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Say the Magic Words: The Value of Content Strategy

If you think about your own buying behavior for a moment you will quickly recognize that advertising has less influence on you than it used to. For most people, advertising still creates awareness and gives you general impressions about brands, but you don’t probably rely on it for the information you need to make buying decisions. Instead, you know that within seconds, you can identify the major brands within a category, visit their websites, read reviews and ratings, see social posts, watch informative videos and generally be immersed in knowledge on virtually any subject. Consumers, like you, have an expectation that with search and the internet at their fingertips they can make the best, smartest, most fully informed decisions every time.  The reality, however, is different. There is almost too much information; it’s disorganized. A lot of it is misleading or deceptive, and most of us don’t want to put that much effort into the whole process. This is an opportunity for brands.

Decades ago when Bill Gates said “Content is king,” he may have been underestimating things. Today content is the fuel that powers the modern marketing engine. However, while consumers theoretically want all the data and information, they actually want it neatly packaged up and wrapped with an engaging little bow. In other words, consumers want someone else to do all the work for them. They want someone to bring them the information they need to know, to make sure it is useful and accurate, to tell them what’s important to consider and what’s not, and to make the whole process and experience, fast, easy and engaging at the same time. Regardless of what business you are in, you can be sure that your buyers prefer you to do their work for them. And if consumers come to believe that you will reliably deliver credible, valuable content in the form they want, when they want it, you will get on their short list for your category. Not too many brands make that short list, which is not unlike the positioning ladder that Reis & Trout popularized in a previous age.

Content can be an article on a blog, an interactive tool on your website, an eBook, a whitepaper, a video, a podcast, or a touch screen at an airport. Content is everywhere in a thousand different forms, and it seems like every company that’s ever read an article on content marketing is producing it. Most of it, however, is not very good, which is why quality is the first order of the day. As a Pardot survey revealed, 71% of respondents reported being disappointed with a brand’s content, and 64% indicated that they would not be very likely to ever engage with a brand again that had made a poor first impression.

The objective of content is to get the formula right. What makes content good is not just good creative, but saying exactly the right thing, to a particular consumer, for that moment in time, in a way that’s appropriate for that context. That might seem like threading a very small needle, but it’s what you, or any other tough, demanding consumer, expects. It’s a standard set by the very sophisticated brand experiences that consumers have become accustomed to.

Informed by your Messaging Framework and Consumer Journey Maps, you can plan the most effective content approaches for each persona, at each of the key engagement points you have identified. This becomes your Content Strategy, and it will direct everything your teams do from this point on.


This article is part of a larger series, Decoding Modern Marketing, that aims to help executives understand the value of marketing in 2016 and create a plan for achieving measurable results.


Consumer Decision Journey: Walking in Your Customer’s Shoes

We are all familiar with the sales funnel. At the top, it shows how a brand captures a wide swath of prospects, which through attrition during the marketing and sales process, is winnowed down to a much smaller number of buyers at the bottom. This is still essentially what happens. We set a wide net and yet only end up with a small fraction of prospects as buyers. The funnel is useful as a measure of the quantity of leads at each narrowing point in a sales process. But it doesn’t show us how to influence the movement of consumers through the stages of the funnel. A great concept for this is the Consumer Decision Journey.

Consumer Decision Journey | Walking in their Shoes

First devised by McKinsey & Co. in 2009, the consumer decision journey is a representation of the consumer’s path from initial awareness all the way through purchase and then on to loyalty and advocacy. It is a valuable conceptual model that helps you to focus on creating better experiences at each interaction point. It teaches you how to influence behaviors that lead to conversion, repeat purchase, loyalty and advocacy. Unlike the funnel, it is a loop where the initial purchase is just a stop along the road, because it recognizes the importance of the loyalty part of the journey. A reflection of how powerful the post-sale influence of every consumer has become.

The idea of consumer decision journey mapping is to chart the journeys that different personas take from initial awareness to first purchase and then through the experience of being a customer. This tells you what their key steps and interactions are likely to be. It also reveals the primary influences that shape attitudes and preferences along the way. If your mission is to truly serve the consumer and to anticipate their needs and wants, journey mapping becomes a central tool. According to the Association of National Advertisers, journey mapping translates to better business performance, with top performing companies having a better grasp of their customer journey than low performers. Not surprisingly, Amazon is really good at this. First they recognize that their website is their most important touchpoint. Then their customer experience mapping focuses on how personalization can humanize, as well as simplify and smooth, the consumer experience.

