So You’ve Painted Yourself into a Corner

Some articles by marketing strategists expand your horizons and render your giddy over the endless possibilities of our craft with soaring language and sparkling analogies.

This is not one of those articles.

Instead, this article focuses on one of the more grind-it-out aspects of our trade: what to do when you’ve got to provide strategic input for a purely executional project.

Rise and grind, kids.  Rise and grind.

You know the type: you have to direct your creative team to complete a very prescribed set of display ads, emails or social posts to meet a specific set of objectives, which usually boil down to clickthroughs, even if objective focuses on branding.  More often than not, someone else, perhaps at a different agency, has finalized the brand strategy and creative idea, aka “the fun part.”  More to the point, this project may not actually make sense to you.  For instance, in the above example about objectives, clickthroughs do not serve as an effective proxy for branding.

Or the task may involve picking existing creative assets to fill a role they weren’t designed for.  You’ve got the proverbial hammer all right, but none of the problems looks like a nail.

I liken this situation to the proverbial “painting oneself into a corner.”  It doesn’t matter what color you’ve used; you’re stuck.

Here’s the secret: don’t think of it as a chore, think of it as…ah, who am I kidding?  It’s a chore all right.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t stretch your strategy muscles and make something as good as can be.  Hell, maybe you can even make it fun, as long as you have a flexible definition of fun.

Let’s assume “do something else” isn’t an option.  I’ll admit that I’ve often taken “no” for an answer when I could have pushed back a bit.  Mea culpa, but mea cupla minima as I’ve learned the hard way that pushing back ends badly more often than not.

Instead, try this approach:

    1. Clarify objectives and metrics.  Go over both thoroughly with the client or client manager.  As the strategist, you have to be clear about them even if the powers-that-be aren’t.  Pay close attention to any disparity between objective and metric, such as the branding/clickthrough inconsistency.  You better believe that when it comes down between the two, the metric will matter more than the objective.
    2. Find the most likely key.  Here’s where you earn your kibble.  Use whatever you can to establish which factors drive the metric that matters most.  In the best case scenario, you have previous results that you can parse for clues.  Fire up Excel and look for anything that you might compare.  These comparisons might include the basics (segment, offer) and any and all creative factors (headline/subject line length, call to action copy, image content).
      Unless you have really huge audiences, you’ll probably end up with anecdotal evidence.  But that’s better than nothing.  By the way, if you do have nothing, raid whatever you can for insight, including the overall brand brief, customer research or even insights pulled from competitive or desk research.
    3. Build your brief around the factors that emerge.  Present those factors to the creative team as puzzle pieces.  Encourage them to think of themselves as beating the brief; finding the tricks that will make the whole thing work.  Then let ’em rip.

 

While we pride ourselves as strategists and planners by our ability to weave together the whole cloth of new brands and platforms from the frayed threads of consumer insight, business requirements and cultural trends, we still have to pay the bills.  In this case, paying the bills means writing the quotidian briefs and offering the quotidian feedback on the long tail of client relationships.  Rise and grind.

How to Scumbag, by Lands’ End

Compliance with the law–or even your own promises–leaves plenty of room for bad behavior.  Lands’ End, formerly owned by Sears and, as such, noted weasel Eddie S. Lampert, demonstrates how not to treat new customers in a master class.

I couldn’t find any free stock images of douchebags

A timeline:

Wednesday, 24 May: Lands’ End sends me a postcard with an offer I couldn’t refuse, 50% off my entire order if I texted them my email address.  So I did, and promptly got back an email offer for 40% any single item, which is not the same thing at all as 50% off my entire order.  Nevertheless, I called them on the phone and they honored the coupon after the obligatory intercession of a manager.  To his credit, the manager also gave me free shipping even though my order came up about $3 short of of the $50 threshold.

Thursday, 25 May: I get a marketing email with the offer of 50% off all swimsuits and 30% off everything else.  I immediately downsub to one email per month.

Friday, 26 May: I get a shipping confirmation…and another version of the 50% off swim/30% off everything else email.  Also, another email with an offer for 40% off home products.

Saturday, 27 May: Two more emails, the swim offer and a new, 40% off pants offer.  Also note that although I have elected men’s clothes as a preference, every single email to me has featured women’s products.

Sunday, 28 May: the 50% off swim offer.  Again.

Monday, 29 May:  Yup, same offer.

So, after asking them to send me one email per month, I got six emails in the space of four days.  Legally, they’re probably in the clear to fusillade me like this because a) CAN-SPAM  dictates a 10-day response for opt-outs and b) strictly speaking, I haven’t opted out.

Nevertheless, let’s look at what they did here:

  1. Honor the offer they mailed to me only after I had to speak to a manager
  2. Did not immediately respond to my request for fewer emails
  3. Failed to honor my preferences for men’s clothes (I know, cis-gendered men can’t exactly claim too much agony here, but still)

Not bad for the first five days of customership!

More Lessons from the Stripe Life

A while ago, I shared some things about marketing that I’ve learned refereeing my kids’ soccer matches.  I wanted to add one more: how and why to spread the work across multiple channels and campaigns.

