Featured on MarketingProfs

I’m excited to get back into writing after a rather long absence (building a career is hard work!), and I’m so excited that my first article of the year is on MarketingProfs. I love Ann Handley and the MarketingProfs team, and after a lively discussion about Periscope at a Bay Area meetup, I wrote my first piece for them. Check out “Four Kinds of Periscope Broadcasts You Should Be Creating” for tips on adding live-streaming to your B2B marketing strategy.

That’s Real

I visited my first farmers’ market this weekend, and I was struck by the authenticity of the whole thing. We ramble on about being transparent, making a connection, having a conversation, and generally being authentic in the business world, but often, we turn around and toss out some flashy ad campaign or cheesy promotion to present a facade of authenticity. But, the farmers’ market is different. There’s no sales pitch, no fancy coupon deals, no expensive TV spots. It’s just honest people trying to make an honest living… and people respond to that kind of authenticity.

I watched a lady run up to a stall and pluck a strawberry from a weathered wooden crate. After tasting the fruit, she purchased the entire basket. That’s a real taste test.

I watched a man tap his thumb against his leg as he passed by the amateur bluegrass band, smiling at his secret beat. The kids were more open, shaking their hips, heads, and hands as they passed the instruments. That’s a real emotional connection.

I watched middle-aged adults escorting their elderly parents among the vendors, and young parents strolling through the street with their toddlers. That’s a real passing of tradition.

The air felt crisp, the colors were bright. I could smell fresh crepes and sausage cooking, I could hear haggling and planning. I tasted my coffee, and watched shoppers taste their potential purchases. That’s a real total body experience.

We like to sit behind our polished desks doling out business advice to the masses. But, honestly? I think we have a lot to learn from the farmers’ market.

Rivalry is Moot

I heard a blurb on the radio today about Britney and Christina going head to head! Who will win: X Factor or The Voice? Which one will YOU choose? So dramatic and hyped… and pointless. My immediate reaction was laughter, since DVR makes these rivalries a moot point. People can watch BOTH shows!

In fact, DVR has changed the TV landscape quite a bit for marketers. Advertisements are sold with the assumption that a certain number of viewers will see the ad. In the past, viewers could change the channel, leave the room, or otherwise tune out, but it was much easier to figure out how many viewers watched the show. These days, viewers can DVR shows for later, or watch them “live” but with a 10 minute delay, which allows them to fast forward through the commercials altogether. I’m not knowledgeable about this type of technology at all, so I have no idea if networks can measure how many people DVR a show. But, even if they can measure how many people DVR a show, I doubt there’s a way to measure how many people actually watch all the shows they DVR. So, once again, we’re back to inaccurate or immeasurable viewer figures, and the ability to fast forward through commercials.

How long will we pretend that one TV show trumps another? I do think there’s still some significance about the line-up and show promotion, but as technology advances, I think these rivalries will be less and less relevant!

A Deal is Not a Deal

As a marketer, you’d think I would love taking advantage of promotions and deals in stores, right? I mean, I’ve bought several daily deals online, but in general, I’m very skeptical of deals. My husband and I are quite frugal, so I’ve taken to looking at the per-unit cost on items, particularly at the grocery store. The fashion bloggers have taught me to consider a piece of clothing on a cost-per-wear basis, which has changed my whole outlook on purchasing clothes!

Sometimes, though, a deal is not a deal. I’m not talking about a blatant higher-cost-per-unit, or an absurd payback period. I’m talking about the fact that you would never buy it full price because you don’t need it. So, if you don’t need it, why would you buy it on sale? I’ve seen people buy clothes because they’re on sale, even though the item doesn’t fit right, or the color is wrong. “But it was on SSAAAALLLLEEEEE!!!!!!” Or, purchasing creamer or cereal in a larger size because the unit cost is lower than a smaller size, but you don’t really like the creamer or the flavor of cereal. Thus, the creamer will spoil and the cereal will go stale before you manage to force yourself to use them up, meaning you’ve wasted $2 instead of $1.25.

A deal is not a deal if you planned to spend $0, and you ended up spending $10 instead of $20. Your budget didn’t exist in the first place, so no amount of discounting or mark-downs can compete with zero. I think the best way to combat this, is to ask yourself if you would ever buy that item or a similar item full price. I look terrible in yellow clothes, so I would never purchase a yellow item at full price. Thus, no amount of sale can persuade me to purchase a yellow item. I love peppermint coffee creamer, and I regularly buy the big bottles at full price. So, if they go on sale, I have no problem stocking up on them, because I know I’ll drink them eventually. I’m even willing to switch brands or make substitutes to take advantage of a sale, but only if I already needed the item in the first place.

