All posts by M. McMahon

Pricing: Justifying A Premium

To command premium pricing, you have to ensure the value delivered exceeds customer expectations.  Go for WOW!

All business leaders and certainly marketers know that customers have to realize fair value for products and services delivered.  It is universally accepted and foundational to proper product positioning.  With premium prices, customers naturally demand a higher level of satisfaction.  The higher the premium, the more you have to “WOW” the customer.

One organization that has mastered the WOW required for premium pricing is Disney. I just returned from a family vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando.  Disney is very familiar with both sides of the pricing/value equation.  They definitely command premium pricing.  In return, they deliver an exceptional experience for their guests – the WOW.

Everything about the Disney experience is first class.  The parks are squeaky clean. The “Cast Members” (staff) are all extremely courteous.  The entertainment is exceptional.  Most importantly, the smiles on kids’ faces are “priceless”.  Everything about the experience seems to be as advertised – it’s Magic.  (For the record – Magic is even better than a regular WOW!)

Magic Bands help justify premium pricing
Disney’s “Magic Bands” – Personalized for each family member

For us, the magic began long before the trip, right after we made the reservations.  We received personalized guides telling us about our stay.  This helped build the anticipation, and started justifying the premium they command.  About a month before the trip, we received our “Magic Bands“.  These arrived in a beautiful package (Apple-Like) that was personalized by name in each family member’s specified favorite color.

These wrist bracelets  are everything you need to make your way around Disney:

  • It is your room key
  • Your ticket to the parks
  • Access to “Fast Pass” priority ride access
  • Your charge account (with PIN) tied to your credit card

These Magic Bands are so much “fun” my kids absolutely loved them. They felt so independent.  Sure opening the room was cool, but they even talked us into letting them “buy their own souvenirs” at the shops.  Think of the genius in that!  Empowering kids to buy things at shops just because it is “fun” to use the Magic Band.  Amazing!  Note:  Pricing was not a consideration in the purchasing decision process in this instance!

These Magic Bands are a small part of the WOW at Disney.  They are just one of the myriad things Disney does to deliver an amazing experience.  They have positioned themselves as “best in class” and they really deliver.  Despite the premium pricing, you truly feel good about how you spent your money.  See Purchase Reinforcement post.

There is truly magic in how Disney does its marketing.





Bad Marketing 101: Mixed Messaging

Consistency – The Key to Proper Messaging

Sometimes advertisers seem more concerned with being clever than with being effective.  Unfortunately, sometimes those who develop ads and messaging are more focused on the flash rather than the substance.  Don’t get caught up in this with your marketing campaigns.  ATT U-Verse Ad - Bad messaging

Buyer behavior is affected by both overt and covert cues.  Basically, the mind is tuned in to all stimuli, and uses these various inputs to form an overall impression.  When these stimuli do not align, the mind is faced with cognitive dissonance.  A term used by psychologists.  It is a fancy way of saying confusion.

A current TV commercial is a prime example of confusing messaging.  It is for U-Verse high speed internet service.  The message they are trying to convey is “reliability”.  The setting is a family at home talking about their reliable internet service.  The problem with the messaging is all hell is breaking loose around the house.  Ceiling fans falling, faucets leaking, walls crumbling down.  All while the family members are giving their testimonials about reliability.  It is not a quantum leap for the mind to include U-Verse with the things breaking around the house.

Imagine if an investment firm (focused on trust, confidence) had as spokesperson a used car salesman, plaid coat and all.  Even if the messaging was well-scripted and funny, the observer probably would not want to trust their investments to the firm.  People naturally seek a more conservative, straight-laced figure that enhances their trust in the firm.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for humor in advertising.  It just should align with the overall theme of the messaging.  Beer ads are a good example.  Funny things happening are associated with having a beer and having a good time.  It works well for beer ads – not as a means of building consumer confidence.

Newsflash for ATT/U-verse:  Your main competition (Comcast/Xfinity) is directly challenging your reliability in ads.  Why would you even think about using household mishaps as a source of humor?  It is ridiculous.

When you are developing or approving messaging – as yourself one basic question:  Is the main theme of this messaging in alignment with my brand DNA?

