Why rent when you can buy? The argument for marketing platforms.

In my last post, I argued that Facebook’s decision to shift their news feed algorithm away from publishers’ posts and back towards friends’ and family members’ posts should encourage marketers to build platforms as a hedge against changes that might hurt them.  Solid advice.

Now what the hell is a marketing platform and why should marketers invest in one?

In terms of description, a marketing platform is a long-term marketing initiative, often but not always digital, that engages customers and prospects at one or more points along the customer journey in a brand-owned space.  Let me emphasize that last point about a brand-owned space.  In some ways, platforms work like branded content in reverse; rather than engage consumers in a trusted publisher’s space, platforms build brand trust by becoming media properties themselves.

Some of my favorite examples of marketing platforms include:

Society of Grownups, Mass Mutual’s content platform for adult financial education

These models are about as psyched as you are to learn about IRAs

Society of Grownups speaks to a segment of recent-ish college graduates who need to start making financial decisions with lifetime consequences.  Creating the Society of Grownups platform gives Mass Mutual’s content some credibility without relying on a publisher brand.  They update it frequently with new articles, graphics and calculators to encourage ongoing learning.

DIY Projects & Ideas, Home Depot’s tool and project tutorial series

Now I have a nail gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Home Depot has, of course, featured live tutorials in their stores for ages (and these, incidentally, serve as a great example of non-digital platforms).  Putting these tutorials online might represent an obvious next step for our connected and busy world.  However, they also encourage consumers and maybe even some pros to keep visiting the site and to build their trust with Home Depot.

Yeah?  So?  Why should I spend money on one?

Obviously, platforms such as these, which depend on fresh content and functionality, don’t come cheap, so why build them?

In terms of the investment discussion, it helps to think of platforms as a way to buy your audience’s attention rather than to rent it.  A successful platform reduces the need to acquire and re-acquire customers and prospects every time they reach the “shop” or “buy” phase of the customer journey.  They keep showing up because the platform has something of value for them.  Continued visits build brand trust that ultimately leads to purchase.

Speaking specifically of digital platforms, they can also play a valuable role as CRM tools.  At their simplest, any platform can have a “buy now” button or something similar.  The nail gun video above has links beneath it to drive users to a nail gun buying guide that leads to product pages.  More subtle approaches can gather data about visitors (assuming proper permissions, of course) and provision them with appropriate content and offers when they display buying behavior.

In a subsequent post, we’ll discuss how to build, maintain and most importantly measure the performance of marketing platforms.  For now, though, think of what you could do with your audiences if they belonged to you and not Facebook.

Facebook’s Revised News Feed is a Hint-and-a-Half for Your Ass

Pundits have not yet finished the volley of thought pieces in the wake of The Zuck’s decree that his kingdom’s news feed will focus more on posts by your friends and families and less on posts from publishers and, more to the point for our purposes, brands.  This move reminds me of the advice of noted marketing guru Eddie Murphy to people in horror films: “that’s a hint-and-a-half for your ass to get out.”

OK, maybe I exaggerate a little by suggesting that brands get out of Facebook (hey, clickbaiters gonna bait), but I think they should stop relying too much on Facebook for engagement and start building their own platforms.

It’s not an ark.  It’s a species diversity platform.

First, let’s acknowledge that no one, maybe not even Zuck himself, knows what the news feed change really means.  On the face of it, the change seems to limit opportunities for brands to buy their way into Facebook users’ consciousness.  However, Zuck didn’t become a gajillionaire by ignoring marketers’ and publishers’ wants.  Based on my studies of the Mafia and OPEC, I suspect that the Hoodied One wants to drive up margins by artificially limiting supply.  Take that as someone who grew up in the home state of Tony Soprano and Exxon.

Regardless of Facebook’s endgame, marketers should take this moment to acknowledge the media duopoly.  Facebook and Google account for 77% of all digital ad dollars spent.

As an alternative, look to create platforms rather than campaigns.  Specifically, I mean digital platforms such as The Wirecutter, an e-commerce platform owned by the New York Times or American Express OPEN’s Forum platform.  While campaigns and platforms both engage consumers around a brand, platforms seek long-term engagement rather than a limited time capture of consumers’ attention.  To put it another way, platforms help engage consumers when they’re interested in something, not merely when marketers have something to say.

Over time, successful platforms reduce the need to rely on Facebook or Google to snag consumers’ attention.  They become self-sustaining.  Facebook can restrict its news feed to French bulldogs for all your brand cares.  As my friend and mentor Tim Suther likes to say, “why rent your customers when you can buy them?”

Take the hint.  Build a platform.

Pro Bono Advice: Be Like the Watermelon

Marketers often turn to pro-bono or charity work to give back to the community, to use their skills for good or even just to get experience they can parlay into paying work.  I can’t tell you why you should volunteer.  However, if you do volunteer, I advise you to be like a watermelon: develop a thick but porous skin.

I am not even remotely above using pictures of babies to get you to read my blog

The watermelon analogy stems (sorry) from the realities of charities and not-for-profits.  Most often, people work or volunteer in this sector because they have strong feelings about the subject, whether it’s the environment, religion, an illness or civil rights.  Moreover, these people often have a difficult connection to that subject.  This connection both makes the work more meaningful and more difficult.

