Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marketing in Today's Digital Culture

Does someone marketing in today's digital culture need a pricey MBA? Once considered the zenith of accomplishment in business, the relevance of the MBA degree has come under question. Clues as to why the criticism might stick could be found at the recent Kellogg Business School Marketing Conference. Event organizers took a classic approach, offering scant Wi-fi and burying the Twitter hashtag in the event brochure. Still, there were important lessons worth learning.  

Here are just a few things I learned:  

1. The American consumer is proving to be resilient. Market researchers from Nielsen to Euro RSCG agreed: although the American consumers have taken a blow to the head, they haven't tapped out. Whether it's coupon clipping, mindful meal planning or a newfound appreciation for health and happiness--Americans are shopping, just more judiciously and less often. And the best news: consumers say they are finding more to enjoy about the shopping experience.  

What are they buying? Vitamins, supplements and oral care products are all thriving categories, perhaps because they are thought to stave off expensive medical interventions.  

2. Numbers, schnumbers -- the quest to measure success of new media in marketing has created a dangerous illusion that massive traffic is the Holy Grail. Richer veins of loyalty and brand advocacy (with smaller cohorts of consumers) are proving to pay off more handsomely for brands in the near and long term.  

3. I've seen the future and it's intuitive. Society is on the verge of harnessing artificial intelligence. Emerging technologies make it possible for ever more sophisticated algorithms to churn growing volumes of data with increasing nuance. As disciplines such as storytelling and data visualization rise -- the quant side of the equation will become a cover-your-ass security blanket relegated to machines. Agency anthropologists, behaviorists and creatives with good "gut" will step from the shadows to re-animate the marketing business.  

4. Web and mobile are distinct -- not even kissing cousins. Nothing beats a generous colleague. Ed Kaczmarek, Director of Innovation and New Services at Kraft, is just one example of many of the fine presenters at the conference. Full of hard-won wisdom, he revealed lesson after lesson about Kraft's successful foray in mobile technologies. To wit, leaping into custom iPhone apps is a mistake unless you've mastered more rudimentary forms of new media. Oh, and younger consumers are pushing other technologies toward mobile.  

5. I want you to want me. Stephen Baker, author of the book Numerati, thought out loud about the notion that people will soon commoditize their privacy in exchange for social currency, cash, or some other form of reciprocity.  

6. Marketing and consumer services are becoming the same thing. Finding ways to help people live more meaningful, efficient, happier lives is becoming more important to brands than advertising -- thereby linking the marketing department to operations. And a related theme was that "free" is not sustainable and capturing micro-payments for valued content and services is the next horizon.

This blog appeared on Huffington Post.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Big Chill--Americans Refuse to Surrender to Snow

I grew up in Michigan. By and large, Midwestern winters are not for sissies. But this photo and editorial from the Marquette Mining News blew me away. It's a reminder of just how resilient some communities can be.


Up here in the Northern part of Michigan we just recovered from a Historic event --- may I even say a "Weather Event" of "Biblical Proportions" --- with a historic blizzard of up to 44" inches of snow and winds to 90 MPH that broke trees in half, knocked down utility poles, stranded hundreds of motorists in lethal snow banks, closed ALL roads, isolated scores of communities and cut power to 10s of thousands.


Obama did not come.

FEMA did nothing.

No one howled for the government.

No one blamed the government.

No one even uttered an expletive on TV.

Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton did not visit.

Our Mayors did not blame Obama or anyone else.

Our Governor did not blame Obama or anyone else either.

CNN, ABC, CBS, FOX, or NBC did not visit - or even report on this category 5snow storm.

Nobody demanded $2,000 debit cards.

No one asked for a FEMA Trailer House.

No one looted.

Nobody - I mean Nobody demanded the government do something.

Nobody expected the government to do anything either.

No Larry King, No Bill O'Rielly, No Oprah, No Chris Mathews and No Geraldo Rivera.

No Shaun Penn, No Barbara Striesand,

No Brad Pitts, No Hollywood types to be found.

Nope, we just melted the snow for water.

Sent out caravans of SUV's to pluck people out of snow engulfed cars.

The truck drivers pulled people out of snow banks and didn't ask for a penny.

Local restaurants made food, and the police and fire departments delivered it to the snow bound families.

Families took in the stranded people - total strangers.

We fired up wood stoves, broke out coal oil lanterns or Coleman lanterns.

We put on an extra layers of clothes because up here it is "Work or Die".

Even though a Category 5 blizzard of this scale is not usual, we know it can happen and how to deal with it ourselves.