As we’ve discussed, each persona is different, and as such, has a unique consumer decision journey which requires its own mapping. The consumer decision journey mapping exercise can take two forms. The first is a workshop with key company stakeholders; the second is an exploration directly with target consumer segments. Obviously it’s best to do both kinds of exploration; however, when pressed for time and budget, the internal stakeholder route should be the minimum.

The stakeholder workshop is designed to tease out the knowledge of the customer that exists within your organization. It should be made up of key leaders as well as people who deal with customers on a day-to-day basis, such as sales and customer service. Participants share their knowledge of what happens on consumer journeys. It makes for great discussions and valuable insights. It also makes these key internal stakeholders more likely to actively use your journey maps to guide your on-going customer experience efforts. This helps the important shift to a consumer-orientation that your company has to make; as Bruce Tempkin of Forrester says “these maps can shift a company’s perspective from inside-out to outside-in.”

In every case you want to understand what’s happening at each of the key stages in the consumer decision journey.

These can be generally described as:

Stages of the Consumer Decision Journey:

  1. Trigger – What causes a consumer to begin thinking about a purchase?
  2. ConsiderationIs this purchase necessary and feasible? What will it mean to them?
  3. EvaluationWhich product is better and why?
  4. PurchaseHow and where is the purchase completed? Is it easy?
  5. LoyaltyWhat is the experience of the product. Will customers become advocates?

Different verticals may have different stages. But whatever they are, at each of these stages in the journey, we want to figure out the consumer’s goals and emotions; the triggers, pain-points and service gaps. We want to know the channels they use and their context; what content is needed, what kind of experience they want, what tools might be useful, what the brand’s role is, and how we will measure performance. We also need to identify those interactions which are true Moments of Truth that define or change a consumer’s perception of the brand.

These inputs start to build a comprehensive picture of how each persona type navigates their consumer decision journey. At my office, for example, we map these journeys on a giant corkboard so that we can see the journey as a whole. It helps us to keep the big picture in mind as we search for those magic insights that can become the basis for competitive differentiation. These insights might tell us where consumers need more help or information, what needs or attributes are being missed, or what might make their journey easier and more enjoyable.

With these maps in hand you are a step closer to understanding where to focus your marketing efforts; what channels and even media vehicles to use; what ideas, words and phrases the consumer responds to at each stage of the journey; and most importantly, which steps along the consumer decision journey are the most effective for creating brand preference.


This article is part of a larger series, Decoding Modern Marketing, that aims to help executives understand the value of marketing in 2016 and create a plan for achieving measurable results.


Consumer Segmentation & Persona Development: Sharpening Your Focus

Like most companies, you probably have a solid idea of the composition of your consumer audience, but for the purposes of marketing, we need to have a very clear picture of consumer segmentation, which is to say the relative importance of one vs. another, how to prioritize and why, plus the behavior profile of each.

For those of you new to consumer segmentation, it is exactly what it sounds like: segmenting the consumer market for your products and services into groups. These groups might be divided by age, or usage or some other characteristic. The important thing is that the reason for the segment should be important to the brand and a defining characteristic. Consumer segmentation is critical because most companies have more than one target audience and each behaves very differently from one another.

Consumer Segmentation | Sharpen Your Focus

Consumer segmentation also lays the groundwork for the kind of data profiling that will only become more prevalent as these data technologies get more accessible to companies of all sizes. This allows companies to use behavioral data to inform profiles of different target segments. If people in a segment tend to workout regularly, you might infer that everyone with that same behavior profile is into fitness. Famously, Target inferred that a teenage girl was pregnant based on her buying behavior. When her father complained that the company was encouraging his high school daughter to get pregnant with coupons for baby clothes, a manager apologized profusely. A few days later when the manager called to again say sorry, it was the father’s turn to apologize. He explained he had spoken with his daughter, and she had admitted that she was, after all, pregnant.

