Puttin’ on the glitz

You may have noticed that Apple unveiled a slew of new products this week, and they did it in a most Apple-ian way: a highly publicized and closely watched unveiling, with a team of executives taking turns at telling us how each new product is the GREATEST. THING. EVER. It’s the same way they’ve done it since the Days of Jobs and their seemingly never-ending string of industry-creating and market-making products.

There was something different about this particular spectacle, however. Not that the casual observer would have noticed, which is exactly how Apple wanted it.

You see, while the presentation followed the same script they all do, the products were different. Well, they were different in that they were similar to existing products – the new iPad Pro is just like the Microsoft Surface, the new iPhones aren’t all that different from several Android competitors, etc. The new iPad now has a stylus! Groundbreaking stuff, this.

Big deal, you say. What does this matter to me as a marketer? True, the product may not make much of a difference, but the presentation certainly should. Apple’s brilliance as a marketer is largely unquestioned, and this week’s unveiling is another demonstration why. Watching it, you wanted that new iPhone and new iPad, even though you don’t need them – even though you could have bought similar products with similar features well before this week.

The lesson? Style still matters. A lot. We realize we expend a lot of energy telling you how important substance (content, strategy, etc.) is, but if you can’t sell it with style, it’s of limited value. What good is steak, after all, if it doesn’t have some sizzle?

The state of things

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is one of Silicon Valley’s most legendary and prestigious venture capital firms, having helped give rise to some of the largest and most famous digital_icons_lgcompanies in the world, including Google, Twitter, Amazon, Spotify and Uber.

So when leaders at KPCB talk about the future of the Internet, people tend to listen.

And, as she has for the past several years, KPCB partner Mary Meeker did just that, giving her hotly anticipated and widely read annual “Internet Trends” at the end of May. Even though her presentation – all 196 slides of it – is almost overwhelmingly comprehensive and wide-ranging in its topics, there are several trends it touched on that should be of particular interest to marketers, even if they’re not all that surprising:

  • Ecommerce keeps moving to mobile. Our on-demand culture is meeting head-on with our increasingly mobile culture, meaning brands have to get increasingly sophisticated in order to make their mobile shopping experience as simple as possible.
  • The death of email (again). Proclaiming email overwhelming, too cumbersome and, as a result, on its deathbed is nothing new, of course. It’s just that there’s more and more evidence this is the case – take the explosion of internal communications and collaboration apps like Slack.
  • Users generating content in droves. The explosion in smartphones makes it easier for people to create content on the go and share with their networks. The challenge – a perpetual one – for brands is to monitor, capture and share high-quality content, which gets more and more difficult as the number of content-sharing platforms continues to grow.
  • Speaking of content, a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to writing, millennials are all like, “whatever.” It’s no coincidence that the explosion of visually driven social networks – Vine, Snapchat, Instagram – has come as millennials came online en masse over the past several years. So it’s important for brands – especially ones with younger audiences – to understand that content isn’t just the written word anymore. Indeed, it’s often anything but.

You can view the full report here – as always, it’s a deep dive and very educated guess into what the future holds, especially for marketers.

Up in the air

Commercial flying – the worst, right? Herded like cattle into increasingly smaller seats, nickel-and-dimed on every little aspect of the experience, flights constantly delayed or cancelled…we could keep going.

dogSo what could we possibly learn from airlines when it comes to marketing? A lot, actually, especially when it comes to how some of them are approaching an often-overlooked part of the flying experience.

We speak of the in-flight safety video, of course! For years, airlines paid little attention to these videos, communicating to passengers only what was required by the FAA, without any concern for the tone or personality of the video. Consequently, the videos had no personality.

And most in-flight safety videos, to be sure, still have no style or identity. Over the past few years, however, an increasing number of airlines are recognizing the incredibly unique opportunities these situations present and infusing their in-flight safety videos with a refreshing dose of personality and humor.

What makes these opportunities so unique and, from a marketer’s perspective, prized? Well, the entirely captive audience is rare, of course, and you can certainly use the very low expectations of that audience to your advantage by surprising and delighting with a humorous video.