Flickr photo by Edward Ryost

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Innovators To Follow

Education is sorely in need of innovation. We all know that. What we don't know is what it'll take to bring it about. The uber-creative David Kelley, author and CEO of the storied innovation firm IDEO, is taking on education. His mind map plots the problems at hand. So the joke goes... How many geniuses does it take to change schools?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What B2B Event Sponsors Want

I spent the weekend attending Northwestern's annual Kellogg School Marketing Conference. Sponsorship was down over 50% from last year, organizers openly lamented. Times are tough for B2B events and competition is excruciating. So, how can an event land in the "yes" pile? The answer is to make sure new media is part of the deal.

Despite some very good panels and great speakers at the conference, technology was noticeably absent. For example, there was no Wi-Fi access for attendees, except for a single computer in the coffee lounge. I had to ask around to get the conference hash tag.

Professional conferences are, or should be, forums where thought leaders share tales from the cutting edge. As such, the medium is the message--incorporating new media helps speakers walk the talk. 

Many sponsoring companies are either looking to get more adept at social media or want to leverage what they're already doing through their sponsorship deal. Simply offering logo placement and free ads in the conference booklet is, shall I say, just too old school.

Flickr image

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Turning Critics in Collaborators

Gina Trapani’s latest experiment is worth checking out. ThinkTank, formerly Twitalytic, is helping spawn innovative apps among Twitter users. Hosted at GitHub, her experiment in open-source, pre-beta collaboration is an example of how really talented, creative people dive right in. She has an idea. She’s not sure it’ll work. But hey, she can either aspire endlessly and open that ugly void between what’s real and what’s aspirational--or she can try something. Build it. Put it out there. See what happens.  Anil Dash is already using ThinkTank to assess the effects of being tapped a "Suggested User" at Twitter. Lessons abound.

I’m still figuring out how to run my own experiments with ThinkTank. I speak conversational Java, so I’m challenged. But what struck me is the idea of pre-beta. Something so new, so emergent, that the seed is forced early--then cultivated by the community most interested in seeing it grow to its full potential. We live in a time when everyone, and I mean everyone, is a critic. Here's to the pre-beta heads like Gina who turn critics into collaborators.

Thanks to Dan Patterson and ABC News Radio for the photo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sweethearts: Is it Candy or Cultural Icon?

Valentine's Day is around the corner. Ask anyone about their favorite memories of Valentine's Day and Sweethearts candy hearts will likely come to mind.This week, Sweethearts Candy broke the news that they've buddied with Twitter to create this year's candy message: "Tweet me."

USA Today invited me to comment on the story. Sweethearts candy is a transcendent brand. The ultimate "love mark", as Kevin Roberts might deem it, the candy goes beyond commodity to help people create meaning in their lives. In this case, it helps people express affection in a light-hearted way that forms a memory and a bond.

Everyone has a Sweethearts candy story. Mine? I vividly remember finding one on my desk back in 8th grade. "Be mine", it implored. Oooohhh...who sent it? The mystery was to be solved that afternoon with a kiss in the cloak room. What's not to love about that?

What's your Sweetheart story?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Little Recognition From Wikipedia

Patricia has joined the ever-growing list of people, places, and things defined by The citation notes many of her most significant accomplishments: developing the blueprint for the Gates Library Foundation, creating the first-of-its kind sponsorship marketing division for the ALA, pioneering research projects, authorship of two books and more. Wow! Needless to say, Patricia is flattered to be included by Wikipedia.

Posted by Mo Hickey

Monday, January 18, 2010

Corporate America Gives and Gets

The line between corporate philanthropy and sponsorship continues to blur. According to a recent BusinessWeek article on corporate philanthropy, companies that give back gain competitive advantage—primarily as a motivational tool for employees. Cisco's giving has grown from $65 million in 2005 to $128 million in 2009. Similarly, SAP has begun using philanthropy to reward and incentivize its user group with a “We’ll make a donation in your name” strategy, as opposed to monetary prizes. This tactic has changed the user group culture from cut-throat to collaborative. 

The often-overlooked benefit of corporate philanthropy is the opportunity to use a slice of profits to contribute to a broader culture of innovation. Sponsoring the world it envisions is something Microsoft always delivers on, and it has humanized the brand considerably. 

Which corporate foundations are the most generous? Check out Bloomberg and the Foundation Center’s slide show featuring the Most Philanthropic Companies.

Friday, January 15, 2010

People Still Read

As it turns out, reports of the death of the written word have been greatly exaggerated. Now a large-scale study by the University of California at San Diego and other research universities reveals what I have long observed: we’re reading far more words than we used to as we adopt new technologies.