If your messaging is not promoting your brand, it is demoting it.  And of course wasting time and money in the process.






Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation:  Seek Company-Wide Commitment

Virtually all organizations are striving to be more digitally enabled. As with anything, a small minority are true leaders, some are pitiful laggards, and most are somewhere in the middle.

Digital TransformationThe digital leaders have woven digital elements into virtually every aspect of their organizations, not merely in their Web presence. Elements such as integrated call centers, connected sales reps, and seamless customer experiences are all indications of digital savviness.

If your firm is on the wrong end of the bell curve when it comes to digital integration, you are probably experiencing some form of “digital envy”.   While serious, this condition is treatable given a firm commitment to widespread change.  In short – you need a “digital transformation”.

Here are a few actions you can take to initiate a digital transformation at your firm:

  1. Point to the competition:  Do a competitive site analysis that shows your competition is beating you.
  2. Obtain customer feedback:  Nothing speaks louder to c-suite management than the views of top customers.  Some pointed comments from key customers can be very impactful.  This can be very powerful.
  3. Point out some glaring problems.  Should not be too hard to do.  If you are feeling bold, as some key executives if they are proud of various functions.  Don’t just point out the problems.  Have a solution in place.  (See #4)
  4. Create a high-level plan: Explain of how the digital-transformation could work including theoretical timelines, expenses, resource allocations, etc.
  5. Recruit some influential change agents:  These key individuals will help you “fight the fight”.  You can’t fly solo on this.  Think CMO, key sales team executives, CIO etc.  Feel free to share the customer feedback as you are recruiting support.

If you take these few steps (simple, not easy) you probably have a “ticket to admission” to have an initial conversation with executive management.  Don’t expect rapid success.  Change is hard, and requires that your key leadership get out of their comfort zone.  Your job is to raise their collective consciousness.  Be aware, they are likely to resist at first.  Remember – it is a digital transformation.  Not a digital “overnight makeover”.

Be patient and keep chipping away.  You will get there.

Five Elements of Actionable Communications

All communications, from individual letters to large-scale campaigns, need to consider five key elements to ensure success

Effective Communication

“Your job is not to just SEND the communication, it is to ensure the message is acted upon”. Those were the words I heard from a mentor early in my career, and they have stuck with me ever since. When my manager told me this, he was effectively saying that my attempt at messaging was only about halfway there. My message was good, but it did not achieve the desired result – enacting change on the recipient’s part. Without the corresponding desired action part – the message is a failure. The marketing equivalent of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it.

The desired result of all communication is to enact some form of change. Get someone to buy the soap, remember the appointment, visit the Web site, etc. Often it is just to get the recipient interested enough to ask for more information. This holds true whether the communication is a one-to-one personal communication, or a targeted e-mail blast to thousands of recipients. In all cases, you are expecting the recipient to be changed in some way as a result of the communication.

I commonly say – “There is no “FYI” in marketing/communication”. You are not looking for people to do the “virtual head nod” and just acknowledge your communication. That won’t pay the bills. You need to have them in a position to act on it.  Their action ultimately should trickle down into dollars.

When crafting the communication ask yourself the following Five questions.

  1. Is the communication relevant to the recipient? (Targeting)
  2. Do I have a clear “call to action”? (Purpose)
  3. Is my communication reaching the recipient in a situation that allows them to take action? (Setting)
  4. Is my message being presented to the recipient at the proper time for them to take action? (Timing)
  5. Am I prepared to process the recipients subsequent action (Infrastructure)

Before you rush to get the message out the door, double check it.  Ask yourself these questions to increase your chances of success.

Effective Selling:  Guide Don’t Push

Resist the temptation to “impress the customer” with what you can do.  Don’t force solutions, the key to effective selling is understanding real customer challenges.

Part of effective selling is being enthusiastic. To grow your sales, you need to be genuinely excited to share what you have to offer. Your enthusiasm needs to be kept in check, however. Don’t let your excitement (look what we can do) dominate your customer meetings.   Get back to the basics.  Asking questions, being a good listener, and discovering true customer needs.

