Friday, November 30, 2012

Microsoft's Latest Internet Explorer Commercial: Smart, Funny and Gutsy

Why do I really like Microsoft's latest commercial for its Internet Explorer (IE) browser targeting the brand averse and think it's a smart and gutsy experiment that just might work?

First, it's an excellent example of story telling in a commercial -- and it's a pretty compelling and humorous story. Told without a single word being spoken. I find that story benefits the brand on a number of levels. It has the potential to connect with the target audience -- best described as Internet Explorer (IE) haters (and there's a lot of them posting away and trolling in social media, as well as engaged in passionate offline conversations about their anti-IE feelings). These folks are entrenched, so winning them over would be no small feat, and I'm confident the folks at Microsoft are very aware of this and have set their expectations accordingly.

Microsoft realizes the journey from hater to being ready to give the brand another try is not an easy one and opts for "baby steps" instead of great leaps. Microsoft is basically pragmatically communicating, "Give us a little consideration and you may find a nice pay off." The new IE functionality presented in the spot -- the dangling carrot --is the kind of thing that is compelling to such consumers. 

Microsoft's marketers realize how curious technology types are and is playing with that fact. It also knows that there's a part of those haters that might only want to learn and try out the browser even if it only means an opportunity to tell others how awful it is -- and Microsoft is basically daring them.

Second, this commercial shows that Microsoft gets it, and even better, it's not afraid to be frank about its browsers brand image. This shows that the brand, and, no doubt, the brand manager, has guts -- or "brass," as a former American president likes to say. The commercial doesn't make an unrealistic leap or ignore reality of the current state of the brand image with the audience it is targeting -- and the truth is, most brands will ignore such groups and find easier to persuade groups -- that's historically true of Microsoft. Instead, Microsoft chooses to boldly face reality head on, in a manner that is both respectful and empathetic towards its highly critical target audience. And I think this is one of the smartest things, is that the execution reveals that the brand has a sense of humor and is almost self-deprecating about its relationship with the target audience. After all, the brand certainly can't point the finger of blame at its targets, it needs to own up and let them know that it realizes the relationship isn't in a great place right now, that it's history is less than ideal, but it is out to win you back based solely on the merits of the  latest iteration of its browser. 

Third, it's clear that Microsoft doesn't have unrealistic expectations for its target audience. As I mentioned before, most marketers are likely to either write off the brand  averse and instead focus on easier to win target audiences or even message the brand averse as if they expect them to simply forget their bad history with the brand and consume the new messages with a fresh perspective. But that's not how reality works and Microsoft understands that. And considering the size of the market, Microsoft is willing to work hard to try to win these very important and influential users back. Microsoft is basically saying to them, "Just take a look at this latest version. Consider these new features we're bringing to market before our competitors. Give us a fair shot." I think that's a smart and reasonable goal. Kudos to the Microsoft team responsible for this campaign. 

The next step is for IE to deliver the goods. That, of course, is the most critical component of this equation.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Groupon Lesson: Shock Value = Lots of Publicity for Your Brand. But At What Price?

Groupon's Super Bowl Commercial

"Our ads highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon. The last thing we wanted was to offend our customers - it's bad business and it's not where our hearts are."
- Statement from Groupon's CEO in response to the outcry over Groupon's Super Bowl commercial trivializing suffering in Tibet

When you look over the fallout from Groupon's offensive Super Bowl ad, you should ask yourself, could all of this have been foreseen and avoided? Even if Groupon's management was incapable of discerning that such a commercial was likely to offend many people, wouldn't some simple ad testing prior to running this spot have given Groupon a good indication that it was a bad idea? Even more, how could a competent marketer have such incredibly poor judgment to let something like this happen?

First, consider the agency responsible for the creative. Crispin Porter + Bogusky is an agency that has no equal when it comes to using shock value advertising to gain publicity. In fact, they seem to have adopted the old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity" as their guiding mission. (Of course, execs from Enron, Arthur Andersen and BP might disagree with that kind of wisdom, as well as Lindsey's and Mel's publicists.) They're the agency behind the Burger King campaign that featured commercials using a fictitious band called Coq Roq and the related microsite with girls who looked around 14 years old fawning over the band with the copy "Groupies love the Coq." Not surprisingly, that offended a great deal of parents who regularly take their kids to Burger King (BK later took removed the image in response to bad publicity and consumer protests). Several years ago, I made a post about that Burger King campaign with very similar observations to the Groupon commercial in terms of the campaign's brand recklessness.

When your target market is the general US adult population -- not twenty something males you're trying to get to buy beer, condoms or foul smelling antiperspirant -- and you're using commercials airing during the most watched television broadcast in US history, the 2011 Super Bowl, it's a good idea to get it right the first time and not use that air time to experiment with shock value creative mocking the suffering of a very large group of people that I suspect was never tested prior to running this spot. The incredible amount of negative social media mentions of Groupon as fallout from the commercial, the parodies on late night tv (see below for a hilarious spoof of the commercial from Conan) and even the opportunity this has turned into for Groupon's major competitor, LivingSocial, to take the spotlight in a very positive way, all could have been easily predicted in testing.

Now don't take that to mean that I blame the creative agency for this going out the door. No, even though I think the creative agency deserves some of the blame, the buck stops with the top marketer of the client organization. That is the person responsible for green lighting this creative execution, putting it in front of the CEO and persuading him that it was a good idea. That's a voice that should not be trusted again.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A Letter to

My dearest,

All this time, I really thought you knew me better.

In our more than ten year relationship, I've always been impressed with your abilities. How you pay attention to me and what I do. You're always offering up some kind of related advice, some attempts at helpful suggestions that relate to our past experience. I was beginning to think you understood me and my needs, at least a little, and because of that, I rewarded you with more attention. 

