Coronavirus CMO Checklist

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As we’ve turned the calendar to another month of dealing with the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of brands and agencies are wondering what’s next.  While many brands have pivoted to pandemic-related messaging (see a regularly updated list here,) most are taking a breath, and working hard to plan their next move(s.)

Believe it or not, this forced time-out can be an incredibly useful opportunity on many levels.  Whether you’re the CMO of a global brand that spends millions or an owner/manager of a small to medium-sized business that’s trying to edge out your competition on a regional level, this may be the best time to evaluate your brand and make structural moves to re-position it for success when the world wakes from its medically-induced commercial slumber.

Here’s a quick dos and don’ts checklist of items to consider while we’re all waiting for the refs to say it’s time to get back in the game:

ON POSITIONING

DO reinforce your strategic position, whatever it might be. If you’re the low-cost leader, then now is the time to forage for ways to maintain and even strengthen that position, perhaps by having new discussions with suppliers and distribution agents.  More importantly, if you don’t have a strategic position (or perhaps don’t know exactly what yours is,) you’ve now been given the gift of several weeks and even months to figure one out.  Huddle with your team – or better yet, a consultant or agency – and learn how to articulate who you really are in ways maybe you haven’t before.

DON’T waver.  If you do have a position and it helps the consumer/customer understand what makes you different, do not veer from your course.  You might hear of brands trying to “strategically pivot” into new areas and try to replicate what competitors do in an effort to grab short-term revenue gains or “narrow their gap.”  We’ll probably see a LOT of price manipulation once the markets begin to wake as competition for consumer attention will spike – but don’t be tempted.  If your position is built on quality, or prestige, or speed, or technology, or safety, or any other attribute that you can effectively “own” in the mind of the market, stay the course.  The consumer segment that desires your position will be more motivated than ever to seek it out when this is all over.

ON STAYING IN TOUCH

DO stay in touch with consumers/customers and stakeholders of all kinds. Be a friend in some way.  Be a lifeline if you can.  One of the most compelling aspects of this pandemic is the psychological toll it’s taking on people from all walks of life.  Routines are disrupted.  Rituals interrupted.  And we cannot forget that brands represent constancy and normalcy for so many Americans – perhaps the only two commodities that are in shorter supply than toilet paper. As long as your brand is reminding consumers that you’re still there, and will continue to be there to support them with what they expect of you, you should come out of this national hibernation in pretty good shape.

DON’T brag.  Even if you’re doing the most amazing things right now in your community or in your industry, no one wants to hear how great you are.  Do what you can to serve in this crucial time, but do those things quietly and let the results speak for themselves. Grandstanding is not a good look in a crisis.

ON ADVERTISING AND STAYING VISIBLE

DO advertise if it makes sense and you have something valuable to say. In my last post, I advocated strongly for advertising, and provided several reasons why it’s more important than ever.  I continue to recommend that you stay visible and adjust your messaging to take the current consumer environment into account.

DON’T disappear.  Find ways to stay relevant, even if you’re conserving major expenditures (like media costs.) This is a great time to get more social, expand or enhance your app, send timely email updates and so on.  AND DEFINITELY DO NOT use your advertising presence to take shots at competitors.  You should notice that there’s no “feuding” going on now, even among the largest brands.  No cola wars.  No chicken sandwich smackdowns.  Competitive advertising in the current climate is not only a waste of valuable ad dollars, it’s in poor taste. Consumers are paying rapt attention right now, so behave with your brand as though momma was watching you.  ‘Cause she kinda is.

ON PLAYING THE LONG GAME

DO be prepared (financially and otherwise,) to ride this situation out well into 2021.  It’s clear that some brands will falter during this time as consumers are also re-evaluating their priorities and allegiances.  Staying true to your brand ethos (and reinforcing/refining your position, see above,) can a.) cement the relationships you’ve already worked so hard to forge and b.) make you look darn attractive to those defecting from other brands.

