Friday, November 20, 2009

Brands are like People. Even Bleach brands.

Two things caught my eye this morning - this paper on the 'relationship era' of marketing from imc2, and Clorox's announcement of their partnership with Disney (see screengrab right).

These got me thinking: we increasingly perceive brands like we perceive people. And brands, no matter how apparently unglamorous, can be people worth knowing.

For example, we like people who: listen to us and respond accordingly; take the trouble to be helpful, useful or entertaining; are genuine, and comfortable in their own skin. Of course, the converse is also true.

And it's the same with brands. Having used personalities to embody themselves for years (think Ronald McDonald), brands have become personalities in their own right. It's interesting to see the profiles of brands and people alike, mingling unsegregated on our social platforms.

I do not believe that this has been a specific 'grand plan' on the part of marketers. Rather, it is part of the market-driven leveling of the relationship between consumers and brands that has accelerated with the adoption of digital media.

As consumers, we now expect the same integrity of brands as we do people. We judge them similarly on their behavior.

And as marketers, we are more than ever guardians of our brands' character.

So for a brand to sustain a relationship with a customer, the same commitment is required as when you or I seek the same relationship. Simply, we have to be worth knowing; worth spending valuable time and attention with.

Ask yourself, is your brand someone worth hanging with? And if you're thinking that this doesn't apply to low-involvement, 'unglamorous' brands, remember the Clorox example above.

Even a Bleach manufacturer can tell you how to throw a Holiday Party. And what's more fun to be around than that?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What's Murdoch Really Got On Google?

You might have seen last week Murdoch grumpily threatening to withdraw News Corp content from Google search results, in an effort to 'protect' his IP. Since then there's been debate in the trades and business media on the merits of this. Amazingly, some folks seem to think Murdoch has a point.

Now, maybe Murdoch means what he says. Or maybe he's posturing. Either way, I honestly wonder if he's losing it.

Does Murdoch mean what he says?

Well then, to see Google (or any similar tool) as parasite of content is missing the point. Rather, Google is the virtual 'mall' through which content can be merchandized. Estimates of NC online traffic coming from search vary between 17% and 25%.

Not only does this translate into millions in advertising dollars, but it is also an opportunity to merchandize content worth paying for. Perhaps this content needs to be sold in smaller chunks - eg. one article at a time - but it can reach a far, far larger audience than has ever paid for a newspaper.

Or is he posturing?

Smarter commentators, such as Henry Blodget, have suggested that this is a classic Murdoch 'posture' to get Google to pay News Corp for the privilege of distributing its content.

Again, is Murdoch smoking something? Google (Yahoo!, Bing etc...), are the new mediators of online content. They have successfully disrupted the media marketplace and changed consumer behavior. That's a simple fact. As such, News Corp needs Google far more than Google needs News Corp.

Making NewsCorp content inaccessible from Google is the
21st Century equivalent to withdrawing it from newsstands. (Perhaps on the basis that the newstands are 'stealing' the daily headlines by freely displaying them?) If NewsCorp was to therefore make the WSJ or the London Times was available only through mail subscription, would that sound sensible? No, it would not. Many readers would still go to the newstands and buy a competing news brand instead.

As this article by Abbey Klassen and Nat Ives says, 'it's about the pay walls'. What Newscorp needs to do is correctly calibrate the content that is freely available (the shop window) with the content that people will pay for (the goods for sale inside). This is a 'micropayment strategy'.

Not everyone believes a micropayment strategy would work. I kinda hope it will though. Because it would ultimately create a freer, unbundled, consumer marketplace for content. Which would likely improve the value of content available, and reverse the 'dumbing down' in broadsheet media that we've seen over the last 20 years.

But it would
also reduce News Corp's control over the value chain of the News business. Which is possibly why they are rejecting a micropayment strategy and instead mooting 24
-hour subscriptions for online content. Subscriptions, by indiscriminately lumping together content that is desired with a bunch of other undesired content, is are a poorer reflection of both media consumption and the intrinsic value of the content.


But I won't get too depressed yet - this saga is far from over.

2010: The mobile internet IS the internet

From Mary Meeker (Morgan Stanley), a hugely significant and well-structured presentation from Web 2.0.

A great way to use 17 minutes, trust me...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

experiences you can FEED on

This morning Razorfish's FEED report came out. It's a well-structured, thought through, data-supported case for brands to engage their customers through digitally-delivered experiences (or 'engagement').

Of course, this is nothing totally new. My old colleague Tom Ajello (now CD and founder at Poke) was exhorting his agency colleagues to create 'experiences, not messages' back in 2005. And Garrick Schmitt's (Group VP Experience Planning at Razorfish) own article in Ad Age today references many brands that have been ploughing this furrow for some time.

