Thursday, December 27, 2012

The NRA's Greatest Marketing Coup

You've got to hand it to the marketing brain trust at the NRA.  They turned Constitutional law into a marketing channel; they use the single greatest foundation of government into an endorser as if it were Peyton Manning. 

How they used the completely irrelevant Second Amendment to frame the gun debate demands study.  Moreover,  citizens serious about enacting meaningful gun legislation need to understand how to make the discussion more relevant. 

But first,  let's talk about SUVs.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A helpful suggestion for my friends in the NRA

Yesterday's unspeakable killings in Newton,  Connecticut have already unleashed a loud,  emotional discussion on gun ownership in America.  We need this discussion.

However,  this discussion will probably have the same one-sidedness as previous tragedy-borne gun discussions.   Gun proponents, particularly the National Rifle Association, will denounce the tragedy and then retreat to the position that limiting access to guns will not make anyone safer.

While I personally believe that our country should tighten up gun control,  it's clear that to see any progress, to keep our children safer, we need the help of gun advocates as well.   Furthermore,  I take the NRA, whose membership includes some of my friends,  at its word when they say that they don't like dead children any more than I do.

I don't sit in Congress or on a court bench.  I can't legislate or regulate the problem.  I can, however, approach it from what I do know: marketing.  So let me re-phrase the question: how do we market our way into a safer America?

Here's my suggestion: implore the NRA take up mental health as an issue along with gun owners' rights.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Can Gay Marriage Help Your Brand? (part 2)

In my last post, I shared with you some learning I took from the recent state electoral victories for proponents of gay marriage and recreational marijuana.  To wit, each of these victories represent merely one point in organizations’ overall agendas.  Moreover, these simple yes or no questions around concrete topics allow supporters to grasp something easily defined understood.

For organizations dedicated to social change, these kinds of concrete topics serve as waypoints towards a larger goal.  However, today I plan to discuss how marketers at commercial enterprises can use this kind of thinking to help build their brands and increase sales.

In short, this kind of concrete thinking helps organizations who sell products with a longer buying cycle, especially business-to-business (b2b) products and big-ticket business-to-consumer (b2c) products such as cars.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Can Gay Marriage Help Your Brand? (part 1)

In the wake of President Obama’s victory last week, two other sets of election results received somewhat less discussion.  Namely, Colorado and Washington voters approved a referendum in favor of recreational marijuana use and voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington voted in favor of same-sex marriage.

While the pundits have, well, pundited about the votes, I don’t wish to rehash arguments for or against any of them (Disclosure: I strongly favor same-sex marriage and honestly don’t know what to think about legalizing marijuana).  Instead, I find the marketing implications of the votes more interesting.  

To the point: both sets of votes transpired not as one-off issues, but actually as parts of long-term strategic thinking and attitude changing campaigns from organizations with broader agendas.

In this post, I’d like to show how a single point-in-time vote fits into a broader issue.  In the next, I’d like to discuss how even marketers focused on quarterly or monthly results can benefit from this kind of broad-scale thinking.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Post-Election Data Landscape

Now that janitors are cleaning up the confetti and empty beer bottles across the Great Republic, we have begun to ask how President Obama’s second term will have an impact on us, our families and our businesses.

As we discussed in this space two weeks ago, the drumbeat of concerns about marketers’ use of data has increased.  With the re-election of a Democratic President, we can only assume that the drumbeat will grow louder and more persistent.  However, marketers should not assume that data armageddon lies just ahead.  Instead, smart marketers should understand that from a political perspective, data comes in two categories, just like cholesterol.  Understanding what politicos see as “good” data and “bad” data will help them prepare for any eventuality.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Silicon Valley Hates Children

The other night, my wife got on the iMac in our bedroom and clicked “play” on a video clip.  Shortly thereafter, the windows rattled from the sound.  “I guess our daughter’s been on our computer,” she said as she lowered the volume.

