February 2010

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I love testing this raggedy brain when it comes to prognostication, so I’m going to stick my neck out before I read the Pew Research study on Millennials and venture a predition. 

People are a little like products.  In the lifecycle of a product there are stages just as there are stages in life. In the first stage, infancy, the form is sponge-like, taking in everything and developing on all fronts.  In adolescence, there is growth and testing — sticking fingers in electrical sockets – an amazing amount of learning and change. By the time people and products are Millennials they are still open to change but have become invested in their personalities. They’ve been around, yet they don’t always have the resources to do what they want.  Let’s leave middle age and the autumn or harvest years for a later discussion.

The Pew Research Center Report on Millennials (the people, not the products) entitled “Confident. Connected. Open to Change.” looks at the demographic: late teens and 20 years old.  It’s suitably named, albeit perhaps not completely seen through the steadied lens of our financially challenged times. (My take is that Millennials will be a little less confident, a little less open to change than the report states, but still quite connected.)

Marketing Planner’s Dream

Here’s the prediction: This group is a marketing planner’s dream. Especially so, because they’re amazingly attuned to usability.  Millennials are open to new ways, yet judgmental. Product and marketing planners should be studying Millennials for everything: healthcare, energy, clean tech, diet. Everything.  There will be some gems in this research report and many ideas to have ideas.

 Tomorrow, my take on the report. Peace!

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The brand planner in me looks at the brand “healthcare reform” and sees everything out of control. No wonder we can’t break through the stasis.   The Dems have not managed the discussion, argument or conversation well.  They have allowed the GOP to obscure the focus on the good: covering more people, more efficiently, with a systematized, measured approach to healthcare improvement.

Smartly, the Republicans have framed the argument in simple terms: healthcare reform = higher taxes and higher debt.  In a time of financial distress, this is an effective strategy. They’ve moved away from “the gov’t shouldn’t be making decisions for doctors” rally, but that was a good ploy. It, with a variety of other shots, added confusion to which the Dems felt a need to respond. President Obama and the Democrats are acting like hockey goalies – fending off shots rather than managing the “healthcare reform” brand.

 

Healthcare Problems

Most every voter would agree healthcare is fouled up. Been to an emergency room lately? Had to call an insurance company to resolve a bill? Noticed all the paper jockeys in the doctor’s office? Know someone paying COBRA? Had to answer 4 page questionnaires at a doc’s office every time you go? (Can you say computer?) Malpractice insurance? Let’s not even go there.

The reality is the Democrats need to manage the healthcare reform brand like a package of cookies. Focus on the positive and put power and focus behind the message. Healthcare reform is about making Americans healthier. It’s easy to demonstrate, discuss, and prove. It just needs to be organized around an idea. Stop playing politics. Stop defending. Start managing the positive (that’s branding.)

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Tufts University added a third dimension to its application process recently — YouTube video submissions — and it’s a wonderful idea.  Very today. For too long the college application process has been 2 dimensional: grades (SATs and high school GPA) and the essay. Before I sent “Princessa” off to college, I read a book on the process of application approvals from the perspective of the admissions officers.  It suggested that the essay was the dimension that really brought the student to life.  If the essay does that (or doesn’t and just lies there), think about how a video might add flavor?

Some kids test well.  Others write well. Some communicate in yet a third dimension: through humor, visual improve, debate, and/or the more creative arts. Providing a YouTube video as an addendum to the application helps these  kids shine. In business, we hire people based upon their resume, experience, writing style and face-to-face interviews. In the case of college applicants, admissions offices and student teachers often put applications in piles A (in), B (out) or C (bubble) without ever having met the student. Tufts University is helping change that. Brilliant third dimension kids who once slipped through the cracks, will no longer.  Peace!

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 Where do Posters hang out?  And once you find them what’s a good way to reach them?  Good questions. Certainly Posters (original content creators on the web) hang out online, but the best Posters get out of the building to see and smell the coffee – they need living breathing stimulation. So how to you find and reach them? 

On a macro level, you go big.  So Vancouver would be a good place to be promoting and spending to reach Posters this week.  Davos Switzerland or Park City, UT (home to Sundance Film Festival) would have been good places to promote a couple of weeks ago. Buying radio, outdoor, local web or local TV ads in these cities, well in advance, would have been a smart way to reach Posters in a targeted relatively inexpensive way.

On more of a micro level, if you want to reach technology Posters or music Posters, try buying media in Austin, TX during South By Southwest. How about dialing up your Google campaign in that city for those couple of weeks? If you are trying to reach soccer Posters, look to South Africa for the World Cup soccer finals in a few months. 

At McCann-Erickson the media people used to look at targets and do a something called a DILO (Day In the Life Of) to determine appropriate times of day and media choices. While saving money and trying to viral up your message, think about key Poster communities and MILOs (months) or YILOs (year). Target your Posters.

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People sometimes jokingly ask me “What is the idea? referring to the name of my consultancy. My answer, borrowed from Sergio Zyman of the Zyman Group, is “sell more, to more, more often, at higher margins.”  That’s the ultimate goal of marketing, no? The quadruple crown.  Interestingly, unit sales, market penetration, per capita consumption, and higher margins are different measures. Linked, yes, but different.

When writing a marketing plan I typically start out with an exercise called The 24 Questions.  It’s traditional marketing, follow-the-money kind of stuff. Who’s buying? When? Who is involved in the decision? Most profitable customers? Margins? Channels?, etc. Once I get the money part of the equation I delve into brand questions — from the points of view of management, employees and customers. Some of the questions are designed to get to the truth and bypass the drama and ass-covering.

