November 2009

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soundboard

Marketing is not a once-a-year phenomenon. But it used to was (a little Cajun phraseology). Marketing once revved up around September when corporate budgets had to be forecast. Production began in November and December with budgets finalized in January. Media money was allocated around the first of the year and ad campaigns launched in Q1, maybe the beginning of Q2. Then they were put to bed until planning started again the following September.  Marketers tended to follow this hallowed media and marketing calendar religiously and everything was very campaign driven.

Then the Web arrived — the malleable, measureable, tactical Web. Not only a way to send messages to the market, but a way to sell directly to customers and eliminate the middle man mark-up. The Web became a game changer. Lately, marketers have learned something new about the Web — it provides them an ear to the marketplace which previously was the domain of research companies. Game changer number 2.

Cutting edge marketers are now using the measurable messaging, direct sales, and research capability to dashboard (verb) their marketing efforts, dialing up sales and competitive advantage on a more timely basis. It’s very exciting when done well.

There is one downside however: brand strategy takes a hit.  With so much on the dashboard (noun) many marketers are getting caught up in all the dials and lights and forgetting brand strategy – forgetting their brand idea. Modulating the dashboard behind a powerful brand (and brand planks) will be the heavy lifting for marketers the next couple of years.

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Creating Desire.

steak bw

Have agents of advertising forgotten how to create desire? I often think so. David Ogilvy –sorry, I had to do it– once said “our business is infected with people who have never sold a thing in their lives.” He was referring to artists more worried about the art than the sale. Until, you’ve actually looked into the eyes of someone while coaxing money for product, you haven’t sold. You haven’t learned about creating desire.

I saw a black and white ad for Omaha Steaks in the paper-paper today. Steak is one of my favorite things, with many mental images and smells conjured up simply by saying the word. But a poor reproduction of a plate of gray, less gray and glistening gray steak is not one way to do it. The picture was more likely to create desire for turkey. “The ad’s headline “Give the gift that will thrill everyone” doesn’t create desire. Nor do the phrases “2 free gifts” or “now only $49.”

Advertising today has often jumped to the transaction without spending time on the sell — on creating desire.

The Internet as a selling medium is working because it offers up multi-media images: color, sounds, motion and a non-static storytelling. The problem is, the medium is doing more of the work than the creative department. The writers, art directors and creative directors’ fingerprints are hard to find in most of web selling today. Ergo, the industry’s fascination with consumer generated content.

The web gives sellers and selling agents an enormously rich canvas on which to create desire. Way more powerful than print and TV. Let’s use it people. Peace and Happy Thanksgiving to All!

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Amazon Vs. Wal-Mart

amazon box

There’s a big war a brewin’ between Amazon and Wal-Mart. Supposedly, it’s a holiday season price skirmish, but really it’s a war for the future of shopping.

Amazon, whose sales are a fraction of Wal-Mart’s, owns the online shopping space. Walmart.com is growing faster than Amazon, but those are just statistics, which we know can lie. This shopping war is between online and offline. Currently, online shopping accounts for about 4% of all sales, but some projection see it moving as high as 15%.

You know who loves to shop online? Single, twenty 20 and 30 year olds –especially the ones who are kicking ass in their jobs. In a brief recently, I called this target “Power-Ups.” They’re achievers, very wired, and have big careers in their sights. After work, Power-Ups like to come home to someone…but the someone they come home to every night is often a box from Amazon. “Honey, I’m home!” This target will marry and marry well, and in addition to being conditioned to buy online, they will buy high margin products. A value target to be sure.

Amazon knows this. Jeff Bezos knows this. When these 20 and 30 years olds become 40 and 50 year olds, they’ll still be loyal customers and have passed on the Amazon online shopping gene to their progeny.

Wal-Mart can plan all they want, but in my mind they won’t be able to be a leader in both online shopping and offline shopping. You can’t be black and white. Very, very interesting. Don’t be surprised if Wal-Mart starts sniffing around Amazon with checkbook in hand.

