Rethinking Assumptions

Left-Brain-vs.-Right-Brain1I recently had the opportunity to visit with a couple data marketing gurus: Sean Callahan, Senior Manager of Content at LinkedIn, and Eric Schnabel, Director of Facebook’s North America Creative Shop. They were here for Ole Miss for Data Day.

It’s fascinating to hear how their companies – and many others – are using data to segment, target and build relationships with customers. The idea of segmentation and targeting is nothing new of course, but the amount of information available and the sophisticated ways of using it has changed the landscape of marketing.

And it makes me think.

I’ve always believed there are really two sides of the marketing profession. There’s the “creative” side, which involves right-brain things like imagination, emotion and intuition. Creatives are passionate people who write, design, position brands, think outside the box….their work is colorful, poetic, subjective. Think of Don Draper on Mad Men: Find emotional appeals, trust your gut, pitch ideas, the hell with research.

Then there’s the “analytical” side, which focuses on left-brain things like information, facts, logic. Left-brainers are driven by data and numbers; they seek patterns, correlations and explanations. Their work is rational, objective. Research drives everything. Think of Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet: “Just the facts ma’am.” (To those under 50:  Dragnet is an old TV show.)

I’m oversimplifying it, but I truly believe the profession has long consisted of people who focus on either the creative or the analytical. You’re either a dreamer or a data geek. Either or. One or the other.

That’s the world I’ve grown up in. I tell my students to know what side of their brain dominates as they ponder careers.

But the landscape is changing. When I hear people like Sean and Eric talk about how creative teams dive into data, or how data professionals think creatively, it makes me realize my assumption about “sides” of the profession is antiquated. As an example, Eric mentioned that some Facebook campaigns now have more than a thousand different versions of one ad, because there are a thousand ways to segment an audience. Success means that everyone involved needs to understand both creative and data.

Technology makes it easier too. I remember when people working on creative had to go to data analysts and request information, but desktop tools now put many of the queries and tables just a click away for anyone.

I think people themselves will always tilt one direction or the other — creative or analytical — simply because of how our brains are wired. But the idea that someone only needs to deal with one side is wrong.  Successful marketers today must think in terms of both.

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Customer Insights Mean Everything

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 2.18.36 PMI had a great time hanging with Leslie Westbrook for a couple weeks earlier this month.

Leslie is an Ole Miss graduate who went on to a phenomenal career in market research and consumer perceptions.

She started with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, and then worked for New Product Insights in Kansas City before starting her own company in Maryland.

She’s helped position and launch so many products over the years: Pampers. Pringles. Duncan Donuts coffee. Dairy Queen Blizzard. Quaker Granola Bars. And the brands on her resume are incredible: Hallmark. Purina. Coke. Kraft. Johnson & Johnson. Sara Lee. General Foods. Nestle. Max Factor. Ragu. Del Monte. Arm & Hammer. Kimberly Clark. The list is endless.

In the early 1980s when I was in college and just reading about the Tylenol poisonings, she was working with McNeil Consumer Healthcare (the brand’s owner at the time) to develop new tamper resistant packaging and to position the new caplets which replaced the capsules.

We both love research and knowing what customers think, and hit it off well. She talked to a variety of classes, helped my classes with a focus group project, met students, shared ideas and more.

One of the many things that jumped out though is a theme that’s near and dear to me: That in marketing, it’s the little things – the tiniest of details – that can make or break a customer relationship and set the tone for a brand.

pringles1970Leslie talked about Pringles. When she was testing the product, it was assumed customers would pour the chips into a bowl or on a napkin before eating. No one anticipated they’d stick their hand into the container to get the chips. So P&G redesigned the packaging to remove the sharp edges around the opening of the tube so people wouldn’t cut themselves when they reached inside.

Pampers was an interesting challenge. At the time, many women were appalled at the idea of wrapping their babies in plastic – most said good mothers would never do such a thing.   Understanding this nuance, Pampers wasn’t positioned as a convenience. Instead, it was marketed as being good for the baby because it wicked moisture away from the skin, meaning less chance of diaper rash. This messaging did the trick and sales took off.

