Marketers Play Nice with Statisticians

The internet is buzzing about the Forbes article about how Target figured out a teen girl was pregnant before her father did. Forbes also posted an article about how Diapers.com determines the lifetime value of a customer from their first click! Both of these articles made me happy to be a marketer, but my engineer husband was quick to point out that it was the statisticians who ran the numbers to come up with the amazing insight. So, I figured I should take the best of both of us and talk about how the marketers play nice with the statisticians 🙂

Humans are creatures of habit, and the human brain loves patterns. In general, the statisticians are trained to uncover patterns, and marketers are trained to capitalize on these patterns.

On data mining. First, I’d say that both the marketers and the statisticians love some data mining, but each discipline uses this function in a different way. Marketers contribute the right questions to ask about interpreting the data, and then how to implement the results of the data mining into an overall business strategy. The statisticians run the complicated regressions, and help build a profile that makes sense based on the numbers. Without marketers, you’d have random regressions for fun. Without statisticians, you’d have anecdotes and assumptions.

On using the results. Once the stats people figure out how to predict the behavior, the marketing people come in and actually influence the behavior. The Target article mentions that when they first started using the results of the analytics by sending women mailers with baby-related items, the women were freaked out that the retailer knew their most intimate secret. The marketers came in with a little extra insight into the human psyche and suggested mixing the baby coupons in with clothes, power tools, and kitchen items, so that the women wouldn’t feel “outed” by the retailer. The numbers themselves don’t tell the whole story, and they don’t tell you the best way to implement your new-found knowledge of your customer.

On spinning the use of the results. There’s been a dividing line in the reaction to both articles: those saying it’s creepy that retailers invade their privacy, and those asking where their targeted coupons are! Clearly, as a marketer, I lean towards wanting companies to know me and cater to me. I understand that this comes at a cost to my privacy, but for an easier and more rewarding shopping experience, I’m willing to make the sacrifice. When the statisticians came out with their amazing ability to know a customer based on the numbers, there was no spin about the benefits of using this data, and people felt a little violated. The marketers use their knowledge of value propositions to show how it actually benefits the customer. I don’t think the marketers are trying to pretend that it’s not invasive, but in the age of information and constant connection, it’s not like people don’t already know your business! Why not get some benefits from sharing your whole life with the whole world?

Both of these articles made me happy in my marketing soul! It’s this kind of synergy and application that makes it fun and rewarding to be in my profession. I know there’s some controversy about collecting, sharing, and utilizing data, but I think these instances are beneficial to consumers. See, the marketers and statisticians can play nice together, and ultimately, with the customer!

A Marketer’s Holiday

Many people resent Valentine’s Day because they feel like the evil marketers at the greeting card, chocolate, and flower stores colluded to dupe them into buying more useless junk that they (and their significant others) don’t need. As a marketer, I can’t decide if I should be offended, or applauding the genius.

From the offended stance, I would say that the whole Valentine’s Day craze isn’t totally a marketer’s fault. I mean, people have to actually buy into this whole scheme, right? It’s also interesting that no one gets up in arms about St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s a commercialized holiday as well. Maybe it’s because St. Patrick’s Day is all about drinking green beer and pinching people, instead of buying flowers? Maybe it’s because everyone has the ability to participate at different levels, and no one feels left out if they’re single (heck, you probably fare better when you’re single on St. Patrick’s Day!). Either way, I don’t place the blame totally at the marketer’s feet. As a society, we push for more, more, more, and the company’s bottom line needs to rise, rise, rise. And, quite frankly, “if you sell it, they will buy it”. Valentine’s Day bears and heart-shaped boxes would’ve died if no one bought those items, but people DO buy them, to the tune of millions of dollars. It’s like the latest toy craze, but for adults! So, if I’m going to get offended at the “evil marketer” accusation, I’d like to point a few fingers at society at large, and the obsession with outdoing the Jones in every aspect of gift-giving and purchasing.