But last weekend, all of that changed. You crossed a line that I never expected you to cross. You were insensitive and irrelevant. It was like getting a call from a friend who just attended your grandmother's funeral a week ago only to call today and say, "H. How's your grandmother doing?" It wasn't just a little oversight, it was much more personal than that. 

In the past, I've regularly trusted your advice  -- and you violated that trust to the point where I wonder if our relationship will ever be the same again or if you'll continue to reveal just how much you don't understand me.  After more than ten years, knowing that I am a Chicago area resident and a sports fan, you committed an act that is either callous or just plain insensitive -- and your timing couldn't have been worse. 

I thought for a minute, "Perhaps this is a practical joke?" as I examined your email to me littered with Green Bay Packers jerseys, giant foam cheese wedge hats and other merchandise officially licensed by the team that just weeks ago unmercifully killed my little boy's dream of seeing the Chicago Bears go to the Super Bowl. Beyond me, a lifelong Chicago area resident, the rivalry between the Bears and Packers is extremely well known, so it is surprising to me that you (or even the most junior level marketer involved in this email campaign) would not the least bit aware of this well known bit of information -- or even do a little research -- when you made the  "helpful" recommendations contained in your email. 

One thing is now clear, even with all of our history, you really never knew me. Perhaps your mind wandered unto something else, but clearly, you haven't been paying attention to me and you're no longer communicating effectively with me. It's going to take some time to rebuild the kind of trust we once had again. I mean, how could I trust you now that you've shown such insensitivity and have started to show signs that your words are something I cannot forgive, irrelevant. 


Friday, January 28, 2011

Taco Bell's Smart Response to Lawsuit Claims They Use Little Real Beef

Taco Bell has very quickly, and smartly, responded to a recently filed class action lawsuit against them that has gained a good deal of media attention due to its claims that the meat Taco Bell uses in their food items contain less than 35% beef and does not meet the USDA requirements to be called "beef."

Taco Bell's campaign includes a counter-suit PR effort, Taco Bell's website, print ads in the WSJ, NY Times, USA Today and regional newspapers, a YouTube video from the CEO, search engine marketing, online advertising, etc. It's quite impressive how quickly they've pulled this together. The print ad they're running does an excellent job of responding to the allegations against them by providing the specific ingredients they use as meat for their food. 

Kudos to Taco Bell's management team on handling this matter quickly. So far, their response is a good example of crisis communications management. Although some still aren't buying Taco Bell's counter claims (see Stephen Colbert's hilarious segment from the Colbert Report and notice the audience gasps when he states one of the alleged filler ingredients: 

Now, if Taco Bell management could only make their products taste like they use real beef. I think there is a lesson here for Taco Bell that, beyond whether or not the allegations against Taco Bell are true, it is telling that the claims that their "beef" contains little real beef was so believable to so many in the media and beyond, which may reflect a brand image issue. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Than a Third of Fortune 1000 CMOs Don't Believe in Blogs

A recent study of Fortune 1000 company CMOs done by by Blog2Print, a company that turns blogs into books, attempts to shed some light into the reasons some companies have not embraced corporate blogging. The firm's press release might be entitled, "Survey of Fortune 1000 CMOs Reveals Interesting Insights Into the Minds of the Corporate Blogger," however, I found the insights into the minds -- or, more likely, the guts -- of Fortune 1000 CMOs who were against their companies blogging of greatest interest. 

While seventy percent of the surveyed CMOs believe the cost of a blog is "part of the cost of doing business today," thirty-six percent of the surveyed CMOs believe that maintaining a blog is too much work or that they don’t see the ROI for the “level of effort required by the individuals developing content.” (Yes, I have no idea what those six percent of CMOs voting blogs are "part of the cost of doing business" yet don't do it are thinking either.)

The study also included the CMOs picks for best corporate blogs. The responses were fairly divided, with no clear winner:

Netflix (14%) JetBlue (13%) Nike (11%) Nordstrom (10%) Clorox (9%) Walt Disney (6%) Levis (5%) Priceline (5%) Safeway (5%) Coca-Cola (4%)

So, you too might be wondering, how is it possible that 36% of CMOs at Fortune 1000 companies cannot comprehend the utility of blogging?
I suspect that, in most instances, it's another example of marketing managed by gut instead of the head and a failure to adapt to 21st century shifts in media consumption.
I can understand small businesses feeling they do not have adequate resources to manage this area, but Fortune 1000 CMOs?  If your company is a Fortune 1000, your brand has very likely been mentioned in the social media world today, but you're not a part of that conversation, by choice. Even if you're not compelled by the case for more deeply connecting with customers and prospects, increasing brand awareness, brand contacts or SEO, consider all those reporters, investors and analysts who regularly rely on these vehicles and expect to find your company there. Isn't that a sufficient reason for investment? 
Not if the sound of your gut is so loud it's drowning out the sound of the voice of reason.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Social Media Strategy Case Study on What NOT to Do with Your Corporate Twitter Account

What do you do when a good deal of your dissatisfied customers share their poor experiences with your brand with others online? Well, one thing you shouldn't do is turn your social media efforts into a customer service triage unit.

I recently came across one company using its social media efforts to deal with their customer satisfaction issues in a manner that I find such an excellent example of what not to do with your social media efforts, I felt compelled to share the story. One doesn't need to do a study or possess any company sales information to be confident that this company's social media efforts are certain to cause immediate harm to their brand image -- damaging their brand's reputation -- and negatively impacting their short term sales. Consider how their social media messaging is likely to impact prospective customers, journalists and industry analysts.

