Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Anti Noise Manifesto

And it's Wednesday!

The last two days (here and here) we've been talking about relationships and it all started because my personal Yoda sent me this quote last week:

"Ideas will only get you so far these days.  Count on personal relationships to carry you farther.  The new economy is not just about the exchange of information; it's about the exchange of relationships.  Relationship management is nothing new, but with the advent of the internet as a communications infrastructure, it's more important than ever -- particularly at a time when there's more noise than ever.  To break through that noise, to get your message out, count on personal networks.  Relationships are the most powerful form of media."

Today, I'd like to talk about noise as it pertains to relationships.  I have Twitter always in the background as it helps me out of occasional writer's block and I've had great luck stumbling upon nuggets like the Mitch Joel interview I mentioned yesterday.  Had I not been in the "right" Twitter space at the "right" time reading the "right" tweet while disregarding others, I would have completely missed the interview and had nothing to share with you yesterday.  I'm totally engaged in talking to you at the moment but maybe I've missed the world's greatest tweet.  Who knows?  Pardon me while I go check...

I'm back...

Similarly, had my Best Buy posts (here and here) not been picked up by, I wouldn't have gone all the way to the Best Buy corporate site and I wouldn't have been interviewed.  Like I said, great luck and I'm thankful but these are not the kind of odds you want as you're building social media strategies to build (ultimately) relationships with customers and prospects.  Marketing by skywriter on a cloudy day will probably get you better results.

How do we break through the noise?  One interesting route is Virtual Communities.  I love them and I can't say enough good things about them.  I love that advocates and influencers own the brand essence and help marketers build relationships with new initiates and prospects.  This is where Best Buy really shines with both their IdeaX, a kind of online suggestion box for their customers, and their user forums as well as e.l.f. cosmetics as I've mentioned previously (here).  

The caution here is that these outlets can get noisy for those who are not schooled in the rules of the forum (fora?) or don't know how to navigate them.  And, frankly, noisy for us marketers who haven't taken the time (as urged by Mitch Joel) to map out the strategy to do it right.  As Jonathan Salem Baskin argues, allowing communities to talk about your brand and product doesn't free us from two things: reinforcing/rewarding the brand advocates and getting to know the customers and prospects better.  The danger to these communities is that it's easy to be lazy, it's easy to mistake noise for brand marketing and it's easy to mistake for relationship building.  The exchange is good but we have to work to keep it consistent with our underlying market strategy without being 1984.  Whew, that's hard, but I know it's something we all have the skills and focus to do.

Breaking through the noise in the search for something real and meaningful reminds me of the Millennial "haul videos" we talked about last week.  I'm beginning to understand them a little bit better!  In that post, we talked about the desire for something real or something that is relatable for that demographic.  Marketing seems to be devoid of messaging that demonstrates understanding of Millennial wants and needs.  In other words, it is full of noise and we've not fixed it yet.  

The haul videos are a blueprint for noise free content.  I read an interesting blog post from Millennial Marketing the other day on Social Friction.  The haul videos and this post teach us that by way of digital/online interaction, offline experiences improve greatly.  Because this group gets a bad rap, we just assume that all they want to do is log onto Facebook to post comments while texting at the same time.  The point here is because of the digital platform like a haul video, they can interact in the offline world with their friends at the places they want to be.  No fuss, no muss.  They're on the way to figuring this whole thing out.

Excuse me while I go upload a noise free, meaningful YouTube video.  In the meantime, please send me your thoughts and comments.  I look forward to hearing from you!


Parissa Behnia

p.s.  New gmail address for 678 Partners...  Exciting things are in store so please stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Value + Trust = Relationships


Yesterday, I started talking about the "exchange of relationships" and why they matter more than the "exchange of information" or even "exchange of ideas" these days.  We seem to be in a rush for the newer, better, faster, flashier but we've forgotten some of the basics.  Specifically, we've forgotten that our customers are multi dimensional and that they are more than ROI, ROMI, CPM, EBIT, etc.  They have wants and needs that deserve to be heard first, understood second and sated third.  It's a textured process but it's a process nonetheless...  much like building a meaningful and lasting relationship which is what we should be striving for with each customer and prospect out there.    

It takes time.  And it takes effort.

