Archive for the ‘branding’ Tag

Behind the Scenes with SAS’ Big Data Guy

The sun was barely over the horizon on a cold Saturday morning when a caravan of vehicles drove across the SAS campus.  The vehicles were full of camera equipment, lights, props, and the all-important catering supplies to keep everyone well fed.  Work was about to begin on shooting of a series of spots featuring Big Data Guy (BDG).  Before the day was done, equipment packed, and food exhausted, a crew from SAS’ Video Communications and New Media (VC&NM) team completed shooing three spots highlighting how SAS can help organizations take advantage of the massive amounts of data they collect.

Long before the last edit was made, before the first scene was shot, before the scripts were even written – there is the back story.  The project started as a challenge issued by Bill Marriott to his VC&NM team.  The challenge, each quarter come up with a unique idea for a project and drive it through to completion.  “We have a lot of highly creative people in our group, but the day-to-day work of the department often demands quick delivery on tight timelines.  This project was an opportunity to empower the team to do what they do best, create compelling content that delivers the SAS message.”

A Visit From Big Data

 As in most things, nothing happens until someone takes ownership.  Taking up Bill’s challenge, Brendan Bailey proposed creating a series of spots using the classic TV formula of Conflict & Resolution.  “Many commercials use this formula.  It provides an opportunity to pose a problem and offer a solution.  The issue of big data fits this model.  It’s a challenge, but also a great opportunity; with the answer being SAS.”

A series of brainstorming meetings followed which resulted in a dozen script treatments.  At that point the team ran into an impasse.  The outlines all treated the BDG character differently.  “We lacked a clear understanding of who we wanted this character to be,” explained Todd Johnson.  “So we spent some time debating the character and wrote a back story detailing who BDG is and how we want him portrayed.”

With a clearer understanding of the character, the question remained, how well would he work?  David Stephenson took the lead and drafted scripts for three initial spots.  “The character somewhat wrote himself.  As the scripts came together the creative team focused more on content and creating spots that were flexible enough to use in different ways.”

Big Data Knows That’s A Stolen Credit Card

 The team continued to debate how long to make each spot and if released to YouTube whether length mattered.  At the suggestion of Bill Marriott the team decided to work toward the length of standard broadcast commercials.  “Building standard length :15, :30, and :60 second spots added structure to the process.  The constraints of a blueprint can often help focus energies on the best way to make something happen.”

Scripts complete – check.  Locations secured – check.  Talent hired – check.  The day of shooting finally arrived.  It was time to see how well BDG would work in delivering the SAS message about big data.  From dawn to dusk the crew and on-camera talent wandered around the SAS campus collecting footage needed to create the spots.  Gary Peterson and Mark Lawrence managed the day-long shoot.  “It certainly wasn’t our usual day of shooting,” said Lawrence.  “Even though the final spots are short, they require a lot of material.  We had only the one day to get all the shots.  We knew we weren’t going to have the chance to grab extra shots later.  It had to be done right the first time.”

Now complete, the spots are posted to the SAS website and in use at customer events.  The response has encouraged the production team to begin work on another round of spots.  Given a blank canvas and creative freedom, it’s amazing what a creative team can deliver.

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5 Tips for the Dreaded Corporate History Video

The request often brings shivers to any producer assigned the corporate history project. But these projects can be fun to work on and a great opportunity for creative expression. The “SAS Corporate Timeline: A History of the Analytics Leader” covers important company highlights in an entertaining way. Produced by Todd Johnson with animation done by Jeff McFall and the graphic and multimedia team at SAS, the program follows five solid design principles.

1) Keep it Short – In the age of on-line video keep the program short. That means prioritizing the most important information to go into the program. For organizations with a short history that might not be too much of a problem, but for organizations that have been around awhile it can be a challenge. Suggestion: When more information needs to be presented, propose a secondary project and build out a more complete timeline in multimedia format. Create a web deliverable to allow users to dig as deep as they like into the organization’s history. Develop a spin off project in print format that can be offered as a PDF download. Your client will appreciate the suggestions and it demonstrates the added value you bring to the project.

2) Select Interesting Content – This is fraught with as much political posturing and agendas as anything that goes on in the UN General Assembly. This is where having one client is so important. These projects will never please everyone, so be sure to please at least one client. The content should lend itself to development of interesting visuals. Text can be used in interesting ways to deliver specific messages while compelling visuals deliver the backstory. Suggestion: This format is ideal for creating multiple versions (i.e. new clients, additional projects, multiple billings!). For those parts of an organization that feel their content/message did not receive enough attention, sell them their own version!

