Archive for January, 2010

Where Are You on the Social Media Ladder?

I was reading the Forrester blog today on the subject of social technographics and I have to say I really like how they measure and differentiate the various users of social media.  You should sign up for their blog for detailed information, but I was really intrigued with how they presented the different segments through the visual of rungs on a ladder.

I found the blog so very interesting because as I read the seven categories of users, I couldn’t help but marvel how far I have come up the social media ladder in a few short months.  For instance, up until very recently I was on the “Joiners” rung–those who had joined some social media sites (for me it was LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook).   That said, even though the ladder seems to represent a progression of usage, I really didn’t do much of what is covered in the “Spectators” rung.   So there I sat on the Joiner rung for a couple of years.   

After taking a fabulous MBA class on Personal Branding by Dr. Bret Simmons, I quickly stepped up the social media ladder.  I was almost simultaneously a collector, a critic, and a conversationalist.  Now, I can happily say that I am a creator.  And, I like it that way.  

Some of the other interesting statistics shown in Forrester’s recent study called North America Technographics Empowerment Online Study Q4 2009 were that:

  • Conversationalists are more likely to be female (56%), more than any other group in the ladder. While they’re among the youngest of the groups, 70% are still 30 and up.
  • Joiners are still growing rapidly, and Creators are still growing slowly.

So, where are you on the social media ladder?  Have you reached the top? Why not?  The view is great from up here!

Leveraging Market Research for Your PR Efforts, the Next Big Thing

A recent article by Ragan Communications and PollStream about the effectiveness of PR got me thinking about how companies can get past the PR and communication disillusionment and clutter and get themselves noticed.  While the study measured a lot of things, I was particularly intrigued by the following findings:

  • Only 49% of today’s professional communicators say they think press releases are “as useful as ever.”
  • Nearly half (45%) don’t see releases as relevant as they once were because of the growth of social media and the ability to target reporters and editors in more personalized, direct ways.
  • About one-quarter blame the waning interest in the press releases on the demand for a more trustworthy and/or engaging information source (23%) and the decline of the newspaper and magazine industry (24%).

 Having a well-defined PR strategy is important for any company, regardless of company size or company purpose.  In fact, a recent study reported by Vocus showed that  64% of PR and Marketing Professionals polled believe that PR will become increasingly important in the overall marketing mix in 2010 (Strong, F. (2009). PR Planning 2010 Survey Results).

Okay, so you want to have more relevant press releases, but what would resonate?  How about using all that market research data you have?  Companies like EMPLOYERS® are creating meaningful and relevant press releases by combining their small business expertise with data they collected on small business decision-makers. 

So how do you do it if you don’t have stores of market research data?  The quickest and most cost-effective way is to buy into/add questions on an omnibus study, like the  CARAVANs offered by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC).  They are quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. 

So now that you have a vehicle, what do you ask about?  Realistically, it depends on your target audience.  But, your questions have to resonate with that audience.  If you are a company that targets Gen Y, then you need to research topics in the news that would resonate.  Once you have the topic you want to explore, think long and hard about the three or so questions you would ask to explore the topic; then write your questions.

Once you have the results, you write the press release.  That is easier said than done, but after a few tries you will get the hang of it.  After you have vetted the press release with the market research company doing the research,  you then need to strategically release the data so that it will reach your audience.  Don’t forget to release your data through social media!  It’s free and it’s viral!

So at the end of the day, PR doesn’t have to be boring or irrelevant.  It’s what you make it for your company.

Yet Another Marketing Disaster…Are You Next?

Man if I had a dollar for every time I was forced to waste a client’s time and money!  I’d be rich, well comfortable anyway.  That’s due in large part to what I addressed in the article…Any Monkey Can Do Marketing. Don’t Like the Result?  Change the Monkeys.    In many relationships I have had as both a marketing and a market research supplier, I have had the unenviable conversation with the client or the client’s boss about why even though he/she believes that anyone can do marketing or market research, there is more science there that art in it.   

