Focus, People, Focus

Posted March 12th, 2019 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Don’t you love focus group data?

A bunch of people paid a pittance to answer questions honestly about your product or service. They come in, talk a bit, get some free soda and then go on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that their answers may hold the fate of an entire company, or perhaps an entire research division in their responses.

Do you think they know how important what they do is? Is the data they provide really that good? How important were they in the New Coke debacle?

As any marketing person will tell you, I love data. Tendencies, numbers, proof that the campaign we chose to execute is effective. Or not. I think data is the reason that I never became an artist: I like the confirmation, the certainty involved when you can actually measure the effectiveness of what you’ve done, or been a part of doing.

We all know Guernica is amazing, I’m just saying that I couldn’t paint it. Of course, I have always been more of a copy guy, but that isn’t the thrust of this post: the importance of understanding the data we get from focus groups.

People in focus groups generally try to do the best they can to answer the questions that they are asked honestly. I credit them for this, for the role they play is invaluable. My interest today is not about the group itself, but abut the moderator.

In any group setting, there is the possibility of peer pressure weighing in on the responses. No one wants to look like an imbecile or play the role of outsider even among strangers with whom the only thing they have in common is the desire to get paid for opinions. This reality brings us, in turn, to the importance of the moderator. Or as I like to refer to the role, the opinion therapist.

The person running the focus group is extremely important to the quality of the data and opinions produced. He or she needs to be able to put strangers at ease and inspire them to share opinions that may go against the grain, or simply against the prevailing wisdom in the room. We’re not talking about Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, but rather the ability to get people to be honest and keep ideas flowing freely.

These people are rare.

And they have a direct impact on the quality of the data. I observed a moderator asking a group of people if they were comfortable with the term “Energy Supplement.” Most of them said yes. Supplement is a big word, and no one likes to admit that they are uncomfortable with big words. So these people are confronted with a choice: either I agree and I don’t look stupid. Or I make the effort to tell the moderator that the term energy supplement sounds like something a body builder would buy. Or some guy trying to make his car run better. Or that it sounds like some kind of pill instead of a beverage. Everyone said that they were comfortable with the term.

Which proves my point: Your opinion therapist is as important as the patient.

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Why Not Make a List?

Posted February 26th, 2019 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

I have come to the conclusion that I hate features. Not feature films, mind you. But those annoying things that are supposed to make a product or service better. If I am going to buy a television, I would like it to be big and have a really good picture. Do I need it to levitate? Or serve dinner?

Those qualities would be nice, of course, as I wouldn’t have to hire someone to hang the plasma on my wall and I could finally fire my butler. Seriously, though, by features, I am talking about the clutter that gets in the way of understanding why people make decisions. More importantly, this clutter gets in the way of companies defining the human value of what they do.

I am not saying that the various, specific qualities of a given product are not important, but they often get in the way of what should be the underlying theme driving your marketing message. As a colleague once said about silk underwear: if you have gotten to the romantic point where you are in your undergarments in the presence of another human being, you really should be able to close the deal.

Even in briefs.

Once you begin enumerating the various qualities of your product, you have basically said that there aren’t any substantial differences between you and your competition. You have admitted that your brand isn’t a brand at all, just a list of various qualities that no one has figured out how to explain in a way that would make someone care.

Too many times have I met with companies that explain what they do by explaining what they do. I would like to know why they do it, or at least get the feeling that they understand the role that they are playing in the great human comedy: It’s how they define that role that makes them special.

And then your brand can become my brand, from California to the New York Island.

Woody Guthrie would kill me.

Promises, Promises

Posted February 5th, 2019 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

I came across an article recently that focused on a study about check lists and the impact that they can have in hospitals. The study proved that the lists help prevent the transmission of diseases inside the hospital and reduce the number of infections caused by an overlooked step like neglecting to swab an area before inserting a needle. One example that struck me as counterintuitive but screamingly obvious after the fact: doctors should not wear ties because the article of clothing collects and transmits germs as doctors move from patient to patient during their rounds.