3) Build New – Organizations with a long history are likely to have a storeroom of old photos, films, documents, awards… the list goes on and on. All of this stuff means something to someone. As the producer, it’s important to maintain creative control of the presentation and use, or not use, these materials. Nothing will drag down a timeline project faster than visual discontinuity. Without explanation they can be confusing or meaningless. You might be able to weave them into a background montage, but primary visuals should be constructed new. Suggestion: Historical assets can help bring to life web-based infographics and publication material where written information can detail their relevance.

4) MOS or Narrated – Why not both? Here is another opportunity to add value and build a stronger client relationship. Most clients requesting these projects will have a narrative in mind. However, in most cases these programs find their greatest value in environments where sound won’t work, such as at a trade show, within a demo center, or on a display wall. Build the program so the visuals can stand alone; accompanied by an optional mix track. Create a separate version with a narrative track for situations that are more presentation than environmental. Suggestion: A narrative track should not just drive text visuals. Allow any narrative to supplement the visual elements and add an additional layer of information.

5) Update/Change Flexibility – If an organization is successful the timeline project will need updates. If additional client departments want a modified version, that’s a change request – same with foreign language translations. A year or two after release there will be new history and most likely changes to the corporate message. The changes might be subtle, but changing any video project requires work. Changes need to be planned for ahead of time. Build the project in layers so selected elements can be more easily changed. And archive, archive, archive. Keep everything, label it well, and file it so future updates can be made simple and seamless. Suggestion: If the organization is global, text and language changes are likely requests resulting from a successful project. (Especially true if you market the program to others within the company.) If properly constructed, changes to these layers can be easily accommodated. Less obvious are changes to background imagery. Build into the original presentation the ethnic, gender, and geographic profile that best represents the company as a global organization.

For the corporate producer or the independent, these projects can provide visibility and showcase your abilities. They can be the springboard to additional projects and future opportunity.

Enhance Marketing Effectiveness with Actionable Social Media

We’ve all seen the statistics about the incredible rise in use of social media as a marketing tactic.  To be used effectively, social media must not only engage customers in two-way conversations, it must provide actionable information that helps build relationships and drives forward the selling process.

Social media marketing has captured the attention of publishers and an army of business writers.  Read the publication headlines or check your email for any of the dozens of webinars in praise of social media, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that all B2B and B2C marketing efforts are now social.  That’s not entirely true.  For most organizations, the largest percentage of the overall marketing budget is still dedicated to traditional (think outbound) marketing activities.

Today’s marketers are increasingly being asked to manage a growing number of marketing communication activities.  Each should play a specific role in meeting marketing objectives.  When done seamlessly, a marketer develops a number of touch points with both prospects and customers.  This is where social media fits in, as an enabler to enhance marketing engagement.  As a tactic, social media should be thought of along with other technologies that have social elements: wikis, social tagging/bookmarking, web feeds, and blogs.

A recent study from King Fish Media, Hubspot, and Junta 42 reports that nearly three-quarters (72%) of surveyed companies have social media marketing strategies.  As organizations embrace the use of social media, the amount of data available for gaining true marketing insight grows.  According to a Gartner Special Report, “There are millions of terabytes of data on the web (5 petabytes added each day) that reflect the attitudes, intentions and venues within which both business and consumer buyers are expressing their opinions and influencing the actions of their peers.”  It’s this wealth of resource that needs to be harnessed by marketers for social media to transform conversations into market opportunity.

With implementation of social media still in its early stages, organizations are seeking ways to track conversations and better gage their impact on brand perception and sales.  Organizations are measuring page views, the numbers of followers (fans), and the amount of traffic delivered to the corporate website.  It’s a start, but organizations need to do more.  Actionable information from social media channels requires a greater understanding of overall customer brand sentiment and the ability to proactively monitor social conversations on channels like YouTube and Twitter.

The Gartner Special Report points out the need for organizations to harness the power of social media to facilitate engagement with customers, business partners, and employees – to effectively capitalize on their investments in social media marketing.  “Over time, the boundaries between social and collaborative applications (such as, e-mail, instant messaging and “texting”) and business applications (such as, finance or sales) will blur, and transactional activities will be augmented by socially-enabled capabilities.”  This investment is largely one of human capital.  Many social media channels are available free of charge.  Its employees who listen to the voice of the customer that creates opportunity for engagement.

