Friday, May 26, 2006

The intimitated Marketer

Most marketers are pretty surprised if they learn that the US industry overall spends three times more on marketing than on technology. Why are they surprised? There is just so much hype about technology innovations. There is so much talk about the Google’s of the world that change and impact dozens of different business areas, that most marketers assume technology is just bigger than marketing. There is much less talk about substantial marketing changes beyond the death of the 30 second TV spot and the fragmentation of the consumer world than about the groundbreaking technology innovations. Therefore most marketers remain impressed and almost intimidated by the technology speak of their tech counterparts, embodied in the successful geek entrepreneur from Palo Alto.

These intimidated marketers miss two phenomena that are crucial in today’s marketing world:
  • The clear lines between technology and marketing firms disappear more and more. Google, or Microsoft might have started as pure hard core technology innovators. But nowadays they are moving stronger into the marketing arena, and act for a lot of their offerings as marketing service providers. Paid Search is nothing else than digital targeted Direct Marketing. These technology firms have understood early on that there is a lot of unsophisticated spend in the marketing industry, so it’s much easier to tap into existing marketing than IT budgets
  • Marketing firms have not yet understood that they should be more responsible for driving technology solutions, not vice versa. Most recent innovations come from a technology centric genesis, and then evolve over time into marketing solutions that are widely adapted. It’s very rare that a marketing focused firm dramatically changes the rules of a particular business discourse

What can a corporate marketer, either on the service or the client side, do to not only profit from these phenomena but be an active part of changing the landscape? I strongly believe that marketing innovations have to focus on three main areas:

  • The Network: The more and more personalized network of information and social gathering places and hubs that individuals are building, the more innovation is needed to make this network as easy to create and use as possible. It’s about very personalized, and interactive 24/7 life style in any kind of media. This is more than just online social networks.
  • The Content: Any unique content in any media form (e.g. movie, music) will continue to change consumer’s perception of themselves and their world. Sometimes content is a different form of servicing up a product, sometimes it’s a well told story. A break through network solution will only be successful if there is relevant content, either created by a corporation or the consumer himself
  • The Consumer to Entrepreneur Transformation: Every day consumers wake up and are not happy with a product or service that they experience. The next day they might start a company and radically change the whole value proposition that fueled their dissatisfaction. These entrepreneurs don’t need to start a Silicon Valley based company; they can be part of a larger organization in which they act as entrepreneurs.

It’s a misunderstanding to believe that technology drives the world. The sweet spot of changing the world (or selling more products) is when technology and marketing solutions meet in mutually beneficial manner. This insight is nothing new, but its manifestation is different than 10 years ago.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Content rules

Last Sunday (May 14, 2006) I read an intriguing article in the New York Times about how Japanese spend a considerate amount of time in so called “Grand Cyber Café’s”, a mixture of game library, internet café, and social gathering place. They are using these communication and entertainment hubs as an opportunity “to be free of their social status” without the constraints of a constant norm driven self-presentation as successful and productive parts of their society. The success of these centers is summarized in a fascinating quote by a young Japanese man who frequents these centers very often: “No-face-man, no-ID-man, no-pride-man”. It’s all about losing yourself in the entertaining and interaction content universe of virtual reality. Besides the fascination with the Ueber-trend phenomena of the Japanese society, what’s the relevance of this seemingly obscure example for our business, the marketing world?

Too few marketers understand that they are being less and less in the communication industry but more and more in the content creation business. Communication and content are evolving into the two sides of an inseparable coin. They might have been always close but they are merging into ONE marketing value proposition. But surprisingly most marketers neglect the content element of marketing and continue to focus almost solely on the communication side of their work. One of the rare exception is Bob Greenberg, CEO of RG/A, who is relentlessly pushing the need for relevant content, almost pushing the balance too far on the content side with the potential of neglecting the importance of the communication dimension.

Why do I differentiate between communication and content? My two key reasons are:

  • Most marketers equal content with “the message” which delegates the critical importance of content creation to the job of copy writers struggling with the right words in the most relevant manner. But real content is more than messaging, it’s the power of creating unique experience in an interactive and engaging manner by filling the interaction space between brand and consumer with relevant content
  • Communication has its own important success factors: Targeted channel selection and management, relevant timing and spacing, and appealing creative look and feel; content has different success factors: Level of interactivity (see my blog about “Architecture of participation”), Media-Modularity to expand content across multiple media/channels, and Relevance for the targeted consumer segment. Only the best work across all communication and content success factors will build successful marketing programs.