Segmentation can be by geography, demographics, behavior, lifestyle, frequency of use and much more. The process of conducting a consumer segmentation study should actually show where clusters of similarity exist and in doing so may reveal hidden opportunities. This work should be data-based vs. informed guessing. Industry focused studies are available for purchase, but often they are too broad for the specific needs of one product or services category. Coming out of a segmentation study, a company should be able to identify which discrete segments it makes sense to pursue. Clearly many considerations factor into these decisions such as the size of the market, growth potential, value, maturity, competition etc. Much of the other research you have gathered, and your business goals, will help, but a judgment is called for before we go on to the next step of creating personas. The idea is to get down to a manageable number of segments, often three to five. Too many will spread your efforts too thinly, and create operational problems down the road.

Consumer segmentation is great and valuable, but a sheet of numbers is not enough for a customer-oriented organization. It’s too easy to forget that your prospects and customers are flesh and blood people and not numbers to be counted. So to bring the reality of your target audience to life and keep it alive, not only for our marketing teams, but also for every person in the company, you create personas.

Personas are simply profiles of the typical person in a segment. The idea is to help you and your teams internalize the emotional reality of the target consumer you are marketing to, and relate to them as human beings. There may come a time when your marketing bot is selling to their buying bot, but we are still quite far off from that. If you are selling to people, your brand experiences will always have to be this mushy mix of analytical and emotional elements, just like people. Personas help you get, and keep, the mix right. Be sure to define your personas by age, gender, location, education and family, as well as by, goals and challenges, values and fears. To cap it off, it’s also helpful to have a visual of the persona, and an encapsulated pitch that would resonate with them. Each persona will help guide you through the subsequent steps in the planning and execution process.

Once you have them, spread your personas widely through your organization and bring your customers to life for your people in any creative ways you can. Some companies create persona rooms, or spaces designed to reflect the life and preferences of a persona. Staff can go there to immerse themselves in the images and emotional icons of a particular persona and hope for empathy and inspiration. Personas work. Forrester studies indicate that planning with personas actually improve the effectiveness of critical initiatives by as much as 400%.


This article is part of a larger series, Decoding Modern Marketing, that aims to help executives understand the value of marketing in 2016 and create a plan for achieving measurable results.


Tackling Complexity: 3 Steps to Getting Started on your Marketing Strategy

The new marketing landscape, just like the consumers who inhabit it, is much more complex than it used to be. Instead of just the four big outlets of the past, today you’ve got the whole messy digital world. You also have demanding, digitally-savvy consumers with very high expectations, and an unforgiving power to punish brands that manipulate, deceive or just fail to please. This requires that companies move in a very thoughtful, careful way, based on data and evidence vs. their experience or intuition, which is probably already out of date or wrong. Marketing from your gut today is like trying to hit a target in a blacked-out room. If you hit anything it’s probably by accident. And for those whose cry is that creativity is the answer, the question is: What happens when the world’s best creativity isn’t pointed in the right direction?

In the old marketing model, most of your company’s marketing dollars went to pay 3rd party media, like magazines or TV, to carry your message to consumers. It really was the only way, except for perhaps direct mail, for a brand to tell their story to a lot of prospects. Today, digital channels are direct to consumer. That allows a company to connect one-to-one and have a two-way conversation with their prospects and consumers. This sets up the potential for creating a new formula that relies less on renting 3rd party vehicles and more on your own proprietary communications infrastructure. We call this Owned media. It includes things like your website, mobile sites and email. Paid media, like, TV advertising and banner ads, still has a role in the new marketing, but its responsibility is less than it used to be. Instead of doing all the work of connecting, cultivating and converting, it instead becomes a spark that gets the process going. Earned media is the final kind of media we use. It’s denotes the word-of-mouth exposure a brand earns from consumers, customers and press. This includes social media, commentary, ratings & reviews and PR. All three types of media are necessary today, but the opportunity is to focus more on Owned and Earned media and less on Paid media.

Marketing strategy tells you what trees need to be in the forest and what it’s going to look like in the end.  It shows you how to construct your marketing system so that each piece supports the others and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course you need a website, but what do your consumers need it to do? What content should it have and what functionality? And how should it work with your social media websites or your email? Your marketing plan tells you what to say, when, in what channels and to whom? It tells you how to grow share of wallet, where to find more prospects, and even what products to develop. All of this comes from a methodical process, which delivers a detailed execution plan and a roadmap for building your system; all designed to accomplish business goals.