A growing number of software solutions are available to help organizations capture data and glean insights that can grow the business.  Such solutions help organizations monitor online conversations, understand customer sentiment, and react more quickly to customer needs and market opportunities.  As social media takes an increasingly prominent role within an overall marketing program, market leaders will turn increasingly to business analytics to convert social media data into strategic, actionable, information.

The Buzz on Viral Video

Working at a high technology company often requires me to provide very specific, technically-detailed answers.  This is particularly true when a technologist wants information about what they consider the soft field of marketing.  It’s important to answer in their language in order to get your point across.

In a recent meeting about an upcoming marketing campaign, several people asked me how to go about creating a viral video.  We talked about this for awhile but I sensed those in the meeting were looking for more.  Later, back in my office I thought about the elements of a successful viral video.  I thought of the 4 Ps of Marketing and then offered the team a formula for creating viral videos.  My suggestion was:  (.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.

There are all kinds of viral videos, but for purposes of brevity this post looks only at the creation of viral video for B2B and B2C companies.

Product ‑ Delving into the formula, 60% of the effort in creating a viral video should go into creating the Product.  That is the content as well as the production.  It’s critical to keep in mind that a viral video does more than deliver a singular message, it represents the company brand.  There are many creative ways to create viral content, but not all fit well within a brand framework.  Common themes for viral video content often include: humor, surprise, interactivity, and of course sex.

  • Humor:  Everyone enjoys a good laugh and comedy is a frequent component of many successful viral videos.  Of course humor is very subjective and requires a deft touch when used within a corporate brand strategy.  The Mac vs. PC ads went viral because of the passion Mac users have for their computers and the clever use of humor to drive home the message.  Including Brazilian model and actress Gisele Bündchen added to the effectiveness of the spot promoting iMovie capabilities on the Mac.
  • Surprise:  The wow-factor that makes viewers want to share a video with friends and colleagues.  In the interest of fair play, Microsoft scored on the viral video charts with their fake Greatest Slide Stunt Ever video developed for Microsoft Germany.  Who cares if the stunt was fake?  That’s not the point… it’s all about the buzz.
  • Interactivity:  Many sites offer users the ability to dynamically insert pictures or names into an animated presentation for sharing with others ‑ turning themselves into virtual brand ambassadors.  Think Jib-Jab and the famous Elf Yourself campaign.  Office Max’s 2008 holiday promotion proved amazingly popular and was the viral hit of winter 2008.
  • Sex:  It sells, but won’t work for all organizations.  The Carl’s Jr. ads featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton washing cars while devouring a burger created a lot of buzz, drove million+ web views, and the scorn of many.  What it did for burger sales, I have no idea.

Price ‑ Coupled with Product is the element of Price.  Developing outstanding creative content most often comes with an associated cost.  Producing a viral video may involve an outside creative agency; will require crew, equipment, and other below-the-line costs; and could involve celebrity talent.  A forewarning, in discussing viral video, someone is sure to mention a video created in 10 minutes, without a budget, and using low end equipment.  They’re out there, usually involving animal or pet tricks, cute kids, or a “thank goodness it’s not me” video.  The question you must answer is, would such a video reflect well on the company brand?  In most cases the answer is no.  As the viral video market has matured, you can point to a growing number of successful viral videos that both deliver impact and support brand attributes.

  • Creative Concept:  Viral videos can be conceived internally, or may require hiring an outside agency.  The key is the big idea, something perceived as remarkable and that communicates your message.  Dove’s Self Esteem campaign is one of the most successful web-based viral campaigns.  Web video, combined with a comprehensive website, provides thought-provoking, confidence-building programs and messages that embrace all definitions of beauty.  For Dove, it’s not a product pitch, it’s about brand association.
  • Production Expenses:  Some believe that web video should have a decidedly low-cost look – inaccurately often referred to as a YouTube video.  My suggestion is to push back with reference to more traditional media.  A client would never permit their “official” product brochure to be written by a brilliant technologist from R&D, illustrated by someone’s kid known for drawing nice pictures, and printed on the copier down the hall.  The product brochure is viewed as a key sales tool, and production quality reflects on the product as well as the company brand.  The same holds true for a viral marketing vehicle.  Keep in mind the old adage, “Good, fast, or cheap – pick any two.”  How much time, effort, and money did T-Mobile spend in driving 20M+ web views of their highly choreographed dance number shot at Liverpool Street Station?
  • Celebrity Talent:  A viral video does not require celebrity talent, it’s a tactical decision.  But people are fascinated by celebrities.  There are countless websites devoted to following every aspect of a celebrity’s life and which will embed these videos and help extend the audience.  The cost of using a celebrity can be a major expense item, often beyond available budget.  And to prove that celebrities never go away, much as would like many of them to fade away, advertisers have turned to wrestling icon Rick Flair to WOOO state lottery players with jackpots of mega millions.