However, I could also choose to applaud the marketers who increased sales profitably in a variety of industries with a single branding of one random day in February. People like to give and receive, and people like to compete and set expectations. Why not capitalize on this? Isn’t it a marketer’s job to see unmet needs in the market, and produce a product or service (or, in this case, a day) to meet those needs? Love is one of the strongest emotions to tap as a marketer, so what better way to sell something than to make a whole day dedicated to love? This is particularly valuable, since most of the items associated with Valentine’s Day have no utilitarian value. The flowers die, the chocolate makes you fat, and the bears just waste space. But humans value the ridiculous things that others do to show love. It’s such an intangible, immeasurable thing, that if you as a marketer can put some kind of price on it, you’ll hit a gold mine.

So yes, I must agree that Valentine’s Day is really a marketer’s holiday. My husband and I tend to shy away from commercialized holidays, and we’re working to make sure we don’t fall into the trap of marketers (it helps to have some inside information 🙂 ). But, I must admit, it made my day when flowers showed up at the office yesterday, the day BEFORE Valentine’s Day. We’re not flower people, and I know that my flowers will probably only last for a few days. But the sweet thought, the nice note, and the pop of color on a dreary day can make even the cynic’s heart melt. See… I knew it was marketing genius!

UPDATE: Newsy, a site that uses multiple resources to get the full view of a story, sent me a link to a video they produced on Valentine’s Day. Take a look at some of the crazy spending people do to show someone how much they care!

Dr. Pepper “Ten” Marketing Strategy

A classmate of mine directed me toward the Dr. Pepper “Ten” campaign, and it’s definitely an interesting review! The campaign is centered around promoting the drink to men, while the men do “manly” things like watch action movies and go on safaris.

The pros: The “Ten” campaign is an attention-getter, and it stirs up some controversy, which, as we know, makes people remember you. The commercials are obviously tongue-in-cheek, and the strategy has warranted press mentions and viral videos all over the web. I think Dr. Pepper hit the mark on getting people to talk about their new low-calorie soda.

The cons: However, once again, a company has chosen to go with stereotypes and an overly obvious message that their drink is “manly”. I don’t think this campaign has as much creativity in reality as they thought it would have during the brainstorming session. “Men being a stereotype” has been done, “men exclude women from stereotype to sell more stuff” is pretty juvenile. The premise is that men don’t want to drink “diet soda” because it’s “girly”, and yet men drink diet soda every day! There’s no inherent gender stereotype for wanting to look good, and diet drinks are always marketed as a way to indulge your taste buds without indulging your waistline. The product is not obviously geared toward men, so the advertising is a little over the top.

My take: I think determining whether this campaign is “good” depends on how you define success. Some ad agencies and PR professionals define it as the number of press mentions, video shares, or awards the campaign merits. But, as a marketer, I define success as growing sales profitably, and I’m just not sure this campaign will have that effect. Part of this, is because I think “Ten” will cannibalize market share from “Diet”, meaning that overall sales may flatline. It’s great that you got people talking, but did you get people buying? I also wonder how sticky the customers will be, as many might be willing to give “Ten” a try, but end up sticking with good ‘ole diet in the end. This seems like it could be another New Coke failure, where the original was preferred. I don’t think the controversial ad campaign will affect willingness to buy, as it’s obviously meant as a joke, with a pointed message that they are distinctly trying to get men to buy the product. They don’t mean to say that Dr. Pepper is not for woman, but rather, women already have a product from the company, so now, they’re making sure men have one too. Equality, right? 🙂 In short, I’ll be interested to see how “Ten” fares in the market, but my guess is that it won’t make quite the mark that the ad execs intended.

What’s your take on “Ten”?

Consumerism

I’m back from a wonderful long holiday weekend, complete with two Thanksgiving celebrations, a homemade bread-making day with my husband, singing and even a stats study session! The madness over Black Friday provided some great inspiration to start the week.

