Thursday, September 28, 2006

Research Innovations?

Where are all the Research Innovations in our Marketing Industry? Whenever I review the results of marketing research for major brands, I surprised by the lack of any ground breaking consumer research projects. The only areas of research innovation seem to center around transforming more and more research function onto the Web, either in the data collection or the analysis phase. But is this all? Or are there areas that I just miss?

If you look at any existing marketing research, one can identify three key areas:

  • Quantitative Research that collects primary data points and draws conclusions by deciphering data based insights. This is done primarily by interviewing Consumers Online, via Phone, or through a paper based survey.
  • Ethnographic Research that relies on the intuitive insight capability of the “In-Field” Researcher who deciphers relevant insights by spending time and energy with consumers in as close as possible natural environment
  • Psychology based Research that relies heavily on psychological concepts and insights of human psyche and interaction. Tools used are primarily 1:1 interviews, Focus groups or Observations within an Experimental Context.

Over the last 10 to 15 years these three areas have not significantly experienced any innovation disruption as far as I have observed. It seems that the real innovation of marketing research will not come through further transferring research tools Online but in the strive for understanding how consumers talk to each other about brands. Indications of disruptive research methodologies can be seen in companies like MotiveQuest who decipher the millions of Online blogs and chats to see how consumers talk and write about brands. Or it can be seen in Google’s attempts to further mine any available Online information to understand consumer interests and thereby design more targeted and relevant advertising messages. Or in P&G’s Tremor marketing group that is building segment specific Connector communities.

I believe that we need teams who develop innovative approaches in trying to understand the consumer’s brand stories. It’s all based on the emerging marketing axiom that successful companies will be the ones whose consumers tell the brand stories, not the companies who tell the best stories. Therefore any company who want to be a brand leader in this story telling world needs to understand how consumers tells stories. Currently we don’t know a lot about it. Let’s change that.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Marketing Calendar 2007?

Don’t you feel that it is time now to discuss the marketing plan for 2007? Didn’t you already receive dozens of invitations to all these September and October meetings to plan marketing for next year? And don’t have all invited parties already the feeling that they are behind schedule? It’s time for the annual game of annual calendar based marketing plans.

I have rarely met any marketer who doesn’t question the sanity of this process, but I have yet to meet the one marketer who is willing to change this process. Why is the approach of calendar year planning antiquated? I give you three reasons:
  • The overall marketing plan should not be driven by company internal needs or processes but by the consumer needs. And the consumer would like to have marketing programs (and therefore plans) that are as time flexible as possible and not decided 15 or 18 months in advance
  • Annual calendar based marketing plans does not correspond to the much more important customer centric time periods like Christmas, Back to School, or the beginning of Football season. It’s not about planning the next year but about planning the upcoming customer centric time periods.
  • In today’s fast pacing consumer controlled world, there is not enough foresight to understand what kind of programs a brand needs to launch or what kind of marketing investments a company needs to spend 12 months down the road

Therefore I recommend implementing four different level of time based marketing planning dimensions:

  • Consumer Season based planning (all depending on particular brand category), eg Christmas, Back to School to scope out rough plan of activities
  • Monthly based planning to fine tune and agree on exact activities
  • Weekly to review and adjust
  • Daily to react with a small budget percentage to consumer or competitive activities.

Such a level of flexible marketing planning will require a much more nimble marketing organizations. This organization will rely heavily on systematic decision processes, data driven decision tools, and will take out some of the pure “feeling or gut” based strategic marketing decisions. But any organization has to keep in mind that this transformation into more frequent and nimble marketing planning only pays off, if the positive variance towards the old model justifies the increasing management costs of a more complex planning. My guess is that it’s worthwhile for 90% of all larger brands.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

1:1:1 Marketing

How do we Marketer’s combine the idea of 1:1 Marketing, the big of the late 1990ies with the stronger empowerment and consumer in control trend that has occurred in the last 5 years? I asked myself this question since I am meeting more companies who don’t really know how to deal with the new paradigm of consumer communities and loss of control to the consumer. These marketers have pushed the 1:1 Marketing paradigm over the last 10 years and felt on the cutting edge. Now what?

I believe that it’s not about abandoning one of these two approaches but to figure out of how to combine both approaches to design a better marketing strategy. I think we have three options to combine both approaches in a productive and innovative manner.
  • 1:1:1 Marketing: Nowadays it’s not just anymore about telling the most relevant stories to consumers but to enable them in telling the most positive brand story to their friends and networks. Therefore the 1:1 marketing approach ended too early, it needs to include the modern most important brand building element - what kind of stories do consumers tell their friends
  • 1:Segment:1 Marketing: It might be less about pushing much further into the tailored 1:1 Communication but to enable segment specific programs. Successfully targeted members of these segments will then tell the most behavioral changing story within their networks
  • 1:1:Community: We can turn the 2nd option around and end our marketing step with the community segment. Our job here is to enable the individual to bring the most advocated position to his or her community. Here it’s less about the individual consumer as the end point of our marketing efforts but the community itself.

None of these three options need to be the single solution. Any of these three options can be the right answer depending on the marketing and communication problem one needs to solve.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Scientific Marketing Planning?

My 2 week old post about Clausewitz and his philosophy of insurmountable strategic uncertainty in military situations, as well as its applicability to business situation, triggered more questions of how this kind of thinking can better shape a more sophisticated approach to marketing planning. Most marketers, on client and agency sides, are still developing rather unscientific, purely calendar driven marketing plans with the goal of cramping all different marketing programs into a more or less complex excel sheets or PowerPoint bar chart. The general feeling is that as long as one can show most marketing programs on one sheet, then one has achieved a coordinated and holistic planning approach.

What? Yes, this is preposterous and has nothing at all to do with utilizing state of the art planning tools and methodologies to solve these kinds of problems. My hypothesis is that the core challenge of planning marketing programs across a particular timeline is not a marketing problem per se but a multivariate scenario and planning optimization challenge. What does marketing planning need to do? It needs to build scenarios of how to plan events (=marketing programs) with limited resources (=Marketing budget) across a multitude of dimensions (=segments, channels, regions, products) with a multitude of options per dimension across a certain time span (=calendar year). This is a similar problem that military strategists or logistical planner face.

So, what can we learn from these other planning and optimization challenges. Let me try these following elements:
  • Any planning output needs to combine a scenario component to model the impact of certain decisions and as a planning component to help guide the execution of potentially hundreds of different events/marketing programs
  • Any planning methodology needs to include as key output a time based marketing plan that shows the marketer which programs a brand should run
  • Any sophisticated planning application needs to be able to be refined and improved in an ongoing and very flexible manner.

The whole idea of building a more scientific and intelligence driven marketing plan is long overdue. But it’s important to start it than to contemplate for too long about its complexity or the impossibility of ever achieving full certainty. This is not the goal. The goal is to plan our marketing programs less gut driven and in a smarter way.