Thursday, April 23, 2009

susan boyle and kaytee suet

unless you've been hiding under a giant rock for the last several days, you know about susan boyle and the close to 50 million downloads of the youtube video showcasing her performance on "Britain's Got Talent." she's been on larry king, she's been the subject of articles in the world's major newspapers, and certainly gotten her 15 minutes and more in the blogosphere, with more than 2700 posts a day last week.

most of the coverage that attempts to explain why the world is so taken with susan, i think, misses the mark. many of these stories flail into armchair psychoanalysis, such as peter bregman's: "Who among us does not move through life with the hidden sense, maybe even quiet desperation, that we are destined for more? That underneath our ordinary exterior lies an extraordinary soul? That given the right opportunity, the right stage, the right audience, we would shine as the stars we truly are?" or even the more straight-up commentaries about how an angelic voice emanating from a sort of frumpy exterior has unexpectedly provoked a debate about prejudice against the not so young and not so beautiful.

but i think the reason that we're captivated is much simpler, and it's actually the same reason that i am at this moment, in an equally odd turn of events, thrilled with Kaytee suet.

those of you who try to attract wild birds to your feeders know what i'm talking about. birds are notoriously fickle. you can put food out in the middle of winter when there's nothing else to eat, and if they don't like it, they won't eat it. (this concept is totally lost, by the way, on willy & hoover, who never met a foodstuff -- or even non-footstuffs -- they didn't like). anyway, we'd tried the gamut of designer-brand suets, some with cherries, or orange pieces, or nuts, or i don't know what else. they might as well have been laced with gold, and we'd sometimes spend upward of $6 or $8 on the stuff, only to have to dig it out of the stupid little box to try something else. so one day, out of spite, almost, we bought the kaytee product, which was about $1-something and -- thinking about susan here -- didn't really look the part, if you know what i mean.

but remarkably, the kaytee worked! along came the cardinals, bluejays, finches and the little blue buntings in droves, and they couldn't get enough of the stuff. i could not have been more ... and here's the point of this post ... more surprised and delighted. if you watch the entire clip of susan's performance, somewhere in the first minute or so, they cut to backstage where the field producers are, and one of them says to the camera, "you weren't expecting that, were you... no!," which is i think really what's driving the emotion around this.

the surprise comes from, i suppose, what some people see as the incongruity between her visage and her voice. i got over this a long time ago, however, when i first got a look at the album covers for rush, steely dan and some other incredible musicians who were not similarly gifted in looks. but then again, isn't this why even the cheapest concert tickets sometimes sell out? presumably, some people are there for the music, as well as (or even maybe for more than) the spectacle.

anyway, surprise and delight are absolutely key to customer engagement, retention and advocacy. good advertising and pr may get a horse to your bucket, but it won't keep him drinking, much less telling other horses about it. when we run into surprise and delight, 2 things happen: 1) we build an automatic positive relationship with the product/brand at that moment (not to say it can't be undone later, but that's for a different post); and 2) we are generally motivated to tell others about it, often in a highly proactive way. whether you're talking about susan or suet, the results are the same ... we need more of it, and quickly!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

twitter for dogs

Willy: Hi, this is willy. I will now attempt in 140 characters or less to have a conversation with my brother to illustrate the value of twitter.

Hoover: This is Hoover. Is it dinnertime yet?

Willy: Hoover has just succinctly shown us one of the key characteristics of twitter, which is the nature of the immediacy of the communication.

Hoover: Gimmedatfood. Gimmedatfood. Gimmedatfood.

Willy: He also clearly points out another interesting quality, which is the ability – nay, the necessity – of communicating in clear language.

Hoover: Huh?

Willy: This is why mom says some old school pr folks don’t like twitter – ‘coz they don’t like talking this way. saying coz instead of “because.”

Hoover: But that just saved you, like, 4 characters!

Willy: Right. And that’s pretty cool when you have to include the spaces in ur tweets. I HATE HAVING TO INCLUDE THE SPACES!

Hoover: That’s why I talk the way I do. Now, gimmedatfood!