Effective Selling - Solving Problems
Note: The absence of “Jump to Conclusions” in the graphic

I just heard a story in which a rep was in a customer meeting, along with her manager and a corporate representative. The rep told the story of how the executives just could not wait to “impress” the customer with all of the things they could do for him. Basically “look what we can do!”  Ignoring the customer’s true needs, these executives laid out a plan of how they would deploy various tactics to make things better for him. The only problem: The customer did not perceive these as challenges! The sales team skipped the key element of listening (i.e. empathizing) and jumped right to a conclusion. These sales executives were effectively designing a solution for a problem that did not exist. This can be a terrible mistake.  Sometimes these things in your customer’s world are in fact developed and implemented by the customer themselves.  They may in fact be proud of their own solution.  Framing that same situation as a “problem” is along the lines of calling their kids ugly!  The customer ultimately described this situation as “The Circus Coming to Town”.

It is absolutely true that your role in sales sometimes requires you to “peel the onion”.  You may need to reveal challenges that are not readily apparent. There will be times when the customer needs some help uncovering their challenges (and perhaps admitting them!). But keep a lookout for signals to identify where you are treading on thin ice.  You will get cues as to whether you are entering a “protected” realm.  In these cases, trying to “solve” this “problem” will only lead to resistance, and push the customer further away.

Keep asking questions, try to reveal the pain points but don’t get hung up with too much “look what we can do“.  You are working to gain your customer’s trust as a solutions provider, not becoming their “knight in shining armor”.

Guide the customer, do not “push” them.  It is a subtle but important distinction that will impact your results (and income!).


New Marketing Campaign? Strive to “Fail Quickly”

Marketing Campaign - Fail QuicklyTo Succeed Faster, Consider Embracing Failure

No one builds a marketing campaign to fail, right? While you certainly don’t want to fail intentionally, it is the failure itself that often paves the way to future success. Think of small failures as progress, not as setbacks. Thomas Edison “failed” 10,000 times before he hit on the right combination of elements for the first light bulb. When asked about his “failures” he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Edison knew that each failed attempt brought him one step closer to success.

Marketers often set out to try to construct a “perfect” marketing campaign— (with all of the associated time and money spent developing), only to discover that it doesn’t remotely match expectations when it actually goes live. The thrill of the launch is often quickly met with extreme disappointment. Those same marketers are faced with not only the poor performance of the campaign itself, but also the extra time and money spent on it. Worst of all, the window of opportunity may have closed, with customers often moving on to something else while marketers keep working away in their ivory tower.

There’s a better way, but it involves a different mindset. You need to embrace failure—failing quickly and more often. Why? Because the quick failures allow you to realign strategies and get you much closer to success. A dynamic campaign with a responsive feedback mechanism allows you to make necessary adjustments on an ongoing basis. The feedback you get on these less-than-perfect early efforts makes it possible to make real progress quickly, making valuable changes that your customers will respond to.

So, how do build a marketing campaign to fail (succeed faster)?

  1. Build your campaign in “chunks”.  Deploy in phases which will make adjustments easier (and faster).
  2. Start with a concept test and get quick feedback.  There’s no reason to build a whole campaign around a concept that doesn’t engage your customers.
  3. Act on your feedback as quickly as possible. Your feedback system must gather your metrics and present them to the development team for analysis and next actions.
  4. Tweak the effort Now that you know what your customers like and what they don’t, time to make some quick adjustments.
  5. “Rinse and repeat”. Re-deploy it, get feedback, and make more changes.

The faster your campaign fails, the faster you can get to work on improving it, and turning it into something that your customers will respond to.

When you are developing your new marketing campaign, Don’t try to be perfect—it takes too long and you’ll end up missing your window!

Digital Project Planning: Beware The “Magic Wand” Syndrome

The “Technology Challenged” Often Think The Technology Itself Can Make Up For Poor Project PlanningDigital Magic Wand - you still need proper project planning

There is a fairly prevalent situation that occurs in which technology savvy team members are asked to transform a half-baked idea/concept into some digital solution.  Unfortunately the non-technology folks are under the false impression that the technology itself (like a magic wand) will correct poor planning, faulty assumptions/bad logic etc.  This can cause strife and lead to friction among team members.

How do you combat this problem?   There are a few simple things you can do that help minimize (not prevent) this from occurring:

  • Require that a “project sponsor” be assigned to the business side of the project.

