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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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.

(Non) Humblebrag

Hey, pals & gals!  I got someone else to publish my drivel for once.

Check out my article in Gamechangers, a publication of the Troyanos Group.

It’s my take on how rideshare companies like Uber and autonomous cars will create a passenger economy sooner rather than later.  Moreover, that passenger economy will have profound impact on retail, entertainment and even health and wellness brands.

Enjoy and tell your friends!

How to Save the Banner Industry (Labor Day Edition)

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the advertising company CEO said, “our banners are not delivering the value we promised our clients.  Janet, please brief the team on the specifics.”

The sales director rose to speak.  “Impressions are down.  Engagement is way down.  Targeting is non-existent.  Some units flash by so quickly that actual humans can’t see them.  The long and short of it is that our ads don’t move consumers like they used to”

Ted, a senior sales rep, raised his hand.  “Janet, hasn’t this always been the case?”

“Perhaps,” replied Janet.  “However our clients have become more sophisticated.  They expect more now.  Alternative formats and channels offer more engagement.  Meanwhile we have increasing trouble showing relevant metrics beyond impressions.”

A hush fell over the room.  The CEO spoke again.  “Any suggestions for improving our banners?”

“Better targeting,” said a planner seated at the back and idly thumbing his phone.  “Be more selective about the properties where we appear.”

“More engaging creative,” said an account manager.  “Most of our creative is still 2D”

Suggestions came thick and fast now.

“Better validation.  Our clients have less and less confidence that their ads actually get seen by real people.”

“Better data.  Let’s get more precise.

“Let’s be more selective of our client base.  Ads for sketchy plastic surgeons and cheap booze brands devalue our channel.”

“Video!  I don’t know how we’ll make it work, but people can’t resist moving images.”

“More banners!  Quantity over quality!”

A lone, junior sales rep raised her hand.  The room fell silent and all eyes turned to her.

“Let’s take the mufflers off the airplanes,” she said.  “That way, when our planes fly over, the people on the beach will hear them and look up.”

Once again, the room fell silent.

Slowly then quickly, the CEO clapped his hands together.

“Kid,” he said, “you may have just saved the Jersey Shore Airplane Banner Advertising Company.”

 

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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Post Cold-War Retail

Every retail client I ever had doubled as a spy.

Wow.  Look at all those SKUs

That is, they all spent time mystery-shopping competitors to see what they had and how they did things.  My Sam’s Club clients, for instance, might have spent more time in Costco’s warehouses than their own with the result that their warehouses started to look like Costco’s.

For decades, a cold war-like situation held sway with retailers keeping tabs on each other and reacting quickly.  More recently, I’d argue that online retail, particularly that other Seattle-based retailer, has effectively ended the cold war and made it harder for bricks-and-mortar retailers to know what’s going on.

Witness the example of fidget cubes.  Where they came from and how they got there speak volumes to the new status quo in retail.

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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

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.

Why Did You Spend $5 Million on the Superbowl Again?

Superbowl Monday brings out America’s platoon of ad critics, who discuss which ad had the best joke, the cutest baby/animal and strongest political point.  Rarely, however, do they discuss what the advertisers got for the trouble of spending a reported $5 million on a 30-second spot.

As of this morning, the product page for the Kia Niro has a module with still from the Melissa McCarthy ad that lets you watch it again.  Why not some information about environmental or nature causes such as the ones espoused by McCarthy in the ad?  The NFL page has no mention of the ad with the babies in it, which seems odd for an organization that’s struggling to promote youth football.  Bud’s immigration story ad features heavily on the brand’s home page today but has no follow-up, such as Adolphus Busch’s real story or Anheuser-Busch’s pioneering role in American brewing.

Let’s talk about one advertiser who got it right with, ironically, the most controversial ad of the night, 84 Lumber’s “Journey” ad.

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