What Your Data Isn’t Telling You and How to Fix It

“Don’t mistake your opinion with marketing data.” This was a mantra of a previous boss I had.  He was right. BUT by stopping there, he was missing a key element to drive positive outcomes.

Far too many people believe that data tells you what you need to do to drive winning business results. And on top of that, most marketers use their own subjectivity to explain what that data indicates.

Last week, I engaged with someone that posted on LinkedIn about his experience wasting much time mulling over the results of consumer sales. Much of the conclusions derived were erroneous. That is until he truly dug in to understand the consumers’ behavior. 

Here is the conversation we exchanged as a result of his post:

Coincidently, just a few days before that, I posted a poll on LinkedIn asking people: 

“To what extent do you believe ‘psychology’ plays a role in marketing?” – 

95% replied 100% or strongly.

According to Wikipedia, “Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts.”

As marketing professionals, our mission is to drive business success. And psychology plays an imperative role in that success from (at least) two perspectives:

1) From an input perspective, we need to truly understand the mind and behavior of our target audience as it relates to our product/service, their knowledge of the space and our products/service, points of influence, what their consumer journey looks like, competition, and ways to emotionally connect with them. 

2) From an output perspective, we need to first listen and communicate, and then engage in a manner that is most compelling to the target audience based upon THEIR feelings and behaviors.

There are far too many smart people that carry deep subjectivity that cloud their ability to drive business success. There are far too many people that have a strong opinion about marketing but lack either meaningful data and/or understanding of their target audience. Successful marketing leaders use both empirical data and in-depth target audience research to yield strong business success.

Collect data that provides accurate information. But don’t stop there. Examine your consumers/clients. Learn about their buyer journey. Learn what influences them in their purchase decisions. Learn how to motivate them and their decisions to yield preference for your product/services. Connect. Listen. Engage. 

Marketing success comes with the right mix of data and then, enriched research and understanding.

Make It Happen!


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3 Keys to Content Strategy

Why invest in content marketing? Do you actually have a content strategy? Why use social media? Consider these questions and get prudent answers …

Simply stated, content marketing is useless without a content strategy. Recently, I read an article “Moving From Content Marketing to Content Strategy” According to the article, 8 in 10 companies use content marketing, but less than 4 in 10 enterprises have and use a buyer journey. Thus, I want to share with three considerations for a content strategy.

1) Start with a Brand Definition and Product Positioning Statement

The brand is at the core of it all. You cannot have a successful product/service, content plan, and communication execution without a solid brand definition and position. “The goal of brand marketing is to link your identity, values, and personality with communications to your audience. Essentially, your brand is the bridge between your product and your customer. Brand marketing is not just about putting your logo and business name in as many places as possible and expecting to generate sales. Many times, the importance of brand marketing gets overlooked, as it takes time. Many marketing departments are focused on short-term goals, rather than nurturing long-term goals that impact the entire business, like building a brand.” (Source)

What is a brand strategy? 

A brand strategy can be hard to define but encompasses:

  • What your brand stands for.
  • What promises your brand makes to customers.
  • What personality your brand conveys through its marketing.

Here are three things every brand needs to define:

  • What is your brand’s objective?
  • Who are your customers?
  • How does your brand define long-term success?


Product Strategy

So you believe you have a strong product or service for a defined target market. Your next step is that you need a positioning statement that succinctly defines your offering. Here is the product positioning statement:

  • For …………….………… [target customer]
  • Who ……………….……. [key qualifier – form]
  • Our product is a ….. [product category]
  • That provides ………. [key benefit]
  • Unlike ………………….. [main competitor]
  • Our product ……….… [key point of differentiation]

This positioning statement is for internal use only. It is not explicitly communicated. The positioning statement should drive your content and communication plan. All content and communication should support and reinforce the product/service positioning statement.

Content Strategy

Your content strategy is the intersection of the brand and product strategy coupled with your target audience behaviors, needs, wants, and motivations. You should lean more to what is compelling to your audience than pushing your own brand agenda. Your content strategy objective is to get your target audience emotionally attached to your brand. 