DON’T rush your expectations.  Although confidence is virtually nonexistent at the moment, consumer motivation will be high and will likely surge for many months as the commercial rebound begins.  Expect a tentative but large wave of consumers re-entering the market with fresh perspectives and open minds.  Rushing to grab profits and short-term gains (in an attempt to recoup some recent losses) may preclude your brand from the much more substantial rewards of sustained success and new fans.

20 for ’20

20_for_20Okay, it’s a new year. Some say it’s a new decade (we’ll argue that later, since it’s technically the last year of the 2010’s, but we can all agree it’s the start of the 2020’s.) And while the “resolutions” ship has already sailed, we do want to get the year off to a strong start.

With that in mind, here are 20 ideas, both strategic and tactical, that you can use to kickstart your brand into the new year. Whether you’re a consumer brand, a consultancy, a business-to-business brand, or a non-profit, just giving these a good think should help you improve your marketing efficiency, clarify your plans, and get you in motion.

1. Give your SEO a refresh.
While we all know the value of SEO, a lot of brands tend to “set it and forget it.” And unfortunately, that can actually hurt your long-term chances for optimization. Search engines like to see activity on your site, and this is a great time to reevaluate your keyword plan, write some new (and rewrite some old) content, and add or update both internal and outbound links.

2. Get more interested in data.
Especially your website analytics. Find out who’s visiting, when they’re visiting, and from where they visit. It may give you some good new promotional ideas, or better yet, it may help you reconnect with some customers you haven’t heard from in a while.

3. Reconnect with prospects – even the ones that seem “cool.”
Got a form on your website? Use a call center?  Send something interesting to every person who called or filled out a form last year. They may just be waiting to hear from you again!

4. Get more social.
Sure, everyone says this every year. But for good reason. And it doesn’t have to be agonizing to create relevant posts or content strategies. Try advertising on social, too. The targeting parameters keep getting better, and Your. Prospects. Are. There. All. The. Time.

5. Advertise!
It’s time to stop sitting on the sidelines, or waiting for some magic “perfect moment” to come around for when you’re going to run that “magical” campaign. The truth is, prospects tend to remember the brands who tend to advertise. Start by evaluating your core positioning, and then articulating it simply in a series of adverts.

6. Serve your community in some way.
We all live somewhere, even those of us who are remote service providers. Is there a way you can serve your local community this week, or this month? Perhaps a way you can devote a little of what you do this entire year to a worthy cause? It doesn’t have to be monetary donations. Volunteer your time, or your talents, or organize a board who can tackle an issue. It’s what all the cool kids are doing now.

7. Try a strategic partnership.
Of course, this depends on your brand and what it does. But think about partnering with another (non-competitive) brand. How can your COMBINED offering serve your consumers in a way that you can’t now? And look for a partner who can benefit from what your brand does, too. Hint: think across categories for the really cool partnership opportunities.

8. Do a customer survey.
Do you know what your current customers/consumers think of your brand right now? Ever wonder what they would ask for if they could just get in front of the CEO? Just ask them. It may help you recognize some holes in your offering, and it may help your consumers form a stronger opinion of your brand, too.

9. Refresh your packaging.
Even if you’re not a “packaged good,” your brand is packaged in some way. What you call it, how you dress it, and how it gets delivered – all of these are “saying” something about your brand to the world. And if you haven’t done a refresh in at least five years, definitely give this some thought. It doesn’t have to be anything dramatic, like a full identity refresh, but maybe something simple that speaks to the times, like a typography refresh, or the addition of an icon. Maybe add some color.

10. Add or develop a new product or service, and then market it.
You already know a lot about marketing. But sometimes, things just are the way they are with your current brand, for various reasons. Why not launch something new? Even if it’s a spinoff, or a subsidiary, or a new variety, or a specialization of what you already do. Think about it as a brand, position it carefully, give it a great name, package the snot out of it, and then promote it. You get the added bonus of measuring your success from a zero baseline. It might even get you excited enough to try new products beyond that.

