Monday, February 25, 2008

How do you energize customers who don't really care?

I've been doing some work recently for a client in the Casual Dining Restaurant (CDR) category.

This is a strange category. It's a cross between a restaurant and a fast-food joint. Places that serve you a sit down meal, but low quality food at a low cost - Chili's, Applebees, etc.

The biggest thing that stuck me when looking at customer data for these types of places is that people really don't care much about them. They don't hate them or make disparaging comments. It's just that they are largely ambivalent. It's a quick meal at a good price. Cheap drinks. It's convenient. A night out with the family where I don't have to cook.

So how do you energize a customer base that doesn't really care? And could (and does) exchange you for the nearest similar alternative on a whim?

Personally, I don't think you can. In the sense that you can't harness energy that doesn't exist.

Trying to create that energy through marketing only is doomed to fail. Essentially, you can't TELL me I love a brand more than I do, you can only deliver an experience that MAKES me love it more than I thought I could. And in the case of a CDR restaurant, you just have to keep delivering cheap food, a clean restaurant, low prices, a good service experience and maybe the odd surprise thrown in.

You're never going to be an Apple (nor can I see why you would want to be). But you will sell a lot of chicken wings.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Watch out for spam comments

My post before last garnered my first spam comment. I deleted it after the link in the 'name' took me to a site that my browser said was possibly harmful to my computer. Not a great sign.

It's interesting because in order to get a comment on this blog you need to enter a security code - the one where you get a set of garbled looking numbers and letters and have to enter them into a box.

This type of code is intended to check if you are indeed human. Machines have a hard time deciphering garbled letters. Humans find this task pretty easy.

I've heard of computer systems that trawl the internet looking for ways to post spam and when they encounter a garbled-message (such as the one used for this blog's security), they redirect the request to a human. The human process it and gets a small fee for their efforts.

Maybe the Matrix is real? I wonder how deep the rabbit hole goes?

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Banner Ad Research

There is another set of research out about the demographics of banner ad clickers. This comes via AdLab. The ComScore press release it talks about is here.

I can't really say strongly enough how bad this piece of research is. Specifically some of the conclusions it draws from the finding that people who click on banner ads aren't representative of the US population at large.

I think I have linked to this before, but Seth Godin made the best point about this in a blog post a while back. In a nutshell, there is no reason they should be. Banner advertising caters to free-offers, gambling sites, one-time promotions, coupons, 'You've just won $1,000,000', type advertising. Who do you think clicks on these types of links?

A further comment by Starcom's Director of Research, Grant Prentice:

“Natural Born Clickers shows us that we can’t count on click-through rate as our primary success metric for display ads; Starcom is more reliant on shifts in brand attitude metrics and analytics tying on-line exposure to sales as the true measures of online advertising efficacy.”
I beg to differ. I've done research on the 'residual' brand effects of banner advertising and finding a clear brand effect is like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Besides, surely a display ad that has any impact at all would overcome the 'click' barrier. It's not as if placing your mouse over an image and clicking is a laborious task.

It's very hard to argue that a residual brand effect occurred via a banner ad but that effect wasn't large enough to encourage a very simple behavioral response. If they don't click on it, it didn't do its job. There is no large, hidden brand effect that won't be strongly correlated with click-through rates (although the opposite could be true, high click-through rates with no brand effect - i.e, some sort of forgettable promotion).

The whole issue reminds me of some work I once did for a bank where their DM team was convinced credit card offers in the mail must have left some type of residual brand effect that could be measured (yes, the ones you open and throw away). Like banner ad makers, they saw response rates in the <1% range and were thus convinced their hard work must be having an outcome they couldn't see.

I think I lost the initial argument to try and find this effect, but the research got stopped by someone higher up the chain. I think they realized that the 'brand effect' of credit card offers served everyone's best interests as a myth.

You produce better work when you believe its impact is meaningful. Sometimes myths are more useful than facts.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Small Business Technology Summit 2008

I had the privilege of attending the 3rd annual Small Business Technology Summit on Monday.

Myself and my business partner attended for a couple of reasons. Firstly, most of the attendees are in the target market for our software product - smallish to mid-sized businesses who want to leverage their business information. Second, we are ourselves a small business (at the moment). So we were hoping to meet other business owners and learn from them.

Firstly, from a 'research your market' perspective it was fascinating to hear both speakers and attendees talking about relatively sophisticated technology topics. It occurred to me halfway through the summit that, contrary to what I had heard, a lot of SMBs are at the head, not the tail, of innovation. And it makes sense. Cost and time savings from technological innovation can have a huge impact on a smaller company's bottom line. And they're more agile - able to implement and change in less time and at a lower cost. It was intriguing to hear the amount out outsourcing talk - everything from outsourcing your clerical and office work to your marketing and sales.

In tandem with this was a general acknowledgment that Web 2.0 was here, important, and needed to be fully understood by everyone, no matter what business you are in. It was defined broadly as social media. There were some really interesting examples of people using FaceBook as a business networking tool (something I am not too sure works for everyone, depending on how you started to use FaceBook).

Of course, there were also some old tried and true topics that are probably mandatory at every small business event - SEO was talked about; time management; sales pitches/selling yourself; legal issues; etc, etc.

