This Recession is not My Recession

This recession is not my recession
Practical suggestions on not behaving like a lemming.

by Andrew Szabo

(First published as an exclusive article for “Progressive Distributor”)

Few would argue that we are now in an economic recession. The pundits’ endless debate now centers onwhether it’s going to be long or short, the landing hard or soft, the impact on the financial markets, the effect on other economies and their effect on America and so on. My first question is: so what? The problem of this macro-perspective is that it speaks little of your business or mine, yet we often wallow in the media’s doom-and-gloom forecast.

Like lemmings, too many business leaders accept these editorials as a foregone diagnosis of the state of their business. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: They become a contributing statistic to the depressed economy. Like lemmings mimicking another’s behavior, they react identically and fall off the cliff together.

Yet every downturn, crash, recession, or even depression has winners that succeed. Companies not only survive, but thrive, in the negative environment. What are they doing differently? If misery loves company, do the joyful seek a different path? I would suggest two key ideas that can significantly contribute to making this recession not your recession.

Stay out of it
First, resolve not to contribute to the recession. Make a choice not to suffer like everyone else. Instead, be proactive and prosper. Hyatt Hotels in the early ’80s is a classic case study in this behavior. The recession, never good news for luxury hotels, hit its peak during 1981-1982. Several cities already had a glut of hotel rooms but Hyatt resolutely went after new guests, rewarded loyal clients, made cuts only where they were not visible to the guest experience. They opened new properties, hitting the competition hard in several new markets where aging competitors were unable or unwilling to reinvest in their existing properties.

Get on the offensive
Second, take business away from your competition, which will increase your market share despite the total pie shrinking.

Sounds simple enough, but the challenge is in the implementation. There are only three effective ways to get more business.

  • Gain share of wallet. Increase business from your existing
    customers.

  • Promote loyalty. Encourage clients to continue to engage
    in profitable behavior.
    Target customer acquisition. Acquire new business from
    your competition that looks like your best customers.

Effectiveness in each of these areas is highly dependent on the quality of the relationship. Customer relationships are no different from marriages or friendships. They require an understanding of the other party (which entails investing time and other resources). Understanding your customer requires knowledge – gathering comprehensive information, behavioral knowledge and transactional data. It requires a disciplined investment of time and resources in an intelligent process. The technology that holds this all together is often categorized as Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Practical solutions
Working with Sony soon after its successful launch of PlayStation, we ascertained that to increase market share and sell more games (their bread-and-butter in terms of margins), Sony would have to learn about their customers. Since it sold both the hardware and software through retailers, it had no direct contact or knowledge of its customers, except for the few warranty cards that purchasers returned.

By developing a cutting-edge relationship program that tapped into the psyche of gamers, we challenged the gamers to tell us who they conquered in what game. As a reward, they were admitted into the PS Underground, a “stealth” Web site and loyalty program that gave them inside information on new developments and tips on existing games.

Within 12 months, Sony built a base of 40,000 customer names into a comprehensive customer knowledge bank of 500,000 enthusiastic gamers with known genre preferences. This information was then leveraged into targeted, personalized, marketing campaigns that both gained a greater share of wallet and engendered loyalty, making them resistant to new game launches such as Nintendo 64. Sony crushed Sega, and greatly mitigated the threat from Nintendo’s launch of N64.

Although the implementation specifics are certain to be different from your industry, the underlying principles are directly relevant. Understand your customer by investing in the relationship: leverage the knowledge relevantly.

So how do you go about this?

  • Walk in your customer’s footsteps. What does a day (or days) in the life of your customer look like? By analyzing the interactions between your organization and the customer, you can identify key touch-points where data and information are gathered or exchanged.

  • What would the ideal path look like? Dialogues with an organization’s different stakeholders yield mission-critical customer knowledge requirements. Interviews with customers breed greater understanding of the customer’s needs.

  • Perform a gap analysis between the current and the ideal.

