Archive for January, 2010

“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!

Ethics in Market Research, Chipped Away One Small Favor at a Time

 In my role as a researcher, I am constantly bombarded by the small requests that seem innocent enough on the surface, but aren’t really when you dive deeper. For those of you who aren’t market researchers, you probably haven’t heard of an organization called CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations). CASRO is the main organization that sets the guidelines for ethical behavior in survey research. All CASRO members must adhere to the CASRO Code of Standards and Ethics, the enforceable standard for research businesses for more than 30 years. While I have never been a member of CASRO, I have worked for organizations that were and have always made it a point to follow their standards and guidelines (to the best of my knowledge and ability).

For example, yesterday someone asked me to identify the sales region for some comments from one of our customer satisfaction surveys. Since this request could not identify the respondent, I had no issue having my market research supplier look up the information for my internal client. Okay, so no ethics issue there. My day progressed and the ethics issue reemerged. The same client came back and said would it be too much of a breach of confidentiality of you could tell me which agency (company) said each of these 10 comments? This agency clearly has an issue that we need to clear up. Bing, Bing, Bing the ethics/confidentiality meter goes off. Since I know this internal client very well, I know that her only intent with her request is to fix a potential problem she sees from the comment the agent made. This fix would help both us and the agent. But, here’s the rub, we don’t ask on the survey if we can share their individual results or allow callbacks from our company related to their responses (I have since added this question by the way). Would the agent making the comment really want us to call them back about the issue? Probably. Should we call them back? Probably. Can we call them back? No, we didn’t get permission to do so.

So what do you tell your internal client when they ask for these small favors? Here’s what I do. First, I tell them no. Then, I ask the internal client a couple of questions that hopefully gets them on the path to fixing the problem without breaching confidentiality. Here’s a few of my favorites: Can you make the change (systemically) they are requesting and communicate the change out to everyone (e-communications are great for that), can you just contact the “X” number of customers you think might have this problem and touch base to see how it’s going? My guess is others have this problem too, we just didn’t survey them. For more information about CASRO, visit their website

Any Monkey Can Do Marketing. Don’t Like the Result? Change the Monkeys.

Okay this statement really bugs me.  How is it possible that people think that anyone can do marketing?  Okay, I guess anyone can do marketing, but not everyone should nor will they necessarily do it well or successfully.  I liken this to people who like to tell jokes vs. those who are professional comedians—the fact that you like to tell jokes and maybe you are even funny doesn’t make you a professional comedian.    Another example, just because I own a hairbrush and scissors doesn’t mean that I could or should go out and cut hair for a living.  See the difference? 

Marketing is both a science and an art.  Believe it or not, even in pure marketing (not just research), there is a lot of math and evaluations involved—for those of us who do it well of course.  Let’s take a simple direct mail campaign (let’s say a letter).  Anyone can write a letter, stuff an envelope, put a stamp on the envelope and put the letter in a mailbox.  Now, let’s talk about the science behind this and how a direct mail campaign is done successfully.  Here are just a few of the things I consider for a direct mail campaign:

  • Determine the optimal target audience and what communications method is best for that audience (might not be direct mail)
  • Write the message for that target audience, in their vernacular.  Determine the WIFFM (What’s in it for me) for that audience and make sure my message clearly and concisely communicates that the WIIFM
  • Determine how I are going to get my letter opened—e.g., what kind of envelope am I going to use and what am I going to show through the envelope to get people to open it.  Am I going to put something inside the envelope to give it bulk? Am I going to use an odd shaped letter/envelope?
  • Determine my response mechanisms—what is typically the best response vehicle for my target audience?  Are there others I want to test such as PURLS (personal URLS) or a faxback forms?
  • Determine my lead tracking mechanism—By what method am I going to track my leads (where they came from), how am I going to get the leads to the right sales people, what will be my turn around time for leads ( 5 minutes, 1 hour, 1 day) and how many nurturing touches am I going to give a lead before I consider it dead? 
  • Implement cost saving procedures—determine with my post office how I can get the best postal rates—by doing pre-sorts and other things.
  • Do the mailing—print, stuff and mail.

This is a very simplistic example of how complicated simply mailing a letter to prospects can be—if you do the mailing right.  Hopefully, when someone suggests to you that anyone can do marketing, you might think of this example and let them know otherwise.  So, we marketers aren’t a bunch of monkeys, though some of the advertising you see on TV may make appear like we are (the poop flinging kind).