We love stuff, and in America, we’ve got plenty of it. And yet, there’s people who pepper spray others or shoot others to take their stuff during a sale. Really? REALLY? I heard about the lady with the pepper spray, and thought, “That’s what’s wrong with America, that lady and everything she stands for.” Basically, when we’re so controlled by our stuff that we can’t even act like decent human beings, that’s a problem.

This hits home for me, as a marketer, especially hard. Part of my job is to convince people that they need more of whatever item my company sells. I like to believe that my personal practice of marketing does not induce such abhorrent behavior, and that I’m more about telling people about real solutions to real problems. I don’t want to “sell” someone something that they don’t need.

My husband and I read a lot of personal finance blogs, including two extreme bloggers, ERE and Mr. Money Mustache. Both denounce the devotion to stuff, and one goes so far as to use the concept of storing his stuff on Craigslist. If he doesn’t need this lawn mower right now, he just sells it on Craigslist, with the mindset that when he does need a lawn mower, he can simply retrieve it from Craigslist by purchasing another. Since he almost exclusively uses the secondary market, this is a very economic option.

This is a pretty polarizing issue, with many people trying to slim down, while others are hoarding every last item they can find. At what point are we convincing people to buy more unnecessary clutter, instead of educating them about the benefits of using your solution for a real problem? At what point are we enabling consumerism, instead of responsible, reasonable ownership? Is Black Friday the ultimate genius marketing campaign, or devious device of consumerism?

Perceived Value

I read a Forbes article a while back, titled, “Restaurant Foods That Are Ripping You Off“. Basically, the article talks about how you think you might be getting a good deal at a restaurant by choosing a cheaper entree, but the menu price may not  correlate to the true cost of the meal. For example, a plate of pasta and tomato sauce is MUCH cheaper to make than a prime steak, so the best value is to order the steak, even though it may cost a few dollars more.

This pricing scheme is due in large part to perceptions, and how perceptions contribute to value. It’s also part of the reason why I don’t generally choose Italian or Mexican restaurants when I’m in the mood for fine dining. I can make spaghetti and meatballs at home that are equally as satisfying as a restaurant dish, so I don’t want to pay such a high price for them to cook it. Similarly, I love cheese enchilada dinners, but I know that the cost for the whole plate (including rice and beans), is pennies on the dollar. I’m willing to pay up to $9.99, but $15 for a plate of cheap food? Heck no! Now, it’s a whole different ballgame when we start talking about steak and seafood, since I can’t make an equally satisfying dish with either of those ingredients. If I’m going to spend good money at a restaurant, I want the items that I value more, based on my inability to provide equal value myself.

Perceptions make a huge difference in your ability to price your items. For example, my perception is that good seafood is hard to get in Texas, so it should cost more. This perception is generally true, since we have to get our seafood shipped in from other coasts (trust me, you don’t want to eat seafood out of the Gulf!) However, my perception is that cheese, tortillas, rice, and beans, are widely available, and the labor cost to make the food is low (I mean really, throw the rice in a pot and walk away, you don’t have to baby-sit!). Therefore, I don’t perceive that going to a restaurant for this type of food has much value. If people think that your items are commodities, or that they are easy to produce themselves, their perception will be that you don’t provide as much value.

Sometimes, perceptions have nothing to do with reality, and this is where marketers sometimes get a bad rap. People think that marketers just manipulate their perceptions, in order to contribute to the consumerist and corporate greed. While some do this, I’m not one of them. I will say that shaping perceptions can be helpful to the consumer, as giving brands a certain reputation makes it easier to buy for your budget, quality, and functional needs. However, a healthy dose of skepticism about claims “too good to be true” is a good way to make sure that your perceived value is in line with the true value of an item.

Freebies

Jewel tones and a black pencil skirt might be my new favorite combo!

 

Gorgeous necklace to add a little fun to such a conservative outfit.

 

Skirt: Ann Taylor LOFT

T-shirt: Target

Cardigan: Target

Bracelet: Target

Necklace/Earrings/Belt: NY & Co.

Shoes: Alfani

Like the outfit? See more details here!