In the early days of granola bars, there was only kind: dry and crunchy. They crumbled easily and were a mess to eat. Understanding this, Quaker realized the appeal of a bar that held together when eaten. Thus, the success of a soft “chewy” product that became a hit.

Call me crazy, but I love this stuff, and it was fun to spend time with someone else who loves it too!  I look forward to Leslie’s next visit.

Click here, here and here to see some of my previous posts on how little things are the big things in marketing.

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Filed under Branding, Customers, Market Research, Sweat the Small Stuff

When Research Becomes PR

VisaIn the market research classes I teach, we of course focus on how to conduct research: qualitative, quantitative, common research mistakes, how to use research to develop marketing insights and so on.

But another thing we discuss is how sometimes, the research itself can be used to build the brand.

For example, every year, Visa sponsors a “tooth fairy survey.” Among other things, the company learns the average amount American children receive from the tooth fairy ($3.19 in the 2015 survey – down 24 cents from last year); that moms leave more money under the pillow than dads; that kids in the northeast U.S. receive more than kids in the south, and other fun tidbits. Click here for their most recent findings.

But something else beside research is happening. This is a great public relations move for Visa, as it aligns its brand with a financial topic that generates quite a buzz. They conduct the research, find some interesting facts, and then issue a press release that gets picked up by countless media outlets. Simply Google “Visa tooth fairy survey” and see that the 2015 results were covered by Forbes, CNBC, USA Today, Huffington Post, many CBS, ABC and NBC news affiliates, Chicago Tribune – the list goes on and on. The resulting stories mention Visa, and viola! They get some nice publicity.

Visa also promotes a tooth fairy calculator app and does other things to leverage the findings.

This is a great way for companies to gain visibility and position themselves as credible experts on a certain subject.

U-Haul does this as well too. Each year they look at their data to determine where people rent their trucks and trailers, and where they drop them off. From this, they can deduce what cities and states Americans are moving from and to. They then promote this information, and news outlets all across the nation feature stories about America’s migration – giving credit to U-Haul for the insight.   Google “U-Haul relocation survey” to see for yourself.

While the point of market research is to learn something and solve a problem, it’s simply genius to leverage the information for public relations purposes. Visa, U-Haul and other companies often find the value of the resulting publicity far outweighs the cost of the research itself.

Smart marketing indeed!

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Winning Pays

UMOle Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last night.

Now that’s a sentence you don’t see often because it’s only happened one other time in college football history. Ole Miss beat Alabama in Oxford last year too, which was without a doubt the best game I’ve ever attended anywhere, anytime. As pundits are saying this morning, if last year was an upset, what’s it called when it happens two years in a row? I don’t want to jinx it so will stop right there with my euphoria.

Sometimes people think collegiate athletics is out of hand – that the emphasis is too great, the stakes are too high, athletic budgets are out of whack with the rest of the school and the coaches make too much money. Lowly professors (of which I am one) grumble they get tiny (if any) annual raises, their departments deal with budget crunches and they teach in outdated classrooms while gleaming new athletic facilities spring up across campus.

The University of Texas at Austin has a $260 million athletic budget, with more than 10 percent of it coming just from sponsorships, merchandise sales and royalties. While that’s the second largest budget in the U.S. (behind Oregon, which moved into the top spot this year because of a one-time donation from Nike’s Phil Knight), it’s trending this way everywhere. Schools hand the marketing to conglomerates such as IMG Worldwide and Learfield Sports. They make a mint from conference television networks and media rights. Coaches at Division I schools make millions, and coaches at Division II and Division III colleges watch their players get beat up playing big schools in non-conference games because it brings in the money.

To be sure, college athletics is big business.

But for all the naysayers, this stuff is what builds the brand. Sure, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze makes a lot of money. Often, coaches are the highest paid public employees in any given state. But if they can win and keep a clean program, it’s worth it. Double or triple their salaries and it’s still worth it.

In the Ole Miss example, look at the exposure winning games like last night brings. The Rebels were highlighted all day yesterday on ESPN’s College GameDay. The game was watched around the nation. Now highlights are being replayed on all the sports shows, and the school is trending on social media everywhere. Money can’t directly buy this kind of exposure, but success on the field or on the court makes it happen.

