Is Perception More Important than Fact?

November 19, 2008

Clearly, there are still hard feelings over the recent presidential election. A forthcoming documentary aims to blame the media for the Obama victory. Putting hard feelings aside, the studies commissioned for this documentary point to an important impact digital technologies have had on our culture. There are so many experts and details and facts that truth is anything but concrete. Is truth now defined by perception rather than fact? Does digital marketing need to embrace its own theory of relativity?

Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein published his paper “On The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies.” This groundbreaking work would eventually be known as the Special Theory of Relativity. While bringing up Einstein and relativity usually conjour thoughts of advanced physics, the ideas presented are really quite simple. In the absence of an absolute position for measurement (even as we stand still, we are not still – the earth rotates on its axis and circles the sun at incredible speeds) there can be no absolute measurement. All measurements are only accurate as they are relative to the position and movement of the observer.

As we have seen in just the past week with the Midol Moms campaign, the same may now be said about marketing in a digital age. Messaging is relative. We strive to brand and create positive perceptions about products. However, our best laid plans are often cut off by customers. More frightening, these plans are often upended by competitor customers. In the case of Midol, many of the outraged mothers were not customers in the first place. This campaign only solidified their aversion to the product. In non-digital mediums, this is not such a problem. In digital mediums, their voice carries.

So what can we do? The best solution is the same that has worked for years. Build a compelling proposition based on facts. Leave perception to the customers. By presenting fact or a compelling story behind the brand, we leave perception open to interpretation. Each customer can decide how the offering fits into their life. The power of social networks is the ability to take a story and craft meaning in hundreds of ways. Midol as a cure for the aches and pains of everyday life is a compelling story. Let the mothers decide what pains are best to cure. As an added benefit, truck drivers can redefine the story to fit their needs, office workers can further refine it and health professionals can make their own suggestions.

The role of marketing in this process is to facilitate – not create. Customers have control over perception more than ever before. While crafting a compelling perception may win one segment of customers (or lose them in the Midol case), it does nothing to speak to other segments that may have sold themselves.

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Top 9 for ’09 – #9 Adoption Grows

November 18, 2008

Note: One of the advantages of self publishing is the ability to express unfiltered and unmoderated content. One of the priviledges afforded to those in today’s digital environment is the right to pontificate once a year. We get to break the shackles of building understanding on what should be known and venture out into the unknown. What the future may bring, no man knows. However, that will never keep me from trying. Plus, like others in digital marketing, I’m often asked the same question – “What’s next?” Here is one man’s opinion of what to expect in 2009. Why nine? It matches the year nicely, and I don’t think I have the time to get ten in by the end of the year. Thus, one by one, I’ll look at nine trends we should see significantly in 2009.

Photo from Flickr user Mimi_K

Photo from Flickr user Mimi_K

2008 was no doubt a banner year for digital technology adoption. The iPhone/iPod Touch, Google Android, Nintendo Wii and Amazon Kindle made technology commonplace. No longer is the internet restricted to a computer or a generation. It has become a part of everyday life. With public wifi enabling near ubiquitous computing, we will begin seeing a blurring between traditional outdoor marketing and digital marketing. As more of our devices become internet capable, adoption of digital technology will continue to soar through 2009.

This trend will start early. The most significant event for the beginning of 2009 will be the inauguration of President Elect Obama. While his campaign was largely strengthened by adoption of digital media, he has shown no signs of letting up. Today’s announcement of ‘You Tube’ chats reminiscent of ‘Fireside’ chats demonstrates the government’s savvy (necessity) when it comes to digital media. Combined with the worldwide economic crisis, more users will be drawn to digital media for their news than ever before.

Another impact of the financial crisis that will increase digital adoption will be the disappearance of many manufacturing jobs. With every recession comes a renewal of education. Community and technical colleges across the United States are currently filling up with students looking to further their careers. Recent budget cuts in education across the country have resulted in the creation of online curriculum for many of these schools. New students will increasingly be taking all or a portion of their classes through online tools. While many of these students will have already been familiar with today’s digital world, a number will not. They will learn by fire and will discover tools they never knew existed.