So, for those just getting started in the marketing and/or market research consulting business, a word of warning…here’s what you will face:

  • Repetition Blunders:  With most marketing and advertising messages, you need repetition in order to gain traction.  Clients will ask you to produce a one time ad in an expensive magazine because they are sure that this is the right target for them.    Even five consistent ad placements may not be enough to drive brand awareness or traffic.  And, when the phone doesn’t ring, your “I told you so” will ring hollow when the client decides not to pay you. My advice?  Get your money up front if you want to get paid. But seriously, what I would recommend is to find a like, but cheaper publication in which you can achieve the repetitions you need to get at least some traction for your client.
  • Brand Blunders, Discounts on Premium Brands:  A great way to kill a premium brand is to discount it.  It never ceases to amaze me when premium brands resort to lowering their brand value by offering discounts rather than focusing on increasing value.   There are some companies like Ethan Allen that get it, but many others resort to discounting and other brand equity reducing measures to drive floor traffic.  My advice, evaluate your client’s offering to determine where value can be added to the customer relationship and start there–this could be as simple as throwing in an extended maintenance or service agreement for free or offering high value customers/prospects additional services and/or preferential treatment on service calls.  Just stay away from discounts.
  • Market Research Blunders:  Believe it or not, some of your clients will do market research just for the sake of doing research; not because they have a well defined market research strategy in mind.  The best advice I can give here is to have a brainstorming session with you client where you start out the meeting with just one question and go from there.  That question is:  “If money, time and other resources were no object, I/our company would…”    Let them fill in the blanks.   There are other more tactical questions that would follow, but you get the point.  Many times your clients know what they want and/or need, but the put too many blinders up in terms of research design…thinking that the budget or man/woman power would get in the way of doing a research that would solve/address whatever need they have.

So new marketing/market research consultants beware of what is coming from your clients.  With a little planning, you can keep from wasting your clients time and money.

Building an Effective Marketing Plan…Keep It Simple

As some of you may know, I am one of the board members for the Society of Insurance Research (SIR), a really great group of insurance professionals.  My specific role for the SIR is VP of Marketing, which means first and foremost putting together an effective marketing plan.   Today we had one of the first of what will be several meetings about the marketing plan that I developed, in conjunction with others, for the SIR.  The format of the marketing plan is very simple and straight forward.  And, I like it that way.  Before working for my current boss, who is a top-notch marketing professional, I would have put together an extremely detailed and lengthy marketing plan.  Now, I stick with the basics like we do for the marketing plan for my company. 

So how do you build an effective marketing plan?  You need to focus on OGSM, and no the first two letters don’t stand for Oh God.  It stands for Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures.  There are more elements that go into the marketing plan.  The OGSM is really the frame work for the overall strategy of your marketing plan.  Here is an example of what an OGSM could look like:

Objectives:  To become the preeminent networking and educational resource for insurance professionals.  ßthink of this as what I want to be when I grow up.

Goals: Through this marketing plan, we will increase membership by 10% over last year and increase the annual conference attendance by 10% over last year’s attendance record.   ßthis is where you want to be very specific as to what the marketing plan is going to help you achieve.  Try to be realistic in your numbers, but you should have some stretch included in your goal.

Targets:  Our marketing efforts will be targeted on insurance professionals in the following types of employment: company and agency and in the following industries: life, health, property and casualty.  ßwhile there is no “T” OGSM, this is also necessary component of the overall marketing plan strategy.  Without this piece, your plan could experience significant scope creep.

Strategies:  Our marketing plan with have three overall strategies 1) build awareness, 2) increase consideration, and 3) build retention and loyalty. ßyou would have to define what each of these elements means to your marketing plan and your company.

Measures:  To determine the success of this marketing plan, we will measure unaided awareness of our organization, the number of leads received through the marketing plan tactical elements and the number of PR mentions. ßthese measures are your measures and should align with the strategies you laid out for the plan. This is the most often neglected piece of the marketing plan.  Many people build the plan with no way of measuring the success of each component of the plan.  Yes, you can probably determine if you achieved your overall goal or not, but unless you put down on paper specifically how you are going to measure success, you won’t really know if you were successful or not. 

Once you have these elements down, you can then work on the tactics behind each overall strategy.

Remember, marketing plans are only as good as the effort you put into them.  You need to have an overall strategy, not just a bunch of tactical elements you plan to initiate.

But I Don’t Have the Money to Do Research…Continued

While many of us are just drowning in work these days, there may be some of you that actually do have some extra time on your hands because your budgets and perhaps projects have been cut due to the economy.  So in the spirit of doing more with less, I would suggest that you focus inward and do more with the data you have already collected. This type of analysis is really great for customer satisfaction and loyalty study data.  But it can work for other usage and marketing research data as well.