11. Hire a professional to review your marketing.
This is a tough one for a lot of companies. It’s like going to the dentist when everything is fine with your teeth. But if things aren’t going great, and they’re not going terribly, it may mean you’re just standing still. And eventually, that’s going to turn sour. It could be any kind of professional – a branding expert, a media pro, a designer. Just have someone tell you what they see from an objective point of view. Bonus: you don’t have to act on their advice if you don’t approve.

12. Hire an intern.
Even if you don’t need one. There’s a student out there who is desperate for some real-world experience, and they might just get it at your place of business. You get the added bonus of helping/mentoring someone, if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, you may be challenged just to explain your business, and how and why you do things, to someone who has never heard of you. (Hint: that can be very good for your brand in the long run, too.)

13. Expand your geography into a new/specific area.
If you’ve been saying to yourself, “boy we could kill in Topeka,” well, maybe it’s time to take a first step. Explore the competitive set, and see if your brand/service/organization could thrive in a new area, or with a new location. Besides, rents are great in Topeka.

14. Create some new (and valuable) content.
You can always use new, up-to-date content. Even if it’s something simple, like your instruction manual, or your how-to video. Technology is always changing, and techniques are always evolving. If your video is outdated, think about re-shooting for a 2020 look and feel. Take that intern you hired, and have him or her try to put together a valuable infographic that represents your business in some way. Then use your new content to help in your SEO refresh strategy. (Item #1 in this list.)

15. Do something face-to-face.
Put on an event. Run a seminar. Not sure how to serve your community (item #6 in this list?) Organize a charity golf outing, or a run, or a motorcycle ride to raise money for those in need. Find a way to contextualize your brand in a personalized way. Invite everyone – even your competitors.

16. Review your policies.
If you’ve got any kind of policy (payment structures, privacy statements, rules, etc.,) give it a refresh. These are the kinds of things that often get overlooked, because we think no one pays attention to them. But remember – everything about your brand is contributing to what people think of you. Every. Thing. Also, this is a great job for an intern!

17. Get rid of something that’s holding you back.
Maybe it’s that outdated policy. Or an old piece of equipment that you keep delaying to update. Maybe it’s your office space. Heck, maybe it’s your partner(s.) But it’s a new year, and you’re determined to take control of your marketing. So find the thing that keeps “getting in the way,” of your success, and get rid of it. Even if it means doing things in a new way, or changing some core componentry of your business. It might be “the thing” that pushes you forward this year.

18. Add a dash of technology to your business.
What could you automate, or integrate, in some way, to streamline your operations? Do you have an app? Could you increase productivity by moving software to the cloud? Could you use software to predict future needs or expenses to help you account more efficiently? Even if it’s as simple using software to schedule your social posts, adding technology into your day-to-day goings on can help your brand move forward.

19. Decentralize.
If you’ve ever said to yourself, “boy we could sure use more talent in this office,” you might be a candidate for decentralizing. While we all love the idea of personal interaction, the truth is that you can find amazing talent just about anywhere. Why wait for the perfect bookkeeper to move into your ZIP code, when he or she might be looking for work in Topeka? And since you’ve already decided to add technology to your business in some way, setting up your business to enable remote workers is a great way to start.

20. Review (or actually create) your marketing budget.
We love to talk about marketing, but we often hit the brakes right at the starting line, because “that’ll cost too much.”  Too many brands fail to budget for marketing in their strategic planning, and so every marketing opportunity seems like an “expense.” It’s not an expense.  It’s part of doing business.  Decide now that you’ll invest (a minimum of) 5% of your gross revenues to marketing.  You’ll be amazed at what you can buy with that.

Here’s wishing you a great, well-positioned, clearly articulated, successful year in 2020!