Next time you see a sale, control the impulses! Remember that if your budget is $0, that’s the cheapest sale you’ll find, and don’t succumb to anything more than your budget allows! (in this case, it allows NOTHING, because you don’t even WANT that product, let alone need it!)

Coleman Campaign

As I mentioned in a previous post, I starting coming up ad campaigns for the products we used during our trip! This is the first campaign that struck me, and it has a great social media strategy tie-in as well. Note that I haven’t done any customer or strategic research to see if this would actually fit into Coleman’s marketing plan, it’s just what popped into my head while I was waiting for our fajitas to finish cooking. 🙂

The Campaign: “With a View”

The Concept: Coleman products let you enjoy life with a view. You can cook great food on a Coleman stove while enjoying the mountains. You can drink coffee from a Coleman cantina while kayaking down the river. You can watch the stars while snuggling in a Coleman sleeping bag, inside a Coleman tent. In short, if you want a view, Coleman can get you there!

The Tagline: “How do you________? With A View!”

The Ads: I shot these photos in Big Bend and Seminole Canyon.

How do you take your lunch? With a View!

How do you fall asleep? With a View!


The Customer Engagement: We would release one or two inspirational pictures in Q1, and hold a contest for customers to submit photos of themselves using Coleman products in cool, extreme environments. We’d ask them to show us what kind of views Coleman helped them enjoy. After 4 months, 3 winners would be chosen, and their photos would be featured in the ad campaign throughout Q2. Their photos would be shown in retailers like Academy and REI, and magazines that cater to outdoor enthusiasts.

There’s also Sweepstakes possibilities, where you win a trip, or Coleman gear, or some other fabulous prize. But, in this case, I think it works well to have the customer make a purchase first, and then win prestige later. I think this approach affords a win-win situation: Coleman makes money as people purchase products, they engage customers, and they get a new ad campaign. Customers win a feature campaign, just by taking a vacation!

Got an improvement on this campaign idea, or a photo that might work for the ad? I would love to feature your take here on the blog, so contact me with your ideas!

“The Goalie”

I tend to shy away from talking about topics that make people blush, but I’ve decided to discuss the marketing of birth control today, for both men and women. For marketers, it is firmly in the realm of a commodity with a large target segment, a lucrative sector with many tactics and complex issues, so why not go exploring?*


The Message for Women: Convenience

Most manufacturers target women with the message of convenience. Since effectiveness is a given in this day and age, they have to sell something else, and in most cases, that’s convenience. Convenience comes in a lot of forms: one pill (numbers), quarterly shots (time), or one doctor’s visit every 5 or 10 years (time, numbers AND “mind-space”!). Most commercials feature women going about their daily activities without a thought for their contraception options. They can go to the store, the gym, the bar, the office, anywhere, anytime, without having to “be prepared” (or frolic in a field of daisies all alone, which makes no sense to me as a marketer, but that tends to be the chosen activity for most pharmaceutical commercials). Many of the product websites are clean, cheery layouts that emphasize how convenient it is to use their product.


The Message for Men: Pleasure

There’s no hormonal contraception for men (with FDA approval anyways), so manufacturers of their only option (without the help of their partner) entice them with the promise of pleasure. And, largely, pleasure through variety. All the commercials talk about explosions, fireworks, screams, bursts, joy, awakening, and a new-found desire to get down to business after using their product. They tell the men that not only will they have pleasure, but their partner will also have pleasure. So, they’ve also introduced pride and adequacy into the mix, both of which are strong psychological motivators. The manufacturers tell men they can get double the pleasure: the immediate physical aspect, and the longer-lived mental aspect.


Ease of Use and Product Education for Women: High Up-Front Investment, Low On-Going Investment

Since women’s contraception is sold with a message of convenience, the products must be easy to use and require minimal hassle to obtain and understand. This is an interesting dichotomy, because there are so many options, with so many side effects, and so many variables to consider. Choosing one option requires responsible users to research a myriad of chemicals and health issues, moral and ethical considerations, and brands and delivery methods. For some women, it requires them to switch products multiple times to avoid complications with their first choice. However, once you’ve chosen a product that works, generally the ease of use and on-going education is minimal. Pop this pill every morning at 8 am, show up to the doctor’s office on the 23rd every 3 months, or go in for your yearly exams to make sure everything is in place and effective. Lots of women make their contraception decisions outside the bedroom, and they utilize these methods outside the bedroom. The habitual and on-going use of contraception makes it easy to incorporate the product into a daily/monthly/yearly routine. (I do recognize that many women choose the option  that men choose, but most women have at least considered a hormonal or barrier method that requires habitual use.)


