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Archive for the ‘General Marketing Thingys’ Category

Bolton, Burgundy and Cheeky Buzz – Auto Marketers Set a New Tone

If you’ve seen the recent round of spots (they ran throughout the fourth quarter of 2013) for Dodge Durango featuring the fictional character Ron Burgundy, you know how good they are.  Crazy good.  (Kudos to Wieden & Kennedy.) They’re stupid funny, with an offbeat wit that perhaps only Will Ferrell could channel in this character composite, a mashup of 70-‘s into 80’s d-list celebrity relics.

Here’s just one of the many spots that were filmed (likely loosely scripted and then ad-the-hell-libbed-out-of by Ferrell) for the campaign:

What’s more intriguing, of course, is that the spots were wildly effective.  According to this article in Autoblog, Durango’s sales were up a staggering 59% in the first month of the campaign. Similarly, after three months of leadup, (the Durango spots were a marketing tie-up to promote the movie inasmuch as they were car ads,) the movie – who some have said didn’t live up to the hype – has raked in more than $108 million dollars at the box office (as of the weekend ending January 5, 2014) against a $50 million production budget.  That’s a profit, yo.  And it might have something to do with the more than 20 million views the spots have received on YouTube.

In a strange coincidence, another auto marketer (Honda) aligned with its own interesting character to help bolster holiday sales.  In the fourth quarter of 2013, Honda ran a campaign of spots under the “Happy Honda Days” theme featuring Michael Bolton, a bit of caricature himself, something of a mashup of 80’s/90’s pop stardom realism.

In the spots, the VO asks, “what does it feel like to get a great deal at Happy Honda Days?  Cue the Bolton.”  (Cheeky, right? Ri-ight?)  And then Bolton appears, singing wintry feel-good lyrics, like “Spread some cheer, the holidays are here…” and “now that the snow is falling down baby, my love is calling your name…” and the more heavy-handed “It’s a winter wonderland, and the snow is gonna blow.”

Take a look:

All these songs were written specifically for the spots…and they’re goofy, but with a deceptively catchy feel that’s very, well, Bolton.  That’s pretty neat.

But what’s really neat (and perhaps where Honda has out-cheeked Dodge in this strategy,) is the social component that’s wrapped into the spots.  Here’s how the program worked.  In late November, there was a 5-day window when people could message their friends via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Vine using a hashtag #XOXOBolton.  Here’s “The Bolton” setting the stage himself:

Then a bunch of lucky winners did indeed get personalized songs from Bolton, and THOSE were really funny too: Check one out, delivered to the difficult-to-pronounce Erdle:

So, major props to Rubin Postaer (sorry, now known as RPA) for taking a good idea and going a few really creative steps further.

In comparing these two campaigns, (Dodge and Honda,) how would you crown a winner?  Is it the quality of the idea?  The production value?  Or the reach?  Dodge and Ron Burgundy rode a wave of laughter all the way to the bank, (for both brands, it turns out.) Honda went the whole way, integrated the celebrity endorsement (and really carried the joke through) in a rich and fun social media activation.

Honda wins on extending the activation and driving engagement.

But at the end of the day, we have a job to do.  And in this inter-office smackdown, Burgundy and Durango win hands down for moving the needle way over into the profit redline.

So…who’s next on the cheeky auto endorsements?  How about Alice Cooper and Verne Troyer for Mini Cooper?  Huh?  Whaddayasay?

Just spitballing here.

Top Five Marketing Resolutions for 2014

As this year comes to a close, I’m reading a lot more posts and articles about the “best” this and the “most” that of 2013.  And yet, rather than reflecting on the astounding advances of the past year, I find myself looking forward.  And hoping.

With that in mind, here are my top 5 resolutions that marketers – of all sizes – might consider in the coming year.  If you’re a mom and pop shop that’s embraced marketing on any level, or a mega marketer that has a department full of b-school overachievers, or a business to business service provider that’s retooling…here are some idea-starters for moving your brand forward in the coming year.

The First Resolution:  I Will Get Integrated.
I know, you’ve heard this one before.  But I’m not talking about integrating digital with your current TV and radio campaign.  Or adding a url to your print ads.  I mean really integrating everything – reorienting everything you do – around your brand and the promise it carries.  And remember that can mean way more than advertising.  If your brand is about fun, then make sure your office is set up for FUN!  Or if your brand is all about design superiority, then pull that superiority into EVERY communication piece…even if it’s some mundane necessity, like an inter-office memo, or a fax cover sheet.  (Remember those?)

