Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Three Generations of Fans

I'm a single father of three kids - an 8th grader, a high school sophomore and a high school junior.  I had them this past weekend and learned just how differently they view "celebrity."  I think of myself as a really cool, young-at-heart dad.  I watch Family Guy, listen to Kid Cudi, play sports, etc. - I even took my oldest daughter to Coachella.  My kids keep me young and my brain thirsts for new information to process.  It's also hugely beneficial to have teenagers as a means of gauging where consumer trends are headed.  My kids have no problem telling me that something is "really lame" and a "fail."  A few weeks ago, my two girls let me know that they are going to VidCon in Anaheim and ask if they can have some friends spend the night.  It turns out it was 4 nights and I had to cook, clean, feed and shuttle back and forth from my home in Fullerton. 

For those of you who don't know, VidCon is a convention for a legion of YouTube fans who follow internet stars, called "YouTubers."  While the event has some stage performances and product demonstrations, the user experience revolves around standing in long lines to take pictures with some of your favorite YouTubers.  How long?  How about 4.5 hours to enjoy a 15-second meet and greet with Jenna Marbles. Who?  Yeah, exactly.  This screaming troop of girls I chauffeured to and from the event daily went on and on about who they met and how much they bonded with their fellow "fan girls."  Huh?  It was eye-opening for sure.  I had my daughter read off from a list of 50 YouTubers who she had met.  I recognized two of the names - Rebecca Black (from "Friday" song fame) and Howie Mandel (doesn't qualify as a YouTuber, but she did meet him).  I pondered how out of touch I was.  Certainly, someone who went to Coachella can't be that far off center, right?  I don't know if this is a sign of what is to come, but I realize that kids don't really connect to traditional entertainment like my generation did.  They certainly don't connect like my parents did - Walter Cronkite was a God in my house growing up.  Yes, something is happening here.

My kids are not a reflection of all kids, but I do see most kids taking on similar traits - gaming, mobile, social networks and bit-sized media on demand.  I can't help but to think that the television and movie industries are trying to figure out how to address this consumer trend.  As a marketer, I'm watching and recognizing that stardom is but a cam away.  

Monday, June 30, 2014

Why Marketing Efforts Fail

A lot of new clients come to me limping on one leg and questioning whether any of this "marketing stuff" is going to drive revenue.  They've been fed a steady appetite of excuses by former agencies that tried and failed.  Many clients have tried to go it alone and then circle back around to hiring an agency after realizing that there's just too much to learn.  On one hand, companies like Facebook and Google make it really easy to do marketing without having to interface with some professional who will charge you for that expertise.  On the other hand, these same companies prey on those who don't understand the complexities of how to make their platforms work optimally.  To use an analogy, we all have the option of changing the oil to our own vehicles.  After all, oil and oil filters are easily available, yet very few people opt to do it themselves.  Why?  Because the risks of doing it wrong outweigh the benefits of doing it right.  The same is true of digital marketing - well, at least some of it is. 

Writing your own blog is easier than changing your own oil.  Running an optimized PPC campaign is much harder.  Building a website is easy.  Making it a destination that converts visitors into prospective customers is hard.  Some things are easy - some things are hard.  It all really depends on your access to those talents and whether they need to be brought in-house or outsourced.  You can even divide a project into pieces, determining which parts you'll need marketing expertise on.  The digital marketing landscape changes daily and it's impossible to master it all...not on your own.  I've been immersed in marketing for the past 25+ years and there are plenty of skills that I've had no time to master.  I know plenty, but "mastering" them is a different level of measurement.  I surround myself with talent because I need for my firm to perform.  I suggest you take the same route.  I advise clients to take on the campaign elements that they've mastered (business model, channel mapping, competitor analysis, message identification, etc.).  These are all very essential pieces to a successful campaign.  Rather that spinning wheels on building a website, it would be a far better use of resources to develop the content that resides on that website.  Today, everyone's a marketer - the good, the bad and the ugly...the people with tiny budgets...companies with an armored car full of marketing dollars.  In short, it's a noisy world.  In 1975, the average consumer saw 700 branded messages a day.  Today, that number is 5,000!  What's the likelihood that you'll be able to outshout the market?  What the likelihood that you'll be able to sustain that same feat every day for the life of your marketing efforts? 