And this example, among others, suggests that Silicon Valley’s renowned work-centric culture results in a profound misunderstanding of a key target market--the parents who buy all this crap.  In short, Silicon Valley hates children and that actually makes for bad products.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cause-Related Marketing Dos and Don'ts

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Stuart Elliott of the Times wrote an article about successful and unsuccessful marketing efforts around the storm.  Short version: making fun of the storm, BAD, offering branded help, GOOD.

Coincidentally, I learned of two examples of cause-related marketing while waiting out the storm that represent a best-case and a worst-case scenario.  Kia Motors asked Facebook friends to give “likes” for food while Google rolled out an enhancement to its location-based services such as maps that asks users to help locate missing children.

Kia received criticism on its Facbook page for its efforts, while Google’s effort garnered praise from the “probably the best news we’ve heard from Google this year.”

Why did Kia get hisses while Google got kisses?  Both cases illustrate the dos and don’ts of cause-related marketing.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Data and politics

While other bloggers have made predictions of how the outcome of the Presidential elections will have an impact on the Supreme Court or the economy, those weighty issues fall beyond this blog’s purview.  However, we should ask “what will happen to interactive marketing if President Obama wins re-election or if Governor Romney unseats him?”

Here’s why: the Senate recently opened an inquiry into data brokers.  While a representative of the Direct Marketing Association dismissed the inquiry as “a baseless fishing expedition” (translation: oh, shit), the inquiry could have an impact on what marketers now consider standard marketing practices.

Moreover, the man who will sit in the Oval Office will have the choice to broaden or narrow that impact.  In turn, marketers will have to adjust to these two possible worlds.

The short answer: hedge against potential legislation by making the most of your own data.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Status and STATUS

How come status updates don’t actually confer capital-S-Status?

I had an enlightening conversation with a fellow dad while we dropped of our second-graders at school.  Said dad works as a video engineer.  Among other projects, he helps independent filmmakers by handling a lot of the more unglamorous tasks of producing a film.  Yes, even less glamorous than editing.

Among other things, we talked about how social media has an impact on our jobs.  However, he had an entirely different frame of reference on “social” than I did.  That is, he talked about his current project, which involves turning a critically-acclaimed novel into a film.  He mentioned that the film’s investors put money into the project, not because they expected to participate in the artistic process, not because they wanted to make tons of money but by-and-large because they wanted the capital-S-Status of a production credit.

And that, friends, points to a glaring deficiency of social networking.  Everyone participates as an equal.  However, this deficiency offers itself up as a potential opportunity for marketers.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Strategy = Economy

Pity the poor word “strategy.”  Marketers--and pretty much everyone else in the white-collar world--throw it around like a Nerf ball.  Every marketer has a creative strategy, a brand strategy, a media strategy, a social networking strategy and for all I know a bathroom strategy.

Funny thing is, no one ever stops to ask “what exactly does strategy mean, anyway?”

The term tends to conjure up images of people wearing heavy black glasses (thanks, Henry Kissenger) and maybe the war room from “Dr. Strangelove.”  However, a working definition remains rare.  I’ve give it a go, then.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Will Marketing Become Politics?

Familiarity breeds contempt.  

Nowhere does this adage seem more appropriate than in the realm of the current Presidential election.  Voters have now seen so much of President Barack Obama and of Governor Mitt Romney that they can now hate them for any number of reasons based on policy, their wives, choices of attire or hand gestures.  Moreover, their supporters and detractors seem to have fossilized into violently opposed camps.

Welcome to marketing, circa 2025.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ambient TV

Well, the wife left the TV in the living room on HGTV over the weekend, and since I find it easier to think about marketing than to fish the remote out of the couch cushions, I now have an idea to share.  Namely, what I’ll call Ambient TV offers marketers a great opportunity not on the small screen, but on the smaller ones--PC and mobile Internet.

Marketing pundits sometimes talk about “lean forward” and “lean back” media.  “Learn forward” consists of media that engage consumers heavily, such as web and mobile while “lean back” refers to more passive media such as TV and radio.  While this distinction serves as a good dividing line, it shades over another worthy distinction--the degrees of leaning back.