Integrating your brand means looking at EVERYTHING you do through a different lens…through YOUR lens.  Just having the conversations with your internal teams about what that might mean will be valuable indeed.

The Second Resolution:  I Will Get Visible.
If you’re not advertising, please start.  We are far beyond the era of marketers who will be able to say “it’s amazing…we’ve gotten really far without advertising at all.”  The truth is, the brands that win are typically the brands that advertise (in some way.) Do you ever wonder why ad budgets go up every year for most companies that are advertising?  Usually because it’s WORKING.  Even if you have a modest presence, or you’re outspent by your competitors, being visible still creates opportunities that invisibility simply precludes.

The Third Resolution:  I Will Get More Social.
Just recently, I heard about a midsize company who refused to embrace social media, despite having a membership-based audience, because they were afraid that someone might hijack their feed with some negative commentary.  The category leader was social.  The flankers were social.  But this brand refused to get on board for fear of one potential dickhead who might take to the Twittersphere with some grade-school gripe.  Instead, they’re missing out on having any number of conversations that might lead to deeper brand involvement, or maybe even more sales.  But a fear of what might go wrong is preventing that brand from reaping all that might go right.

The Fourth Resolution:  I Will Get in Bed with Data.
There are so many amazing things evolving in the analytics realm, it’s hard to consider developing a program without talking about the various incarnations of data tracking that may result.  Just think of the audience data.  Just think of the site tracking.  Just think of the…wait, I’m going full geek.  Oh, hell.  I am a geek!  And I love data.

Think about setting marketing objectives.  Then start thinking about setting data objectives that run alongside those:  what do you want to LEARN today?  Build that into your next marketing program, and you’ll be surprised how fun it is to hang with the geeks.  PS – it’s also a great way to build accountability:  from your creative team, to your media buys to your ecommerce providers…a strong set of data objectives is where the feet meet the fire.

The Fifth Resolution:  I Will Get More Creative.
Despite the fact that data is driving the marketing bus these days, there is no better time than 2014 to get full-on creative. Give your agency or your in-house team or that freelancer you’ve been avoiding a little slack and let them run with an idea or two or three.  And the bigger the idea, the better.  Why not a rock tour?  Why not the side of a building?  Why not get a million people to sign up?

Sure, build in some responsibility markers, and don’t let them do anything that might be considered rude or insensitive, but let’s let ideas fly this year.  Write a jingle.  Listen to an idea from an unlikely source.  Just because you’ve been “doing it this way for years,” doesn’t mean you can’t try something new.  You might have an opportunity to become your very best.  And it might be this coming year.

What are YOUR marketing resolutions for 2014?
Leave your comments here, or better yet, Tweet them at #marketingresolutions

 

Facebook’s Mobile Phone: Three Reasons to “Unlike”

facebook-phone

Concept art courtesy of Gizmodo

Facebook is set to announce this Thursday the release of the Facebook Phone in partnership with HTC. According to the latest mobile report from The New York Times, the plans are to manufacture the first smartphone designed around the total social/sharing experience that Facebook enables. Maybe it’ll be called PhoneBook? Ugh.

On paper, it’s a really good idea. More than a billion people use Facebook on a regular basis to connect with friends, weigh in on political ideas, and just generally brag. And as it turns out, MOST of them are posting, liking and commenting from a mobile device.

However, this announcement is NOT on paper. It’s real. And on most levels, it’s kind of silly. Facebook has become one of the most visible, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important brands on the planet, (although, according to the stock price relative to the IPO, NOT one of the most valuable.)

And yet, with all the Stanford MBAs on staff in their marketing and operations departments, is there anyone there voicing an opinion that this is a thinly veiled brand extension that’s simply designed to appease shareholders with a strategy to create more revenue streams? Because, let’s face it folks, that’s what it is.

The subtext of the “exciting” and “new” direction for Facebook is to have another screen for advertising. Period. Facebook’s entire valuation was built – however hastily, however erred – on the idea that a billion+ eyeballs is a road paved with advertising gold. Add another screen, and you can charge another scale. The new rate card must be getting a design makeover just like the news feed.

But that road to gold, being paved this week with this mobile announcement, is pocked with obstacles. From a marketing perspective, these three obstacles indicate a likely FAIL and another rough year for Zuck & Co.

Obstacle #1: A partnership with a questionable partner.
Facebook is partnering with HTC, a manufacturer that, as of the end of 2012, has less than 5% of the total global smart phone market share. What’s worse, the HTC moniker is inextricably linked with another epic fail of corporate overreach, RIM, and the BlackBerry platform.