So why do marketing efforts fail, can we get to the bottom of this?  Here it is.  Marketing efforts fail because they are optimistic and full of hope rather than strategic and full of supporting data.  We all have to swordfight competitors in a noisy market - more accurately stated, chopping trees.  Abraham Lincoln famously said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."  There are plenty of ways to market, and yet, only a few that will efficiently accomplish the task.  It all starts with two simple tasks - finding an accomplished marketer to help you write a marketing plan and writing a marketing plan.  Without a marketing plan, you're simply swinging at trees in hopes that they'll fall.  Google and Facebook have no problem taking your advertising dollars - the less you know, the happier they are.  Ever notice that the support tools and help pages are lengthy and complex?  Yeah, now you know why - this stuff is hard.  Anything easy isn't worth having.  And, guess what?  Everyone is a marketer.  Everyone thinks it's easy.  But not everyone is just blindly spending ad dollars, mucking up the waters and making it harder for you to be successful in reaching your target market.  Still, there are a lot out there and the task is massive. 

Eventually, blind push marketing won't be able to survive, as budgets aren't infinite.  Don't get caught by the web that is "tactical" marketing - focus on strategic marketing.  There's some upfront work that isn't always so fun and creative, but the long-term payoff is huge.  The results are being able to definitely connect your marketing efforts to results and a budget that will travel further than you ever imagined.  Now, go sharpen that axe.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sending the Haters Home

I have a client who is completely annoyed by her Yelpers.  Not everyone has a bitch and complaint, but they do crawl under her skin and burrow themselves deep into her patience.  It seems like everyone has an opinion about how she should be doing business.  Remarkably, she's remained composed and backed off of sounding defensive - good move.  As much satisfaction as it might give her to fire back at the "haters", this would only buy her invitations to more fights.  But, you can't ignore bad reviews, ignorant statements or mistruths, correct?  No you can't.  There's a way to handle confrontation from those who are more interested in getting a rise out of you than leaving an insightful review.

Plenty of "haters" online, and most us know it.  So, we look for how the company responds as a sign as to whether the "hating" is justified or not.  This is advice for the real world as well as the online world - apologizing for someone's troubles is not the same as admitting fault.  Acknowledge their disappointment, apologize for being the focal point for cause, restate your policy, convey that you will follow up to make sure this policy is being enforced, and ask them to connect with you offline to provide them with a remedy that better connects with the experience they had expected.  This makes you look responsive and empathetic - which is all that observers are looking for.  The truth doesn't matter - it's about perception.  If you think I offended you - I probably offended you. Your response will either douse the flames or pour gasoline on them - you get to decide.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Defending Your Social Media Role

I responded to a question from a young gal on LinkedIn regarding how she should defend her role as the Social Media Manager.  Many in the organization have left her feeling defensive about her role, after describing her role as "fun."  Listen, I get that there are those in the organization who look at any facet of the marketing function and simplify the profession to just "having fun and doing creative stuff."  It's offensive, especially when you tabulate the long hours working on the not-so-fun aspects of the job.  But, you don't need to feel defensive about it.  If you're like me, marketing is your passion and it's supposed to be a little fun, right?  Make no mistake, too much fun without the effort being validated will bury your role over time. 

Until you can definitely connect your efforts to customer retention or customer acquisition, then it is "just for fun."  If social media is the tactic you employ to meet your marketing objectives, you shouldn't have to feel defensive about it.  This was the same discussion in the 80's and 90's around community relations and media relations.  I get that most don't understand what social media is about, but it's going to be murky waters while ROI is not definitive.  In the interim, you should be able to extract plenty of analytics on your community and how their engaging your brand - at least enough to intelligently discuss how your efforts are contributing to the bottom line.  Otherwise, yes, it's just for fun and the CEO's granddaughter will be doing your job next summer when she turns 16.