OK, it’s entertainment time.  The hottest viral campaign currently running is the Old Spice ads featuring a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa showing off his six pack abs.  The campaign is an excellent example of strong product and illustrates the issues of price as a component in delivering a viral video campaign.

 
Millions of views and major brand buzz

Placement – Viral videos appear in many places on the web.  Each media channel has unique attributes and publishing requirements.  The critical element of placement is less about the channel than it is about how you describe (tag) your video.  Tagging information is the metadata that search engines and viewers use to locate your video.

  • Title & Description:  Your video title and description should be both descriptive and engaging.  Review carefully the visible word count in the description field provided by each media channel.  Then limit the description to the visible information field.  Anything accessible only from the <More Info> section of the description will seldom be seen.
  • Tagging:  Add tags… lots of relevant tags.  The more keywords used to describe your video, the more likely your video will appear within search results and be found.
  • Single Posting:  If the video is part of a series of presentations, each should be posted to a single page with its own title, description, and tagging information.
  • Embedded Links:  These enable other content authors to link directly to your video.  The best example is the use of embed code from YouTube.  (As I did above in posting the Old Spice video.)  Many of the views of your video will be driven by blog posts, included in emails, circulated via Twitter, and on and on.

Promotion – Videos posted to the web with compelling title, interesting descriptions, and rich metadata tags have a head start in the battle for eyeballs.  Promotion takes work and is not an overnight process.  It involves multiple elements and communication tactics.

  • Thumbnail:  The major media channels all show a visual from within the video, along with the title and description.  Unfortunately, each media channel handles this in different and unique ways.  It’s well worth the investment in time to understand the unique way each video sharing site determines the thumbnail image deployed with your video.
  • Channels:  Of course there is YouTube…  and there are other channels as well, Google Video, Yahoo Video, Facebook Video, specific industry websites, and of course your company’s own website.  Publish to as many sites as are relevant and that you can support with follow-up communication.
  • Social Networking:  Create communities of interest for your content and share regularly.  As you befriend more people ask them to invite others to subscribe as well.  Reach out to bloggers and others of influence and allow them to help spread the news.  Send them the embed link along with some unique information (previously unpublished) and you may gain access to an audience you might otherwise not reach.  Promote your video project and keep the video front and center in as many communication opportunities as possible: blog, Tweet, post, comment, email, advertise… above all stay engaged.
  • Bubble Up Ratings: Videos that create a buzz (comments, ratings, views) will move to the top of the search listing.  Ask for comments and respond to those comments.  These actions not only drive views, but move your video higher in the results list.

So that’s my formula for a successful viral video.
(.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.
I would like to hear your thoughts and comments.  What’s been your experience?  Comments welcome.

For more ideas check out the post Make Me a Viral Video and Super-Size It!

Effective Crisis Management: Avoid Flawed Response

Last week I visited the pharmacy to buy some Tylenol for my mom.  Unfortunately, the shelves were empty of all McNeil Consumer Healthcare products because of a product recall several months ago.  At the time, Tylenol was front page news.  Months later, store shelves remain empty.  But news about Tylenol was pushed from the front page, first by Toyota’s problems; then by the crisis facing residents of the Gulf Coast because of the oil gushing from BP’s undersea well.

Waiting for another crisis to remove your organization from the 24 X 7 glare of the media spotlight does not substitute for an effective Crisis Management Plan (CMP).

In all three cases, this spring’s product recalls by McNeil and Toyota and the BP oil disaster, three elements of crisis management are obvious: 1) a clear threat to the organization; 2) the sudden emergence of an unanticipated situation; and 3) a very short window for making decisions and to react.  How organizations respond in a crisis is largely dependent on a comprehensive CMP.