Stakeholder Interviews

Throughout this interview process, begin to be on the lookout for clues that will lead you to consumer insights. These are the “aha” moments when you get an insight that tells you something about the consumer that your competition may not have stumbled upon yet. When it dawned on Bill Gates that computer manufacturers would prefer to buy an operating system rather than make their own, he bought an existing operating system from a small Seattle company, developed it into MS-DOS and licensed it to IBM for PCs.  Much as Gates had anticipated, PC cloners such as Compaq decided it was cheaper to use the IBM operating system instead of making their own. Within two years, Microsoft sales exploded.

Conduct a competitive evaluation

You will need to have a comprehensive understanding not only of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitor’s offerings, but also how they go to market. This includes how they differentiate themselves, what channels they are in, what target audiences they pursue, how much they spend and what messaging they use and have used in the past. You will need to know what their visual or creative approach is, the strengths and weaknesses of their customer experience (CX) in all channels, their mobile strategy and how they present themselves at retail. This is very important because it will give you clues as to how to differentiate your brand from the field and show you where the opportunities to provide an experience advantage over your competition might lie.

Finally start the data gathering part of the process with a distillation of any metrics you currently have.

This includes sales trend data, sales data by product type and geographical area, and add any other key factors that may be important for your industry. It also includes marketing data such as metrics for your website, mobile sites, email open and view rates, search performance, CRM and loyalty participation and performance. Together this data, your competitive evaluation, stakeholder interviews and existing research  will set the stage for a successful planning process.


This article is part of a larger series, Decoding Modern Marketing, that aims to help executives understand the value of marketing in 2016 and create a plan for achieving measurable results.


Decoding Modern Marketing – A new series


Midsize companies are waking up to new dangers.

During the recession, while consumers sharpened their digital buying skills and the Fortune 100 raced ahead, many midsize companies took advantage of the competitive lull and avoided the investments necessary to keep up with the digitally empowered consumer.

Cut to 2016: Consumers, both B2C and B2B, have become sophisticated buyers. They have the tools to make smart, fully informed buying decisions every time. They are demanding, digitally savvy and unforgiving of brands that do not serve them well, especially on social media. They expect easy, enjoyable experiences in store, online, and with the products and services they buy.

In a nutshell, they want it good, fast, and cheap, and if they don’t get it from you, they’ll find it somewhere else.

At the same time, competition is brewing even in the sleepiest of verticals. Companies are realizing that if they don’t superserve their consumers, one of their competitors will or already is. And the quality of such an experience has been set not by the sleepy competition, but by the world’s top brands, so the bar is very high.

While the big companies have used the recession years to shift their focus to connect with the modern consumer, midsize companies are only now waking up to the need to get their marketing and consumer experience up to speed. But time is running out. Nimble new brands are finding ways to disrupt almost every industry with product innovation and better consumer experiences, and big companies, like Amazon, are spreading their enormous wings with even more innovation, making it ever harder for laggards to get into the game.

With a relatively stable economy under our feet, we have entered the fat part of the snake, where many midsize companies are ready to catch up. That means acting now to shift to a consumer-centric orientation in which everything that touches consumers is designed with them in mind.

Midsize companies that have managed to slide by without more sophisticated marketing and just manufacture and distribute will have to become marketing companies now, which is a daunting prospect for many. But the alternative is worse. As a big-box retailer recently said to a longtime brand on its shelves: “What I want from you is a brand, and that means you have to get good at marketing. If I want a product, I’ll make it myself.”

The good news is that even though time is short, you can quickly build a modern marketing machine that will superserve your consumers and future-proof your brand. That’s what IQ’s forthcoming 10-part series, “Decoding Modern Marketing,” sets out to do. This monthly series is an executive guide for midsize brands ready to usher their marketing into the digital age. That said, “Decoding Modern Marketing” is applicable to brands of all sizes, large, midsize, and small.

View the overview of Decoding Modern Marketing here. We’ll be back with Part 1 next month.

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Ad Blocker Panic on Madison Ave

Ad Blockers are the talk of the town these days. But it’s not like we haven’t seen them coming. Around the world Ad Blockers have been gaining momentum with consumers snapping them up in droves. From Germany to the Far East, pop-up ads, banner ads, even video ads are disappearing from digital screens faster than you can say hype. And now Apple and other platform owners are announcing integration of ad blocking software to screen out the last vestiges of invasive, evil brand messaging.