Why not partner with the #1 or #2 player? With the heft of Facebook, why not approach Samsung or Apple and design a custom “version” of their popular phones designed more smartly around the Facebook experience? The full version of Android (the HTC model is using a modified version of the system,) or iOS would provide more seamless integration into the consumer’s current mobile experience. Facebook is still acting like a startup strapped for cash, when it should be carrying itself with the mien that they ALREADY have a seat at the big boy table.

Obstacle #2: Consumer adoption.
Brand extensions are a dangerous proposition, even in the best-case scenarios. And in this case, (which is not the best case,) it’s super-duper dangerous. As it stands, the consumer already has the option to have a BETTER piece of hardware than HTC, (with S3 and the soon-to-be-the-most-popular-phone-on-the-planet S4 or any of Apple’s iPhones,) a BETTER piece of software via the Facebook app on either the Droid or iOS platform, and the chances are the consumer ALREADY owns a device she’s happy with.

So it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to rush out and buy an inferior piece of hardware, running an inferior operating system to run an OS that’s focused on a social network so they can take pictures and post status updates from their home screens. The rest of the world already does that with relative ease and great enthusiasm.

Obstacle #3: Increased operational workflow and costs.
As if Facebook doesn’t have enough going on internally, (acquisition plans, acquired partners spinning off, implementation of contextual advertising, implementation of graph search, etc.,) now they’ll have to add a bunch of new pieces. This might include a coding team to fix v.1 bugs, a customer service department devoted to mobile, internal teams to interface with HTC, a dev team to work on v.2 and beyond, marketing and advertising expenditures around the device, operations around packaging and distribution and on and on. Yeccchhh.

I’m no Stanford MBA, but when you have increased operational expenditures, increased marketing expenditures and are projecting – at best – to penetrate a 5% piece of the pie, chances are you’re going to have to dip into your pocket to support this new initiative with a boatload of short-term cash.

Zuck, here’s my advice. KILL this deal before it erodes the stock price and further erodes consumer perception about Facebook quickly becoming the “uncool” social platform.

Want some free ideas?

- Blame HTC as an unreliable partner.
- Cite your unusually high expectations for the platform as a reason to delay the rollout.
- Say you’re working on even bigger and better features and you think you’ll roll out by Christmas.

In the last year or so in Menlo Park, you’ve already misstepped with the privacy policy bungle, the pace of HTML 5 integration, un-hipping Instagram and more. Right now, you need some WINS. And acquiring Hot Studio last week is not what I mean.

Wanna have lunch?

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Samsung Galaxy S3 ads: a “touch” of tech FAIL

I’ve been seeing these Samsung Galaxy SIII commercials for months now.  You know, the one where two people “touch” phones and magically share stuff, like playlists or videos?  The first spot (not included here,) made its debut just prior to the release of the iPhone 5, and poked some good fun at Apple and their devotees waiting on long lines for the next great phone offering.  Samsung apparently has gotten good feedback from these spots, and they’ve rushed out several more.

Take a look:

And while I think they’re very good commercials (they each create a moment of drama centered around the product – that’s always good in advertising,) I’m just not sure it’s very good technology.

Let’s get this straight.  We’ve packed supercomputer technology (no really, the average smartphone today has more actual digital technology in its main chip than NASA – all of it combined – had at its disposal to launch the Apollo rocket into space,) into a tiny wireless device that fits in your pocket and runs practically all day on one battery charge.  With a smartphone, you can send a message – text, photo, video – INSTANTLY to your cousin in Kuala Lumpur (doesn’t everyone have a cousin there?) by pressing a few buttons.  [And actually - unless your name is Blackberry - there are no buttons!  It's just glass with pictures of buttons! ]  With a smartphone, you can download music from the ether, and then listen to it in a matter of seconds.   With a smartphone, you can play an interactive video game, along with three friends in three different cities, in real-time.  And with these cooky add-ons called apps, you can harness vast amounts of neatly packaged information about whether or not your plane is on time, the history of nearly everything, how your stocks are doing and your absolute place in the world through a global positioning satellite.

So with ALL THAT technology literally and figuratively at your fingertips, are we supposed to be impressed that you can “touch” phones and share information?  Is that really a big deal?  Let me make it easy for you:  no, it’s not a big deal at all.