Dunkin’ Is Nuts

The news has officially come down, (although it’s been in the works for almost a year,) that Dunkin’ Donuts, the international (yes, they have stores in 36 countries,) brand that was established nearly 70 years ago, is changing its name.25_Dunkin_Before_After_c4885e75-fe56-4add-aab3-a51120689229-prv

They will no longer be Dunkin’ Donuts, but will officially change their name to simply Dunkin’ as of January, 2019. According to the company’s official press release, the plan behind this switch is to transform the company into a “beverage-led, on-the-go” brand.

To cut to the chase, this is a bad idea. A really bad idea.

Let’s start at the beginning. Dunkin’ Donuts dominates in the donut category, leading Krispy Kreme and Mister Donut by a long way, and by a wide margin in terms of number of stores.

The brand also competes in the coffee category, and meets a strong and persistent consumer need in that area. And for decades, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee has established itself as unique, based on flavor profile (and, some would argue, sheer temperature.)

As the quick-serve coffee category has expanded in the last 20-30 years, and has come to be dominated by Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts has pivoted to offer more varieties and flavors of coffee and espresso drinks, and has achieved a strong challenger position. According to Statista, Starbucks has almost double the market share volume over Dunkin’ Donuts in this category, and slightly more than all others combined (not including Dunkin’ Donuts.)

So if you’re a challenger brand in any category (and this has turned into a classic leader/challenger category like Coke/Pepsi or McDonald’s/Burger King,) your goal as a brand should never be to appear MORE like the leader. The goal is to establish difference.

And DONUTS is what makes this brand special.
DONUTS is what makes this brand DIFFERENT.

Now, the Dunkin’ brand will still carry donuts.  But when you don’t tell people that it’s what makes you different, (say, by including “donuts” in your brand name,) who’s to say that consumers will inherently know? Especially young, entering-the-market consumers who may not be familiar with the brand’s history?  What will Dunkin’ mean 10 or 20 years from now without context?

The idea of changing the name to Dunkin’ at all seems wholly misdirected.  When the press release states that you want to be a more “beverage-led” brand, the slang word “Dunkin'” doesn’t say “beverages” at all.  What’s more insulting is that the name referred to the verb of actually. dunking. donuts. in. coffee.

So let’s review:  Dunkin’ Donuts is perceptually and verbally moving AWAY from the category they dominate, and CLOSER to a category where they challenge a leader who owns nearly twice the market share, and where their only competitive advantage is average price.  Sounds like a frozen-double-mocha mistake in judgment to me.

Dunkin’ (as they will be called in a few months,) should stick to what they’re good at – good coffee and family-friendly offerings served in modest stores at moderate pricing. AND LOTS AND LOTS OF DONUTS.

 

 

 

 

Marketers: Get in the game!

Whether you’re a mega-global-brand-giant or a small regional player trying to get noticed, marketing can be a complex enterprise, indeed. So many factors to consider. So many competitors. Choosing the right channels. The nuances in the target segments. What are the right objectives? Which daypart? Oooh! And our social feeds need to be updated, too. Yikes!

All of these complexities pre-suppose that marketers of all shapes and sizes are active in the consumer (or b-to-b) arena, each taking their shots at the proverbial goal – often missing, and occasionally scoring a heart-stopping buzzer beater. But the unspoken truth is that very often, and in some cases with alarming number, marketers are simply sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the right time to “get in” in the hopes of maximizing their scoring opportunities. (Alright, I’ll quit it with the sports lexicon, but you get the idea.)

Why in the world would a marketer choose to NOT market?  What we see in many cases is the symptom of “analysis paralysis.” You’re bunched up with budgets, message, partners, coordinating schedules with holidays or industry-important trade shows. You’re waiting for approvals or certifications. In the meantime, other marketers in the category are gaining ground simply by being visible.

One familiar refrain: “we can’t afford to do marketing right now, so we’re waiting it out.” The simple truth is this: you cannot afford to NOT be marketing. It’s become more critical now than ever before, since we live in an “always-on” socially connected world. In your absence, your competitors are making impressions, driving conversations, making conversions and building engagement. Sure, sometimes it’s on a small scale, and sometimes they may misstep. But the consumer segment you’re all after is being “trained” that your competitor is a brand that’s ready to be engaged with. Your brand, even if it’s empirically “better” in some respects, is invisible in the meantime, and therefore not considered at all as a player in the category. Now that’s costly.

