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


Brands: Are they nature or nurture?

I’ve been doing a lot of talking, teaching and pitching around the concept of brands, and it seems that a lot of people – including professionals in the brand business – still have wildly differing ideas about brands and what they are.  And while this post is NOT intended to clear everything up in 500 words or less, I do think that looking at it from a different perspective will help.  So let’s evaluate brands on the simple x/y coordinates of nature vs. nurture.

Let’s take a simple consumer category, like ketchup.  If we’re developing a NEW ketchup brand, we’d have to fit it in the market alongside the primary players like Heinz and Hunt’s and Del Monte, and let’s throw in the niche marketer Annie’s who owns the “all-natural” position.  Aside from the typical line extensions (organic, gluten-free, sugar free, etc.) not a very cluttered market at all.


The basic NATURE of brands in this category:


If you were going to enter a competitor into the market, the brand would have to declare itself different by nature (a unique flavor, or a unique combination of ingredients, maybe they only source specific tomatoes, etc.) and then – and this is the important part – have to become different by nurture.

The way brands in this category are NURTURED:

Advertising (national vs hyper-local)
Social Efforts

So we could develop a brand (let’s call it Kelly’s) and give it a certain NATURE so that it fits in the category and has a chance to carve out some market share.  Let’s suppose Kelly’s is sourced using only organic plum tomatoes from Italy, packaged in a really cool NON-plastic carton, and is frequently preferred over Heinz during blind taste tests.  (Lots of differentiation points there, and also lots of category parody.)

On its own, the brand’s nature should allow it to enter the market and do fairly well (given the right distribution.)

But here’s where you see that brands are NOT just the sum of what they’re made of.

For Kelly’s to survive – and ultimately, thrive – the real work would be in changing the hearts and minds of those who are in the market for ketchup to allow them to make “mental room” for a new player.  With Heinz owning about 55% of the market, Hunt’s about 20%, Kelly’s would be competing with Del Monte and “all others” for a piece of the remaining 25% of the roughly $1 Billion ketchup market.  At first.  But given the right climate, the right amount of time and the right combination of nature and nurture, there’s no arguing that Kelly’s could ultimately unseat Heinz for the #1 spot.

But how much would that cost, and how long would that take?

The answer lies in how the brand is NURTURED.  If the advertising is cool, and the brand selects some pretty cool partnerships and sponsorships, and doesn’t overly rely on price promotion, and does well on the b-to-b side with slotting and merchandising, and doesn’t suck, then it’s likely that nurturing won’t take too long.

However, if ANY of those things is slightly misaligned, and misperceptions ensue, then it will certainly elongate the process of adoption.

Brands are a phenomenon in two important ways.  First, they’re a perceptual phenomenon. Brands don’t actually exist.  As I’ve told my students, there’s no vault somewhere in Pittsburgh where the Heinz brand is “locked away.”  It simply exists in the minds of consumers as a sum of experiences and interactions.  And while all those versions from all those consumers are slightly different, they do share a basic collective complexion.

Second, brands are a cumulative phenomenon.  Meaning that those experiences, interactions and overall perceptions are forged over time – good or bad – and the one-word phrase that you may connect with the brand (“rich,”  “thick,” “sweet,” whatever,) gets more and more embedded over repeat impressions of that initial imprinting on your mind.

Until ultimately, brands are weighed in the moment of truth in the condiment aisle when the consumer ponders whether she wants “thick” or “sweet” or “rich” when it comes to what she’s putting on her next burger.

So – are brands nature or nurture?  Yes.
But the real work begins ONLY after you’ve gotten everything right.

Are you a “wham-bam-thank-you” brand?

So much has been written about social media, it’s hard to find a spot that hasn’t been filled with advice, and best practices, and case studies and epic fails and wow-how’d-she-get-700,000-followers white papers.

And yet it still seems that many brands (even the big, smart ones) think of social mediums like they think of traditional mediums:  each a single-shot source for their single-shot message.  But the key (and obvious) difference between social media and all the others is this:  social is your always-on messaging tool.  Whether you like it or not.

In traditional media, (like print or broadcast, for instance,) you choose to make your presence into THEIR schedule and THEIR available inventory.  So you want to do a big spring push for your b-to-b message? You put it in every book’s March issue, and maybe you do some PR around the big events that month, and maybe you sponsor the March business meeting at the national association’s conference.  Perfect.  Same is true with b-to-c:  get in the books, get on a tv or radio schedule, send out the press release and Wham! Bam!  Thank you, Brand! Your presence magically appears on the consumer perception field at the precise time.  Then you can disappear for three months while you tally your ROI and your other magical KPIs to convince the bean counters to do it again next quarter.

But social is different.  Social certainly cares what message you’re pushing, but definitely not WHEN you want to push it.  Because social is less a medium and more of a monitor.  Social is ALWAYS ON.  Because your customers (whether they’re teenage girls or the C-suite types,) are always on. Listening.  Watching.  Waiting.  Wanting to engage.  Wanting to converse.

That’s why more brands FAIL in the social media sphere than they expect to.  Some marketing professionals treat social media like a one-off insertion instead of a constant scheduled presence.  When brands start pulling consumer comments off their Facebook pages, or have to yank tweets from their agencies, it’s not because those content nuggets are not part of the conversation (although they may wish they weren’t.)  It’s because “conversation” was never a chapter in “how to write a marketing plan” before about the last three years or so.  This stuff is still pretty new.  It was easier when marketing was a one-way proposition.  Now it’s decidedly a multi-voiced interaction, and brands have to listen.  Even if what’s coming back is very negative.

It’s not that brands will ever STOP doing timed marketing, or running themed promotions, or launching stuff in a huff.  [Jeez, without those deadlines, how would any of us know we have a pulse?] But in the new media age, timed marketing activity has to start fitting in with your ongoing social conversations.  NOT the other way around.