Category Archives: brand marketing

Storytelling Must Be In-Line with Brand Persona

Everyone is talking about storytelling like it is the Messiah for marketing. Actually, I think it is pretty important. Not the Messiah, but definitely a very important part of a brand’s marketing mix. But here’s the question no one has really put on the table. What if the brand story is fiction rather than non-fiction? Or to be a bit more direct, what if the stories the brand produces have nothing to do with the brand value proposition or the brand’s persona?

I bring up the question of brand storytelling alignment with what the brand stands for in light of a recent marketing campaign by McDonald’s. Rick Ferguson did an excellent job capturing “The Danger of McStorytelling.” He highlights McDonald’s “Signs” commercial and its debacle. The ads show McDonald’s Golden arch signs with caring messages rooted in the community.

McDonalds Signs

McDonald’s attempts to show a soft side by trying to say “At McDonald’s, we care. We’re more than just purveyors of empty calories; we’re a part of your community, too.” Seems nice and compelling like motherhood and apple pie. And while there are questions whether the signs are fictitious or not (Photoshop can do wonders), the real issue is that the campaign and story is totally out of line with McDonald’s value proposition and brand persona. People do not believe that McDonald’s cares as much as the signs display. It does not fit their personality. It is outside of the value proposition they deliver to their market. And thus, the public used digital and social platforms to create an uproar and protest.

There are a number of other brands that have failed in the same vein. I know this seems a bit twisted, but even though storytelling is a strong marketing ploy, you cannot just tell stories. Your stories must synch with your brand position and persona.

In an article I wrote back in 2010 “Marketing Leadership (with a hint of Social Media)”, I talked about the need for having a position statement defined. The positioning statement template looks like this:

• 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]

I stated, “The formation of the positioning statement is done to know exactly who you are.” I later go on to explain that all marketing communication should be tested against the positioning statement to make sure the brand persona is reinforced or at least not in opposition to what the brand value is.

Some think that taking time to define their positioning statement is just an academic exercise. But when we look at marketing campaigns like the McDonald’s campaign above, you got to wonder if “creative marketing leaders” really understand some fundamentals of successful marketing.

You should start with defining the brand position at a minimum. But I think you should take it a step further. What does your brand stand for? What is the …

• Brand vision
• Brand promise
• Brand personality

Define these. Make pretend your brand is a person. What would that person’s characteristics be? When you have this in place you are ready to do your marketing. Then you are ready to do some storytelling (among other activities).

If you just go ahead and produce a creative campaign without making sure it is in line with your brand persona, you end up getting egg on your face. Or is that Egg McMuffin on your face.

Be smart. Start with the basics before you get creative.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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In Brands We Trust, Or Maybe Not

in brands we trust

I look at the recent debacles of Brian Williams and Bill Cosby and I am reminded how important trust is not only for people but brands too. Before the public learned that Brian Williams had embellished the truth, Williams was ranked as the 23rd most trusted celebrity in the country. After his statements about being in the middle of combat war were questioned, he fell to 835 on the list (according to The Marketing Arm). (Source) Bill Cosby had the persona of a great family man and positive role model. Then a plethora of drugging and rape allegations resurfaced. Rightfully so, his persona and brand are shattered.

What is the take away for marketers? Your persona, or brand can be destroyed by one false step. Your trust can be demolished by one bad move. Trust is something you earn and win perpetually. You always need to work to establish and sustain trust from your target audience.

I believe that brand trust is exponentially more important today than days prior to digital technology. Prior to the ubiquitous use of digital technologies and devices, almost all information about a brand and their products and services came from, and were distributed by the brand. Today, that is not true. If you do a search for a product or service on the Internet and social platforms, you will find more people referencing the brand than communication coming from the brand. Brand reputation and trust is no longer established by a fabricated company design by a company, but rather is in the hands of the democratic republic of digital users.

So given this reality, brands must now have a strategy for managing and influencing their reputation and trust factor. I really like an approach I read in a recent blog post …

Review regularly – Regular auditing of brand perception will help to assess threats and weaknesses – give you some foresight around areas to watch and emerging risks.
Show empathy – It is important to update your audiences on a regular basis and act to show that the safety and well-being of your customers is your number one priority.
Talk naturally – Consumers tend to respond badly to overwrought messages that sound too corporate or too familiar online.
Act fast – The first 24 hours of a crisis are when people are turning to each other for answers. Be ready to respond.
Become the hub of the issue – Since you know that people are looking for information on a topic, become the hub of all information. While you can’t control the conversation, make sure your opinion is prominently seen and demonstrates authority.
(Source)

There are a couple of things I would add to the bullet points above. First off, be truthful. It is easy for bogus claims and statements to be questioned and verified as false when you have so many looking and watching what you are doing. And if even one digital user unearths unsubstantiated statements, he/she has a strong way of voicing their concerns on platforms that move information to a large audience at lightning speed.

