Archive for the ‘Strategy’ Category


Creating a path of least resistance

July 22, 2010

eMarketer just posted an article titled Where to Reach Women Online. What caught my attention was the bar chart (on the right) showing what women are most likely to notice on the Internet. There isn’t anything surprising about the responses here, but digital strategists should take note. The chart is actually an engagement funnel.

Using this funnel, marketers who are trying to engage women online would start by offering a discount, not by eliciting questions/opinions about the product. The idea is simple: invite consumers to participate in each subsequent brand activity in the order of their interest.

  1. Provide a discount, then invite participation in…
  2. An opportunity to win a prize, then invite participation in…
  3. A survey or quiz, then invite participation in…
  4. A social/chat feature to share opinions, then invite participation in…
  5. Viewing a video about the product or company…

Whenever possible, give consumers a path of least resistance.


What we can learn from BP and Bear Stearns

July 4, 2010

Marketers aren’t immune to making monumental screw ups, although they might not be as notorious or colossal as those made recently by BP and a band of financial institutions. When people overlook or downplay risk, things often blow up.

In the late 2000s major financial institutions nearly cratered the entire U.S. economy as a result of their activity in the sub-prime loan market. A herd mentality created this crisis as an overwhelming number of bankers mistakenly believed housing prices would rise in perpetuity, and at exceptional rates.  A decline in home prices was simply unthinkable.

The exact cause of the BP oil spill might not be known for years, but most believe it was the result of an equipment failure that went unaddressed, reckless engineering decisions, and poor disaster planning. In the context of BP’s global operations, these probably seemed like small tactical issues to BP executives. Certainly nothing that could cost BP billions.

When a marketing communications strategy goes wrong, the fallout is rarely as obvious as an oil spill or financial collapse. Our methods of measuring success and failure often aren’t sophisticated enough to tell us exactly how poorly an ad campaign or marketing activity performed.

Our industry demands we take on risk. However, there are a couple lessons we can learn about risk from both BP and Bear Stearns .

  1. Be wary of group-think. Marketing people are huge suckers for Bright Shiny Objects: the latest fad, a new technology, a buzzword – hype that can distort our expectation as to how something will work in the real world. Experimentation is one thing, but making a big roll of the dice based on a mistaken belief can end badly.
  2. Execution matters more than you think. Agency leadership and brand marketers like to think big picture and often can’t be bothered with the icky, tactical stuff. Execution is almost always the first thing to get short-changed, from budgets to timelines. When implementation fails, the best idea in the world is worthless.

Attention and Intention

July 2, 2010

Bob Hoffman, the provocative blogger at asks “After 15 years, can anyone name even ten serious non-native consumer-facing brands that have been created by web advertising? Is there a brand of coffee, butter, beer, bread, chicken, gasoline, soda, peanut butter, dog food, milk, tires, potato chips, life insurance, lawn mowers…don’t make me go on, you get the point…that has been built primarily by web advertising?”

Although “non-native consumer-facing brands” is quite a caveat, and Bob forgets to mention the Internet as a mainstream advertising media is barely over a decade old, AND less than 10% of all ad dollars are spent online, he still has a point.

But the takeaway isn’t ‘web advertising is a failure.’ Far from it. To understand the role of digital marketing you need to understand the mindset of Internet users.

Marketing via traditional media is mostly about attention. Media planners are interested in demographics and relevance. They ask ‘does this programming sync with consumers who are most likely to buy the product being advertised?’ Media planners have few clues whether or not a viewer has any real intent to buy the product/service being advertised. I’ve watched hundreds, maybe thousands of TV ads by Geico and Progressive, and I have zero intent to purchase any of their fine services.

Internet users have an intention mindset. That explains why over 60% of online ad dollars are spent on search. When people are in the hunt for a particular product or service category, then tend to seek out product information, authorities, and reputations via digital media. They don’t sit in front of their TV sets to see which advertisement is most persuasive before making a purchase decision.

I realize I’m making some broad generalizations here. Most people don’t go online to research a candy bar or dish soap, and many brands move the awareness needle via web advertising. The point I want to make is marketing goals, user mindsets and media attributes should be a driving force behind any marketing strategy.