  • Throughout the process it is important to identify the systems (both processes and technology) that may aid or hinder the relationship and the ability to assimilate or leverage customer knowledge.

  • Finally, isolate key points of inflection, areas that are critically important and have significant economic impact. Improving these areas will yield the best return on investment.

Technology is not the ultimate panacea for cultivating effective customer relationships. Technology implementations, like CRM solutions, must be accompanied by a strategic process that examines the organization’s customer relationship practices and incorporates communication.

Whether you are a veteran player or a new entrant, experience reveals most have yet to master this combination of art and science called CRM. For example, the marketing department of a relatively new bank entered vital information about their customers into a contact management program. Loan information was entered into a custom-built system, and the regular banking information was entered into a third application. Despite professing a client-centric philosophy, the systems were disintegrated. No one performed a comprehensive analysis of the bank’s customers.

In summary, make this recession not your recession by choosing to grow your business wisely through the intelligent practice of effective customer cultivation.

Part 2 of My Interview with Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer (& Creative Director), David Miner

INTERVIEW WITH ROCK-AND-ROLL HALL OF FAMER (and Creative Director), DAVID MINER – Part Two
585 words – approximately a 3 minute read


Today’s blog features Part 2 of my interview with David Miner, Creative Director for Marketing Symphony. In this part, David shares some lessons he learned from his days as a record producer and Minnesota Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame bass player. And, how those lessons can be applied to the creative process for marketing. My favorite? Use examples rather than descriptions to get your point across. To read part 2 of 3, click here.

AS: Welcome back, David. Last time, you were saying that communication was the crucial foundation to creating an end-product that your client is thrilled with. Can you recap that for us?

DM: Sure, Andrew. Basically, it all boils down to the fact that words mean different things to different people. The classic example is the word trunk: If a client describes an ad where a guy’s leaning on an old trunk, maybe you’re thinking of steamer luggage, I’m thinking of the back of a ’59 Chevy and he’s expecting a picture of a guy next to a large tree. You can’t be too confident of words.

AS: So what do you do, then? How do you communicate ideas so your advertisement or video or direct mail meets the client’s expectations?

DM: Well, as you know, I came up through the musical side. As a producer,

I started using CDs to show a group of musicians what I was after for certain songs.  Sometimes it would be a combination of things that I wanted to meld, so I would bring two CDs and show them rather than try to explain.

It worked so well that I started using it to as a safety check to make sure everybody understood the words we used in the same way.

AS: Like “trunk.”

DM: Exactly. Periodically, we’d listen to an example to make sure. And of course, whenever we came across a breakdown with words, I would ask the person, “Can you play that for me on the piano?”  or “Do you have a CD that illustrates what you’re talking about?”

AS: And this saves time?

DM: It saves time, money-it’s even saved projects. I remember one film score that was on the brink. I’d wasted an entire week on a complicated music piece that was several minutes long and needed to convey some very stark & deep emotion. The director listened to my third attempt and told me that I was even further from what he wanted with this version. Nothing he said to me made any sense. He said-and I quote:

“It needs more ‘ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum.'”

So I said, “You mean like percussion?”

“No, like ‘ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum'”

“I don’t understand-what kind of instrument is making that sound?” I asked.

His response: “Well I’m not a musician, I don’t know how you make the sound, I just need more ba-bum, ba-bum!”

Luckily, I remembered the CD trick and asked him to bring me some tracks. When he did, it took me about 5 minutes to know exactly what he wanted. I went back to the drawing board, and returned to him with a “rough sketch” for the scene.  His response: “Perfect!  That’s exactly what I was after.” We ended up doing 3 more films together, and he got very good at using CDs to help steer the process, and I got very good at creating ba-bum ba-bum.

AS: One of our maxims at Marketing Symphony is that “creativity is birthed out of strategy,” but without good communication and syntax for community ideas. There will be no ba-bum in your creative!

~

So that’s part two of our interview and more to follow.