A last bit of advice - professional to professional - is that you should not define your skillset to your role.  If your title is "Social Media Manager" expect that job security to sway with the prevailing winds.  If the CEO believes in social media, then you'll be loved.  The opposite is also true.  Rather, view social media as a tactic, not a strategy.  The strategy is customer acquisition and retention, and you achieve that through social media in your role.  Head over to HR after reading this article and change your title as soon as you can get approval. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Social Media: Boom or Bust for Your Business?

If I've posted this message once, I've posted it a thousand times.  I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all or accusatory, but I feel the need to defend social media.  I'm the first to advise clients to stay away from "vanity" marketing - that is marketing that you don't do for any other reason that because it's considered prestigious.  Time and dollars are two important resources to the marketer, and you can't afford to waste them.  Is that what social media is - a waste?  You're going to find that the jury is split right down the middle.  A lot of my clients and colleagues are confused about the role of social media and what it's value is.  How much time and dollars should be allocated to social media?  How many leads are going to be generated?  Is this a better tactic than PPC?  Should we be buying "Likes" on Facebook?  Do we let our sales reps devote time to networking on LinkedIn?  This ought to give you some idea as to the complexity of this topic.  I thought I'd break down for you a number of the elements that should, hopefully, provide clarity as you determine how to approach social media.

Tactical vs. Strategic: First of all, social media is not a's a tactic.  Sure, you can have a "social media strategy" but that should be in reference to how your going to accomplish a specific marketing objective within the tactical execution of social media.  Sounds confusing?  Not really.  Let me make it really easy.  Marketing is about taking your products/services to the market.  There are an infinite number of ways to do that, so you need to be strategic about it.  You start with a working business model, develop a marketing plan and the subsequent goals/objectives.  You'll then identify target markets and the channels you'll need to go through to reach them, draft the positioning statements (based on the 7 P's of differentiation) that drive action and, finally, how you'll execute tactically (e.g. social media).  Usually, the constraints of time and budget are what frame your ability to execute through one tactic versus another.  I don't mean to make it sound easy, because it isn't.  I simply mean to reference that, without a strategic marketing plan, your decision to do social media is just as random as deciding to do bus bench advertising.  Get your head out of the tactical cloud until you've identified your marketing objectives/goals and have estimates for what resources you have available to you.

Social Selling:  Social doesn't sell, does it?  Depends.  Again, see the first bullet about tactical vs. strategic.  In short, social does not sell on it's own, but it plays a very impressive role amongst marketing tactics in that it covers all four pillars (lead generation, lead capture, lead nurture and lead conversion).  The real question is, "How much time do you have?"  For some business types, social media can generate sales quickly.  I've got a client this is a restaurant.  They can run a post about an offer on Facebook and target a specific demographic base within 5 miles of their restaurant.  We pay to promote it, build in a call to action that reference that it came from social media and increase foot traffic almost immediately.  That's not going to work for a company that isn't selling something that the consumer can pull the trigger on so quickly.  Still, relationships for these types of businesses are important.  Relationships take time and social media does a great job positioning your company as likeable, authoritative, credible and trustworthy. 

Social Isn't Free: There's nothing worth having that comes free.  Social is another example.  Let's get this out in the open - your competitor is doing social media too.  Any form of marketing where you don't have to pay to indulge in is likely to attract all your industrial foes.  If you are talking to your customers and prospective customers, you need to know that your competitors are.  However, is this the best use of your time?  That's what you need to determine.  And, it needs to come solely on the basis of customer retention because social media as part of a customer acquisition effort is still in question.  No doubt, with a Facebook page and some advertising dollars, you can reach customers and prospects without very little time invested.  But what if you've got sales people who tell you that they need time on LinkedIn to network with prospective accounts that could take years to close?  You have to invest something, but should it be at the salesperson level or is this something that can be done through an organizational effort?  Good questions - no definitive answer because these are all unique circumstances that should be tailored for your effort.  Just understand, if you want it to work for you, social won't be free.