Risk and Crisis Management Response

One of today’s hottest business topics is risk management.  Although related, risk management and crisis management are different.  Think of risk management as the process of identifying, assessing, and finding ways to avoid risk.  Crisis management is the formal process of dealing with threats after they occur.

In a growing number of organizations you’ll find the new position of Chief Risk Officer (CRO).  In some cases the CRO is responsible for development and execution of an organization’s CMP.  My belief is this responsibility properly belongs to a Chief Communication Officer (CCO).  Regardless of how responsibility is established, identifying risk and crisis response requires a comprehensive team with representation from all parts of the business: risk management, corporate communications, legal, operations, human resources, sales & marketing, and security.

Despite the best efforts of a risk management team, it’s not possible to eliminate all threats to the integrity, reputation, or survival of an organization.  That is why it’s essential to have a written crisis management plan and drills to practice responding to a crisis situation – because every organization will face a crisis at some point.

Crisis Management Best Practice

The unyielding spotlight of media attention requires organizations to respond quickly and effectively.  Along with traditional public media, the explosion of new social media channels complicates how organizations respond to a crisis.  Your CMP should include:

Executive Leadership.  In any crisis, leadership is essential.  That doesn’t mean the CEO must always lead the response or be the public spokesman.  Not all crises are equal.  A crisis of global significance, such as what’s facing BP, requires leadership from the very top.  The type and level of crisis will determine response.

Organizational Identity:  One of the most challenging issues in effective crisis management is protecting organizational reputation.  When a crisis occurs, everyone within the organization must understand the potential impact to the organization’s identity in the minds of the public.  Everything that is said, done, or not said/done, creates a public impression.

Coordinate and Connect:  The CMP should define how departments within an organization respond to a given crisis.  Each team has a role to play.  Stay connected.  When in doubt, pick up the phone.  Practice drills are the time to establish relationships, not during a crisis.

React Quickly:  In a connected world moving at “Twitter speed,” act quickly.  The public reaction to Toyota’s recent problems was exacerbated by their slow response to a growing list of problems.  The public can accept updates and clarifications, but delays always send the wrong message.

Communicate Constantly:  The nature of a crisis will determine how communication should be handled, and the channels to be used.  The old stand-by, the news release, is only one tactical element of a crisis management plan – and no longer the most effective.  Traditional media, along with social media channels, should be part of the plan to reach both employees and the public.  Web communication can be a vital link.  When other communication channels fail, the web is often the most accessible.

Direct Involvement:  Never underestimate the value of a physical presence.  Nothing will reassure customers, or the public, more than direct communication.  How much more effective would BP, and the Obama Administration, have been had they been present, on the ground in the gulf region as quickly as possible?  Employees with direct customer contact can be a critical component in restoring confidence during a crisis.

Language is Critical:  Spokespeople must be trained and sensitive to balancing legal and economic language against the public’s need for emotional and empathic expressions in all public statements.  This is always a fine line and a source of potential conflict between an organization’s legal department and others on the broader crisis management team.  Executive leadership is essential in communicating a message that strikes a balance between an organization’s legitimate concerns and the needs of the public.

Communicate Clearly and Openly:  Monitor news, information, and rumors across all media channels.  Even if the news is grim, communicate honestly and transparently.  You need to be perceived as the most credible source of information concerning a crisis.  Use your website to maintain an open channel of communication and to avoid having spokespeople responding to the same question multiple times.  Address rumors and misinformation as quickly as possible, using all available communication channels – including employees with direct customer contact.

Team Support:  Crisis response can be an incredibly stressful situation.  Some situations may last months or longer.  Make sure those on the front lines are well trained, provided a constant flow of up-to-the-minute information, and supported in every way possible.

There are many examples of organizations that have done an excellent job managing perceptions, and the business, during a time of crisis: Johnson & Johnson, Mattel, and Pepsi to name a few.  In each case the companies responded immediately and with a well-defined plan.  At no time are an organization’s mission and values more challenged, than during a crisis.  When the corporate brand aligns with actual behaviors, trust and goodwill result from shareholders and the public – even in a time of crisis.

Cut the Bull: Avoid Idiot-Speak

The paradigm shift empowering leading-edge advantage towards world class leadership is building momentum for… cut the bull, plain English please.

