Category Archives: 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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A Brutally Honest Discussion About the Responsibilities of Sales and Marketing

sales and marketing

How integrated are sales and marketing? They should be tightly integrated because marketing should tee up sales – right? What are the performance objectives for sales executives? Marketing executives? Well for sales executives, that is pretty easy – sales and margin. For marketing executives, that is not quite an easy answer. We could say brand awareness, lead generation, loyalty, and advocacy. But at the end of the day (or quarter) most CEOs judge their marketing executives’ performance on sales.

Now on one hand this makes sense. A company survives on profit from sales. All marketing efforts, if successful, should result in sales. But here is the rub … the functions of marketing are different than sales. And more importantly, customers and clients do not want to be blatantly sold to. They want to develop trust and relationships with the brands they purchase.

So let’s go back to sales objectives and marketing objectives. The sales executive has one simple job function – close the sale. Marketers’ job functions are different. They need to build awareness, interest, buzz, reputation, and overall an awesome customer/client experience with the brand. If we agree that marketers need to build trust and win over customers to build solid relationships, can’t that relationship be hurt if the target audience feels like they are being sold to? And if at the end of the day the marketer’s success and future with their company is going to be judged by sales, are we not creating a dilemma? Not just a dilemma for the marketer, but a potential problem for the customer as well?

As I said, this is an honest discussion with no simple answer. But I suggest that we need to change the objectives of marketers. My suggestion is not driven by a desire to ease the responsibilities of marketers, but is driven by the target audience behavior that marketers serve. The audience does not want to be sold to and at the same time they want to believe in the brands they purchase. And from the company perspective they need sales to survive.

If we look at the sales marketing funnel, most consumers traverse from awareness to consideration to sale to post-sale loyalty and then advocacy. Can we agree that the four phases besides sales (awareness, consideration, loyalty, and advocacy) tee up sales? If so, let a marketer’s function and responsibility be teeing up sales and a sales executive be responsible for closing the sale. Measure marketers on awareness consideration, loyalty, and advocacy and not hold them responsible for sales. Is this distinction possible?

I believe the digital world has put much power in the hands of consumers and clients. They can get more information then ever before. They can share their opinion to a large audience and their news travels fast. Behaviors as a result of digital technologies create the case for truly separating marketing and sales objectives.

Here is an interesting analog … For a long time, The New York Yankees were blessed with having Mariano Rivera as the relief pitcher that would be put in at the end of a game to seal a win for the team. It did not matter if the starting pitcher was having an amazing outing. If the starting pitcher had a big lead. The Yankees’ manager would put Rivera in to close the deal. The Yankees had great “tee-er-uppers” and a superb closer. Metaphorically speaking, marketers are starting pitchers. They get momentum and set up the win for the closer. Sales executives come in in the late innings and seal the deal/win.

Yes, I know sales/marketing objectives are a complicated issue, but I think I have rationalized the need for change now. Many have talked about this for many years. Social and digital technologies have really created the customer/client behavior to drive a need for change now. Please add your voice and opinion to this vital topic.

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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5 Marketing Musts for a Successful Year Ahead

5 marketing mustsIt is the end of the year and many are making their predictions on marketing trends for 2015. Yes, I am sure those trends like mobile, content marketing, and big data will make many lists. Heck, I think some prudent blogger will even say smart small data will be bigger than big data.

But I don’t think it should be about trends. I think it is about taking what you have learned about your target audience and putting that to work for your brand. If you want your business to thrive, you need to understand the people you serve. I am often quoted for saying “marketing is the psychology of business.” How do you get their attention? How do you gain their interest? How do you get them to buy your product over the competition’s? How do you make them enthusiastic and loyal to your brand? And most powerful, how do you turn them into your brand advocate such that they share the supreme value of your brand with their friends, family, and colleagues. A business psychologist knows how to motivate people.

So if you take this mentality and examine people’s shopping and purchasing behavior (both B2C and B2B) in the past year you will know what is important and imperative for your marketing strategy and execution. Understand the psychology of your audience. Understand how you appeal to their emotions. Taking this approach I have identified five marketing musts for the coming year.

1) Storytelling – disruptive advertisement is out. People do not want ads thrown in their face. They react negatively and many now ignore ads. 86% of people skip TV commercials. 44% of direct mail is never opened. 91% of people have unsubscribed from company emails they previously opted into. On the other hand, people love compelling stories. “Storytelling is a means for sharing and interpreting experiences. Stories are universal in that they can bridge cultural, linguistic, and age-related divides… Storytelling can be used as a method to teach … Learning is most effective when it takes place in social environments that provide authentic social cues about how knowledge is to be applied. Stories function as a tool to pass on knowledge in a social context.” (Source) One thing has not changed since the beginning of mankind … People like stories. People remember stories.

2) Holistic User Experience – Consider how your audience captures information. Who their influencers are? How they become aware of products and consider them for purchase. What path do they take on their journey to purchase and how do they remain loyal. What motivates them to become an advocate? Aim to get your target audience emotionally bound to your brand by having deep empathy for them. And then leverage that knowledge of empathy by delivering a user experience in every company-customer touch point that is truly appreciated and valued by the target audience. (By the way, if you want some excellent suggestions on integrating storytelling with your user design, checkout Adam Kleinberg’s article “Storytelling and User Experience Are on a Collision Course” in AdAge.

3) Personalization – people are rejecting brand communication because they are inundated with uninteresting and irrelevant correspondence being thrown at them. Companies need to use information sources to better understand their audience. Companies need to deliver meaningful engagement based upon social listening and profiles, purchase history and other CRM data. Individuals are much more likely to accept brand communication if it is relevant to them personally.

4) Community – A community is a social unit of any size that shares common values. Don’t be preoccupied with the number of community members. Rather, think of each community member as a potential brand advocate. Your brand should not only demonstrate that it shares common values with its audience, but also be the source for people to engage with other likeminded individuals. If the conversations between people with common values happen in the brand domain, the brand is further associated and valued to each member of the group. Learn more about the business value of community in the articles “Successful Social Marketing – Integrating Content and Community” and “Why Facebook May Not Be Your Brand’s Community.”

5) Advocates – Nothing is more influential then an objective person telling another about the greatness and value of a brand. The word of friends, family, and colleagues clearly trumps a company marketing their brand. So what if a brand focused on a finite relatively small group to engage with to get them to love their products and brand. What if the marketing strategy was to then unleash this group to rally support for the brand? I am not suggesting forgetting about the mass target audience. It is not an either-or brand-marketing proposition. Do both. But recognize the results you can drive with a set of advocates. Make advocacy one of your marketing pillars.

And there you have my marketing suggestions for the next year. It is not a list taken from assessing technology wizardry. Not a list based upon trends and hype. It is customer centric. Always going back and understanding the behavior and motivations of your audience will drive success.

Marketers need to evolve because their audience is smarter and has more control than in previous years. Marketers’ brand position and reputation is now partly defined by the democratic people. I believe that marketers now need to think of themselves as running a successful media company. That is, they always ask themselves, “How do I get the audience to consume my brand, my story, my video, my picture, my article? What will make them share it with their friends?” If you follow the five areas I outlined, you will get there with measured success.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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