You need a thick skin to take on some of the more uncomfortable issues, yet you still need to let some of that discomfort in to remind you of why you take on the work.

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I see your Dash Button and raise you a kiosk

Walmart recently announced a test in some Texas markets that suggest a new hedge against Amazon: in-store kiosks.

…the retailer is testing a new program that would allow customers to immediately place an online order for an item that isn’t in stock…

…Walmart CFO Brett Briggs unveiled the tests during an investor conference Wednesday, describing the system as an “endless aisle-type concept.”

Walmart being Walmart, this otherwise straightforward pilot could take on any number of overtones.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to wonder if the kiosk represents an initiative to reduce labor costs.  As a former contractor who worked on the Sam’s Club business, I can attest to their emphasis, which I think you could fairly call an obsession, on reducing costs of any kind.

However, I think the kiosk has another goal: countering Amazon’s Dash Button. Continue reading

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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Pre-Emptive Cringing

How soon before advertisers worm their way into Goals in Google Calendar?

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Pardon us, but do you have any oats?

If you didn’t read the announcement, Google has added a feature to its popular calendar that makes it easier for users find time to reach specific goals.  You want to work on your Spanish twice a week?  Tell GCal and it’ll schedule two sessions each work para aprender Español.

Given that Google earns a tad of 90% of its income from advertising (PDF), you must excuse me for cringing in advance.

Step 1: Advertisers start buying keywords in your Calendar

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How to Make Patriotism a Good Business Strategy

With our Presidential campaign in full swing, Americans could easily begin to feel a bit leery of anyone waving the flag too hard, and rightly so.

However, it doesn’t take much for a marketer to do something patriotic, appropriate and (probably) profitable.  Here’s an example:

Cloudpets_offer

This is what you see when your kids watch Nickelodeon 16 hours per day

In the current jargon, CloudPets are connected stuffed animals.  As in, the toys have a wifi-enabled memory chip in them that allows a parent to record a brief message for his or her child on a cellphone and then have the child listen via the inbuilt speaker.  The DRTV spot shows a parent on a business trip recording a good night message on his phone that the child (happily, obviously) receives at home.

Notice the circled offer in the image above: free shipping for active-duty military.

Regular shipping and handling costs the buyer $6.99, which represents mostly profit for the seller.  The manufacturer can well afford to give away the cost for the relatively few military families who will take up the offer.  Saving seven bucks on a moderately-priced toy does not–and cannot–fully compensate the families of our armed services members, but it still represents a nice gesture.  It gives non-military families a sense that CloudPets has good priorities.  I couldn’t say that the offer drives incremental sales (perhaps they’ve tested it), but a little goodwill goes a long way.

At the same time, CloudPets deserves kudos for making the offer without making a huge deal about it.  They offer this simple, patriotic gesture without acting as if they had raised the flag on Iwo Jima.

Nicely done.

Schroedinger’s Cart

As a blogger, I try to cover a lot of ground in marketing and marketing data.  My posts range from how-tos to POVs to the occasional bit of humor.  And then everyone once in a while, I like to go completely “out there” and tackle a marketing issue with a decidedly off-kilter approach.  This will be one of those times.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how people shop, both in-store and online, and it’s given me some potential insight into how marketers might be able to develop more appealing experiences for customers.

Behold, Schroedinger’s Cart:

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No cats were harmed in the creation of this extremely arduous pun

Physics Nobel Laureate Erwin Schroedinger (or Schrödinger, if you must have the umlaut) famously posited a thought experiment about a cat in a box.  Schroedinger asked the reader to imagine that a a random event inside the box would release a poison gas and kill the cat but that the outside observer would have no idea whether that random event occurred.  He famously asserted that the cat was both alive and dead until the observer opens the box.

This is ridiculous, of course.  Except this thought experiment perfectly describes how we often shop.

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From my warm, caffeinated hands!

So I nearly tried to punch the Financial Times.

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Back off, bird.  I will cut you.

While conducting secondary research for a new project, I found a useful article on the site.  Before I could read the piece, the site served up a one-question survey: had I tried to cut down on my coffee consumption in the past year?

OK, I realize that FT probably wanted to a) recruit visitors for an awareness survey or b) simply build a profile on their visitors.  But first goddam thing in the morning, they want to ask me whether I’m thinking of giving up coffee?

[SHAKES FIST EPICALLY]

Maybe this is the flip side to “taboo data,” the idea that some data are too sensitive to use.  Maybe some are too sensitive–or obnoxious–to ask.

Does B&H Photo Really Hate My Wife?

Short answer: no, of course not.  However, they could have used a little human common sense rather than rely on responsive design alone to make their emails more relevant.

Let’s back up.  As an avid, if not talented, photographer, I subscribe to emails from Adorama and B&H Photo, two large photo retailers based in New York with a well-earned reputation for value, service and selection.  Really, you CANNOT find a better place to buy cameras and assorted equipment than those two.

Yesterday, I received this email from B&H:

B&H_Newsletter_Tuesday,_May_5,_2015_-_plannerben@gmail.com_-_Gmail_-_2015-05-06_08.56.24

They remembered Mother’s Day with a large graphic pointing to their Mother’s Day sale items.  How nice.

HOWEVER…

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