The success of the iPhone has not been a great surprise. Apple seems to do no wrong these days. As with any success, copycats are expected. A new generation of phones are coming out/soon to come out with a new 3G network. Regardless of the phones or network, the most impactful finding from iPhone users has been their increased use of the mobile internet. Given a device that works (no partly functional pages), the internet is now a value on a mobile device.

Gaming systems are no exception. Much of the criticism on gaming devices now comes when there is no online connectivity. These devices, once reserved for playing games, have become hubs for all sorts of entertainment and commerce. Add other entertainment devices like television and radio to the mix and we are beginning to see a large shift in favor of digital.

Overall, we should expect 2009 to be another banner year for digital adoption. Whether through mobile phones, laptops, gaming systems or other devices, users are beginning to adopt digital technology wherever it can be found at alarming rates. With a dire outlook on the economy and a new government coming into power, everything points to more time and attention going to digital mediums in the coming year. Expect this to happen early and continue growth throughout the year.


Solution or Problem?

November 10, 2008
Image from Flickr user Susan Renee

Image from Flickr user Susan Renee

Marketers are always looking for the next solution. This is especially true in the digital realm. We obsess on Zappos, Nike, Amazon and other proven solutions to find the magic mix that we can drag in front of clients as proof. The 2008 presidential election was no different. Digitally, the Obama campaign outperformed the McCain campaign. There’s already been a good deal of writing about the campaigns. 60 Minutes did a piece this past weekend. The Republican Party has begun to recognize the need to rebuild around digital. But is there a chance we’re looking at this all wrong. Is there a chance that we’re looking for solutions where we should be looking at the problems. There’s always a chance.

I believe the best solutions are, in fact, not solutions. What has proven most successful in the digital space is addressing problems. There is a fine line between delivering a solution and addressing a problem.

Solutions assume an omnipotent view. Only then, can one declare with authority that we have fixed the problem. The product or service is now the best on the market because it addresses the critical needs.

Of course, this is rarely (if ever) the case. While a solution is usually a good fit for a handful of customers, it rarely provides the big idea we are so desperately seeking. The McCain campaign delivered many solutions. Each of these solutions spoke to a base equally dedicated to the problem. Where there was agreement, there was no problem. Where there was dissent, another solution was needed.

Addressing problems offers a better approach for marketers. When the Obama campagin addressed problems, it removed its role as authority. Instead, the campaign acted as a leader. They brought the issues to the forefront and moderated the discussion. They provided guidance and understanding. The result was a dedicated group of loyal followers that did not need to agree with solutions to support the source. They only needed to be passionate. The Obama campaign was about facilitation and community. They used their digital resources to facilitate discussions and connect communities.

In the end, both approaches look similar. The ultimate goal is a solution. The difference in the approaches is in how that solution is reached. Either a company can take charge or a community can take charge. Companies can meet the needs of some individuals. Communities serve themselves.

What may be most telling about the Obama campaign will be their ability to keep the momentum they have built during the campaign. Putting the responsibility of solving problems in the hands of the community requires constant attention and adjusting. We will know rather shortly whether this was a campaign stunt or a new form of government.

For companies like Zappos, Nike and Amazon, we know there can be success in addressing problems. We also know it is not easy. What approach is the best to take for digital marketers? Are there situations where a solution is required, or do customers now demand their say?


The Implications of Active Media Engagement

November 5, 2008

So the election is done and we move on to the analysis. No shortage today of analysis on why Sen. Obama was elected. Nearly every social networking tool has claimed a role in the victory. You can find them. In fact, you probably already have.

Whether you agree or not, there is a point that has been missed. We’re getting too deep into the weeds with this technical analysis of social media’s impact on building the brand that was and will be Obama. How he used each tool in the warchest to successfully market himself as the hipper, more in touch, more ready to impart change and more whatever else you want to fill in is beside the initial point. The key takeaway from this past election is that Senator Obama used technology to market with a new voice. He realized the implications of the shift from passive media consumption to active media engagement.

Marketing has long filled a niche. It has supported our passive habits. We received entertainment from radio, television, newspapers and magazines. These were affordable (and sometimes free) because we were willing to trade our attention for subsidization. While we talked, the television was on in the background. While we drove, the radio played. While we whittled away Sunday mornings in idle conversation, the newspaper provided added fodder for discussion. Marketing messages bombarded us from all directions while we passively consumed our entertainment.