Hostway is a web hosting company headquartered in my hometown, Chicago. The company has some very vocal (well, in web terms) customers and former customers (or at least a lot of people claiming to be customers, however, Hostway's tweets responding to people claiming to be dissatisfied customers legitimizes these posts, so, consequently, we'll assume that these posters are legitimate customers and not tricky, underhanded competitors -- however, if it were the latter, Hostway's social media activity would be even more problematic) posting some far less than favorable comments about their experiences with the company's service quality on various blogs, web hosting rating and comparison websites and Twitter accounts (beyond Twitter, some sites I came across from page one of a Google search for reviews of Hostway include: , , , . I recently visited Hostway's Twitter page on several occasions over the past month. I would guesstimate that during this period, half or more of Hostway's tweets were addressed to specific customers who had problems with Hostway services (AKA quality issues). Here are some recent posts I gathered from one recent visit to the official Hostway Twitter page on Oct 28, 2010 (I removed the names of the Twitter users being addressed and, for the record, these tweets are addressed to numerous customers, not the same one):

"@(TwitterUser) Can you please provide me with the domain you are having issues with and I will have a rep contact you."

"@(TwitterUser) is there something specific you had issues with that we could try to fix?"

(TwitterUser), did you get a solution?"

Sorry for your recent issue. Has it been resolved? If not, would you like to have a rep contact you?"

I will have a technical service representative contact you to resolve your issue.@(TwitterUser)"

"Hi There, sorry for your slow connection. If you DM me with your domain name I can have someone look into it. @(TwitterUser)"

A tech support representative will be contacting you to resolve your issue."

These three were one after the other:
"@(TwitterUser) A technical support representative will be contacting you to resolve your issue."

A support representative will be contacting you soon."

We'd love to help you. Direct message me your domain name, and we'll look into it."

Members of the media, industry analysts (media and industry analysts frequently subscribe to tweets from companies they follow) and potential customers researching web hosting firms will see these tweets and certainly have a very poor impression of the company (can you say, run?). Even a loyal customer may question his or her loyalty in light of all the customer service issues prominently displayed on Hostway's corporate Twitter account page. These communications can create the impression that it's only a matter of time before a customer has serious problems with Hostway's services.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that Hostway should run and hide from its problems. Not at all. I have always been a believer in honest, truthful communications that reflect the true customer experience (appropriate expectation setting is critical to achieving customer satisfaction) and I do believe it is reasonable and can even be a good idea to intelligently address areas where improvement is needed (although not one customer at a time, stated publicly). However, no one is going to be impressed by Hostway constantly tweeting promises about how they are going to fix this or that individual customer's problems with their services -- especially when a customer is likely to be tweeting after unsuccessfully trying to use the company's regular channels to resolve these issues. Hostway's tweets aren't wise corporate communications and they certainly doesn't build trust with the public. Even more, it can come off with all of the sincerity of an abusive spouse pleading, "Come back to me, honey. I promise I'll never do that again." An promise to fix something at a future date (AKA an unfulfilled promise) is really not going to impress anyone, no matter how clever you think you are at spinning it. That's not a serious social media strategy or tactic. It's more of a suicide mission.

Instead, Hostway should be focusing their energy on working one on one, direct messaging with the people tweeting and posting about their problems and poor experiences with their company and seriously get to work at fixing the underlying problems that resulted in its customers posts. Hostway shouldn't be talking about what their going to do -- they should do it and work at making their customers extremely satisfied. Giving dissatisfied customers a multitude of public promises to fix a multitude of service problems doesn't benefit customers or Hostway. Instead, if Hostway focuses on satisfying these very vocal customers -- and works diligently at fixing the underlying problems that caused their dissatisfaction in the first place so that other customers will avoid the same experience -- some of these very vocal, dissatisfied customers are likely to tweet about their positive experience with Hostway-- which is far more valuable than Hostway's own tweets could ever be. At that point, it would make sense for Hostway to publicly address those customers using Twitter, as those can be considered testimonials.

So, what should Hostway be tweeting about?

Improvements -- with specific attention given to measurable or quantitative improvements in areas that matter to customers and prospects. Areas like server uptime, speed of issue resolution, customer satisfaction in the form of survey results, infrastructure improvements and any staff additions...along with customer testimonials that speak to improvement or reflect high quality. All of this should be real, honest and consistent with the customer experience, otherwise customer dissatisfaction can be expected (a brand needs to walk the walk before it can talk the talk -- the customer experience always trumps promotional messaging, so it's wise to be honest). Largely, Hostway should use hard, tangible results that speak to the quality of its services and favorable customer satisfaction ratings and feedback (that reflect the average customer's experience) where possible and use highly credible third-party sources/ratings on the areas customers care about most -- such as server reliability, new account setup and problem resolution.

There's plenty this company can do to make people feel more confident about using them, even with a history of missteps. However, turning a corporate Twitter account into customer service triage creates the appearance that the company lacks a competent social media strategy or a crisis management plan. It's a lot like someone starting a first date by providing a detailed list of reasons why every former relationship ended in failure. I wouldn't recommend calling in that order for wedding invitations just yet.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Point of View on the New FTC Guidlines Regarding Blogging / Social Media

The recently published Federal Trade Commissions "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (16 CFR Part 255)" addressing blogging and social media has received a good deal of attention lately. These rules largely codify marketing best practices of ethical marketers, PR professionals and bloggers. That said, there are a good deal of companies, even at the Fortune 500 level, where PR and marketing departments give, for instance, bloggers free products, travel, cash and gifts in return for influence or to outright ensure certain messaging occurs. It is due to these practices that I believe the FTC guidelines are necessary and beneficial for both consumers and ethical marketers who compete against marketers who choose to take the low road.

The reality of social media today is that it is still largely the wild West. Unlike traditional journalists, bloggers are not brought up in a profession where a code of ethics is critical to one's professional reputation and livelihood. All too often, marketers and PR professionals emerge who are eager to buy the influence of a blogger or social media user, even in small markets. I have witnessed it with both large and small companies and markets. Social media has changed the way companies market and it is clear that new, uniform rules must be put into place to ensure fair play.

The guidelines really will not have much impact on the way the ethical practitioners operate, except for their requiring monitoring postings to ensure compliance. While I think the monitoring posts will be difficult to police, I do think it is a sound idea that should be a component for managing this area for any marketing department.

