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Posts Tagged ‘Brand equity’

UPDATE:  Zappos.com is one of the savviest marketers and social media users in business today, but according to a story running in AdAge.com, the company’s recent advertising agency review process has once again highlighted the problems organizations create for themselves when they aren’t prepared to handle the demand they generate.  Read the full article here.

UPDATE RE: FACEBOOK USERNAMES:  Facebook was ready.  At one minute past 9pm Pacific Time/midnight Eastern Time June 13, I went online and grabbed my Facebook vanity URL (facebook.com/marklolson) with absolutely no technical or account issues.  Congratulations to Facebook on being prepared for the demand they created.

Just past midnight Eastern Time on Saturday, June 13, Facebook is going to launch Facebook Usernames and give virtually every one of its 250 million users the opportunity to grab the vanity URL of their choosing on a first-come, first-served basis.  Residents of the Bay Area will feel it first at 9 p.m. when the lights dim noticeably and the ground trembles slightly from an epicenter at street level in Palo Alto.

The big question is this:  “Are they ready?”  Is the Facebook server farm ramped up to make this a pleasant user experience with minimal wait times and clear system messages?  Or will this become just another in a long list of business/Internet case studies for how not to match supply to demand?

We’ll know very quickly even if we don’t try to make the change at that moment.  Within minutes after midnight Eastern Time, the blogosphere/Twittersphere will explode with evidence of users’ experiences and on the West Coast there will be plenty of time for TV stations to cobble together stories of success or failure.

What too many businesses forget is this:  It’s not the “pitch” that matters, it’s the “catch.”  The “pitch” makes headlines…the “catch” makes money.  Let’s look at a few examples of pitch-and-catch to illustrate:

Oprah and KFC – On May 4 this year, KFC used an offer delivered via the Oprah show for free food using a downloadable coupon good only for a two-day period.  Advertising Age reported, “…should have been a promotional coup.  Instead, it turned into an unmitigated disaster when the company was unable to execute and actually had to rescind the offer.”  KFC “maintained that the chain prepared thoroughly, given the time constraints,” AdAge reported.  Uh, KFC, no you didn’t.

The Catch – To any San Francisco 49er football fan, Dwight Clark’s Jan 10, 1982 end zone fingertip snag for a touchdown and victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game is legend.  If he doesn’t bring it down, it’s just another toss from Joe Montana.  That’s why it’s called “The Catch” and not “The Throw.”  [See also: Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series Game 1 over-the-shoulder catch of a deep shot off the bat of Cleveland’s Vic Wertz.]

Harry Potter – When Harry Potter Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released on July 21, 2007 thousands of Potter fan-atics including a substantial percentage of children lined up outside bookstores to get the first copies available at midnight.  Unlike some video game releases (think Grand Theft Auto), bookstores used the opportunity to host “Potter Parties.”  Kids dressed as their favorite characters, read passages from prior editions, and picked up their new books without a fuss.

Perfect storm at McCarran Airport – The City of Las Vegas worked hard to get the NBA All-Star game played there in February 20, 2007, but what many travelers remember about that weekend was not the score, but the three-hour wait at McCarran Airport security check-in to get on their flights home.  A perfect storm of tourism demand overwhelmed one of America’s largest airports as people heading home from the game weekend met up with tourists there for the Chinese New Year, President’s Day three-day weekend, and holdovers from the MAGIC convention.  The lines wrapped more almost a mile outside the airport in the rain.

 

The takeaway from these and hundreds of other pitch-and-catch disasters is this: Plan first for what you want to have happen, prepare for the worst-possible case you can imagine, then worry about creating the demand.  People/buyers/customers/fans remember the last thing that happened to them first.

For Facebook, that means putting all your IT and customer service people on high alert and on station till the wave passes over.  There will be time for sleep later.  Handle the first 24 hours like you knew this was coming and were ready for it, and you’ll be basking in the afterglow next week, not dealing with aftershocks.

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As a marketing and communications professional, I stress simple, straightforward language in my work, andI’m always watching for the evolving lexicon of the market.  Two words that have been showing up all over the blogosphere, Web and in print like they’re on sale are authenticity and authority.   After reading scores of bogs and articles featuring one or both words, it struck me there were two schools of thought among web experts, bloggers and marketers about which was more important, or which begat the other.