 

I’ve been working my way through the tactics that retailers use to partner with bloggers, and today’s post discusses the “freebies” that retailers give to bloggers and readers.

Giveaways are usually done from the retailer to the blogger, who then passes it along to their readers. First, the retailer gives an item to the blogger to work into their regular wardrobe, and often provides the exact same item to the blogger for a reader to win. Most bloggers require the reader to leave comment, Tweet the post, or like their Facebook page to be entered into the giveaway lottery. To me, giveaways are not as engaging as some of the other methods, as it only requires a quick one-line mention, instead of browsing through the retailer’s merchandise or store.

Contests, on the other hand, are a great way to engage bloggers and readers. Many contests include a story or picture involving the retailer, such as, “Tell us what items you love most at [Retailer], and how you would style them, to be entered into a contest to win a $100 shopping spree!” Or, “Send us a photo wearing an item from [Retailer], and you’ll be entered to win [item]!” I think contests get the readers thinking about ways to incorporate the retailer’s items into their daily lives, and may encourage them to step foot into a store. The more you can get a person to imagine your brand in their life, the more likely they are to purchase something from you.

Discounts are a great way for the blogger, reader, and retailer to win. When bloggers give discount codes, they are more likely to have that post re-Tweeted or posted on other social media sites, and their readers will be more loyal, in the hope that they’ll receive another discount code. The reader wins because they get reduced prices on items that they’ve already seen on their favorite blogger, and continuing to read the blog feels like a reward. Finally, the retailers win, as they have built-in tracking to measure the ROI, and a targeted audience for a discount, leading to a higher likelihood of purchase.

Freebies are popular among the blog community, and retailers are cashing in on this type of marketing strategy. Who doesn’t like a freebie? Like the outfit? See more details here!

Talking So They’ll Listen

I just came home from a sales training session in Atlanta, GA, and we discussed some tips for talking so they’ll listen. In particular, we discussed the results of a brain dominance test that measures how you prefer to make decisions, receive information, and generally deal with people. This is similar to many different personality tests, but the results of this particular session really hit home for me.

First, I found out that I’m basically completely different than all my colleagues. Well, I already knew this! A few differences that I am well aware of: I’m a girl, I’m young, I’m “creative” instead of “technical”, I’m fast-paced and “hyper”, and I have no experience in the industry instead of 15-25 years’ experience in aviation. These obvious differences present their own challenges, but the brain dominance test revealed that I prefer to look at the big picture, instead of focusing in on every detail. Literally ALL of my colleagues are more detail-oriented vs. considering the entire picture. Neither way is right or wrong, but it sheds a little light on a particular challenge I’ve been facing with the implementation of the CRM.

To me, implementing the Customer Relationship Management System is a strategic move to improve data collection, analysis, and sharing at all levels of the organization, and across all functions of the organization. To my sales reps, it’s an extra 20 minutes each day doing data entry. I see reports of aggregate data that tell a story about the market and our place in the market, and my reps see customers’ names and phone numbers, completely unrelated to the market as a whole. Thus, while I’m hammering home the point about how great it is for everyone, they’re tuned out because they don’t see the value for their day-to-day operations.

It’s not rocket science that people think differently, learn differently, and make decisions differently. But talking so they’ll listen is pretty difficult, and if you’re not even sure what language they’re speaking, you’ll have miscommunications. Now that I know what language makes them listen, I’m going to start giving more detail about how the CRM provides value to them on a day-to-day basis, instead of painting such a broad picture. This is just one area that I’ve missed the mark in communicating benefits, and business requires you to move out of your communication comfort zone on a regular basis. So, next time you’re making your pitch (not just the sales pitch, but the “give me a raise” pitch, the “lower my rate for advertising” pitch, or the “my department needs better software” pitch), do you know what language your AUDIENCE is speaking? Do you know what words will make them hear you? Dig into their heads a little, and dig into your head a little, and use the information to find a way to talk so they’ll listen!

This Look Brought to You By…

Khaki with a pop of color!