Does A Media Mix Mindset Limit Marcom Effectiveness?

November 25, 2009

Should media allocation strategies continue to play a preeminent role in marcom planning decisions?

To answer this question, let’s begin with an analogy:  how investors make decisions.

Investors typically hold one of two basic philosophies: top down or bottom up. Top down investors analyze the markets, determine which asset classes (stocks, bonds, commodities, etc.) offer the best risk/reward opportunities, and allocate accordingly. Once the basic allocation mix is decided, these investors will allocate further within each asset class. For example, stocks have several characteristics: growth vs. value, large vs. small, emerging vs. developed countries. And within these characteristics lie various sectors: financials, healthcare, telecommunications, etc. The resulting portfolio of investments will ideally reflect this series of macro to micro decisions.

Bottom up investors see a market of stocks, not a ‘stock market’. They start their decision making process by analyzing a wide array of investments, and their portfolios are the result of picking individual securities – a bottom up process. Warren Buffet is a well-known bottom up investor.

When it comes to marketing communication decisions, most brand marketers adhere to a top down philosophy, relying on techniques such as media mix modeling to provide a framework for budgets and strategy. This philosophy makes a lot of sense when your marcom universe consists solely of one-to-many channels (TV, radio, print), where commercial messages are directed at a passive audience.

But does the top down philosophy break down when the importance of one-to-one marketing communications grows in importance, where the consumer is viewed as a participant instead of an audience? Do media mix models adequately weigh conversational marketing activities such as experiential marketing, social media, customer service, and sale training?

And what does a bottom up approach look like? Do we begin by imagining possible consumer experiences first and let the media mix chips fall where they may? Or do we create better media allocation models? Or simply continue using the current models while acknowledging their limitations?

I would hope marketers recognize the pitfalls of following an exclusive top down approach. We shouldn’t limit the potential of more interactive marketing communication channels by following a philosophy devised in a one-to-many media world.


Marcom Strategy – The Basics (part 4)

August 15, 2009

corkscrewWhat makes for a good strategy?

Good strategies have qualities that may sound obvious, but are often overlooked. Two important qualities of a marcom strategy are 1) they are easy to understand and 2) meet goals with a high level of efficiency.

Strategy statements – simple is better

Ask yourself: can I summarize my marcom strategy in a single sentence?

Below are a few examples of strategy statements. Notice that each begins with a high level goal and none include descriptions of specific tactics or mediums.

  • Improve purchase continuity by reducing effort for working women; making product information easier to access and opening more channels for ordering.
  • Increase awareness and acquisition by giving chatty advocates reasons to start a conversation and turn their friends onto the brand.
  • Get people to think differently about [brand] by creating incentives and opportunities for people to taste and talk about the new menu items.
  • Create awareness with time relevant messages and unusual purchase incentives at multiple touch-points.
  • Generate trial by demonstrating the brand’s [key benefit] by giving women access to expert advice, and following and rewarding their success [in achieving benefit] in a nationwide challenge.
  • Increase continuity and up-sell by attracting current [brand] owners who may be ready to move up by letting them experience the prestige of high performance handling in exclusive and unexpected ways.
  • Increase affinities for [brand] by letting customers observe and participate in our employee’s personal passion and commitment for [brand benefit/outcome].

RubeGoldbergEfficiency – fear and habits drive waste

Efficiency results from insights and choosing the right combination of tactics, mediums, and methods. It isn’t the result of cutting corners on execution.

Many brand marketers still use an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. In order to check all the boxes, critical components are not adequately funded or developed to their maximum ROI potential. This is partially driven by fear and habits – checking all the boxes keeps everyone in their comfort zone.

flightRisk-taking is good, but…

On the other hand, there’s a good measure of calculated risk-taking when developing a marcom strategy, but experimentation should never be a big roll of the dice.

A good strategist always knows how much of a plan is experimental, and how much relies on elements that can be trusted to deliver.

marathonLong-term vs. short term

Many brands have no long term (1-3 years) communications strategy, only long term marketing goals. Think about this for a minute: Do the brands you work on have a documented, long term marcom strategy? Or is your long term strategy nothing more than a result of a string of shorter term (3-12 month) campaigns?