In fact, it’s counterintuitive.  For more on that, see my earlier post on Intuitive Marketing.  Because the very essence of having a wireless device is to figuratively “connect” you to people who are NOT close to you.  This idea of having to be in the same physical space as someone to enjoy the fullness of the phone is downright dopey.  It’s cheap.  It’s a throwaway feature that somehow got left in, and now Samsung is spending tens of millions of dollars trying to convince us how cool it is.   It’s not cool to touch phones.  Actually, I think it’s a little weird.  What’s next?  The Samsung Galaxy S4, now with WIRES to connect to every phone together?

Look in your own smartphone right now.  I’ll wait.  Of all your contacts, how many of them are within one square mile of where you are?  Not many, right?

So let me be very clear here as to why this advertising is twisting my knickers.  Samsung is essentially taking the LEAST useful, least helpful feature of their product and making it the MAIN focus of their advertising.  It’s like BMW running a complete campaign for their latest luxury model and focusing on the idea that you can roll down the windows with this neat little bar that you can insert into the door and turn it over and over again until the window is down.  Sure, the car’s got power windows that let you do that with the touch of a button, but LOOK!  You can roll it down by hand if you want! Ugh.

Lesson for all marketers, big and small:  be proud of your products, and celebrate them and their features through advertising.  But go to the HIGHEST value of your product (not the most gimmick-ey,) and start there.  Don’t beat us over the head with something that’s really not that important, or even really that cool, and then try to convince your audience that it is.  That’s not just bad advertising.  It’s bad business.

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Is your marketing intuitive?

Over the last year, I’ve become fascinated – okay, maybe even a little obsessed – with cognitive psychology.  As a result, some of the principles of understanding the mechanics of how the mind works have found their way into our agency’s plans and presentations.  What we’re trying to uncover are the automatic mechanisms of the mind, and how to appeal to those functions with specific marketing messages.

One way we’re doing that is by embracing what we call intuitive marketing.  There’s no set formula.  There’s no best practices guide.  And it’s even more complicated in that it’s different, not just for every category, but for every marketer.

What does it mean to be intuitive anyway?  To (over)simplify, the human brain has two basic types of reasoning functionality.  Some of those are complex, multi-step functions.  Like a difficult math problem, or recalling a song in your memory, with the guitar riff and the drum intro and the lyrics, and the harmonies, all at once.  The other kinds are automatic functions.  These are the immediate perceptions of facts and concepts that happen instantaneously, and that don’t require other thoughts or substantiations.  Like walking outside and recognizing that it’s cold.  Or even having an insight while someone is talking.  It’s not something you think about thinking about.  It’s just an immediate mental perception that typically happens in an instant.

And as marketers and the agencies that serve them, we’re all trying to simplify the choices for our customers.  To make it easy (even instantaneous) to CHOOSE US!

Sometimes, it’s the package design.  Sometimes, it’s the media choice.  It could even be the distribution channel.  But in any case, if your marketing doesn’t make contextual sense and simplify the cognitive conversation in some way, try thinking more intuitively. Here are a few cornerstone idea-starters:

Do (or be) the thing that makes the most sense and simplifies the engagement.
Did you ever notice how when you walk into a room, the light switch is almost always just inside the door opening, and at about chest height?  Or how the toilet paper is almost always within arm’s reach of the toilet itself?  Wouldn’t it be weird, and downright silly to have the light switch (or the toilet paper) across the room somewhere?  That would not only not make sense, but it would make your life – or at least that particular experience – harder in some way.

Apple revolutionized the mobile phone industry with their iPhone design through a number of powerful features.  Whether it was combining a phone with an email device and an internet device and a music player, or introducing the touch-screen features to a broad audience, they just made it EASIER to engage with your communications needs on one handsome mobile device.  Once it was introduced, it made every device that preceded it seem clunky, limited and insensible.

Anticipate the customer’s usage environment.
I was recently traveling on business, and stayed at the grandest ole’ resort in Nashville.  When I got in the shower, I noticed something really curious:  the mini shampoo bottles had twist-off caps.  Having already been soaked with water, it was nearly impossible to unscrew those things!  It was a good laugh, but it proved that they hadn’t really thought the usage scenario through quite completely.  A flip-top design would have been much more intuitive.

My colleague and partner and a fellow blogger, David Adelman, brought to my attention an especially curious case:  while riding the subway, he was reading the ads on the train car, and noticed that one of them featured a QR code.
On the subway.
Where there is no mobile service.

As far as intuitive goes, that’s an epic fail.