 

We got a little creative in this shoot... check out the gallery for more!

Pants: NY & Co.

Tank: Target

Cardigan: Target

Necklace: Icing

Earrings: Charlotte Russe

Like the outfit? See more details here!

I talked last week about why retailers find partnerships with bloggers to be an effective strategy, so now I want to dive into “how” they go about these partnerships. Styling a look is one of the easiest ways for retailers to get their brands to a blogger’s audience. Retailers go about offering styling options to bloggers in different ways, but the goal is to show the readers of the blog how the clothes, make-up, or accessories can look in real life.

Sometimes retailers offer a head-to-toe styling, giving the blogger a shopping spree or giftcard to pick out a look completely composed of items in the store. This includes the shoes, jewelry, handbag, and main ensemble pieces. This is a great option, as it allows the retailer to showcase several different items from various areas of the store. Since there’s several options, it’s more likely that someone will like at least one piece featured in the blog post. Better yet, it gives commenters a chance to talk about different items they like, and offer up other styling suggestions for their favorite pieces.

Retailers have also used challenges to feature hard-to-style or off-beat pieces, allowing the blogger to use one piece from their line, and combine it with pieces they already have in their closet. Again, this works well to show readers that you can incorporate pieces from the featured retailer into your working wardrobe. Most people don’t have the money to regularly splurge on a full head-to-toe look, so it’s helpful to see how one piece can work in a variety of ways, and helps the reader envision that piece in their closet, working with items they already own.

Finally, some retailers partner with bloggers to create look books, fashion shows, or regular features on that blog. They may invite influential bloggers to the store for a “personal shopping” day, which pulls in the reader’s local audience. Or, they may feature the blogger in a campaign with “Blogger’s picks”, creating a win-win for the retailer and the blogger. The retailer receives a captive audience and brand champion, and the blogger receives exposure via a new outlet, which increases their readership. When a blogger regularly features a retailer, they increase awareness and confidence in the quality, versatility, and price-point of the brand, and readers are much more likely to browse through the retailer’s store or website.

I’m not very brand-loyal in my outfits, but styling options are a great way for retailers to build relationships with bloggers and their readers. Like the outfit? See more details here!

Retail Marketing

 

A feisty outfit after a long absence!

Dress: JC Penney

Shoes: Alfani

Earrings: NY & Co.

Like the outfit? See more details here!

After a long absence, the outfits are making an appearance on the blog again! As I’m not a fashion blogger, the outfits may come and go in spurts, but a recent comment on Corporette sparked my interest in doing another outfit post. I read Corporette regularly, more for the comments than the actual posts. Occasionally, a “what are you wearing today” comment thread pops up, and the women will describe their outfit, shoes, and accessories for the day. During one of these threads, a commenter noted that she felt like it was a prompt from a retail marketer to get insight. While this is definitely not the case for that thread, it’s not unusual for retailers to target influential bloggers for partnerships, features, and information. It’s a great strategy that combines thought leadership, “real” marketing, and the bright (not so) new toy, social media.

First, this strategy is effective because you’re reaching a targeted audience through a credible source. The blogger is already a thought leader with strong influence over their readers, so a recommendation from this blogger is almost like a recommendation from a close friend. And, who do we believe more? The greedy advertisers with a profit motive, or the friendly blogger who just wants to help us look great? Retailers know that reaching an audience through a blogger offers mass-media effects, with much less skepticism from customers.

Second, people love to see “real” marketing, and a blogger wearing an outfit makes a bigger impact than an airbrushed model or a mannequin. How many people honestly have a model’s figure? Many people, especially women, think that they must have a model’s body to pull off an outfit, so seeing it on a real woman (or man, though the prevalence of fashion blogging is higher among women) makes them feel like they, too, could wear the outfit featured in the post. On Corporette, for example, “The Skirt” is a closet staple, regularly reported on by commenters and blog owner alike. “The Skirt” is a Halogen skirt at Nordstrom’s, with rave reviews from an influential blogger, and a backing from the whole community.