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AOL new logo

 

AOL announced today they will be introducing a new logo. It will include a dot at the end of the letters Aol, which will appear using initial cap “A”, lower case “o” and “l”.

That’s the post. That’s all I learned. See you tomorrow.

(Okay, okay, I learned a little more than that, but had to read between the lines to do so.)

AOL has a product strategy, which I’ve known for a while thanks to new CEO Tim Armstrong. It is “AOL is the place to be for the best online content, period.” Mr. Armstrong articulated this strategy early on in his tenure. It’s tight and smart.

What they don’t have at this time is a brand strategy. Had they a brand strategy they wouldn’t have only talked tactically about the mark in their announcement. To wit (from an article by Stuart Elliot in the The New York Times today):

“The period in the logo was added to suggest confidence, completeness.”

“The AOL dot is the pivotal point for what comes after AOL.”

“An advertising campaign to promote the new look is being considered — as is the role to be played by AOL brand character known as the running man.”

You feel me? All tactics (hat) no brand strategy (cattle.)

Changing the logo was a good idea, but doing so after articulating the brand strategy and brand planks is way more sensible. Peace!

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Radio Radio. Roots.

radio with ipod

The Ad Contrarian wrote an interesting pro-radio piece with some surprising usage metrics a couple of days ago. Check it out.  A network television friend of mine and I have had a few conversations about radio and we agree to disagree. I like to think that someone smart is going to produce a serial entertainment program for radio that will really catch on. The type of radio programming I envision died out with the advent of television, but with great writing, storylines, performances and sound effects, it is a very viable business idea. Culturally, Americans are in need of constant entertainment. That’s why we have so many devices. Good appointment radio can make a comeback.

Can’t you see it starting in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and catching on in college dorms across the country? My guess is NPR will pick it up first and I’m not talking about call in shows or game shows, I’m talking drama or comedy. It’s roots stuff. Roots is big.

The creators of this type of aural entertainment need to reinvent radio, not approach it with a 90s hat on.

Audience is all about content. The web is hot because of search and content. But take away the search and you have an also ran content network. Good movies get seen. Great books get read. Evocative television gets watched. Inspiring Websites get trafficked. A killer radio program will get listened to. What’s taken so long? Peace!

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RFPs Tweet Tweet.

rfp

Charlene Li of the Altimeter Group posted last night about Salesforce.com’s intent to integrate Chatter into its platform. Salesforce.com is an enterprise application that helps organizations collaborate, schedule, organize and track workflow. The addition of Chatter, allows for social networking behind the firewall which is very smart. I’ve used free competitors of Salesforce.com in this CRM space and they have a ways to go.

Ms. Li makes a couple of thought-provoking points in her post:

“This is more than merely integrating Twitter-like functionality into CRM and creating ‘social CRM.’  This is a rethink and elevation of how information flows around an organization, and where it lives. The elevation of deals to be on the same level as people is significant — in every other social platform, people reign supreme and the world pivots around them.”

“It’s one thing to use Twitter for customer support. It’s quite another to integrate it into the workflow of the organization.”

Charlene’s talk about deals and Twitter helped me mash-up this idea, related to the heinous business practice called “the RFP.” Imagine issuing an RFP along with a hashtag twitter follow subject (e.g., #widgetRFP1) that allows all RFP participants (and others) to chat in real time about the RFP. Yeahhhhhh. Think about it. Good info. Misinfo. Misdirection. Redirection.  Potential business partners. Quick answers from the RFP issuer. As my kids used to say “I yike it.”

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Left to Our Devices.

I love to hike. I love nature. I love to see things I’ve never seen before and learn things that stimulate and make me want. I love watching people and kids and all things pretty. To do so — I have to keep my eyes open, look up, stay out of ruts and be interested in my surroundings.

What scares me about our culture today is how many of us, especially kids, hide in our devices. On a subway platform during rush hour, prime people watching time, there are probably 400 pounds of electronic devices in use. Every other ear has a bud in it. If lips are moving, unless the station is deeply tunneled, they are talking into phones. Others are reading books on Kindles or watching film on smart phones. Very few people are talking to one another. Most heads are down.

