Category Archives: Marketing

Word of Mouth Marketing? Go for WOW!

Don’t Settle for Customer Satisfaction, Strive to WOW Your Customers!

WOW - Word of Mouth Marketing

I recently read an article from Forbes on Word of Mouth Marketing, and it is a pretty good article with some worthwhile takeaways.  I completely agree with the overall theme of the article – the concept of continuing to earn your customers’ loyalty to your product/service. However, I think the article falls short when it talks about how to “Surprise and Delight” customers.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Surprise and Delight

Little things can go a long way in encouraging customers to leave a review. That could be anything from providing top-quality service to settling a customer service complaint in an above-and-beyond manner. There are several things you can do to surprise and delight your customers, including offering freebies and sending a thank-you note. Both provide photo opportunities that stand out on newsfeeds when your customers receive them. While there’s no guarantee you’ll get a referral off this type of behavior, if you routinely go the extra mile for your customers, you’ll find you get more word-of-mouth recommendations than if you didn’t.

So based on the article the recommended recipe to “surprise and delight” customers is to offer:

  • Top quality service (this is a surprise???)
  • “Freebies” (YES – if done right)
  • A thank you note  (good practice. . . but should be common – not a surprise)

I certainly agree with the idea of “surprising and delighting” customers as a catalyst to word of mouth marketing.  I think as marketers we can do more than the ideas listed in the Forbes article.  Keep in mind that whatever you choose to do should not be overtly self-serving.  Offering 10% on the customers next order does not constitute a WOW.  To qualify as a WOW your activity should be:

  1. Customer-focused and not directly associated with a hook to drive more business from them (immediately).  This comes across as self-serving and will not be perceived as a WOW.
  2. Unusual – something that elicits a real genuine surprise from the customer. If your competition is already doing something similar – you should come up with something else.

Here are a couple of examples that would likely WOW customers:

  • If you ran a restaurant that provides a valet service, occasionally have a loyal customer’s car detailed while they enjoy their meal.  No question this will be a surprise and most certainly delight your valued patron.  They will think – WOW!  Extra credit if you place a handwritten thank you note on the front seat thanking them for their business.
  • If you provide professional services (legal, financial, etc.) and a client has a baby, consider something extraordinary to commemorate the blessed event.  Professional courtesy would be to offer assistance in the establishment of a formal 529 plan for the child.  You could earn a WOW by providing an initial deposit in the account – maybe a share of Apple stock or shares of a growth fund.  Do you think that they will remember you for this?  Do you think they will tell their friends about you?

You can enhance your word of mouth marketing significantly – but you have to break convention.  To transform customers into advocates, a great method is to “go for the WOW”. 

Marketers Beware: The Narrative Fallacy

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Luck or Science?

Your Results May Be As Much Luck As Science

In his book “The Black Swan” Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term the “Narrative Fallacy“.  Taleb asserts that we humans strive for convenient, packaged explanations for even the most complex of phenomenon.  We carefully craft thoughtful, logical and convincing reasons for why things happen the way they do.  These often sound GREAT, and sometimes they are actually dead-on accurate.  Unfortunately, they often are coincidental to the true drivers of the outcomes.  Sometimes these influences are actually random events, or perhaps just dumb luck.  Neither makes for a good “story”.

This poses a dilemma for marketers.  Your job is to determine the “secret sauce” that will influence behavior in the direction you desire.  You must be able to establish cause and effect in order to grow your influence and expand your initiatives.  The Narrative Fallacy can be a real wrench in the works to what seemed like marketing nirvana.   “Do we actually have to worry about what REALLY drives behavior, and not just exhort our narratives that sound so impressive?”  Yes, Sparky you do.

Imagine this hypothetical scenario.  You are a marketer with a beverage company that sells a new sparkling water.  You target a barrage of marketing activities in your target city of Nashville Tennessee.  You notice a 17% increase in sales that aligns with your Nashville campaign.  You are elated!  Kudos to the team for driving a big lift in a short window of time.  Pride and excitement abound at your Seattle office.   But wait . . .  Coincidently, right at the time of your campaign Nashville had a record high heatwave.  ALL  beverage sales in Nashville got a similar lift as a result.  Better slow down on the high fives.