Take this job and Shove It! I Will Work for Myself!

Take this job and shove it!  I will just open my own business and be my own boss. How many times have you thought this…those of you that aren’t working for yourself now that is?  I can tell you in my 17 years in business, I have thought this many times and have actually done it once.  I did it for three years in fact.  My husband and I opened our own marketing strategy consulting business.  In the words of Charles Dickens “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

Owning your own consultancy can be very rewording.  Where else can you have a direct impact to a company’s bottom line?  In those three years, my husband and I did some really great work and the rest solid work.  I really enjoyed working on my own, but there were some really bad downsides that forced me back into the workforce.

 When people ask me to tell me what they need to do to own their own business, I purposely focus on the hard stuff.  I want them to know that starting your own business can be really rough in addition to rewarding. You need to be prepared so that you don’t fail.  So here is some of what I tell them…some you have probably seem before and some you probably haven’t.

  • Get ready to work harder than you ever did as an employee—having your own business is 24×7.
  • Have six months of salary saved—because you probably won’t make enough to support yourself, at least initially. 
    • That’s why I say don’t quit your day job—if it is possible to start part time so that you can start to build your client base before you go out on your own completely, you should do it.
  • Get your money up front, at least half of it anyway—think of it like when you hire a contractor to work on your house.  They require at least half up front and there is a reason for that…people don’t pay (even the best intentioned people).
  • Get Quickbooks (or something like it)—let’s face it, you’re not an accountant or a bookkeeper.  Having Quickbooks will help you keep track of your accounts.  And, once you start your accounting system, keep it up.  I can’t tell you how many long nights I have spent trying to recreate billings and deposits so that I can file my taxes.
    • Speaking of taxes—pay them at least quarterly, I paid them monthly.  You don’t want a really nasty surprise at the end of the year, especially if you are a sole proprietorship.
  • Get ready to sell, sell, sell—most of your beginning activities will be selling your services.  If you aren’t comfortable with hearing “no” and you can’t afford a sales person, being on your own isn’t right for you.
  • Get a partner—it is much easier to make it if there is more than one of you doing the work (and selling your services).
  • Get certified—if you are a minority-owned business, you should spend the resources to get yourself documented as such.  You never know when that will come in handy.
  • Get the appropriate insurance—if you are in the consulting business and/or if you have an office, you will need general liability insurance at some point.  And, when you hire your first employee, you will likely need workers’ compensation coverage.

 So are you ready to tell your boss to take this job and shove it?  Or, are you doomed to cubicle nation, at least for now?

Marketing—More Than Just Getting You to Buy My Junk!

I believe that when most people think about marketing, they think of it as just a bunch of ways and methods those shady marketer types use to get us to buy their junk. And, for the most part it probably is.  That said, I see marketing differently than most. Maybe that’s because I am both a researcher and a marketer…paths that generally don’t meet, but in me they do. So why am I different? It’s because I am not just focusing on getting people to buy my product or switch to my insurance. I am merely formulating and implementing a plan to get them to change their behavior. And, once I get them to see the benefits of changing their behavior, I am hoping that my message will be compelling enough to win them over to my side.

It’s this philosophy that really drew me to a Zane Zafrit article a read recently, Can Behavior Change Be Fun? In this short article, he states that behavior change can be fun it you have an incentive and if the behavior change you are attempting appropriately answers these three basic questions:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I care? 
  • Why should I believe?

To prove his point, he showed a youtube clip from Volkswagen in which the masterminds of the study got people to change their behavior (using the stairs instead of using the escalator) by making the new behavior fun (the stairs were turned into a working keyboard).  I think the first behavior I would like to change in a fun way is making eating vegetables fun so that I can change my four-year old’s non-veggie eating behavior in a fun way. Since I work in one of the B2B insurance industries (workers’ comp), it will be a challenge for me to make changing insurance buying behavior fun, but what fun to try! 

All of this said, I believe that behavior change can be fun if we as marketers take the time to truly evaluate and understand the behavior change that we are asking our prospects to do rather than just focusing on the end result. We might just get more customer “stickiness” if the act of changing behavior was fun rather than a chore.

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