As marketers, the down head is the enemy. We need to engage people in ways they make them look up. In ways that make them think and comment. Marketers and advertisers need to engage (an advertising word my father Fred Poppe rode to prominence back in the 80s) rather than spam. OOH (out of home) ad creators get this. Walk around SOHO in NY and see if you can keep your eyes off the billboards. Or the people, for that matter. Market to be noticed. Peace!

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I spoke with Grant Owens the account planning director at Razorfish, NY yesterday and asked him if he thought copywriters who work in the digital medium need different skills. His answer was as resounding “yes” and it stands to reason. I’ll take a great copywriter over a mediocre copywriter any day, regardless of the medium, but all things equal, someone who is not only a digital native, but understands the analytics of writing for digital  — that’s money.

In print, writers have to deal with readers turning the page before finishing the ad. Bore them and they’re gone. It’s the same with digital writing. But a page-turn on a website might not be to the next page, it might be to a thought-provoked Google search or Wikipedia visit for clarification. Readers of digital copy may go random and leave for a song that the copy inspires…or a map. Digital copywriters know their readers are ADD — with a tool at their fingertips that makes it all too easy to bounce. Reducing the bounce while at the same time convincing, creating predisposition to a sale and action is a gift. Direct Response copywriting is/was an art. Now, it’s digital. Peace!

PS. While most PDFs are laid out in brochure size, making it hard for online reading, check out the layout of Razorfish’s “Feed: Brand Experience Report 2009.” These guys totally get it. And the report is very smart too.

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Love is not a branding idea. Sorry Blackberry. You may be on to something with the notion that “like is mediocre” or “like is watered down love” as a campaign idea, but you’re never going to build up the brand tying it to the word love. So be smart(phone) and shut it down; get out while you can. Beatles song or not.

The strongest brand in the world today, Coke, would never have made it this far had Wieden and Kennedy been at the helm early on making ads about “happiness.”  Coke is a mature brand with some unique issues, I understand, and people know it Is a cola and Does refresh (Is-Does), yet as nice as the “happiness” ads are, and they’re good ad-craft, happiness is a second generation benefit. As is “love” for Blackberry. Fah, fah, fah fail.

The smart phone category is getting to be a real mess. Though I applaud Blackberry for its attempt at brand discipline and some good may, indeed, come of it — love ain’t it.

The Motorola “Cliq” has an idea. Or, it is the MotoBlur? Either way their idea is tied to the Does benefit of being “social.” The phone was built to social network (verb). The campaign line “smart gets social” works. If the Moto Cliq can continue to open a gap between itself and competitors in offering the ability to integrate all social networking apps with grace and ease, it will win some serious share. It will have an idea I can love.

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windfarm

I met with a friend yesterday who is with a very big magazine publishing company. She told me most magazines today are filled with editors but few, if any, staff writers. This approach keeps overhead down, plus the pool of writers out there is so vast, so talented, and so specialized, that the written product is often better. The pay for these writers is a dollar a word. Can you say “game changing business model?”

There are small countries of subject matter experts (SMEs) out in the ether who are ready, willing and able to write for your company at reasonable prices. These are not copywriters, they are writers. You wouldn’t want them to write an ad but they are great for your website or your brochure.

Millions of new and updated websites go live every day, and they all need to be professionally written. Who’s doing that? If a small business, it’s the business owner or her husband. If a mid-size company, it may be a newly minted journalism graduate in the marketing or sales department. At a large company? An ad or digital agency copywriter. Fail. Fail. You need a SME. It’s faster, cheaper and, likely, more effective.

If my company needs 800 words on solar power for my windfarm website, I’d prefer a writer who knows the market. I’ll provide a brand brief (or briefing) and let writer do his or her magic. The piece will be crafted by someone with contextual smarts and assembled by a true wordsmith. Did I mention it will cost a buck a word?   So where is the well filled with all these SMEs? Stay tuned.

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