In my daily social media tour yesterday, I came across an interview with Mitch Joel, President of Twist Image, which I thought was very interesting and totally apropos!  What luck.  Please read the interview after you've read this post -- it's full of great stuff.  For our chat today, I'm going to share my favorite nuggets.  The first one is about being connected versus being engaged:

"A lot of people feel they have a right to shill, promote, and push their wares just because they are "connected."  In a day and age where following, friending, or subscribing to anyone about anything is nothing more than a simple click away, there needs to be some time, effort, and thought put against the idea that being connected is basic and primal, but actually creating any level of engagement with an audience, community, or whatever you want to call whomever has agreed to follow or friend you, is a whole other ballgame. People make the assumption that just because they're following you, they're engaged with you...and that's a misnomer ... People like to say they have X amount of friends and X amount of followers, but how many of those friends and followers are really engaged with them?  Those are two totally different worlds as far as I can see."

Yes!  Exactly!  He talks about followers here but I'd like to twist this a bit because I'm concerned about marketers (or those who are followed) and how well they engage their followers and build relationships with them.  I'm sure we can think of any number of Facebook pages sponsored by a brand where they exist because the manager feels like it should exist -- much like crossing off tasks on a "honey do" list.  This is opposed to having well thought out, strategic, almost primal, organic reasons to exist with customized content for those who choose to follow.  I myself have joined fan pages with high hopes only to be slightly bored with what I see.  

True story: I saw an informal survey on Facebook where someone was asking if they should have a group page or a fan page for their budding business -- which, to me, was a cart before the horse type of question.  My response was to figure out the customers and prospect first, strategize, develop the right approach and then consider the delivery channel in the efficient drive to attract and develop a relationship with the truly engaged...  All of which takes time and planning... and trust.  This anecdote brings us to this other part of the interview:

"Marketers want everything (more sales, more brand awareness, more recall, and more word of mouth) and they want it fast.  I think marketing has it all wrong.  Digital marketing is about being slow and that's how you build your circle of influence.  Yes, you can make fast decisions, but optimal results take time.  You can't quickly start a blog and get results.  It takes time to build your content, find your voice, develop a community, and earn trust and respect.  You can't just publish a podcast and expect your cash register to start ringing.  You can't join an online social network and derive any value from it unless you take the time to meet the right people, connect, share, build and grow.  Slow does not mean resting on your laurels and not engaging in these new channels.  Slow simply means that long-term results take time.  There are no shortcuts to success. ... You become the go-to-person by adding value and building real relationships...and taking the appropriate amount of time to do so."

Wow - I'm struck by a few things not the least of which is that the "no shortcuts to success" sentence feels like this guy is channeling my parents (shout out to R and A).  But it's where I'd like to start first.  That anecdote is the perfect example of the digital trap that many are falling into these days.  We think that just because information is instantaneous and can be delivered via mobile channels, it means that the payoff should be instantaneous as well.  Not in the slightest.  When we build relationships, online or offline, personal or business, it's based on earned trust and delivered respect.  And, both of those are derived from the value that you bring to the proposed relationship.  There's no such thing as a free lunch, as my dad often says!

As marketers, we don't get value brownie points if we're on foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, developing an iPhone app, etc.  These days, that's akin to turning the lights on and making coffee.  It's the cost of entry.  It's what we do and how we do it that sets us apart.  Case in point: Nestle is still suffering over the palm oil brouhaha that started with a Greenpeace report and then spilled over to its Facebook page (Google Nestle to see articles covering the story).  How Nestle interacted with its audience on its Facebook page made a smaller problem into an inferno and it seems to keep fanning the flames instead of putting out the fire.  Why did it explode in the first place?  It was the tone.  It was the sheer disregard of the issue at hand.  It was a gross misunderstanding of the social media platform itself.  All because it didn't take the time and effort to develop its voice, build its community and earn trust.  

Again, the value of the discourse with and the respect you deliver to your customers and prospects distinguish you from the others.  

Which builds and strengthens relationships.

And, great news!  It delivers profits.

That's it for now...  There will be more on relationships in the next post.  Please keep leaving me notes or comments -- here or on LinkedIn!


Parissa Behnia

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ideas Mean Nothing; Relationships Mean Everything


I hope you're well and enjoying your day so far.  I've had a great couple of weeks and I'm still riding that wave -- always a good thing.

One of the many things I've learned in a very short period of time is the importance of the personal touch as you're making connections on LinkedIn, acquiring new customers or managing your Facebook page.  Whether it's peer or customer, this same question applies: how is the relationship forged and matured in ways meaningful to everyone?  And, can you have both quality AND quantity?