Blurry ROI: I'm going to hit my head with a hammer if I keep hearing the social media ROI debate for another 10 years.  The truth is, social media has no clearer ROI than any other form of marketing.  You ask, "But Sean, we can track our PPC campaigns to dollars spent!"  Of course you can, but is that PPC ROI or your website ROI?  What triggers a transactional conversion that can be definitely accounted for in just one marketing tactic?  There are some.  Ever see those guys waiving the sign on the street trying to trigger traffic into the retail store?  Those stores can calculate the difference in foot traffic against days where sign-guy was not waving his big arrow about.  Based on that traffic, and the smaller percentage that yields an actual revenue-generating conversion, you can pretty much calculate whether the sign tactic was worth the daily expense or not.  There are a handful of other examples, but not many.  Social media works in concert with other forms of marketing to provide social validation - that is, people get to know you, trust you, like you, then reference the relationship to determine that they have a "friend in the business" when they are in the market for products and services you offer.  The consumer drives that decision - not the business.  Make a note - if you're waiting for some ROI calculation to determine that social media is driving revenue, you're CEO is going to have your job. 

Relationships Matter: In the last 6 years or so, the consumer has evolved into a bit of a cynic.  They've been inundated with tons of branded messages and are very immune to your marketing efforts.  Stop with you're CTA (call to action) self-promoting script of marketing jargon - you don't get to call anyone to anything.  The consumer determines when they're going to buy.  You'll get to spice the message up to entice people, but, without a gun in your hand, you'll really not going to make them do a thing.  You don't need to "sell" so much.  If you have the 7 P's (do you know what these are) defined, people will interpret your position in the market and take some action if they validate it or reject it.  The market has a cruel/pleasing way of delivering the truths that you may or may not want to hear.  With social media, you have an opportunity to connect with customers and prospects that is personal (unplug the sell switch).  Many companies are trying to manufacture likeability (position as local or socially responsible, etc.).  You have an opportunity to do it genuinely through social media.  It doesn't relieve you of the responsibility of delivering perceived value, but it does give you an opportunity to connect on a personal level.  And people tend to want to do business with people they like.

Take this list with you as a reminder to set realistic expectations for your social media effort.  Don't take too big a bite and make promises to your CEO about the new leads you'll extract from your hours on LinkedIn nor scoff at the social media effort calling it wasteful.  Like all forms of marketing - it should be customized for your business model. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What Are We Doing Here?

Most of you know how active I am on LinkedIn (Social Media Today and Social Media Explorer).  I'm a Top Contributor in both of those forums and I think of myself as a bit of a marketing watchdog.  You see, I've got 25+ years as a marketing profession - which doesn't mean I know it all.  However, it does mean that I've heard a lot of "pitches" over the years.  Now, if you're averse to foul language, you might want to click away.  I'm not fond of bull-shitters.  In fact, I despise them.  They've done a lot of damage to my profession over the years.  It not only makes it difficult for professionals like myself to win business over those who sell lies, but it also makes it difficult to convince clients who've been burned that I can do what I say I can do.  I thought I'd take my brand of "truth" to social media forums to share with others that this profession is supposed to represent something much more ethical and worthy.  It's about helping clients, typically small-to-medium-sized business who just want to swim this sea of consumer confusion and brand chaos.  And, along the way, avoid being eaten by sharks and emerge with limbs in tact.  We don't have to stop there.  I want to share with other marketing professionals how to manage customer expectations and start talking with the kind of truth that should be at the front end of every engagement.  I'm glad you found my blog.  Whether you're a small business or another marketing professional, I want to thank you for your interest in the truth.  I hope this Blog will flush out the bullshit and usher in a new era of honesty about what works, best practices, helpful hints, great ideas, identifying lame strategies and anything you'd like to share. 

Some of the posts are taken from content I've written on LinkedIn Group boards.  I apologize if you have already read the post, but my blog posts make it much easier to locate content. Enjoy.