If you've read my blogging before, you'll know that I feel that the 'experiences, not messages' idea is the way forward for brands. And that this argument will win through. Why?

- Because we live in an attention economy, where consumer attention is increasingly scarce, more valuable, more in demand, and more aggressively competed for by brands.

- Because in our current era, the consumer zeitgeist is a pragmatic and frugal one. we want brands to work harder for us - rather than be aspirational idols to worship.

- Because in a market of declining ad effectiveness and resulting ad clutter, consumers filter out the message overload more than ever.

-Because experiencing (or DO-ing) something is far more memorable than passively seeing or hearing something (there is loads of research on this area of cognition and learning, if you want to check it out)

- Because Digital technology allows for the creation of experience at global scale, and free to the consumer, for the first time.

- Because I get to see a lot of campaign metrics first-hand, and can I tell you, 'engagement' kicks ass if you know how to invest in it.

All of which is a good thing in my book. As a marketer, the opportunity to create experiences with intrinsic value for consumers makes me feel like I'm on the side of the Angels for a change. And it looks like the argument for consumer engagement will win through. But hold on - there have been famous disasters as 'traditionally-minded' brands grapple with the idea of engagement - remember Chevy Tahoe? - and there will doubtless be many more.

So this begs the question - what is a solid methodology for creating 'engagement'? How do you identify the most appropriate vehicle for a given brand, product and/or audience? Should it be based on utility, entertainment, information, or some other value-add? Would you use online games, virtual worlds, social networks, bespoke applications, or (heaven forbid) a WIDGET? How would these choices affect the quality, and quantity of the brand impact on your audience?

Stay tuned for some answers - and give me your thoughts!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Martin Sorrell at ad:tech

Martin Sorrell's keynote appearance at NY's ad:tech this week was pretty interesting -

Sorrell dealt with the question - 'how will the role of the agency evolve'? To which he predicted that ad agencies would be getting "very much more involved" in the development of content, relating this to a consolidating/shrinking print media market.

It's true that agencies are getting more into the content creation sphere, and building media channels which interface directly with their clients' audiences.

But to say this is primarily related to a contraction in print channels is missing the point. The main driver is that brands need to behave in a different, less self-entitled, way.

Brands need to deliver content because they need to be more genuinely useful to their audiences. Engaging today's attention-poor consumer takes more than simply shouting messages about yourself. As a brand, it's increasingly important to demonstrate your value by giving folks something genuinely useful; free apps, games, entertainment or information. Starbucks, Dell, P&G, Walmart, McAfee are just a few of the folks jumping into these areas.

I have a feeling that work which has to 'earn' its own audience (rather than take it for granted) will tax many shops beyond their current skills.

So keep your seatbelts fastened - that Captain says the turbulence will continue for some time yet.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Generation

An industry friend, who runs his own digital agency, recently mused that 'old-school is the only school'. What he was referring to was the ongoing debate about the relative merits of 'traditional' and 'digital' agencies. What he meant was that, whatever the media in which you execute, the fundamental questions of a clients' business, brand, audience, and communication, are a constant of brand leadership.

Ana Andjelic stirred up a hornet's nest on Ad Age today by suggesting that the 'traditional' agencies had this down better than the 'digital' agencies.

While Ana may have more brains than tact, she certainly hit a spot with plenty of angry wasps. And that's significant in itself. So I hope she's not feeling too stung by the angry response. Controversy boosts Ad Age's opage views, after all...

Thing is, from my own first-hand experience of working with shops of many different ages, sizes, hues, disciplines, I agree with her central generalized thesis. Under fire, she clarified it thus:
Digital firms: Great at figuring new stuff out. What they are not good at is old knowledge, simply because they don't have it.

Traditional firms: A lot of old knowledge, some of which is still very relevant and useful. What they are not so good at is gathering the new knowledge.

The main problem with this debate is some fuzzy wording, so for argument I'll define 'old knowledge' to be those fundamental questions of a clients' business, brand, audience, and communication that we outlined above. Not to mention the skills of developing and keeping client relationships. If, like me, you're already identifying the exceptions to Ana's generalizations, you may grudgingly recognize some truth to it as well.

The old and wise have always criticized the young. And the young have always despised the prospect of Age. But eventually the young become old. Perhaps that will be the only real resolution to this debate :)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Be Useful

'Ask not what your customers can do for you - ask what you can do for your customers.' - Stan Rapp.

In headier days, we set up brands as objects of worship. Check out this little souvenir of 2003. See? Some of us actually used to say things like that. Sheesh.

While this recession has been a royal pain in the backside, it's brought folks back to reality. With a wholesome thud. To today's Frugal zeitgeist, worshipping a brand sounds like a waste of time and money. Frugal is not only practical - it's become chic.