J is a new connection (I prefer friend) via LinkedIn recently and he's very eloquent when speaking about what relationships mean and why they matter.  He doesn't make connections unless he thinks there is a chance for a good exchange of ideas, etc.  In the short period of time I've known him, he's become my Yoda because I get interesting tidbits, thoughts and articles (when I least expect them) that get me thinking.  True to form, he sent me a quote from Pam Alexander, CEO of Alexander Ogilvy, the other day which made me consider marketing and how we market these days...  which I know was his point.  Here it is:

"ideas will only get you so far these days.  Count on personal relationships to carry you farther.  The new economy is not just about the exchange of information; it's about the exchange of relationships.  Relationship management is nothing new, but with the advent of the internet as a communications infrastructure, it's more important than ever -- particularly at a time when there's more noise than ever.  To break through that noise, to get your message out, count on personal networks.  Relationships are the most powerful form of media."

This is rife with great stuff and I don't know where to begin.  I will tell you that this "exchange of relationships" concept is intriguing to me.  In our race to say our brand/product is cheaper, faster, better, prettier, cooler or the race to have cooler digital platforms we sometimes forget to see the customer as three dimensional. We evaluate customers and prospects as tools to build share, revenues and profit which is as it should be.  But, we need to know the basics about our customers and prospects, then understand them and only then solve for the stated (and sometimes unstated) need.  

Case in point: I attended a webinar on March 17 hosted by an online marketing agency that offers up the following services: paid search, email marketing, strategy, "social media", etc.  So, imagine my surprise when this is the follow up email I received from the Director of Sales and Marketing literally a few minutes ago:

"Hi Behnia, Thanks for attending our webinar last week.  I hope you found the information to be useful.

Please let me know if you have any follow up questions or feedback.  I am also happy to discuss your specific online marketing goals, past campaign performance or other related topics by phone."

Friends, I've not been addressed by my last name since high school.  Sure, I've got an unusual last name.  But, if the stated expertise is online marketing and the intent of the webinar is to demonstrate their thought leadership, then I've got to believe there are checks and balances in place to avoid boo boos.  Also, this is a prospecting email.  What warm fuzzy am I to have when the basic salutation is incorrect?  Despite the unusual last name, it makes me wonder if other areas of their business are similarly lax. 

This is likely unfair criticism of those nice people.  But, my reaction is no different from any other customer or prospect when we don't get the basics right or we just don't "understand" what it is they need or want.  Truly, my Neiman Marcus "Surprise and Delight" post comes to mind here.  If you recall, my point was that as customers, we want to be treated in a way that make us feel wanted and welcomed.  So why aren't we doing that as marketers?

Which is why I was so struck by that quote.  We're in a rush to share the idea but are slower with fortifying the budding relationships.  Some may say that social media platforms mechanize the exchange of relationships and that as these platforms and technologies continue to evolve, the concern will be mitigated.  

I think that may miss the point.  A good relationship is channel agnostic.  The "what" I deliver to my customers should be the same at all times and is predicated upon the idea that I understand my customer and that I am delivering a solution to their stated need/pain. How my message gets delivered is channel strategy and of course there are differences between online and offline approaches, tactics, etc.

This notion of relationship building will span a couple of blog posts because I think it's so important.  I really do thank you for and welcome your feedback whether through here, email, LinkedIn or Twitter.

Have a Great Day!

Parissa Behnia


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Empowered Millennials Matter. Period.

Hello My Friends,

Exciting things are afoot for 678 Partners and our logo is almost done!  We'll be putting it on this blog shortly.  This logo process has reinforced why market research is so important however quick/informal: some good feedback for our logo is that people are reading the 678 in 678 Partners as "six hundred seventy eight" so I'd like to clarify.  It should be "six seven eight"as it is a play on our June 7, 2008 wedding date.  This important nugget would have been missed and our logo would have gone in the wrong direction had we not had conversations with friends/colleagues and listened to their comments.

I'd like to talk to you further about conversations.  Specifically, the two way conversations we should be having with Millennials as they grow older and their buying power continues to expand.  As we discussed yesterday, Gen Xers will be the first group to break out of the recessionary shopping slump but it will be our Millennial friends who cement the longer term shopping recovery.  I'm still struck by the post I shared yesterday.  I'm sharing the same excerpt again because it's so well put, an important point for us to remember and really forms the basis for this post:

"I don't think we as a generation (millennials) expect advertisers or marketing campaigns to be authentic.  We're not insane.  I would venture to say, however, that what people mistake for "authenticity in marketing" is actually respect for one's audience.  This means an understanding of your audience, knowledge of their likes, dislikes, trends and interests.  This means ACTUALLY caring about what your audience cares about, not just finding something popular and creating a poor facsimile."