Short term marcom strategies usually have a specified beginning and end, only to be followed by another campaign. The problem with this approach is consumers begin to see the brand as a series of chance encounters and schizophrenic messages. There’s no glue beyond the brand architecture that connects one engagement to the next.

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll touch on the how strategy and creative can be developed together and the importance of execution.


Marcom Strategy – The Basics (part 3)

August 6, 2009

In my last post I touched on ten outcomes of a marcom strategy. But before one can be developed, there are five things every strategist needs to know. Most of this stuff will sound elementary, but you’d be surprised how often one or two pieces are neglected.

consumer_shopping1. Consumer intelligence

Knowing thy customer is the most important input for any strategist. Any person involved in developing a marcom strategy should have a deep understanding of the consumer segment(s) they may need to engage – who they are, what they’re saying, what they’re doing, and why.

Strategists should also be driven by empathy for, not manipulation of the consumer.

2. Brand Immersion

The second most important factor for a strategist is to know the brand on every level: the product attributes, rational benefits, emotional benefits, personality, appearance, history and core insights.

Brands with weak or ill-defined brand architectures are difficult to create marcom strategies for.

And it doesn’t hurt to intimately know a lot about your competitors. Who are they and what do they stand for? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can this be used to your advantage?

macarthur_nimitz3. Goals

Briefs and RFPs usually fail on two counts: 1) tactics are listed as goals or 2) briefs include a list of goals that include everything except a cure for cancer.

The most common marcom goals marketers strive for is awareness, acquisition, adoption, adoration or advocacy. These goals can be a sequential continuum that ladder consumers to the next level of brand relationship.

As a rule of thumb, marketers should focus on no more than two goals, even if additional goals will be addressed indirectly. Having too many goals is a recipe for a diluted, ineffective strategy.

Lastly, I’ve seen both clients and agencies lose sight of their stated goals as early as the planning and ideation phase. Every idea and tactic should be held up against the brand goal and killed if they’re off target.

4. Budget

Brand Marketers tend to keep budgets a closely held secret. They let their agencies play guessing games, pitching numerous ideas and an ala carte menu of estimates.

This game is wasteful and usually results in a Frankenstein-esque collection of tactics – tactics that are chosen primarily because they fit into the budget box, not because they work best together. Integration becomes an afterthought, and matching luggage is hailed as success.

Budgets have an enormous impact on strategy. For example, a marcom strategy designed to drive purchase continuity will be much different with budget of $500,000 vs. a budget of $5,000,000.

iphone users5. Trends

Trends can often be a driving force behind a strategy. Strategists should be aware of societal, cultural, economic, technology, demographic, even political trends.

Just recognize there’s a difference between fads and trends. Latching onto a fad might make your brand appear out-of-touch by the time consumers have an opportunity to engage with your marcom.

Next time…

What makes for a good strategy?


Marcom Strategy – The Basics (part 2)

August 5, 2009

media mixThe Marcom Strategy – what does it look like?

Many folks in our industry immediately think ‘media mix’ or ‘discipline mix’ when they hear the words “marcom strategy”. This is understandable because an important outcome of a marcom strategy is specifying how budgets will be allocated between both media channels (television, print, internet, etc.) and disciplines (advertising, promotion, PR, interactive, etc.)

The problem with this way of thinking is ‘media mix’ and ‘discipline mix’ decisions are often made early on by brand management and used as the starting place. This top down approach greatly limits strategic, creative and tactical possibilities.

Ideally, the media mix and discipline mix is a co-equal outcome of the marcom strategy. This often means agencies taking a bottom-up approach, thinking of the consumer experience first, and figuring out the media/discipline mix last.

psychologyThere are ten essential outcomes of a marcom strategy…ten that I can think of anyway. Keep in mind these are not necessarily sequential. I’ve framed these as questions a strategy should answer.

