbox: How have your efforts to educate people on the topic been received? Please comment and share.


Got brand potency?

I had a chance to talk with Jeff Manning, the mind behind the famous "got milk?" campaign, today when he presented to the Wichita Chapter of the American Marketing Association. I was luck enough to sit by him during the event, and the branding genius left me with a few nuggets:

1) We are all brands. By extension, we are branding all the time. We cultivate our brand with every interaction, business and social.

2) Branding is evolving. "Branding" has the tendency to be a catchall phrase. There are definite things that branding is and definite things that it is not. It is not just logos and visual associations. Branding is experiential, organic, conversational and both a long-term and short-term process.

The "got milk?" work is certainly inspiring for us marketers. Beyond the humor and engaging nature of the campaign elements lie deeper issues of deprivation and simplicity that we can all learn from.


Confused about social media?

Think Facebook and blogs are only for your teenage daughter? Can't tell a blog post from an outpost? The good folks at Common Craft are here to help:

Social Media in Plain English from leelefever on Vimeo.


Kansas gets some marketing dap!

I pick up the latest edition of Marketing News, a publication of the American Marketing Association, and right on the cover is good old Kansas. The cover story is an interesting read about the Kansas Department of Travel and Tourism and their collaboration with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Working with marketing consultants, the two groups were able to break down their silos and share information. The results were a larger and more targeted group of travelers to communicate with. Kansas is now selling their tourist offerings in a cost effective way. Perhaps more importantly, the state is selling its actual unique offerings, not trying to be like every other state.

The Kansas connection did not stop there. Elsewhere in the issue, there is a table of Nielsen data showing the top ten brands with TV product placement during the week of March 24-30. Ranking #7 on the list with 32 occurrences is none other than Kansas State University. They rate behind the likes of mega brands Coca-Cola and CBGB, and ahead of a little company you may have heard of...Nike. They are also ahead of the University of Southern California and the University of Texas. If only this translated to the AP ranking in football! Topping the list is 24 Hour Fitness.

Both of these stories make a Kansas-based marketer like myself proud.


A penny saved...through loyalty.

Back in April, AdFreak featured a post on a Harris Poll that found 56% of adults were opposed to abolishing the penny. AdFreak noted that this type of loyalty would make some brand manager s envious.

This is really interesting. You can buy nothing for a penny (in fact, to buy something it costs $10). They tend to fill up ashtrays and piggy banks, and in my house are always picked through to find “the silver stuff.” If you see a penny on the street, you might think twice about exerting the effort to pick it up. So why the outpouring of penny love? Perhaps a bunch of Abraham Lincoln fans?

Regardless of why, I think it is interesting that this information remained unknown until people where faced with a life without the penny. Think of your company, product or service. Has it become as ubiquitous as the penny? Do people take it for granted? Probably. We have short memories.

Maybe your marketing message should remind people what life would be like without your product. Don’t do it in a threatening manner, but more informational or humorous. You might be surprised by the amount of loyalty that bubbles up.

photo courtesy of Flickr user Dystopos


Your brand in six words or less.

A new book entitled “Not Quite What I was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure” is a collection of life stories, summed up in just six words. A whole life…six words. Sounds impossible, until you start to read them. For instance, “Cursed with cancer, blessed with friends” really does the job, doesn’t it?

So as marketers, can we do this? Can you tell the story of your brand in six words or less? We should be able to. Try it. Try doing it for other companies (For Starbucks: “Premium coffee at your second home.”). This sort of exercise helps us create more compelling and memorable marketing messages. And it simplifies communication with our customers.

Lessons from a Punk Marketer: Hold the B.S.

“No more bullshit,” demanded Richard Laermer, author of “Punk Marketing” and “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade,” during his keynote address to the American Marketing Association. Along with AMA chapter members from across the continent, I sat in the ballroom admiring Laermer’s razor sharp wit, enthusiasm and brash candor. Living up to his advice, he started by telling us all what he was not going to do. He was not there to provide magic bullet insights that will solve all marketing challenges.

What he did do was bring us marketers down a notch by not pulling punches when railing against ineffective, traditional methods that sidestep the changing reality of the consumer experience. The three things I took away from his brief address:

1) Do deeper research into your target market. This means going beyond the demographic and typical psychographics. Find out what they are exposed to. What are they reading? Watching? Talking about? Making fun of? Rebelling against? Why are they not choosing you?

2) Be honest. Too many times, as marketers, we lie, fib, stretch the truth, over promise and tell our customers what we think they want to hear. This doesn’t work anymore because of the level of noise in the marketplace (i.e. everyone is saying they offer superior customer service) and the consumer’s rising level of skepticism when it comes to superfluous marketing claims. As marketers we need to dig down to find our true market position and authentically present that position in our messages. And when we do it the message needs to be simple…not dumbed-down…simple.