Hand-wringing reports from the National Endowment for the Arts in the last decade lamented the death of reading. But it wasn’t my experience. Nor was it what other pundits were witnessing.

Last year, I sat down with danah boyd at SXSW and asked her what she was observing in youth culture with regard to reading. Kids are reading, she told me. Okay, so maybe they’re not consuming the Illiad. But the fact of the matter is that digital culture is making us read and write more…much more.

Read more here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Consumer Culture As The Search For Self

In a recent essay for Pop Matters, Rob Hornung concludes that cultural consumers of his generation have come of age. Once at the vanguard, resistant to mainstream marketing, young RenGen have been brought into the flow of mainstream culture by the Internet.

“We never receded into the mass; instead mass culture mutated to cater to us as individuals and we thrived on the way it could decode us. Identity, as that kind of decoding, has become ubiquitous, a compulsion. Our identity is at once more palpable and more fragile than it has perhaps ever been—we have a rich and subtle language of objects with which to express it, yet no one seems to understand who we really are, and we keep trying to understand ourselves. We can’t escape turning ourselves inside out and signing over our desire to consumerism to try to ease the dislocation, solve the riddle.”

Hornung’s penetrating insights beg one question. Is there an inescapable “consumerism” embedded in the American psyche? Frugalists be damned! Are we wired to buy because—I buy therefore I am?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Moving Taught Me About Life

I moved over the holidays. You may question my sanity--I did. Especially when I gaze at the giant gash on my upper lip. The hatch-back on my car slammed my head down, forcing my face into a razor-edged box lid. For a minute there, I was a bloody mess.

The bright side? I'm closer to the city by 15 minutes. I pass Frank Lloyd Wright buildings every morning on my daily walks. And lots of writers live in my neighborhood. Here's what my move taught me:

1. Technology has made me a little crazy. AT&T is a dinosaur worthy of extinction. After many repair calls and complaints, I can still hear right-wing radio in the background of my phone calls. My Internet has failed numerous times. Yet technology, especially social media, nips at my heels urging me to stay connected or die the shameful death of irrelevance.

2. I own too much stuff. I tossed, gave away, recycled and took stock of my life through the handling of possessions. Purging is good. My life is many pounds lighter now. And just in time to start a new year.

3. Home is where the heart is. I like it here. My kids love it here. I miss the old place with its 6 ft. windows and oak staircase. But so what? If the people I love are happy, I'm happy.

The Hartman Group has a pithy report about the ideas and trends they think will stick in 2010 and beyond. Guess what? Social media isn't one of them. Frugality isn't either.

During the move, I tweeted less and neglected this blog, sorry. And after taking stock in 2009, I made a vow to buy less in 2010. So, I guess half of my equation matches the Hartman Group's formula. The question on my mind is this: how do those of us who use social media for business stay connected without losing our connection to the "real" things?

Now to tackle those last few boxes...

Thanks to Robert S. Donovan for the photo.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just One Question to Ask a Sponsor

No matter what shape the economy is in, sponsors still need to market their brands. Sponsorship is about marketing, not philanthropy--a fact that often alludes many non-profit idealists. So let's pretend the stars align. Your offer letter gets read. You score a meeting. What then? Pop the question. Not that question.

If there is only one question to ask a sponsor, it's this: "What do you want your customers to say about you?" Of course there are plenty of follow up questions: How do you want them to say it? (To eachother? In an email? On Facebook? As a Tweet?) How can our relationship get them talking about you that way?

Consider the question a theme. Anyone looking to build a brand in partnership with a cause, event or organization will appreciate being asked this question. Ask away. And listen very carefully to the answer. Therein lies the sense of fit that helps both parties win.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Can Duncan Clean Eduation's Tarnished Brand?

Arne Duncan is a smart guy. He understands as a politician and leader that his category, namely education, has failed to communicate with the public. Some of us face marketing challenges that are solely our own. But lumbering legacy industries often have to build the capacity of their entire category while they build their own brands.

In a recent set of video interviews, Duncan harps on getting the word out. In my experience, K-12 educators communicate strictly among themselves. It's an exercise in hairsplitting and inside baseball.

And it's too bad. Overwhelmingly, Americans still believe in getting a good education, as our recent study shows. The inability of leaders in education to speak plainly to the public has isolated citizens, leaving many of them to feel the situation is unsolvable. It'll be interesting to see if Mr. Duncan can turn that around. Given the early success of his Race To The Top reform program that requires states to compete for funding to innovate, I'd give him an A.