Another recurring pattern is that marketers are tentative, afraid to go out with a “less-than-perfect” iteration of their materials: the website isn’t quite there, or the first cut of the spot was a little rough and could use some cleaning up.

While we all strive to get it as right as possible every time, you’re perfectly allowed to make a misstep here and there in terms of presentation. Not every performer has his or her best night every night of the tour, and not every marketer is going to nail it on every impression. As long as your misstep is not of the “off-brand” or “off-message” variety, you’ll be fine. Every major brand started modestly, and built off their small successes to improve their messaging and put a more shiny coat on their advertising.

So get off the bench, lace up your briefcase, and get out there with your marketing! Who knows? You might even score a few points with your audience.

Here’s a quick checklist:

  1. Do you have a product or service that can be sold to a consumer [or intermediary] right now?
  2. Do you have a brand promise associated with that product or service that can be turned into a compelling marketing message?
  3. Is that brand differentiated from competitors in your category?

Then YAY! You’re ready to go! You can basically start marketing immediately. How much, or how aggressively, is up to you.

Seeing is (way more than) believing.

In the wake of the recent developments with the Ray Rice video-gone-viral situation, it’s become very clear that, as a nation of content consumers, seeing is way more potent and far more powerful than believing.

The politics and passion surrounding what happened in that elevator aside, (reprehensible behavior that should never be tolerated, even under intense provocation,) the basic truth of the matter is this: we all KNEW what Ray Rice did to his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in that elevator. We KNEW there was an assault that was egregious enough to knock her unconscious. But SEEING it cemented it in our minds, and suddenly made others take different and more severe action as a result.

The Baltimore Ravens Football Club KNEW what Ray Rice did as far back as February. The team even stepped up and defended Mr. Rice, including making statements about his character and willingness to rehabilitate himself.

But something about SEEING the incident on video has changed everything. It changed his punishment, it changed his employment status and it has impacted his future and his ability to earn a living as a professional athlete.

And there are many other cases, some very recent, that follow this same path: we KNOW what happens, either by reading about it, or hearing about it, but something about seeing it takes our understanding of the concept to a whole new level. In terms of online videos alone, think the gruesome ISIS beheading of James Foley, the chaos in the moments following the Boston Marathon bombing, and (pardon the sudden shift in gears,) even the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle at the 2013 MTV VMAs.

But why?

There seems to be something deeply embedded in our psychology when it comes to seeing moving pictures, (they’re even more potent than static images,) that takes our understanding – and our belief – to an entirely new level. A big reason is that what we consider perception is far more than a simple functional process. Indeed, perception is influenced and even altered by emotional factors, by our personal histories and by our psychological predispositions. You can go further into this topic, and look up subjects like unconscious interference and the Gestalt Laws of Organization to see how the human mind does a lot more than just process visual information.

There’s no wonder, then, that when television came along as a serious medium with enough reach (think early 1960’s,) that it decimated radio and print and quickly became the primary carrier of advertising. Same reasons apply: it was one thing to hear things, and read them, (and some practitioners wrote and read spectacular copy in that regard,) and an even better thing to see beautiful static images. But gazing at a shiny new Cadillac glide across the screen? Watching a puff of Lucky Strike smoke waft into the air? Seeing those four moptops bounce around on the Ed Sullivan show? That’s what pushed us over the edge. That’s what made us believe and then some.

Marketing is not about selling stuff. That may be an outcome, but marketing is really about managing perceptions. (Knowing that perception is more than just a simple function of understanding.)  And if you want to do that?  Show, don’t tell.

Sure, there will always be an arena for print and radio advertising, but there’s a reason TV and web advertising comprise over $100 billion in advertising spend. Seeing – and watching – are believing. If you don’t believe me, just ask Ray Rice.