We’ve all read endless streams of corporate-speak: jargon-filled, filtered, and antiseptic ‑ rendering real communication all but impossible.  For communicators it’s a slippery slope.  While every industry has a unique language, accepted acronyms, and technical vocabulary, the trap for communicators is when we yield to company-speak and avoid the battle for clear, concise, communication.

In the wonderful book, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, authors, Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky offer a compelling alternative.  For those of us working in the communication trenches, the book is a valuable reminder of the slow brainwashing that over time can influence the way we choose to communicate.

And yes, it’s a choice.  If your ambition is to serve as a mid-level bureaucrat using Mad-Libs fill-in-the-blank jargon for your next assignment, you will be well on your way to an all but invisible place on the org. chart.  While remaining hidden behind fact-free, mind-numbing bulls*it seems a safe place to remain unseen, in a difficult business environment it’s also a sure way to an unceremonial pink slip.  In a tough business climate, organizations need communicators who help strengthen the business, create compelling dialogues, and develop innovative ways to influence people.

The book exposes several common traps that can transform the unwary communicator into a boring business stiff:

1.      Businesses focus on themselves over their audience
Too often those creating business communications aim to impress, not to inform.  Rather than using plain, simple language everyone understands, business communicators fall back on the use of jargon or insider phrases.  The authors describe it as becoming “a kind of intellectual powerhouse, generating concepts that are too lofty to be expressed in something as mundane as English.”  We too often fear that straightforward language might make us look dumb.

2.      Business people fear concrete language
Avoiding commitment, and thereby liability, has evolved into something of an art form.  The problem with this approach is that through “vagary and verbosity,” the credibility of whatever follows is reduced.  In short, people recognize B.S. and give up looking for meaning.  Remember, for communicators the bottom line is to connect, convince, and help the organization move ahead.

3.      Business is boring
How can you not purchase a book with a chapter titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll for Business People”?  The authors offer a hilarious look at why business-speak is so ridiculous.  They remind everyone in business that connecting with an audience, any audience, is about gaining their attention.  “Make it relevant.  Make it vivid.  Make it compelling.  Whether you like it or not, you’re in the entertainment business.”  This admonition applies to everyone within an organization, none more so than those responsible for crafting communication messages.

The authors offer this key take away, “bullshit eats away at your personal capital, while straight talk pays dividends.”  Make the wise investment, fight the bull and make clear, compelling communication the hallmark of your personal success.

Twittering Away

To tweet or not to tweet ‑ dats d Q: Whether ’tis nobler to twitter away… and be all my tweets remembered.  With apologies to the “Bard of Avon,” I read with interest one of this year’s many yearend lists.  The Global Language Monitor has announced that Twitter was the top word of 2009 in its annual global survey of the English language.  “In a year dominated by world-shaking political events, a pandemic, the after effects of a financial tsunami and the death of a revered pop icon, the word Twitter stands above all the other words,” said Paul JJ Payack, President of The Global Language Monitor.  Enjoy the list.

Top Words of 2009
1.  Twitter
2.  Obama
3.  H1N1
4.  Stimulus
5.  Vampire
6.  2.0  (my take on Web 2.0)
7.  Deficit
8.  Hadron
9.  Healthcare
10.  Transparency
11.  Outrage
12.  Bonus
13.  Unemployed
14.  Foreclosure
15.  Cartel 

Top Phrases of 2009
1.  King of Pop
2.  Obama-mania
3.  Climate Change
4.  Swine Flu
5.  Too Large to Fail
6.  Cloud Computing
7.  Public Option
8.  Jai Ho!
9.  Mayan Calendar
10.  God Particle

Thought Leadership and the Buying Cycle

Organizations claim it. Industry gurus boast their credentials. Marketers include it as a key element of their overall strategy. Everyone wants it; few have it – thought leadership.

At a recent marketing meet-up, thought leadership was a hot topic of conversation. Amidst the canapés, glasses of white wine, and the exchange of business cards, talk of thought leadership came up frequently. What struck me was the level of interest for including thought leadership as a key marketing tactic. Some of those gathered worked for organizations on the cutting edge of emerging technology. Others were marketers working for established companies in mature industries. Regardless, most of the marketers I spoke with planned to include thought leadership in their 2010 marketing plans. Those with a clear understanding of how thought leadership fits into the buying cycle have the opportunity to succeed. The others will soon be in search of the next bandwagon upon which to jump.