Interview with Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer (and Creative Director), David Miner

INTERVIEW WITH ROCK-AND-ROLL HALL OF FAMER (and Creative Director), DAVID MINER
615 words – approximately a 3 minute read


Recently, I sat down with David Miner, Creative Director for Marketing Symphony, to discuss the creative process within the context of a marketing firm. David is an accomplished graphic artist, videographer, record producer and Minnesota Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame bass player, and is one of the most creative people I know. This is part one of our conversation.

AS: Good morning, David. Thanks for joining me.

DM: Good morning.

AS: I wanted to sit down with you today to shed a little light on the creative process within the marketing industry. It’s quite different from creativity for creativity’s sake. In your opinion, what is the biggest difference in the two?

DM: There are obviously several differences, but in my opinion, the biggest — and most crucial — difference is communication. In order to facilitate the best use of resources, time, and talents, I need to put more time and effort into communicating than almost any other part. To satisfy the client, being creative with the end product starts by being creative with communication.

AS: “Being creative with communication”? So it’s more that just the amount of communication.

DM: Oh, yeah. Even in the best of collaborative relationships you can veer off course with each other due to nothing more than an unintended miscommunication.

A lot of creative or artistic elements are abstractions — they’re just ideas. Taking abstraction and putting them into words that objectively communicate your idea can be a very hit-and-miss proposition. You’ll go back to your notes later, and your own words don’t make sense even to you.

AS: How do you keep this from happening, or even know it’s happening? I mean, if both people at the table think they’ve communicated, but they each have a different idea in their head, there’s going to be big impact on the deadline, on the budget, and whether or not the client’s happy with the product.

DM: That’s so true. You can believe that the words you’re using to describe an artistic idea make perfect sense, and clearly convey what you want to communicate. And, to make things worse, the person hearing can believe the same thing — that it is all very clear, and makes perfect sense. But they each may have a completely different picture in their heads. The result can be that the person carrying out the creative assignment is creating something not even close to what the client thought they described.

AS: So what do you do to prevent that?

DM: First of all, you can’t depend on words. Descriptive words like WARM or INVITING — even universal words such as: CONTEMPORARY, BOLD and COLORFUL — can mean such different things to different people. Without some printed examples of what you’re trying to describe to accompany your presentation, you can really waste a lot of time.

Of course, bridges of communication will develop quite naturally once people have acquired some working history together. But even then, you can’t just take it for granted. You always need to pay attention.

The second thing you need to do is commit to invest the time at the beginning. To keep things on track in terms of timeline, budget & accomplishing the intended goal or message of a creative piece, you’ve got to pay attention to whether or not the methods of communication are working. Time for the mis-reads and for establishing a workable vocabulary have to be figured into the timeline as part of the process. You can’t rush those.
~

So that’s part one of our interview. Next time, David will give us specifics on how to get over the communication breakdowns, plus tell us some pretty interesting stories from his music and soundtrack producing and playing days. Confirmation Code: ADHKV3434264

Do You Know Your Right Mix?

KNOW YOUR RIGHT MIX?
781 words – Less than 5 minutes to read

Most of you are familiar with the U.S. food pyramid — you know, that pyramid of recommended amounts of the different types of food: so many servings of fruit and veggies, so much meat, a certain amount of grains, a bit of fat. Today we’re going to talk about its business equivalent: the marketing mix.

The food pyramid tells us the variety and proportions we need to achieve to be healthy. A marketing mix tells us the same thing for our companies. There are thousands of types of food, but they all fit into the categories on the pyramid. While there are over 160 marketing instruments in use today, they too fit into categories. Just as there are different food groups (dairy, meat, fruit, etc.), there are different marketing groups, and each meet a different requirement that companies need to stay fit.

Now, while the food pyramid shows the general guidelines, different people may have different needs. A pregnant woman will need to eat differently than an elderly heart patient. A child has different needs than a teenager; a weight lifter must eat differently than a marathoner. Likewise, different companies have different marketing needs.