Let’s return to our Japanese man who spends hours over hours in virtually created content worlds while using multiple communication channels (from email to blogs to game worlds to old fashioned website). For him there is no difference anymore between content and communication, it’s one stream of emerging himself fully without the limits of his surrounding society. That’s what marketing at its best does: creating experiences that are unique, engaging, and that empower the consumer to move to a different mind set. It almost sounds like a 19th century bibliophile talking about his passion of reading books, or?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Four Life Spheres

Most marketers are getting increasingly challenged by the mounting difficulties to understand their real boss – the consumer. The consumer becomes more and more a fickle phenomena that changes its behavior and mind set daily. The consumer world has evolved into a highly fragmented universe of millions of differentiated gatherings of somehow related individuals (called households in the marketer speak). The growing flood of consumer data with more research and data mining does not sufficiently help the marketer to really understand the consumer.

I count myself part of this sometimes frustrated group of hyper-conscious marketer who lament their own ignorance, despite more data and analytical capabilities. But, sometimes this veil of frustration is lifted and there appears a glimpse of insight. Over the last days one pattern seems to get clearer in my mind while contemplating the power of brands like Wal-Mart and Best Buy and their sometimes successful, sometimes failed marketing programs. I call this pattern: The Four life spheres. Let me try to explain.

Today’s Consumers live, think and breath primarily in four distinct areas of life that are organized by a distinct time dimension, a week. These four life spheres are: Family, Work, Entertainment, and Shopping. All these four life spheres seem to be organized in weekly terms, not longer, not shorter. All individuals (=consumers) manage, struggle, migrate between these four areas in weekly time chunks with habitual behaviors that change only slowly. But over the last years two key things are happening here: these four life spheres, on the one hand, become more and more intertwined. On the other hand, they become more and more demanding and complex by themselves.

These life spheres are sometimes highly organized and driven by a life sphere CEO, sometimes they seem more self organized and rather chaotic. What has changed in this life set-up of weekly patterns?

  • Traditionally, women owned the CEO role in Family and Shopping, men in work and entertainment. These have significantly changed, the life sphere CEO role is much more fluid and situational
  • Throughout the day some of the four life spheres are collapsing into one sphere, like when the entertainment and family spheres become one or when the shopping and entertainment collapses. Some of the collapsing forces are externally driven. Some of them are conscious decisions by the consumer himself.
  • Today’s consumer tries much more than ever before to balance all these life spheres in a healthy way instead of sacrificing one for the other, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Important is the strive for this balance.

What does this mean for us marketers? We have the obligation to understand the intertwining of these four life sphere over a weekly 7 day span to really unlock the key behavioral motivators that drive brand decisions. We need to understand how our prospects and customers interact with our brand products and service offerings across these four life spheres. Only the relevant brand intersection within and across these life spheres will build a long lasting competitive advantage. A brand needs to have a communicative and service oriented role in as many of the life spheres as possible, not just in the moment of shopping. Apple’s iPods success can be very well explained by its successful penetration of its product across all four life spheres.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Two Person Agency

What would you do if you could have a marketing agency with only two individuals? Just assume for a moment that there are only two positions to be filled, that you have only the right to get two talented people together to serve the marketing need of a client, and to build longer term value within the marketing agency? What would you do? What kind of people and talent would you hire?

I am posing this question to understand better the shifting value contribution within the different functions of an agency, as well as better define the optimal structure of a high value marketing team. After analyzing and reviewing the different marketing service functions like Creative, Account Services, Analytics, Technology, Research, Strategic Planning, and others, I have at least a preliminary answer, at least until I hear some better recommendations.

First I would hire a talented creative who is innovative and thinks outside the box, someone who can design and concept big creative relevant platforms that create exciting customer experiences. This creative would be not an expert for a particular channel but a creative who understands the interplay of different channels and the need of matching particular channel strengths with the particular marketing challenge.

The second individual would be a marketing data and insight geek, someone who loves numbers, someone who understand how to look at business situation with a data driven approach without getting lost in academic discourse of the most appealing algorithm or the most complex way of explaining analytical methodologies. This person needs the expertise to unlock the value of data and guide the transformation from raw data to relevant insights and meaningful action.
Why this particular combination? I am driven by the following reasons:
  • If you are able to combine the creative power of relevant communication platforms with the grounded data and insight driven methodology, then most marketing programs will not have only an appealing factor for the agency internal discourse - think Cannes - but it has the potential to really change and improve client businesses, too.
  • Even in today’s multifunctional set-up and structure of marketing agencies the most value is currently created by the successful combination by representative of these two team functions, the creative and the data and insight driven geek
  • Every successful marketing program at its core combines an understanding of the marketing situation, a relevant consumer insight, and an exciting creative big idea. If you can choose only two individuals, then these two can generate these three essential elements, no other combination of talent can make it happen.

What are the implications of this hypothetical question and mind game? Analyze and understand if your marketing team or agency partner has the right focus on talent and investment combination to really nurture these two very different talent and tool pool. If not, you are in trouble.