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Study Finds the Majority of Managers Unhappy with Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Results

A newly published study by X+1 found that more than half (57%) of corporate marketers surveyed were dissatisfied with their search engine marketing (SEM) results. Surprising? Not really.

From managing online marketing, including search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), for nearly 15 years and running best practice global SEM programs at the Fortune 500 that have received praise from Google and Yahoo execs as best practices, my experience is that the problem isn't search engine marketing as a vehicle. The problem lies in the poor management of search engine marketing -- as well as many other areas of interactive marketing, an area I consider to be the most complex area of marketing today.

The specific underlying problem to this dissatisfaction, I believe, is rooted in marketing executives hiring inexperienced marketers to manage search engine marketing (SEM). Companies often stress technical skills over marketing skills. The result is companies commonly hire managers who are poorly equipped to handle this complex area, which requires not only significant direct marketing discipline but other marketing skills as well. I've witnessed it first hand when running global online marketing and SEM and SEO programs at the Fortune 500 level.

It is only through direct marketing and branding discipline that I have been able to led the turnaround of these areas, such as a more than 50% improvement in conversion rate on a nearly $10 million USD annual spend or achieving nearly triple the previous best conversion rate at a Fortune 50. It requires a mixture of direct marketing, branding principles, research and analytical skills blended with online marketing and behavioral principles. It demands a constant test and refine mindset and a control over all elements in the user flow -- not just the text ad at the search engine. It certainly requires hard work, discipline and a talented team, not just management by gut feeling, which is the fatal flaw of many campaigns. There really aren't any shortcuts to great results.

Even if you are not selling online, managing a successful SEM program or SEM campaign very much draws on direct marketing and branding principles. It is a lot like direct mail on steroids. The text ad listing at the search engine is only a part of the story, however, the reality is that the keywords and bidding are the areas SEM managers often focus most of their time on, neglecting other citical areas -- such as the user flow, testing and landing pages.

A short analogy with direct mail marketing and search engine marketing (SEM). The keywords list, in many ways, is like your mailing list. The actual text ad is a lot like the teaser copy on the outside of the envelope. The landing page is a lot like the first insert in the envelope. SEM potentially enables the marketer to understand how many people saw the envelope and how many opened it and how many inserts they went through before converting or leaving.

I developed a balance scorecard based methodology that I presented at AD-Tech a few years ago (with a campaign example from Motorola, where I managed online marketing, including, global SEM, SEO and blogging in addition to numerous online campaigns) that enabled targeting based on the user's point in the purchase funnel. Basically, the score permitted us to understand and focus on how far down the purchse funnel the user went and target according to where the user would commonly end. While most SEM campaigns insight is only as deep as whether users did or did not convert, we tried to understand how far down the funnel those who did not convert went and used that information to target them differently. We also targeted differently based on what we knew about groups most likely to use certain keywords and based on whether the user was likely to be an early adopter, etc. The result on the pilot was an 82% conversion rate, around three times the company's prior best campaigns. All of this flows out of the application of direct marketing principles into SEM campaigns and programs.

Instead of blaming SEM as a vehicle, let's start improving the hiring criteria for managing SEM and start managing this area with the kind of discipline it demands.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Presenting on Managing Search Engine Marketing at a Best Practice Level Tomorrow

I'm presenting on Managing Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at a best practice level tomorrow, Tuesday at 10 AM CST.

It's a free webinar via BrightTalk: The presentation will be relevant for companies of all sizes, from Fortune 500s with large budgets to small business.

Sorry to all for the short notice. The event will be archived if you want to attend, but can't make it. If you're interested in my consulting to your company, don't hesitate to contact me. I'm in the midst of creating a cost-effective diagnostic and recommendation service for companies of all sizes.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Is There an Upside to This Economy for the Marketing Profession?

I just got back from judging this year's CADM (Chicago Association of Direct Marketing) entries for their 2009 Tempo Awards.

I have to say, after looking through a good deal of entries, I really appreciate strong creative, but in the end, it's all about results, no matter how pretty the pictures are, how clever the copy is or how many seconds the very creative, Flash-centric design takes to download at the microsite.

Now that's an incredibly simple statement, but still one that many marketers and agencies don't live by. One of the few positive by-products of this bad economy for the marketing profession is that it is forced to become more accountable.

There's been at least a decade of lip service to ROI in the marketing department, but few real results. I don't think there is much of a choice these days, as marketing is being forced to evolve. In my opinion, this situation is actually good for our profession and will help ensure its future, which I believe, should include a more stable seat at the executive table.

For those who think we are there, I beg to differ. When an executive recruiter who works with CMOs calls me, ecstatic over the news that CMOs are now averaging a little more than two years before they are out, things are less than what I would consider stable.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gmail's Undo Feature

Have a habit of doing things like accidentally including the boss in that last group email about what a doufis the boss is? Gmail has a solution for you.

Kind of a low tech solution. But since this is Google, maybe they'll serve up a relevant ad from a writing service right after you press undo? Or perhaps, if the email was really late at night on a weekend, an ad from a company that sells a tonic to cure hangovers?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's Just Not That Cuil: When Brand Hype Creates Expectations That Wildly Exceed the User Experience

Great buzz can result in a great deal of product trial. Brands like Google were built on word-of-mouth. Users loved the product and the brand itself and enthusiastically told others who tried the product and also liked what they found. But what happens if all of the buzz leads to trial of a product that doesn't deliver?

