Ernan’s Insights on Marketing Best Practices

Monday, November 28, 2011

When Customers Push Back: 3 Recommendations

Listening to the crowd.Empowered, activist customers are getting better and better at making their displeasure known ... and, as they proved this year, they are also getting better at winning battles against big companies.
Occasional problems with customers are inevitable. The question is, how do you reduce the odds of those problems turning into crises for your company? Following are three marketing takeaways for handling conflicts with today's social-media-savvy consumers.
TAKEAWAY #1: STAY CONNECTED. The video rental service Netflix announced a bold new initiative, Qwikster, that hadn't been adequately field-tested with consumers. Listening to the crowd.Customers, still furious over a recent price increase, went ballistic. As of today, Netflix stock has lost 75% of its value in just 4 months, and the company has lost approximately one million customers. Netflix did considerable self-inflicted damage before it finally started listening to the wisdom of its customers. Whether it listened in time remains an open question.
The moral: Don't be arrogant. Get the advice of customers before you make big decisions that impact them.
TAKEAWAY #2: STAY FLEXIBLE. Opposition to Bank of America's plan to charge debit-card users a five-dollar monthly fee hit a national nerve, and the planned fee became a lightning-rod issue for consumers who were already cranky with the entire banking sector.
Listening to the crowd.Over 300,000 on-line signatures demanded that Bank of America drop its plans for a monthly fee. It did. Then, quietly, the bank more than made up the difference with a range of account pricing changes more closely pegged to individual consumer behavior ... and less likely to fuel a national debate about banks.

The moral: Be flexible and agile enough to change course when customers are legitimately upset. That's better than becoming a lightning rod for dissatisfaction against an entire industry.
Listening to the crowd.TAKEAWAY #3: STAY HUMBLE. This year, The Gap announced a new logo that was widely lampooned by consumers and media. Instead of digging in its heels and insisting that it knew how to choose its own marketing images, the company restored the familiar Gap logo consumers knew and trusted ... and acknowledged, tactfully, that consumers had been right to demand its return.
The moral: Remember that we are living in volatile times. Be humble. Listen when consumers take the time to share their opinions with you ... especially when they're saying something you didn't necessarily want to hear!
Next year, we will see more evidence of increasingly assertive consumers who know they can push back and win. Empowered by new communications technologies, and ever more willing to gather forces when circumstances require, these consumers will only make life difficult for those marketers who ignore them or take them for granted. Implement these three takeaways ... and you will be better positioned to succeed with 2012's more demanding consumers.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Real Reason They Wept for Steve Jobs: A Marketing Revelation

This week, I finally figured out the real reason customers mourned and wept when Steve Jobs passed away.

Steve JobsThe answer emerged, like the missing value in an algebra problem, shortly after I had watched this remarkable video from the TED series of lectures, a talk filmed years before Jobs passed away. In it, Simon Sinek, examines the messages delivered by Apple, Martin Luther King and others. He explains why those messages did such a superb job of inspiring and motivating people, and why they had so much more impact than competing messages did.

For this blog, I'll be looking only at Sinek's conclusions about the Apple message ... but I urge you to watch the whole video so you can learn from the other examples he cites.

Steve Jobs was not interested in selling you a computer ... although that's what most of his competitors were interested in selling. Computers are a “what” topic. Many of Jobs's competitors, over the years,focused on the “what” of their offering when they put together their marketing messages.

Often, they did this by fixating on some glamorous "money shot" of the object they were trying to sell. But even when Apple showed consumers its product, the larger point of the marketing message was not the “what” that you got when you decided to buy from Apple.

Nor was Steve Jobs interested in selling you faster processing speeds, crisper images, better sound, or enhanced memory capacity. The technical wizardries that deliver those classic marketing “benefits” remain the basis, even now, of most of the marketing messages of Apple's competitors. “Pixels” and “megahertz” are classic “how” topics and they are not the reason thousands of Apple customers left carefully inscribed messages of personal grief at hundreds of customer service centers.

So ... what was Steve Jobs selling you?

The power to shake up the establishment and tell the Powers That Be that you have a better idea. That was -- and is -- Apple's mission, its internal and external marketing message: THINK DIFFERENT.

WHY MessageThat is a “why” topic, and it is far, far more powerful as a marketing tool than any “what” or “how” topic. All the revolutionary Apple products were simply means to an end. That end was you rocking the boat and challenging the status quo. Apple's offerings happened to be the tools you could use to challenge established thinking.

The Power of “Why” Message

Once marketers understand the difference between Apple's compelling “why” message ... and the less compelling “what” and “how” messages of its competitors ... they will understand why so many people mourned the passing of Steve Jobs. It was the “why” message that he shared. Jobs made Apple Inc. the embodiment of something special, not just a technology manufacturer.