So what are you going to do with the data you’ve already collected?  Here are my humble recommendations:

  1. Combine your data—When I was working for a well-known energy company in New Jersey, we had years upon years of customer satisfaction data on many different types of products, such as electric repair, gas repair, appliance repair, metering and so on.  It’s amazing what we found we actually looked at the data side by side.  I would have liked to combine all the data sets to do further analysis, but alas I lacked the time (and patience).  As long as the types of customers you are combining aren’t meaningfully different and you have some overlapping questions, you can combine the data.  Once you have combined the data, you can use SPSS or SAS to do further data segmentation; as you will probably have enough data on each of the demographic and psychographic variables to do a more meaningful segmentation than you were able to do for each product alone.
    • An exercise similar to the one listed above would be for you to combine several years worth of data for one product line and run your segmentation models on that data to see if anything meaningful “pops”.
  2. Compare different respondent types on similar questions—another meaningful comparison is to chart data from dissimilar but related respondents.  For example, at the insurance company I work for, I run two different customer satisfaction tracking studies:  one among small businesses and one among our appointed agents.   It is very interesting to compare how small businesses perceive an issue and how agents feel about that same issue.  There is usually a unique education and/or sales opportunity when the two segments don’t agree on an issue.
  3. Add company events and other influencing forces to your data presentations—by showing “outside” forces and key company events, you may be able to uncover a key driver of satisfaction or loyalty that is environmental based rather than customer service related (and hopefully controllable) that was not evident without having these key forces and events included in your data reporting.

 So as promised, I provided you with a few basic things I have tried to do more with less.  I would love to hear about how you have done more with less!

But I Don’t Have the Money to Do Research…

Wow, if I just had a dollar for every time I heard that one.  And, when I hear that phrase I think of a saying “penny wise and pound foolish” by Ben Franklin.  Money spent on research that is done right can be worth its weight in gold.  Well, it can save you a lot of money by keeping you from investing in the right things and steering clear of the wrong things anyway. 

But seriously, with market research budgets being the first ones to get slashed or go entirely, we market researchers have to be creative when it comes to getting data. So for those of you who are asked to do less with more, here’s some cost effective ways to do research:

Omnibus/Panels/Caravans—I am a big fan of the ORC’s small business panel and their consumer CARAVANs. I know that there are other panels out there, but I stick with what works for me.  For those who haven’t used these, the basic premise is you buy questions on a regularly scheduled survey.  There are many different people asking questions on the survey.  You pay for each question, except for the normal demographics/firmographics asked on the survey.  And, you only get the data from your questions.

It costs less than a regular study and there is very little work on the client’s end.  The vendor will even help you craft the questions, as long as you give them something to start with.  These types of studies occur frequently (some times as often as twice a week) and you can usually get your questions answered in a short amount of time.  For instance, ORC provides you with data the next day after the survey closes.  How’s that for fast service!

  • When to use it:  When you really only need the answer to a couple of questions.  If you have more than 10 questions, you need to do your own custom study.

Free E-mail Surveys—Okay I am not really a fan of e-mail based surveys, as my prior blogs will show.  That being said, there is a time and a place for them.  I have used the free and the monthly fee based e-mail surveying platform Survey Monkey and I did get my money’s worth.  Remember Survey Monkey is only free up to 10 questions.  So the free part is really limiting. 

  • When to use it:    I really only use this type of interviewing platform when I have a known audience, good e-mail addresses and where I don’t need to do any segmented analysis on the data.  I use this type of survey platform for internal surveys, like presentation/meeting evaluations and/or departmental evaluations.

 Online Surveying Platforms—On the surface these platforms look like Survey Monkey, but oh how different they are.  There are many online surveying platform providers.  I happen to really like the one done by Decipher.  That’s because Decipher’s platform is relatively in expensive and it is very easy to do reporting from Decipher’s platform.  You can easily do segmentation on your data as well and export it into Word, Excel or Power Point. 

  • When to use it:  I tend to focus these surveys on customers rather than non-customers. This type of survey platform is great for employee surveys when you need to segment your data by office location, years of service or some other kind of independent variable.

So in a pinch, there ways you can do more with less.  I will talk tomorrow about getting more value out the data you have already collected.

Agency/Client Relationships: Collaboration is the Key!

I was reading a blog by Gail Kurpgeweit entitled What My Dad Taught Me About Marketing to Women and it really got me thinking.  How well do marketing and market research agencies anticipate their clients’ needs and how flexible are they in meeting them?  From my experience, I would have to say not very well, particularly in today’s economy. 