What does this all mean for you? Ideally, and assuming you’re not in the airline industry, it means you’re already busy thinking of nontraditional touchpoints you have with your customers – and you’re thinking of ways you can add a flair of creativity, personality and even humor to them.

We spend so much time – and rightfully so – focusing on our traditional marketing efforts that we can overlook unconventional ones that offer a rare opportunity to stand out and connect on an emotional level with customers. And that emotional connection, as we know, can be worth more to brands than an unexpected bump up to first class.

Do you know your peeps?

For marketers, positive word of mouth + social media = BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. influencer_marketing

This equation should come as a surprise to just about no one these days, especially to those who work in marketing and brand management.

Most marketers get the social media part of that equation, too, as we continue to better understand and appreciate its power as a platform for communication and engagement. Where we still often find challenges, however, is on the “word of mouth” side, especially when it comes to identifying who the most important mouths belong to.

Any positive word of mouth is a net positive for brands, of course, but not all word-of-mouth is created equal. Where it can really pack a punch, and where it can scale through the reach of social media, is when it’s coming from not only your biggest fans but your most influential ones as well. Simply put, making a positive impression on influential people can make an exponentially positive impression on your brand – and your bottom line.

The studies underscoring this premise are numerous. A recent one, for example, found that 92 percent of consumers turn to people they know for referrals above any other source. Still, generating word of mouth in a strategic, systematic way can be a tricky concept for many brands to get their arms around. To help, the study identified two types of strategies marketers can use to bolster their brands via social:

  • Influencer marketing: Here, marketers seek out and partner with people who have large following on social media and whose interests/focus align with their products/services
  • Advocate marketing: Here, a company leverages the collective power of its most loyal consumers, its employees and other partners to drive a common narrative and positive perception of products and/or services

While there’s some overlap between these two, more important are the areas where they complement and strengthen one another. As the studies referenced above indicate – and as many studies before them have done as well – there’s nothing quite so powerful and potent for marketers as a growing, organic wave of positive perception via word of mouth.

Knowing the potential power of word of mouth backed by social media, the question becomes, do you know who your brand’s influencers and advocates are? If so, how do you engage them? And if not, how do you start finding out?

Show and tell

Ah, the trade show. A thinly veiled junket. A free trip to somewhere warm. Where days are spent manning booths inside cavernous, windowless convention centers, making small trade_showtalk with uninterested visitors. Counting down the hours between expense-account meals.

At least, that’s what many people think of when they hear the term. Based on the great experiences we had just this week with our friends at Freightliner Custom Chassis at this year’s Work Truck Show, however, we think trade shows can be incredibly valuable for all kinds of organizations. The important first step, of course, is looking at them as key opportunities instead of extensive – and expensive – time wasters. From there, it can be as simple as following these steps.

  • Plan ahead. Seems silly to say that, but how often do you truly put together a dedicated, strategic plan around a big trade show or industry conference? This is more than planning which brochures and posters and tchotchkes you want to take with you; it’s defining real goals about what you and your team want to accomplish and how a successful event can be defined – and achieved.
  • Make some time to meet. Don’t just hide out in your own space, waiting for others to come to you. As part of your overall show strategy, identify key customers, thought leaders, members of the media, etc., that you would love to connect with in person. And then ask them to do just that. Send a personalized email and follow up with a phone call, asking for a few minutes to meet and talk.
  • Take a hike. Schedule time at least once a day to wander (with purpose) throughout the entire expanse of the convention floor. Stop at other booths or spaces randomly, taking in the experience the way someone would when visiting yours. Scout out competitors, vendors and potential partners. Take note of what you like about particular booth experiences and designs – as well as what you don’t like.
  • Share your adventures. It’s easy to think that trade shows and industry conferences exist in a vacuum – anyone and everyone who matters is already there. And yet rare is the instance where this is the case – there will always be people not attending the event, whether they’re industry media, potential or current customers, vendors/suppliers, etc. – this is why it’s so important to include them in your communications efforts during the event. Create a mini communications plan for the event, laying out how you’ll share what you’re up to via your social presence, your website, your media contacts, etc. Give those not there a sense of what they’re missing – be their eyes and ears.