In other words, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck" doesn't always fly because Millennials are a lot smarter than that.  Truly, the error seems to be that we have mistaken the addiction to technology or other distinctive Millennial characteristic to be some sort of fault.  The multiple gadgets may seem intimidating to us Luddites but the gadgets should be viewed as fact just like I have brown hair, am shorter than most, can't stand salmon, etc.  

This demand for respect and understanding is precisely why it is not surprising that they refuse to buy brands if they find the content or spokesperson objectionable (here).  It's precisely why they are taking matters more and more into their own hands and having conversations with each other directly and on their own terms.  Case in point: over the weekend, ABC's Good Morning America covered a growing phenomenon on YouTube called "haul videos" which are essentially the 21st century version of calling your BFF and telling her (or him) what it is you found at the mall that day for a steal.  A lot of these videos are made by teens and young women but don't let the age fool you.  They know what we don't:
  • Millennials are informed, are savvy and learn quickly.  Some are even developing partnership/compensation arrangements for their video journals.
  • Sharing is caring.  Generosity is a given - they share shopping tips, money saving tips and even makeup/styling tips.  It's the old "karma is a boomerang" thing.
  • They don't wait for us to figure it out - they've grown tired of waiting for us marketers to treat them as a viable group worthy of advertising/marketing dollar respect.
I've watched a few of these videos and think you should, too.  Yes, they're teenagers with all of their teenager-y ways and some of you may point out that you have a few of those at home.  What strikes me is that these young people have a voice and aren't afraid to use it.  The article shares some advice direct from the 16 and 21 year old vloggers which includes: having a personal style, encouraging versatility, not taking yourself seriously and no boasting.  If we remember the Pew Research I mentioned yesterday, we'll be able to see the direct linkages between this advice and that data.  Cool.

Here's the funny thing about this phenomenon...  Mainstream media covered it but in my view really missed what I think is the big point: Millennials are bypassing mainstream media and advertisers so they can have meaningful conversations with one another.  To refer back to the excerpt above, Millennials don't think mainstream media or marketers understand them (nor their likes) nor do they think that they are being communicated to in meaningful ways.  I'd like for you to see the accompanying video to the article.  You'll quickly see that the revenue story is what attracted ABC but it didn't grasp the root causes of why haul videos are popular.

The overall point?  Millennials matter.  And as they gain more spending power, they become Empowered Millennials.  The real question is when are we going to wake up and and start paying more serious attention to them?  Clearly, we ignore them or discount them at our peril as John McCain's team learned in 2008  I'd love to hear your feedback on this.  Please send me your thoughts!


Parissa Behnia

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Millennials Matter. Period.


Happy Spring!  In the Persian culture, the new year coincides with the first day of Spring.  New year, new attitude and new optimism for peace, prosperity and whatnot.  Persians can't resist a good party -- I sometimes joke that we would dress up for the opening of an envelope.  Hey, the glass is half full.

Being Persian and consequently having the eternal/hopeful optimist gene, I've been paying attention to the cautiously positive research on the recessionary versus the post recessionary consumer - and with good reason.  Our job as marketers is a cocktail of 1/3 data, 1/3 strategy and 1/3 eternal optimism so we should be taking this data and mapping out the best strategy possible to maximize success.

Last week, I pointed you in the direction of some research provided by The Futures Company which described behavioral nuances in this post recessionary environment.  In this post, I want to dig deeper into who will likely be our saviors and lead the way out of this mess (in traditional and innovative ways): The Millennials.  Lest anyone think about rolling their eyes and discounting this group of 10 - 28 year olds, this same dismissal of this very important demographic was one of the main reasons why President Obama won the 2008 election.  In short, they are a force to reckon with on a multitude of levels.