Marketing consulting firms, professors, and authors all publish models of the customer sales cycle. Whatever model you subscribe to, most have certain elements in common. However, what’s often undervalued in these models is the issue of market maturity. Industries transition through phases: from radical new concept; through paradigm differentiation; to the point an established market develops and offerings are seen as commodities. An analysis of the environment in which the business operates is central to delivery of an effective thought leadership program. Whether the subject is cloud computing or cloud-soft tissues, thought leadership can help differentiate a business from the competition. The key is identifying an approach that sets an organization apart from competitors while building a stronger bond in the supplier-customer relationship.

As a “pull” tactic, thought leadership or knowledge leadership is most applicable early in the sales cycle when building awareness. It also plays a role in helping organizations maintain customer loyalty. Thought leadership marketing is about conveying the image of market leadership. It should take a strong position on where markets, technology, or regulatory requirements are heading. It’s not necessary that the organization be the market sales leader. Rather, it’s about exhibiting a depth of understanding and generously offering original insight.

As a marketing tactic, thought leadership must be inexorably tied to an organization’s competence and how it plans to differentiate itself from the competition. A solid thought-leadership program has a number of essential characteristics.
Unique Voice – Take a stand with a clearly defined message. Demonstrate you are the leader and expert in a given field. Break new ground with ideas that challenge the status quo, creating opportunity for prospects and customers to take a new look at your organization.
Extend Your Reach – Take on public speaking opportunities, start a newsletter, author a blog, get published. True independent thought leadership is not about publishing ideas exclusively on your company website. It’s about creating a uniquely defined, forceful, and compelling vision so your ideas are sought out and published on someone else’s website.
Inform, Don’t Sell – While thought leadership must support an organization’s overall marketing direction, it should generously provide insights from which others can benefit. Challenge your audience to think outside the box by presenting useful information. Invite others into the conversation. Be willing to test your ideas and assumptions, especially by extending your reach through social media.
Long Term View – As a marketing tactic, thought leadership is not about filling the sales funnel for the upcoming quarter. It’s about building relationships and moving from being seen as only a supplier, to being seen as a trusted advisor. Thought leadership is not a form of marketing collateral. It’s a long-term strategy whose results are best measured over time.

As a marketing tactic, thought leadership can be applied in both B2B and B2C marketing. But, thought leadership is not for every organization. Taking a unique stand and openly sharing intellectual property goes against some organization’s culture. However, for those organizations seeking an effective pull tactic to balance the marketing investment in standard push marketing techniques, a thought-leadership program offers a unique longer-term return on investment.

Marketing and Communication in the Network Era

Finish first and people notice. Take the top position twice in a row and people get curious. I did, when looking at results of a recent report from the Association of National Advertisers. A member poll reported that creating an integrated marketing communications program was the member’s top concern for a second consecutive year. Why the sudden interest in integrated communications? As marketers, the rules have changed. In the past, traditional marketing and communication was about getting people to do things. In today’s Network Era, the emphasis has shifted from controlling every interaction to influencing outcomes.

It all used to be so simple. Prior to the 1990’s, call it the Golden Age of Marketing, represented a time of one-way communication, where marketers were in total control of the message and how the message was distributed. Marketers “owned” the brand and created awareness through mass communications in the form of TV, print, radio, and sponsorships. For example, the Women’s Tennis Association tour gained significant visibility through sponsorship of The Virginia Slims Circuit – a successful sponsorship promotion for women’s tennis, as well as Phillip Morris tobacco.

By the mid-90’s two-way communications ushered in the Age of Internet Marketing. New broadband technology, coupled with faster computers and better software, enabled marketers to solicit input and feedback from customers in ways never before possible. Massive amounts of data were collected to help improve offers and build loyalty across profitable customer segments. Launched only months apart in 1985, Amazon and eBay were companies born of the Internet age.

The explosion of Web 2.0 technology has brought about a new challenge for marketers, the Network Era. The dynamic between customers and marketers has shifted once again. Marketers must recognize it’s impossible to totally control the relationship. Influencing key stakeholders and facilitating the customer experience is the best that can be hoped for. In a customer-centric world, the old push marketing model no longer works. Customers are telling companies what they want and don’t want. The days of companies telling customers what they are going to get are over. In today’s networked word, brands need to engage stakeholders in new ways. Marketers no longer “own the brand,” they must embrace services that add value and participate in the conversation in an open, transparent, and authentic way.