Time Magazine recently named Synthetic Authenticity as one of its “Ten Ideas That Are Changing the World”.  Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want is the latest book by authors and societal change observers Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine documenting what they see as a shift by businesses and consumers to an Experience Economy.  Carter McNamara of Authentic Consulting, LLC took a more philosophical view of the idea in his article Authenticity, “…it’s important for people in management to live and work as authentically as possible…”

Authority shows up a lot as search engine authority, link authority or web authority.  But I wanted to explore the larger idea of authority on the Web as a function of influence, credibility, knowledge and/or reputation…who has it, how do you get it, how do you know when you have it.  Social media strategist and prolific blogger Chris Brogan had a take on it last year in his post, “How Does the Web Define Authority.” 

Rather than sort out it out myself, I decided to pit the two words/ideas against each other in a kind of mashup and ask some of the leading voices (nee “authorities”?) that I follow for their opinions on which of the ideas and actions embodied by each word is of greater importance, if forced to prioritize. 

Seth Godin, author of ten international bestsellers including Tribes, and the most popular business blogger in the world.
“If it’s a word game, then authority wins, because authority is about the perception of the consumer.  If they believe you an authority, you are.  In the long run, of course, authenticity will trump it, because your authority fades without it. The converse is not true.  And yes, it’s a word game.”

David Meerman Scott, bestselling author of the New Rules of Marketing & PR
I remember in college there was a professor who had tons of authority. He was tenured, had written books, and was the head of the department. Although he had authority, he was not a popular teacher and his classes were empty. I recall other teachers who were young and dynamic and had no authority. Barely older than the students, they had an authentic love of their subject and of teaching. Their classes were packed. In the always on, one-click-away world of the Web, authenticity wins every time because unlike a college class, people can immediately leave the sites that don’t capture their interest. That’s why a lone blogger can be more popular than a stuffy old trade journal both on the same subject.

Brian Solis, PR 2.0, author of the recently-released book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.
“How are you doing?”
“I’m fine. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Thank you for asking.”

What started out as an authentic gesture to understand how someone was feeling eventually dissipated into an almost meaningless exchange to ease into a conversation or simply acknowledge someone’s presence. Authenticity is the minimum requirement in any exchange, online and in the real world. Authority however, is earned with every exchange where those involved are enlightened as a result of their participation.

Relevant information, consistency, and insight are the attributes of those who build credibility among their peers. The transparency that facilitates genuine and sincere interaction helps us build meaningful relationships with those who value each other’s contribution. It’s how we earn trust, loyalty and establish significance.  Perhaps what we learn is that it’s not a case of authenticity vs. authority, but authenticity + wisdom + engagement = authority.

Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, a social media agency that helps businesses understand business strategy around online communication tools.
Authenticity and Authority in the Age of Trust
From around 1950 until maybe as late as 2006, organizations have been able to get away with mass communication and one-sided blurting. No longer. We are ALL the media. We all have networks. We all have cameras and video and newspapers at our disposal. We have the memory of Google on our side. How do companies succeed in this environment? They do what probably should have always been done: be human. It’s not a vast reworking. It’s not throwing out all that’s come before. It’s doing what we know in our guts to be right. How do you build authority? By being human. Be fallible. Be apologetic. And communicate in both directions. Listen, and build trust by responding and interacting. You’re still the leader, but you’re now a responsible leader who cares about your constituency. Try it. You’ll like it.

Mike Volpe, VP of Inbound Marketing at HubSpot which sells inbound marketing software for small and medium sized businesses to generate more leads.
I think authority and authenticity are related but different. Authority is a measure of importance, impact or influence.  You can measure authority by your ranking in Google and tools like Twitter Grader or Facebook Grader.  Marketers should work to improve their authority in their market – today’s marketing goal is to turn your own web presence (website, blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) to the leading authoritative source for your market. The overall numbers don’t matter as much as the relative authority of your company vs. your competitors’ authority.   

Authenticity is a measure of openness and lack of “marketing speak”.  One way to measure authenticity is to run some of your content through Gobbledygook Grader and see how much corporate-speak you use.  As the web has moved our society to more of a two way communication and given everyone more control over content, outbound marketing and advertising has become less effective. Marketers are embracing inbound marketing, which is more interactive and authentic by nature. I think most people will find that it is hard to achive a high level of authority without being authentic. However, being really authentic does not get you much without authority.

Marketers need to be authentic, but the primary focus for marketing should be on building authority. Authority is a marketing asset – you can use it to drive more people to your events, content, thought leadership, and products.  Authority is far more important to driving leads and sales, which is what we marketers should care about most.  Building an authoritative presence on the web is part of inbound marketing. You can use your blog, website and social media presence to attract more customers to you, and this effect is stronger as your authority grows.

What are your thoughts about Authenticity vs. Authority?  What are your reactions to the positions by Godin, Scott, Solis, Brogan and Volpe?  Your comments are invited.

