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Archive for the ‘General Marketing Thingys’ Category

Affiliate Retargeting: the next, next thing?

In marketing, there’s almost nothing new under the sun. Even new developments in mobile and RTB are just platform-leveraging automations and algorithmically-enhanced functions of previous procedures. But what would happen if we took two sort-of-new concepts and smashed them together?

Here’s what I’m talking about: we all have a pretty good idea of what affiliate marketing is. In this arrangement, a marketer pays an affiliate on a performance basis for referral clicks from prospects. Clicks are more likely to occur when the prospect has trust in the content provider and understands that there’s an implied endorsement of the marketer’s product or service. The financial model is typically a revenue share.

 

affiliate_model

 

We also have a clear understanding of what retargeting is. In this arrangement, a cookie is dropped on a potential customer’s computer after they’ve visited a particular site. For a period of time, that prospect is served display ads for that site/product/service, creating context and recall. The financial model is typically on a CPM basis.

 

retargeting_model

Both of these are used in many ways, with varying degrees of frequency, and usually as a component in an integrated digital marketing plan. But what if we took these two models and smashed them together?

I’d call it affiliate retargeting.

In this arrangement, a prospect visits a site and consumes or browses content. A cookie is dropped on that prospect’s computer, and then contextual and relevant ads would follow that prospect around the web for a period of time. However, the ads would not be simply from the site the prospect visited, but rather from affiliated, relevant marketers that have made an arrangement with the content provider around certain keywords and targeting variables. (I smell an algorithm cooking!)

 

affiliate_retargeting_model

For vertical marketers, in either consumer or business marketing, this could create much deeper context and help prospects connect the dots. Here’s a simple example:

Let’s say you have a prominent blog in the popular music category. Let’s call the blog “MusicToday.com.” The site gets serious traffic, and discusses all the latest news, releases, tour information and more for various artists, categorized by genre. A prospect visits the site, reads an article about a country artist like Carrie Underwood, then exits the site. For the next several weeks, any number of marketers may be interested in serving ads to that prospect, especially if we could ascertain some basic targeting parameters:

  • A television network may be about to broadcast a special featuring the artist and is looking to increase tune-in. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • The record company may be trying to push a Carrie Underwood greatest hits album, or tour dates. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • A fashion brand may have a co-marketing deal with the artist, and wants to drive traffic to stores to check out her new line of signature jeans. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.

In this arrangement, the affiliate would purchase the display ads (through an automated partner of course,) and pay a CPM for the impressions. The retargeters would pay the affiliate on the same model, but likely with a premium added for a more “qualified” or “targeted” impression. They may also set up an arrangement where conversions pay out on a revenue share model.

With all this talk about “brands as publishers,” this would really create a model where any blogger, content provider, gossip site, even corporate marketer could become a publisher in the truest sense of the word.

Is affiliate retargeting being done currently in b-to-b or b-to-c? If it is, I’d love to know how partners are arranging these deals, how they’re measuring/tracking performance and what kind of automation is being leveraged.

If it’s not being done, what the heck are we waiting for?

The “C” Word of Marketing

conversation_blog

No, no. Not that “C” word.

In the old days, (you know, as far back as the 1990’s,) marketing was largely a one-sided enterprise. Brands created campaigns that were directed outward to the consumers (large blocks of them) and then waited for the cash registers to ring. When that didn’t work, they just re-tooled the campaign, and tried it again. There was never any inclination to change the model.  Just a tweak in the creative, or a new account manager, or a line extension, and let’s tee it up again. Those days are over, for many reasons – but mostly because the “campaign-as-the-thing” approach stopped working.

The new word of the day in marketing has to be CONVERSATIONS. Because, more than ever, brands need to listen and respond in near-real-time in order to stay relevant. Consumers are in control of the messages they receive, when they receive them, and (Jeez, Louise!) on what devices they will be receiving them!

Is it the Internet’s fault? Yeah, probably. But the Internet just streamlined a distribution system for brands that brands always desperately wanted. Note to industry: be careful what you wish for. The system begets bugs. The system creates a new set and style of preferences.

And let’s be mindful that this is not a tipping of the scales – it’s actually a market correction. It’s only natural for the consumer to be in control when the basic DNA of marketing is choice. Because there’s competition – multiple entities vying for attention and striving to achieve the perception of superiority – the consumer is naturally in the driver’s seat…weighing benefits and making choices based on any number of criteria. (Whether they’re sound or not, mind you. With choice comes caprice.)

So, if you’re a brand, how do you have conversations?

Listen.
As with any conversation, listening is the best way to engage. You’ll learn, you’ll understand, and you’ll be able to exchange ideas with context. For brands, this new paradigm is an information gold mine. No more expensive focus groups, no more really expensive segmentations, no more super expensive risks. Today, you can publish content, and consumers will tell you in about 4 and a half minutes whether or not it’s crap. The brands that listen – and pay attention – seem to be the brands that excel.  Listening is why we have conversations – you already know what you are and what you know.  The goal, of course, is to hear other perspectives.

Inspire your audience to try something new/other.
Even if your audience is already buying your stuff on a regular basis, it’s worth deepening the relationship.  Ask them to try something new. Drive a new route. Try a new approach. Write an essay. Post a photo. Ask them to do ANYTHING but “buy our shit.” When you do that, you cheapen the opportunity to continue the conversation, and you make just about everything that follows suspect.

I’m not suggesting that marketers use diversionary tactics to engage audiences. I’m rather insisting that you find something ELSE to talk about than yourself.

Seed new conversations.
One of the “things” marketers can do is to seed new conversations. Sure, they can be contextual. They can even be categorically obvious. But let them be true, two-sided exchanges between parties where both parties participate, both parties are heard, and both parties have the opportunity to come out having learned something. (Here’s the dirty little secret: brands can do this over and over with zillions of people, and really really learn some things.)

Want to know what your next flavor should be? Want to know where to build your next location? Want to know what kind of features you should put into your next expensive piece of technology? Want to know whether you should wear those dopey throwback uniforms? Start a conversation, and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you find, especially if you’re in a position to act on that information.

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

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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.

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