I have written an extremely detailed content strategy playbook that can be found here:

The series provides the following:

  • Content Marketing Goals and Objectives
  • Determining your Target Audience for Content
  • Leveraging Your Brand Position to Produce Compelling Content
  • Social Audits to Drive Content Marketing
  • Messaging Strategy Before Content Strategy
  • Developing a Content Marketing Strategy
  • How Do You Know Your Content Will Pay Dividends
  • Content Marketing Metrics
  • The Power of Orchestrated UGC – (User Generated Content)
  • Earned Media – Finding Influencers to Distribute your Content
  • What Does It Mean to Produce Data Driven Content?
  • How to Determine Which Content is Driving Success for Your Brand

Communication Strategy

The communication strategy should be driven by your target audience behaviors – the platforms they are active on and how they are influenced. Understanding your audience behavior will drive you to a communication plan. Your communication methodology must include a plan that utilizes owned, earned, and paid media. It also needs to address the use of original, curated, user-generated, and influencer content.

2) Integrating Owned, Earned, and Paid Media

Look at the figure above. Across the x axis, you can see there are three time phases of a campaign defined – pre-reveal, reveal, and post reveal. The horizontals on the y axis are three different media types. Starting with owned media, it is good to leak some content early on. This could be in the form of a teaser, trailer, or even releasing excerpts before the big promotion or reveal. By doing so, you start to create some interests and following. It primes earned media for the official reveal, promotion, or release. Obviously the reveal or promotion time is when most of your content is released. But there is also an opportunity to produce and release content after the promotion. Content that talks to and summarizes the event or launch and reinforces the reveal in a compelling and entertaining way.

“Earned media is coverage or promotion of your brand through organic means. It’s a very effective form of content marketing and is also the toughest media type to get.” It includes reviews, media coverage, guest posts, mentions, social shares, and (free) influencers. (Source) Earned media is leveraging your audience and advocates to help circulate and further promote your content. It starts by having content that is worthy of sharing. Assuming that is in place, you seed your content or provide references to it in places where your audience exists. 

Paid media execution should take place during the actual promotion time. This is both an economical and strategic decision. Economic because you want to minimize expenses; strategic in that it focuses at the premiere time. Maximize exposure – minimize expenses doing so.

3) Understand the A-Path for Social Media to Optimize Users’ Experience and Content Marketing Results

This chart above is referred to as the “A-Path.” As a brand, first you want to get your targets’ “Attention.” Then you want them to be “Attracted” to you. Once the targets are attracted to the brand, we want them to build “Affinity” for the brand. As they start to build affinity for the brand, we want the targets to literally opt-in to be part of the brand “Audience.” A subset of the Audience will be power users and look to turn these individuals into brand “Advocates.”

In the beginning of this A-Path we work off of the brand’s assets (or the non-brand digital assets – the whole universe of digital conversations that are not owned by the brand). We monitor the entire digital space for relevant conversations and engage with the consumer where the conversations are happening. We then refer these people to the brand’s digital assets and build Affinity by producing valuable (informative and entertaining) content. As we build Affinity, we offer opportunities to join the brand assets (follow, like, register). We then identify the power users and engage one-on-one to build advocates.

Note that the strategy of following this A-Path approach is to start to attract your target audience in digital spaces they participate in and slowly bring them to your digital assets. Company pages on platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Tik-Tok, etc are NOT your digital assets. You do not own them and you are subject to their rules, and regulations. They should be perceived as gateways to YOUR digital assets such as your website, blog, and landing pages.


Content strategy is the essence of brand communication. A content strategy should be aimed at increasing your audience and their “stickiness” to your brand. Don’t just produce content. Align a content strategy with the journey of your customer/client.  Invest in the upfront work and see measurable results.

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Filed under audience development, brand communication, brand marketing, content marketing, marketing, marketing plan, owned-earned-paid media, social marketing, social media

How Big Should Your Customer Base Be?

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/jG1z5o7NCq4

Are you looking for a niche customer audience? Quasi-niche? Mass market? Before you decide, there are major considerations to be made.

For starters, no brand can be everything to everyone. If you attempt this approach, I promise you will not have anything deeply compelling for any individuals or customer segments.

There is a trade off between relevance to an ideal customer and expanding the number of customers you serve. Consider the diagram below:

As you add features and other aspects of your product/service to increase your target audience, you potentially lose relevance to your ideal customer. In other words, as you determine your brand and product/service positioning, you need to remain most relevant to your ideal customer/client. At the same time you want to have as large of an audience as possible to increase customers and generate maximum revenue, but not to the extent that you diminish relevancy to your ideal customer. 

