Category Archives: Business strategy

We claim as our brand: truth

Brand isn’t about logos and colors and an attractive home page. It’s about the instantaneous, gut reaction you want people to have when they think about you. If you are very, very skillful, or very, very lucky, your brand can command a core human value. Today, The New York Times is both.

I would love to be on their marketing team right now.

On the luck side, the nation’s Brand Manager in Chief has taken them on:

The failing New York Times? Not today.

One can debate whether there is “no such thing as bad publicity,” but anyone who looks at marketing history knows that a fast, smart response is everything. The Times is responding with skill, using the President’s attention as an opportunity to grab a brand value that’s not usually available: Truth.

There are values a company can’t claim without seeming phony. You can’t tell everyone you’re trustworthy or honest in so many words; similarly, claiming truth is a dangerous proposition — unless you’re lucky enough to be under attack by someone your constituents consider an enemy. The New York Times has claimed a high ground that will help it take a leadership position.

In multiple media, the Times is investing in the banner of truth.

It comes at a fortunate time. The company has had credibility and financial issues but the public’s memory is not very long, and the timing seems perfect. A strong, protracted statement — a branding campaign — is just what The Gray Lady needs.

Obviously, there’s a sizable percentage of the population that won’t buy this. But they’re not in the newspaper’s potential audience anyway.

For years, many of us have been wondering how newspapers will survive. People didn’t seem to see value in reporting and investigation, or even in writing. The Internet was drowning traditional news values. But some will survive and some will thrive. There are glimmers of hopes for the news business, with a few rising stars, like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and now, the “failing” New York Times.

Dear CEO: Mixing politics and business

mixing politics and business is risky business

Mixing politics and business: Risky business?

Just as politics is a risky topic at a party, most of us believe it’s dangerous to mix politics and business. But in these days of social media and online outrage, old rules are constantly up for question.

penzeys-ceo-letter on mixing politics and business

You may not know Penzey’s, unless you’re a cook. They’re a popular online and retail spice merchant (Side note: I am a fan: Get spicy. Once you buy cinnamon online, you’ll never buy it in the grocery store again).

Their social presence has always been personal, with heartfelt letters from their CEO, Bill Penzey but in election 2016, his letters turned from homey missives about baking pies for our loved ones to the storms outside the kitchen window.

The issues aside, there’s a lesson — or at least, an example — for those of us in business, because Penzey has published his business results in a “letter to CEOs.” The letter is repeated below because oddly, I can’t find it on the company website  yet (it appeared on Facebook today). He says that 3% of their customers abandoned them in a rage, while “online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%.”

Mixing politics and business is a personal choice, not a business strategy, and it’s clearly not broadly applicable. But I take it as one example of where close relationships with customers change the rules. I’ve written before about empathy — it’s not just a modern buzzword — and I think the reason this worked in Penzey’s favor is that he was talking to his customers, heart to heart, over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie at the kitchen table. Whether we agree with his stand or not, it’s authentic. And it appears to have resonated.

———

Dear CEO,

Please give us a moment to share something we hope you will find very valuable.

Our customers come from all walks of life. The kindness of cooks knows no borders or divides. In the aftermath of the election, seeing the intentional damage inflicted on so many outside the white heterosexual male world, we raised our voice. We felt we had to. We did this because we are Penzeys. The Spice business is so intertwined with history that it’s not really possible to have one without the other. It became clear to us that we are now in a moment history will long have its eyes upon. For the sake of our customers, and for the sake of future generations, we felt the time had come to stand on the right side of history.

And while the reasons for why we took a stand might be specific to our unique outlook, what we learned actually applies to all commerce in the United States. What we learned is that President-elect Donald Trump has no real support. Voters, sure, but no constituency. Running a campaign on “that horrible-terrible-woman who should be locked up,” while at the same time working to raise fear of minorities among white voters with limited access to education, clearly achieved its goal. But none of it left Americans with any sense of connection to the candidate they actually voted for.

Willing to take a hit for what is right, we did what we did. In the two weeks since, online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%. And we didn’t have a catalog arrive in this window this year, while last year we had 1.1 million! Yes, maybe for the moment we have lost 3% of our customers because of the so-called “right wing firestorm.” And, yes, they send emails of rage, and ALL CAPS, and bad language with the hope of creating the perception that they are bigger than they really are. But what we learned is that, in terms of retail spending, Donald Trump simply has no one supporting his views for America. He has no constituency.

America’s Values, on the other hand, have a really sizable constituency, and that constituency moves quickly to support those that stand up for the values of America. If, as a company, you have values, now is the time to share them. You may well lose a chunk of your AM radio-listening customers, but if you really are honest and sincere, don’t be surprised to see your promotions suddenly, finally, find active engagement with the Millennial generation.

And the time for this really is now. We understand all too well that, with the holidays, December is a tough month to get things done. We understand that a change in direction will not be easy, but you are where you are because you don’t need things to be easy. If you wait until after the wheels come off the track for the incoming administration, this moment will have passed. And while there’s no bad time to do the right thing, to do the right thing at the same time as others in your industry will work so much better than waiting until someone else has shown the way.