Which plays havoc with a brand's topline: Premium lines take a nosedive; basic lines undergo extreme price pressure; purchase frequency dwindles, and impulse purchase.......well, what impulse purchase? Nightmare.

Brands' audiences have own their share of problems. Overwhelmingly, they will be trying to do more with less time and less money. They need help. And this is the key to cracking the recession code for brands.

Not to be an object of worship, but to Be Useful. That is, to provide value to your customers before they've paid you a cent. Being Useful is a way to solve your balance sheet problems by solving your audiences' problems first.

In 2007, Dell noticed an acceleration in consumers reaching out for PC help and advice. Rather than reach out to Dell, they reached out to family, neighbors and interest groups. Folks were comparing notes on faulty hardware, poor software instalations, patchy service, the best deals, you name it. Dell had lost it's voice in this conversation, and brand was coming off badly.

Dell's answer was to harness these disgruntled communities by becoming
useful for their needs: Dell's provided a useful, and therefore valuable, platform for these communities to get advice, point out product glitches, suggest improvements, and vote for the most popular ideas. It's been a great success and key to Dell's turnaround in customer service and delivery. Starbucks - undergoing their own issues - later borrowed the same idea.

Being Useful - or Utility - is no flash in the pan. The economy isn't reverting to a more frivolous 2006 anytime soon. Utility is the new religion du jour. Go forth and Be Useful.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bi-Partisan Marketing

Wait, I'm not getting political! Nope, this post is about how marketers, not politicians, can benefit from 'crossing the aisle' once in a while.

In Response Marketing 101, we were told 'if you're not measuring it, don't do it'. In Brand Marketing 101, we were told 'not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that can be measured matters.' From that moment, my colleagues split along Partisan lines - those drawn to the immediacy of generating customer activity ('response activity'), and those drawn to the business of changing customer sentiment ('brand activity').

But a Partisan focus on either leads to lost opportunity. In this example a response marketer forgot that '...not everything that matters can be measured'. As a result, he killed his own marketing effectiveness.

It's true that we shouldn't do what we cannot measure. But that does not mean discarding 'brand' activity, for example. It means we should be measuring it a heck of a lot more.

To be effective, we need to be Bi-Partisan - to invest and measure optimally between the 'brand' and 'direct' toolkits. Easy for me to say, you might be thinking. And you'd be right. Sophisticated budget optimization, a la P&G, can take a ton of PHDs, a few more tons of cash, and truckload of courage to explain it to your CFO.

But there are simpler approaches to budget planning that are within the reach of today's lean marketing operations. The simplest I use shows how 'direct' and 'brand'-oriented investments complement and amplify each other - and how they're stronger together than apart.

So here it is. Quick and Dirty.

1. Size up your investment focused on 'direct' objectives.

This is your media investment against prospects who are ready to buy. We'll call them 'low hanging fruit'. You'll measure this primarily on responses, actions, conversions etc. PPC search, organic search, affiliate marketing, and display are all in the toolkit.

What proportion of your budget should you invest in direct activity? The big temptation is to over-invest. Many do. 'Look, we're getting great numbers from this PPC test. It's proven. If a little's good, then a lot's better, right?'.

Wrong. Not for aspirin, and not for media investment. Just look at the example above. Your low-hanging-fruit opportunity is finite. Sooner or later you (and your competitors) have cleared all the branches within easy reach. Then your response rates decline. Fail to act, and your budget is soon eaten by a death-spiral of decreasing gains.

So plan your 'direct' investment against a realistic sizing of your ready-to-buy opportunity. It's a product of the 1) total market size, 2) how much of this market is truly available to you, and 3) your natural competitive market share. Invest below these levels and you're leaving business on the table. Invest too far above, and you're not only wasting money - you're losing precious resources you'll need for step 2.

2. Size up your investment focused on 'brand' objectives.

'Brand' investment has a specific role: To turn consumers who are not ready-to-buy your brand, into consumers that are. To use our analogy, it's like growing more low-hanging-fruit for you to harvest. You will interest, educate, and/or persuade your audience. You'll need to earn their attention too, which is another story.

Brand investment should be totally accountable: David Ogilvy said 'if it doesn't sell, it's not creative'. So measure uplift in brand image, but equally you measure uplift in your 'direct' response rates. Your toolkit can include movies, games, useful utilities, information feeds, newsletters, and a bunch more.

So how big should your brand investment be? A $64million question. Literally, in some cases. But we're keeping it down-and-dirty here. So here's an example. This analysis of the effectiveness of a PPC+Display campaign from Nick Drew, for Microsoft, will help us...
This shows that 'brand' activity, looking ineffectual when measured in the far-left column, DOUBLED the effectiveness of 'direct' activity. This suggests a business case for a 50/50 split between 'brand' and 'direct' investment; maximizing both the volume of low-hanging-fruit (brand) and the efficiency of harvesting it (response).