Building brand architecture and product/service positioning are imperative for success. Too many companies ignore what it truly means to build a brand and the business value of doing so. At the same time, brand definitions and product offerings need to support a financial business model that yield growth and profitability.

So while it seems easy to answer the question above (how big do you want your customer base to be) by saying massive, that is not a likely response to being profitable and successful. Start with a detailed and honest financial plan. This will determine how big your audience needs to be to yield positive financial results. The financial plan should consider your offering, ability to deliver, budget constraints, competition, and other unforeseen challenges. Then build a brand architecture and product position that can realistically capture the customer-base size required for business success.

Although this may seem obvious, how many entrepreneurs and business executives actually do it?

Your customer-base size is limited by investments and your operational cost of doing business. Your customer-base size has limits based upon relevancy to an ideal customer. Once that ideal customer is defined, your mission is to define how many degrees beyond that ideal customer you can traverse (as shown in the concentric circles in the diagram above) to capture a larger audience while remaining most relevant to that ideal customer. Your business success depends upon this – make it happen and please reach out if you need help.

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The Beauty of Serendipity and How to Increase It’s Probability

Serendipity: “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way;” and “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”

Earlier this week, I wrote a post on LinkedIn that started saying, “It is a magical thing when everything falls into place.” Some would call this serendipity, and I agree, but I also think there is a way to increase the probability of serendipity. Here is how:

  1. Follow your intuition.
  2. Allow yourself to be in places that are not comfortable.
  3. Help others.
  4. Practice true networking – engage with people without an agenda or in hope of a transaction.
  5. Exercise resilience.

Many people play PowerBall or Mega Millions in which the odds of winning are 1 in 292,201,338 and 1 in 302,575,350, respectively. The way to increase your probability of winning is playing the same number over and over again. That is the equivalent of putting yourself out there. 

Increase your odds by believing in YOU! Odds that will be much greater than just playing the lottery to get you the payoff you are looking for. Keep playing in what you believe in; what you want to do; what you aspire to be. 

Create opportunities for serendipity to fall in your lap. In other words, I will leave you with one of my favorite lines …

Luck is the residue of design.

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Positive Leadership Yields Winning Business Results

Image credit: Miguel Bruna – https://unsplash.com/photos/TzVN0xQhWaQ

How do you feel? Really, how do you feel? The past couple of years has really paid its toll on many people’s mental well being. It is time to move forward to a better quality of life. And that is much easier said than done. How does one dig themself out of negativity? Answer: with help. And YOU are the help that other people need. 

“Researchers and leaders have looked for the secret to successful leadership for centuries … The one thing that supersedes all these factors is positive relational energy: the energy exchanged between people that helps uplift, enthuse, and renew them.” (Source)

It is up to YOU to make people feel better – uplift them, enthuse them, and renew them. Interested in doing so?

You can, and should be the one. Whether that is for your own personal success or truly wanting to help others, it is in your best interest to push and sell positivity. From my perspective, it is all about “motivation” as opposed to “fear.” Untap your team. Make each individual reach their potential. Encourage collaboration and unify.

I have worked in many different environments, for many different bosses. I have had ones that have been great motivators via positive energy, encouraging challenges, and efforts to get the most out of me. I have also worked for bosses that were brutal and worked to instill fear as part of their management style. A couple even to the point of emotional abuse. When I look back on my career, I can say unequivocally that my greatest professional successes have come from environments that were motivational.  A large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that a cut-throat environment is harmful to productivity over time. It adds that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line as stated in the article in Harvard Business Review, “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive.”

I will take this theme of “positivity” one step further as it relates to business. Your brand presence and marketing needs to be positive and uplifting. You need to instill promise, hope, and inspiration to your target audience. Just about everyone has had some degree of mental setback in the past couple of years and they need to be uplifted. A great example of this approach to marketing is an advertisement Google ran at the end of 2021 shown here:

It is time for business leaders to take part in shaping the future of society, communities, and individuals. Businesses have a great degree of impact on all these groups. And whether you truly care about your customers/clients or solely your revenue/profit, there are strong reasons to promote positivity in your professional life. It is time!

Make it happen! 

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Image credit – Mohamed Nohassi

Here are “mottos” for life:

It takes more failures, to succeed than it does to fail.

Luck is the residue of design.