It would have been difficult to have read general news, marketing and business publications over the last week and not have come across something about Cuil, a new search engine launched by some former Google managers. The folks behind Cuil have very clearly shown an ability to work the media. However, my visit and use of their product revealed a very poor user experience with astoundingly irrelevant search query results in three of ten searches I performed. Even more, the user interface is less than intuitive. In fact, the whole experience was so poor, I wondered if the Cuil folks actually spent much time performing usability and user experience tests. To top it all off, they've committed the ultimate sin by touting their product as superior to Google -- quite a foolish mistake to portray your product as superior to a much loved brand; it only invites highly critical comparisons and Cuil, in my experience, is vastly unprepared for such comparison. Clearly, a short time after launch, the blogosphere and many journalists are now lambasting Cuil for its sins.

All-in-all, Cuil provides a great lesson in brand building, publicity and word-of-mouth marketing -- in a nutshell, you can't build a viable brand on a product that fails to deliver on promises. All the hype in the world can't change the fact that this product isn't a Google killer, or even a Live Search killer. Great publicity and word-of-mouth marketing can be the fastest way to kill a bad product and, at the moment, that may be very well be the fate of Cuil. At minimum, first impressions can be very important and Cuil has gotten off to a very poor start and certainly damaged the public's first experience with their brand and that is quite significant.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Another Lesson Marketers Can Learn from Apple: Listening and Communicating with Customers; Customer Loyalty Works Both Ways

Yesterday, I received an email from a friend and fellow marketer indicating that I needed to do another post on Apple. He was right.

When Steve Jobs made his latest announcement on Wednesday, September 5, that Apple lowering the price of the 8GB iPhone by $200 less than two months after its release and eliminating the 4GB model, it made a fair amount of iPhone owners feeling disappointment. As Apple's early adopters tend to be passionate, fiercely loyal, vocal brand advocates that most brands can only dream of (just do a search to get an idea how many blogs, websites, forums and publications are put out by Apple customers, it's impressive), Apple CEO Jobs knows this and respects his customers loyalty (and I am certain, wants to avoid losing it).

On Thursday, in an ingenious move, just one day after the announcement to drop the 8GB price $200, Jobs issued an open letter to iPhone owners offering them a $100 credit at Apple stores for being early adopters. Of course, this open letter sends a powerful message to the world about Apple's loyalty to its customers. I strongly recommend you read Jobs letter, because, I believe, this man knows how to talk and connect with customers. He claims to have read "every one of these emails" from customers upset about the $200 price drop. Jobs acknowledges customer disappointment with Apple, shows humility and respect for customers and what seems to be a genuine desire to do right by customers and makes good with a financial reward for loyal customers, putting his money where his mouth is (of course, smartly, the $100 can only be used at the Apple store).

Every marketer and CEO should be taking notes. This is a great example of how you talk to customers in the age of the informed consumer. Jobs' puts a very human face on the brand and rewards loyalty, which is very likely to make brand advocates more passionate about their choice. It's also resulted in an enormous amount of positive media coverage, blog and message board posting, emails and old fashioned word of mouth (not just word of mouse, but good old fashioned actual one-on-one, in-person and telephone communications) for Apple and iPhone.

Kudos Mr. Jobs. All of this is is so smart, part of me wonders if it wasn't a pre-planned publicity stunt. Whatever the case, Apple has gotten a great deal of good press and word of mouth off of this, and even more, it's gotten the appreciation of its loyal fans.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why All Marketers Can Learn from Apple

While I left Motorola earlier this year and am currently am on contract to a leading B2B/B2C brand not in the cell phone industry, I continue to be fascinated by the competitive activity in the cell phone space. Like many others, I am particularly fascinated by Apple. But for me, my fascination isn't merely because of a cool new music cell phone. My interest is due to Apple's marketing and brand strategies. Today, Reuters reports that, in the US, during its first full month for sale (July), the iPhone has outsold all smartphone models. Impressive, but not surprising.

Apple has shown brand and marketing management expertise with the iPod and the iPhone (which I consider a kind of brand extension of the iPod) from which all marketers, b2c and b2b, can learn a great deal. Apple provides an excellent example of the care and feeding needed to build and sustain a strong brand. Apple has done this by continually moving the iPod brand forward (think Nano then iPhone) and never milking the brand's success; it's part of why it is very difficult to steal the iPod's market share. Apple has also done some smart brand extensions which always maintain the integrity of the core brand (or subrands, if you prefer).

Brand loyalty for iPod is complex connected to many factors: product design, user interface, software, the coolness factor (it's the cool music player to be seen with) -- the fact that a user gets locked in with his/her music collection being in the iTunes format, etc. Of course, you can buy a competitor mp3 player with more features for less money than the iPod -- iPod commands a premium price, always.

Sustaining the Apple iPod music player brand meant moving the product forward, which inevitably led to the iPhone, the convergence of the music / media player and a cell phone. Apple knew it was where portable music players were headed and wanted to cannibalize iPod sales before someone else became first to mind in the space (of course, Apple didn't make the first cell phone that played music, however, it quickly has become first in mind when it comes to cell phones that play music).

Part of managing the brand is managing pricing, and Apple has always smartly exercised strong control over it's retail pricing that most marketers should look at with envy. It's hard to imagine a premium brand selling for $49 - $99 USD (the price range of many subsidized cell phones in the US) and I am confident that Apple is too smart to let that happen to the iPhone (I am also confident that cell phone carriers appreciate this; like any business, they want products they can sell for a nice profit). With iPhone, Apple has innovated in this area too. In the US, cell phone carriers (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, etc.) have traditionally subsidized the cost of cell phones looking to service for their profit. Not with the iPhone. Reports are that Apple has ensured that AT&T is making a sizable margin on the iPhone. That's smart for both companies. After all, any business is more likely to push a brand they make a profit from rather than a loss -- it's a great differentiator and incentive for the carrier to push the product, especially when you combine that with strong consumer demand for the phone. I've always believed that cell phone makers should have been working hard to do this (i.e., offering carriers high end phones they can sell at a profit), instead of marching to the beat of what's always been done by pumping out more subsidized cell phones. It's interesting that it took a new marketing and brand savvy entrant into the cell phone market to accomplish this.

