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.
Be Prepared for the Rapidly Changing Marketing Landscape
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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: 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.
The 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:
Point to the competition: Do a competitive site analysis that shows your competition is beating you.
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.
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)
Create a high-level plan: Explain of how the digital-transformation could work including theoretical timelines, expenses, resource allocations, etc.
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.
All communications, from individual letters to large-scale campaigns, need to consider five key elements to ensure success
“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.
Is the communication relevant to the recipient? (Targeting)
Do I have a clear “call to action”? (Purpose)
Is my communication reaching the recipient in a situation that allows them to take action? (Setting)
Is my message being presented to the recipient at the proper time for them to take action? (Timing)
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.