While it’s nothing new for consumers to dislike advertising, what is new is the accelerating move away from ad-based models across the media spectrum. In TV viewers can barely tolerate ads anymore compared to the nirvana of subscription-based experiences. And just as TV ad revenue is escaping to the promise of the blossoming digital world, Ad Blockers are ruining the party before it even gets started.

This story, however, is not really about Ad Blockers, or desperate publishers, but about brands; the companies that make it all possible.  Ad Blockers are just the latest nail in the coffin of the old paid media model.  Big ad buys where the agency makes easy money, and the brand is happy with lots of meaningless impressions, are going the way of the Dodo. Not because agencies or brands got smart or responsible, but because consumers are forcing an end to their obsolescent scheme.

In this transparent, no hiding-in-the-corners market, brands have no alternative but to truly serve consumers if they want their business. That means superior products, great service, social responsibility, and a commitment to education versus prestidigitation.

In marketing that means apps and websites that bring function and value, content that educates, and creativity that enhances the meaning of the brand.  It’s harder than making banner ads and spamming the world with pointless impressions, but it works because it’s what consumers want.



HAL in your pocket – Artificial Intelligence is here


One of the most important things brands expect from their agencies, according to a recent survey in the SoDA Report, are insights on what’s coming next. No sooner do we get comfortable than technology has a nasty habit of changing things up.

At the SoDA annual meeting of the leaders of 100 of the world’s top digital agencies last week, I listened to the always brilliant technologist Rick Barraza from Microsoft, as he painted an exciting, if somewhat dystopian, picture of the fairly immediate future.

While we all think we know Moore’s law, Rick reminded us that while we had hit 5mm transistors on a single chip in 1995, IBM managed to get 7BN on a single chip this year. If Moore’s law continues, and it hasn’t failed yet, that’s 14BN coming next year. According to Rick this kind of computing power is making the fantasies of artificial intelligence come true already.  For example using 100 “likes” as data points, AI can predict what someone will choose better than their parents. With 200 “likes” AI makes better predictions than someone’s spouse, and no one knows you better than your spouse.

Rick described a rapidly approaching world in which our AI driven devices become primarily digital assistants. Siri is just the beginning.  Imagine computers so powerful that you don’t need to fiddle with a screen, your assistant just takes care of whatever it is. This will become even more powerful when your assistant is connected to micro devices all around you with the “Internet of Things”.  He went on to describe the next paradigm as one where “visuals under glass” is no longer the experience model and these mobile HALs take over.

While exciting (boy, do I need a good assistant), it’s also a bit scary. As a marketer I wonder what this might mean for how we serve customers and prospects. What will a brand need to do to be valuable? As an individual I wonder about the sanctity and privacy of my personality. If machines know me better than anyone, do I lose control of who I am? I am not the only one worried about this as the giants of today’s technology from Bill Gates to Elon Musk have raised their hands to voice serious concerns about unchecked AI. Despite those concerns technological change keeps pouring out of Pandora’s box and we are unlikely to be able to control it.


The SoDA Report 2015 Volume 1

As the founder and board chair of SoDA, I am again delighted to present the latest findings from our annual digital outlook study, plus insights from the cream of the digital marketing world. I am proud to say The SoDA Report has become the most widely read digital trends report in the world clocking in with over 330k views in the last issue. Click this link to the responsive site: or view on Slideshare below.


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The New Brass Ring: Trusted Knowledge Source

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The New Brass Ring: Trusted Knowledge Source

Brass Ring

In this digitally enabled world consumers have been trained by search and the internet to think they can make the best, most balanced choice for every purchase every time. However, as all of us know, it is not so easy and there lies the opportunity for brands.

The problem with selling stuff is getting people to buy on your schedule vs. theirs. As a business you need sales sooner, not later, so the solution has always been discounts and promotions to motivate people to act now.  Discounts and promotions, however, assume the consumer is already sold. They pre-suppose that the only thing standing in the way of the sale is timing and cost. But what if the prospect is actually in tire-kicking mode? I’ve heard that the rule of thumb is that only 1-2% of prospects are ready-to-buy at any particular moment. If true, and it seems reasonable, that would mean that 98-99% of the target audience you are going after, are not actively interested in buying.

