Tuesday, June 16, 2009

You Talking To Me?

The hundreds of millions of computer users who visit websites every day do so through a web browser. Since the first publicly released browser, Mosaic, in 1991, there have been a few contenders and many also-rans. Browsers have improved and certainly gotten more features.

The current market leader is still Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but it has been losing share to its chief rival Firefox. These days all browsers are free for the downloading, but do we need another one? How often have you awoken in the middle of the night, worried that your browser may be suboptimal? Google seems to think so and last year launched its Chrome browser.

Google’s marketing support for Chrome has consisted primarily of quirky short videos on a channel of its popular YouTube portal. Google has extended its advertising to independent properties such as LinkedIn and plans to run ads on TV (via its own AdWords system, of course).

These ads, which can resemble mini film festivals, finesse the venerable debate about features versus benefits by ignoring both. This is a campaign targeting early adapters. The message is neither emotional nor rational but, simply tries to associate coolness with the product. These short bursts of creativity evoke the feeling of an independent film competition. If viewers already understand and care about browser issues they may get it; if not it’s interesting eye candy. This if fine if appealing to a niche, but browsers are mass market products.

To date, Chrome remains a footnote. According to data compiled by Statcounter Chrome has a market share of about 1.5%. Like many Google products, it may be forever in Beta (never formally released). The game is still early and there is no shortage of budding filmmakers with edgy ideas.

Advances in computer browsers may be secondary to the main browser war - on the phone - where most of the world will be getting its Internet. Google also has an offering here - the Android browser.

Android’s YouTube promotion is classic technology messaging - watch my benefits or sometimes features or sometimes the engineers who develop Android. Nothing artsy here. This is a market strategically important to Google.

Do you need a new computer browser? Tough to tell based on Google’s marketing, but you might find Chrome’s half minute spot diverting.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

This Blog Has Moved

This blog, Marketing Guy 2.0 has moved to a new home, blog.threshold-group.com. Please visit.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Running on Water or Just All Wet?

Sports shoe and apparel maker Puma has been making footware since 1924. Olympic champions from Jesse Owens in 1936 to Usain Bolt in 2008 have worn its running shoes while setting world records. Yet in the race for market share, it barely wins the bronze in shoes and finishes without a medal in apparel.

What to do when competing in a crowded category during a worldwide recession? I could have imagined many initiatives from channel development to grass roots social networking to a basketball connection with a prominent amateur (think 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.).

How about joining with a number of mostly money losing companies such as Volvo in a round the world sailing competition. Apparently golf tournaments are not elitist enough. And the image portrayed in much of Puma's communication is closer to urban street kid.

In each port its racing yacht visits, it will assemble a modular performance space/nightclub/bar with built in gear store called Puma City. Puma City even has its own Facebook page. At a recent reception there, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Yet no one seemed to be patronizing the store.

Puma does make deck shoes and foul weather jackets, but their sales contribute negligibly to overall revenue. The race has eleven ports of call, only one of which is in North America, namely Boston. It’s tough to see how this will develop the market.

The race is being supported by mixed media ranging from subway placards and traditional PR in Boston to a suite of social media including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs. So far, it seems not to have a lot of traction or the internal logic of Puma’s running events and sports clinics.

Is this yet another case of let’s spend the stockholders' money on what someone in management thinks might be fun or has a suppressed desire to try? Did someone in corporate marketing read Two Years Before The Mast? Who needs ROI, when you've built the meanest looking racing yacht of the bunch?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Preserve Us From The Uncool

Twitter, the once esoteric microblogging utility has "crossed the chasm." It is now popular, if not yet mainstream.


In case you missed it, last Friday, 17 April 2009, was "Twitter Day" on Oprah. And Oprah has shown she can move markets, if not mountains. Not only is she on Twitter, but at least for Twitter Day was tweeting live on her show. Oprah herself has in a few days gone from a standing start to over 300 thousand followers. If you want the current stats on the followers, visit her Twitter page and see the block in the upper right corner.

Actor Ashton Kutcher became the first to amass a million followers on Twitter. This was not spontaneous. Rather it was the result of well orchestrated marketing campaign, including — you guessed it — Twitter.