It is key that the project has one main sponsor who is the lead and has overall responsibility for project success.  If one is not evident, ask that one be appointed before moving forward.  The sponsor is vital because you will need a “go to” person for various circumstances and without one lead you are subjected to group decision-making which is ill-advised.

  • Start the project planning process with a “concepts discussion” meeting with project sponsor.

Prior to the formal requirements gathering, it is beneficial to get an “elevator pitch” from the sponsor that basically answers the question “what are we trying to do here?”. It is surprising how often the sponsor cannot clearly put into words the concepts of what they are looking to accomplish.  If the sponsor can’t do this – the project is doomed from the start.  Send them back to think it through and schedule another meeting when their thoughts have matured.

  • Ask the project sponsor many questions up front (in writing if possible).

This may sound quite obvious, but it is surprising how often this does not happen.  It is a crucial error to “get started” on a project without complete understanding of the requirements/framework.  Make sure the sponsor understands that pre-planning is necessary and the project will not start until sufficient background information is obtained.What you are seeking is a commitment on the part of the project sponsor to provide adequate background prior to starting the project.  Just like you wouldn’t ask a builder to start work on your dream house without plans – same applies here.

Here are a few starter questions:

Who is going to be using this digital tool?  How will they access/find it? What do you expect them to accomplish by using it?  (If dynamic, who is going to be responsible for maintaining the data that feeds it?

  • Don’t fall into the trap of estimating timelines too early.

Eager project sponsors will try to solicit a time commitment for the project, well before the requirements gathering is in full swing.  If asked for a completion date before the requirements are complete, there is a very simple answer to the inevitable question “When will it be done?” The proper response “I cannot tell you when until we know “what” it is and “how” we will build it.

While you cannot immunize your team from getting involved in misdirected projects, proper due-diligence on the font end can help minimize the number of times you have to re-group and restart the project.

Proper project planning prevents poor performance!


Driving VS Measuring – The “Metrics Ratio”

Having an Unhealthy Metrics Ratio Can Have a Negative Impact On Your Results

We all love metrics.  We can’t wait until the latest reporting period is over, so we can start digging into the numbers to see how we did.  The anticipation is exhilarating.  When things are going well, it is a little bit like Christmas morning.  When you are struggling, the metrics are about as welcome as a letter from the IRS.Metrics Ratio Image

It is important to be aware of your “Metrics Ratio”.  Many e-Commerce teams are responsible for both the execution of activities as well as reporting on the effectiveness of those activities.  The Metrics Ratio considers the resources dedicated to driving the metrics versus the resources required to measure the results.  You probably think you have much more talent dedicated to driving vs. measuring results.   However it does not always work out that way.  The demands of the various stakeholders increase over time.  Unfortunately you end up running far more reports than originally intended.  Resources formerly dedicated to creative work now end up “feeding the metrics monster”. Your Metrics Ratio gets top-heavy on analysis and your performance takes a hit as a result.

What can you do to counteract this?  You have a number of options which include:

  1. Consider relaxing the reporting period.  Do the metrics change enough over time to justify the frequency?  Can you go from daily to weekly, weekly to monthly, etc?
  2. Are the stakeholders truly using the reports you are generating?  Consider doing a formal or informal survey.  Ask your metrics stakeholders how necessary the various reports are to them.  Ask them to rank them 1-10.  You will probably find a few reporting items you can eliminate.
  3. Stop “massaging” data before sending out to the stakeholders.  Most metrics packages have the ability to schedule “canned” reports that can be pushed to the various recipients on a regular schedule.  No manual intervention required.  If people want a specific report adjusted in some manner, suggest they handle it themselves or delegate to someone on their team.
  4. Strive for the “hub and spoke” model.  Train stakeholders in using the analytics package themselves so they can generate their own reports.

Reporting metrics are a form of communication, and like all communication rule#1 is know your audience.  Some stakeholders will be incapable of generating their own reports, and may overstate the use they get out of the reports.  If it is the CEO – you suck it up and get them the reports.  If it is some middle level manager – perhaps you make the tough call.

Ultimately you are held accountable for delivering positive metrics, and managing your Metrics Ratio effectively will help boost your results.