UPDATE:  Check the links below for further commentary on this post by Scott, Solis and Volpe on their blogs and HupSpotTV:

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For growing vocabulary, I recommend these sites: FreeRice.com, UrbanDictionary.com, InvestorWords.com, BusinessDictionary.com, Merriam-Webster Online]

Final point.  For more information about me, please check out the tabs “About me and this blog” and “4 Reasons to Hire Me” at the top of the page.  I am looking for a Chief Marketing Officer or Vice President of Marketing position with a startup or early-stage company, or a higher education institution.

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I watch more television than I should, but that doesn’t give advertisers the right to offend me with their commercials. 

There are probably hundreds of commercials that different people consider offensive based on their personal beliefs, but this is my blog so I’m going to name two campaigns on the air right now that make me NOT want to buy their products.

CASTROL EDGE “Think With Your Dipstick” (view commercial)  Since when did it become OK to blindside assault a man in his front yard or at a bowling alley with a long, thin metal rod?!  By a fake Scotsman in cliche Scottish attire.  It’s not funny…it’s a FELONY.  Getting whipped with a dipstick is very painful.  Moreover, the faux-Scot yells a distasteful “stop thinking with your dipstick” at his victim…a ridiculous play on an even more exhausted cliche that men’s brains only exist in their penises.  (note: no women are hit with the dipstick. Maybe Castrol believes women don’t or can’t change their own oil, or even choose the oil they want in their cars.)  Maybe the message here is “the beatings will continue until sales improve.”  This is the equivalent of paid media waterboarding.  And just as I’m positive former Vice President (and GOP blowhard) Dick Cheney would change his tune about whether real waterboarding is torture if he ever had it done to him, perhaps the Castrol Edge advertising executives who thought this campaign was a good idea need a dipstick whipping.

QUIZNO’S “Toasty Torpedo” (view commercial).  This one pains me because my daughter and I both love to eat at Quiznos and we’re good friends with the staff at our regular spot.  But I never once thought of the 500 degree oven that toasted our sandwiches as an anthropomorphic rectum.  First, to provide some balance, I think the new Torpedo sandwich is a solid new product and for $4 is a good deal.  Eating it is another matter…unless you eat it like a SqueezePop using the sleeve it’s served in, it’s easy to find half the contents in your lap before you finish.  But in this campaign, Quiznos employee Scott has this exchange with the talking/flashing sandwich oven (which speaks in a voice that is a combination of HAL 2000 and a bad porno voiceover):

OVEN: Scott, I want you to do something.
SCOTT: I’m not doing that again.  I burned.
OVEN: We both enjoyed that.
[Oven introduces Toasty Torpedo sandwich.]
OVEN: Yes Scott.  You make one.  Put it in me, Scott.

Are you kidding me?!  A deep male voice beckons Scott to put something in him…that makes the Quiznos oven a 500 degree rectum.  And I’m supposed to be salivating at the chance to eat what comes out the other side?!  What’s even more telling is that these commercials now air only after 10pm.  An edited version runs before 10pm.

Hey Quiznos…the $5 Footlong jingle from Subway is lodged deep in my brain.  I don’t like where you’ve lodged your Toasty Torpedo.

UPDATE: AdAge.com wrote on June 25: “Dear Fast Feeders, Please Keep Your Meat Away From the Ladies. Sexualized Sandwich Bits Are Getting Tired, Disgusting.” http://adage.com/adages/post?article_id=137541

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Transparency is all the rage in business and government these days. Which seems funny (as in headshaking versus LOL) to me because the opposite is opacity and deception. What Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing in his or her right mind would advocate to a board of directors a strategy of treating customers like mushrooms (keep them in the dark and bury them in crap).

 

Yet marketers allow their companies to do this actively and passively every day, and it really needs to stop.  Here are a few simple examples I’ve encountered recently:

  • Food packaging. Single cans of tuna at the grocery store shrank from 6.5 oz. to 5.0 oz. in the past year with no visible change in the can form factor or messaging on the can, yet the price stayed the same.  Besides the honesty in packaging argument, recipes often state quantities in terms of how they are packaged, not just weight/volume.
  • Cell phone plans.  Let’s use Verizon as an example because I tried to find this information recently.  What are the peak and off-peak Night and Weekends (i.e. free) calling hours in their plans?  The hours are not listed anywhere on their website or my bill.  They sell the benefit, but don’t publish the terms so customers are left to guess and run up overages.
  • Auto repair.  Why can’t I go to the websites of car dealerships and auto repair companies and look up prices for standardized repairs like oil changes, brake repair and transmission service?  These companies have set prices (and times required to make the repair) in the computer programs they use to run their businesses.