The second element I would add to the bullet points is that companies that look to win over a target audience should consider supporting a social cause that makes sense for their business. 90% of Americans are more likely to trust brands that back social causes.

While I was doing some research on issues related to brand trust, I found a very interesting point highlighted in a blog post by Bruce Turkel. In his article “Brian Williams is Toast” he talks about Bill Clinton lying when he said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Today, Clinton is one of the world’s most beloved politicians. Why wasn’t his trust destroyed? It comes down to expectations. Everyone expects politicians to lie so when he did so it really was not a big deal. Conversely, we expect journalists to not only be objective, but even more importantly, we expect them to be completely honest in their reporting. As a brand, ask yourself, what does my audience expect from me and how can I make sure I deliver. Consider Zappos, a well-respected and trusted brand. One of their company mottos is to “exceed expectations” and they deliver on this promise.

If you want to see a list of the most trusted brands, consider checking out “The 120 Most Trusted Brands” and “Top Brands: Most Trustworthy” among other resources you can find on the web. Loyalty goes hand and hand with trust. Within marketing the “net promoter score” often used as a metric to measure brand loyalty. The net promoter score takes into consideration brand “promoters,” “passives,” and detractors and applies them to the model. You can learn about NPS here and here.

The reason why I say brand trust is so much more important today than in previous years are due to digital technologies and platforms. These technological advancements have strongly changed the perceptions and behaviors of our culture as they relate to the product and services they purchase. I used the Brian Williams and Bill Cosby examples of losing trust because of the widespread coverage. But remember, your failures that lead to losing brand trust can diminish your reputation and destroy you just like the Williams and Cosby scenarios have killed their reputation, persona, and brand. Have a strategy and plan to continually win and sustain trust from your audience.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Greater Marketing Innovation In-House or Out-of-House? It is One Tough Question

inhouse - out-of-house

If you have been to The SocialSteve Blog before, you know I am extremely committed to providing marketing guidance and tips to help you in your professional success. But this blog post is different. I ask more questions than providing answers. I hope the questions that I raise make you think, rethink, and consider how we can drive much greater successes in the organizations we lead, manage, and work for.

So the question as stated in the title is whether there is greater marketing innovation that comes from outside consultants, agencies, and third party partners than in-house marketers? And based upon my experience as a current business marketing strategist and having worked in a digital marketing agency, I would say the resounding answer is yes. But I am not satisfied with my own experience. I have had discussions with a number of people to get their views. I have spoken to CMOs of Fortune 500 companies and much smaller companies. I have spoken to professionals that have graduated Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, other top and mid tier colleges and universities. I have spoken to high-level marketing and business development folks in leading sports, entertainment, retail, B2B, consumer goods, and other business. And yes, I have spoken to some very smart and talented people that have so much to offer but are untapped.

So granted, I have not done a scientific experiment, but I have gone much further than my own personal experience to get a perspective on the question, and further more, an explanation for the answer. And clearly most people agree … there is much greater innovation coming from outsiders than insiders when it comes to marketing. But is this to say that there is better talent in marketing consultants than client side markets? Absolutely not! So what is the issue?

I believe that existing organizations have rules (both formal and informal) that stifle creativity and innovation. Employees have set mandates and protocol they are expected to adhere to. Not that outside consultants have carte-blanche freedom to do whatever they want and are not held to specific tasks and guidelines, but they are not faced with the same rigor and formalities that often hamper innovation.

Now I am speaking as a consultant and so it may be difficult to say, but there is no reason why in-house marketing strategists, planners, and implementers should not be able to deliver the high-quality, highly impactful work of out of house marketers. I believe it is time for established organizations to look at their culture and reassess. I do believe that many start-ups have environments that promote and motivate creativity and innovation, but somewhere along the way businesses often loose this mentality and persona.

As a successful marketer, I find the need to constantly adapt and be agile as my environment and playing field evolve. Heck, I was around before there was any digital marketing, and now I would say a majority of my work, experience, and deliverables are in the area of digital marketing. So if successful marketers must demonstrate agility and evolution to continue to be successful, doesn’t the organizational environment where they practice their trade need to also morph?

