Top 6 marketing articles from the last two weeks (3/7-3/21)

March 22, 2010

It has been a little while since I compiled my list of marketing articles and posts that I have found to be particularly insightful. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several articles that I really enjoyed, and I thought I would highlight these, just in case you might have missed them (after all, a lot of people are on spring break these days).  I hope you find a few of these useful or interesting.  Enjoy!

CMOs, Go Beyond a PR Plan to Prepare for an Inevitable Product Crisis (Ad Age).  There have obviously been quite a few branding crises these days — between spokespeople losing their respect and credibility to massive product failures and recalls.  This article provides a great reminder of the plan that every brand leader should have in place before a crisis strikes.  The plan should not just have a well-planned PR component, but it must consider and address every touch point that the brand has with its target customers.  The article raises quite a few issues that might not be top of mind in the heat of the moment, but that are absolutely critical to the crisis management process.

Real-Time Brand Management:  Lessons from Virgin America’s Hellish Flight (Harvard Business Review). Continuing from the theme of the first article, this blog post presents a good miniature case study of how Virgin America quickly managed a perception crisis last week.  While this article does not necessarily highlight the plan that Virgin America had in place to mitigate the crisis, it does illustrate some additional things that brands can do routinely before a crisis occurs so that when it does, the brand can be managed in “real time”.

Wal*Mart, Target, Best Buy Named Most Valuable (Retail) Brands (Brandweek).  While the list of the most valuable retail brands is fairly interesting in itself, this article provides some good commentary regarding the strategies that helped brands grow and the strategies that undermined the value of brands.  One unsuccessful strategy mentioned is the “flight to price” strategy.  The analysis of the strategies is applicable to all types of consumer brands — not just retail brands.

Opinion:  Customer Service is Key Strategy (Brandweek).  Joseph Jaffe, the author of this editorial, writes, “During increasingly confusing, cluttered and complex times, what is it that really separates — or differentiates — one company, product, service or brand from another?”  He answers his own question that customer service or “servicing the customer” is the key differentiator for brands and should be the focal point for the marketing department.

How to Write a Mission Statement that Doesn’t Suck (Fast Company).  The author Dan Heath provides an entertaining yet very accurate assessment of how the mission statement development process can fail.  For anyone who has ever participated in developing a mission statement, this article is worth reading just for its humor and insight, if nothing else.  If you are currently developing or revamping your mission statement, this article provides great inspiration for what you should focus on, and what you should avoid.

Shopping Aisles at Cutting Edge of Consumer Research and Tech (Ad Age).  This article provides some interesting examples of what consumer packaged goods companies are doing to study their consumers during the act of shopping for products (from making the shopping list at home to purchasing in the store).  The emphasis on and investment in shopper marketing in the last few years has grown substantially among CPGs and retailers, and it is fascinating to understand some of the insights that have been uncovered.  If you are in the process of considering investing in or building a shopper marketing research program, this article worth reviewing.

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How to evaluate the Super Bowl ads

February 8, 2010

Every year, during the day after the Super Bowl, there is a lot of chatter about the best and worst ads that debuted during the big game.  If you haven’t had a chance to catch up on the conversation, or if you somehow missed the game Sunday night, AdAge has all of the spots available for your viewing pleasure.  For me, I personally walked away from the TV with the overwhelming sense of having seen two types of dramatic executions over and over again:  violence and men in their underwear.

Despite these two themes, I did have a few favorite ads, however I won’t go so far to say what ads were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in terms of their overall effectiveness.  I don’t really see how I could, given that I am not the target customer for every brand or product that advertised during the Super Bowl.  This is why I find the evaluation of the ads that takes place each year to be a little misleading.  Critics comment on and judge the ads based on what they found to be humorous, moving, or interesting.  However, since the ads are ultimately about persuading a target customer to buy or bond with a brand, isn’t it really only the target customer audience that can accurately evaluate the strength of any given ad?

With all of that said, for those of you who are still hungry to understand which ads were ‘good’ and which were ‘bad’ from this year’s Super Bowl, I present you with a few questions that you can use to help you decide for yourself.   Note as a support to my earlier point:  several of the key questions assume an understanding of and identification with the target customer.  Without this perspective and understanding, an evaluation just isn’t complete.

Questions for evaluating advertising:

  1. Is the story of the ad unique or different?
  2. Does the ad capture and keep the target customer’s attention?
  3. Does the story of the ad focus on the brand’s benefit?
  4. Is the ad meaningful to the target customer?
  5. Is the ad in line with the brand’s character?

So go ahead and think about the ads that you saw, for which you are a target customer.  Which ones were the best?


Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #2: No well-defined brand vision

November 24, 2009

One of the first questions I ask organizations that I work with is “What is your brand’s vision?”  I ask this question because if the organization has a vision for its brand, then I can begin to understand where and how I can help them. Unfortunately, most of the time, I get a blank stare in response to my question, or something along the lines of “Well, we aren’t really sure.”

Not having a brand vision but trying to do marketing and brand building is like jumping into a car and driving to go somewhere without knowing what or where the destination is.  How do you know if you are headed in the right direction?  If you don’t know where you are going, how do you even know that a car can get you there?

Before an organization can start to tackle challenges like growing a brand with existing customers, extending a brand into new categories or driving awareness and interest with new customers, it needs to be clear on its long-term brand vision. The brand vision is the destination for the brand that the organization should be striving to reach.  As a result, a well-defined vision helps the organization narrow its focus to the critical objectives, strategies, and tactics that will ultimately help the organization achieve what it is trying to accomplish.  Additionally, when it is communicated, embraced, and reinforced in the organization, it is a valuable tool that aligns all of the brand stakeholders to working towards the same goals.

The components of a brand vision are in theory straightforward, but can be very challenging to formulate and assemble into a complete brand vision.  The components are:

  1. The brand’s core essence.  This is what the brand ultimately stands for or its ‘reason for being’
  2. The key functional and emotional benefits that the brand provides.  (For more detail on benefits, check out Marketing & Branding Mistake to Avoid #1: Communicating Features Instead of Benefits)
  3. What the brand will be known for in the future.  This is also where critical goals and metrics should be incorporated such as, “Brand X will be a Million Dollar brand by 2015”, or “Brand Y will be present in half of the households in the U.S. by 2020”.
  4. The brand character.  This is the personality of the brand.

The components are challenging to develop because ideally an organization should designate a group of internal brand stakeholders (a brand team) to devote a great deal of time, thought, and discussion to make the vision as strong as possible.  Typically organizations do not prioritize brand vision development for these reasons.  However, if an organization can devote resources to and prioritize the development of a vision, it will be in a much stronger, more productive, and successful position moving forward.  The resulting brand vision becomes a powerful guide post that aligns the organization, making the marketing decisions and challenges it faces much easier to navigate because the organization knows where it wants to go.


Q. Why isn’t anyone buying? A. Check the value (Part 2)

May 21, 2009

Last week, I started to address a two-post topic about first checking the value proposition of a product or service when no one is buying.  Generally, people are motivated to buy when they will capture value from a product or service.

VALUE = Consumer Perceived Benefits – Consumer Perceived Costs

I used the case of nohome.org to illustrate some factors that should be considered when trying to increase the consumer perceived benefits of the value proposition.  In this post, I will continue to use nohome.org as my case study to address the second part of value:  the consumer perceived costs.

The case of nohome.org:

Jerome Greene is the CEO of nohome.org, a service that offers ‘humanitarian web hosting’.  For every dollar earned, one dollar will be used to build homes for refugees entering Indiana each year.  nohome.org offers 3 plans, the lowest starting at $19.95 per month.  A week ago, Jerome asked the question:  Why isn’t anyone buying?

Part 2 of the analysis:

To help Jerome and nohome.org minimize the consumer perceived costs, I asked a couple more questions.

Question 1:  How does the price of $19.95 per month compare to the best web hosting alternatives out there?

I will be the first to admit that I don’t have a lot of experience with web hosting services, but in doing a quick search of other offerings, it seems that there are lower priced alternatives available.  These alternatives do not offer the humanitarian benefit that nohome.org provides, but they do set a reference point for consumers for web hosting without humanitarian benefits.  This reference point is important because it impacts the consumer perceived price.  With a little subtraction, consumers can figure out what nohome.org is suggesting the value of the added humanitarian benefit is.  If they don’t agree with this suggested value, then there is a problem.  Either the price is too high, or they don’t fully understand the added benefit.  Lowering price is always an action of last resort, so I suggest Jerome first revisit how he can amplify his benefit.  Alternatively, he might consider suggesting to consumers a different alternative that they use for their reference point.  I used godaddy.com as my reference point — but maybe that was not the right one.  Perhaps Jerome could tell consumers, “Compare nohome.org to XYZ” and suggest an alternative that will be a better reference point and lower the perceived price of nohome.org.

Before I move off this question, I would like to add that the issue of reference points might be a larger factor in the consumer perceived cost today than it was a few years ago.  It is my hypothesis that in the tough economic climate, consumers are making an extra effort to search for alternatives to find the best value, and so they have more reference points.  This may be further impacting the perceived price of nohome.org.  It might also be impacting how much a humanitarian benefit is worth to consumers.  So a price of $19.95 for services from nohome.org might have been acceptable for consumers three years ago, but it might not be at this point in time.