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Your Creative Process

As songwriter – do you lay down the music or lyrics first?

As a professional social poster, do you lay down the imaginary or copy first?

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PR Agency – Time for Change

As a marketing exec for over 25 years, I have worked with numerous PR agencies from large, well-known ones to smaller boutique ones. In all cases, I experienced the same results – overpromises and under performance. I cannot think of any other instance where the outcome is not in line with the cost.

As I have started a new position in corporate marketing I am looking to increase brand awareness for the company I represent. Earned media is one of the best ways to achieve this and thus, I have started my search for a PR agency to help in this effort. 

I put out a message on two private marketing networking groups I am a member of stating, “I am looking for a PR person (or agency) that is willing to work on contingency (as opposed to retainer). I am willing to pay per interview and additionally per publication.” The company I work for has a very promising future as we have a solution that truly delivers value and solves real issues in cannabis supply chain operations and marketing to consumers. While we have a strong future ahead of us, we run as a lean company with limited, but adequate funds. Given my experience with PR agencies, I decided I would only pay a PR agency for performance.

The responses I got to my request from various people on the private marketing networks were not a surprise ….

“Pay for pay on interviews doesn’t work and if I’m being honest, undervalues the role of a PR professional.”

“If I had a dollar for every time I heard this, Steve, I’d own a yacht! When working with a PR agency, my suggestion is to find one that’s already immersed in the industry. I turn down clients all the time simply because I am not as invested in the industry.”

My response – “maybe there is some truth behind what I said given you hear it so much. Maybe the PR industry (as a whole – not you) over promises and under delivers. Maybe it is time to rethink a model that has been around for decades and is challenging for potential clients. Not saying that I nailed what the model should be. In any event – thanks for the conversation.”

“I’d be very leery to work with an agency that works on contingency. It’s asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success. I’d be curious to see what sort of responses/results you get with this type of arrangement.”

My response: “But how is ‘asking someone to work on the hopes of success and payment based on that success’ worse than paying someone on a retainer in hopes of success? This is the exact challenge I have found in working with numerous PR agencies – over-promise and under-delivery.”

“This kind of arrangement diminishes the PR team and can lead to contention. Perhaps you haven’t worked with the right PR team in the past. There has to be a foundation of mutual trust.”

“Most good agencies tend to not work on contingency. The risk factor is too high and it’s not like a pay-per-lead business as it must include very specific factors. I would be careful on working with an agency that works on contingency as they might try to get quick but weak wins and ask for a payment … ”

My response: “what constitutes a ‘good agency?’ Like I said, I have worked with agencies that on paper are ‘good’ or are well known that people would say ‘are good’ but they have under delivered. Most of the comments on this thread have come from PR Agency people that have told me I should beware. Maybe I am suggesting something that is radical. It is worth continuing conversations. This email trail reminds me of the commercial that I often see on TV from the investment firm that highlights they only get paid when their customers do well.”

One person did respond to me, “if you find anyone regarding your PR request- feel free to pass them on to me as well…thanks in advance.” I asked this person to follow up and let me know about their experience, to which they replied, “Same – 5-10k monthly retainer, and let’s go…I sometimes look at it the other way – if you are really good at getting desired press – charge more and change the model.”

I have worked in the marketing profession in many different industries. Many companies in these various industries have had to morph based upon consumers and clients changing perspectives and needs. Companies that do not change with the times get left behind and no longer succeed. 

I believe that PR agencies are now facing this fork in the road. Too many companies feel exactly the way I do – what did we actually get for a retainer of $5-10K per month for the past six months?

Don’t you think it is time for PR agencies to hold a greater responsibility for the outcome of a paid contract with them? If yes, I see no other alternative than a contingency contract.

Your turn – chime in.

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Social Media – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It has been 14 years since I first got started in social media marketing. I had deep experience in traditional marketing, and in 2007, I saw that marketing was going to take a dramatic change – brands could no longer just put up slogans and marketing material and expect their target audience to simply accept their communication. Social media allowed a democracy where anyone could share their perspective and views on brands. If brands put out BS, they could be called out on it from people that had a voice to be heard. Conversely, social media created an opportunity for brands to develop advocates that provide word-of-mouth objective recommendations and marketing of the brand.