Soccer pitch with referee running routes; also candidate for a really cool flag

See that big orange S-shape in the middle of the pitch?  That’s roughly the route that the center referee (CR)–the boss on the pitch–runs during a match.  Those red and blue lines that each follow half the sides of the pitch?  That’s where the assistant referees (ARs, formerly known as linesmen) run.  This setup gives the officials reverse angles of play on either end of the pitch.

Last weekend, I worked as an AR with a CR who simply ran along one side of the field, the same one I was on.  Thus, during any play on my end of the pitch, the CR and I had either the same view or, worse, she blocked mine.

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Free Advice for the ACLU

On the heels of my post yesterday about 84 Lumber’s liberal-leaning Superbowl ad, I felt the need to share that liberal does not necessarily equal smart.

Witness, this email from the American Civil Liberties Union, of which I am a proud member of long standing (OK, since last Saturday):

Please don’t call me Benjamin, BTW

Note the call to action: Tell your senator today about DeVos’ disturbing positions before they vote

Both my of my senators, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, have gone on record against Ms. DeVos.  The ACLU has my address; they know there’s no point in my calling my own senators.  Yet here we are.

Listen, one marketer to another, here’s what you could have done:

  1. Kept your powder dry.  You could have suppressed anyone from a state where both senators oppose Ms. DeVos and thus saved the opportunity to email me at a time when I can actually be of help in New York.
  2. Given me an alternative.  They could have asked anyone in a state with two Democratic senators to badger friends in other states, especially the Badger State, where Ron Johnson supports Ms. DeVos.  They could have asked me to share the organization’s point of view on Ms. DeVos via social media.  Hell, they could have asked for a few more bucks.

If we want to protect our sacred civil liberties, we will need courage.  We will need faith in the fundamental decency of the American public.  We will need legislators and jurists to do their jobs in acting as a check on executive power.

We will also need better email marketing than this.

Strategy in the Era of Brute Force Marketing

Will marketing strategists become the horse grooms of the 21st century?

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Nice work if you can get it

Grooming horses probably seemed like a nice job in the 19th century.  After all, you got plenty of exercise and got to work with animals.  What’s not to like?

Well, in a word, Buicks.

Just as one form of technology destroyed the jobs of hundreds of thousands of horse grooms, another may lay waste to the jobs of thousands of marketing and advertising strategists.  As more and more digital marketing tools adopt optimization features, some of the core functions of the marketing strategist may begin to seem redundant.  However, I think that smart strategists will regard these tools not the way that John Henry regarded the steam drill but rather the way the first taxicab driver regarded a Model T.  That is, technology doesn’t take jobs away; rather, it makes them bigger.

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Who Cares if Email Marketing Pays for Itself?

Let me suggest a modest proposal: run your email marketing program at a loss.  As in, if you’re a retailer, stop worrying how much each email nets in incremental sales.  As in, if you’re a B2B marketer, stop worrying about how many leads each email generates.  As in, if you’re some other kind of marketer, double your email marketing budget and hang the cost.

After 10 years of articles about email marketing’s superior ROI, throwing fiscal caution to the wind seems like the worst idea since rolling coal.  Naturally, I don’t suggest taking this step for its own sake.  Rather, I suggest adjusting the way we evaluate email marketing to serve a purpose that serves the broader enterprise: research.

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Go ahead. Rip it up.

OK, I’ve exaggerated my point of view in a shameless attempt to get your attention.  However, I strongly endorse using email as an inexpensive, flexible and fast research tool.  Let’s look at what you could achieve by integrating research into your email marketing.

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It’s Like When Your Grandma Got Email

Do you remember when your Grandma got on email?

I remember because I got a call from mine.  She said “I just sent you an email!”

In other words, her understanding of the technology resembled an email I got from AYSO, the youth soccer overlords here in the soccer-ambivalent US of A:

 

Screenshot 2016-04-30 11.38.14

My semi-communist Grandma would have spit out her martini over the date

I miss my grandmother dearly, but I don’t miss her ignorance of how digital communications work.

AYSO, let me break it down for you.

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Back to the Future: Best Day & Time To Mail Rises from the Grave

Folks, things have gotten so bad that I’ve intentionally mashed up to movie tropes: “Back to the Future” and zombies.

Let me back up.  Email marketers–especially retailers–have done a pretty good job of jumping on the opt-down bandwagon.  If you haven’t heard the term, I refer to the practice of letting email subscribers who want to unsubscribe from you choose a more relaxed mailing frequency, such as weekly or monthly.

 

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Oh, Brooks Brothers, I wish I knew how to quit you.

While opt-down gives marketers a powerful tool for retention, it also forces us to revisit a debate that has raged since AOL accounted for the biggest number of email addresses: best day of week and time of day to mail.

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Data’s Inigo Montoya Problem (Part II)

If you’ve had campaigns fail because of bad data, then maybe you’ve fallen victim to the “Inigo Montoya problem of data.”  That is, maybe you’ve used data that don’t mean what you think they mean.

Previously, I discussed the origins of bad marketing data.  Now I’d like to discuss how to fix the problem.

First, I recommend something so exciting that you probably will not finish reading this post before trying it: read the dictionary.

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Yeah, yeah.  I know.  All characters, no plot.  Wait, no.  That’s the phone book.

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