Most companies have not invested sufficient time and energy to formulate a “why” message, and thus cannot benefit from this powerful competitive advantage Do your customers know your “why”?

Three Big Takeaways for Marketers

Marketing Takeaway #1: Devote the time and effort necessary to separate the three levels, so you become crystal clear on the "what”, the “how”, and the “why” of your business.

Marketing Takeaway #2: Gather a "brain trust" that includes your senior leadership and a sampling of your customers. Analyze and refine your company's “why” until it is memorable and compelling enough for you to build your marketing message around it.

Marketing Takeaway #3: Once the “why” becomes clearly defined, you will realize that it is not only of value to marketing, but helps align every other part of the company!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Learn from Coke's 3 Facebook Best Practices

LinkedInRecently, Coca-Cola edged out Hyundai as the most popular brand on Facebook, according to a study by Covario, thesearch engine marketing agency.

Coke has more than 34 million Facebook fans; each comment the beverage producer posts on its page generates over 200 comments!

"What is Coke doing right on Facebook? At least three things.

Best Practice #1: Coke's Default Setting Is "Talk To Us." User-generated content gets posted automatically (as opposed to being filtered or edited first). Yes, lots of brands are skittish about this. On Coke's page, inappropriate messaging is removed, but only after it has been posted. Coke's relationship with its fans is solid enough to make this work.

Best Practice #2: Coke Wants You To Upload Images to Its Photo Album.

This makes perfect sense, given the iconic, collectible status of the brand. Many users want to show off branded Coke images they have acquired (or created), and many others want to show off as they consume the product! Coke supports both groups.

Best Practice #3: Coke's Driving Facebook Principle Is "Collaborate." The page itself was founded by two Coke fans ... and later embraced by the company! It is truly a shared undertaking with Coke fans who spend time on Facebook, not something imposed upon them from the outside.

The Takeaways for Marketers:

Conduct a comprehensive review of your branding and social media strategies. Develop strategies which enable you to answer "yes" to these questions:

Do you trust your brand enough to:

* trust your customers?

* give Facebook users an open forum?

* encourage and facilitate collaboration with your customers?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Verizon's "Opt-Out" Policy; What Marketers Should Do Differently

LinkedInUnfortunately, Opt-Out marketing policies are the norm. They allow marketers to send you information and offers they want to send and to use on-line and other information about you to target their marketing.

You can Opt-Out if you don’t want this to occur. But the message is this: if you don’t like these practices, or receiving the e-mails, calls, ads, etc., the burden is on you to Opt-Out of communications with the company.

Frustration with these campaigns is coming not just from consumer groups, but from Capitol Hill. Two members of the House sharply criticized the telecom giant Verizon for new marketing initiatives allowing advertisers to launch appeals based on consumers' locations, sites visited, and search queries.

"While we understand the benefits of tailoring advertising to customers, we strongly believe that customers should be in control of the sharing and disclosure of their personal information through an Opt-In process,” Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) said in a joint statement. Markey and Barton chair an important bipartisan privacy caucus. Proposals for further legislation seem likely.

Today's empowered consumers are questioning why the burden should be on them to Opt-Out ... rather than marketers competing to engage consumers with compelling value propositions that inspire them to Opt-In. Consumers now feel they should choose when and from whom to receive preference-driven communications, offers, and resources, and they have not been shy in expressing their feelings on this issue.


Results from over 100 Voice of Customer relationship research efforts we have conducted for companies such as Microsoft, NBC Universal, IBM, and many Growth companies, indicates that there are five criteria consumers have as they evaluate whether to Opt-In to sharing in-depth information with a marketer. They are:

1. Consumers have to trust that the company will adequately safeguard their information and use it in a responsible way.

2. “Responsible” means that consumers must believe that their information will not be rented or sold to third parties.

3. “Honor my preferences” reflects the expectation that their “Opt-In” self-profiled preferences will be used to drive increasingly targeted communications and offers... and suppress those that are not relevant per the expressed preferences of individual customers.

4. The value consumers receive in exchange for providing in-depth information must be obvious and compelling. To overcome the legacy of receiving untargeted and irrelevant communications, consumers must see an obvious improvement in relevance. This expectation of relevance applies both to their online experience and subsequent email, direct mail, etc. If the value is not obvious, consumers will assume you have betrayed their trust and expectations.

5. Consumers must see proof that the company will be able to deliver on requirements 1 through 4 above, not just once, but consistently over time.

We can expect Congress to take some kind of action on this issue, and sooner rather than later. Whatever form the new rules finally take, I suspect that the marketers who survive and thrive in the new regulatory environment will be those who consistently meet the five requirements above.