It's always good to have a refresher, I certainly needed it on Millennials, so I'd like to share with you some takeaways thanks to data published last month by Pew Research Center  The full report is full of great information but here are some basics:
  • They are the most ethnically and racially diverse group: 18.5% are Hispanic, 14.2% are black, 4.3% are Asian, 3.2% are mixed race/other and 59.8% are white (a record low for white).
  • They are the most politically progressive age group in recent times and they believe government should do more to solve problems.  They are more inclined to trust institutions than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
  • Social media is not a phenomenon to them so much as it is a fact of life.  Many text, tweet, have Facebook profiles, sleep with their phones, etc., so obtaining information from multiple sources is "normal" to them.
  • Millennials are on track to be the most educated generation in American history but are currently suffering high unemployment rates with many boomerang kids back at home with mom and dad.
  • Though they appear to be suffering the most, Millennials are the most optimistic about where the nation is going, partisan politics notwithstanding.
Why do Millennials mean so much to us?  Just yesterday, I came across some post recessionary shopper research from Kantar Retail and Price Waterhouse Coopers.  Aside from what is now standard caution that times have changed and that shopping hysteria is no more, the data noted that Gen Xers will be Prince Charming and wake us from the recessionary shopping slumber but that our longer term fortunes rest mostly with Sleeping Beauty, aka the Millennials.  Significantly, Millennials will gladly bear the burden of the larger ticket electronics purchases simply because cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, video games, etc., are must have will-die-without items that make their lives complete.

To be successful, relevant quality content must be king: what we say and how we say it is critical because both are correlated (and maybe cause) level of engagement.  Millennials have access to multiple forms of content in multiple channels which means that not only are they overwhelmed with information but, more importantly, they exercise choice as to what to tune into and what to reject.  And, yes, they do reject - research I saw yesterday indicate that 37% of 18 - 34 year olds surveyed have not purchased a brand because they found the advertising distasteful which was exactly on par with 55+ year olds.

So what does the term relevant quality content mean to a Millennial?  I see a lot of marketers talking about how Millennials respond to authenticity.  Um, True.  I would even say "duh" to that.  I'd argue that we all respond to authenticity.  I can't remember a time that I purchased something or encouraged a purchase based on superficiality or lies.  So I'm rather confused as to what does authenticity actually mean in this context.  Thanks to my desperate "Millennial authenticity" search on Google, I found this interesting post which I've excerpted for you because she says it better than I ever could:

"I don't think we as a generation (millennials) expect advertisers or marketing campaigns to be authentic. We're not insane.  I would venture to say, however, that what people mistake for "authenticity in marketing" is actually respect for one's audience.  This means an understanding of your audience, knowledge of their likes, dislikes, trends and interests.  This means ACTUALLY caring about what your audience cares about, not just finding something popular and creating a poor facsimile."

A-Ha.  We've spent so much time focusing on Boomers and Gen Xers, that we've forgotten to take the time to know Millennials (the older ones anyway) so it's been much easier to make assumptions than it's been to make an effort. We may have discounted Millennials too quickly because of their purported short attention spans and cell phone as appendage habits and now, as the oldest Millennials are almost 30(!) it's really time for us as Marketers to "know them" and "show them that we know them" as we've been instructed to do for all segments that have come before them.  This is especially critical if they truly are our Sleeping Beauty who will lead us into a post recessionary age.

In the next post, we're going to talk about some ways that we can do a better job as marketers to initiate and encourage conversations with Millennials.

Thanks for reading and give me a holler with your thoughts!


Parissa Behnia

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Costco Couture in the Consequences Era... It Could Happen!


I hope you've been having good weather like we are here...  To say that it's long overdue is stating the obvious.  Nevertheless, it's long overdue.

I'd like to tell you about two women I know, M and R.  They are two very successful women with high exposure and high level jobs who, all things considered, have survived this economic collapse personally touched by what has happened but otherwise secure.  There was never a risk of "job elimination" so they have it much better than many others (of which they are very aware and thankful).

The thing you'd might expect of two women who have been relatively untouched by this quagmire is that  their spending habits would be roughly the same as before.  For M and R, that meant enjoying their lives, going out with friends, making larger purchases when needed but knowing their limits.  The funny thing about these friends and colleagues (frolleagues?) is that they've scaled back considerably.

Actually, they've scaled back so much that they regularly purchase clothing at Costco and race to the phone to tell one another about it.  The unspoken rule is to wear it as soon as possible, gracefully accept the compliment and then drop the ridiculously low price on the other or whomever else is in vicinity.  I've seen and heard about it so many times that I can sense it coming, especially from R.  The latest was M's very proud boast of having purchased Vera Wang accessories at Kohl's for a steal.  Hey, I'd boast too if I bought something for that little.  As they say, "Don't Hate, Appreciate!"