  1. Target Consumers – What consumer segments and internal audiences will be targeted?
  2. Actionable Insights – What insight(s) provide the richest opportunity for connecting with and changing consumers?
  3. Measurable Goals – What thoughts, feelings, or behaviors do we want to activate? What metrics will we use to measure each?
  4. Core Messages – What is the emotional message? The rational message? Is there a story we’re telling? Is that story compelling?
  5. Touch Points – Where and when will consumers encounter the brand? What rationale is there for the timing, context, and relevance of each touch point?
  6. Experience design – What’s the experience? What value does the experience provide consumers? How is it different from other experiences consumers have access to? Why should consumers care? What tactics will be used? What experiences are passive? Interactive?
  7. Experience & decision paths – What activities need to be integrated? How? What paths will consumers take to experience more than one marketing activity? Are there behavioral triggers? What are they? What role does consumer/human psychology play?
  8. Discipline Mix – What disciplines need to play a role executing the marcom strategy? Advertising, PR, Promotion, Interactive, etc.?
  9. Media Mix – What mediums will be used in executing the strategy? Television, print, internet, etc.? What is the budget for each?
  10. Action Plan – What is the high-level plan for implementing the strategy? What are the risk factors? Can the strategy be executed successfully within budget?

You probably noticed there’s a lot more here than deciding the discipline/media mix.

KFC SIGNIntegrated Marketing Communications

‘Integrated marketing’ is a buzz phrase that has been echoing through our industry for over a decade now. To many, Integrated Marketing means ‘matching luggage’: where every marcom activity has a consistent look, voice, and message. This is not integration folks, its brand consistency.

Integrated marketing communications consists of marketing activities that have functional relationships to each other. Developing those functional relationships so each marketing activity increases the effectiveness of each other is what integrated marketing is really all about. Most marcom efforts I see today are only loosely integrated if at all.

Next time…

In my next post I’ll discuss outline the five things a strategist really needs to know before they can develop a marcom strategy.


Marcom Strategy – The Basics (part 1)

August 4, 2009

The wrong strategy

While brand marketers and CMOs say they’re keenly focused on efficiency and ROMI (return on marketing investment), their marcom strategies frequently miss the mark in a big way.

In this series I’ll share my thoughts on the many elements that go into the creation of a marketing communication strategy, and hopefully highlight factors that make the difference between missing the mark and hitting the bull’s-eye.

 I’m limiting these posts to the topic of marketing communications strategy instead of the broader topic of marketing strategy. The intent is to focus on the basic elements that go into planning communications with consumers, or more broadly, engaging consumers with marketing activities designed to change what they, think, feel, and act towards brands.

 Let’s start with some basic definitions.

Alex What is marketing communications?

Marketing communications has traditionally been thought of as commercial messages being directed at consumers, through mediums such as television, radio, print, signage, and mail. This one-to-many concept of message distribution positioned consumers as a passive audience – viewers, readers, and listeners.

 Over the past decade or so, technology and changes in consumer behavior have expanded the definition of marketing communications. The Internet, mobile, game consoles, and experiential marketing activities have increasingly become important marketing communication platforms.

As technology gave consumers more control over the commercial messages directed at them, it also opened the door to true interactivity. Consumers are now potential participants in marketing activities, not just audiences.

As a result of these changes, marketing communications has a much broader meaning.

3way-chess What is a strategy?

Let’s begin with the term “strategist”. It has a highfalutin ring to it, but it really shouldn’t.

 Strategists are simply planners, and a marcom strategy is nothing more than a plan to achieve a defined set of marketing goals by communicating with, or ideally, creating interactive experiences for consumers.

 The word “strategy” implies a degree of cleverness and savvy that “plan” doesn’t. A marcom strategy doesn’t require super-human intelligence, but does require attention, experience, and a good dose of creativity.

 Useful experience comes from analyzing results from hundreds of marcom activities, not simply experience in dreaming-up or producing ads marketing people think are cool.

 Most of all, a good strategist needs common sense and the ability to put themselves into the shoes of the consumer they’re trying to reach. Those who can accurately anticipate how consumers will react to a specific marcom activity usually make good strategists. And that’s a tall order in an industry of koolaid drinkers.

 In my next post I’ll discuss the essential outcomes of a marcom strategy.