I am amazed how many times brands are still hunting for that 1-2% of ready-to-buy people and hoping that the sales they get make up for the inefficiency of wasted exposure to the rest.  It used to be that the sales generated justified the cost, and the silent majority didn’t matter.  But the silent majority of consumers today, while perhaps not ready to buy, are far from idle. They are doing their due diligence, digital style, and ads, as we have learned, may not be the best way to approach them.

Trusted Knowledge Sources

Search has trained us to presume we can gather all the knowledge we need to always make the best buying decisions online. And according to the Nielsen Trust in Advertising Report, people get a lot of that knowledge from brand websites because they trust them second only to recommendations from friends. This underscores the importance of a good website at the heart of a smart marketing ecosystem. But what it really reveals is that consumers are looking for trusted knowledge sources that will help make the process of getting to that perfect decision easier, faster and more reliable.

If you think about your own online research, invariably it’s hard to find a credible, apparently objective source of information. In most categories there are sites that purport to offer objective reviews, but are really just shills for paid sponsors.  Then there is a plethora of articles and opinions, social and otherwise, that pop up in a general search. Poring through them all on a quest for fast and easy truth can be frustrating and time-consuming. The result is a wide divergence between what the web actually delivers and consumer expectations of being able to make the perfect choice every time. As Barry Schwartz described in “the Paradox of Choice” lots of choices overwhelm people quickly, and since we all want to make the best, most informed choice, it’s never as easy as we want it to be.  This lays bare the opportunity for brands to leverage the goodwill that consumers already feel for them even further, by becoming the go-to trusted knowledge source in their category.

Driven by the two consumer objectives of “making the best choice” and “making it easy”, the true battle is to be among the handful of brands that get a trusted source spot on the consumer’s mental shelf, which is the modern version of Reis & Trout’s Positioning. These are brands that can be relied upon to not only deliver content that is relevant and valuable, but also to operate with perceived transparency and objectivity. This is not something that brands can fake, and has to be a commitment to actually deliver on consumer expectations.

Simplify the Process

Most consumers don’t know much about many of the product categories they explore, like buying light bulbs or a digital camera, and in their quest to make quick, informed decisions, they jump to search. This usually starts with wading through the body of knowledge associated with the category that has built up over time, across many companies, and is sitting in the archives of lots of brand websites. Invariably it’s an overwhelming, complex mountain of knowledge, hard to sift through and often impossible to find what you are looking for.  Making this process easy is clearly the first opportunity that brands should be looking for in their category. The objective is to simplify the process of evaluating and buying, by doing the heavy lifting for the consumer. That means developing tools and systems to make the buying process easy and intuitive, delivering exactly the right information at the right time, and answering questions. For those consumers who have an interest in the category beyond just getting a purchase made, it also means developing content to feed those interests.

Many people may have an active interest or passion in a category long before, they become ready-to-buy or even start their digital due diligence. Figuring out what the associated interests and passions of a category are, however, can be tricky. If you are lucky enough to be in a category like pet food, for example, the passions are easy to see. But what if you sell generators?  A brand might assume there are no passions and give up on staying connected to prospects through content. But that’s when you have to dig, talk to consumers and maybe get a little creative. We actually went through the generator exercise and came up with intense interest in the relationship of weather patterns to power outages, which led to an idea for a service to help predict outages. If we could keep an open, regular line of communication to cultivate qualified prospects, the thinking went, we would be top of mind when they became ready-to-buy, without the cost of finding them again through advertising.

The digitally empowered consumer has made the cultivation part of the sales cycle more important than it ever was. As a result figuring out what content it’s going to take to keep them connected has become critical. But even with the right content strategy and compelling content, the challenge is how to keep your brand front and center until prospects become ready-to-buy.  Of course you could go old school and just buy non-stop paid advertising, but the better way is to let your content work for you with SEO, SEM and social, with a little email thrown in for good measure. There is still nothing better than having a qualified prospect in an email database.

Good old-fashioned email is still a golden goose that’s worth its weight. Despite the ever-growing volume of spam, permission email has lost none of its luster. It’s the perfect channel when done right; cheap, personal and two-way. The problem comes in what brands tend to do with it. All too often people sign up to get something that’s important to them, and end up being given something that’s important to the brand. Unfortunately because it’s so cheap and misunderstood, brands often end up spamming their best prospects, sending too many offers too frequently, and not investing in content.  As a result the people they worked so hard to get to sign up in the first place, stop opening their emails, and the cost of acquiring them, and the opportunity to cultivate them, goes down the drain.