As I said in the beginning – I am asking more questions than providing guidance in this post. I believe I have hit upon a couple issues – 1) Greater marketing innovation out-of-house, and 2) An in-house environment that clamps creativity and innovation. But I am not emphatically saying this is the case. My experience and initial investigation has led me to my conclusions. Go ahead. Tell me I am wrong. Give me your perspective. I want to learn from your experience.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Marketers in a Time Warp

Groundhog Day – one of the most important holidays of the year. Okay, maybe not. But forget the holiday for a minute and think about the stellar comedic movie “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Murray plays Phil Connors, a TV meteorologist, covering the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney, PA. He is stuck in a time warp reliving February 2nd everyday he wakes up. Nothing changes. Eventually, he uses the repeating scenario to learn. He takes time to understand the people he encounters day in and day out. He reexamines his life and recognizes flaws. Finally he makes changes as a result of learning and evaluating what he has done well and not. And then magic happens … he moves forward with a new outlook on life. He finds happiness and success as the calendar finally turns over a new day.

Hopefully you see where I am going with this. Some marketers are looking at their audience and learning how to appeal to them. But still there are an abundance of marketers stuck in their old ways and they cannot get out of a rut.

groundhog day

This past week, I read a very interesting article titled “The Evolution of Marketing & the Future Retail Model.” The article examined consumers changing behavior (driven by the millennial segment) as it relates to shopping habits and the retail stores landscape. The way people shop (B2C) and make purchase orders (B2B) has changed significantly as I captured in the article, “The Dramatic and Fundamental Change in Marketing and What You Need to Do.” And for the first time I can remember, marketers are lagging consumers/clients. In the past, marketers drove purchase behaviors and audiences reacted. Today, people are driving purchase behaviors and marketers (for the most part) are not reacting quickly enough to their shifting actions.

We have seen too many examples of industries staying stagnant while their audience behavior and actions change. Take the music industry. The record industry did not change its distribution model in the face of digital streaming and downloadable music fast enough. New music distribution companies have emerged and have won over consumers. Another example is the print media industry. I lived it as I found magazine brands acting like a deer in headlights to the emergence of user preferences moving to digital content. Are shopping malls on a dead end street as discussed in the referenced retail article? How much did online purchases grow year over year for holiday shopping? The flags are up.

Yes, digital technology has spawned significant behavioral changes. Old school advertorial interruption used on TV, radio, and print does not work in digital media. Marketers cannot take their old methods and approaches to digital. If so, they are just stuck in an inadequate time warp of misery as Phil Connors was stuck in Groundhog Day. Marketers need to observe and understand their audiences’ behavior in order to get out of a rut of poor results.

Do yourself a favor. Watch Groundhog Day and determine how the movie is a metaphor for your marketing efforts. Don’t just wing it and do what you have always done. Learn, adjust, and move forward with happiness and success.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

PS – If you think I am wrong about the stagnation of marketers, please share some innovative, audience driven examples. I would love to hear about your success or other brands you think standout as role models.

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Marketers – Be There When I Need You

marketer helpWhy do marketers engage on social platforms? Why do marketers invest in content marketing? What does it mean for a brand to be interactive? There is an abundance of brand social presence. Why would anyone care?

The answer to these questions and rationalization for brand participation takes on numerous explanations. But there really is only one solid reason why brands should devote time and money. Brand marketers need to be ever present and interactive with their target audience because the existing and potential customer base need their help and assistance.

The emergence of digital technologies allows brands to have a voice that travels wider and faster then traditional media advertisement. But the mere fact that a brand can use digital to reach out is not a reason to do so. Simply throwing up content and posts in blogs, media channels, and social platforms are not only useless, but may be counterproductive as well. You may in fact turn off your audience by producing content they do not want to hear and value.

The magic of digital marketing is sharing something that your audience wants or needs at the right time they are looking for it. So how can you be sure you are accomplishing this?

It starts by listening; not talking. Know the sentiment and heartbeat of your audience. In the past year buzz words like real-time marketing and contextual content have been thrown about. But if you really deliver information that makes sense to your audience based upon their needs, desires, purchase history, and challenges in a timely manner, you are addressing their necessities. That is what it means to have successful real-time marketing and contextual content.

The next step after listening is engaging. Have conversations. Learn more. Build a relationship such that your audience begins to open up to you. If you build trust, your audience will tell you exactly what they want. If you have this information in your pocket, your marketing becomes easy. There is no guesswork.