Ease of Use and Product Education for Men: Low Up-Front Investment, High On-Going Maintenance

Men’s options are widely available and limited to one type of option, even though there’s many brands. So, choosing a brand for contraception is largely a matter of preference, and in a pinch, any brand will do. The problem is, the product has several opportunities for failure. This is amplified by the situation when men use contraception, which is generally characterized as spontaneous and hurried. It can be tricky business, and without regular practice, leaves the door open for failure. 


Cost for Women: Moderate-High, On-Going vs. Cost for Men: Low, Sporadic

Hormonal contraception costs for women are moderate to high, depending on the chosen option and the insurance coverage. These costs are generally unrelated to frequency of activities, and represent an on-going cost. Men pay on a per-use basis. Since the science behind their method of contraception is much more basic, the associated costs are largely for marketing vs. R&D. So, the cost-per-use may be higher or lower than women’s, depending on the frequency of activity. It’s the difference between paying for a Netflix subscription and renting movies from Red Box. One keeps the movies ready at all times, the other gives you movies on-demand.


The Emotional Appeal

I think most of the methods for marketing the most popular methods of contraception are logical, tangible benefits. You save time, money, and headache, and you receive pleasure and protection. However, there’s one form of birth control that I believe takes a completely emotional approach: natural family planning. Some advocates try to use facts about harming your body with chemicals, but most appeal to some sense of holistic, spiritual, or religious connotation. They ask you to consider the ethics of utilizing one option, the morality of another, and the general “goodness” of using NFP over artificial forms of contraception. And, as we know, emotional appeals work! This is particularly true for product associations, like being “natural” in your cleaning products, “going green” by recycling and using less water, and adhering to other religious teachings. The message from NFP advocates is that, if you want be consistent in your beliefs, you should utilize this method over other options. Since the aforementioned beliefs are generally tied to the belief in some higher purpose (be it humanity, a deity, nature, etc.) this appeal is extremely effective.

So, there you have it, an analysis of some of the tactics marketers use to sell different forms of birth control! I’ve recently found pharmaceutical marketing to be quite interesting, since it walks the line between a necessary item and a luxury item, branded options and generic options, and ethical considerations. There’s so much more associated with these types of products than just “effectiveness”, and I think marketers play a huge part in shaping this massive industry.


*I’ll make the disclaimer that I am a woman of childbearing age who firmly believes that some form of “modern” birth control is a necessity. So, I’m not aiming to start a debate about whether it is or isn’t morally acceptable, or which brand or method you should use. I’m simply observing and commenting on an area that is particularly relevant to a large segment of the population.

Skepticism is Healthy

I’ve been talking about my thoughts on several social issues and how they relate to marketing, and I wanted to focus on the role of skepticism. As I mentioned in the previous posts, I’m not trying to say that the causes are wrong or unworthy, or that brand awareness is not a valid goal. I am, however, saying that I think blind following without question is unhealthy, hence today’s title, “skepticism is healthy”. In addition to the social controversies of late, my husband asked me about my thoughts on how customer reviews will impact the marketing profession going forward, and I stated that I believe customer reviews are a win-win for companies and consumers. So, what do these conversations have in common?

First, I think we should all train ourselves to question everything before committing to a belief. At first glance, curing cancer and saving children seem like no-brainers to band together and shout support. Thus, the question is not, “Do I support cancer research and helping children,” but rather, “Does this method of support make sense? Is this organization the most effective at providing the solution?” For causes, the marketers are the organizations championing the issue, and the “customer reviews” are the people who Tweet, Like, and otherwise spread the message that supporting this cause, via this method, is the best option.

We don’t automatically take Microsoft’s word or Canon’s word that a product or experience is amazing, because we know they’re biased. They get something (in this case, monetary profit) by convincing us that they offer the best solution, so we turn to customer reviews, friends and family, or some other form of neutral 3rd party advice to determine if the claims made by the biased marketers are, in fact, true.

So, why is this an acceptable practice with for-profit organizations, but people bristle when non-profit organizations face the same scrutiny? Again, for most people, it’s not about whether computers or cameras are good or bad, it’s about whether Microsoft’s computer and Canon’s camera is the best option. No one thinks curing cancer is bad, or helping under-priveleged children is wrong, but are Komen and Invisible Children the best solution-providers available? In the case of non-profits, they DO receive a benefit from your support, albeit an intangible benefit related to satisfying their sense of altruism, spirituality, or general “feel good” mentality about their service to humanity. The reality is that de facto, EVERYONE that asks you for something does so because they will benefit from your choice to provide what they’ve asked for. So, it makes sense to question everything, no matter how reasonable it sounds on the surface.