On the one hand, viewers engage very directly with certain kinds of programming--sports, awards shows, the news, popular dramas and so forth.  On the other hand, networks like HGTV, The Weather Channel and the Food Network seem to invite behavior more like grazing than active viewing.  

I can’t imagine that we’re the only family in America who tunes into Local on the 8s only to realize an hour later that we haven’t changed the channel.  I also can’t imagine that other car guys don’t find Mecum Auctions programming on Speed TV oddly soothing with their mixture of shiny cars, vintage auto specs and the droning of the auctioneer.

Since these programs often sit in the background, I think they serve as Ambient TV, much in the way that Brian Eno developed Ambient Music in the 1970s.  However, the real action doesn’t happen on TV, it happens online.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How to Use a Subject Matter Expert

The photography world descended on Cologne, Germany last week for the biennial trade fair known as Photokina.  Sony showed off at $2,700 compact camera.  Leica, the Duesenberg of the camera world, showed off their latest and greatest wunderkamera, the M, yours for just a tick under seven grand.  Of course, you cheapskates can make do with the lowly M-E for $5,450.  And Hasselblad, purveyors of Neil Armstrong’s moon camera, previewed their latest bijou, the as-yet-unpriced Lunar.

So what did Adorama, the mighty camera emporium, feature in one of its email newsletters this week?  A oversized frisbee for $17.  And that, friends, is how you use a subject matter expert to enliven your communications.

Don’t get it?  Let’s discuss how this approach works.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

So, I Won a Watch

So last Friday, this happened:

Cool.  Serious watch geek cred.

Now, what will ProfessionalWatches and Casio, the sponsors, do with me now that they’ve gotten me to click the “like” button?  Here’s what I’d suggest for Casio.


First of all, I assure you that this sweepstakes is bona fide.  ProfessionalWatches really does publish a blog, one I read daily.  Casio does produce wristwatches, among other things.  I have no doubt that I will receive my watch, which has some really cool functions.

Back to the point.  Attracting likes, especially via a sweeptakes, always reminds me of a poster you probably remember from high school:

I wonder if a sexual health organization ever made a poster that said “chess club” at the top and then “now that all the perverts have stopped reading...”

Really, garnering a “like” only ensures a brief span of attention from the consumer.  Sure, updates from the brand will appear in the consumer’s newsfeed, but he or she has no added incentive to read the updates and can always “unlike” later.

Casio has a few options on its hands (pun intended):

  • Sell watches, stupid.  Casio sells watches for anywhere from under $10 to several hundred dollars.  Offering several models at impulse-buy prices gives Casio the opportunity to make a quick sale on Facebook with periodic offers, perhaps in concert with a respected retailer such as Amazon or Target.

  • Keep consumers informed.  Casio develops new products all the time.  Facebook offers a great opportunity to get the word out.  Most likely, keeping fans informed really means getting them ready to buy, but let’s keep the two options separate for now.

  • Encourage brand advocacy.  By speaking with fans, Casio can potentially get them to brag about the brand.  For instance, it seems that almost all people who own watches own at least one Casio model.  I have one and owned at least half a dozen others over the years.  However, not all owners wear theirs every day.  So why not use Facebook to encourage owners to give their Casios what the watch nuts call “wrist time?”

So, what should Casio do, especially given the short time that it may have to make use of entrants’ attention and that any message they send to new fans will go to older fans as well?

My contrarian answer is: D, none of the above.

OK, any of the above would work to some extent for Casio, or many other brands for that matter.  It looks like they currently do all of them.  Certainly, a newsfeed consisting exclusively of offers would probably annoy consumers and drive disengagement, but a few choice purchase opportunities couldn’t hurt.  Likewise, product updates and brand engagement have their benefits, too.

However, Casio really has on its hands a number of suspects--people who may or may not have any real interest in spending good coin on their brand.  We’ve discussed this situation before, and I’ve suggested vetting participants quickly and broadly.