The most shocking detail in the article: there are doctors and nurses who don’t want to use these lists. In spite of overwhelming evidence that these lists make them better at their jobs, they felt that they aren’t necessary and would add another layer of bureaucracy to the onerous amount of paperwork that they are already required to do. When I thought about it, the detail didn’t shock me at all.

People, especially professionals, do not like to be told what to do. Much less how to do it.

Which brings me to the challenge of the brand promise.

How do we ensure that companies, and the people who work there, fulfill the expectations of the client and customer?

The first step, of course, is to identify what those expectations are. It is then a good idea, if you have the resources, to do a touch point analysis and determine how your company is interacting with the client at each stage. And then comes the hard part: how do you improve each of these interactions to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled.

Creating a check list so that doctors and nurses focus on certain basic aspects of their jobs seems like something that would have been put together in the 1920s, if not earlier. It is a low tech, simple solution that helps people make sure that they don’t miss the little things. The customer expectation in a hospital – that institution’s brand promise – is that the patient will be made well again. These check lists help achieve that promise.

And still, there is resistance when the stakes are as high as human health. In some cases, life and death.

The fact of the matter is that when people are good at doing their job, as most doctors and nurses are, there is a tendency to take certain things for granted and the little things fall by the wayside. But the devil is in the details, as some like to say.

If something as simple as a check list can help your business, wouldn’t it make sense to create one? Are you thinking about ways to interact better with your clients? Has your company articulated its brand promise to the extent that you can follow either of the two previous suggestions?

Once you figure out what that promise is, it becomes possible to fulfill it better. But it isn’t easy, as the hospital example shows.

Professionals don’t like to be told what to do. Or that they can do their jobs better.

 

Strategy vs.Tactics

Posted September 25th, 2018 in blog, copy, marketing, strategy by Gary

One of the most common difficulties I have encountered in marketing is the confusion between strategy and tactics. It arises, I believe, from the fact that the words are used together: a successful strategy cannot be executed without tactics.

Tactics, however, can be executed without strategy.

The goal of every business is relatively simple: drive revenue. To do this, companies employ tactics like sales, promotions, sweepstakes, etc. When these tactics achieve their goal of bringing in more dollars, the strategy is declared successful. See the problem?

For the proverbial mom and pop local shop, tactics are all that they really require. A large part of the success of their business lies in their location and proximity to their customers. If there is a demographic shift – a factory going out of business, a big box store moving into the neighborhood – these businesses simply close up shop. Then someone comes to town and makes a documentary about the injustice of it all, the innocence of the past and the harsh realities of the present, but I digress.

The first challenge in developing a successful strategy lies in the fact that tactics work. This is a good thing, because the fact that tactics do actually work justifies using them as the building blocks in a strategy to achieve growth. This can also be a deterrent as it makes it more difficult to focus on the larger picture and figure out where one wants to be in six, twelve or eighteen months.

So this is where it starts to get more complicated. In business there are rarely clear starting and ending points. There are dates when things begin and end, such as campaigns, but these are established in a muddier framework. Does the strategy start when it is first conceived or when it is rolled out? While the campaign is being prepared, business is still being conducted. In a best case scenario, the tactics being employed during this period are effective and driving revenues. But this makes the whole process messy. Why change what works? Why am I worried about strategy and what might happen next year when things are working today?

Strategy gives tactics context. Context can be evaluated. And this context makes it possible to decide how best to improve on the tactics. Marketing is a grind. It is about successfully executing and evaluating the tactics involved in an overall strategy, day in and day out.

To develop a coherent strategy involves determining the goals for the company. This is where it gets even more complicated, and we haven’t even gotten to managing all of the moving parts. Obviously, you want to make money. What else do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? What do you want people to associate with your product or service? Are you going to attract people with discounts? Wow them with the quality of your goods? How do you want to tell your story?