In this moment there is finally the real chance to unite our nation in our shared rejection of sexism, homophobia, and racism. This is your chance to stand up for America’s values and make January a tent pole in your company’s history. Opportunities to do the right thing at the time when doing the right thing makes all the difference come once in a lifetime. Make your history proud.

Thanks for reading,

Penzeys Spices

This advertising man makes us sound like dumb animals. I think he’s right.

don-draper

The first commercial ad I ever ran was about 30 years ago. I was working for Hewlett-Packard and was happy that I was working with teams of advertising and marketing professionals, people who knew how ads worked and would be able to guide me to proven marketing practices.

Except that they didn’t, and they really couldn’t, because dammit, they didn’t know. Over the course of my marketing career, I have been party to millions of dollars of advertising. Sometimes we knew what worked. Often, not so much.

Coca-Cola_FamilyAd

So, are advertisers and marketing execs stupid? Driven by ego? Faking it? Sometimes. But there are things we learned from experience and testing. Want to know what they are? I think you would do very well to follow these ten conclusions from Tom Cunniff. A few favorites:

2) Most purchases are habitual. Human beings buy the same brand of toothpaste (or CRM software, or supply chain SaaS solutions, or anything else) over and over again not so much out of hard-won loyalty as pure sloth.

3) Decision-making has never happened in a “marketing funnel.” In most cases, it happens in something like a pinball machine.

5) Most of the time as consumers don’t know what we want, and when we do know what we want we don’t generally know why we wanted it.

8) Most of the effort expended on advertising is like primitive people doing a rain dance. There is a ludicrous emphasis on diagnosing what went wrong when it failed … and an equally ludicrous round of naive self-congratulation when it goes right.

Follow the link for the rest.

Marketing messaging: 10 phrases great speakers never say

This might be the best article ever on public speaking. While explaining the “don’ts,” Jeff Haden (@jeff_haden) nicely tosses in a lot of “do’s.” He hits all my pet peeves plus a couple (numbers 6 and 8) I still do (gulp!).

10 Phrases Great Speakers Never Say
Want to ruin a presentation in seconds? Just drop in one of these sentences.

Strategy 101

In my presentation, What Startups Need to Know About Marketing, I list four things small companies often overlook in their marketing plans. Number one is “strategy.” As in, have one! Even if it’s just a couple of pages, a written strategy tells everyone in the company that marketing matters and we have a plan.

packard-marketing-quote

David Packard said, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.”

written-strategy-means-everyone-knows-what-to-do

Indeed, an understanding of the marketing strategy informs all decisions an employee makes on your behalf, from product design to logistics, to how we answer the phone.

Today, I stumbled on 5 Keys to a Great Small Business Marketing Strategy, from Greg Head, CMO of marketing automation vendor InfusionSoft. Greg says, “All successful businesses have a clear marketing strategy that makes everything they do more effective. Unfortunately, many busy small business owners get so caught up in tactical daily marketing execution like building a website, sending email, tweeting, advertising, optimizing a landing page, blogging and so on, that they are not taking the time to work on the decisions that’ll improve the performance of their tactics.”

It’s a good read. Even if your list of strategy elements differs from Greg’s or mine, the key is to have a strategy. You can improve it as you go, but please do start with something. It’s one of those things a small business owner never seems to have time to do but once it’s in place, it saves time and amplifies the efficiency and effectiveness of everyone in the company, every day.

What startups need to know about marketing

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 5.34.14 PMAre you running a startup?

You already know dozens of marketing tactics, but are you doing the ones that matter? I gave this presentation, marketing for startups (PDF) to the Princeton Club of Northern California’s Entrepreneurs’ Group, with four marketing priorities entrepreneurs tend to overlook.

Also available on slideshare.

Content marketing index

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 4.33.13 PM I write a lot about content because, as Altimeter analyst Rebecca Lieb says, “Content is the atomic particle of all marketing.” It’s what marketing is made of. It’s how you deliver value to all customers, including the ones who aren’t paying you. It serves every step of the buyer’s journey. It’s how you make people aware of your brand and move them toward familiarity, purchase, and loyalty.

Here’s an index of the top articles I’ve written here about content marketing:

Getting started

Best practices, building a content machine

  • The top 50 content marketers: Learn from the best.
  • A culture of content: Content marketing can’t succeed if everyone looks to the “content guy.” Here’s how to build content into the organization and make it everyone’s job.
  • My favorite article: What if you could amplify your effectiveness by turning every piece of content into 20? What if you could build a machine to make this happen? Learn how to make Many Pieces of Content from One.

Getting the word out

And all the rest…

Follow the full index: All articles on content marketing, to see everything, including new articles, as they appear.