Even more, only several years ago brands didn't mean much to carriers. I remember seeing a research study a carrier had done that showed that more than 70 percent of consumers could be switched to a different brand while at the carrier's retail store. I seriously doubt this will apply to consumers coming in -- and even switching carriers -- to purchase an iPhone. I am confident those consumers are not going to be easily switched.

I'm also confident that Apple and its iPhone will change the cell phone game in many ways.

Kudos Mr. Jobs. Brilliant work. I am eagerly anticipating your next move.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Most Annoying Buzzwords of 2006

The Creative Group recently polled 250 marketing and advertising executives to create their latest list of the most overused buzzwords. Of course, they probably should have polled other departments to find out what they thought were the most overused buzzwords from marketing and advertising departments (we do generate a good deal of these terms). I’ve edited down their list to create the absolute worst of the worst of over-used, annoying buzzwords and added my commentary in parenthesis. Granted, many of these words have legitimate uses, but their overuse has been so dramatic, it is probably a good idea to limit their use as to not drive co-workers to the brink of insanity:

- “Outside-the-box”
(This phrase should only be used as a joke. It made in their past list too. It should go into the hall of fame – or is that hall of shame?)
- “Synergy”
(If you’re using this phrase, I’m willing to bet you’re probably wearing plaid pants and a bright bow tie.)
- “The big idea”
(Okay, if you actually said this, chances are you’re not the one with the big idea.)
- “ROI”
(While ROI is an important business measure, marketing and advertising professionals have abused this acronym so badly, I’m actually starting to think we should institute a law that says you can only use this term if you possess a permit that proves you understand what it means and are actually capable of generating positive ROI.)
- “Paradigm shift”
(If you’re still using this term, be advised, the paradigm already shifted sometime in the 70s. You actually missed it.)- “Integrated solution” (Are there really non-integrated solutions? This one is too meaningless to be spoken.)
- “Customer-centric”
(If you’re still over-using this one, odds are you have a sock puppet on your desk.)
- “Make it pop”
(Unless you own a time machine, there’s no need for this one.)
- “Break through the clutter”
(If this is the best you can come up with, clearly, you are part of the clutter.)
- “Take it to the next level”
(On second thought, perhaps the level you are on is most approrpriate.)
- “Free value”
(Huh? You lost me.)
- “Low-hanging fruit”
(As annoying as this one is, I admit, I’ve been guilty. I try to use “quick hits” which was probably a finalist for this list.)
- “It is what it is”
(And the plural form, “They are what they are.” I like this, but only when used for humorous effect.)

(The buzzwords I removed from the Creative Group’s list are: strategy, CRM and organic growth. All of these are, no doubt, over-used, but have legitimate meaning.)

The Creative Group’s previous list had a number of gems, including some on the latest list and a number of classics that some managers and consultants just can’t stop themselves from (over) using:

- “At the end of the day”
- “Solution”
- “Thinking outside the box” -
- “Synergy”
- “Paradigm” “Metrics”
- “Take it offline”
- “Redeployed people”
- “On the runway”
- “Win-win”
- “Value-added”
- “Get on the same page”
- “Customer centric”
- “Generation X”
- “Accountability management”
- “Core competency”
- “Alignment” - “Incremental”

Okay, it's time to wrap this one up. Please, don't hesitate to take this list to the next level and add the phrases you find most annoying. It's a win-win.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Marketing 1.0 Skill Sets Are Not Sufficient in a Web 2.0 World

The phrase Web 2.0 has become popular lately. If you’re not familiar with the term (and like a lot of internet-related terms, its definition is not completely agreed upon), it describes the web’s second generation, which has more community applications, such as social networking sites, wikis, message boards, blogs, etc.

Web 2.0 means that users have a voice and increased expectations for commercial websites and communications with brands online have increased. It also means that online marketing has become incredibly more complex than the days when you could get by with throwing up your brochures and a contact us page and wait to see what happened. There are significantly greater opportunities for business as well as significantly greater complexity for those who manage online marketing. Of course, this means that the skill sets necessary to effectively manage web 2.0 must similarly evolve.

However, historically, companies have staffed their internet marketing department with personnel that lacks marketing experience, when, in fact, internet marketing is easily the most complex marketing channel to manage today. Very candidly, again and again, I’ve seen and learned from peers with similar experience that the reason for inadequate skill sets in the online marketing department is often rooted in senior marketing executives not being comfortable or familiar with online marketing. Consequently, they often view online marketing as an area to hire managers with strong technology skills, not necessarily strong marketing skills. My twenty two years of marketing and advertising and twelve years of managing online marketing tell me that companies should be looking for managers with very strong marketing and communications skills who are technology savvy. So, what is the result of online marketing departments staffed with inexperienced marketers? Check recent studies on marketing effectiveness, integration in the marketing mix and ability for online marketing to measure effectiveness from the CMO Council, Jupiter and others from the past several years. Although online marketing departments can provide a lot of web operational metrics, they rarely provide measures that are meaningful to the business. (Hint to CMOs: If you’re staff is providing you with low level web operational measures such as visitors, click-throughs and page views, you have a problem – you should be seeing measures meaning to the business objectives and ROI. Additional deficiencies include areas such as marketing mix integration, planning, setting quantitative objectives, properly testing, effectively leveraging media vehicles, etc. -- the list goes on.)

Web 2.0 not only means that marketing and metrics experience is even more critical than in the past, it also means that in-depth experience with communications is vital. Web 2.0 means that your targets have a voice – whether it’s on your turf (AKA website) or somewhere else. Which means that online marketing staff should be managing communications that are two way in nature. Think message board, blogs – it doesn’t matter if your company has launched one of these vehicles or if your targets use them somewhere else; if you’re not at least monitoring these vehicles and leveraging the information in your marketing -- plain and simple --
you’re not properly managing your brand.