Transparency often requires the point of a spear.  It took a threat of an act of Congress – the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2004 – to force credit card companies to voluntarily make it easier for their customers to know and understand what they were being charged to use their cards.  This legislation has died in every Congressional session since and a 2009 version fights for its life even now.

 

We could debate all day which is the greater offender, business or government.  The Transparency in Government Act of 2008 is “a broad legislative effort intended to make the work of Congress and the executive branch more transparent by creating laws and regulations that would bring more information online and available to the public in a timely manner.”  Organizations like the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International exist to end corruption, promote accountability and establish the systems to improve access to information.

 

So what can marketers do to promote transparency, and build trust, in marketing:

  • Work in the Open – Expose the process of research, development, and planning to internal audiences, strategic partners, vendors, etc.  There is an art and a science to marketing, but it’s not magic.  Invite input, share assumptions, debate findings, publish conclusions.
  • Communicate With Constituents Like People – How many articles/blogs/tweets/etc. need to be published before professional communicators stop issuing news releases and creating website content that demonstrate they never speak with real people?  Use the “Mother” test (“if my Mother can understand it…”).  Speak in plain English.  State clear benefits.  Better yet, if a clear benefit can’t be stated in plain English, don’t.
  • Be the Conscience of Your Organization – Marketers bring the voice of the marketplace back to internal audiences while serving as brand champions back to the marketplace. This gives us a position from which to call “bullshit” on bad ideas, misleading messages, and inferior products and services.  The most influential marketing execs are not afraid to exercise that responsibility.
  • Demonstrate Accountability – Establish at the outset the criteria that will be used to measure success and the methods for that measurement.  Publish them to the organization.  Evaluate the results of marketing efforts and publish them as well.

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“Buzz doesn’t have a measurable ROI”

This is a great quote by Jeffery Eisenberg, co-founder and CEO of FutureNow, Inc., in David Meerman Scott’s book The New Rules of Marketing & PR.  Eisenberg goes on to say, “The cumulative effect of doing a lot of right things is what works…”

It got me thinking…is it possible for a person or business to have “buzz” or “street cred” and not know it?  Is it possible to have it and not be able to measure the benefits that purportedly come from having “it”.  Whether it’s a book launch or re-branding a business or achieving your own personal positioning.  Is “buzz” a measure of success?  How do we define “success”?

A few years back I was managing a 501(c)(3) non-profit dance company I co-founded with my now ex-wife.  This particular day our warehouse open space was being considered by a small indie theater company as a location for a series of performances.  Out of the blue, the artist commented to us that in certain corners of the Southern Nevada artistic community our little company had “swerve”…by which he meant favorable buzz on the street.  It was a pleasant surprise to hear, and while we had decent foot traffic from media articles and paid advertising, I can’t say I could quantify the ROI our “swerve” might have been generating.

Even further back in my career as a marketing and communications agency executive, PR firms were constantly challenged by clients to “measure our results” so they could calculate a mysterious ROI on the money they were paying us and therefore be able to defend our efforts (and their decision to use us) to their bosses. I’m sure the situation is not much changed today.

Behind closed doors when we were trying to articulate such metrics…and perhaps to relieve some tension…I used to show a viewgraph of an old Sidney Harris cartoon, in which a professor is being critiqued about a complicated mathematical formula he’s written on the blackboard.  Just before the equal sign is the notation “Then a miracle occurs.”

Famous Sidney Harris cartoon

Famous Sidney Harris cartoon

We all want to achieve success in what we do, whether it’s work related, raising a child or a few, making a relationship work, or making a difference for others.  We all do a lot of right things, sometimes without really thinking about them, to move closer to our goal.

Maybe it really comes down to how each of us measures or quanitifies success.  And what is the miracle, the tipping point that takes us from going to bed one night thinking “this just isn’t working” to waking up the next day and proclaiming “Huzzah! Success!”

I consult with organizations about their strategic marketing and communications challenges and one of the first questions I ask is: “What criteria for success have you established and what methods do you employ for measuring performance against those criteria?”

“None.”  “We don’t have any.”  “That’s a good question.”  This is what I get 100% of the time.  Or the one I really like: “That’s why you’re here.”

The big point here is to understand that success is a measure of the “whole,” not of the parts.  You measure success by putting your starting point in a qualifiable frame of reference and your goal in that frame of reference plus X. 

It’s important to measure the effect of the tactics you employ to move the needle.  There are lots of tools to help you do that such as Google Alerts, Radian6, Google Analytics, Google Blogsearch, Technorati, and Twitter hashtags.  Even old school techniques like clip books (if you need something to send your Mom) and Nielsen ratings. But with tweets, re-tweets, blog posts, reblogs, etc. it’s impossible to accurately quantify many tactics.

