Archive for May, 2009

Livetweet tomorrow, learning about real men.

May 27, 2009 1 comment
A real man, apparently.

A real man, apparently.

I’ll be livetweeting MarketingProfs’ “How to Create Advertising Campaigns that Make Men Do What You Want” webinar at 9AM PT/noon ET. You can follow me at @paulardoin on Twitter, or register at for the real thing. (I think it costs money to register.)

And if you’ve never met me, you might think “Why does Paul need to know this? Isn’t he a man?” And technically, yes. Yes I am. I’m even hetero. But unlike most men, I don’t like to get my hands dirty, I don’t like working outside, I scream like a little girl at horror movies, and I don’t like fishing or camping. Instead, I read The Frisky online and I can name all four Designing Women. (I do like watching sports on TV, and I hate Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, so they let me keep my Man Card. For now.)

So I think I might actually, you know, learn something.

Categories: Livetweeting

Twitter and Facebook are different. Treat them differently

MB_pen_01Mashable has a recent post about updating your Facebook feed from Twitter. If you haven’t done this before, this can seem like a good idea, and a way to get involved in more conversations with less effort. Automatically adding your tweets to Facebook? What could be easier?

However, I highly recommend against automatically updating your Facebook status with your Twitter feed, for the following reasons.

1) Twitter has its own dialect. Your Facebook followers won’t understand the retweets, hashtags, and references to other Twitterers. When I auto-updated a few months ago, I spent more time explaining my tweets to my Facebook friends than I saved on sending two separate messages.

2) Twitter and Facebook have two separate audiences and two different purposes. Facebook makes it much easier to thread conversations; Twitter, by its nature, requires more of an immediate response. Posting the same thing to both places only works some of the time — I’d estimate 10% to 25% of the time. Take a look at the content on your wall on Facebook; much of this content wouldn’t fit on Twitter, and if posted, would require significant changes to make sense to a viewer.

The Mashable post mentions third-party tools that can post to both Facebook and Twitter; TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop are two of the most popular. If you’d like to post things in both Twitter and Facebook, I recommend using one of these tools and modifying the post.bic


Appropriate post on Twitter: Will people pay for MCT’s 1-page FB guide 4 biz? I’m curious, but not for $ <link to MCT’s guide>

Appropriate post on Facebook: MCT just released a one-page guide for using Facebook for business. I’m curious to see what’s in it, but I don’t think it’s worth paying for. <link>

Certain things that are short and sweet can be posted on both: “I just got the new version of the latest Wii game,” for instance. But the Venn diagram of what’s appropriate on both services has so little overlap that it’s not practical to blindly post your Twitter feed to your Facebook status.

Top-down branding: Reports of death are greatly exaggerated

May 21, 2009 3 comments
Is branding dead?

Is branding dead?

I attended the MarketingProfs webinar “What Matters Now in Branding: Ten Ideas to Get Refocused” (membership req’d). Jonathan Salem Baskin presented some good content and was thought-provoking.

However, Baskin’s main point–one that most of those Ten Ideas were based on–was that top-down branding is dead.

Top-down branding is when (according to Baskin) the company connects its name/products/services to thoughts, concepts, and emotions, and presents those connections to its customers and prospects through media, advertising, Twitter, customer service, presentations, etc.

Baskin believes that successful “new branding” is letting the brand organically find itself through reality, changing context, and community that will be driven by customer behavior and customers’ actions.

I have a lot to say about his various points, but foremost: If you want to be a successful marketer, do not believe this. It is false.

The worst part of this advice is that it kind of looks like it’s true. Top-down branding efforts have been less successful in recent years. Customer loyalty is down. Brands that were once strong are weaker. Social media is all the rage; branding has been replaced by “conversations” and “engagement.”

The most important thing about branding, however, has not changed. I’m from the Ries & Trout school, and the most important thing about a brand is to own a concept or phrase in the customer’s mind. (Baskin says that brands cannot do this; he’s wrong.) When you think facial tissue, you think Kleenex; when you think networking, you think Cisco; when you think about high-end cameras you think Canon or Nikon. Even catchphrases — “the choice of a new generation,” “the ultimate driving machine,” and (my recent least-favorite-tagline-ever) “the difference is drinkability” get ahold of an association/concept in your brain and won’t let go. That’s the way to own the market and affect customer behavior, and top-down branding is essential to that.

Baskin’s #1 point was “tell the truth” — that being ingenuous won’t help a brand, such as when the oil companies say they’re green. In general, I agree that one will have an easier time when you can put your money where your mouth is — when your products and services are actually as good as you say they are, and when they have no flaws. But what if your products and services DO have flaws?

Chevron created a famous “People Do” campaign to showcase their environmental concern. Commercials talking about saving butterfly mating grounds or marshlands or eagle habitats were all over the airwaves. According to Grahame Dowling’s book Creating Corporate Reputations, 34% of the viewers of the People Do ad featuring the eagle habitat had a more favorable opinion of Chevron after the ad, and 75% of the viewers said they were more likely to buy gasoline from Chevron (p. 177). The message was that Chevron was an oil company that cares — and they owned that concept in the customers’ minds.

The keys to this successful branding were simple: repetition and consistency. Chevron’s environmental ads started running back in the 1970’s, and grew to a 71% awareness rate. Even today, although very few people believe oil companies care about the environment, I’d bet that many still believe that Chevron isn’t as bad as the other oil companies — and Chevron has been rewarded with a 22% sales increase (p. 178).

The truth you tell, while it has to be true, is yours to tell. If you’re targeting teens and hipsters, the Burger King mascot (that creepy, crazy King) lets people know that Burger King is the fast-food place for them. If you’re targeting kids, Ronald McDonald tells consumers that Mickey D’s is kid-friendly. Your products and services must fulfill your promises to the consumer, but when they do, top-down branding can work.

This is by no means the only element of a successful top-down branding campaign. (For instance, if your brand is already firmly wedged in your prospects’ minds, it’s almost impossible to change–witness the death of Smith Corona PC’s, because Smith Corona is a brand for typewriters, not PCs.)

But don’t give up directing your message just because people say you can’t do it in today’s social-media-centric world.

Credit cards: the new corporate menace we keep funding

May 19, 2009 2 comments

Andrew Martin of The New York Times wrote an article detailing how banks will be charging more to their customers who pay in full and on time each month. The article implies that it’s because the Obama administration is attempting to curtail the penalties, raised interest rates, and other fees the credit card companies are charging.

The credit crunch Many people in the U.S. today are dependent on credit cards for their monthly expenses. The credit card industry has pushed for–and gotten–a largely cashless economy. We pay many of our monthly bills through credit cards. Online storefronts like Amazon and iTunes pretty much require credit cards. Hell, Southwest Airlines won’t even take cash if you want to buy a beer on the plane.

What the Obama administration is doing, though, is setting an artificial price ceiling. Anyone who’s taken a basic economics class knows that artificial price floors and price ceilings don’t work–because they go against the laws of supply and demand. And the problem is that the demand is fast outpacing the supply. We still want credit, we just don’t want to pay what the banks are selling it for. If we want it to change, we–all of us–must lower our demand for credit.

Banks left and right are cancelling people’s credit cards, lowering credit limits to below their current balances, and even offering to forgive a portion of customers’ credit card debt if the customers agree not to use their cards anymore. It sucks to be a credit card customer right now. And with the average household holding almost $10,000 in credit card debt, many people don’t really have a choice.

Many people hate how Wal-Mart treats their employees. Many people hate how Microsoft treats their customers. Many people hate the oil companies. Yet all those companies keep making money hand over fist. If you don’t want to give those corporations power, stop giving them money. When banks (or Wal-Mart, or Microsoft, or Chevron) make it painful for their customers to stop doing business with them, it’s very hard to lower the demand.

Yet it happened. One year ago, the price of gas hit $4.59 a gallon. That made it more painful for people to pay for gas than to stop driving. So people stopped driving. The number of miles driven by Americans went down for the first time in decades. Demand for oil went down 5% as people chose to drive their more fuel-efficient cars (and stopped driving so much). Oil went down from $135 a barrel to $55 a barrel. Gas went down from $4.59 to $1.99 in 6 months.

What does this have to do with marketing? Right now, people do not want to do business with many banks. This is a great opportunity for some financial organization out there to position themselves as the customer-friendly bank. Want to move your credit card debt to a fixed lower-interest account that isn’t going to nickel-and-dime you? I personally would jump in a heartbeat. Especially away from Citi, who have royally screwed me over the last three months. (But I digress.)

Marketing cannot be successful without customer service–especially in the age of social media, which provides the world with an instant (and very noisy) bullshit detector. Imagine Citi trying to promote their “live richly” campaign now. Or any of the big banks trying to market itself as the touchly-feely bank. The opportunity I mentioned in the above paragraph will only work for a financial institution who has kept a good reputation through this whole TARP mess. Local credit unions may be good candidates.

Whatever happens, banks are going to have a tough time marketing to their customers now. They’ve been able to gloss over their horrible customer service shortcomings because they had the credit that their customers wanted. Now that they don’t, the banks have a public relations mess on their hands in addition to their financial woes.

Categories: Customer behavior

Starbucks: Defensive or differentiated?

May 4, 2009 1 comment
Is Starbucks refocusing on coffee, or running scared?

Is Starbucks refocusing on coffee, or running scared?

Joe Senft, a marketer from New York, tweeted about a MediaPost story about Starbucks’ new marketing campaign. This lead to a little bit of debate about whether Starbucks is 1) refocusing on their core competency, or 2) getting defensive because of the recent attacks from McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts (among others).

The first ad, which is the one that appears on the right, is off-message and is definitely defensive. In fact, the ad almost challenges the reader to get that cheaper cup of coffee to determine whether the “price” is worth the money savings. (And…what is the “price” exactly? I think they’re referring to taste, but I suppose it’s possible that they’re talking about all the fair-trade buying Starbucks does.)

But the other ads (previewed on the Starbucks blog — scroll down) are pretty good. “This is what coffee tastes like when you pour your heart into it.” That’s attacking McDonalds, albeit indirectly. The unsaid message: if you want good coffee, don’t go to a hamburger joint or a donut shop. It’s not a defensive position: it’s a different position, and it positions Starbucks’ value proposition squarely in front of the coffee lover.

I do have to say that one of the problems Starbucks has had over the last couple of years is that they 1) added so many stores that their coffee quality started to suffer due to inexperienced managers and baristas; 2) they diluted their “third-place” Italian-coffee-shop-style value proposition with breakfast sandwiches and family-friendly movies (Al Ries, Laura Ries, and Jack Trout would have a field day criticizing the branding decisions on that); and 3) their Pikes Place Roast is an inferior brew to the “coffee of the week” they had pre-2008. (Not everyone agrees that it’s inferior: Peter King, the Sports Illustrated writer, loves PPR and writes about it frequently in his column.)

The result is while the new message is good — “It’s not just coffee. It’s Starbucks” — the message seems a little disingenuous. Yes, it’s Starbucks, but what is Starbucks? It used to be coffee, then it was breakfast, then it was Akeelah and the Bee. Yes, Starbucks, you say you pour your heart into it, but that new barista won’t stop talking to her friend long enough to take my order.

Hopefully, this new marketing campaign signals a focus on coffee and the third-place experience that made Starbucks so successful in the first place. Letting go of thousands of employees and closing underperforming stores will allow Starbucks to hire better “partners,” who care more about customer satisfaction than talking to their friends. And perhaps this will allow a rebranding or a divestment from Starbucks Entertainment and other non-core businesses.

In other words, if Starbucks doesn’t talk about how bad others’ coffee is, but about how GOOD theirs is–and they back it up by improving the coffee and the in-store experience to what it was in 2004–Starbucks could streamline and again be a force to be reckoned with.

Categories: Marketing, Messaging