Unfortunately, too many marketers still operate from the old paradigm. They have forgotten a critical lesson: people hate to be sold to, but they love to buy. In the Network Era marketers have powerful new tools that too often disrupt, interrupt, and annoy. But consumers have grown more sophisticated and capable of filtering out the distractions. Consumers have developed their personal “ignore filter,” after being inundated by the onslaught of too many email messages, direct mail promotions, and the latest scourge of marketing promotion, the unwanted text message. Marketers need to understand, it’s not that consumers don’t like a company’s product or service; it’s about consumer fatigue from the constant selling.

In a recent conversation I had with the Marketing Director for a telecommunications company, the discussion turned to the issue of customer contact. As a telecom company, access to customer data was not an issue. The company has complete profiles of each customer. The company has used this information in deciding how and when to contact a customer. If a customer is always three days late in paying their bill, the data shows this. For reasons of customer satisfaction, the company has chosen to take no action. In other cases, they may send an SMS message rather than a more formal warning notice if payment is not received on time. The electronic message is less expensive and improves the customer’s overall experience with their service provider.

In the Network Era, marketers have access to new tools and new ways to communicate. Successful marketers will be those who realized that today, more than ever before, delivering the right message, to the right customer, at the right time is their top concern.

Don’t Forget Traditional Media

Social media, new media, rich media, interactive channels… Open any marketing publication (OK, visit their website, read a blog post in your feed reader, etc) and it’s easy to come away with the impression that all communication messaging has moved to the net-based world. It’s true that companies are continuing to shift an increasing percentage of ad dollars away from newspapers, radio, magazines, yellow pages, direct mail and even TV to interactive channels. But, don’t lose sight of the role for traditional media in any marketing communication campaign.

Last year Starbucks faced a new challenger when McDonalds took on the coffee giant with expansion of their line of McCafe premium beverages. Despite a drop in sales because of the economic downturn, Starbucks ramped up a $28M advertising campaign. It began its first concerted branding campaign with a series of newspaper ads. The campaign made the Starbucks’ case for its prices, including health care for its employees, relationships with coffee farmers, and its dedication to sustainability. Starbucks CMO, Terry Devenport, addressed the print strategy in an interview with Advertising Age Magazine. “One of the things [we did] was to find a way to get our stories out there in a way that both our existing customers would recognize and that would speak to the employees and partners and give them a sense of pride, and that’s clearly happened. We’re exceedingly pleased with it to date. We’ve had a huge return on that investment.”

Starbucks Morning Joe2In addition to the traditional print campaign, Starbucks began running one-time TV ads in high-profile shows such as “Saturday Night Live,” or quick hits on news networks such as CNN, which then drive traffic online. Furthering their traditional media presence, last week Starbucks announced a title sponsorship of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” A natural partnership, Mr. Davenport said, it will include occasional references to the chain’s environmental activism or efforts in volunteerism.

150px-Smirnoff.svg[1]Radio can play an important part in promotional campaigns as well. When Smirnoff, the makers of America’s most popular vodka, made plans to introduce its first line of ready-to-drink products in the United States, radio played a key role in creating a high level of buzz. Unique radio and on-site promotions included on-air DJ product-tasting parties, bar and club events, and customer testimonials. The success of the initial campaign triggered an immediate nationwide rollout of Smirnoff Ice. The campaign generated sales of 300% above projections in test markets, resulting in one of the most successful new spirit introductions in the United States.

And let’s not forget traditional broadcast television. This year’s Super Bowl provided a big score for online video giant Hulu. In a last minute decision, company CEO Jason Kilar bought a spot during the fourth quarter of what proved to be the most-watched Super Bowl in history with an average U.S. audience of 98.7 million viewers, and the second-most-watched U.S. television program of any kind. The promotional strategy worked. According to Kilar, Hulu’s Super Bowl ad was directly responsible for increasing the online video portal’s business by 49%.

Hulu Super Bowl Ad Scores Big

The battle for the minds and wallets of consumers will continue to be waged on many fronts. Spending for online media will continue to increase as a percentage of overall promotional spending. As communicators we’re largely leading that charge. But, let’s never lose sight of the impact traditional media can have within the context of a well planned promotional campaign.