Don’t design features into your product or service that its consumers will never need.
My life as a frequent traveler is made more enjoyable by the fact that I love airplanes.  One of the reasons I love them is that they’re super streamlined in their design. Many people don’t even realize that airplanes are not outfitted to go in reverse.  It seems silly, but it’s true. EVERY facet of an airplane is built to optimize one thing:  going forward and fast.

The same is true of Instagram.  Many people don’t realize you can’t go to an “instagram.com” and upload photos.  (There are third party web access points, but that’s what happens when an ecosystem evolves around a successful platform.)  Instagram is wholly designed to enable a singular and contained experience:  point, shoot, edit, upload and tag all through your mobile device.

The best products and services are built the same way:  hyper-optimized to accomplish the simple tasks they’re built for.  Think Dyson vacuum cleanersKeurig single-cup coffee brewers. Staffing companies that focus on specific job titles. Tax attorneys.  Singular specialization can be intuitive.

Elevate the experience on a rational and emotional level.
Finally, think about all these cornerstones, and then take it to the next level.  That’s what the great marketers do.  BMW automobiles are designed to appeal to the driver in a specific way, and to the passengers in a different – but also specific – way.  The dashboard instruments that are critical to the driving experience are pitched in to the driver so he or she has an elevated driving experience.  Amazon.com built an algorithm that monitors your purchase behavior to make intuitive recommendations for future purchases.  Then it goes a step further to create bundle recommendations and even offer you the most optimized shipping choices.  That makes your shopping experience more than just a shopping experience.  It makes it an Amazon experience.

Start with these cornerstones and then go further to create the most intimate and rewarding experience for your customers.  If you do that, you don’t have to be too intuitive to know that success is right around the corner.

Dos and Don’ts to Beef Up Your B-to-B Advertising

If you’re in a business that sells to other businesses, you know how difficult it can be.  Whether you’re a small business or a global enterprise, the daily challenges of communicating can add up to quarterly headaches and annual recalibrations.  But if you’re marketing as actively as you need to, then some simple rules can help.

For much of my career, I’ve been involved with businesses that need to convince other businesses to engage.  From media companies to industrial businesses to distributors and exhibitors, I’ve seen the challenges of articulating compelling messages that resonate and drive response. B-to-b marketing is indeed a unique discipline, and it has rules that its consumer counterpart cannot even imagine having to navigate.  However, that doesn’t mean that it has to be cold, or impersonal or the mother of all sins:  boring.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to formulating business-to-business advertising or other marketing outreach:

DO talk to a PERSON
Despite what we may think about business-to-business marketing, we’re still in the persuasion business.  And it’s critical to talk directly to one person, understand his or her needs, promise him or her benefits and build a case for your product or service.  You can’t do any of that to “an organization.”

DO be willing to SELL
A fair amount of b-to-b advertising approaches will highlight some random case study about Bob, of Company Y, who increased productivity 400% while using Solution X.  No call to action, no contact name, no direct connection.  Now, in fairness, not all b-to-b advertising has to be direct response, but it should have an articulated point of view, and should clearly define what the value proposition is through some means.  It should sell in whatever way works best for your brand and in whatever way makes it easiest for your prospect.

DON’T run a competitive ad unless you can back it up with verified third party data.
Your opinion of your competition means nothing unless there’s a tangible difference to your prospect.  It’s okay to establish a clear difference between your brand and competitive offerings – but if you’re just beating your chest over a nominal difference in features, you’ll coming out looking mean.  And nobody wants to do business with a meanie.

DO use a strong CTA
Someone I admire very much constantly reminds me of the phrase “don’t ask, don’t get.”  While I’ve just said that all b-to-b advertising doesn’t have to be direct response, the best business conversations do include an appeal to interact.  So propose a demo.  Ask for the call.  Heck, ask for the business!  But do it in a way that makes the prospect’s life/business/daily challenges easier, and then ensure that at the end of the road, things get even brighter! Remember the important lesson that hope is not a strategy for success.

DON’T be afraid to be emotional
Regardless of the “professional” nature of b-to-b, every buying decision – whether it’s technology, or information or industrial steel – is an emotional process.  The CEO, or the CTO or the procurement manager of a municipality still has to “feel” good about your offering, your pricing, your service guarantee.  Don’t abandon this core principle.  It could mean the difference between getting a response or not.

DO be visually arresting whenever possible
Advertising, in my opinion, is one of the most powerful forces in global business. We have the opportunity to persuade and entertain using interrelated words and pictures.  Many executives agonize over the words, (because we all have opinions, whether or not we can articulate them,) but leave the pictures to an afterthought (because not everyone is a visual thinker or an artist.)  When you can be visually arresting (in print or moving pictures,) you can elevate the corresponding language to a level that the words alone could not have achieved.  Sure, use a chart or a graph to visually demonstrate, but make sure it’s designed to delight as much as it is to inform.