The concept of “community” leads me to the third reason this strategy is effective: social media. The ability to really connect to a brand is higher now than it has ever been. Blogs allow people to connect with not only the owner, but the wider community on the web. Thus, as a retailer, you want to plug into that community, and partnering with the blogger at the head of the community is a great place to deliver your message. Once the community embraces your brand message, it’s no longer about a corporation “selling” an item, but a community championing an item.

This post details the “why” of retailers working with bloggers, and I plan to take a look at the “how” over several posts in the coming weeks. Like the outfit? See more details here!

Sex Sells

I’m still waffling about the title of this post, as I know the spam-catcher is going to have a hayday. However, there’s no way around this overwhelmingly obvious truth in Vegas: sex sells. And, quite frankly, that bothers me. Aside from my moral quandary about using sex as a selling tool, I feel like it’s bad marketing.

First, the moral issues. It’s disconcerting to walk down a street in broad daylight, and see people in t-shirts with a phone number and the slogan, “Girls Direct to YOU…… 24/7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” They stand on the corners slapping trading cards of provocative pictures on their hands, and thrust them at you as you walk by. There’s trucks that drive down the street, with the sole purpose of carrying a giant billboard to advertise these women, and huge signs on every hotel boast some kind of topless review or burlesque show. I’m sorry, but I don’t think our society needs any more encouragement to have promiscuous sex, and I find it disgusting that in 2011, we still degrade women to nothing more than sex objects. I literally heard a man and a woman negotiating for women on the street. NEGOTIATING for women! Being from a conservative, Christian family in the South, I haven’t been exposed to such blatant, overt, sexual advertising. Sure, we see it in everyday innuendo and less-than-clothed advertisements, but open price discussions are unheard of where I’m from. People may disagree that promiscuous sex is immoral, but I would wager most would agree that negotiating the sale of another human’s most private possession is morally deplorable. We see stories about rape, abuse, and trafficking all over the world, but we’ve got a thriving market right here at home. We send aid and workers and police to fight the problem abroad, but pour money into billboards to advertise it in Vegas. Does anyone else find this to be a contradiction?

Second, I think it’s bad marketing to use sex to sell. What do sushi and sex have to do with each other? Why would you need to go topless to sing songs from the 1950s? Are your food and voice sub-par without that extra little umph of a naked woman? There’s plenty of places that serve great food, and put on a great show, without resorting to catering to man’s (well, humans’, but particularly man’s) basest instinct. The argument that people like good scenery while they dine or listen to music rings true… and there’s plenty of marble, paint, gold, fountains, and greenery to enhance your experience. It’s a cheap shot to make everything about sex, since it’s a strong biological imperative. People get up-in-arms about marketing to children, as they’re susceptible to all manner of suggestion. But, where’s the outrage at using sex to sell? And don’t tell me it’s because adults “know better”. Look at Axe, the company that sells men’s body products on the premise that you’ll have women throwing themselves at you after incorporating Axe into your daily routine. One story talks about a lawsuit from a disgruntled customer, who claims that he’s seen no “effect” after using the products. Cars, phones, shoes, and the list goes on, tell you that you’ll get more sex if you buy their product. We all know we’re not going to get rich quick, we’re not going to lose weight fast, and we’re not going to stay young forever, but for some reason, we all think we’ll be sexier or get more sex! These claims are equally ridiculous, but people are less likely to dismiss them. Again, let your product stand on its own merit. Am I the only one that questions the quality of the ACTUAL product when they feel they must use sex to sell?

Las Vegas knows how to sell sex. In fact, part of me wonders if they ONLY know how to sell sex, as food, shows, and other attractions are all paired with random sexy images.  The advertisement for Celine Dion features a picture of her back, in an extremely low-cut gown, with the slogan “Celine’s back”. Clever turn of a phrase, I suppose, but what does her bare back have to do with her ability to sing? Vegas has some great attractions, but I, for one, can do without the sale of sex.