3) Take risks. Not calculated risks (because those really aren’t risks). Taking risks often leads you to non-traditional tactics that break through, or often avoid the clutter. Think of the Mac vs. PC ads. Was it risky to unabashedly go head to head with a major competitor in a mass advertising campaign? Sure. You know that when the idea came up there were people that fell back to old marketing axioms. “We can’t mention the competition in every ad! That would mean that every ad we run is also an ad for them!” Or, “Making fun of the competition will backfire on us!” Taking risks means that we begin to question these old “truths.”

My goal: Take steps to improve in all three of these areas.


Blogging the AMA Leadership Summit

The American Marketing Association is hosting their Leadership Summit in Chicago this weekend (April 25-27). It is for leaders in local chapters of the AMA to learn how to better serve their members and run a better chapter. It is also a great gathering of marketing professionals from across the nation. I am anticipating some great networking and learning opportunities.

As I learn along with members of the Wichita Chapter making the trip, I plan to blog about the goingson.

This gives me an opportunity to talk about the importance of joining professional organizations in your field, marketing or otherwise. There are so many in the marketing field (PRSA, AdFed, etc.) that are great opportunities to meet others and share best proactices. Leraning never stops and professional development should be high on your list of goals for furthing your career.

If you are going to the conference and would like to connect, drop me a line.


Starbucks brews a cup o' joe

You may have heard about the coffee flavor Starbucks introduced last Tuesday by giving it out for free at stores across the nation. Pike Place Roast is supposed to be for those who think that Starbucks coffee tastes too strong, bitter and/or burnt. Another name for these people: Non-Starbucks Drinkers.

Starbucks coffee has a definite taste and to fans of Dunkin Donuts swill. That taste is decidedly more extreme. I would use a terms like bold and full-bodied over bitter and burnt.

What about this new flavor? I have yet to try it, but the best description I have read so far was from James Poniewozik at Time who said, “The result, though, is a cup of coffee that tastes less like a cup of coffee.”

So is Starbucks doing the right thing? Well, I love that they introduced a product by giving it away on a certain day. It makes an event out of the launch and throws exponentially more people into the consumer process at the trial stage. Lesson here: consider giving it away for free if you can.

But, I have always thought that Starbucks was really aimed at coffee snobs (not an affectionate term, but I happen to be one, so I can use it). By attempting to brew a mass audience blend, do they abandon their core audience? Maybe. They must really be feeling the pinch from McDonalds.

Another position Starbucks strives to fill is what they call the “third place,” the other two being work and home. That is a lifestyle position. By this standard, opening up your product line to encompass more consumers could be considered a fit.

In the end, Starbucks comes off a bit desperate to me on this one. Part of the cool factor with them is that they seem to buck the system (“Screw small, medium and large! We’ll do tall, grande and Venti!”). Launching a bland roast doesn’t jive with that.


An Absolute Branding Mistake

Reuters reports that “The distillers of Sweden's Absolut vodka have withdrawn an advertisement run in Mexico that angered many U.S. citizens by idealizing an early 19th century map showing chunks of the United States as Mexican.”

Absolut initially defended that ad by saying that it was intended for the Mexican market.

Someone should tell Absolut about this thing called the Internet. A major brand never really isolates a message to a particular region.

The marketing problem here is that Absolut forgot that they are a GLOBAL brand. The rules are very different on the global scale. Sure, there are cultural differences that need to be accounted for when marketing internationally, but core brand values need to remain consistent. And those core brand values had best not alienate a large portion of your market.

Also, a little situational analysis would have suggested that a message focused on Mexican/American relations might have unintended negative buzz in the U.S. against the backdrop a national debate on immigration policy.

But this is just marketing, right?

Who needs a drink?

A Branding Key: Understanding your strengths

I was recently turned on to book that helps the reader define their strengths. Strengths Finder 2.0 is a book and accompanying online assessment that was developed out of a 40-year Gallup study of human strengths. The reader takes a 30 minute test and is presented with their top 5 strengths, descriptions of the strengths and an action planning guide to build on them. The test is nothing like a traditional IQ test so there is no need to study. It’s simply about preferences.

I point to this book, not because of the tremendous personal value that comes from being able to articulate and understand your strengths, but because of its relevance to branding. When branding a product or an organization, this is essentially where we start. We need to discover our company’s/product’s strengths. Not just what we say they are, but what our existing customers believe them to be. Once we know our strengths (and we would be lucky to have as many as five) we have a branding foundation. These strengths are our brand characteristics that, hopefully, set us apart. Our strengths lead directly to defining our position and creating a brand promise that the company/product will always strive to live up to.

So, are you developing your brand from a foundation of core strengths?

Oh, and in case you are wondering, my top five strengths are:



Greenwashing Activities: Not good for the environment or your brand.