Eisenberg adds, “[Success] is the measure of how many little things you do right.  Lots of small things [add] up to make the difference.”

Maybe “buzz” is today’s version of “a miracle occurs here.”

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My TV died last night…again. 

I didn’t even get mad.  Just disappointed.  This is the second time in 24 months.  After watching a couple of my favorite shows online last night (if you haven’t discovered this on Hulu.com or FXNetworks.com, I strongly encourage you to give it a try), I woke up this morning with this thought.

Every Marketing executive should add a line in his or her annual budget for the holistic value of customer “badwill.”  Of course, this is the corollary to customer “goodwill” which is a key ROI measure every marketing executive like me likes to believe we engender by the truckload through our work.  Badwill has a very real value to the organization, cause, product or service we market and I think we might make very different decisions at the Senior Staff table if it showed up on a balance sheet like “bad debt” or “bad debt reserve.”

Let me use my very silent TV as an example…as it sits there in the middle of my living room, one tiny little red light still glowing like a very small extended middle finger.  I’ve purchased many TVs in my life.  One of the first things I did when I got to the University of Kansas and into my freshman dorm room — with the money I was given for food, books, and sundries — was buy a color TV.  An RCA color TV.  Cost me maybe $350 and it was a huge deal.  TVs were indestructible back in the day.  When you moved back and forth between home and college, you just threw them in the back seat with your books, beanbag chair, clothes, whatever.  Parts broke off and they still worked.  You could put things on top of them without offending their delicate sensibilities.

As I moved through various career, domicile and marital stages, my TVs got bigger and better.  And more fragile.  To me, an electronic appliance is supposed to perform for me, not me for it.  So two years ago, another chapter passed and I find myself at Fry’s in Las Vegas.  I LOVE Fry’s.  Like my Dad loved Sears.  But that’s a post for another day.

I knew I wanted 50+ inches of screen and I wanted Hi-Def.   The salesman walked me to a corner of the display area and asked me if I’ve thought about a Mitsubishi and 1080p.  He showed me a very compelling example of 1080i versus 1080p display clarity and I was sold.  He pitched me 13 months of interest-free financing.  Again, I was sold.  He rang me up…$2,200 and change (BTW, that’s a lot of change for a TV).  Delivery in a day.  He had engendered my goodwill for the benefit of Fry’s and himself.  And this TV was amazing!  Incredible picture.

Fast forward 9 months.  My Mitsubishi WD-57731 DLP TV is sitting in my living room…dead.  I go back to Fry’s…dismayed.  After way too much back-and-forth, I learn the lamp in my TV is only designed to run for 3000-4000 hours before it craps out.  WTF?!  My first color TV lasted for 10 years without a whimper.  The good news is the lamp assembly is easy to replace.  The bad news is so many of these Mitsubishi TVs have lamps burning out it will be a month to get the part.  But they give me a 37-inch loaner set for free and eventually the part shows up and we’re back live on the air again.

Until last night.  So I go online to look for a replacement lamp.  And I find chat room after chat room rife with words like “class action lawsuit” linked to Mitsubishi and DLP TVs and I start to think…”was there a Senior Staff meeting at Mitsubishi where Marketing, Channel Sales, Engineering, Finance and a decision-maker agreed to market and sell this product even though they knew it would FAIL several times with each customer and they thought this was a GOOD idea?”

If Marketing had a line item in its budget for “badwill” and that debit would have a direct impact on the department’s overall budget for salaries, bonuses, TV ads, promotions, spiffs, events, etc., and there was a possibility that marketing a known defective product and technology might bankrupt their “goodwill” budget…shouldn’t the Chief Marketing Officer or VP of Marketing speak up?

I mentioned earlier the holistic value of badwill.  Marketing and selling a bad product hurts your own company.  But in the case of this TV, it hurts lots of other related entities…albeit in minute ways…but in ways that have value.  To begin, I’ll never buy a Mitsubishi TV again.  When I do buy a new TV, I’m not going to trust the salesman is telling me all the truth I need to hear…this hurts Fry’s and that salesman.  With a dead TV, I’m not watching any programming, which impacts everyone associated with creating and distributing the content.  I’m also not watching any advertising, which impacts every single advertiser, and the station carrying the programming, and the cable provider who pipes it into my home.

Do the math Mr/Ms. CMO/VPM.  Marketing is responsible for brand equity, reputation management, and customer goodwill, in addition to sales leads.  If no one else in the company will stand up and say selling a known defective product is bad for business, then you do it.

Earn my goodwill by demonstrating you understand its lifetime value.

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