Question 2:  Is there a way to further minimize the risk cost of buying from nohome.org?

Perceived price is only one component to the total perceived cost to consumers.  The others are risk cost, transaction cost (cost to consumers of transacting), and production cost (the cost to consumers of producing the benefits).  I assume that the production and transaction costs for nohome.org are low (but Jerome should verify this).  However, I do think that the risk cost could be high.  If nohome.org is a relatively new brand and service, consumers might be questioning its reliability and performance.  This means that nohome.org might appear to be a riskier choice, and therefore have higher consumer perceived costs.  Jerome should try to find ways to increase nohome.org’s credibility to reduce risk.  He might consider doing this by posting a list of his current clients on his website.  He could include their testimonials.  He might also find a spokesperson or endorser.  Anything he can do to increase consumer confidence in his service and reduce risk will increase his overall value proposition.

In conclusion…

The question of “Why isn’t anyone buying” is a critical question that many of us have faced.  I don’t want to present this two-part blog as the complete answer as to how to fix this problem.  My goal with this series of posts is only to help identify some of the factors that might be contributing to the problem.  Think of these questions as seeds to help the value proposition grow as big as it can be.  If anyone has any other suggestions of factors to consider when it comes to the value proposition, please submit a comment!  I would love to hear it.


Q. Why isn’t anyone buying? A. Check the value (Part 1)

May 15, 2009

This week on the social networking site SmallerIndiana, the CEO of the organization nohome.org, Jerome Greene asked the questions: 

“You have a great new idea, everyone loves it, but no one else is buying it.  What’s the problem?  Is it your message?  Is it your website?”

Being someone who is passionate about marketing, I couldn’t help but offer my ‘two cents’ to him immediately.  But his questions got me thinking …. there are probably many people out there with similar questions.  So to help those facing a similar challenge, I thought I would try to address Jerome’s problem publicly  by suggesting he consider a few things over the course of a couple posts, and in doing so, hopefully spark some answers that can help others.

Before I go too far, let me just say that the ‘obstacle’ to people buying could be all sorts of things.  It could be the message.  It could be the website.  It could be the audience.  But before anyone decides to do a website overhaul, I suggest first checking the value proposition.

VALUE = Consumer Perceived Benefits – Consumer Perceived Costs 

In this post, I am going to talk about ways to maximize consumer perceived benefits using nohome.org as my case study.  The next post will discuss ways to minimize consumer perceived costs.

The case of nohome.org: 

nohome.org offers ‘humanitarian web hosting’.  For every dollar earned, one dollar will be used to build homes for refugees entering Indiana each year.  nohome.org offers 3 plans, the lowest starting at $19.95 per month.

The analysis:

To help Jerome and nohome.org maximize its benefits, I asked a series of questions.

Question 1:  What are the consumer benefits to purchasing web hosting from nohome.org?

Keep in mind that in general consumer perceived benefits include product performance, the service experience, the reputation and image the consumer gets by purchasing, and the relationship experience.

In nohome.org’s case, the benefits appear to be website hosting with a 30 day money back guarantee, no contract, 99.9% up time, and knowing that for every dollar earned, one dollar is used to build homes.  From my perspective, these benefits are primarily product performance and a little service oriented. 

Question 2:  Do consumers understand these benefits and do they perceive them as benefits?

In order for consumers to get the most value from a product or service, they have to understand all of the benefits they are receiving, and they have to perceive them as benefits.  Remember, value is all from the consumer’s perspective.  If the consumer doesn’t understand or perceive the offerings as benefits, the benefits need to be communicated differently or other offerings must be added that consumers do perceive as beneficial.  Jerome might want to consider conducting a consumer survey to make sure that consumers really understand the benefits they receive from nohome.org.

Question 3:  Is there a way for nohome.org to add more perceived benefits for its consumers without incurring more costs?

Given that most of nohome.org’s benefits are currently performance or service related, it seems like there may be some room for additional benefits to be added.  For instance, could nohome.org amplify its reputation/image benefit by giving customers a ‘badge’ on their site that demonstrates their humanitarian choice?  Could nohome.org provide a relationship benefit by building a special ‘community’ for its consumers who have a humanitarian interest in common?  Better yet, could it give its consumers some sort of ‘relationship’ with the refugees they are helping through a newsletter or an event?

Question 4:  Are the perceived benefits nohome.org offers differentiated?

I am assuming they are, but if they aren’t, Jerome might want to revisit #3 to think about other unique benefits nohome.org could provide. 

The other part of the equation

Hopefully these four questions spark some ideas to further enhance the perceived benefits of nohome.org and other products and services that are having trouble ‘making the sale’.  Of course the other area of opportunity for improving the value proposition is by minimizing perceived costs …. and that will be covered in the next post.