In the world of email, this approach works pretty simply--send out a message with options for response and send additional emails accordingly.  However, social media don’t work like email.  People don’t subscribe so much as they listen in now and again.

Really, it’s like starting to watch a TV show that’s already made it to season three.  Hopefully, the brand has begun a meaningful conversation with its fans.  However, new fans might not be able to follow this conversation.

I mean, imagine getting into LOST after the polar bear, wait...I mean before the Black Rock, wait...  OK, I mean, try starting to watch LOST at any point after the pilot and you’ll get the idea.

As a result, Casio ought to spend its first few messages after the content to familiarize the newbies with some broad brand content.  I suspect that they have four or five messages (assuming no more than one per day) to bring the new fans up to speed on brand heritage or design philosophy or whatever else sets Casio apart.  After that, interested parties will continue to read and get into the swing of things while the folks who just wanted a free watch will fade away.  

And, no.  I’m not selling my new watch.  Buzz off.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Game of Brands

If you read this blog regularly (and THANK YOU!!! if you do), you will have noticed a distinct slowdown in my postings.  Partially, a crush of new work has caused the change in tempo.  However, truth be told, I have let books swallow a frightening portion of my spare time.  More specifically, I’ve been reading the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, better known as:

It’s time I came out as a geek.  Sorry, mom.

What can I say?  I loved the HBO series and decided to read something less dense than the other two books I read this summer.  OK, I also read one about whaling, but I’m trying to sound brainy here, OK?

While a book series set in a sex-positive fantasy universe patterned after medieval Europe may not seem relevant to marketing, I beg to disagree.  The books tell the story of several families battling to rule a continent and each family constitutes a brand of sorts.  Each family has a herald emblem, which serves as a logo for the family.  Similarly, each family has a motto--a tagline, if you will.  Finally, each family has distinct characteristics--the Lannisters are wealthy, the Greyjoys are piratical and so forth.

So, allow me to amuse myself and any other geeks out there with The Game of Brands, an attempt to match the competing factions of the Song of Ice and Fire series with the most appropriate brands.  Moreover, I think the notable members of each family match up well with specific sub-brands.  Let’s get our geek on, shall we?  One warning: I’ve got a few spoilers in here for those of you who haven’t read through book three...

(and may The Others take you if you don’t care)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

User Experience Gone Mild!

To some marketers, the term “user experience” or UX instantly brings to mind Hollywood-level digital theatrics--websites or mobile apps that all but sing and dance on the screen while imparting a sense of wonder to the user.  If you’ve ever sat through a UX meeting with marketing folks, you have heard at least one reference to a certain Tom Cruise movie that’s compelling 80% of the way through and then falls apart in the last reel.

No, not that one.  Or the other one.  Or the other other one.  This one:

Certainly, outstanding and distinctive UX schemes have their place.  A certain Cupertino-based computer giant stakes its reputation on beautiful UX.  At the other end of the spectrum, however, Google still owes much of its dominance to the plainest screen ever.

We’ve all seen over-ambitious UX schemes that frustrate the user (ahem, every timesheet program EVER).  It’s easy to overdo it.  So, when should a marketer go with “Minority Report” and when should he or she go with “Not-So Risky Business?”

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Data Strategy Brief

In my last post, I discussed how marketers should not confuse having data with having a data strategy and that they should ask themselves three questions to help develop a data strategy:

  1. What do you need to know about your audiences to communicate effectively?
  2. What relevant distinctions exist among your audiences?
  3. How do you know you’re right?

To help corral the answers from these questions, I suggested a data strategy brief, much in the way that a marketer uses a creative brief.  Let’s explore what this brief should contain.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Data and Data Strategy

For most of August, I’ve been writing about topics that seemingly have little to do with marketing--sports for one, automobile cost of ownership for another.  I suppose that I use August to clear my head the same way the French use August to clear Paris.

What traffic?  It’s August.