Content marketing can’t succeed if everyone looks to the “content guy”: Culture of Content

A Culture of Content, Altimeter Group, Rebecca Lieb

I was pleased to see that one of my favorite marketing analysts, Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group, has a new research report on how to build an organizational Culture of Content (with co-author Jessica Groopman and contributions from others). 

It’s a topic I find deeply interesting because in my experience, the biggest difference between success and failure in content marketing is whether the whole organization embraces it. Excerpt: “As communications shift from interruptive and obtrusive forms of push messaging (advertising) to softer pull strategies that are more marketing- oriented (owned and earned media), brands will require appropriate, relevant, authoritative, and timely content. Such a need can no longer be the purview of marketing alone; it requires participation across the enterprise and an evolution toward a culture of content.”

In any technically-driven company, content requires time from very technical, very precious technical resources. Unless the organization is committed, writing an article is seldom anyone’s highest priority. A technical article won’t happen unless everyone in the organization understands that content is valuable and the company acknowledges and rewards contributors.

At Maxim Integrated, the $2.5B B2B where I was Executive Director of Internet Marketing, we built the site to over a quarter million pages, with 2500 technical articles and thousands of other technical items. The biggest driver: Early on, the CEO gave goals to each business unit and made it clear that this matters. Over time, many hundreds of people wrote for the website. As Rebecca’s report says, content initiatives succeed when ownership is distributed: “To motivate these groups, avoid asking them to work for marketing. Instead, tie content to individual or departmental objectives and develop metrics that enable them to track their progress toward these goals.”

That’s what we did at Maxim and the results were fabulous, with quality material that measurably drove excellent search marketing results and customer satisfaction.

I gave a content marketing workshop to a client in September and have been thrilled to see how they are embracing it. They assigned someone as content lead. That’s good but what worked is that she’s not alone in the corner, pleading for content (which is what often happens); everyone is eagerly producing ideas and content. It is easy to predict they will succeed.

At another client, it’s much more difficult. No one’s on board, no one’s committed, and writing is not a priority.

Commitment is one element. Another is the content machine. “Think like a publisher” means not just producing content, but doing it with a plan, the way a magazine does. And once something is published, procedures and automation push out a stream of links, tweets, additional items, and additional media (see: Many Pieces of Content From One).

Biggest Content Marketing Issue: You’re Not Doing It!

tractor-471836_640

You know content marketing is hot. You’ve known it forever.

Even before it was everywhere, before it was in the Wall Street Journal, before it even had a name, you already knew content marketing was a good idea. And you probably already know it will produce results for you. You’re probably doing some — you have some web articles here, a Twitter post there, some PDFs tucked in the corner. But you have no strategy, no procedures, no one with performance goals for producing content, no metrics. Is that you?

b2b-content-Documented-StrategyIt’s most of us. Despite being convinced it works, less than half of marketers have a documented strategy1. 93 percent of marketers use content marketing, but just 42 percent of B2B marketers consider themselves effective at it2. Another source claims 77% Of B2C marketers use content marketing, but 21% fail to track its ROI3.

93-pct-B2B-use-CMIt’s not because a proper content marketing program is hard work — it is, but difficulty doesn’t stop us, does it? I think that most enterprises aren’t there yet because content marketing requires the whole enterprise. You can’t do it on your own by convincing the CEO to write a check, by bringing in a consultant, or by buying something from Oracle.

Why don’t we just do it?

You need the whole company. You need sales and marketing to develop messages, personas, taglines and elevator pitches, unique value propositions, and buyers’ journeys. You need material, which means stealing time from some of the best technical people in the company. You need high-level editing, which probably means hiring. You need databases and infrastructure from the web team and from IT. You need the search marketing team and analytics support.

So, how do you get started?

Strategy first: If you can afford the time and think you can sell it, start with a strategy. Then sell it and execute. As you begin, come up with the measures that will prove the program, and measure a baseline. That may make it easier to resell the strategy when resources are pulled back (and since you’re tapping resources in many departments, pull-back is inevitable).

Tactics first: Strategy-first is a wonderful plan but many organizations lack the discipline. So pick up the ball and run! Begin with what you have and can do now. But as with the strategy-first plan, establish metrics first and take a baseline. Eventually, someone will notice what you are doing and if you can’t show results, you’re content marketing program will be instant toast.

See: Content marketing: Getting started.

The good news is that you will find allies everywhere because we all know that in the 21st century, content serves customers and supports business goals. So it’s a question of finding a way to do something we all agree is a good idea.

———

144 percent of B2B marketers and 39 percent of B2C have a documented strategy.

2http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/10/2014-b2b-content-marketing-research/

3http://marketingland.com/survey-77-b2c-marketers-use-content-marketing-21-tracking-roi-104099

Web Analytics: ABC

I frequently see web analytics misapplied two ways. Either it’s overly simplistic (“how many hits do we have on these pages”) or it’s a flood of data without insight or action.

e-Nor (a Google Analytics expert agency) released a great infographic and a simple approach to focus analytics on what matters.

(They address this for Google Analytics but it applies equally well to any analytics package.)

e-nor-ABC-web-analytics