I made this example very simple and obvious.  Chances are you would notice something as conspicuous as a record heat wave as a beverage marketer.  But often the drivers of outcomes are subtle – and you really have to mine them via testing various assumptions.  When it comes to Websites, it is fairly straightforward with testing tools from providers like Google.  For non-Web marketing activities, the mining is more challenging.  You have to do the work.

The harsh reality is you will have to go back to the familiar playbook.  Test, observe, adjust, re-test, observe . . . .  Hard to imagine a world in which testing is not core to what a marketer does.


Upcoming Marketing Challenges

Be Prepared for the Rapidly Changing Marketing Landscape

Addressing marketing Challenges

I had a colleague ask me “what challenges do you see facing marketers over the next few years”. That of course is an excellent question, one that all marketers should ponder on a regular basis.

When I answered his question, I mentioned that one of the ongoing marketing challenges is to stay true your plans despite the ebbs and flows of the technology and tactics supporting those initiatives. Upon further reflection, I decided to expand my answer in this blog post.

Marketing has always been and always will be rooted in understanding the needs of your target, and addressing those needs in a manner that is beneficial to them and consistent with your objectives.  This is fundamental and will never change.  What does change are the specific the tactics and tools marketers use as they execute their marketing plans.

Another fundamental element is the need to clearly understand the objective of the initiative you are undertaking, with a pre-defined set of success criteria.  In other words, “if we undertake this initiative, what does success look like?”  Like all other goals – this has to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, etc).  It cannot be vague, such as “Increase market awareness” or “Build brand loyalty”.  An example of a clearly defined objective could be:  “The purpose of this e-mail campaign is to increase the incidence of repeat-purchases from the current level 24% of our online customer base to over 30%, in the next 90 days”.

So how do you best prepare yourself for the upcoming challenges as a marketer?

  • Stay very current.  Know what marketing tools are available for you to use to accomplish your objectives.  Read blogs, join Linkedin marketing groups, and monitor your competition’s activities.  Be aware:  It is easy to postpone this and let the “day’s grind” consume all of your time/energy.  If you do this you will quickly lose touch with trends and opportunities.  Unfortunately this will compromise your effectiveness as a marketer.  See Steven Covey’s Quadrant II (important, but not urgent activities).
  • Know your intent.  Every initiative, large or small should have a clearly defined objective before it is incorporated into your marketing plans.  With this robust repertoire of tools at your disposal, it is critical you define success upfront.  Don’t get caught in the allure of the latest tactic or trend without considering the objective it will serve.
  • Expect failure.  Embrace failed marketing endeavors as stepping stones to future success.  Armed with the knowledge that failures are inevitable, make them small – and frequent.  Test – measure – adjust – retest.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you craft your marketing plans so you are always prepared for the unknown but inevitable challenges that lie ahead.







So . . . What’s Next? How To Avoid Dead Ends

Don’t Take Your Customer On A Journey To NowhereMarketing Dead Ends

Each element of your marketing/messaging should have a designated purpose. No exceptions.  Each should be moving the target (customer or influencer) through some element of your selling cycle. This sounds very obvious and nobody would think that their own marketing plans have “dead ends” embedded in them. Au contraire – these dead ends are fairly prevalent,  and it is not just “those other guys”.

Remember, marketing is all centered around driving behavior change. After someone has experienced your marketing activities, you expect them to do something differently. Buy something, call your toll free number, go to your web site, etc. You are expecting them to DO SOMETHING.  So . . . you have to make it easy for them to know what to do next.  Simple right?  The harsh reality is it is “so simple” that it is often overlooked.