We know high school students everywhere are checking out Ole Miss this morning. If this keeps up, we know applications will increase next year. In 2008, I was teaching at Drake University in Des Moines when the men’s basketball team made it into the first round of the NCAA tournament – something that rarely happens there – and student applications the following fall spiked while the community beamed with pride.

Some smaller schools are adding athletic programs simply because of the exposure and students it will bring.

A lot of my Ole Miss students are from out of state, sometimes from seemingly far away places like Washington state, California, New York. And I often ask what put this place on their radar, what first piqued their interest in thinking about Ole Miss?  I usually hear one of two things.

The first is athletics. They watch our football team play, they see game day festivities, they want to be a part of it. Winning puts us on the map in ways nothing else can.

The second thing I hear when I ask that question is The Blind Side, and thank goodness cable networks play that movie repeatedly and not Mississippi Burning.

To those academics who lament the fact that athletic programs hog all the attention and coaches get such high salaries, I ask: How much money do you bring into the school? How much national exposure does your department generate? And how many students would discover your program if athletics didn’t put the institution on the map first?

So thank you Coach Freeze. Last night proves you are worth every penny and then some. What you do means I have more students to teach and the brand on my own resume becomes more valuable. When you win, when the team wins, we all win.

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Caveat Emptor on Job Interviews

bewareI enjoy keeping in touch with former students, so was pleased to hear from one a few weeks ago. She’s a recent graduate, was a top student with plenty of internships and experience, and will have no trouble finding a job. But she’s looking for work in a specific town, which narrows her options a bit.

She related the following story to me.

A supposedly national company with offices across the U.S. and overseas was hiring marketers and promised a “fast track” to management. She arrived for an interview at a small office with what appeared to be rented furniture and no technology – the receptionist was working on a cell phone. The person she met with had worked there less than a year and had no personal effects or other things on his desk.

The conversation went well, and she was called back for a second interview the next day. She was told she’d be job shadowing, but it was still unclear what the job actually was.

She arrived the following day, as did several other second-round interviewees. They all piled into a car for an “exploratory trip” about an hour and a half away.

“Yes, Mr. Fiene, I gradated Summa Cum Laude yet got into a car with these strangers…..but I know self defense and keep a knife in my purse,” she joked with me later.

The group arrived at the destination, and were asked to cold call on businesses to sell discounted baseball tickets. Not only was it intrusive, she said, but partially dishonest because she was told to tell prospective customers she represented a professional baseball team – which of course was not the case. She wasn’t really sure who she was representing.

So all day long these captive recruits went door to door trying to sell tickets. In talking with others who were on the goose chase with her, she discovered some had been doing this for weeks, yet still don’t know who they worked for or how they were paid. She asked if the company reimbursed for gas or paid for mileage, and was told “there are other potential benefits that offset the cost of gas.”

Fortunately at the end of the day she made it safely back to where she started.  Exhausted and feeling duped, she quickly left and didn’t return again.

Here’s what she said she learned:

First, Instincts are important. “Trust yourself when you search for jobs. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.” Her advice is to check the history of the company, look for reviews, and search glassdoor.com for information on salary, benefits and more.

Second, “Don’t sell yourself short.” Most college graduates receive a wonderful education – make sure you don’t squander it.  Apply for jobs where you actually have a chance of using the skills that you learned.

Finally, she says, ask questions. Although she got duped for a day, apparently some of her fellow job shadowees had been beating the streets with those baseball tickets for weeks and still didn’t understand what they were doing, or why.

I’m proud of this young lady.   She learned lessons that day that will last a lifetime. I’ve had a few similar experiences while job hunting that I’ll write about next time.

One lesson I’ll add though – don’t give your work away for free even in job interview situations. See my post from July 11, 2011 to read more about that.

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Filed under Employees, Ethics

Chicken or Egg?

Chicken-EggThere’s something I’ve never quite figured out when it comes to the U.S. news media (the “mainstream media,” as some politicians and pundits like to call it).