Willy: Here’s the deal. Twitter is not some kind of fad. Dogs know this. We’ve been tweeting since the first wolf howled his way to domestication.

Hoover: I thought u just stole that blackberry from mom last week?

Willy: Shhhh, dogbreath. She thinks dad accidentally threw it out!

Hoover: So … I guess now u really have a reason to wrap this post up and GIMMEDATFOOD! I’m starving over here.

Willy: Think about it. When ur dog barks, whines, or just looks at u coz it’s time for eating, playing, or - other stuff - that’s like a tweet.

Hoover: I’m tweeting 2u about dinner but it’s not seeming to work very well?

Willy: Also, Twitter is about communities and connections, which every dog knows r key to the success of both the individual and the group.

Hoover: What I’d like to know is whether this individual and/or group is gonna get some chow anytime soon?

Willy: I’m talking about the future not just of social media, but all marketing. It’s weird, but people would rather trust strangers than experts.

Hoover: Look, I thought this was just about “what r u doing?”

Willy: Dude, that’s like so 6 mos ago. Twitter’s moved way byond that. Think about capabilities 4 crisis mgmt. 4 sales promotion. 4 flash mobs!

Hoover: I thought flash mobs were so 6 months ago?

Willy: Ok, but u get my point (or at least I hope our readers do). Get with the big T b4 its 2 late and your dog beats u2 the future.

Hoover: Whatever. I think marketers should get w twitter coz it’s fast, it’s authentic, and it’s the media of choice of millions. Can’t b ignored.

Willy: Who ru and what have you done with Hoover?

Hoover: Hey look! it’s dog food! Again! How lucky r we?! Let’s eat!!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

the marketing of anti-life

apologies, all, for the gaping hole left in the blogosphere by the absence of monica-generated drivel over the last couple of weeks. i was officially on vacation... or, as i like to think of it ... the "anti-life." that's because the type of vacation i typically select, when given a choice, is the kind that involves basting in a delicious broth of one's own juices combined with SPF30 (anything over 30 is marketing) and the last dribbles of that umbrella drink that never quite made it to its proper and final destination.

i've been going to negril beach, located on the western tip of jamaica, for roughly the last 2 decades, because it provides a highly enjoyable and consistent brand experience which is mostly about that anti-life. the anti-life is, by definition, the opposite of real life (meaning my life, for the most part). for example, in real life, one generally must be prompt -- but in jamaica, everything runs on "jamaica time," which is anywhere between 5 minutes and 45 minutes late, and if you're on time for something, you look (and feel) silly. in real life, one generally only sings in public if one is either a performer, or silly enough to think that s/he is as good as a performer. but in jamaica, everybody sings, pretty much about everything, and they don't seem to care whether anyone's listening (and somehow, even non-performer jamaicans sound much better than non-perfomer americans, though i've never been able to figure out why this is so). and in real life, one finds it generally most productive to be awake during the day and asleep at night ... but in jamaica this portion of the time-space continuum is stood on its beautifully tanned head, and the place doesn't even really get going until midnight or so.

when i first started vacationing there, they didn't have either telephones or tv sets in the rooms (remember, it was 1989 and the internet was not even a twinkle in al gore's eye) and that was just fine by me, since, in real life, i was on the phone and paying attention to the television pretty much all day. a mcpaper cost $5 (and that was before they were doing the special weekend editions). if you wanted to know something about what was going on in the u.s., the best way was to locate someone who'd just arrived and ask what the headlines were in the last day or so. like playing "telephone," the children's game, the news was not always told in the most accurate fashion ... but then again, when one has had enough umbrella drinks, sometimes one is willing to make allowances for that.

but i thought (and still think) the oddest thing is that, rather than marketing all this as "anti-life," which was the whole reason i -- and others, too, i think -- were going there, they were busy trying to promote the experience for its "real life" qualities... the great beachfront, the great food, the great hotel amenities, etc. and there's no doubt those things were (and are) great .... but the truth is, those things are pretty much the same in ANY vacation place. my point -- and i do have one, trust me -- is that the things which were truly the best and most meaningful differentiators of the experience were ignored in favor of some things that were not really differentiators at all. i hate to admit i'd ever pay more for anything, but truth is, if they'd proclaimed something like: "come to jamaica, where you'll never hear a ringing telephone," i would have been inclined to spend twice the money to go there.