Ad Age points to a new Nielsen Online study that found that misleading consumers is bad
—shocker! The study entitled “Sustainability Through the Eyes and Megaphones of the Blogosphere” finds that misrepresenting the environmental impact of your company, or greenwashing, through advertising and PR is a “fatal corporate strategy.”


Because of social media. Blogs and other social media sites are very quick to sniff out exaggerated “green” claims, sparking discussion and discontent that spreads like a wildfire (sorry for the environmentally unsound simile). For instance, Greenwashingindex.com is a site that rates the authenticity of green advertisements. Think that Dow Chemical spot touting their environmental responsibility is a bit fishy? You can check out its index rating and join in on the discussion.

This research speaks to authenticity. When we market a product, a service or a company, it is imperative that we are honest about our claims. Trying to jump on the PR bandwagon of trends like the green movement is risky business unless you can do so with transparency. Or unless you have a truly sustainable, green product.

How refreshing would it be to hear a large corporation say “I know we haven’t been very friendly to our environment, but we are trying to change. Here is how we are doing it…”


UPS Whiteboard 2.0: New and improved or diminished?

The UPS Whiteboard ads have taken on a new feel, adding animation to the mix. Accompanying the spots is a new Web site that takes you on a guided tour deep into whiteboard world, complete with animated shorts that address what Brown can do for you.

The first round of Whiteboard spots were fantastic bits of ad gold. The agency world embraced them, in part, because the lead in the commercials was none other than Andy Azula, the creative director of the UPS account at The Martin Agency. Consumers responded to the offbeat presentation, the humor and the web integration.

The new ads bring back Azula and his little brown marker, but ramp up the visuals with iPod like movements and animation. So, what is happening here?

Argument one: UPS is building on a successful campaign. The animated spots still have the charm of the old spots and the whiteboard site is pretty deep. If anything, the subtle changes rejuvenate the concept and remind consumers that UPS embraces technology in the delivery of their services.

Argument two: It wasn’t broke, but they went ahead and fixed it anyway. The fact that the old spots were totally hand drawn made the campaign work. Watching Azula working his magic is what kept you tuned in time after time. It is what made you share the spots on YouTube and what spawned spoof spots. The new spots remove the magical element, and kill the spirit of the campaign.

Where do I stand? I like the old spots better, but can appreciate the move forward. What saves the new spots for me is the accompanying website. It is packed with info, addresses multiple audiences and rates high on the cool factor. From an audience perspective, as a campaign progresses, we should become more involved, more trusting of the brand and more knowledgeable about the product offerings. The added technological aspect does just that for me. We realize that it isn’t just a bunch of brown trucks, but an international tech-fueled organization that connects us to the rest of the world.

If you disagree, think of one of the alternatives. UPS could have assumed the campaign did what it was supposed to do and moved on to something else, squandering a bunch of equity.


A bigger slice of the pie through customer centric marketing

It seems that technology can be good for business and customers—at least in the pizza business. As highlighted in the Wichita Business Journal, Industry publication Pizza Marketing Quarterly estimates that the average online pizza order is $6 to $9 higher than the average telephone order.

Wow! So if I run a pizza place, I can use technology to get the customer to perform the majority of the transaction by themselves, saving me labor dollars, and make more profit! Deal.

But don’t think that this is just benefiting the business. Customers are getting something, too. Customers get an improved ordering experience and, most importantly, more control. You are never put on hold and there is no rush to finalize your order. And you are able to take more time to view the menu options and make special requests.

What’s the lesson? As customer-centric marketers, we must always look at our process and decide, is this what the customer wants? Often when you make decisions based on the customer, it turns out to be a win-win.


A better way to find and market to your customers

Marketing Sherpa recently made available a nice case study on segmentation. It looks at H2O+, a skin care products retailer, that has been segmenting their audiences by personas.

Segmentation can be overlooked when developing marketing strategies, especially the further removed we are from the academic study of marketing. We tend to make quick assumptions about who we are trying to reach and use tired caricatures--soccer moms, business professionals, twenty-somethings. However, in a world that demands justification for each marketing dollar spent, it is wise to carefully and deeply define your market through segmentation.

To do it right, look beyond simple demographics. In a cluttered marketplace, targeting women 25-54 with household incomes of $75K+ will rarely lead to relevant messages. Instead, consider lifestyle segmentation, which is at the heart of building key customer personas.

Real success comes in crafting marketing messages that match perceived lifestyles.

Take the mature, 55+ market. Instead of targeting wealthy seniors, target near retirees who feel 7 years younger than they are and are still striving to achieve life goals. Or market to the persona of the empty nester standing on the threshold of endless opportunity armed with a working professional’s salary.

By thinking in terms of persona, or lifestyle, you are forced to make more personal decisions to craft your message. The result: messages that are relevant to an audience that is ripe for your product.

Photo from nicolasnova at Flickr.