You see, there are a number of different directions your strategy can take and decisions need to be made about what will lead to the greatest success. This is one of the reasons that understanding one’s business and defining the value that your product or service brings to the table is so important (see Getting the Foundation Right, last week’s post). If you cannot really define what you are doing, how can you articulate what you want to be doing in a year?

All of these questions need to be answered while one is doing business, unless you happen to be going after investor dollars, which poses a whole slew of strategic questions that I plan to address in a later post.

All of this and we haven’t even started to discuss the tactics themselves and how each one advances the different goals articulated in the strategy. Sounds complicated, I know, but it simply requires hard work, insight, and organization.

Did you notice that we haven’t even started to address media, voice, or messaging?

So many options, so many decisions, so many moving parts.

So much fun. All you need to do is enjoy thinking in time.

Ideas

Posted September 4th, 2018 in blog, marketing, social media, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Another meeting comes to an end and I am awestruck by the number of brilliant ideas that have been suggested. The VP of sales kicked things off by mentioning a competitor’s event that he had recently attended.

“It was packed. They had a whole slew of sponsors, a vodka company, an interactive agency that had set up a bunch of screens, a music label, a vodka company. The place was rocking. They had these hostesses who were giving out free passes. We should do something like that.”

While everyone else was nodding, I was noting a possible time frame to execute this kind of project, the budget required, the assigning of responsibilities. Then someone from HR mentioned a charity drive that was done at her last company. Loads of fun. Great press. The clients ate it up.

Everyone around the table thought it was a great idea. But which charity? The sales reps, the HR department, accounting, all had their favorites and the number of charities shot down in under five minutes was amazing: Too controversial. Doesn’t make sense with our brand. Too obscure. Then somebody, I think it was a customer service rep, said “And we could use social media to promote everything. Have people tweeting, put announcements on Facebook about the amount of money raised. It’s going to be awesome.”

Note: we still hadn’t decided on a charity. Or a date. Or exactly what kind of drive. Believe me when I say there are many different kinds.

The meeting continued, only now everyone was adding something new. A giveaway. A loyalty program. I thought to myself life is a beautiful thing when ideas are all that matters. And I smiled at how far I’d come since I got into this business, remembering the words of an old pro at which I had scoffed just a few years ago: “A good marketing executive has four good ideas a year, a great one, eight. What they have in common is flawless implementation.”

Have you ever sat through a meeting that resembles the one described above? How many times?

They always adjourn without anything actually being done. Or, more precisely, without anything being decided in a way that would enable things to get done. No one is assigned any responsibilities. No deadlines are set. Nothing is broken down into executables. Messaging is almost never mentioned. Neither is media, other than the now ubiquitous social. I won’t even start discussing how these different tactics are supposed to fit in with the overall strategy (see last week’s post). And, when it’s all over, everyone is always thrilled at how well the meeting went. At all the great ideas that marketing should be working on.

I hate to say this, but ideas are easy.

They’re out there for all of us to see. Taste tests. Giveaways. Strategic partnerships. Promotions. Discounts. Raffles. Coupons. Ads. Commercials. And a lot of them are fantastic. Cool. Edgy. I wish that I’d thought of some of them. And then I wonder if they came out of meetings like this one.

Maybe.

But I am certain that someone was asking the real questions: What will it take to get this done? How much money will it cost? How does it benefit the company or product now and in the future?

I am not registering this as a complaint, nor as a criticism. I LOVE getting ideas from all over the place. I am acutely aware, as every marketing exec should be, that I cannot know everything nor be the source of every idea, and that good ideas originate in the strangest places. I just think it is important to remind everyone from time to time that there’s much more involved.

I have worked as a freelancer, for a start-up, in a small company, as well as in a corporate environment. The evidence is overwhelming: the most important quality of a marketing professional is the ability to recognize which ideas are both great and executable given the resources at one’s disposal.

The rest is just talk. Fun. But just talk.