All of this makes internet marketing incredibly more complex than it was a decade ago. It is no longer about throwing up brochures and watching what happens. I’m not even persuaded it is fair to call that interactive marketing, when that is about as interactive as someone reading a newspaper or watching a television show on their couch -- that's observing. Today’s web enables significantly greater interactivity. Internet users can rate things, provide their opinion to the community or brand, ask for help or give help to others, share their experiences with a brand – there are almost endless possibilities. However, companies still often manage this area with skills sets that fit more with Web 1.0.

I’ve put together a list of some of the skill sets necessary to manage online marketing in today’s environment:

- Advanced communications skills.
Merely understanding and communicating the value proposition isn’t sufficient. The web isn’t like one-way communications sent out to the public such as advertising or press releases, online marketers must be fluent in two-way communications with the public and know how to deal effectively with harsh critics. This is probably the most difficult skill set to expect from candidates, as this area is so new. Consequently, strong corporate communications experience is imperative.

- Strong knowledge of branding and a solid understanding of design, usability and user experience.
Visitors to your website, recipients of your emails, readers of your corporate blogs are all experiencing your brand. Your website being hard to use and forms not working might represent that your company is not customer-focused and concerned with ease of use in your products to her.
- Strong knowledge of other elements of the marketing mix.
Great online marketing rarely exists in a silo. It is integrated into everything else your company is doing, from PR to word of mouth marketing to traditional advertising to packaging to support. In order to be integrated, great online marketing requires integrated planning and, ideally (but rarely, in practice), integrated metrics. This means that online marketing managers must have a solid understanding of how these other elements work in order to best integrate.

- Strong marketing, segmentation and targeting skills.

Effective online marketing requires a strong foundation in marketing and direct marketing fundamentals (yes, I believe a foundation in direct marketing is very beneficial for online marketing, even if you're not doing direct selling), segmenting audiences and effectively targeting messages.

- Strong understanding of technology/information technology.
Managing online marketing requires a strong knowledge and comfort with technology to understand how things work and what is possible. It means working closely with the IT department, programmers, coders, designers, illustrators, analysts, etc. Even more, because internet technologies and usage is regularly evolving, it requires a manager to regularly stay up on technology. However, the technical aspect of managing online marketing shouldn’t define the online marketing position, marketing skills should.

- Strong analytical/data skills.

Online marketing, even for brands that do not sell direct (that is, through channel partners), requires constant analysis of data that indicates what users do. Database marketing experience is critical.

- Strong knowledge and experience with research and marketing testing techniques.

I’ve often thought that a good place to find great online marketers is from the direct mail marketing world, as these marketers are often experts with testing, complex metrics and database marketing. Doing online marketing campaigns at a best practice level requires testing and an effective online marketing manager must have a strong knowledge of testing techniques, and research in general to know when to conduct research and how to leverage the information learned from research.

Managing online marketing well requires a strong grasp of internet technologies, but it requires an even stronger grasp of marketing management. Perhaps CMOs are only beginning to realize this.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fifteen Rules for Starting and Managing a Corporate Blog

There has been a good deal of talk about corporate blogs in the last few years – first hype, then a media backlash – but still, there are relatively few Fortune 500s with blogs.

As I was spending last weekend finishing up a chapter on blogging for my forthcoming book on B2B internet marketing, I thought I’d share a draft of a list I've created of "rules" or lessons learned for developing and launching corporate blogs or a corporate blogging program . I came up with the list based on a combination of my own eleven years of online marketing management experience and (including creating a Fortune 500 blogging program) and the insights and experiences gleaned from conversations I've had with marketers from companies that have led the way. Over the years, there’s been a good deal to learn from these efforts – from smart moves to very public missteps.

In true blogosphere spirit, I invite you to comment on this list – add, agree, disagree – it’s all welcome. By the time I need to deliver the final manuscript in a few months, I’ll, no doubt, do some refining, but I wanted to put out this first draft and get reaction. I did try to make this into ten rules, but soon realized that wouldn’t really do this topic justice.

Fifteen Rules for Developing a Corporate Blog Program:

1. Don’t treat corporate blogs like another corporate communications or marketing communications device, it’s significantly different.
While a great corporate blog benefits the brand, a corporate blog should not be treated as if it is just another corporate communications or marketing communications vehicle. Blogs are not ads, corporate web pages or press releases – in fact, they have more in common with personal letters than these promotional vehicles. Blogs require a level of personality, sincerity and sense of respect for the community that is best kept real, and not turned over to a ghost writer.

2. Don’t blog without a solid, compelling case and proper resources.
Don’t blog merely because of the blogging bandwagon leads you to believe you should. Blogging requires a serious commitment of time and resources and entails taking on new risks. Start by having solid, compelling objectives to launch a blog, not because of ego or “me too” reasons. You are better off being slow to the blogosphere than going in without a reason or plan. Blogging is a radical shift from the monologues with which marketing and public relations professionals are familiar. The public will now be talking back to you on your own turf and may have very hard criticism that requires a prompt response. It’s a brave new frontier, so don’t expect the same old approaches to apply.