Group 1: The Basics
The Basics are…well, you know. These things are foundational, they come almost as soon as you decide to open your doors and sell something to somebody. Examples of basic ingredients include a name, business card, logo, tagline, graphic identity, stationary, URL, etc. Every company should have these type of Basics as the foundational level of their company’s marketing mix. You can’t do business without these prerequisites.

Group 2: The Interrupters
Most companies must fight for their target audience’s attention. Individuals receive more information, messages and images now than ever before in history. To be heard, marketing has to interrupt. You know you have a good interrupter if your prospect does a double take, clicks on your banner ad, or stops flipping through channels in order to watch your commercial. It doesn’t matter how good the rest of your marketing mix is if you never get their attention, so this should be a large portion of the pyramid for most companies. You say you’re fortunate enough to be completely unique or selling to a captive audience? Then bless your heart, you don’t have to worry about this one as much. But for the rest of us, Interrupters are critical.

Group 3: The Informatives
Some products need no explanation. What you see is what you get, there’s nothing mysterious or different about them. Most businesses have to work for it, though. They have to convey information about their product, service and/or company before people will . Informatives might be a big proposal, a video demonstration or a slick brochure. But it could just be the word “NEW!” on the packaging. Informative ingredients establish your credibility (think a radio interview or website), display your unique status (the only organically-grown wart-remover!), increase interest (wow, a widget can do that?) and move the conversation from your weakness to your strength (we may be more expensive, but only because we refuse to use sweatshops). If your product’s distinction isn’t immediately obvious, your pyramid needs enough Informatives to establish you as the clear choice.

Group 4: The Interactors
This could also be called the “Nordstrom” group. The Interactors are all about the customer experience. Obviously, it includes the level of customer service your employees show your clients, but it also includes how clean your store or office is, the on-hold message they have to listen to when they call (and how long they have to listen to it) and how easy and understandable your manuals, policies and website are. If you’ve ever walked away from a purchase, frustrated that you couldn’t find a cashier, or vowed never to return to a company that didn’t stand by its guarantee, you know the importance of the Interactors.

Group 5: The Closers
Every salesperson knows the importance of “The Close”. Your local bookstore probably has three shelves of books about how to present, negotiate and close the sale. Here’s where it all pays off — but it’s too crucial to coast now. Even businesses whose customers initiate and drive the close can build relationships, get contact information or up-sell during the close (“Would you like fries with that?”).

Trying to use all 160+ marketing ingredients would be as absurd as eating a single bite of every food at the grocery store. Instead, determine the marketing mix that best suits your business, then handpick the choicest selection of ingredients to ensure your company is strong and continues growing. Here’s to your marketing health!


Additional informaion about the different groups of ingredients can be found on the Strategy disk (disk one) of my recently released 5 CD set, Foundations to Irresistible Marketing.

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Super Bowl Ads

SUPER BOWL ADS
955 words – a little over 4 minutes to read

How do you measure the success of Super Bowl Ads? Some measure by a laugh-o-meter. Others go for big graphics. I would put forth that success is based not on cheap laughs or expensive art, but what the viewers remembered about the brand itself days after viewing the commercial. Last week, I dissected the Super Bowl ads with students from Dallas Christian College, where I was a guest lecturer. Here are the 10 top ads we chose, and why.

Best Storytelling
Human minds zero in on stories. We love them, remember them, internalize them. And, if the story is truly connected to the brand, the feelings produced by the story are transferred to that brand for years to come. Here are our picks for best storytelling:

1. Taco Bell – Date
Taco Bell presented an entertaining story, as we watched a hyper-drive man move with supersonic speed from meeting a woman at a party to introducing her to his parents.

2. Bud Light – Meeting
We’ve all been there: the budget meeting, brainstorming session on how to reduce big corporate costs, the young guy in the corner who comes up with an idea. In this case, however, the idea (stop providing Bud Light at every meeting) gets him ejected — literally. Companies may need to cut back, but cutting Bud Light is unthinkable. The best part? The last line from the injured golden boy: “I was just kidding”. Even a green kid like him knows better than to touch the Bud Light budget.