Back in 2011, I wrote an article “The Most Important Word for Marketing.” The answer was and still is empathy. If you have any empathy for today’s consumer and business professionals, you know they do not like to be interrupted with blatant hard sells. As a consumer, don’t you hate pop up ads on the Internet? How many still watch live TV and actually listen to the ads (besides the Super Bowl)? How many of you on LinkedIn, get a request to connect, and then the first thing they do after you accept the connection is email you a letter offering to increase your leads? This is a complete turn off and no trust is ever won.

Digital technologies and its ubiquitous use allow us to communicate with just about anyone. But beware. Do not abuse this privilege. Don’t interrupt people in your marketing efforts. I don’t care if your responsibility is content marketing, social marketing, interactive marketing, inbound marketing, digital marketing, online marketing, real-time marketing or whatever your title means. If you want to capture an audience, you better know them and deliver to their needs. A brand that espouses their agenda fails. A brand that delivers what their audience needs wins.

Listen. Understand. Know. Deliver.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Mastering and Scaling Personalized Marketing

personalized marketing

What is the buzzword for marketing as we head into a new year? The heck with buzz. I will guarantee that you will always be successful with your marketing endeavors if you follow your target audience … their behaviors and what turns them on and off. So let’s be clear on a marketing approach that will last forever. Not buzz. Not technology invoked. It is simply “Target Audience Marketing.”

Target audience marketing means that your position, communication, and entire user experience performs for your existing and potential customer base’s needs, wants, and desires. In the words of Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) you exceed expectations. In agency speak; we call this surprising and delighting the customer. Let your customers know you want them and value them.

Nothing makes a person feel more wanted than providing a personal touch. Something that says I recognize you as an individual with a unique lifestyle and interests. How does it feel when someone actually reaches out to you and shows they know something about you and crafts a message for you based upon this knowledge as opposed to mass marketing? It feels pretty good. It makes you feel wanted.

Today, you can capture information about people very easily. People unveil characteristics about themselves in their social profiles and their post. Take time to look at their social presence.

Intuitively, most people know this is a winning approach that will yield successful results. But a majority of marketers are scared off fearing that way too much time is necessary. I hear you. Scaling personalized marketing is definitely a challenge.

I can recommend how to scale personalized marketing. But first, let me ask you a question. Did you send out holiday cards this year? Did you send bulk cards or did you personalize them? Did you have time to write a note of personalization?

What if you committed to sending one, two, or even three personalized messages to individuals in your target audience per day? How much extra time would that really take out of your day? By the end of the year, think about how many people you reached out to as individuals. Think about the opportunity to convert sporadic customers to loyalists. Think about the opportunity to touch people such that they become your advocates and do a good portion of your marketing for you – for free – and most compelling given they are objective sources.

I am suggesting that a little bit of personalized marketing each day goes a long way. I can attest to the fact that it works. Think about what it means to network with people in your professional life. Networking means keeping in touch from time to time. Not looking for immediate payoff. But over time, keeping in touch with peers and professionals pays dividends in the long run. I am suggesting that you do the same exact thing in the marketing of your brand. A little bit each day will enhance users overall experience with your brand.

You can scale personalized marketing. It takes commitment day in and day out.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Think of Content Marketing as Gift Giving All Year Round

I am actually surprised by the amount of holiday eCards I have gotten this year. Some from companies I never heard of.

Holiday cards, the corporate style, what is the point? Why would a company send out cards? Because they want to wish all their potential and existing customers best wishes in the holiday season. AND there is one more reason … They want to say, don’t forget I am here when you are ready to make a purchase or order decision. Perfectly good reasons. But don’t you want both of these messages to resonate with your target audience all year round?

great contentThe message should be strong – we care. The message should be subtle – remember our brand when you are ready to buy. That is exactly how you should go about your content marketing strategy and execution throughout the year. Think about the stories, information, and entertainment that your audience will value each time they read it. It is not about pushing the product or service you offer. It is about delivering something your audience values. It is about letting them know you care – all the time.

Is caring just a seasonal thing for your business? Do you only care about your audience for one particular time of the year? Let your customer base know you care and you want to help them all year round. Do it by having a content plan that first examines what your audience wants. Cater to their desires. Measure their reactions – traffic, comments, and shares.

I hope you have found the content I have delivered to you valuable throughout the year. Here’s to a great year ahead for all.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

PS – starting next month I will be producing an article twice a week for Appinions. If you are not familiar with Appinions, it is a platform that provides real empirical data to help you drive your content strategy and execution. Learn more at appinions.com and make sure to read my column on content marketing tips at blog.appinions.com starting in January.

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