Prioritization.

The hard work is in ranking the business objectives. Most of my decks (PPT presentations of findings) array a healthy number of business objectives. Prioritizing objectives leads to prioritized strategies which require someone at the company to put one objective at the top: “On a sinking boat which child would you save?” kind of question. These decisions are the provenance of the brain not the algorithm.  

ROS

ROS (return on strategy) is a metric that measures business and marketing strategy. ROI, on the other hand, ties marketing tactics to dollar return.  Not to minimize tactics, but you can buy a tactic from any marcom agency on the street. And thanks to the web – the greatest marketing tool since paper money – we’re in the midst of something I call Tactics-palooza.  ROS allows you to measure business objectives through a strategic lens. ROS is the way to go. Think of it as a crop-producing farm next to a field of healthy weeds. Peace!

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And shush its mass communications. At least until it knows the extent of the problems.  They can’t offer heartfelt apologies and tell us they’re working “day and night” to fix things and each day break a new recall story.  Yesterday, after weeks of apologies (months if you include the Prius floor mats) Corolla came under suspicion.

Toyota needs to go dark with its advertising and put that money into data mining, engineering analysis, added shifts and most importantly finding and identifying “proof” they’re doing something.  Proof is good. Talk is bad.  Proof might be a visual image or story consumers can relate to. Something that one consumer can tell another proving Toyota is doing something dramatic.  (Repairing “up to 50,000 cars a day” is in the neighborhood, but  no Rosie the Riveter.)

When AT&T was about to get its lunch eaten by MCI because the government legislated 800 numbers could be moved from carrier to carrier, Joe Nacchio emptied AT&T’s corporate building putting anyone in a suit or skirt on the street calling on customers. AT&T didn’t lose share.  He went all Rose the Riveter on them.

Newspaper apology notes? That’s grade school PR stuff.

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The mobile web business is a mess. It’s a mess like the PC business was back in the late eighties and early nineties. The voice side of mobile is working okay but the data side is the problem. Hardware standards are varied (data goes over different switching systems), operating systems are as plentiful as ice cream flavors, apps are being developed in garages, stores, offices and labs — and the telecom carriers are voting with their pocketbooks not their heads.

The only voice of reason today — creating some waves at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona — is that of Alcatel-Lucent. They are acting as an “broker” working to get all parties into the labs to create standards so we will have mobile web data interoperability.  iPhone apps will then be able to work on Droids phones, T-Mobile widgets will connect with AT&T widgets, the mobile web will become a single web and prices will come down. 

This stuff is really complicated.  Hard decisions will have to be made by many. Heed the call. Go to the labs. Write down expenses. Be open!

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Steve Rubel is a “beyond the dashboard” digital commentator.  That’s what I love about him. He doesn’t spend his day looking through the rearview mirror, he looks ahead.  Check out this Paste from his stream today:

 “I believe business web sites will become less important over time. They will be primarily transactional and/or for utility. Brands will shift more of their dollars and resources to creating robust presence where people already are and figure out how to activate employees en masse in a way that builds relationships and drives traffic back to their sites to complete transactions. Media companies will do the same – they will be “headless.”  Google and search will remain important for years to come. However, what we’re seeing is the beginning of big changes where social networking and Facebook will further disrupt advertising, media, one-to-one and one-to-many communications, not to mention search.”

Beyond the Dasboard

I like to look forward too — beyond the car dashboard as the metaphor goes.  And a car metaphor is appropriate when talking about Facebook, Google and social media.  Content is still king in my book. Mr  Rubel’s very believable notion that corporate websites will diminish in importance, save for transactions, is accurate. Today.  But I see Facebook, right now, as the highway.  The road that takes you somewhere.  It’s a highway filled with signs, and people and so much traffic that you can learn lots by being there, yet it’s still just a highway. Corporate websites are losing relevance because they have no pulse. They tend to be static. The action, the pulse, is on the highway. Google is the map and the directory and it’s fighting with the signs and the traffic.  (Check out Mr. Rubel’s post for some comparative traffic numbers showing Facebook overtaking Google by some measures.) 

Content Still King

As we settle down and as companies being to truly invest in bringing their brands and value proposition to life through their web presences, corporate websites will come back in importance.  All this talk about the conversation is great. But at some point the conversation has to stop so commerce can start. Corporate marketers will learn this soon enough.  That’s the future Yo.

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“Fall forward fast” is a marketing maxim many have followed with great success. Be bold, be quick, correct as needed. It’s a fist-mover approach and it was good advice back in the day.  But the Internet has sped things up a bit don’t you think? Fast today is a lot faster than it was 4 years ago.

Google Buzz was brought to market too fast. Is it correctable?  Sure.  Will Google take some heat? Sure. Will it recover, sure.  That said, I suspect there’s a little tainted blood in the Google bloodstream thanks to this effort and Google needs to take a breath.  When you launch a new service and the phrases “opt-out,” “disable,” “sorry,” “feedback” and “critics” become keywords of the coverage you have not done enough homework.  Google “google buzz”+”critics” and see what pops up.

Facebook‘s Beacon advertising program wasn’t thoroughly vetted before launch nor was the Google Nexus One, released before back-end customer care issues could be properly handled.

Overdogs.

Did you watch the Superbowl? Which team did you root for?  The overdog or the Saints? Overdogs are leaders.  They, more than anyone, need to be careful when bringing new services to market. Take a breath. Do some reconnaissance. Let power users spank the brand a bit (“brand spanking” is a great overdog research methodology). Then launch. Too much Starbucks, as Zack de la Rocha might say, “can killa man.”  Peace!

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