As the day went on I wrote down some of the themes I was hearing. They are listed below. Think of this as a snapshot of the technology memes floating around the small business world at the moment. Some of them are surprising. Some will undoubtedly fall by the way-side. Others will define the future of business:

stickyness - 'word of mouse'- community- involvement- non-mainstream- outsourcing- green- responsiveness- free- cloud- web 2.0- viral video- vision- 'technology as investment- work|life balance- virtual business- reinvent- avatars
On the networking with potential clients side, the event was less of a success. Partly because we're still in the process of networking for resource rather than clientèle, and partly because, out of all the people we could have sat down to lunch with, we end up sitting next to two girls from Dell (one of the sponsors of the event).

It's slightly ironic that at a small business summit we end up next to two people in enterprise corporate marketing.

C'est la vie.

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Obama Brand

I saw an interesting talk the other day on CSPAN (by the way, CSPAN and BBC America are the only two places you can get unbiased election news (or in the case of CSPAN, at least you know the biases)).

I can't for the life of me remember the name of the author who was speaking on CSPAN, but he made a great argument about how Hillary should deal with the Obama brand of politics (and again, I am not supporting either one candidate here, just making a point).

His argument was that the democratic debate needed to be pulled into the gutter. Not the nasty, accusatory, slandering gutter that politicians descend into, but rather the policy gutter. She needed to start getting very specific. Talk about the logistics, the details, the nuances of issues and policy proposals. Debate Obama on these issues. Pull him well out of the cloud.

A news article today reminded me of this talk. It mentions Obama rejecting Clinton's appeal for more debates.

Obama made a good move refusing. His 'change' campaign works best at an abstract level. It's about hope, love, new beginnings, newness itself. There are no details. And this isn't a bad thing. Substance comes later in such campaigns (in truth there is a lot of substance, you just have to dig for it).

It's classic brand strategy stuff. Aspirational brands that drive home emotional benefits of products/services tend to always get flanked by challenger brands that push price, product differences and an appeal to logic. I've seen a lot of aspirational brands get flustered by this and fall back on a me-too strategy that tries to combat the logic of the challenger. This can be a mistake (not always).

Obama has made a good move by refusing the debates. He still needs momentum and momentum is fueled by great ideas rather than sound policy logic. Hillary needs to stop his momentum. She needs to debate issues and policy.

Ok, it might not be all that black and white, but the strategy is definitely there.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Viral Marketing Revisited #2

I found a great post over on Marketing Profs. today by Stephen Denny.

In it, he talks about finding some common ground between the recent Duncan Watts research on influencers and Gladwell's Tipping Point theory. His key point is:

Reflecting on the social psychology of influence and Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion, this comes down to the applications of “authority” and “consensus,” both of which come into play under conditions of uncertainty. When we don’t have personal experience to guide us in a complex decision, we look to a recognized “authority” when the decision is objective, or fact-based. Which medical procedure should I get? What are my options? Sure, talk to your neighbor, but your doctor is the one who will sway you more effectively. In matters of taste, we look to “consensus,” typically many, similar others who have demonstrated their preference for a particular choice. What music do my friends like?
I think Denny makes a good point regarding 'types' of influence that is generally lost in both the Watts and Gladwell arguments. Of course we seek different sources of information/insight depending on the nature of the issue we are grappling with! That just makes sense.

However, it doesn't really solve the core issue raised by the Watts research. This being that when you actually model influence, the propagation of an idea does not solely rely on the 'influencer' mechanism.

This means that on matters of 'taste', you can be persuaded by the general consensus, but this consensus didn't have to start with the 'cool kids'. It could have started anywhere.

What Denny's post does provide is a new lens in which marketers can look at influence - are people making an 'authority' or 'consensus' based decision? 'Authority' decisions have huge implications for brands, as brands can be authorities (if they want). 'Consensus' decisions likewise - and for brands to promote a 'consensus' you need to act in a different way.

Is buying a car an authority decision or a consensus decision? Interesting question. And who gets to decide?

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Monday, February 4, 2008

The real loser in the Superbowl

The sports-fan.

No, not because of the game. And no, not because the advertisements were largely mediocre this year.

The sports-fan lost because the Superbowl is vastly over commercialized. Between the constant reminders of corporate sponsorship for every tiny portion of the coverage to the almost constant ad breaks, it was sometimes hard to realize there was a game going on at all.

It's sad because of all the major sporting events held around the world, the Superbowl stands out as a commercial event more than a sporting spectacle. The idea to monetize every break, no matter how small, and to keep the teams waiting in 'TV-timeouts' is appalling - to the sports fan.

I know this goes on in other NFL games as well, and in large part, the Superbowl was originally designed as a media event. But where is the love for the sport? Why put fans through an inordinate amount of advertising just to watch a live sporting event?

I admit my perspective is somewhat warped. I am used to watching Rugby and Soccer, which long ago decided that a half was 40/45 minutes and that they owed fans that amount of uninterrupted coverage.

What scares me is that as television advertising wanes and it becomes harder to secure large (and live) audiences, sporting events are going to suffer even more.

I just wish I could have spent 2 hours watching a 60 minute game, rather than four.

Congratulations to the Giants by the way. As much as it pains me to say that.

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