I caught a video the other day thanks to My Private Brand's daily emails.  Our friends at Tesco, a UK grocer/retailer, just launched a couture fashion line with price points starting at about $60.  Let's take a look at the show that took place during London Fashion Week(!):

 F. Terry Green, Tesco's UK clothing chief, said "This signifies a new era for supermarket fashion.  It's a high fashion-led range which will enable us to meet the increased desire for affordable yet high quality clothing, and we're so confident that the range will be a success that work has already begun on the autumn/winter range."

Wow.  My first thought was about how nimble Tesco was to be in step with consumer sentiment and trends.  Proof: I didn't even blink when I saw the words supermarket and fashion together which means that all of the research we've seen lately about recessionary consumer spending shifts being cemented must be true!  People have accepted and absorbed what "value for money" means to them so for people like M and R, it means that it's okay to outfit yourself, your fridge, your car and your home... and picking up a pizza...  at Costco.  Hey, maybe you can pick up a tux at Home Depot some day!

Just today J. Walker Smith, Executive Vice Chairman of The Futures Company, tweeted some really interesting research which I'd like to share with you.  The premise is that we are in the Consequences Era and therefore assess shopping with a sharper eye then before.  We're not necessarily economizing as much as the Recessionary Era and we don't mind dipping our toes in the shopping pool but how we make purchase decisions has changed.  Also, the criteria we use to make decisions have become multivariate and complex.  This new Consequences Era rests upon five foundations: Responsibility, Vigilance, Resourcefulness, Prioritization and Networks.  I'll spell them out briefly (you really should read the white paper and/or executive summary) and apply them to the Tesco example.
  • Responsibility is exactly what you'd think it to be: we take time to consider what we gain (or don't gain) by making a purchase with a byproduct being understanding what waste means.  One could say that this whole "Green" and "Sustainable" thing is correlated to accepting more responsibility.  So, Tesco has made it okay and even fashionable to be a penny pinching consumer.  Genius.
  • Vigilance is critical to this new era to avoid the mistakes we made before.  You could also say that this is renewed discipline and staying focused and out of (financial) trouble.  It's nice to go to Starbucks daily but do you need to go daily?  Tesco is saying, "Hey ladies, you have a right to look smashing...  but you don't have to be spendthrift about it either."
  • Resourcefulness is about doing things efficiently with an eye towards practicality and reducing waste.  This would also be known as "making your (resource) dollar go farther" or similar.  Tesco is turning fashion on its head and forcing it to come to real life terms with real life customers who do think they can have great looking clothes at fair prices.
  • Prioritization is really just a constant Cost Benefit Analysis.  What tradeoffs will consumers have to make to maximize their chances of happiness?  Tesco shoppers may be "trading down" but its only the price and not the style.  Before, we used to hide the purchases we made at discount shops.  Now, M and R are shouting it from the rooftops.
  • Networks are a byproduct of user generated content and social communities.  Though we don't always trust what our peers say, there's  comfort in knowing that we're all in this together and we're just trying to make the best decisions possible.  When will we see a Tesco Couture Facebook Fan Page a la the Nine West or Rachel Roy pages we talked about earlier (here)?
To me, it's uncanny that Tesco has pretty much hit the mark of this post recessionary consumer profile.  The implications for marketers going forward is huge and we would do well to think very carefully about how we position our products and brands going forward given some of the behaviors/attitudes outlined in the research.  Share your thoughts with me...  Let's have a conversation!

Until Next Time,

Parissa Behnia

Monday, March 15, 2010

Crawl Before You Walk... The Case For Boring


I hope you had a great weekend!  Chicago is a fun place to be around St. Patrick's Day.  The weather didn't cooperate on Saturday but that didn't stop the revelers from making the most of it.  And, it didn't stop the city from coloring the Chicago River a lovely shade of green.

Last week was, in short, amazing.  It was a tremendous learning experience and I'm so grateful to have the chance to blog on ideas, trends, products or anything marketing related that captures my eye and interest.  Who knew that writing twice about Best Buy, mobile technology and the future among other things (here and here) would go viral (thanks to @jayysenn on Twitter and other channels) and land on the corporate site?  And who would have guess that I would have been interviewed and have that go viral as well all the way to the site yet again?  As I said, it was amazing.