DON’T be blah
As mentioned above, it’s important to talk to a PERSON.  Unfortunately, a lot of b-to-b advertising tries to sell to the whole organization, or a department or an executive team.  But the only way to do that is to use generic, bland, SAFE language.  I’ll remind you that generic, bland and safe do not compelling advertising make.  Be excited!  Be visual.  Dramatize the benefit.  Claim the highest possible ground for your brand and then differentiate the snot out of it.  Get out of techno-speak for techno-speak’s sake…start using hard-hitting language that proves you understand the prospect’s challenges, proves your product or service can meet and exceed those challenges, and proves that choosing you will make that singular prospect feel empowered, excited and engaged.

Image source:  DeviantArt

Marketing Matchmaking

Startups and smaller agencies:  marriages made in VC heaven

marketingthingy blog post image

I’ve been loitering in the VC galaxy lately, and it’s a funky neighborhood.  Private equity firms and their representatives are very active, especially in the technology space, looking for the next this or that, and betting millions on “neato” ideas.  And while figuring out which companies might get a shot at glory is a little bit like deconstructing Scientology, the real work begins after funding.

As it relates to marketing, startups (pre-money or post,) have challenges that established brands don’t.  A startup brand has to do more explaining, more demonstrating, more proving their worth – they’re fighting for a reliable spot in the minds of consumers.  And that’s in addition to duking it out and swiping some share from all the competitors out there, who are themselves both enjoying and defending their established positions.

So how does a startup go about the business of selecting an agency?  Since it’s not a typical discovery process, and likely not a standard RFP protocol, it can get a little dicey.  So let’s look at the basic DNA points of startup companies and their related marketing needs:

  • They need to move fast
  • They likely have a limited budget (being watched over like a hawk by the newly installed CFO or COO from the investment team)
  • They need to differentiate
  • They need to build credibility
  • They need to generate transactions
  • They need to build brand awareness
  • From the investor’s point of view, they need to LAST
  • They need good data, since they’re already working on version 2.0, (this is true whether the startup is a technology company, or a vacuum cleaner or a type of insurance.)

Small agencies are a fit for startups:
If you put your matchmaking hat on for just a moment, you see that these traits match up almost perfectly with a small (or smaller) agency.  Generally speaking, smaller agencies can produce appreciable results, quickly, and for less initial investment.  There are a number of reasons for this (and this is NOT a bash piece on larger agencies – they have their place, and we’ll get to that in a moment,) not the least of which is scale.  With less overhead and heft, smaller agencies can generate results for startups for less overall dollars.

Smaller agencies have a gift for seeing numerous finish lines that are attainable and help to motivate the internal staff.  For instance, a smaller agency might recommend a social media program for the startup.  And then it becomes a race to 10,000 likes.  Or 1,000 followers.  Or whatever.  These are simple, digestible goals for both the agency and the client…and it looks like progress. With larger agencies, success like this is just a daily occurrence, and it may have lost its luster.

Smaller agencies are also more likely to look for “under the radar” strategies.  And as it relates to the need to last, smaller agencies will typically put more legwork in setting up strategic partnerships (like distribution or sell-in) with other entrepreneurs in their small agency network.  In contrast, larger agencies see success in TRPs, and typically recommend advertising first, everything else after.

Smaller agencies are less of a risk:
Smaller agencies are also easier to fire, since the financial risk of their involvement is limited.  And that’s actually an advantage to the startup.  With less overall exposure, they’re not tied to overly long-term plans.  So if things aren’t going well after year 1, they may consider a reboot, either with another small agency, or perhaps a slightly larger marketing enterprise, if things are beginning to move.

Choose wisely – based on objectives:
It all depends on the objectives for the startup and their investment team.  If things are indeed progressing according to plan, a smaller agency may NOT be the partner to help that company expand globally, or to establish more high-profile partnerships.  In that case, it may be time to pass the ball.  And although smaller agencies match up with startup needs and their financial limitations, larger agencies do have more reach and more bodies to execute on multiple planes at once. For instance, if the play is to execute a truly integrated marketing outreach, a large agency can put experts on every channel in about a day and roll out the integrated plan next Tuesday across social, mobile, web, TV, radio, outdoor and even a cool experiential thing at a trade show next week. The little guys simply don’t have that kind of muscle.