From my experience working on both the agency and the client sides, I have seen both the client and the agency miss the boat.   In the past, traditional agencies have focused on being the expert/authority on a subject and could spew out the generalities that come from such a position.  That said, what was and is now needed are partnerships in which both parties come to the table with expertise and knowledge to build the relationship and collaboratively construct an answer that is “right” for today.   And, to be successful, marketing and market research companies will need to know how to work with each of their clients and their clients’ senior management to build workable strategies and solutions based on today’s needs, which can be real moving targets. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the clients and agencies aren’t going into their relationships assuming that they are building a partnership.  It’s just that neither party seems to put enough effort into building an answer that is appropriate for today’s dynamic business environment.  I think this lack of an active partnership comes from a few important factors:

  • Yesterday’s business dynamic was that a business person hired a “marketing expert” because marketing was outside of his/her core competency and that “expert” was assumed to have the answers immediately.  Clients got used to immediate answers and agency folks became enamored of their unquestioned authority stature and all was good… until, the business environment became highly dynamic and today’s perfect answer became an abysmal flop tomorrow.  There aren’t any easy, pat answers anymore.
  • The need to actually talk about business situations is compounded by the fact that clients  and agencies are just too busy to effectively communicate
    • Clients don’t inform their agencies about what is going on in their industry and agencies don’t communicate that they know just enough about their client’s industry to use the right buzz words and be dangerous.
  • Agencies are so focused on getting new clients on the books, they aren’t taking adequate time to get to know and understand the unique needs each client has.   They can’t assume that all insurance companies have the same needs and pain points, just as they can’t assume that all CPG (consumer package goods) companies have the same needs and pain points.
  • Environments/industries are changing at light speed, and agencies just can’t keep up and know all of the answers from square one!

So what does this mean for today’s marketing and market research companies?  To retain their base and perhaps grow in these uncertain times, they need to:

1)     Focus on the partnership.  The relationships that marketing and market research companies have with their clients have to strengthen in order to make them mutually valuable.

2)     Be a real expert.  It’s not okay to spew the industry buzz-words and lack substantive assistance.  Agencies have to make a meaningful difference to each client.  Sometimes an agency has to ask the tough questions and force folks to recognize the elephant in the room.

3)     Visit more.  If time is money, than relationship meetings are worth their weight in gold. It’s during these in office visits that you will learn the most about what is going on in your client’s world.

4)     Be more nimble/flexible.  Agencies need to be better at coming up with answers on the fly.  They also need to test their comfort zone boundaries when it comes to strategy development.  You can’t rely on the same old, same old.

5)     Really listen.  Clients usually articulate their needs/pain points if you listen hard enough.

6)     Ask more questions.  Don’t assume the client has thought their needs all the way through.  And clients, ask your agencies for help.  Don’t think you know it all either!

Will client relationships evolve to the point where the marketing or market research company operates as a true extension of their client’s team?  If they don’t, the deterioration rate for agency/client relationships – which has been in a downward spiral for over ten years – will continue to take this potentially valuable relationship out of the business norm. In the end, it’s up to all of us!

“What Came First”… No Longer a Chicken and Egg Quandary…

It’s the age-old question with no provable answer.  Now, what if I change this question to something more marketing related.  What comes first, the overall company strategy or the marketing (brand image change) strategy?  At first glance, this question seems simple right.  It has to be the overall company strategy right?  Maybe. 

 I was speaking to a colleague recently who is at a crossroads with his college.  The short version of the story is that the teaching college he works for has an identity and purpose crisis.  His college is the higher education of “last resort” because it is a state school and there is no community college in the area.  As such, they take on some students that, let’s face it, really aren’t ready for college.  And, they would like to change that.  They would like to be a “choosier” college and make students essentially earn their place at the college.

 So, here’s the question. Their college purpose (and potential loss of some state funding) aside, can they implement their change to their overall strategy first or do they have to change their brand image first so that their overall strategy can work?  That is a tough question.  Here’s another thought…can they do both at the same time?  There is no concrete answer to this one.  If you change the strategy first and then the subsequent brand image change marketing campaigns to the “desirable” students isn’t successful and enrollment falls, the college could be in financial trouble.  If the college decides to change the brand image first and implement the change to the overall strategy second, they could lose the state funding faster than they can replace it with tuition from new enrollees.  Thus, to me this is the chicken or the egg scenario. 