So, you can imagine why I thought Pete Blackshaw's advice to "Get Back to Boring" was a bit of a snooze the first time I read it.  And, maybe also the second.  The fact that I went back to it a third time made me think it was a sign my guy was trying to tell me something.  And then it hit me: It's all well and good that last week's snapshot in time got a lot of notice and buzz.  I'm tremendously thankful but if I've got nothing else to bring to the table and no substance to match the sparkle then all of that was just that single snapshot in time -- as opposed to a series of events where substance match sparkle that help to reinforce my personal brand or that of my nascent business.

And this is the very thing I want to talk to you about.  Let me just quote from the article (the formatting is mine FYI):

"Maybe what's missing in our marketing transformation is the really boring and basic stuff.  Maybe dull drives digital.  Maybe fundamentals face us forward.  Maybe boring is breakthrough.

I call this out for good reason.  Social media and digital marketing will only succeed -- and sell through the organizational layers -- if we ground it in deeper, more established marketing truths, not ephemeral campaigns, one-trick pony moments, or hypocritical oaths or proclamations."

Couldn't agree with him more.  That said, the beginning part of the passage should omit "social" from it...  Actually, I'd make more changes that that.  Yes yes -- I know he was talking about how we're getting distracted by the bright lights of technology and what we can do with it.  Truly, I'd reword it (if it were about me for a moment).  Just like above, the italics and underlines are mine:

"Maybe what's missing in our "social" marketing transformation is the really boring and basic stuff.  Maybe fundamentals face us forward.  Maybe boring is breakthrough.

I call this out for good reason.  Marketing will only succeed -- and sell through the organizational layers -- if we ground it in deeper, more established truths, not ephemeral campaigns, one-trick pony moments, or hypocritical oaths or proclamations."

My point here is that his advice is sound and what we need to hear regardless of channel.  And the elements he's reminding us to use as marketing building blocks are correct regardless of channel: Trust, CRM, Emotion, Feedback, Listening, Patience and Leadership.  He talked about them in detail but I won't touch that here.  It's worth reading through his points as I'll be talking to them in a little bit.

The crux of the article, for me, is that it's really asking how much respect we have for the marketing strategies and tactics that we craft and also asking how much we understand and respect our customers' wants/needs and sometimes intellect.  How much responsibility do we accept for the marketing conversation regardless of the channel?  Are we engaged and excited to provide solutions or are we going through the motions?  Are we disciplined enough to be true to the brand promise regardless of the touchpoint?  Do we have (or pay attention to) a marketing litmus test?

Last month, I wrote about BMW's new Joy campaign (here) which debuted on the opening night of the Olympics.  The premise of my argument was while I appreciated the human emotion they were trying to evoke, I just wasn't buying it.  There seemed to be something "off" or sacrilegious about "Joy" when, except for some status buyers and iDrive complaints notwithstanding, BMW is more about its engineering and handling.  I also didn't understand how "Joy" would be incorporated into the sales and servicing processes.  Many of the comments on the blog and on LinkedIn seemed to agree as did this Brandweek piece by Julia Beardwood.

Why am I self referential?  The litmus test is really the building blocks our friend mentions in his article. Have we earned customer trust or do we take it for granted which makes a "Joy" campaign seem like a perfect idea?  Are the touchpoints we have with our customers meaningful, timely and relevant?  Is the Emotion we seek the right Emotion?  In BMW's case, the better Emotion appears to be excitement or thrill, hence Ultimate Driving Machine, rather than the "Joy" Emotion.  Are we sincerely seeking feedback and listening to our customers or is that lip service?  One of my pet peeves is a company that appears to hide its 800 number and forces me to read FAQs that have no relevance to my question.  Do we have the discipline and patience to work at our craft and become masters of our brand promise or do we get distracted easily and go on to the next big flashy thing?

All of these building blocks are predicated on leadership.  He's right in pointing out that effective leaders inspire and drive change regardless of platform, cause or brand.  And he's also right in pointing out that leaders follow the consumers not the other way around.  We serve at our customers' pleasure.  They help us keep the lights on so the very least we can do is hear what they have to say, respect their wants/needs and deliver meaningful solutions on their terms -- not ours.  If you're already doing that today regularly and successfully, my hat's off to you.  Effective leadership is a goal of mine and I work hard everyday to be in striking distance.  

What's your take on all of this?  I'd like to hear from you!


Parissa Behnia