Fugliness and attention

September 18, 2009

I couldn’t resist sharing this – one of the ugliest banners I’ve seen in a while, but it sure got my attention. Ironically this banner comes from a company that trains people to plan, buy, and sell interactive media.


Differentiation is the most important factor for getting attention. One way of getting attention is by being visually obnoxious, and Laredo Group sure scored big with this one. However, getting attention isn’t of much value if your creative results in a negative impression of your brand.


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.


Agency Pipe Dream

June 12, 2009

bo-jacksonOver the past decade or so many agencies have struggled to add digital services to their offerings. Those who succeeded realized the shortcomings that came with adding digital to the mix. For one, digital often became viewed as a siloed production group, where creatives and account service with backgrounds in traditional advertising, promotion, and PR called the tune for the unwashed geekdom. As a result we saw thousands of examples of print design and one-to-many thinking introduced to the Web by agencies.

Eventually these agencies made attempts in “integrate” digital into the agency culture and process. Their motivation was laudable, but the operational vision of the new agency was almost always illdefined and the methods used to achieve integration were doomed to fail.

One of those methods is to cross-train the workforce so the entire agency would eventually become conversant in and capable of producing digital marketing solutions, at least in the areas of creative and strategy.

On top of enriching the knowledge of the workforce, agencies thought their re-minted employees would provide a utopian flexibility: The Art Director who designs a print ad on Monday would pick up the website design for the same campaign on Tuesday.

Keep in mind the senior management in most agencies, those leading the charge for “integration”, come from a traditional marcom background. Most have/had little hands-on experience in digital.

sleepingFrequently the existing digital staff is tasked with developing both the curriculum and training for the rest of the agency, and this training strategy introduces many interesting issues.

Curriculum and content development for training isn’t a trivial matter. We’re talking about taking a huge amount of information and finessing it into bite sized pieces. This is a huge time-suck the employees who happen to have the digital experience, the “trainers”.

Because many agency leaders lack understanding of digital themselves, they significantly underestimate what is needed to support the most basic training needs. There is also a sense of resentment that grows amongst those designated as “trainers”. At first they’re flattered by the idea of sharing their knowledge and skills. But after spending a few months spoon-feeding traditional brethern with their hard-earned experience, they realize the structure of the agency will still position them as a downstream implementor, and very few of their “students” will ever spread their wings and fly.

The biggest obstacle to the cross-training philosophy is that the vast majority of folks in agencies who aren’t already doing digital don’t have the interest, desire or aptitude for it. This comment isn’t meant to demean, but to point out a hard, cold reality. You can’t take a talented athlete in one sport, train them in a sport in which they have no inate interest or desire, and expect good results.

mad signThe same goes for agency folks. Digital requires a different mindset and skillset – skills that only improve by being continually immersed in the discipline.

Sure, Bo Jackson’s of the agency world exist, but the idea of creating an agency were the majority employees are both multi-disciplined and highly-skilled is nothing more than a pipe dream.


One small step for…everyone

June 4, 2009

Over the past several years I’ve ranted endlessly about the diminishing effectiveness of display advertising as an awareness and branding vehicle. The benefits that ad unit standardization has delivered, namely efficiency in both media buying and ad unit creative development, has also resulted in a significant downside: banner blindness and user indifference.

Our industry must reverse this tide through innovation, innovation that can only come through more collaboration between publishers and marketers. Today I ran across an ad that demonstrated innovation.

The ad below is a full page ad for Prius on the landing page for dictionary.com. But what’s truely innovative about this ad, is it doesn’t get in the way of goal oriented users, the exact mindset of users who visit dictionary.com.


Unlike page takeovers and interstitials, ads they have conditioned users to impulsively seek the “close” or “continue” button, this ad allows users to accomplish the task at hand without forcing another click. And unlike page takeovers, this ad is likely to actually gain the awareness of users.

Granted, ad formats like this can’t be easily replicated on other sites. And I’m not saying this is the greatest thing since Google, but it just goes to show advertisers that a little collaboration and creativity can result in something that pleases everyone – advertisers, publishers, and users.