Does the media set our agenda – meaning, our national discourse is because of the prominence given to certain topics that are broadcast, posted, printed or published?

Or is the media mostly a reflection of the things we as a nation want to see and hear? Media is, after all, business. And the goal of business is sales and profit. That’s achieved by giving customers what they want, which is the very essence of marketing. So this theory says that the news we get is because it’s the news we want.

Think about news cycles when nearly every major outlet was intensely focused on the same thing (and I’m not counting natural disasters, plane crashes, celebrity deaths and the like): OJ.  Balloon boy. Octomom. Wikileaks. Trayvon Martin. Ebola. Polar Vortex. Penn State. Brian Williams. Gay marriage. Confederate flags.

I’m not minimizing any these subjects, but wonder if they were so prominent because the media sets the agenda and made it so, or because that’s what we wanted so we got what we asked for. Maybe it’s both, maybe the two theories can’t be separated and perhaps it’s academic to try to dissect it. To be sure, this seems like the intersection of journalism and marketing.

But I’m thinking about it again recently because of the coverage of Donald Trump. Clearly – for the moment at least – he is the big story of the 2016 presidential election. There are a bunch of other Republicans running but Trump is the one making headlines (see my July 27 post). One can ask: does he make headlines because he’s the guy voters want,  or do voters want him because he’s the guy in the headlines?

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

Although I teach in a school of journalism and mass communications I’m not as much on the media side. My background is marketing. So my natural inclination is to believe that media doesn’t exist to inform, educate or persuade; I don’t think there’s any so-called “agenda.” Media is about money – that’s the agenda. And the way for that to happen is to deliver the content, the headlines, the pictures, the graphics, the anchors and the talking heads people want.   If not, the product won’t be consumed.

In short, Trump will remain the news until if and when people tire of the topic, and then the headlines will wane.

Still, sometimes I wonder if there’s more to it than that.

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Filed under Integrated Marketing Communications, Strategy

Catch 22

book-publishing1I was talking with an author yesterday. His name is Michael Henry; he’s got a new novel (his 8th) on the way. It’s called Murder in the Grove – the plot is rooted in the riots on the Ole Miss campus in October, 1962. It sounds great and I can’t wait to read it.

During our conversation, he mentioned that book publishing is a “Catch 22” these days: Publishers are hesitant to work with authors who haven’t already sold a lot of books, but how’s a new writer supposed to sell books if they can’t find a publisher?

He said it’s the same in the music business. Recording companies favor musicians who have previously sold a lot of music.

And I started thinking how that’s similar to what I hear from students all the time: To land a marketing job, they need experience on their resume. But how do they get experience if employers won’t ever hire someone without it?

Unfortunately I don’t have much advice for authors or musicians.

But when it comes to internships and jobs for my students, I tell them to grab something – anything – to get their first gig out of the way. Then build the resume from there. Sometimes students hesitate to take an internship because they don’t think the opportunity sounds exciting, of they feel the responsibilities might be menial.

But a dull internship is still an internship.

My first internship was at a marketing agency in London. Although that sounds great to say, the experience was anything but. On some days they’d send me to the store to buy more milk and tea for the break room. On other days, I’d sort through file cabinets and organize brochures. Although I got to meet a lot of nice people, the job was generally boring and lasted just a semester.  But from that point forward, I had a track record. Having that internship made getting the next (better) one easier.

Years later, it was a similar paradox when I left my corporate job and started consulting, I knew the hardest client to get would be the first one. How much would I have to tap dance when a prospect asked for references or wanted to know whom my other clients were? I was open to anything, and the first marketing project I landed involved creating display boards for a trade show for a small insurance company. I remember standing there with foam boards and Spray Mount wondering if I’d made a huge career mistake.  But that project led to a better one, and then a better one, and within a few months I had landed some nice projects with the corporate offices of Wells Fargo Mortgage, Farm Bureau, Nationwide, a few municipal governments and other entities.

There will always be Catch 22s. The trick is doing what you need to do to move past it.

For more information on Michael Henry’s books, click here

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Filed under Branding, General, Strategy