In addition, larger agencies have advantages that smaller agencies cannot even comprehend. While a smaller agency might be able to do more with less, larger agencies have the ability to do EVEN more with more. Take media buying, for instance.  If a small agency is buying spot cable for a limited budget, they’re going to get only so far.  Mr. Big agency comes along and requests the same buy, and then smoothly reminds the station that they also buy tens of millions across the network, and they’re likely to get more points/exposure or better slots for the same outlay. It’s simply the law of scale and leverage.

Those advantages aside, however, small agencies and startups are clearly a match with big upside possibility – from the business side straight on through to intangibles, like personality, vibe, etc.  But it’s mostly because, in the best cases, the two companies help each other grow into their fullest potential.

Eat Marketing for Lunch

Looking for a fresh perspective on your business?
Start by consuming some of what you produce.

Here’s an interesting paradox. I’ve been in and around advertising for my entire 22-year career. And throughout that time, I’ve become increasingly desensitized to the type of work I produce… and that’s largely the result of a sort of self-imposed effort at OBJectivity.

However, over the past two years or so, I’ve been engaged in a new and evolving experiment to become more SUBjective to advertising messages. (In a really objective and observant way. Told you it was paradoxical.)

Since I’m involved in strategic brand activities and message development, I’m trying to avoid myopia. I’m trying to allow messages to sink in. I’m trying to see what strategies really break through, and which ones just get lost in the clutter and the noise. I’m trying to continually become better at what I do, and my competitors provide a mountain of useful information on the subject every day.  I’m consuming a LOT of advertising and marketing messages these days.

Marketers in any category can fall into these I’m-living-in-the-bubble-of-my-business patterns. If you’re a CMO of a large corporation, or the Chief Idea Girl in a lean startup, you’re focused on what’s right in front of you. You’ve got operational challenges. Staffing issues. You’re reviewing the plans. You’re considering hiring a shop to handle your social media. You’ve got a LOT going on. There’s simply not bandwidth to consume more stuff, or to consider more inputs.

But you must. Because it’s simply the only way to gain any real perspective on your own business-side matters. Here are a few simple steps that I’ve been taking that can help you gain some insights and ensure that you’re not operating – or investing in marketing your business – in a vacuum:

Go shopping (or searching) in your category.
This is the fun part. (Warning: it can also be a challenge for certain businesses, like orthodontia for example.) Be a browser. Be a consider-er. Look at your competitors first, and then look at anybody who does what you do. If you’re selling at retail, go to the stores you’re in and see who else is on the shelf. Better yet, go to the stores you WANT to be in and see what’s going on there.

One cool thing I do is pick specific markets far from NYC (where I’m headquartered) and then do online searches there. Why’s the restaurant scene rocking in Reno? Whose hand-made jeans are jumping off the shelves in Joplin? Is there somebody is Topeka who’s peddling test prep? Whatever your category, (b-to-b or consumer,) engage in the art of careful consideration.

Take note of what made you notice: was it the packaging? A promise embedded in the brand? Did you look at the ads?

Consume your competitor’s stuff. And some of your own.
Next, take it a step further. It may seem like sacrilege, but open up your wallet (virtual or otherwise) and buy some stuff made by your competitors, and some stuff made by your company. This is the ONLY way to truly immerse yourself in how your customers might feel when they buy your (or their) products or services. Follow the process from start to finish. Take note of everything, from the customer service if that applies, to the shipping, to the packaging when it arrives. Put it on or boot it up.

How do you FEEL? That’s the ethos you want to capture. There are deep emotional bonds being formed between brands and consumers every day. You must choose and manage the emotions you want to convey and the way you want them conveyed very carefully indeed.

Be brutally honest about your assessments.
One of the things we all like to do is assume superiority. “Their stuff is inferior to our stuff” is a common collective agreement at virtually every organization. (Seriously, don’t try to deny it.) So now, you have to shake that tribal mentality off and really observe what’s going on for you when you consume other products in your category. Is the ride smoother? Does it work better? Are there fun features you didn’t know about? Were you SURPRISED beyond your expectations? Make notes. Make lots of notes. Was it the marketing? What did you experience when you browsed the website? How did you feel when you bought your own stuff? Did you measure up?