3. Have solid executive backing before you blog.
Make sure you’ve made a good case with the CEO before you embark on corporate blogging. It’s better for the CEO to understand the benefits and risks of blogging long before s/he reads that the media has picked up on customer dissent on one of your blogs. Have a good corporate blogging policy. Developing a corporate blogging policy is no small feat, it should address official employee blogging and – depending on the advice of your legal department – employees blogging activity on their own time. That means involving multiple departments including: marketing, public relations, internal communications, human resources and legal. IBM’s blog policy can be found at: "'>">, some other good Charlene Li of Forrester has a good post on the topic at:

4. Choose your bloggers carefully.
Allowing all your employees bloggers sounds very democratic. It’s also the online equivalent of telling your employees that anytime they spot a news crew they should jump in front of the camera, grab the microphone and begin talking, representing the company without media training, talking points – just winging it. And when they’re finished, make sure they remember to grab a passer by and ask her to provide a critical rebuttal for everything they just said – after all, that’s what corporate blogs do. Smart corporate bloggers need to be trained, re-trained, and encouraged. And it’s a lot more than what’s required for media training. Finding an employee who has influence, something compelling to say that benefits the brand, has a style and views that align with brand objectives, knows how to write, is prolific, is well-tempered and has the time to regularly blog is a tall task. IBM, Microsoft and Novell all have policies allowing all their employees to blog. For companies who have, for example, a large amount of employee developers and make products that target software developers, it can make a decent case to enable these employees to blog. However, even so, I think companies will benefit from having a blogger certification program. While making all your employees bloggers is neat in a human, democratic sense – and I like it as an individual – as a marketer, I find it creates a situation with a lot of brand noise where it’s very difficult to locate and quickly discern between those voices worth listening to from those that are just chattering. Even more, journalists are usually going to look for the most controversial voices.

5. Authenticity is critical.
Don’t make blogs a marketing or PR mouthpiece and don’t ghost write. Blog readers connect with people, the flesh and blood of a brand. The blogosphere is rightfully cynical of corporate blogs. While all blogs need to align with and benefit the brand and objectives, companies should spend time finding employees whose style is a match with the brand and objectives and allow the blogger’s true personality and style to shine through. Influence is more important than rank on an org chart.

6. Thoroughly train your bloggers and require an internal blogging test period before a blogger is “certified.”
All of your bloggers should go through thorough training that covers blogosphere 101 (I believe all bloggers should spend at least a few months getting immersed in the blogosphere before launching a blog of their own), blog etiquette, blog writing basics, dealing with intellectual property leak concerns.

7. Assign a blog approver for each blog who has some degree of subject matter expertise, knowledge of company policies and public relations.
Require each blog post to first be reviewed prior to posting. Let’s face it, bloggers (including some very well-known ones) sometimes write things they shouldn’t. Sometimes they blog when they’re having a bad day, a nasty reaction to something…Other times they make poor choices or are unaware that something they’ve written includes information that is proprietary. Having a second set of eyes review posts prior to publication can stop these posts from going out in the first place. The reviewer should be knowledgeable on the subject matter and company policies so that she can spot potential problems. Have an editorial calendar for your bloggers to keep them on track. Work with each blogger to develop an editorial calendar that keeps him or her on track and aligns with company events, releases, industry happenings, etc.

8. Don’t hide from the tough stuff. Be willing to admit mistakes.
The blogosphere expects a company joining the blogosphere should be honest about shortcomings, failings and issues. Members of the blogosphere are also willing to forgive companies when they admit their mistakes.

9. Create a blog crisis communications plan.
When your company has a problem – and especially a big one – your blog readers will expect relevant company blogs to address it and may attack if you do not. Making mistakes on corporate blogs aren’t unheard of. When HP removed a blog comment from an HP customer describing numerous poor customer service problems, the blogosphere and the media (right up to the WSJ) picked up on it. The best time to plan for these scenarios is long before they happen and then, after you realize the danger, put together a plan to avoid these situations all together.

10. Moderate blog comments.
One of the worst mistakes a corporate blog can do is to post than remove a critical comment on a blog. It smacks of censorship, which is antithetical to core blogosphere values – permitting honest, two-day dialogue. Again, recall the HP blog fiasco when they removed a blog comment. Had they instead contacted the commenter about the problem described in his comment, helped him to resolve the problem and then asked if he wanted the post published the commenter might have said no. If he still wanted the comment published, he would probably end up putting another post praising HP for how they corrected his customer service issue.

11. Make your blog part of a communications plan – not the whole of it.
A blog should not be the center-piece of your marketing communications plan. If you are focused on building or maintaining your brand’s position as a thought leader, a blog should be one component which includes white papers, speaking engagements, citations in the media as an expert, etc.

12. Monitor your corporate blogs.
Considering the potential for mistakes, abandoning blogs and bloggers going off and engaging in brand damaging behavior that might gain media attention, it’s a wise idea to have a plan to regularly monitor blogs. Now, I’m not suggesting a blogging CIA here, in fact, I believe if you find bloggers who are engaged in activities that aren’t helpful, your first course of action should be to work with the blogger. Consider that you want to nurture blogging talent, not stifle it.

13. Determine measures of effectiveness up front.
Before embarking on corporate blogging, you need to determine how you will measure blog effectiveness. This should largely be dependent on your objectives. However, some areas that are worthy of consideration include: - Positive media mentions - Positive mentions in other blogs - Traffic to the blog – unique visitors, click-throughs, length of visit - Incoming links to the blog - Increases in brand, product or program awareness and sales that can be attributed to the blog - Increased attendance at company events that can be attributed to the blog

14. Consider that the blogosphere expects your blogs to be a marketing and PR mouthpiece. Always keep this in mind and prove them wrong.
There is a real sense of community in the blogosphere. It’s a bad place to be overtly self-serving or self-promotional. Corporate blogs, while undoubtedly should benefit the brand, they should never do this like a press release or promotional web page. Instead, corporate blogs should avoid being only focused on the company’s products being great and be infused with some level of concern for the industry and customers overall and show a level of unselfishness. Your readers know you want people to buy your wares, so skip the hard core sales talk, and instead get into things like the passions for excellence, concern for customers, product development, etc.

15. Manage your brand online: Monitor what people are saying about your brand online.
The most important choice you make in the blogosphere might not be your choice to launch corporate blogs but to monitor what’s being said about your brand by customers, prospects, vendors, employees, former employees and other stakeholders.

Some additional thoughts on the topic worth reading:

-Blog Rules
- Robert Scobler's (Microsoft blogger) Corporate Weblog Manifesto:
- James Snell of IBM on IBM’s blog policy:
- 7 Rules for Corporate Blogging: