Bend It Like Bezos

In his terrific book, Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, writer Mark Schaefer points out something that might surprise you. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos believes that focusing on change can be less important than thinking about what isn’t changing.

Bezos points out that people will always want a low price. They’ll always prefer a wide selection. And they’ll always love fast delivery. By focusing on those three things that remain constant over time, Amazon has become an enormous success — and has changed retail forever.

And did you notice? All of those “constants” revolve around one thing: customer preferences. In other words, human beings. And while humans may change in the ways they interact with technology and so on, their core needs don’t really change that much. Focusing on those basic drives will always lead to better decisions.

Taking this to heart might lead to some really helpful insights — or at least help you question your assumptions about why customers do what they do. For example, it’s a widely held belief that millennials do not want to visit a bank branch. They’d rather do everything remotely using technology and not talk to a living banker.

But what if there’s another way to think about that? What if millennials happened to be the first big generation to start banking after banks began downsizing their staffs? So instead of the experience of previous generations, where many people in the bank might know you by name and know your family as well, they’re more likely to have encountered far fewer employees, higher turnover and a much less personal experience.

It’s widely held that millennials appreciate an experience, and embrace those choices that provide one: Starbucks and other small coffee joints, local shops and boutiques, restaurants that offer locally-grown or locally-made choices on their menus. And Disney World — because it’s the experience. 

So if a bank — or any business that wants millennial consumers — focused its time and energy on bringing back or invigorating that personal experience, they might find that conventional wisdom is wrong, and that millennials and others do want that human contact. Or they might not. But it’s sure worth asking the questions and questioning the assumptions.

The bottom line takes us back to Bezos. What is there about the way your customers think, feel and believe that hasn’t changed, and isn’t likely to change anytime soon? How would your marketing change if that became your focus?

It’s worth thinking about.

Why Marketing Fails

Marketing works. Except when it doesn’t. So when you miss your marketing goals, it pays to dig into the real reasons behind the shortfall. (Hint: it’s almost never that the goals were too aggressive.) Here are five ways marketing can go sideways on you.

Untargeted
Unless you have unlimited resources, you have to focus on your best and most likely prospects. That often means excluding everybody else. But too much marketing casts a wide net, when a majority of those reached are not prospects at all. Look at your best customers or clients. Then build your marketing to attract people or companies just like them. 

Unpersuasive
Marketing and sales are mostly the same thing. And just telling people what you offer is neither. Persuade me of the need, then persuade me that you’re the best choice to fill that need. Make me want it, show me why you’re the best source, then make it easy for me to get it from you. Whatever it is. Then repeat.

Underfunded
Probably because of social media, it’s easier than ever to believe that you don’t have to invest in marketing. It’s also wrong. It takes both time and money to market well (translation: get results). Most companies, regardless of size, invest too little of both.

Unimaginative
It’s true that some media don’t have the reach or impact they once did. But there are smart solutions. You can use those media better than others are using them. Or you can come up with marketing ideas that are off the beaten path. Either way, you have to look beyond what everyone else is doing. When was the last time you tried something new?

Uninteresting
It’s all about engagement. Think entertainment, but entertainment with a goal. You have to make the audience want to find out more or share or follow or take a next step. It’s been said many times before: you can’t bore anyone into buying anything. Look at your marketing. If it was a competitor’s, would you be jealous? Would you wish it was yours? If so, good for you. If not, it needs work.

Of course, there are a lot of other reasons marketing might not work as intended. But if you’re getting all of these five right, there’s a very good chance you’re meeting — or beating — your goals. If not…well, there’s your homework.

(If your marketing needs a boost, consider Idealogy’s Out of the Box Day, a chance to get you or your team out of the office and into creative high gear. You’ll come out the other side with new ideas, new marketing messages and new energy.)

Time to Retire Your SWOT Team?

It’s a fixture in strategic planning sessions and retreats. It consumes much of the planning time. And it may be time to retire it.

SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis makes perfect sense on paper. But that rarely translates into real forward motion for an organization. Here’s why.

First — and this is huge — there are rarely customers or prospects at the table. No vendors, suppliers or partners either. Those people who have a powerful picture of where you’re strong and where you’re not. And they have no voice. 

The result? Opinions and insights from the same inside people who see the same things in the same way, day after day, year after year, with the same insular, internal focus and the same perspective. 

We expect them — completely unrealistically — to suddenly, spontaneously recognize critical strengths and weaknesses. To spy opportunities that have been eluding them. And seldom does the conversation ever turn to how to create opportunities — only how to find them.

And threats are even more elusive. We rarely have a true grasp of where threats are coming from. They’re mostly external and — early on — mostly invisible. New technology. Shifting consumer tastes and behaviors. New, non-traditional competitors.

What can you do instead?

Ask customers — past, current and prospective — to take an online survey. What do they think you do well? Where do they think you need work? And how much does each item really matter to them? 
Do the same with suppliers and other partners — and all employees. If you’re a nonprofit, ask those you serve, those who fund you and your directors.

(Why online? Two reasons. Anonymity breeds honesty. And no group dynamics to skew or inhibit responses.)

Remember that weaknesses can be flipped to strengths, and vice versa. Are you smaller than your competitors? Then you’re hyper-local and hyper-personal. Offer a smaller range of services or serve a narrow range of customers? You’re the specialists.

Play war games. Imagine building a new company to compete against yours. How would you do it? Who’s doing that right now? How are they doing it? Those are some of your threats. 

What if the economy stalls? It will. What if you take current trends in consumer habits and behaviors to their logical conclusion? Threat or opportunity? What are you doing now to be ready?

Rethink threats, too. What do you have to do to become the threat? What kinds of people would it take? What resources? Can you do it? How fast? What if you succeed? Those are the opportunities.

You need to know where you’re strong and where you aren’t. You need to find new opportunities and prepare for new threats. Just consider that there might be better ways to do it.

(Idealogy often assists companies in shaping this process. Let us know if we can help yours.)

Five Social Media Pitfalls to Avoid

There are a lot of great reasons to invest in social media. It can be inexpensive. It’s immediate and instantaneous. It invites interaction. It can get shared and even go viral.

If all that’s true, then why do so many businesses feel they don’t get the return they hoped for from social media? Here are five possible culprits

1. Failure to Invest
Social media’s free, right? Only if you have the time and ability to manage it all yourself. Because time is money. And it takes both to develop consistent content that’s relevant, engaging and worth sharing on a regular basis. And it takes both to manage your accounts.

2. Failure to Respond
A lot of people see social media as the easiest way to contact you. And the easiest way to complain about you. If you’re not watching those notifications, setting up alerts and responding appropriately and immediately, your social media presence can actually do more harm than good. Have a written policy and follow it.

3. Failure to Commit
Ramping up your social media is like buying a puppy. At first, it’s fun and exciting. Then it starts to get a little boring. Then it just becomes tiring. That’s why so many social media accounts have a flurry of posts early on, then fewer and fewer as content ideas slow to a trickle. Have a schedule. Check your analytics. Stay the course.

4. Failure to Follow
We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Follow your customers. Follow your competitors. Follow your prospects. Follow trade associations and media. Like and share their posts when they deserve it. Add comments. Mention them in yours. It’s called “social” media for a reason.

5. Failure to Grow
“If you build it, they will come” is a great line for a movie, but a terrible approach for social media. It takes work to build fans and followers, especially if you want them to spread the word for you. Some of it is doing all of the above (content, following, responding) and the rest is finding ways to get people to follow you — contests, surveys, special promotions and more. If no one’s there, nothing else matters.

Fear Cripples a Brand

You probably believe (or at least hope) that your company has a vibrant brand — a position in the market that you can call your own. But a true brand is really hard to build. And of all the things that can cripple or even kill a brand, fear tops the list. Fear chokes off a brand’s power to build your business in two critical ways.

First, fear makes marketers or business owners avoid creative solutions — ideas that could be truly game changing. Those ideas might involve changing products or services, or changing the way they’re delivered. But most of the time, they’re about changing the marketing itself. And most never see the light of day.

Here’s why. If your marketing messages look and sound like the industry norm, they feel safe and comfortable. They don’t make waves. They don’t ruffle feathers. They get approved easily. They look the way they’re supposed to.  

In other words, they blend in perfectly. And they sink without a trace.
Breakthrough ideas make us nervous. They’re risky. They’re untested. They’re not what everyone else is doing.

So even though they can cut through the clutter and engage the prospect, they sit on a shelf unused, out of hesitation or nervousness.  

But blending in, while it feels safe and sure, is neither. It’s brand repellent — and it’s nearly 100% effective.

That leads us to the other kind of fear: fear of senior management. Not that senior management is inherently scary. But senior management does not like different. In fact, most senior management hates different. Senior management got to be senior management by being careful and watching numbers. Senior management did not become senior management by taking chances.

Over the years, countless frustrated marketers have shared how they were hired to energize a brand, only to watch their ideas for doing exactly that die a slow, painful death. Over time, death comes more quickly, but no less painfully.

The end result? A demotivated marketing director or team stops trying to do anything that would truly move the needle, because, in their words, it’s just not worth the fight.  

By the way, if you’re senior management, and you don’t buy this, take a good look at your marketing. Does it really seem different from your competition?  

If not, and if you have good marketing people, then there’s a culture where actual branding — standing out in your market in a consistent and meaningful way — isn’t a goal and isn’t valued. Rather, it’s silently discouraged. Quietly crippled. Leaving money and talent on the table.
It’s simple math. To sell anything, you have to be heard. To be heard, you have to stand out. To stand out takes a team willing, able and empowered to try new ideas, to make a few mistakes, and to discover different ways to sell what you have to offer.

Remember, fear eats the soul. But not if the soul eats it first.
What has to change for you to market fearlessly?

A Perfect TV Commercial

It hasn’t played during the Superbowl — and it never will. It won’t show up on any “people’s choice” lists. But there is a perfect TV commercial airing right now. And you should pay attention to it. It’s a template for how to get your message across in 30 seconds in a way that sticks and sells.
It’s the new spot for Coppertone Sport Clear. It’s called “Sunscreen Haters,” and you can see it here: https://www.ispot.tv/ad/IPLc/coppertone-sport-clear-sunscreen-haters. So why is it perfect? A lot of reasons.

It Identifies the Audience.
The first words you hear are these: “Calling all sunscreen haters.” If that’s you – if you hate putting sunscreen on – you self-select to watch what happens next.

It Makes a Promise.
It next says, “You’re gonna love this.” It doesn’t talk about a product or benefit yet – it tells you what emotion you’re about to experience. In other words, it creates anticipation and expectation.

It Shows the Product.
It simply says the name and shows the product: Coppertone Sport Clear.

It States the Problem.
Next, it reminds you of everything you hate about sunscreen by stating what Coppertone Sport Clear isn’t. “Not thick. Not hot. Not messy.”

It Positions the Solution.
After the list of things we hate, it says what the product is: “Just clear. Cool. Protected.”

It Shows the Product Again.
Once more, it names the product and shows it, adding the tagline, “Proven to Protect.”

Visuals Reinforce Words.
The spot uses images to amplify what it says. When it mentions thick, hot and messy, it shows those qualities in a visceral way that sunscreen haters will instantly recognize. When it says cool and clear, the images reinforce the words, and you almost feel the relief wash over you.

Words Reinforce Words.
As the voiceover proceeds, the same words show up on the screen, nice and big. You cannot miss the point.

Color Coordinated.
Even the colors within the spot connect to the colors in the product packaging. Subliminal? Maybe. But it makes the product easier to find in the store when you know what color the container is.

The spot does all of this in just 30 seconds, setting a careful rhythm that never breaks and pays off at the end.

Takeaways? Help your audience know that you’re talking to them. Demonstrate their problem in a way that engages. Show the solution in an equally engaging way. Make it revolve around how the problem makes you feel. Use every tool you have to brand the solution. Make it easy to remember. Keep it short and keep it fun if you can. And execute it at a high level.

No matter your medium, follow those rules, and you’ll end up with perfect marketing.

Get Annoyed

Do you want a truly unique and powerful brand? One sure approach is to solve a problem that none of your competitors have solved for customers of your industry. The first step? Figuring out what that problem is.

That seems to be the insurmountable stumbling block for most businesses. It’s just hard to look at your own industry or your own company objectively when you’ve been on the inside for awhile. And the longer you’ve been there, the harder it gets.

So try this. Start with an industry other than your own. Think about businesses you use, personally or professionally. Maybe it’s a delivery company. Or the cable company. Your phone service provider. Or a college. Or your dentist. Or the BMV.

Whoever it is, think about something that annoys you about that company or that industry. What is it about their product or their process that gets under your skin — especially something that seems obvious as a customer. How do they make it harder or less pleasant to do business with them?

Once you’ve picked a business and an irksome issue, ask yourself this: how you would advise them to solve it if you had the ability to do so? What do you think they should do? How much would it cost? How much could they gain from it? Where would they start? How long would it take? And how should they get the word out once it’s done?

Now that you’re warmed up, let’s circle back to your own industry. What’s something about the way your industry (or if you’re truly fearless, your own company) does business or what it offers that probably annoys customers? How can you change it for the better? What steps are involved? Who has to be on board? What would it take to sell them?

If you’re still stuck, here’s one more option. Ask a customer. Better yet, ask a former customer. Or if you’re feeling very, very brave — we’re talking Arya Stark killing the Night King brave — put the question out there on social media.

The good news — and this is really good news — is that you’ll be the only company in your industry to do this. And that comes with a competitive advantage big enough to supersize any brand.

And because we can’t mention this often enough, the value of a true brand is…lower cost of customer acquisition, higher customer retention, lower team turnover, higher profitability, etc. So find out what’s annoying about your industry or your company and get to work fixing it. You’ll be glad you did.

What’s Free AND Makes Your Brand Stronger?

It turns out that simply being nice to customers can actually make them…better customers. In Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, physician scientists Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli make the case that being treated nicely has a measurable physical impact.

Extensive research compiled by the authors reveals that compassion has a direct and profound positive effect on patient outcomes. Now imagine the consequences for your business, regardless of the industry you’re in.

When you’re treated with compassion, science shows that you experience distinct, positive physiological and psychological reactions that are out of proportion to the amount of care being shown to you. For example, patients who are treated nicely actually recover more quickly and completely.

In other words, being nice to everyone — customers, employees, team members — offers a competitive advantage. It creates positive physical and emotional reactions that draw them closer to your company. The best news? It’s free. It costs you nothing.

Even more good news? It makes the person who’s being nice feel better about their job, about your customers and about the company. That means higher job satisfaction and lower turnover. All from being nice.

Of course, there’s the flipside. Not showing kindness and compassion to customers has the opposite effect, creating outsized negative physical and emotional reactions that the customer relates to you.

So how can you measure nice? How can you hire for and train to nice? How can you make nice a core value of your organization? Start with this. Look at all of the ways you serve or come into contact with customers and team members. Identify each opportunity to inject niceness into every contact and every process, however small. Then make that part of training and performance expectations.

After seeing all the evidence, the case is clear. Being nice matters in meaningful, measurable ways that can build your brand.

It Pays to Be a Follower.

When it comes to social media, you’re probably focused on who’s following you. And that’s important. But you can magnify your social impact by being a good follower. Here’s a short list of who to follow and why.

Follow Your Followers.

First of all, follow everyone who follows you. Pay attention to what they’re posting, liking and sharing. It will give you immediate insight into what matters to them. And that helps you keep your own content more relevant.

Follow Your Competitors.

Next, follow your rivals. What are they posting about? Are they doing a good job or a poor one? Observing your competition can help you avoid the mistakes you see them making — and it can inspire you to take your own social game up a notch.

Follow the Media.

Follow the people who cover your market and your industry, including specific reporters and editors. Share their posts when it makes sense to do so. Comment on them when it’s appropriate. This allows you to gently build relationships with the media, so that you have another avenue for getting your own story out when you have news to share.

Follow Your Prospects.

If you want to get closer to your prospects, start following them. Notice what topics and issues seem to matter most to them. You’ll not only get a closer look at their needs and priorities, but by liking and commenting on their posts where appropriate, you begin to build (or build on) relationships that can turn into new business.

Follow Industry Leaders.

Following thought leaders in your industry can help you stay on top of the latest thinking and best practices. Beyond that, it can give you ideas for your own future content, building on topics that an industry insider has talked about — with the goal of becoming a thought leader yourself.

Follow Your Partners.

Finally, follow the people you do business with — vendors and partners. Mention them in your own posts when the opportunity presents itself. Give them good reviews when they’ve earned them. Comment on the content they share. You’ll build stronger ties with your associates, and cultivate a potential source of referrals.

A little strategic following can offer a lot of advantages, helping you do social media better and opening the door to new business relationships in the process.

(And if you need a hand developing a content plan or social strategy, talk to Idealogy about how we can help. Just reply to this email to get in touch.)

Recruiting Is a Marketing Problem.

Many — maybe most — companies say that recruiting and retaining good people is their top priority and their key to growth. But you’d never know it from the way they market.

Start with the websites. For the vast majority, the only place on the site that refers to available positions is the “Careers” or “Jobs” page. Nothing on the home page, no buttons or call-outs anywhere else on the site.

And for most, the Careers page simply lists the available positions — and a handful include an online application. But little or nothing about why you’d want to work for this company. No testimonials —video or otherwise — from current team members. Nothing about values or benefits. Nothing about the brand or the future.

Think about that for a minute. If you marketed your products or services that way, you’d be out of business. You don’t just list what you offer. You sell it. You promote the benefits. You lay out case studies. You post testimonial videos. So if finding top talent — or even warm bodies — is truly critical, why treat that problem any differently?

Move over to social media, and the story is pretty much the same. Companies are using boilerplate language to promote available positions, without taking advantage of all the things that, done correctly, make social media so compelling. So each posting is just another job opening among many.

In fact, most companies would never consider using their normal marketing channels for recruiting. No digital campaigns or targeted direct mail. No email or outdoor. No point of purchase, either.

If recruiting the right people is the key to your company’s success, add these to your to-do list:<

  1. Craft the message that will sell you as a premier place to work. Think of it the same way you would any of your offerings. What makes you special? What advantages do you offer? What’s your story?
  2. Rethink your web and social content to reflect your need for people. What changes do you need to make so that every visitor knows you have great opportunities waiting.
  3. Think about all the tools at your disposal. Which ones can you use for recruiting. Can some do double duty, selling both your products / services and your positions / career choices?

If you need people, make sure your marketing shows it. And if you need help doing that, call Idealogy at (812) 399-1400.