However, in a spectacularly circumlocutory way, I’ve hit on a theme that matters dearly to marketers of all stripes: that data and data strategy mean two very different things.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Asking Questions vs. Having Data

Since marketers have so much data, many of them have become accustomed, I think, to believing that they have answers.  I’d like to take a moment to illustrate that very often, a wide gulf separates the two categories.

My readers and friends will express no surprise that I draw my example from the world of automobiles, a frequent topic on this blog.  Let’s examine a claim by critics of hybrid cars, that the fuel efficiency of these cars will not amount to a cost savings sufficient to cover the added cost of hybrid technology.

Before we dive into the numbers, I’ll make two points:

  1. The critics have it right, and
  2. So what?

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to lose a customer, by Filson

In one of my early posts, I wrote that a company could create a great brand through direct channels rather than rely on traditional brand media such as broadcast TV or print.  You can argue my point all you like, but I think we can all agree that a brand can destroy itself through direct media.

Case in point: Filson.

OK, I still want one, but still...

For those of you unfamiliar with Filson, they have made clothes since the 19th century in Seattle (predating Boeing and even Starbucks).  While they originally created clothing for Yukon gold pioneers, they quickly established themselves as a premiere American manufacturer for outdoorsmen with handsome, functional and well-built items.  I own three: a vest, a briefcase (see below) and, of course, a safari jacket.

Also, thanks to them, I have been solicited by one of the most repugnant organizations in America: the National Rifle Association.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sports, Media and Data Part V (The Great Change)

As we’ve discussed, the telegraph, newspapers, radio and TV promoted some sports more than others.  These media brought data to the everyday fan that changed his or her perspective on the games they covered.  Obviously, the Internet changed a few sports as well.

However, I think that the Internet and its attendant data streams have fundamentally have not merely made sports like mixed martial arts more popular.  Rather, I think they’ve changed many fans’ relationships with sports in ways hard to imagine even 15 years ago.

To wit, the Internet has not only brought the games closer to the fans, but it has also brought the fans closer to the games.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sports, Media & Data part IV (Which Sport Won the Internet?)

What sport has the Internet transformed the most?

In my previous three posts, we’ve discussed how newspapers and the telegraph transformed horse racing via The Daily Racing Form, how radio transformed baseball and how various forms of television (broadcast, cable and HDTV) transformed football, basketball and hockey.  While we probably don’t have enough perspective to declare a sports winner for the Internet, some forms have come to the fore in this era that deserve attention.

If we were to hold a runoff election for the sport that has grown the most because of the Internet, I suspect that mixed martial arts (MMA), poker and fantasy sports would stand as candidates.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sports, Media and Data Part III (TV)

So far in our discussion of how sports and media have created data streams that changed fans’ perspective, we’ve discussed The Daily Racing Form--which drew from telegraph and newspapers--and baseball--which drew from radio.  You don’t need to be Marshall McLuhan to know what comes next.

Obviously, television has dominated the American communication landscape from the postwar era on through today.  However, three distinct forms of TV--broadcast, cable and HDTV--each promulgated data that helped drive three different sports to degrees of prominence in football, basketball and hockey, respectively.

How each version of TV drove change helps us understand how different types of data help us see things--literally see things, in this case--differently.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sports, Media and Data, part II (talkin’ baseball)

Welcome back to our discussion of how emerging media have shaped the data we use to appreciate sports.  Here’s the previous installment, in which I introduced the concept and showed how telegraphs and cheap newspapers led to the formation of the Daily Racing Form, which in turn turned horse racing into a nationwide powerhouse from a purely local industry.

In this post, we’ll look at the close relationship between baseball and radio in the medium’s early days, which led to a change in how Americans enjoyed our national game because of the availability of new data.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sports, Media and Data Part I

With the Olympics in full swing, baseball heading into the pennant races and NFL players reporting to comically-undersized college dorm rooms across the nation, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on sports.  Specifically, I have recently begun thinking about the intersection of sports, media and data.

I believe that this discussion deserves an airing because it informs how we think about data in general and marketing data specifically.  As sports and the media that cover them evolved into professionally-managed businesses, these data grew in importance.  Moreover, I think that by understanding how we depend on data as fans will help us understand how to use data more effectively as marketers.