I believe in the early tenants of social media – connect and engage with your audience, build an emotional bond with your target audience, and give them something they value, as opposed to pushing your drug. I still believe this is the way to build a strong emotional connection to your target audience, but changes in social media platforms and the way people use social media hamper these brand-building possibilities. Social media has changed from true connection and real information to an algorithmic exercise, bait play, maneuvers to create unhealthy addictive behavior, and a platform that promotes lies, conspiracies, and bullying people. As an individual that got involved in social media early, helped shape positive uses for brands, and provided thought leadership, this is extremely disheartening. Just watch the documentary, The Social Delimma, if you want the deep ugliness of what social media has turned into.

But I do not believe all should be that bleak if one uses social media with the true commitment of offering your audience value, by their perception, and truly looking for target audience building, listening, and engagement. Let’s start from the beginning.

Early in social media, brands won following by creating target audience value. They provided edutainment (education and/or entertainment) for their audience. Their audience recommended that others follow the brand because they saw true value in what the brand was delivering on social media. In the beginning, people that followed brands had all the brands’ post show up on their feed. As time moved forward, the algorithm changed ultimately to 1-5% of organic visibility of brands’ posts in their follower’s newsfeed. This was driven by two factors – 1) social media platforms focus on revenue and paid ads on social media, and 2) the degree to which followers engaged in brands’ posts.

This highlights one extremely important factor – a brand’s presence on any social media platform is NOT THEIR COMMUNITY platform. The brand does not own their followers. In most cases they do not even have their email addresses. The social media platform makes all the rules, can change the rules at any time, and owns all the follower’s information without providing valuable details to the brand. If a brand truly wants to build their own community, they need to build it themselves via a software package for a social platform. This is the first imperative aspect one must consider with regards to brand social media presence.

The second most important aspect you must consider is who is managing your brand’s social media presence. Far too many organizations rely on a “digital millennial” to run their social media platform. Organizations think that someone that lives on social media as part of their existence knows exactly how to “market” a brand properly on social media. I am not knocking digital millennials, but I am raising an alert that the person that runs your social media brand presence must be a marketer, first, and then a social media expert, second. If one does not understand the fundamentals of marketing (brand, product, communication, lead generation, etc.) there is no way they can drive winning results from their brand’s social media presence. This decision is often driven by the pay rate of an experienced marketer that has deep social media experience compared to a younger “social media expert.” Too often, companies look to allocate a junior salary for social media management. There is a better solution to this issue – hire a “fractional” social media leader that develops the entire social media playbook as a consultant and then may be retained for monthly coaching and advising, as opposed to hiring full-time. If you want an example of what a social media fractional leader should develop for your brand, check out the guidance here. Social media marketing is part of marketing. It fits under the marketing umbrella and is not a separate endeavor. It must follow the brand, product, and communication marketing strategy and plan.

The third issue for managing a brand’s social media presence is the issue of organic and paid social. These efforts MUST be managed in unison and I highly suggest that they be managed by the same person (if not deep, deep coordination of separate individuals). I have seen “hacks” manage paid social media way too often. They play an algorithmic game (which is extremely important), but lack the sensitivity of what it means to have a social presence and what people expect from brands on social. Paid media implementers must follow brand guidelines and social media optimization principles. Given how today’s social media platforms govern post visibility, there must be both an organic and paid posting to optimize audience growth, engagement, and overall positive social media results.

The last issue to raise with regards to social media is the fact that many platforms have become a vehicle for promoting BS, “alternative facts,” and outright lies. Avoid participating in any such behavior. Your social media presence should be a place to build trust and transparency.

So I have raised a number of issues and concerns regarding social media. It is not the great marketing vehicle that I was once so bullish on, BUT the foundations that started social media marketing – connecting brands and their target audience are still paramount. The practices developed by brands such as Ford, Dove, Dell, and Red Bull early on in social media, are still most relevant. Social platform changes and audience behavior have shrunk the brand marketing results on social media.

That said, I am still bullish on social media marketing and see good – just do not fall into the traps that so many do. Work to build a true connection with your target audience. Be more sensitive to their needs, wants, and motivations, as opposed to pushing your drug.

Your turn – keep the conversation going. What is the good, the bad, and the ugly of social media?

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The Two Most Powerful Outcomes of Marketing

If your marketing efforts are working, there are two characteristics you want from a target audience reaction – NEED and LOVE. You want your audience to feel they NEED your product/service and you want them to LOVE your brand.

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