You check out the customer reviews for an unbiased look at a company’s products, so it stands to reason that you should seek out some sort of “unbiased” information about the social causes that are headlining the news today. It’s not to say that the marketers’ claims aren’t ultimately true, but the grain of salt used with for-profit companies should be taken when considering non-profit marketing claims as well. They may have a great video, ad campaign, or t-shirt, but does the product perform?

“Brand Awareness” is a Phase

I wrote about my thoughts on how the marketing has masked the message for a lot of charitable organizations, and I wanted to address the role of brand awareness. I had a wonderfully rousing discussion with my family about the issues discussed in yesterday’s post, particularly the KONY2012 video. My brother asked, “But, what if awareness is the ONLY goal? I mean all those YouTube hits mean they’ve hit their goal: to make everyone aware! They state that they just wanted to make Kony famous, and now they’ve done that.”

My response was that brand awareness, though a necessary and measurable goal, is just a phase. I believe that the purpose of marketing is to grow sales profitably, so unless “awareness” increases sales, I don’t think it can be considered the end goal. Brand awareness is just a phase, contributing to the much larger strategy. I think sometimes marketers latch onto the goal to increase brand awareness because it’s a relatively simple goal to achieve, it’s measurable, and it is ultimately valuable to the bottom line when used in conjunction with other tactics. The problem is that awareness does not automatically equal good customers or increased spending. I posited during the dinner discussion that I could quite easily make people aware by stripping down naked and yelling to all the patrons about how there’s a lot of homeless people that can’t afford clothing or food. In that situation, EVERYONE in the restaurant would become aware, but I doubt that my ranting would move any of them to work in a homeless shelter or donate clothing. “Awareness” does not translate directly into “action”.

The concept of awareness seems great. In order for customers to make a choice for your product or cause, they must first know it exists. When customers are ready to buy or donate, they make a list of choices for solutions to whatever they need (be it a soft drink or a contribution to humanity), so awareness is key for getting into their choice set (super smart marketing term to note the options the people consider when making a purchasing decision.) However, I’m aware of Apple products and Pepsi products, but they are never in my choice set. Similarly, being aware of an issue doesn’t make you take an action, so “brand awareness” should not be the ultimate goal.

My concern is that much of the controversy around these issues makes the champions of those issues feel like they’ve done something, because at least people are talking. But the old cliche, “Talk is cheap” is true, and I don’t think they should congratulate themselves just yet for creating awareness. Unless the newly-aware people make a profitable contribution to the bottom line, you’ve failed in the ultimate goal. Awareness is a great goal for Phase 1, but what about Phase 2…3…4? What is your strategy to encourage action that involves the dollars and time to make a real contribution to the bottom line?

The Swing Vote

I’ve been talking a lot lately about how marketers using intel makes me happy, but then I started thinking about who the marketers REALLY want. The information about who is buying your brand, how much they’re buying, and how to keep them buying is definitely interesting, but I’d say it’s equally interesting to see who’s not buying your brand. And, not just the hardcore brand-haters, but the wishy-washy people. The people without a pattern. They’re the swing voters that flip-flop based on price, convenience, trends, and any other fickle variable that suits their fancy that day.

It’s not worth my time as a marketer to convince a die-hard Pepsi drinker to switch to Coke. It’s also not worth my time to keep coddling the die-hard Coke drinker, because, unless I do something completely stupid, like introduce “New Coke”, there’s no way I’m going to lose you. So, the really interesting segment to target, is the swing voter. When considering promotions, I need to seriously consider the cannibalization effect. I’m not looking to give $2 to someone that will already buy my product, I’m looking to attract a new customer that will hopefully become a loyal customer. I’m willing to take the $2 loss to get this new customer’s future full-price purchases. But, if I know this person is a swing voter that refuses to commit, do I really want them anyways? Is it worth the $2 loss to attract a customer that will drop me as soon as my competitor offers a $2 coupon?

So, we know we don’t want people who are willing to pay full price to start using our coupons, and we know that we probably don’t want to waste a coupon on a swing voter. Who do we actually want to spend money to attract? This is where the brilliance of parent companies comes in. They own a brand for every customer segment! There’s some people that always use a coupon, and others that only shop at one store. If you’ve got both the one store and the coupon, you’ve increased your market share and your bottom line. Of course, there’s always a few caveats. Are you going to be the best of the best in one thing, or average across all categories? It also goes back to the question, “Do I really want ALL customers?” Many companies think that a dollar is a dollar, but marketers know that customers come at a cost. Swing voters come with a very high cost, since you’re constantly having to wave the shiny object to keep their attention.

For all the posting happiness about what the data tells me, I’ve gotta admit that what the data DOESN’T tell me is equally fun to play with!