Without measuring this interaction of 'brand' and 'direct', hungry marketers have looked at the far-left column, discarded brand activity as less effective, then wondered where that good PPC ROI flew off to.

I've seen the color of effective marketing. And it's a distinct Bi-Partisan shade of Purple :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

May I have your Attention?

Heard the phrase 'Attention Economy'? It sounds purpose-designed for our ad-saturated world, but it's not such a new idea - this Guy created the concept back in 1971 when he wrote:
" an information-rich world, the wealth of information means ....scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention"
...and this was in 1971. That's *twenty-eight* years of exponential growth in global information output since then. Advertising clutter? You bet, But the real issue is on the other side of the coin - scarcity of attention.

The scarcer attention is, the more valuable it becomes. Like any commodity. People pay for attention all the time. For example, Washington lobbyists pay for the attention of politicians (um, allegedly). And we marketers pay for the attention of our audiences - a 30 second spot here, a few thousand banner impressions there.

So attention is a currency. One well worth investing in. In fact, attention is the *only* currency through which marketers can interest, educate, persuade and convert customers. Really. Think of any customer acquisition or lifecycle model. Subtract your customer's attention, and you end up with zero customers.

Attention is therefore our lifeblood. Yet on the whole, marketers are terrible at getting it. Come on, this is an industry in which 0.2% response is considered good. Is there any other field in which 0.2% sounds large to you? I suspect that those Washington lobbyists get more attention for their money than we marketers.

So where are we going wrong? Simply, most marketing is years behind consumer behavior. Marketers communicate in messages. Their audiences have perfected the art of tuning messages out. Marketers broadcast, one-way, as if their audience was dumbly awaiting instruction. While audiences are ever more engaged in their own novel, creative communications.

What should we do instead? In a world where economic and technological factors put brands and consumers on a level, brands that want attention have to do like people:

Earn it.

It's straightforward. As a person, you become worth someone's attention when you repay it. Maybe you're useful, or entertaining. Perhaps informative. So long as it is authentic to you, and relevant to the person whose attention you seek, you are repaying attention.

"The true art of memory is the art of attention" — so said Samuel Johnson. So before your audience pays you their custom, your brand needs to repay their attention.

for a deeper dive into the attention economy:

1. Rob Callari, 'Is Attention the New Currency?' May 09

On the side of the angels

Coming back to San Francisco after a couple years away, I've been able to reconnect with many friends and colleagues - who, between sips of Latte, have clued me in on a bunch of exciting developments in our industry.

Jumping back in for the first time since Dec 2006, it's like seeing one of those time-lapse photography sequences on the Discovery Channel. But instead of looking a plants growing or weather systems swirling, I'm looking at the evolution of our own local agency eco-system.

As ever, it's about the survival of the most adaptable. So what are the new conditions to which we are adapting? From the smart folks I've spoken to, you might summarize these into three points:

1) Equality of voice. We have all seen the adoption of social platforms soar. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr et al, may prove transient (or not), but the social web is here to stay - and evolve.

This radically re-balances the communication playing field - between small and large brands, between brands and consumers, between small and large agencies. The means of production, publication and communication are blurring, and increasingly available to all.

2) Conversations, not demographics, are the most useful 'target' for marketers.

For a long time, traditional demographic targeting has declined in effectiveness. I gladly accept any and all challenges to this assertion. Real people conform less than ever to what marketers believe their wage bracket, age, or 'lifestage' should say about them.

Useful targets are better identified by the conversations that they increasingly articulate online. One of the (few) easier aspects of the socialized media landscape is that your audience are self-selecting around their interests. So choose the conversation to which your brand is relevant, and participate. Or, like Walmart, *own* it through providing a more valuable platform for the conversation.

) Brands need to be useful.
Even *before* you purchase them.

It has been said that Attention has become the scarcest commodity in our commuication-saturated world. To influence purchase behavior, brands need to get attention. To get attention, brands need to be useful.

This means delivering something of value, or utility. That is true to the brand, and relevant to their audience. It could be entertainment (a cleaning brand providing an online game), a utility (a sneaker brand tool for sharing the best jogging routes), information (a liquor brand filtering the hippest local hangouts for you), or a combination. But of enough genuine worth to earn a brand a voice in the conversation.

Apple's iTunes is possibly the most famous - and large-scale - example of this. But simple utilities like this one for Barclaycard in the UK can be effective for relatively little money.

You can add eight more points here of course (and I hope you do). But what do all these new market conditions add up to? What does it mean for our community? Well, for me at least, it means that good brands have to behave like good people. With integrity, humility, humor, and reciprocity. On their behalf, professionals like you and I get to innovate concepts that have genuine utility to their audience.

Isn't it great to be on the side of the angels? For once?