Each marketing activity, large or small plays a role in advancing the target toward your ultimate goal. In other words – each component of your marketing mix has a role in guiding your target along the conversion path (changing their behavior in some way). Each activity the target is exposed to is one step on this journey. Every activity should prepare them for their next step in the process. Therefore it is critical you make sure it is clear what that next step is!  See my post on Customer Journey Mapping 

I have seen many instances in which firms dedicate web pages to “FYI content” with no clear indication as to what they should do next. Unfortunately this leads to a dead end – with the user left with a virtual instance of throwing their hands up in the air. In this case – the “what’s next” is likely to be leaving the site.  Although they may actually nod their head in agreement before clicking out of your site.

Examples of Dead Ends (Digital and Non-Digital)

Some additional real-life examples of not considering “what’s next” include:

  • Pages on the site with product information with no clear path to purchase
  • Printed literature pieces that describe products or services with no listed mechanism for the target to obtain additional information
  • Home pages dedicated to about us information with no easy path to the user to “learn more”
  • Just saw this one:  A printed listing of “Upcoming Events” with dates listed but no times or location listed.  There was a phone number.  It is a stretch to think people will make a phone call to get information that should have been clearly presented to them.

To avoid placing your valuable targets in limbo, always ask the question “When the target is done consuming/experiencing this activity, what’s next for them? If you have provided them with a clear path that they can easily navigate, fantastic. If you cannot answer that basic question, you have created a dead end in your customer journey.

Providing your targets with a clear next step is no guarantee they will take that step. However, not having it clearly defined guarantees a dead end for the target and poor results for your marketing efforts.

Ethnography-Based Marketing Research

On-Site Research is bestYour Best Bet For Effective Insights

If you ask most marketers if they actively conduct research, you will get a lot of head nods.  The questions is are they confusing activity with accomplishment?  Sure they “checked the box” and did some obligatory legwork before they spent valuable company resources on their initiative.  They likely chose surveys or perhaps made the extra effort (and expense) to conduct a focus group.  Better than nothing, but often not much better.  However, did they conduct the best possible research they could to enhance the chances of success?  The answer is “probably not” if they did not engage in some form of ethnography-based research.

At its core, ethnography is the study of human behavior. It helps you see not just what your customers do when they interact with your product or service, but why they act that way. It aims to answer the question, “How do people interact with my product or service?” and “How do they incorporate it into their lives?”.  Ultimately, “How can I make it better for them?”

What makes ethnography-based better than other types of marketing research?  First, it approaches your customers or clients on their own turf and on their own terms. Conversely, when you call in a group of customers for a focus group, they know they are in your environment – not theirs. Even worse, they often end up giving you answers that are not genuine.  Subconsciously they try to please you and anticipate the answer you want to hear.  Their best intentions actually corrupt the research altogether.

Ethnography-based research requires the researcher to observe participants actually using the product.  It is not just them looking back on how they use it.  In this approach, you meet with people on their terms, in their space. This gives you a much more authentic view of the in-setting usage characteristics.

Ethnography is often more in-depth and usually more expensive than other types of market research.  But you get what you pay for.  When done properly, it results in products and services that are much more tailored to the real needs of customers. You can see what they need—what they lack—and create the solution accordingly.

Here is an excellent article for you to learn more on ethnography-based research.

Authentic Marketing

Consumers are Very Sophisticated – You Must Be Genuine.


Avoid Being an “Online Used Car Salesman”

Today’s consumer can smell a disingenuous company a mile away. When they catch a whiff of BS, they quickly jump ship. Why? Because the Internet has created a space in which people can easily be phony. It’s much easier to present a façade online than it is in face to face interactions. They have seen it way too many times.  It’s left people craving honesty and authenticity.

Authentic Marketing

What Constitutes Authentic Marketing?