Many radio and TV shows accept or even solicit listener input via Twitter, while businesses and organizations are actively playing with it.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, one Twitter account dominated all others. As you may have guessed this was Barack Obama’s. His campaign understood and applied social media better than any competing candidate. He currently has about 887 thousand followers.

In these depressed times, meteoric success like Twitter's cheers me up - all the more so, because it was so improbable. Who’d a thunk it? Initially the experience of most Twitter users, and I include myself, was not love at first Tweet. Gradually, we found ways of making this lightweight utility pretty darn useful. Each of us did this in different ways with different constituencies.

All is, however, not well in the Twittersphere. It is very likely that increased traffic will strain Twitter’s servers. There will be more temporary interruptions in service just as we had come to depend on Twitter.

Among certain quarters, the objections are more profound and profoundly less rational. That is, by becoming popular, Twitter will loose the cachet it had by being esoteric, counterintuitive, or to many just plain weird. As in one of Yogi’s bon mot "it’s so crowded nobody goes there."
  • PR maven and Twitter user Steve Rubel posits the decline of Twitter because the geeks, who were its first patrons, will desert it for the next cool thing.
  • Technology analyst Jeremiah Owyang, expects a backlash as Twitter approaches mainstream.
  • While PC Magazine columnist Lance Ulanoff laments that “Oprah and Ashton will destroy Twitter."
I don't think so. Email may be uncool, but it's not going away anytime soon. Most of those who joined Twitter only because of Oprah may drop out, unless she starts Tweeting messages relevant to them. Those who find it useful will stay, no matter how they first got there.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social Networking Or Social Notworking?

At a recent charity breakfast, the topic turned to social media such as Facebook and Twitter. My table mates were intelligent and accomplished people in a variety of careers. Their consensus was that they didn't get it and weren't sure they wanted to. They assumed that these had nothing to offer their professional or personal lives.

Here is my take on why, whatever your cause or concern, you might want to consider using social media.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You Call This Service?

Business Week's 2009 Customer Service Issue (2/19/09) names Amazon.com as the customer service champ of the year.

I’m a customer of Amazon and buy a couple of times a month through them. Still, they don’t come to mind when I hear the term "customer service." Theirs is a robotic business in which the delivery is, as much as they can make it, untouched by human hands or voices.

Is this yet another case of "Less Is More." Does it illustrate the power of invisibility? Or is it yet another case of radically reduced expectations?

Unlike a Nordstrom, LLBean, a good garage, favorite coffee shop, or the Apple store, there is no immediate experience of being served let alone well served.

"Service" for Amazon is designing processes, which are both robust and comfortable for the customer. The goal is to create reliability and reduce cost there by delivering superior value. It also teaches shoppers and changes their behavior such that both their expectations and demands are different.

An extended definition of service in Amazon's world might contain components such as:
  • Finding products – Here Amazon excels. Why don’t libraries allow you to find something so easily instead of merely automating the old fashioned card catalog?
  • Shipping – The availability of free shipping on many products could be thought of as part of the service. This is fine, yet arrival time is unpredictable.
  • Recommendations – The knowledgeable store clerk is increasingly rare. Amazon does make suggestions on its home page. This seems to be based on my prior searches and misses the mark by a wide margin. Its customer reviews, which are a form of social networking, can be helpful. They are a feature not found when shopping in a physical store. Indeed the potential for Amazon customers to form community offers the intriguing potential for them to transform the shopping process.
  • Returns – Yes you can make them, but Amazon makes you hunt and click to find out how. The return policy is an adequate standard 30 days subject to conditions. Amazon does not facilitate this, presumably by design. It pales when compared to merchants, who guarantee satisfaction by taking returns, period.
  • Conversation – you can exchange messages by email, chat and even phone by entering your number in a form and requesting a call back. If the shopping process is a way of connecting with people, I can recommend a great local bookstore.
Since you’re reading a blog, you’ve probably shopped at Amazon and can decide for yourself whether they are service champs. Perhaps a more significant award is that their sales continue to grow in a very poor economy. Amazon has been continuously improving its process to deliver a vast array of goods at competitive prices. Service Champ or not, its nice that so much of what we need is a click away.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Marley Brew

First Music News reported that the estate of reggae singer and song writer Bob Marley may license his name and image to a range of products including snowboards, hotels, coffee, headphones, and beer. This is in part a defensive strategy to capture revenue from unlicensed use of his name or image, but is this good marketing?