Certainly, other writers have considered sports and media at greater length and with substantially greater talent than I plan to do.  The Gray Lady has a reporter dedicated to this beat.  Names such as Grantland Rice, Red Barbour, Howard Cosell, Walter Iooss and Chris Berman symbolize entire eras of sports.  They and their colleagues have become almost as much a part of the game as balls, green grass and parquet floors.

However, the contributions of these men--and the relatively few women alongside of them--do not stand alone as the contributions of media to sport.  I will argue that the data provided by media contributed as mightily as the words spun by their bards.  Think of a sports world without box scores, on-screen graphics, Vegas odds, and out-of-town scores.  Think of how your own understanding of sports has benefited from slow-motion replays, telephoto shots and injury reports. These data comprise an element of sports unavailable to the fan until the 20th century, for the most part.

I will argue first that the data made available by new media channels have changed fans’ appreciation of sports in ways more profound than the people mentioned above.  More to the point, the media and their attendant data have elevated some sports above others, each in its own time.  For instance, I’ll argue that telegraph and newspaper made horse racing the business that it is (or was, at any rate), that radio provided data that turned baseball into America’s true pastime and that TV, cable TV and HDTV each bore data that made football, basketball and finally ice hockey more than just men in colorful uniforms running around.

Today, we’ll begin with horse racing and in subsequent posts, we’ll cover how other individual sports owe their popularity to specific media vehicles--and their data--and how that happened.  Finally, we’ll discuss what sport(s) the Internet and its multifold technologies have conspired to make pre-eminent.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Social Media and Race

Black people use social media a lot.

I’ll pause for a moment until the sound of plates dropping to the floor and crashing dies down.

In our supposedly post-racial America, we claim not to notice race anymore.  However, we clearly do.  We agonize over the ethnicity of cartoon characters, for crying out loud.  Yet I see little discussion in marketing circles of a well-recognized trend--the great acceptance of social media by African-Americans.  The invaluable Pew Internet & American Life Project has followed the trend for years, most recently noting that blacks use Twitter at a rate more than double that of whites (28% vs. 12% overall).

Other sources point to blacks’ use of social media as well.  Let’s explore them and what they mean for marketers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Blog: Sites and Snowpaths, Part II

In my last post, We discussed how casual data can inform site design, especially information architecture (IA).  To review, I likened the IA development process to determining where to create footpaths by looking at footprints in the snow to get an idea of where people want to go.

Ten years ago in a pitch situation, I had to settle for educated guesses on what the data might look like.  However, if you manage your own marketing website, you have something more firm than educated guesses; you have data.  Let’s take a look at what kinds of data work the best and how you can use them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blog: Sites and Snowpaths, Part I

Maybe you’ve heard the urban legend about how your college designed the asphalt pathways across the quad.  

At some point, probably after World War II, the college decided to save wear and tear on the quad’s grass by installing asphalt footpaths for the students.  When the administration couldn’t decide how to route the paths, an enterprising engineer came up with a novel solution: wait until the first snowfall.  After the snowfall, patterns of footprints provided a key to the paths that students used the most.  I heard this legend about my alma mater and so did my father about his.  My fellow alum Steve Jones didn’t hear it about our alma mater, but instead about a Cambridge, Massachusetts school that he called Hah-vuhd.

Or maybe the engineer suggested following footprints in the mud after a heavy downpour.  One source I found online said that at San Jose State, engineers looked for paths in the grass.  Fact is, I’ve heard this story a few different ways, but the point remains the same: using data (Aha!  You knew I’d get to data eventually.) provided by footprints, the engineer laid out the best path for the students.  Landscape planners call this concept a desire path.  

Donald Norman, the Norman of the Nielsen Norman usability firm, espoused desire paths for  developing the basic information architecture (IA) for a website (thanks for the tip, Marek Lis).  By understanding where users want to go on your website, you can develop the best paths for them to get there using data and that lofty oxymoron, common sense.