Then came the Internet. The Internet has been many things to many people. Above all else, it has been active engagement. Mobile as well. We do not flip on digital media in the background. It commands center stage. Sure, we read, we watch, we listen – but we act as well. Traditional media has discovered the insatiable appetite for comments. A story is no longer good enough. We need an immediate voice. Then, we venture forth to share what we like, organize what we learn and should we be so bold, create what we desire.

Before we get too technical about digital strategy, we should focus on one absolute. Our media consumption has become active.

For now President Elect Obama, this resulted in an ability to take his marketing messages and spread them far beyond any reach of traditional means. He used social technologies to empower his evangelists. He used mobile technologies to arm his foot soldiers. And he used his web site to seed the conversation and connect the solitary.

In pre digital ages, he would have relied on individual voices reaching out over dinner or at a bar. Hearty political debate, the kind we’re most familiar with, would have ensured. In this new age, he set his voice and connected thousands that would bring it to millions more – each iteration more relevant than the last. The Senator’s message had been crafted and recrafted to suite every need. All the while, his competitor’s message was controlled by one source, the campaign. While that eventual campaign remained muddled in conflicting messaging, the Obama message shined through from the mouths of those most affected by the implications – the people themselves.

If the election taught us anything about marketing in this new age, it should be remembered how today’s media consumers have become active. They will act on behalf of their chosen brand if only given the means. And no message put forth by a campaign can match the persuasion of that brought forth by a friend, family member, neighbor or coworker.


Where Politicians Lead

October 30, 2008
Traditional Marketing Funnel

Traditional Marketing Funnel

The impact of this campaign season may be felt more in marketing fields than any other. Long after the messages have died down and we’re mired in political reality, the lessons for marketers will live on.

Marketers work under the traditional marketing funnel in which prospects have two paths – customers or not. The funnel creates prospects by generating awareness, creating consideration, driving preference and intent. At the point of action, there is an assumed hand off to sales. After the sale, marketing picks back up to build loyalty and evangelism.

Digital media, through e-commerce originally, has blurred the line between marketing and sales. Questions have emerged as to whether the funnel really exists anymore. David Armano points to the spiral as a better model. Similar in nature to the funnel, the spiral is more adept at explaining digital interactions or what he calls micro-interactions.

The difference between many campaigns this season has been the recognition of these micro-interactions and the move from a linear funnel to a more cyclical process. Driven by polling, these campaigns have been forced to focus on both acquisition, retention, and win back strategies at the same time. Helped by user passion, thousands of channels have appeared both in support and to the detriment of candidates.

Sen. Obama’s campaign has been the frontrunner in adopting a new digital strategy. The campaign site acts as a home base for all other efforts. This provides the definitive information that stretches out to many social and content spaces. At its greatest, the campaign has allowed individuals to market to themselves. The iPhone application mobilizes supporters, allowing them to act on behalf of the campaign. Messages are very personal and relevant. The campaign only provides the tools. At its weakest, messages have been heavily diluted. Though the presence of a home base serves to clear up misconceptions.

Knowledge can be used for acquisition or win-back.

Knowledge can be used for acquisition or win-back.

The greatest learning coming from this campaign season has been the realization that lost customers are not truly lost. Often, they require more convincing. Providing knowledge can lead to them selecting you.

Marketers have long addressed this knowledge gap. However, the most likely solution appears as incentives. Rather than make either a more relevant case or improve perceptions, customers are provided with richer offers.

This has been no different with the campaign season. Candidates are well known for making promises. Trouble arises when the promises or incentives are expected to get richer just to hold onto those that have been conditioned to buy on cost benefit.

So while politicians have led the way in novel digital strategies this campaign season, they have lacked in regards to the wisdom they have brought to these approaches. If this election has taught anything, it may be that micro-interactions and micro-channels are valuable to all marketers. Given the proper resources, customers will often market to themselves. Knowledge on where to incent remains the largest challenge.

Just how much money has been wasted this campaign season trying to sell voters that were already sold? How much money do we as marketers spend selling customers that are already sold?