Drifting Creatives

June 3, 2009

Drifting creativesDrifting Creatives (Martin Hooper and Gavin Braman) are hanging out with us at infuz today. They’re traveling the country and offering their design skillz to the less fortunate.

We’re hoping they enjoy their stay in St.Louis and have time to contribute to small design project we’re sponsoring.


Authenticity Plus

May 29, 2009

Fast EddiesLast week I found myself at two establishments in the St. Louis area that exemplify staying power and authenticity, Fast Eddie’s Bon-Air and Angelo’s Pizzeria.

Fast Eddie’s the ever popular roadhouse/bar in Alton Illinois with a seamingly simple recipe: cheap food and cold beer. They claim to to move over 4,000 half-barrels of tap beer a year and God only knows how many tons of grilled food.  Standing-room only crowds on weekends are quite common, even after doubling their footprint a few years ago by adding a large patio. While most bars in Illinois suffered after a state-wide smoking ban, Fast Eddie’s business exploded.

Fast Eddie’s doesn’t boast fancy decor (in fact you might call the place “run down”), great advertising, or a charismatic owner. Their cheap food + cold beer recipe isn’t exactly a secret either. What Fast Eddie’s has is something most other establishments don’t: authenticity.

fast eddies 2

Fast Eddie’s isn’t a copy of something else. It isn’t pretentious, flashy, commercialized, or formulaic…and the menu is reliably the same. Their patrons also add to the realness of the place, an ecclectic midwestern bar crowd if you ever saw one: from leather-clad bikers to silk-tie businessmen, from fresh-face 20-somethings to craggled-face oldsters, from country bumpkins to city slickers.

fast eddies 3

fast eddies 4


Angelo’s Pizzeria in Black Jack Missouri has a slightly different formula to success. This family run operation simply make the best thin crust, St. Louis style pizza in the entire metropolitan area. It’s almost shocking that such a thin wafer of crust can hold their generous slathering of toppings. And while other pizzeria’s try to keep customers coming back with novelty pie creations and skimpy toppings, Angelo’s continues to pile it on.

Angelos Pizzeria

And there’s the authenticity factor too. The family is the staff, from front to back, and their branding and marketing is basic if non-existant. The dining room is spartan despite grandma’s “masterpieces” hanging on the wall, they don’t have a website, and their pizza boxes are plain white…not even adorned with a taped-on menu or bounceback coupon.

And if you ever visit Angelo’s, don’t expect a packed dining room or long lines. Just expect to hear the repeated ring of the phone and “Hello, Angelo’s.”


A word on the word…loyalty

May 27, 2009

chevy tattooI’m amazed to see the word “loyalty” misused so frequently in briefs, books, articles, etc. I believe what most author’s really mean is continuity, or at least I hope so.

My definition of brand loyalty is a consumer’s rigid predesposition to buy a product or service, even if a competitor offers a substantial incentive to switch: e.g. price discounts, gifts, special access, etc.

I have a friend who is a classic example of a brand loyalist. He drinks Miller Lite beer exclusively and drives nothing but Chevys. Persuading him to switch to Bud Light or Ford would be like asking an Ohio State fan to trade his season tickets for half-off Michigan tickets. It ain’t gonna happen.

Advertising, promotions, and PR play an extremely small role in creating consumer loyalty. Some consumers may identify with how a brand is portrayed in their marketing communications, but there is little evidence that branding is an important gateway to true loyalty.

When marketers speak of loyalty or “loyalty programs”, they quite often mean purchase incentives or points programs. Incentives can drive repeat purchases, but rarely will this rote buying behavior result in true loyalty. Unlike addictive drugs, once the incentive is removed, brand preference disappears.

Giving small purchase incentives to a loyalist who isn’t influenced by them makes no sense either.

I do believe certain marketing activities can reinforce loyalty and generate advocacy: for example, exclusive memberships that include insider access and beta/new product review opportunities. These are true loyality programs, not continuity programs.