In short, it means is being true to your brand promise, and treating customers as friends.  When you value these people, they value you.   It is that simple.  Cherishing that connection and staying true to it is essential. Businesses that “push the envelope” look greedy and impersonal. Those who practice authentic marketing are seen as friendly, substantive, and worthy. Here are some ways to market your business more authentically:

  1. Cultivate consistency – One of the biggest indicators of inauthenticity is inconsistency. When a company can’t seem to decide on who it is or what it wants, it’s going to be viewed as disingenuous and even sneaky. Be consistent with your message and the voice that delivers that message.
  1. Provide proof – If you make a claim, have the data or anecdotes to back up that claim. We’ve all seen politicians lose favor in the public eye because they make false claims.  Avoid that at all costs, since being authentic means being transparent. That means that you’ll be accountable for your claims.  Make sure they are backed up by facts.
  1. Respond promptly – Social media has given all businesses the opportunity to talk directly to their customers on a daily basis. When someone asks a question via social media, have a real person personally answer that question (or respond to that complaint or comment) as quickly as possible.
  1. Choose a cause to support – Pick something that you or your business has a real connection with. There are so many charities and projects that you can easily find one that matches your brand’s personality and goals. Supporting a cause that you really care about will show consumers your human side.

Take it from Will Smith:

“Smoke and mirrors in marketing is over; it’s really over,” said actor Will Smith at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Creative Roadblock? Tips for Getting the Creative Juices Flowing

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Regardless of your occupation, everyone is expected to be creative in one form or another. When faced with a creative challenge, sometimes we nail it quickly and effectively. But sometimes we don’t, we’re stuck! How do we get unstuck?

We all occasionally face this “creativity slump”. Nothing seems to click. If you find this happening to you, don’t fret. It will pass – but realize you cant force it. . . . it has to flow naturally. Any attempt to drive creativity with brute force will only result in pushing it further away from you.

If you are seeking a new idea or a unique solution to a problem, try some of these things to help break the inertia and coax the ideas back into your realm:

  1. Take a creative break – stop thinking about the challenge at hand. Give your mind some relief – some “mindless” tasks.  If you have necessary billing work, appointments to make, expense reports etc. try tackling that. Far less mentally challenging – and likely re-charging the creative batteries in the background.  You have to do that stuff anyway, so get some of it out of the way.  It’s mental clutter!
  2. Listen to unfamiliar music. Yes – unfamiliar is the key. If it is your favorite music, it triggers familiar thoughts. You are seeking a departure. If you normally listen to pop/rock or perhaps country, try some jazz. Even if you don’t “like it” just imagine the art and the creativity it took to produce. Or better yet – dont thing at all. Just listen.
  3. Get outdoors – away from everything. Sun on your face, a gentle breeze and other natural stimuli will awaken your senses and change your mental state. Hopefully this gets all of those challenges out of your mind.  This one works magic for me.
  4. Explain your problems to your dog. Man’s best friend also happens to be an excellent listener. And has never been accused of giving bad advice. Seriously, the exercise of stating your problem out loud in a concise manner might just be the trigger you need.
  5. Read some poetry. Some “quick hits” of mind food can help. You could also try reading famous quotes – like those fount at Brainy Quote: Here is one to get you started – Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss”.

I hope these ideas can help you overcome the temporary challenge you face.  Rest assured everyone you know has felt the same way at some point! The answer you seek, ironically, is most likely to come when you aren’t thinking about it.

If you have any tricks you have used successfully to as a “creativity defibrillator” please share them in comments:







Brilliant Marketing by REI

Copied from my Linkedin post:

REI announced they are closing all of their stores on Black Friday (Nov 27) to allow their members (customers) to “do what they love most – be outside”.  I am a frequent REI customer, and I was very impressed when I heard about the Black Friday initiative.

REI Black Friday

I think this is excellent for a few reasons:

  • REI gets a tremendous amount of free publicity
  • The #OptOutside effort completely aligns with the REI brand image which is centered on encouraging outdoor activities, environmental stewardship, etc.
  • Great for employee  morale – all of whom (12,000) will be paid for the day off
  • The demand for the goods the customers were going to buy on Black Friday will likely not only stay intact, but also may increase due to the additional chance to get outside
  • This is both unique and unconventional, and if other companies adopt it (unlikely) they will be “doing the store closing thing REI started”

Kudos to REI – this appears to be a brilliant move on their part.  I expect this will pay off for them and will become an annual practice. It will be very interesting to see how this impacts Holiday season revenue.  No doubt the employees will love it – the benefits of which are immeasurable to both REI and their members.



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.






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