Leverage your learning. Hard.
Now that you’ve done this, it’s time to take a good hard look at your own stuff and your own processes for delivering it to customers. If you can honestly you say you kick everyone else’s ass, (and your name is not already Musk, or Zuckerberg, or Brin,) then congratulations. You’ve outwitted, out-efforted and have come to dominate your market. But for the rest of us, you have an opportunity to thrust your organization forward on objectivity. Take the things you learned and put them to work. You’ll be surprised at the ancillary ideas that are sparked. A competitor’s label might jar your memory about a data capture form on your website. A competitor’s ad might help you formulate some platforms for your next product innovations. Your own ideals about your own products might be improved or elevated in some way.

Engage your team (or your partners, or your cat) with your new ideas. If you’ve got one employee or 10,000, your newly found observations can have a profound impact on how things go. They may be threatened at first, but they’ll likely be inspired to go above and beyond and really start to wow people.

Use what you’ve experienced, purchased and learned – on a first-hand, completely subjective basis – about your competitors as a starting point for positioning against and amongst them. Ultimately, you’ll find new ways to move your organization forward in a much more objective and holistic manner. Plus you’ll have a bunch of new stuff to play with in your office.

Battling Browsers: It’s Getting Personal Between Google and Bing

Every now and again, you might notice that two competing marketers are duking it out in the marketplace in the battle for top of mind among consumers or business prospects.  In our business, this phenomenon has been given the populist term “cola wars” in reference to Coke and Pepsi’s long-standing barrage of Hatfield/McCoy eruptions on the television airwaves,  likely touched off by the “take the Pepsi challenge” campaign from the mid 1970’s. In some cases, (like political advertising,) competitive advertising gets downright ugly – strong marketing ideas are replaced with unfounded attacks or gross exaggerations of the competitor’s position. But in other cases, the battle for supremacy can lead to something refreshingly interesting:  really great work.

Such is the case with the recent browser wars between Google and Bing.  Both have rolled out some new features, (see PC World’s comparison here,) and Bing is actually gaining market share on Google at a modestly increasing pace.  All Things Digital’s Kara Swisher commented on this in a recent post.   Interesting similarity between the Google/Bing and Coke/Pepsi battles:  Bing has roughly ¼ the market share that Google enjoys; between them, they occupy the #1 and #2 spot in the market; and like Coke, Google was first to market.

Despite the numbers telling a very clear story, both the Goliath and the David in this scenario are compelled to articulate their positions.  And their recent work really shines for a number of reasons.  Let’s look a spot from each marketer:

Bing

Google

As you can see, both marketers have employed roughly the same strategy:  “humanize search.”  And in both cases, they have managed to do that very well. But there’s something interesting at work here that needs to be noticed: neither of these spots is trying to do anything overly persuasive.  Rather, the thesis seems to be “you’re going to search anyway, so you might as well use our browser.”

Google’s spot touts Chrome’s ability to integrate Google’s robust technology set:  mail, doc and video sharing, translation, social integration, maps and more.  As the main character in this spot tries to win back his lost love, he has the benefit of a wide variety of tools at his disposal.  The Bing spot focuses primarily on the social integration feature – the user in the spot is getting hotel and sightseeing recommendations from friends as he initiates his search of Hawaii – “try the spicy Poke!” becomes part of his search experience. (And then we see it come to life in the spot as the main character’s mouth is set on fire.)

As I’ve written in an earlier post here on Marketing Thingy, “Community” is ultimately the holy grail for brands.  So it makes sense that search engines should integrate the social experience into searching for information.  After all, while we have all come to trust Big Brother’s algorithms, we’ll always put more weight on the opinions of our friends and colleagues.  When you get them both, you’re pretty much rolling in tall cotton.

So each spot does a fine job of communicating both features and benefits.  Google’s feature set leads to a richer searching experience because it allows you to communicate your thoughts and feelings most completely.  Bing’s core feature of integrating search with social allows you to have a richer searching experience because of the value of your social network’s opinions.  Both are pretty strong positions.

If we’re scoring, I give the edge to the Bing spot.  It’s more efficient:  it does in 60 seconds what takes Google a minute and a half.  It’s more cinematic:  you have to read your way through most of the Google Spot.  And there’s an unexpected twist :  the innocent search for things to do in Hawaii turns into a life change as the last scene is our protagonist “searching” for a job in Hawaii while checking out a 2 bedroom ocean-view rental.

Both spots are equally smart and sensitive.  Both spots accomplish the strategic objective of humanizing search.  Both spots are a very strong reflection of the creative teams that worked on them – it’s hard to put a human touch on a largely unemotional information exchange experience.  Both spots create a compelling narrative of where search can take you.  And they accomplish the unenviable task of convincing you that if your friends are coming along for the ride, then those searches can take you around the world or back to the center of it. Bravo browser wars!

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