Marley's music remains popular 28 years after his death. A visit to the iTune store, shows that 16 of his tunes have a popularity rating of 7 bars or more. Start searching on iTunes, YouTube, or even Google for "bob" and “bob marley" is the first suggestion. His YouTube videos such as Buffalo Soldier and No Woman No Cry have been viewed millions of times. This is brand equity.

Marley and the Marley brand are known for music and associated with Rastafarianism, Jamaica, and cannabis. He has no relation with any of the product categories he may be endorsing from the grave. Just as, say, Tiger Woods has no logical relation to the cars, watches, and consulting firms he endorses. Marley Beer looks like an extreme case of brand extension and brand extensions are often a bad idea.

There could be McDonalds headphones, Ford coffee, Apple snowboards, etc. There aren’t. These, and most other companies are very cautious about what their brands mean and what businesses they compete in. If Procter & Gamble had a new way to clean something, it would very likely launch this as a distinct brand rather than as an extension of an existing brand. Similarly, Coca Cola is in the juice and water businesses, but not under the Coca Cola brand.

Most brand extensions disappoint. They risk diluting the position of the core brand and the extensions seldom thrive. Even multi-business wizard Richard Branson has had indifferent success with his derivative brands such as Virgin Mobile and Virgin Money.

Conventional marketing wisdom is not always right. Unlike classic brand extension, no investment or market risk would be born by Marley. The brewer or snowboard maker affixes a new label to an existing product and assumes what business risk there is. None of the proposed brand extensions appears to clash with the Marley brand as perhaps a Marley breakfast cereal or motor oil might.

I'd recommend they do a deal if they have credible licensees. Excuse me, I have to don my IBM athletic shoes and get the gym.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Just What The World Needs...

Most probably, the world does not need another video, whatever its content. On the other hand, your website, blog, or Facebook page may. Whatever the product or purpose behind the site, video may be better than text, colors, or static images to communicate emotion and affect.

Of course video can inform and instruct, but it can also convey what customers feel about your product. But if you make industrial solvents (or any other product not likely to be featured on Oprah). Show Customer Success. Whatever your product, customers buy it to solve a problem or obtain a benefit.

For example, your video might include engineers delighted that your ball bearings enabled then to design an engine, which powered a safer airplane. Honda’s Dream The Impossible is a current example.

Forrester Research analyst Nate Elliott reports that including video content on a page tends to improve its search ranking on Google, though not on Yahoo or MSN. Moreover his research found that

"videos stand a much better chance than your text pages of being shown on the first results page."

Short form video does not have to be expensive. Some rather rough home videos, or user generated content, UGC, in current jargon, have achieved a substantial audience. If you already have too much to do, spending a few hundred to a few thousand on an experienced videographer is money well spent. If your total budget is $100, then don’t be afraid to get a basic Flip video camera and give it a try. You could also use third party content or make a video from still photos and narration.

Once you have suitable video, upload to video sharing sites such as YouTube, AOL video, Flickr, Vimeo. Video sharing sites also enable you to embed video links in rich text email. Further you can syndicate your video across multiple sharing sites through a service such as Tubemogul.

Have you budget for a director's beret?

Monday, February 16, 2009

An Unstimulating Stimulus

Congress has passed a Stimulus plan. It is supposed to revive the economy and reduce unemployment by inducing people to buy more than they otherwise would in these lean times. The plan is a mixture of tax cuts and federal spending. Together they will provide more money to many consumers.

To my knowledge no marketers were consulted in assembling the stimulus, yet getting folks to buy is what we do. As a marketing strategy this Stimulus is, at best, incomplete. There are no specific incentives for consumers or businesses to spend their additional funds. Thus some will be saved, some wasted, and the rest spent.

The cumulative effects of the Stimulus related spending, do not seem to have been rigorously modeled. The desired outcome of 3.5 million jobs "saved or created" thus seems quite arbitrary. In this respect the Stimulus resembles many marketing plans we see. That is - wishful thinking.

Interestingly saving 3.5 million jobs at cost of $787 billion is about $ 225 thousand per job. This seems no bargain, even if the Stimulus works as hoped. Considering the lack of specific incentives to increase spending, this seems optimistic.