 When my colleague finished telling me his tale of woe, the only wisdom I could come up with was “wow, that sucks.”  He didn’t corner me for a response on how I would handle this situation, but in the end, I believe he has to change the brand image first and slowly ramp up the elimination of the undesirables (and keep his fingers crossed with respect to state funding and public opinion).

Exciting Changes Ahead for the Market Research Industry in 2010!

 I was reading the article Trends That Will Shape Market Research In 2010 by Reineke Reitsma and it really got me thinking about my expectations for and my excitement about the market research industry in 2010. In the article, Reineke talks about three main trends: 1) global insights gaining in importance, 2) market research buyers consolidating vendors and 3) market researchers incorporating more innovative research methods into their research projects. Since the company I work for only conducts business in the United States, it was the second two bullets that resonated most with me.

While I definitely agree with Reineke that market research buyers will consolidate vendors, I don’t think that’s the most impactful 2010 change for me as a market research buyer. The most meaningful change is the innovation in data collection expected in 2010.

When I started as a market research assistant at a market research supplier over 16 years ago, almost all of our projects were either mail or phone-based. As the years went on, mail surveys fell by the way side and companies focused their resources on phone-based interviews. After a number of years, the industry progressed to automated phone interviews (interviews in which the customer would stay on the line after a customer service call for a brief, pre-recorded survey in which the respondent would just press a number for or say their response). Then fast forward another 5 or so years and we are doing e-mail surveys. We have now progressed to where we are doing data collection through online communities and forums. And now in 2010, here’s why I am so very excited—a focus on data collection through social media.

The collection of data through social media is so very exciting for me because it addresses the biggest issue I have had with online interviewing (mainly e-mail based surveys) and that is “proof” of identity of the respondent. While I have fewer issues with respondent identity when it comes to online forums and communities because you can control that a little better, with e-mail surveys you have no idea who is completing your survey—in addition to getting little in terms of quality open-ended comments. I had the same issue with mail surveys by the way. In my humble opinion, I believe that you can be more certain that data collected through social media is a true representation of your respondents than you can be with data collected through e-mail surveys. And thus, your segmentations of data collected through social media should be of higher quality than that done for e-mail based survey data.

All of that said, test before you leap! Set aside a small portion of your market research budget to test social media data collection to make sure it works for you before you allocate large percentages of your budget to it (and waste the money). This method will be great for some and useless for others.

So 2010 is going to be an exciting year of change for the market research industry. I can’t wait!

Field Marketing Versus Brand Marketing, the Fight of the Century

Unless you are knee deep in marketing, you probably wouldn’t ever have to worry about the difference between field marketing and brand (corporate) marketing.   I on the other hand, have to deal with the internal battle that is field marketing vs. brand marketing almost daily. 

The main difference between the two types of marketing relates to the messages communicated.  Brand marketing focuses on communicating the values of the brand, the brand image and the core brand messages.   Field marketing takes brand marketing one step further in that it uses the brand images and formats, but the message is focused on more tactical and usually geographic-specific messages. 

The key with field and brand marketing is to know when to use either one.  I would strongly recommend that you try not to produce pieces that include both elements in it.  It seems harmless enough, so why don’t I recommend it?  That because if you have a well defined and large brand value and position and a lot of field messages, you will end up with a marketing piece that has way too much information on it to be effective. 

So, back to my original point, when should you use field and when to use brand marketing.  In my humble opinion, brand messages always come first.  You need your audience, whomever they may be, to understand who you are and what your company stands for first.  This builds brand awareness and equity.   New companies should definitely focus on this type of advertising (if they have a decent sized marketing budget).  If you have a mature brand, one that people know and recognize, or you have a very modest marketing budget, then field marketing might be better suited for you.   This type of marketing will allow you to give specific messages and/or offers to specific geographies that you are targeting.  You would still have your core brand elements (logo, tagline and format) in this type of marketing.  In my experience, field marketing has been more successful in building brand preference than brand marketing, but both types of marketing can build brand awareness, equity and preference. 

In the end, I actually prefer field marketing to brand marketing and use field marketing as much as possible.  The company I work for has a fair amount of brand awareness and equity, so I don’t have to focus on brand education (for my company).  So in my marketing pieces, I like to target the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) message based on geographic, industry and decision-maker differences among my prospect audiences.

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the subject!

%d bloggers like this: