Thursday, May 21, 2009

Follow Up on Listmaking

I recently wrote a blog post complaining about the plethora of lists I see on marketing communication and related blogs. It seems I'm not the only one. Check out this recent blog entry at a site called Crack Skull Bob (don't ask me--I didn't name it). It's snarky, but I think it furthers my point, albeit in a very comical way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lost in Translation: Funny Product Name

Here's a little bit of humor on a Wednesday night. At the grocery store with my wife, and came across the vodka you see at the right. Imported from Holland. I can almost picture the campaign:

"What would you like in your martini, sir?"
"I want some Effen Vodka!"

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One Ringy Dingy (Emphasis on the "Dingy")

With so much talk among marketers of the new technologies associated with social media, I'd like to take a moment to discuss an old technology: the telephone. I hate using it. I do use it, but I don't like it. My wife and I were recently discussing modes of communication, and while she is definitely a phone person I am definitely an e-communicator. Now I'm wondering why that is.

The phone has some obvious advantages over electronic communication. There's immediacy; talking with a person directly gives you information far more quickly than sending an e-mail and waiting for a response. Plus there is less communication interference in telephony; the spoken word can relay communication nuances that are lost in the written word alone, even in a live-chat environment will all the emoticons we could wish for.

Not to be outdone, however, electronic communication gives you some time to put your thoughts together just so, before initiating communication. It also gives you a virtual paper trail of communication, with time and date stamps, which makes it easier to track the flow of communication between and among parties.

But more importantly, electronic communication also allows us to communicate more easily on our terms. We send a message out into the ether at our convenience and check that task off our list of things to do. Time is not an issue, because we can send e-mails or tweets any time of the day or night. And we can ostensibly reply or otherwise pick up the conversation at our leisure, again taking time to mull over exactly what it is we want to say to the other person.

I think these are the real reasons I prefer e-mail over the telephone. As more and more demands are made on our attention, I like to be able to cue up my communications in a manner that suits my workflow. Telephone can be interruptive; a call might come at any time, convenient or not. When I get into a groove I hate being interrupted. I must confess to thinking like that when I pick up the phone to place a call. Because I hate to be interrupted, I presume that others feel the same way, and I wonder if my call is only going to annoy the person on the other end of the line. Neurotic, I know (again--emphasis on the "Dingy). But the truth for me nonetheless.

I must add that I'm not the same way when it comes to face-to-face communication. I actually will go out of my way at work to walk to another person's office before picking up the phone to call them. As I think about it, I realize that this is largely because I can scope out the other person first before initiating communication. Do they look busy? Are they in a meeting? Will I be interrupting something important? Face-to-face interaction allows me to mitigate those apprehensions that come with using the phone. And it has the added benefit of fostering a good relationship with whomever I am talking to.

In spite of this predilection of mine for electronic communication, I continue to work on using the telephone, because I must. In our increasingly global community where time is ever more at a premium, it's important to get information as quickly as possible. The value of the immediacy offered by the telephone far outweighs the benefits of electronic communication for normal give and take. And it does help to foster interpersonal relationships in a way that electronic communication cannot.

What are your thoughts? Please feel free to leave your comment at your convenience. I'll reply when I'm good and ready... ;-)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Moving the Needle on the Social Media Discussion

Beth Harte’s and Dan Keeney’s respective blogs got me thinking yesterday about how we discuss social media as a tool. Dan commented on Beth’s recent presentation to the Ft. Worth PRSA by saying that while valuable it wasn’t necessarily new. As a caveat let me say that Dan has made it clear he meant no disrespect, and if I understand correctly Beth took none. But it did make me wonder if we are in a rut when it comes to discussing social media. I must say that I echo Dan’s sentiment when I read many a blog topic about social media. We still seem to be pandering to (and this time it is I who mean no disrespect) the lowest common denominator—those folks, whether employers or clients or friends, who are either unaware of social media or are aware but know nothing of the tools. I think that many of us are still in outreach mode trying to make converts of everyone.

I propose, though, that it is time to elevate the discussion beyond the usual platitudes, i.e. “Your customers are using social media—are you ready?” Social media is nothing new, either philosophically (as Beth points out) or practically. The tools exist. I say let’s start discussing their use in more specifics and let the late adopters find their way on their own, or learn from our example.

Having said that, what is it that will move the needle on the SM discussion? I don’t know for sure, but I have some ideas:
  • We need to start discussing or speculating about social media usage in very particular applications. For instance, I’m a big fan of Stephanie Holland and her She-conomy blog about marketing to women. I’d love to hear specific ideas for targeting them via social media. Stephanie has made a case at a 30,000-foot level for the value of social media marketing to women. I get it—I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. Now let’s talk specifics. Twitter? Facebook? FriendFeed? SMS? Does one work better than the others when targeting women? Under what circumstances? Do particular age groups respond better to one tool over another? We may not have the answers now, but none of us can even try to use SM as a marketing tool without some kind of specific strategy. We need to share case studies of what works and speculate on what might work when we don’t know, so that we can go out and try it for ourselves.
  • The SM landscape is huge, and ever shifting. We’ve got blogs and microblogs, social media networking sites, social bookmarking sites, lifecasting, wikis, etc. We need to start talking about how they can or should work together as part of a marketing plan. There will always be linkages we can’t control, but when laying out a framework for guiding customer discussions or adding value to their experience of our brand, I need to understand where to send them and when. For instance, I personally blog and tweet, and I'm on Facebook and LinkedIn. A few weeks ago I saw some folks on Twitter discussing FriendFeed. Some of my friends are on BrightKite. All of these tools have value from a marketing perspective. Now how do we make them work together?
  • Part of the challenge of social media for marketers and executives is the conversational aspect. Many old-schoolers may be comfortable with face-to-face conversation but uncomfortable in a SM atmosphere. I say let’s help them by offering up examples of SM conversation. If you find yourself talking to a customer on Twitter, what do you say? When should you say it? How often should you say it? If you’re on Facebook, Ms. CFO, and a potential client contacts you about your company’s products or services, what do you say or do? Let’s take some of the mystery out of it by providing concrete examples for all of us to follow. I imaging the first users of the telephone were intimidated by the tool until they saw someone else use it and then tried it successfully. Let’s provide that example for social media.
I have other ideas, but this isn’t just about me. We all need to weigh in on this topic. For me, it kinda boils down to discussing SM “recipes.” If you are in Situation A, and you’re trying to achieve Goal B by addressing Audience C, why not try to use Social Media Tool D and reinforce the message with Social Media Tool E while running Traditional Media F?

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Recipe Books and Social Media

Christopher Penn makes an excellent point about the brand building capabilities of those old recipe books your grandmother used to have. You know the ones, published by Kraft or Good Housekeeping. I encourage you to read his full post, but in a nutshell he makes the point that these cookbooks were the ultimate in the soft sell because every recipe included one of the company's products. They also had a timeless quality that added value to consumers for years and years.

Christopher compares this to the shameless self promotion that marketers employ on social media networks, and why it is such a dismal failure. I agree. Because social marketing is about conversation, we as marketing communicators have an opportunity to talk to consumers, hear their wants and needs, and then address them. We can turn blogs into the recipe books of the future by sponsoring a place in cyberspace where consumers can find information that transcends the products we are selling and provides them with value. We can also use microblogging to provide that same information in a more immediate and personal way. In short, we can give them the experience that is what brand building is all about.

I would encourage all of you to visit your local flea market and check out some of those old company-sponsored cookbooks. Maybe keep one out on your desk to remind you that adding value is what it's all about.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Deconstructing the Great Grilled Chicken Debacle of Aught Nine

Advertising Age weighed in with its take on the KFC incident last week. The tenor of their piece is that the launch was a failure because of KFC's inability to meet demand. I was surprised to read that franchisees were expected to pony up and foot the bill for the free food served at their stores; this might explain some of the crankiness that consumers were complaining about, and it certainly explains the lack of enthusiasm I heard at the KFC store I visited.

Give it a read and let me know what you think. It's hard for me to say whether or not the brand actually suffered because I don't thoroughly know their brand value proposition. However, given that they were already stretching their brand, which is known for fried chicken, into the realm of grilled chicken, and given that they disappointed a slew of customers, I think they will likely have to think long and hard before they deploy their next major promotion.

My favorite line from the article: "By Friday, the day after KFC pulled the promotion, NPR was calling KFC 'the James Frey of fast food,' referring to the author of a memoir praised by Ms. Winfrey that was later exposed as fiction." When you've got National Public Radio ragging your behind, I think something must have gone terribly wrong.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Is the Oprah Effect Always a Good Thing?

Last night my wife and I visited a KFC to try some of their Kentucky Grilled Chicken. My wife, who is Queen of Coupons as well as Queen of My Heart, had two coupons for free grilled chicken dinners; these were each for two pieces of chicken, two sides and a biscuit. All we had to actually buy were drinks.

When we arrived at the store the gal behind the counter was organizing what appeared to be hundreds of these coupons. My wife began chatting her up, telling her what a great deal the coupons were. The folks at KFC agreed, but then explained that thanks to Oprah these coupons were pouring in by the bushel basket. It seems that while KFC offered the coupons to promote their new Kentucky Grilled Chicken (I believe my wife had found ours on a coupon website she frequents), Oprah promoted the coupons on her website yesterday. That golden touch of hers sent scads of people into KFCs--including the one I was in--with those free coupons, and the stores were giving away free food left and right.

It seems this promotion was orchestrated between KFC and Oprah, and as one might guess was designed to drive traffic into stores. If the comments of the workers at my local KFC are any indication, it worked. But were they happy about it? Apparently not. My wife assumed that Oprah somehow subsidized the giveaway she was promoting on her site, to which the employees explained that she was not, and that all free food given away as part of the promotion would just be written off as a loss to KFC. This is standard practice for a product launch, they explained, but another worker preparing our meal indicated that in this case the promotion "cut pretty deep."

I am currently working with a client of my own to find creative ways to drive more traffic into their stores. However, my approach is to find better ways of finding their target market and compelling them to visit. I prefer not to use a shotgun approach and drive people like cattle into stores, hoping they will buy and more importantly hoping they will return, because chances are the will do neither. For example, my wife and I almost never frequent KFC, and after having visited yesterday will probably not visit again anytime soon. The whole reason for our visit was to get something for free. Is that effective marketing? I think not, and it seems the workers at my local KFC store agree, as they said that they don't expect to see most of the people using the coupons ever again.

I think there are lessons to be learned here for us as marketers:
  • A shotgun approach works well for the short term but not the long term.
  • An endorser should somehow work to endorse your brand, and not just a sales event.
  • An endorser should be endorsing for the long term.
  • An endorser should work to drive your target market into your stores, not just everyone they can influence.
  • A real product launch shouldn't be based entirely on broadcast advertising. The proof of your product should be in the using, or in KFC's case in the eating. If the product is good, your loyal customers will do more to spread the word than any broadcast marketing campaign. Not to beat a dead horse, but hello--social media?
And above all, be sure that when you get Oprah to endorse your product you are ready for an unprecedented stampede.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Twitter-free Tuesdays

Many organizations have e-mail free Fridays that are designed to encourage face-to-face communication among employees. I suspect, too, that they are also encouraging productivity; managing e-mail can be a challenge depending upon where you are in the food chain.

To that end, I have decided to impose upon myself Twitter-free Tuesdays. Even though I only follow 20-odd folks, and while TweetDeck is an excellent tool to manage tweets, I can sometimes become distracted by the tool. Following links, reading articles, responding to questions--they're all great ways for me to grow professionally. But a better way is for me to focus on the work of the day and help out my clients.

Now what day should I put off Facebook...

Monday, May 4, 2009

How Do I Hate Lists? Let Me Count The Ways

Here are some blog titles I’ve encountered in the past few weeks:
  • 7 Deadly Sins of E-mail Marketing
  • 5 Tips for Evolving Your Digital Presence
  • 7 Tips for the Perfect Twitter Profile
  • 4 Secrets to Making the Perfect Digital Hire
  • 10 Ways to Drive Consumer Action with Video
  • 7 Ways to Get More Out of Your Creative
  • 8 Ways to SEO Your Personal Brand
  • 7 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid on Twitter
  • 49 Creative Ways You Can Profit from Content Marketing
  • 50 Trigger Words and Phrases for Powerful Multimedia Content
  • 7 Useful Links for Weekend Reading
What is it with marcomm bloggers and lists? I find few blogs more annoying—and more ineffective and damaging—than those that take this approach. Why? Because they presume that the work we do as marketing communicators can consistently be boiled down to a handful of bullet points that can be applied to every situation. They often promise unmitigated success if they are followed. And they ultimately ruin our credibility as communication professionals by presuming there is some recipe to be followed that can substitute for talent.

As much as it pains me to say this, marketing communications is far from a science. Yes, there are best practices, but adhering to those practices makes us better practitioners over time—they don’t necessarily result in better immediate outcomes. Our long-term success depends upon our ability to think strategically and choose tactics that best support our strategies. Those tactics can’t be boiled down to a handful of “things to do” that will ensure success. And if such a list does exist, we certainly shouldn’t be giving it away for free.

As I write this, I am mindful of the time I spent in marketing communications for the pharmaceutical industry. Never before have I worked with so many Ph.D’s. When they wrote papers or held symposia on scientific topics, they were always in-depth discussions of the science, the data, and the outcomes. I never saw topics like, “5 Tips for Developing Effective LC/MS/MS Methods”, or “10 Mistakes to Avoid when Developing Aerosols for Inhalation Toxicology Studies”. They didn’t approach topics this way because they understood that their science could not be applied to applications so broadly, and because they realized that what they were selling was their expertise in applying their science to specific applications for their clients. They wouldn’t dream of positioning themselves in a way that would make them look ignorant or would give away valuable information for free.

But that’s what we do every day. We do it because we are so hungry to be recognized as experts in the eyes of our peers and our clients. We each want so much to be believed, and we use the freedom of blogs and social media to vie with one another for that coveted “thought leadership” spot.

I say the proof of our expertise is in the pudding. Be successful for your clients, and let them do the talking. When you do share information, make it in the form of a case study, with a discussion of the strategy, your metrics (data) and the outcomes. And for heaven’s sake don’t just share it because you need something to post on your blog. Make folks pay for it, whether they are clients or colleagues. We all know the story of free milk and a cow. Let’s make sure we let the world know that we bring value, and that value has a price tag associated with it.