Category Archives: brands

5 Characteristics That Define The Future of Successful Marketing

future of marketing

For the past number of weeks, I have been reading many contradictory articles talking about the future of marketing. Some say content marketing has no future; some are bullish on it. There is controversy on programmatic ads, big data, live streaming, and many more forms of technology that are driving marketing innovation. But if you really want to know what will work you need to examine your target audiences’ behaviors. All real marketing experts recognize that the future of marketing is in the customers’ hands. By their actions, the target audience decides what are acceptable practices to gain their awareness, consideration, sale/conversion, loyalty, and advocacy.

The power of the audience and their behavior drives the success of marketing. If you can see how true this really is then take it one step further and understand the five characteristics that define the future of marketing. Here they are:

Listening – Back in 2009, I wrote an article, “I Know You’re Talking, But Are You Listening?” In it I said, … “Know your target audience and find the existing places and communities where they are talking, tweeting, blogging, commenting, etc. Spend some time there and just LISTEN to what they value and need. Understand the way they talk and their vernacular. If you want to be a valued member of the club, you got to talk their talk, not yours.” This is so true, but in today’s world add the fact that everyone wears his or her heart on a social channel. By listening you gain crucial information. People actually tell you what they want, like, dislike. What inspires them? Listen, absorb, and learn.

Understanding – In 2011, I proclaimed that empathy was “The Most Important Word for Marketing.” Empathy is ‘the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.“ How many brands understand their audience to this extent? The successful ones do.

Engaging – I have followed the evolution of ecommerce. In the beginning, ecommerce was merely a way to purchase a product online providing no engagement with the brand. While there was a digital connection to the brand, the personal connection with the brand was as cold as could be. Then brands like Zappos redefined the meaning of engagement with their customers. Ever talk to a Zappos rep as you are trying to figure out something? Do it. Learn what it is like to have a team that truly engages and really cares. Engagement is not limited to online experiences including social channels. Think of multiple touch points and ways you can engage with your audience to deliver assistance and value with a friendly disposition to your potential and existing customers.

Delivering a great user experience – A great user experience starts with engagement, but goes much further. Have you ever stayed at a hotel where the concierge there truly helped to make your stay in the hotel the city you visited enjoyable? Companies, beyond marketing, need to take this approach. They need to cater to the desires of their target audience and make their connection with the brand as grand as a superb concierge does for a hotel guest.

Building trust – We often hear that value is more important than price when it comes to winning customers. Nothing could be more important in the value chain than having a company behind a brand that people trust. Trust is not established short-term. It comes from continually delivering a product and service that is appreciated and respected and then going the extra mile. By going the extra mile, I mean the company works to establish itself as a leader in the industry with every great intention displayed and directed at their customers, partners, employees, and general public.

So remember, the future of marketing is not in the hands of gurus. It is in the hands of your audience. The key attribute to successful marketing is having solid relationships with your target audience. I have defined the five characteristics that get you to strong and binding relationships. Keep your ear to the ground, your vision to the sky, and go drive some killer marketing results.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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ROI (Return on Investment) of a Great User Experience and Social Marketing

This past week, I actually was looking forward to running an errand to pick up food at the market. How many of you can actually say that? I needed to go to Trader Joe’s for some fill in items. I always like going there for a quick short cup of fresh brewed coffee – free. It is a small cup so I treat myself to the half and half they have out.

Yes – this is a great example of a customer or user experience. Now I wonder … did anyone in the Trader Joe’s Executive Team sit and wonder, “Well if we give out free coffee to our shoppers, it cost us X dollars, but we will see an increase of Y dollars.” I highly doubt it. It would be near impossible to track.

Customer experience – how important is it to individuals’ purchase decisions? Doesn’t a user experience help to define the persona of a brand? How vital is a brand persona to our purchase decisions?

user experience

Now, let’s relate this same scenario to social marketing. Social marketing should be used as a brand tool to strengthen user experiences. Use it to understand your audience by monitoring them. Use it to engage with your audience. Make them feel comfortable with your brand. Win trust. Build relationships. There is no doubt that social marketing can optimize your audience’s user experience.

So lets stop and ask the same question as in the Trader Joe’s example. What is the ROI of a great user experience? What is the ROI of social marketing? Shouldn’t every brand look to make their customer experience fantastic? So fantastic they win customers. So fantastic that get customer emotional bond to their brand. Fantastic such that the customers want to share their experiences with their family, friends, and colleagues.

As the use of digital technologies and mobile devices continues to increase, social marketing is another imperative touch point for target audiences. Think about how you can enrich user experiences with social marketing.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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Marketing 2.0 – Is There Such a Thing?

Marketing 2 point 0

In my first marketing class, many years ago, I learned about the principles of marketing. What I remember most was that a marketer defined their marketing strategy around the 4Ps: product, price, promotion, and place.

As today’s marketers define brand positioning, value propositions, and go-to-market campaigns many say that marketing has changed. Things like automated media buying, social media, big data and digital and mobile technologies have changed the face of marketing. I contend that if these technological advances have changed your brand you merely have a facade on the face of your marketing. You are still trapped in the same marketing I learned about in graduate school.

There is a Marketing 2.0. Marketing 1.0 at the core is about defining your product or service in terms of the 4Ps. It is very “us” centric. Marketing 2.0 looks at the target market customer or client at that core. It is very “them” centric. Steve Jobs once said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology – not the other way around.” I would say the same thing except replace the word technology with the word marketing. “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the marketing – not the other way around.” Marketing is about winning the hearts and minds of targeted segments. You have to know your audience and have empathy for how they receive brand communication, advertisements, outcomes of PR, and how they get positive and negative information about your product or service.

Something struck a chord with me this week. I viewed an article/video this week that highlighted one of the panels at the Changing Media Summit on the topic of whether there was a reinvention of marketing. Whether it was fact or fiction. The panel was discussing whether marketing technology had changed the way we do marketing. A number of the marketing leaders on the panel talked about the way they were using new technology. In my view, only one panelist nailed the issue. Mark Evans, Direct Line Group said, “programmatic can get in front of the right people, potentially at the right time, but what it doesn’t have is the human intelligence and the storytelling ability to engage you with the right message.” This is the fundamental piece of Marketing 2.0. Human intelligence and empathy for your audience is the core of Marketing 2.0.

We talk about storytelling as if it is something new. Marketers have been telling stories about brands forever. Think about the Marlboro Man, Mr. Clean, and the Service Master Repairman. These are stories made up by advertisers. But are they true stories? Do they resonate with the audiences they attempt to attract? Do they show up in a manner that is acceptable to their audience or are they intrusive?

Customer and client behavior has changed because technology has allowed it to change. People can skip over ads and if not, they have conditioned themselves to ignore them. The way you get a brand message, awareness, consideration, loyalty, and advocacy through to your target audience is driven by their behavior. Not your brand agenda. This is what Marketing 2.0 recognizes and achieves.

So we go back to the title of this article … “Marketing 2.0 – Is There Such a Thing?” The answer to the question is yes … there is definitely a Marketing 2.0. But that doesn’t mean that the vast majority of marketers have evolved to a Marketing 2.0 mentality. Many are still stuck in a Marketing 1.0 mentality. Maybe the “new marketers” are using new marketing technologies, but if the approach is locked in a Marketing 1.0 mentality, they are not going to capture their target audience. Successful Marketing 2.0 must be driven by a customer/client centric approach. It is about them, not you.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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The Social Marketing Interest Pyramid – Successful Social Marketing By Industry Sector

Do you think there are greater interests hearing what Beyoncé has to say in social media or greater interest in a bar of soap? Beyoncé clearly wins out. But that does not mean that there is not a strong opportunity for less interesting brands to create meaningful and measurable social marketing presence. You just need to understand your place in the world and have an applicable strategy and plan. Or better yet, you need to understand your target audience’s world and where you can effectively and appropriately fit in.

Without a doubt, the sports and entertainment industry is at the top of the social marketing interest pyramid. People hunger for information, pictures, videos, and stories about famous people. Heck, some may not be famous. Just a bit crazed or out of the norm in what they do. Just look at the success of reality TV.

social marketing interest pyramid The next level on the social marketing interest pyramid is nightlife and traveling. Here there is very strong interest by many people with regards to “what shall we eat?” and “where should we go?”

Next and closely related is food and fitness. How many recipe sites can there actually be? Just ask my wife and I as we try to plan an evening dinner that works for the entire family and doesn’t take over an hour to prepare. Fitness is also a highly popular topic for perpetual exercisers or people looking to lose weight quick. While this industry group has a very strong digital and social presence and interests, I would also say it is the most saturated.

The point with all these industry sectors that are highly scoured on the Internet and other digital applications is that even though there is great interest, you must produce awesome, unique, and compelling content to rise and be heard above the noise.

The next-level of social interests comes from brands that are social movements or can closely tie a social movement to their brand.   Probably the pinnacle example of a social marketing meets social movement is last year’s ALS Challenge. Now of all the worthy causes in the world, do you think that many caring people had ALS charity on the top of their list? ALS did a great job of spreading awareness and support for their cause via social marketing. And then there are other for profit brands that can closely tie into a social movement. For example a beer company that takes on socially responsible drinking. Or using an industry sector mentioned in the previous grouping, a social program for “a better you” from a fitness brand. Academic tutoring; health products; technology companies investing in schools – all of these (and others) are examples of aligning a social movement to product/service offerings.

Then there are brands that solve problems that naturally meet the needs of a select group. These types of brands do best to talk about problem solving … the problems their product/service were created to overcome. This is far more effective in winning an audience than speaking about the produce/service specifically. Typically this is the case for B2B companies but there are definitely companies in the B2C realm that fall into this category (i.e. tax services, lawn care, etc.)

At the bottom of the social marketing interest pyramid are utility brands such as personal hygiene, soaps, consumer package goods (CPG), etc. Many people would say why would I want to engage with these brands. Do I really want someone posting about good soapsuds or something like that? But there really is a grand social opportunity for these brands. These types of brands must have a complete understanding of their target audience. The audience’s interests, motivations, and overall behavior. Brands in this category must play to their audience, not a brand agenda. Let me give you two brands that do a stellar job by playing to their audience as opposed to their product. The first is Dove soap. Dove understands that their market is primarily women. They understand their markets’ challenges and build social campaigns that promote women’s self esteem, leadership and inspiration. The second example of a brand truly understanding their audience and delivering content and social engagement to meet their interest is Red Bull. Their audience is likely a young male looking for extreme and crazy adventure. Red Bull works like a media outlet fueling their audience with awesome content to garner much awareness and loyalty from their target audience.

What I hope you get from this article is that, yes, there are some brands that are inherently positioned for social marketing as a nature of their brand category. There are others that seem like they would not fit, but that is really not the case. Think about developing a social movement that makes sense for your brand. Think about a social cause driven by audience (as is the case with Dove). Think about social memes driven by audience (as is the case with Red Bull).

Social marketing works for all brand categories. Sometimes the brand category makes it easy to produce compelling content and generate engagement. But if it is easy, it is likely that there is more competition for the ears and minds of your audience. So you must make sure you are providing something unique and worthy of attention in a crowded space. If your brand does not seem to be in a category that people want to socialize, gain a solid understanding of your audience and play to their interests and motivations as highlighted in the Dove and Red Bull examples. In any event, use social marketing wisely and you will increase loyal customers and advocates.

Make It Happen!

Social Steve

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Magnifying Business Integrity to Market Brand Trust

business integrity

Last week, I wrote an article, “Successful Marketing is a Matter of Trust.” I suggest reading it, but the general tone is that creative advertisement is worthless unless there is truth behind it. In fact today trust may be the most important factor in winning over customer/client audiences.

As social marketing has evolved and become a key element of a brands marketing mix, many people are talking about building relationships and trust. Having strong relationships ultimately leads to a strong pipeline of sales. Establishing trust motivates initial consideration, sales, loyalty, and word-of-mouth marketing. But relationships and trust are not attributes reserved for the marketing department. Maybe it is the marketing department that looks to develop and leverage customer relationships and trust. But it is everyone’s job in the entire organization to increase relationships and trust.

What really surprises me most of all is that with all this blabber of relationship and trust building that social marketing spawns, no one is talking about the pinnacle prerequisite. That is integrity, or business integrity. Integrity is defined as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.” Business integrity is doing right by your target audience. It really comes down to doing something for your customers as opposed to being in business just to satisfy a corporate agenda. How many businesses live in this culture? Yes, I believe all businesses should strive for strong revenue and profitability, but they should do so by delivering value to their target audience. I think most companies start out this way. But for some the lure of money acts like an addictive drug and reshapes focus and true goals somewhere down the line.

Now don’t get me wrong. Please do not read me as a naïve businessperson looking for companies to be actors in a Disney fairytale movie. Today, there is a much greater need for business integrity than in years past. It comes down to two audience expectations. First, as the customer characteristics change, business integrity has become not only more important, but paramount. More than 85% of millennials correlate their purchasing decisions (and their willingness to recommend a brand to others) to the responsible efforts a company is making. (Source – Millennials – The Next Generation of Consumers) The second reason that business integrity is a must is due to changing social behavior. People pass judgment on companies’ operations, practices, and commitment. The democratized public has a strong voice that travels wide and fast in our new digital world. The general public has demonstrated that they will speak their mind about worthy brands and questionable one. More and more whistleblowers have emerged because they digital world gives them power they lacked prior to the emergence of digital technologies. We have two types of whistle blowers now – both employees of a company and the brand’s target audience.

So lets assume you buy the importance of business integrity. As a marketing executive, you should magnify your company’s business integrity. This is for one simple reason – people judge companies on perceived integrity and demonstrating it wins customers. Here is an old cliché you should consider executing – “We do what we say and say what we do.” That’s right … go ahead. Make sure your corporate communication is actually reflective of your true business culture. If you have policies and procedures crafted for delivering excellence to your customers, make sure you really adhere to them. If you are committed to delivering value, stick to it. Don’t squeeze out dollars for operational costs at the expense of customer user experience. Use social media, content marketing and other digital platforms to amplify what you are doing. Your audience wants to hear how you are helping worthy causes, solving their problems, and generally leading business operations that are worthy of their purchase and loyalty.

Marketing is easiest when you don’t need to make something up. It is easiest when you have a product or service that is truly valuable to a target audience. It is easiest when you don’t have things to hide and worry about. It is easiest when your company has true integrity to deliver value where revenue and profit are the outcome. It is easiest when you have true business integrity. So go ahead. Don’t be bashful. Flaunt your business integrity and why you deserve to win the hearts and minds of your target audience.

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

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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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