remember jolt cola? as i recall, this product evolved in the mid-80s at a time when diet and caffeine-free drinks were all the rage. rather than take on coke and pepsi, wet planet beverages brought out jolt with 2x the caffeine and 2x the sugar of regular soda -- and charged more for it!

net net: the best brands fight carefully on chosen turf. they don't necessarily seek to appeal to everyone -- in fact, it's hard to be a strong brand with a large, diffuse target because you end up trying to be everything to everybody.... which means, in the end, you're often nothing to nobody. if what you're marketing is, in some ways, inferior to your competitors, you're better off figuring out how those shortcomings might be turned into unique advantages vs. attempting to come-from-behind in the areas where others are already ahead.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Advertising in a downtown

i'd like to congratulate the fine marketing and communications folks at Emerson for bucking the trend of companies cutting their advertising and marketing budgets in a kneejerk reaction to the economic meltdown. the company recently announced the next phase of its corporate advertising campaign, called "It's Never Been Done Before."

henry ford -- who himself probably knew a thing or two about downturns -- made famous the following: "A man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time."

let's think about this a minute and see if together we can figure out a couple of key reasons why advertising in a downturn makes tremendous sense. even a 5th grader can get this (not that i'm smarter than one). so you play the moderator, and i'll play the elementary school kid:

you: are you more likely to notice a company's advertising when it has a lot of competition or when it's out there more or less by itself?
me or a 5th grader: well, that depends on whether it's an ambercrombie & fitch ad, which i'm going to notice no matter how many other ads are out there because they have the cutest guys in them and then i'm going to insist that my mom buy me a a&f $100 t-shirt that's ripped and stained and hope she won't go all crazy on me in the store... but sure, i'm more likely to notice an ad that's not fighting with hundreds of others for my attention.

you: which do you think would be less expensive ... advertising when there are a lot of other companies that want to run ads, or when the media outlets don't have a lot of business coming in and might be a little more desperate?
me or a 5th grader: i think it's like getting my allowance -- it's always easier to hit the 'rents up for more when they need something from me, like, to run and get the plunger from the basement before the stopped-up toilet turns their bathroom into a hazmat site. that was worth an extra $50 the other day, and i swear, i probably left money on the table. next time i oughtta ask for $100. so i'd say, you can probably get a better deal when they're desperate.

you: what do you think is the likely result of advertising when your competitors aren't, and spending less money on it than you would otherwise to get the same, or better, results?
me or a 5th grader: uh... well... i guess that result would be ....good?

here's my question: how could it possibly be bad?

emerson gets this simple idea. i personally think the creative could be a little snappier (who hasn't heard all this "what you never thought possible" stuff before? weren't we all around for ibm and intel's campaigns in the 80s, motorola and at&t in the 90s, etc.?) but i give them a bunch credit for simply putting the work on the street. print, online, tv, about $10M in total, i think. and these folks are not the size of GE, nor are they as cash-flush as IBM or Cisco, and they've only been at this brand thing about 7 years. but it seems they clearly get it.

we all likely would say that stopping a clock to save time is just plain silly. everyone knows that won't work. stopping advertising to save money is equally silly, because that also doesn't work. it's been proven in numerous studies (one of the best by mcgraw-hill) that companies which advertise during a downtown are able to drive revenue and margin increases over their competitors' in the recovery. yet, many business leaders still seem to think that driving a stake in their company's heart while its legs are being chained is a wise response to the situation.

i don't argue that, especially for smaller businesses, it can be a tough choice between funding advertising and marketing, and people. workforce reductions are nobody's favorite. but i think we need to make the point to employees that if the company doesn't work to promote and sustain its brand(s) during the tough times, it will only result in having to let more people go in the future. better to bit the bullet now, i think, and take advantage of the open field and favorable media pricing available.