3. GE – Wind Energy
A young boy tries to catch wind in a jar somewhere in Europe. He runs to a quaint cottage to join a birthday party of his grandfather. Warm tones, music from the old country, European farm life warm viewers’ hearts. Grandpa can’t blow out all his candles, so the boy has adorably tried to help. He opens the jar and woosh — gale force winds escape. Capturing the wind is suddenly a powerful thing. Well done, GE.

Top Pick for Ongoing Marketing
Jack in the Box – Hit by a Bus

The witty, good natured Jack is talking with a staff member when suddenly, out of nowhere, pow! Hit by a bus. Overly dramatic clichés mock TV dramas. The key, though is the ongoing campaign at www.hangintherejack.com. Visitors can watch “home videos” from inside the bus that hit Jack, leave a message wishing Jack well and see “In lieu of sending flowers, please order anything on the menu, anytime of day. Jack would want it that way.” Now that’s ongoing marketing.

Top Pick for Citizen Marketing
Doritos – Crystal Ball
An office worker brings in a “crystal ball” — really a snow globe — that tells him the future. Of course, this is a DIY destiny, so “I see free Doritos” is followed by the guy throwing the globe through the vending machine glass. Sadly, his co-worker’s attempt fairs less well. This ad was a great piece done by an amateur filmmaker and some of his friends, and deserves the buzz it produced. However, the real payoff for Doritos is the attention it gets for the contest. Over the past 3 years, thousands of amateur producers have tried to create winning Super Bowl commercials. Well, these friends did just that and were awarded $1 million for their efforts.

Top Pick for Putting a New Product on-the-Map
Hulu.com – Alec Baldwin
Whether a Super Bowl ad is worth the money is debatable in many cases. However, one of the best uses of a Super Bowl spot is to introduce a new or previously unknown company. Hulu introduced itself to over 151 million viewers at once and put itself on the map. Overnight, Hulu became the place to go to watch your TV favorite shows on your computer. Traffic on the website has skyrocketed. Web information company Alexa says Hulu’s 3-month visit percentage is up 32.1%.

Top Pick for Best Offer
Denny’s Thugs – Free Grand Slam
Denny’s “serious breakfast” ads weren’t superior, but their offer was. During America’s most watched television event, Denny’s announced that it would give a free breakfast to every person in the country. They made a big gamble, and the following Tuesday, America showed up. I waited for 25 minutes, while some in California waited for 2 hours.

Top Pick for Best Commercial
(that wasn’t entirely dependent on humor)
Audi – The Chase
While most of the ads depended heavily on humor, Audi stood out with an action sequence. Jason Statham, star of the Transporter movies, is being chased. He moves from car to car, disappointed each time, until he finds an Audi. He zooms off, finally in a car that performs as needed.

Top Pick for Most Memorable
Career Builder.com – Tips
There’s a reason kids’ songs that repeat and build every verse are popular: they’re really easy to remember. Career Builder did it’s version for viewers unhappy in their jobs and few people have forgotten it. The punchy visuals and emotion that you can relate to if you’ve ever been in a really horrid job. Career Builder had us anticipating the next verse and trying to remember each repetition. Kudos for getting the audience involved, and kudos for getting us to remember.

Top Pick for Continued Greats
E*trade – Talking Golf Baby
This ad was another good one for the guys at E*trade. The talking and trading baby, who debuted at Super Bowl XLII and continued to be a hit all year, joined us again for XLIII. This time he was joined by a friend. He was also joined by the great audio-visual synching, writing and punch lines that made this campaign famous.

All of these advertisers saw increased web traffic and/or business almost immediately. They created buzz both offline and on. They were memorable, well-done and will generate positive return on investment. Super Bowl Ad money well spent.

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