How to win hearts and minds varies in each category, but it takes a commitment to the unfamiliar and very different business of creating engaging, valuable content and using it to carefully cultivate consumers, while resisting the urge to badger them for sales. Most companies, by now, are at least paying lip service to this idea, but few really get it. The result is a lot of noise that neither differentiates nor positions brands.  Becoming a trusted knowledge source doesn’t just happen, and consumers armed with their digital devices and high expectations will anoint only the few that genuinely serve them.

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Every Brand Needs a Playbook


Every Brand Needs a Playbook


Brands have been planning since the dawn of marketing, but with the advent of the digital consumer it has become a great deal more complex. This post lays out the steps that lead to a marketing execution plan that is based on data and insights.

An Evidence Based Approach

Marketing has become a very complicated game. On every play there are thousands of possible permutations and like chess you have to not only win the moment, but also make it part of the bigger strategy. It’s not easy because there are so many things to consider, from the sheer number of channels and influences, to the behavior of the independent minded, digitally savvy consumer. Trying to do it by gut, or even experience, alone is just not possible anymore. That’s why brands need an evidence-based approach to marketing planning.

First Things First

There a number of steps to developing a plan, each building on the other, but to begin you need to gather all the intelligence you can find. This includes data and insights on barriers and opportunities inside your company, the category, the competition and the target consumer. It also includes doing a health check on the brand position, reviewing the lead process, if any, the conversion process and the role of technology; internal and external. Then with, hopefully, target audience segmentation and personas in hand, you should conduct a competitive analysis, use social listening to see what your targets are talking about, and analyze search patterns to glimpse what they are actually doing.

Mind the Gaps

Normally companies already have lots of this information, as well as Attitude & Usage research, sales and geographical data and so on. The idea is to synthesize all this data into insights and direction. But first you should determine the gaps in your knowledge, where you need additional understanding, and decide how critical it is to fill those gaps. Often stakeholder interviews, across the organization, from sales to the executive suite, are a fast way to fill in knowledge gaps, identify what is important internally and as an important bonus, get buy-in for the planning process.

Journey Mapping

All this data and knowledge becomes inputs for the next phase; Journey Mapping. This critically important step is based on the Mckinsey Consumer Decision Journey model introduced in 2009. Its job is to map consumer behavior at the key steps of awareness, evaluation, conversion, post purchase and loyalty. It tells us what each segment of consumers is thinking, doing and feeling at each juncture; it also identifies barriers, distribution requirements, brand role and more. Usually conducted as a collaborative workshop, Journey Mapping brings marketers together with key stakeholders and subject matter experts, to answer the key questions of “When” and “Where” to connect with consumers, and the role and purpose of channels at the different stages of the journey. Of course it is invaluable to talk to consumers too if time and budget allow.

Mighty Messaging

Building on Journey Mapping is Content Strategy, which is focused on answering the other two key questions “What to say” and “How to say it” at each touch point. The objective is to determine the most relevant and impactful messaging that can be presented to each consumer at each interaction.  That messaging needs to be relevant to the persona and their stage of the journey, while also being designed to contribute to a cumulative brand impression. At the same time messaging must be delivered in a way that is right for the context of the interaction; a video on a phone, for example, might be perfect or completely wrong depending on where someone is likely to view it and what he or she might be doing at the time.

Making the Cut

By this stage of the process you will have identified many potential tactics that address “where, when, what and how”.  But since budgets and time are always limited, you need to make choices based on each tactic’s ability to achieve business goals. Tactics are therefore reviewed for how they are projected to deliver on business objectives within time, resource, difficulty and ROI requirements and those that make the cut go into The Playbook. This is a prioritized action plan, typically covering 12-18 months, made up of the most effective and efficient tactics that you have determined will together achieve your business goals for the period. With it you know what marketing tactics need to be executed when, what performance they are projected to deliver, over what period of time, at what cost and at what difficulty level.

Less Guesswork

The Playbook is the culmination of a comprehensive evidence-based strategic process that takes the guesswork out of this complex process and gives senior management and the marketing team the confidence they need that their marketing plans will accomplish their business goals. While experience alone might have worked in simpler times, it’s just too risky today, which is why the Playbook will give a brand a much higher chance of success vs. reacting, improvising or just going on gut.

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