By spending a little bit of extra time planning your team’s efforts and defining your goals, you can turn your next trade show or industry conference into a more successful and valuable utilization of everyone’s time and skills. You’ll certainly feel less guilty about expensing that nice steak dinner.

“50 Shades of How Did This Thing Ever See the Light of Day?”

Even among its most fervent fans, you’d be hard-pressed to find many who’d argue that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is a well-written or high-quality piece of literature. That did not stop it, of course, from selling tens of millions of copies and becoming a worldwide phenomenon.<

black_tieWell, the long-awaited and hotly debated movie version of the books debuts this weekend, as you may have heard. And, much like the books, the early reviews are…shall we say…less than stellar. This may be a case where the movie does stay true to the book, at least in its objectively poor quality.

Actually, there’s another way in which the movie will be just like the book – when it comes to quality, or glaring lack thereof, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.

Now, we’ll be the first to say that having a quality product or service is first and foremost among any organization’s priorities (yes, even above marketing). After all, you can have the most memorable and effective marketing in the world, but if you can’t deliver on what the marketing promises your product or service to be, then you’ve done more damage than good.

At the same time, we’ve talked about how it can be a savvy marketing technique to be bad on purpose – to be so bad you’re good. The “50 Shades” movie, just like the book, seems to be a case of neither of these. It’s most certainly not a quality product or service – and to no discerning eye does it seem to be bad on purpose. So, what gives?

Every once in a while, something comes along that seems to succeed in spite of itself. That defies all explanation, all logic, all reason, all basic human filters for quality and comprehension. For those fortunate few things that come along only every once in a great while, their ability to cut through the cultural clutter and perch itself atop the zeitgeist is something people will study for many years to come. The fact that, in these cases, quality doesn’t matter…just doesn’t make any sense.

Where’s the beef?

1024px-Chipotle_Mexican_Grill_logo.svgChipotle is famous for two things:

  1. Making a mean burrito
  2. Being a nice company

These two things are strongly correlated, which can help explain the company’s rabid customer base and meteoric growth the past couple of years. In fact, most would argue Chipotle couldn’t be known for one without the other.

The restaurant chain recently had a unique and unexpected chance to determine if that was true. The result caught a lot of people by surprise – except for its customers.

Earlier this week, Chipotle announced that it was halting pork sales at roughly one-third of its U.S. restaurants after discovering violations of its pig-housing policies at a supplier. That equates to a lot of customers not being able to enjoy their beloved carnitas burritos which, in turn, could have a big impact on Chipotle’s sales for the quarter and the year, depending on how long the shortage runs. This, in turn, could equate to a lot of unhappy customers and a lot of lost sales for Chipotle.

With that in mind, it would have been relatively easy for the company to quietly reprimand the supplier and make it try its hardest to make things better, all while still using its pork to make those mean burritos. Who would have known, right?

Chipotle would have known, of course, and that was enough for them.They know that being a nice company is a big part of what helps them make a mean burrito – and what has made them such a beloved brand in the eyes of their customers. They counted the long-term cost of using a product that went against their brand philosophy and “Food With Integrity” approach and determined it would be way more costly than any short-term losses resulting from the shortage.

Brands talk a lot about their philosophy, their identity, their essence – the foundation that makes them who they are. And yet it’s still rare – and refreshing – to see examples of brands that practice what they preach. Chipotle has a keen understanding of who they are and how their customers view them, recognizing that their customers love them for more than just their killer burritos. Turning a blind eye to their core philosophy may have saved them some sales in the short term, but it would have made them just another fast food joint in the long run.

Here’s the thing

Your fridge knows when you’re running low on milk – and sends you a text reminder to pick some up on the way home. You set the oven to 400 degrees for the roast – in the car on the way home from the grocery. You Everything is connectedremember that you didn’t turn the thermostat down before you left the house – and then do exactly that from the computer in your office.

No, it’s not some dystopian future prophesied by the McFlys in “Back to the Future.” It’s called the “Internet of Things” – and it’s the latest example of technology that, in just a few short years, has gone from seeming from a time far off – to not so far away.

