Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are people drawing their shades on your brand?

ok, this is a long set up but hang in with me...

as willy & hoover would tell you (if they could speak English), i'm in close contention for the dubious honor of world's worst cook. despite this, they continue to beg for food at the table, with varying degrees of success related, more often than not, to the level of puppy-eyes that they manage to deliver.

today, their efforts paid off with a hunk of something called "amish friendship bread."

the recipe for this bread apparently has been around for decades. it essentially involves a yeast-based starter, to which you add flour, milk, and sugar, and then you divide the mix into 4 portions. you keep one of the portions for yourself, and give the remaining 3 to your friends (hence the "friendship" in the name).

i got a starter portion from my neighbor, and, not wanting to disappoint her or develop any bad amish karma, followed the directions that left me searching for friends who i thought might actually do this as opposed to laughing hysterically and throwing the stuff away (which is what i would have done, had i received it from one of them).

a note from one came back with a comment that i thought was particularly compelling. it said, among other funny things, the following:

We have had this starter twice before, and I am always smitten with it. I vow every time that I won't let it die . . . ever. But then you end up with a freezer full of bread, 10 new lbs. and a bunch of friends who draw the shades when they see you coming with the dough.

yes, a long set up indeed, but hence the title of this post.

are your customers' friends drawing the shades when they see that dough -- your brand -- coming their way? i've mentioned before my point of view that turning customers into advocates is really the only true, sustainable way of building the virtuous cycle that delivers a strong brand. but what happens when your advocates run into challenges that keep that word-of-mouth, pass-the-bread-starter mojo from taking hold? minimally, a few things:

1) your advocates start to qualify their advocacy (as if "qualified advocacy" weren't already an oxymoron, of sorts.) if so many of their friends could have a bad experience with your brand, it must be that their positive one was a fluke. so as they go around, they'll say things like, "you know, i got a great product/service from brand x, but i heard others didn't."

2) your advocates start to lapse into neutrality. nobody wants to deliver positive word-of-mouth on a (potentially) bad brand, so often they won't say anything at all about it. if pushed, they'll go with something like, "yeah, i looked around at a bunch of different options, and this is what i ended up with. it's ok."

3) your advocates start to reverse polarity. it's hard to believe this can happen, but it does. when confronted with lots of bad examples from their community on whatever the brand in question is, the former advocate will begin looking for things that aren't yet wrong with the product/service ... but maybe all of a sudden it's not quite as good as he/she thought it would be. and when asked (and sometimes, even when not prompted), the person will say something like, "you know, i got this thing and i really regret my decision."

these conversations between friends matter more than any other element of the marketing mix. don't believe me? read andy sernovitz. read chris brogan and julien smith's "trust agents." think about times (and be honest) when your mind about something got changed, not because of something that actually happened to you but because of something somebody else said about what happened to them.

net net: don't set your advocates up to fail by delivering great experiences to a select few while you treat the rest of your target poorly. otherwise, when the advocates come calling, they'll find the shades drawn, and nobody home.

photo credit: wikipedia

Friday, September 11, 2009

acronym soup and other pointless marketing distinctions

B2C. B2B. CPG. FMCG. ABC123UNME. i have seen the google serps on this topic, and i am more than a little disappointed. oh, marketers of the 21st century (or at least the last 5 years), apostles of david meerman scott and seth godin and andy sernovitz, where are you with your salient comments on how these distinctions no longer apply (or at the very least, need to be re-addressed in light of web 2.0, social media, democratization of technology, and the like?)

those who believe that there are important differences between B2B and B2C generally make the following arguments:

1. B2B sales are more complex, influenced by more people, have longer lead times, and higher dollar values than B2C sales.

2. therefore, B2B buyers are more "rational" vs. emotional, purchase generally based on cost, quality or other measurable factors, and require marketing materials packed with data and devoid of personality.

3. if you use B2C tactics on B2B audiences, or vice versa, you'll fail miserably, put on weight, and die an early but well-deserved death, which will be a fitting punishment for your failure to follow these archaic rules that were cobbled together when dinosaurs roamed and most people, including bill gates, thought that 64K would be quite enough RAM for anyone, thank you.

here's the deal. the factors affecting the success of marketing -- and i do mean ALL marketing -- as the necessary juice in the great fat delicious orange of commerce have been changing rapidly and remarkably on virtually a moment-to-moment basis due to technological innovation and the ability of people to quickly and easily communicate with each other. Companies, irrespective of their products, services or offerings all have been thrown into a giant information vortex that is propelled by the Web ... and by what i like to think of as a virtuous cycle of understanding and influencing human behavior in a way that puts money in the coffers of those organizations that are generally (tho not always) most deserving.

Monica's Virtuous Cycle of Understanding and Influencing Human Behavior (or "Marketing," if you must).

in my world, this is the way all customers -- those who are buying furiously expensive stuff for data centers AND those who're thinking it might be time for a new car that doesn't smell like dirty dogs AND those who're just wanting some chewing gum -- are properly "marketed" to.

identification. whether you're selling machine tools or mister potato head, you need to correctly identify your targets (see dm scott's world wide rave for an excellent take on "buyer personas"). what links those folks together in a compelling manner? (clue -- it's how they think and why they think that way, not how old they are or where they live.).

attraction. if you really understand your bps, you can figure out the best ways to attract them. where do they hang out, and with whom? is it some industry association or business roundtable or charitable event, or a neighborhood bar or the privacy of their own home with the dvr going while they surf the web? again -- whether the buyer is purchasing for business or personal reasons matters not. what matters is that you have something that will solve his/her problems and, if you've done a good job in correctly understanding his/her needs, he/she will usually be willing to listen.

engagement. and if only "listening" and "engagement" were the same thing. they're related, but listening is more just the front-end. engagement is the back-end ... the hard, hard work of making promises to your customers (as a brand, as a company, as a sales or customer service person, whatever) and keeping them. it's the business of delivering surprise and delight, whether it's in how easily the server software installed or how cool the gps map thing is or how the gum comes in a package that keeps the stuff from turning into melty mush in the summer heat.

retention. some people think that if they simply do engagement right, retention is a given. but sadly, that's not true in any kind of human relationships -- marriages included. customers, irrespective of what kinds of things they buy, the cycle they buy them on, or any of that other old-style marketing drivel, MUST feel that you care about them if you want them to buy from you again. whether you do this through rebates or coupons or email offers or dinners at trade shows, it's vitally important. i know a terrific pr guy who ends every meeting with the question: "how else can i help you?" just this simple act yields repeat business on a regular basis.

advocacy. i wish that this happened automatically, sort of a reward for our dutiful following of the cycle, and sometimes it does -- but more often, advocates have to be cultivated. think about the number of times you've made a recommendation to someone on a product or service APART from them asking you a prompting question. this is the difference between getting a good net promoter score -- not an unimportant thing, by the way -- and leads, revenue and margin increases that begin with your customers making an effort to help their colleagues, friends and family get the same great experience from you that they themselves have received. twitter and facebook, in my view, have completely upended how we've thought of advocacy in the past, as people can quickly and easily pass along recommendations, special offers, and their personal word-of-mouth mojo on behalf of brands and companies they trust. of course, advocacy also makes your job in identification and attraction much easier, since customers will now enter the cycle with the kind of positive mindset that makes the rest of wheel much easier to traverse.

what do you think? are there really key differences between these audiences that take precedence over the simple fact that people are people, given how much easier it now is for them to get information and form opinions? do we take off our human hat when we sit down at our company desk, somehow mysteriously clearing our subconsious of preconceived notions of brands?

photo credit: if you're going to copy my "virtuous cycle," please credit me and this post.