What would marketers do? Faced with flagging demand, we might:

  • Have a sale
  • Change the business or pricing model
  • Offer incentives - buy 2 get the 3rd free
  • Provide cross promotions
  • or premiums
  • Give warranties or guarantees
  • Strive to better understand the buying and adoption process and address causes for not buying
  • Solidify and reinforce the value proposition
There are analogous features, which could be part of a stimulus package.

  • Sales tax holidays – specifically reimbursement to states, which hold sales tax holidays, for lost revenue.
  • Targeted tax credits for individuals such as for cars, homes, and investment tax credits for businesses.
  • Subsidizing mortgage interest rates to boost housing demand and liquidity.
Doubtless, you can formulate your own list. My point is that marketing oriented programs will increase demand more than doling out money and hoping or the best.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The D Word

By the time establishment economists acknowledged there was a recession, we had, according to their terms, been in one for 9 to 10 months. Nonetheless, not being in a “recession” may have made some people feel better and allow others to lie with a straight face.

For marketers and their customers, a “recession” has little to do with “two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth” or any specific formal definition. The economist’s recession is not the marketer’s and vice versa. It is a perception and more important a feeling.

The same could for the less commonly heard “depression.” Like recession, depression had its origins as a euphemism. Herbert Hoover did not like the term “panic,” which had been used to characterize earlier financial dislocations. That may have been inspired web-smithing and accurate in that panic can hardly be sustained for more than a decade as the Great Depression was.

Use what term you will, customers know what they’re experiencing. The latest (January 2009) employment report shows a loss of 598,000 jobs and that 3,200,000 jobs were lost in the last 12 months.

For most firms, this was not part of their planning assumptions. What marketing messages are we going to say to consumers and firms (including those, which used to employ some of those consumers)? In more general terms, what are we going to do for our markets, which are a lot sicker than we imagined?

Pricing does have to be realistic. Whenever I hear a supplier claim his business is recession proof I wonder how much is delusion and how much dissembling. There may be such businesses, but neither you nor I are in them. Price cutting alone won’t be enough, but be prepared for concessions.

An interesting wrinkle on this are pre-announced price freezes. Professional sports are an example. Demand is down, and not just for personal seat licenses. Demand for this years’ Superbowl tickets weakened such that in the week before the game, ticket brokers were selling some tickets at less than face value.

The response of teams such as the New England Patriots and Boston Red Sox, was to announce there will be no price increases for the coming season. The market was clearly not going to support an increase, so they are trying to take credit for doing the obvious.

This is not a bad tactic, but it is not enough. Prediction: professional sports, like most other marketers will have to offer further incentives to maintain their market share. With customers feeling increasingly gloomy, we’ll need to continually reinforce how we are adding value. How do customers feel about your business or brand, such that you will not be the first one to be cut in tough times?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Short Elevator Rides

A common metaphor, or cliché, is the “elevator pitch.” It seems to mean a compelling story in 30 to 60 seconds, which conveys the essence of your product, service, mission, or goal.

The classic 30 second commercial or one page magazine ad ought to be an elevator pitch. They are forced to be brief, but often fail to engage or communicate. They commonly try to cover too many points, lack focus, and contain much that is inessential or irrelevant. Even worse, they will do all of this without ever getting to the point.

I was thus intrigued, when I chanced upon a short video by artist Matt Shlian. YouTube lists this video as 9 seconds, but we could edit out the static trailing space and it would be 7 or 8 seconds. There is no text, no color, and no audio. The I comes away knowing something of Shilan’s talents and wanting to see more. Fortunately he has other short videos on YouTube. Search on Matt Shilan if interested.

What can you get across in 8 seconds?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's Back - This Time in 3-D

Superbowl XLIII is charging down upon us. We are the worst recession since this annual rite of advertising with football obbligato began. Large advertisers are writing off assets, closing facilities, firing thousands, and reporting record losses. This has caused panic - and panicking executives are even more likely to do the familiar, including the familiar, which has never been shown to work.

In particular, major advertisers have agreed to pay up to $3 million for 30 seconds of air time during the game. Of course with production, not to mention the expense of senior staff “needing” to attend the game, the total cost can be substantially higher. So we’re starting to talk about real money for a marketing expense, whose value remains to be demonstrated. Rather than worrying about the niceties of ROI, PepsiCo and DreamWorks, will try to make their Superbowl ads more memorable, by presenting them in 3-D.