As the technology that powers wireless Internet (WiFi) and near-field communications (NFC) continues to become more affordable and accessible, the ability for all of the gadgets and gear in our lives – from fridges to phones – to connect and “speak” to each other becomes more prevalent. Forget smart TVs – over the next few years, the marketplace will become awash in smart fridges, smart ovens, smart thermostats, smart propane tanks, smart water heaters, smart garage doors…you get the picture. It’s exciting and fascinating and just a little bit terrifying – all at the same time.

What does it mean for you? Unless you’re in the business of manufacturing refrigerators or thermostats or ovens, not much. For now. But this isn’t a trend so much as a movement – one that feels pretty permanent and irreversible. And the bigger takeaway is how the idea of EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED continues to permeate our lives as consumers – and what that means for businesses and brands.

So while you may not have to worry about how the Internet of Things integrates into your marketing strategy now, you should always be thinking about how your products and services connect with your customers – and how you can always make that connection stronger, more convenient and more valuable.

Is your brand in conflict…with itself?

It used to be, companies had customers. Now brands have audiences. Existing customers. Potential customers. Industry influencers. Trade media. Basically, anyone who “experiences” your brand in some meaningful way on a semi-regular basis is an audience. And, the digital revolution has created an almost dizzying amount of new touch points for those audiences to experience your brand. This is good, of course, because it’s many new avenues through which you can engage your audiences. It’s also potentially bad, however, because it’s many new avenues through which you can confuse your audiences if you’re not consistent.

lightbulbIt’s very important, obviously, to find and maintain consistency across your many different touch points and toward your many different audiences. And while it may seem a bit overwhelming at first, taking a huge step in that direction may be simpler – and closer to home – than you think. The key to consistency in communicating your brand, then, may lie with one very unique group – a group that is both a touch point and an audience: Your own employees.

More often than not, employees are the most overlooked audience when it comes to a brand’s marketing, advertising and communications. The reasons for not involving them early and often in marketing can be many; the reasons for swiftly changing that approach, however, are just as numerous and important. After all, as this great blog post from Boston Consulting Group points out, “to become part of its customers’ lives…a company’s product and brands will first have to be ‘lived’ by its employees.”

Your employees are the first line of the most intimate and memorable experience audiences have with your brand. If they don’t deliver on your brand promise – especially because they’re not fully aware of what that brand promise is – the damage can be swift, harsh and often irreparable.

Take stock of your employee communications today – what do you do well when it comes to keeping them up to date, informed and inspired about what you’re doing? Where can you improve? “A tight linking of all the aspects of brand management,” BCG continues, “ensures that brands leverage their most significant asset – employees – to create more powerful and relevant brands for today’s changing world.”

In other words, the best way to ensure harmonious brand management across your many different audiences is to focus on – and engage with – the one closest to home.

Persona non grata

How well do you know your customers? Like, really, really know them? Buyer-persona’s-gebruiken-om-content-meer-menselijk-te-maken_900_450_90_s_c1_smart_scale

Sure, we all think we know and understand our customers – everything from general demographics like age, gender and race to psychological factors such as color or design preference, purchase history, shopping habits, etc. So often, however, what we think we know about our customers can be little more than assumptions and generalizations based on outdated experiences, insights and data.

Truly knowing your customers is important for any number of reasons, of course; the most important of them all perhaps being that it could – and should – drive every strategic plan and decision you make.

Is there a way, then, to better and more completely understand and know your customers? We’ve found the best way to better understand all of your customers is to identify and define one of them.

Many people know this process as developing a customer “persona.” Other industries can call it different things – the consulting firm Bain calls it a design target – but the concept is the same: using a customized mix of demographic, geographic and “psychographic” factors, you build a model of your ideal or typical customer. No detail is too small – name, age, sex, race, location, social media habits, TV habits, car, living situation, family or no family, white or wheat, etc. You get the picture. And getting this picture is very important and potentially valuable.

The good news – there are an incredible number of resources, templates and worksheets that break down the persona-development process. If you don’t already have a customer persona in place, or are suddenly concerned about using outdated concepts to define your current customers, make the time before the end of the year to do it. Your success in creating many new customers just may depend on you better defining just one.