Those of us old enough to remember an earlier generation of 3-D movies and comic books also remember having to wear cardboard glasses, whose right and left lenses were of different colors. The movies tended to be horror movies and westerns, in which the monster or villain, though thought dead, somehow survived to appear in a sequel.

So much for progress, the funky cardboard glasses are back. No glasses - no 3-D. Pepsi is using its considerable retail distribution to try to get 125 million pairs available to the viewing public by game day glasses. The Wall St. Journal(1/23/09, B8) reports that the glasses alone will cost about $7 million. To PepsiCo’s and DreamWorks’ credit they have gotten Intel to pay this.

What Intel gets for this another remains to be seen, but kudos to the deal makers at Pepsi. This challenge has made the commercials themselves news and DreamWorks is even advertising the commercials. Dreamworks new 3-D feature Monsters and Aliens is a major product push. Thus the game gets prime real estate on its animation site (warning - visiting this link will shift your browser to full screen).

In case you didn’t find the glasses at your local supermarket, you can get some by calling Pepsi at 1-800-646-2904.Curiously, Pepsi does not invite consumers to order online. There was no promotion of the event either during the on-hold recording (background music) or when I spoke to an attendant, who indifferently took my shipping information. The promotion is not featured on Pepsi’s or Intel’s web sites.

What does this have to do with selling SoBe Lifewater or microprocessors? Perhaps this would be clearer seen through a pair of 3-D glasses.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Where's My Cookie?

Marketing should give customers something. In retail, direct mail, print, or the venerable 30 second spot, we try to show what our product does and what’s in it for the customer. Our communication and programs associate our brand with a customer goal, sometimes called a "cookie." 1 Depending on customer needs, a cookie could be information such as a product description, prices, free samples, the ability to do or buy something here and now, etc. We don’t deliberately challenge readers or viewers to work long and hard to figure out where the good stuff is. Once we’ve understand which cookie customers want, lift notes, end aisle displays, and headlines take them there.

There are some notable exceptions. If you’ve ever stayed at a Las Vegas casino hotel, you have probably had the frustrating experience of having to navigate acres of gaming tables on route to your room.

That’s Vegas. In the real world we don’t deliberately frustrate customers. What about the virtual world? After we manage to get prospects to our web site can they find their cookie? This is a four part problem:

  1. Finding the site
  2. Finding the relevant page
  3. Finding the relevant content on the page
  4. Being able to get to the next step by clicking, calling, or going somewhere
Trying to negotiate many sites feels far too often like being trapped in a labyrinth. The bounce rates on many landing pages, show that visitors get frustrated, fed up, and leave.

Far too many web sites are more concerned with design than usability. In post mortem interviews within companies having dysfunctional sites (some of which were “award winning”) we often find no consensus on what the site was supposed to do. In some cases it seems the cookies are missing altogether. Where do you hide your cookies?

1) I am indebted to Nadia Direkova of Razorfish for this metaphor.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Forecasting Season

Along with post-holiday sales and carcasses of Christmas trees on the curb, this is the season of forecasts. Pundits, gurus and mavens emerge from their dens to favor the rest of us with insights about the next big thing or the soon no longer to be big thing. As with forecasts of stock markets and fashion trends this can be risky and tough to do. Forecasting does have advantages. Comedian Jay Leno summarized these when he assumed his long running late night show:

There’s no heavy lifting and nobody tells me to comeback and fix the jokes, which weren’t funny last night...

As marketers we are often asked to predict. How do we do it? Mostly badly. Do we have an alternative? I suggest following the advice of the late Peter Drucker and "predict the future, which is already happening" rather than speculate or paying others to speculate on your behalf.

What do we already know about 2009?

  • Consumer sentiment is negative
  • Real spending will decline
  • Commercial and consumer credit will decrease
  • More ad spending will be allocated to measurable media than broadcast
  • Your competitors will launch fewer new products
  • Promotional budgets will decline
  • You will have fewer marketing staff

For your own market and business you can extend this list and probably provide some relative quantification. This approach will save significant management and staff time. More important, it will let you focus on telling customers why your product or service is what they need even in a down economy.