Meaningless Marketing

This Foodie Friday I want to talk about something I call “meaningless marketing” in the food industry although I think you’ll see that the principle behind the term holds true in any industry. Meaningless marketing is the use of words that really have no meaning. More importantly, in some cases, the words are used specifically because they might trick consumers into thinking they’re saying one thing when, in fact, they’re not.

Let’s use the term “natural” in the food business. One might read it on a package or a menu and think “this food is wholesome, healthy, and unadulterated.” Unlike many terms in marketing, “natural” isn’t regulated so in actuality the food in question can have artificial ingredients, preservatives, pesticides, and be made from GMOs. Not quite what the consumer is thinking, but exactly what the purveyor is hoping they will.

“Natural” isn’t the only meaningless phrase used in food marketing. “Delicious”, “Made With Whole Grains“, “A Good Source Of Fiber (or anything else)”, and “Low Sugar” or “Lightly Sweetened” are all other examples. As you might expect, I have issues with any form of deceptive marketing but I think when it’s done to induced people to consume unhealthy foods while the consumer thinks otherwise is pretty low.

The truth is that there is no “meaningless marketing.” It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. People see and hear things and act accordingly. I realize that there is a responsibility on the consumer’s part to read the labels or to garner information from other sources, but if companies aren’t honest about that labeling, thereby making the consumer’s research more difficult, how can any of us call ourselves a consumer-friendly brand that acts in the customer’s best interest?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Shopping Until You’re Dropping

Today’s screed is mostly about shopping (or selling, I suppose). I read some results from a research report and I think you’ll probably share my thinking about what the data shows: more of what we already know.

In a recent study UPS and ComScore released a U.S. study revealing changes in consumer shopping preferences and buying behavior. A total of 5,000 U.S. consumers were surveyed. The results indicate consumers plan to research and purchase more frequently using their mobile devices, they are influenced by social media, and free shipping continues to drive purchasing decisions.

No real shockers, but as with any study there are some nuances to the findings that are instructive. Nearly everyone (93%) shops at small retailers and 40% of them wanted to support the small business community by doing so. 49% couldn’t find what they needed from traditional stores so they turn to more niche retail outlets. Better prices (57%) and selection (49%) are the top reasons for purchasing online after researching an item in-store, which to me smells like an opportunity for bricks and mortar. After all, while there’s no doubt online sellers don’t have the same cost structure as offline, they have other challenges that can level the playing field.

One thing is returns. When a purchase is made online from a retailer that has an online and physical store, 39% of consumers who make returns prefer to ship the product back while 61% prefer to return the item to the store. When making an in-store return, 70% purchase an additional item compared to only 42% who make a new purchase while processing an online return. I suspect that this “ease of returns” is a selling point for pure physical retailers. According to the report, only 62% of consumers are satisfied with the online returns process: 67% review a retailer’s return policy before making a purchase, 66% want free return shipping, 58% want a hassle-free “no questions asked” return policy, and 47% want an easy-to-print return label.

The study provides insight to help retailers increase sales. 48% of online shoppers said they ship items to the store, with 45% of those saying they made additional purchases when picking up their orders. Free shipping remains the most important option during checkout according to 77% of online shoppers. More than half (60%) have added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.

Most of the above seems fairly intuitive, but it never hurts to have our own intuition supported by facts, does it?

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Filed under Consulting

How To Stay Engaged With Your Consumers

OK, so you buy into my thinking on the need to stay engaged with your customers and potential customers in a meaningful way. Now what? That’s a question my clients and I face all the time so let me share a few things we’ve done to promote that engagement. Feel free to borrow!

The first and most obvious thing you can do is to support listening via social media channels. If you haven’t set up a listening dashboard, I’d make that a top priority. Hootsuite is a good place to start, and it can also be useful in populating those channels with content. There are plenty of other tools out there for listening, but listening and responding when appropriate is what we’re after.

Part of what we’re after is to become a friendly subject matter expert in the eyes of consumers. There are plenty of channels in which to do so, but what’s important is that you not try to be in every single one. Unless you have a support staff of a dozen people, you’re going to have to pick the channel that is most meaningful to your customers and focus your efforts there. My guess is that it will be Twitter since it’s the most interactive.

Next would be a decision about some longer form content. This might be on your own website, a blog, maybe a post on LinkedIn or Medium. Try them all and see which drives traffic and engagement. Remember, there is no garbage can on the Internet so whatever you write for one platform is probably reusable on another.

What do you write about? Start with thinking about how many questions do customers ask you in a week. The answers to each one of those questions can serve as the basis for a post. Unless you’re a masochist like me, you needn’t write every day either. A couple of times a week is a lot for most folks. Write about your customers. Featuring a long-time purchaser rewards them and shows all the others that you’re grateful. Explain a common problem your customers have and how you’re solving it for them.

Ask yourself how you keep in touch with your best friends. Don’t treat consumers any differently and you’ll be on the road to a productive, engaged relationship. Make sense?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Measuring What Matters

English: A business ideally is continually see...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read an interesting report from the Forrester folks this morning. It is about business-to-business marketing but I think it’s instructive to any of us who are in marketing. It’s called “Metrics That Matter For B2B Marketers” and you can read it here. I’m a big fan of the premise:

B2B marketers must do more than measure activities like click-through rates and event attendees; they need to show how their activity directly affects business results. This report shows marketers how to provide insight on the things that matter most to their executive peers and the board — growth in revenue, profit, and customers. While marketers need to capture a wide range of metrics, this report focuses on measuring marketing’s contribution to revenue as a function of customer acquisition and installed base growth.

When I was in TV and marketing (which probably should have been called business development) was a relatively new concept (as opposed to sales which was there from day one), I always felt that part of my role as “the marketing guy” was to demonstrate that marketing was part of the revenue-generating part of the team. The only way to do that was to quantify how what I was doing was driving sustainable business.

Fast forward a lot of years. All of us in marketing are deluged with data. The problem, as the report points out, is that many folks take the easy way out and measure the easy to find stuff while ignoring the pieces of information that may be more impactful to the business but harder to discern. As the report says:

Marketers need to measure a lot of things to understand what is working and what isn’t. Unfortunately, most get stuck measuring activity, not value: More than half (61%) of the marketers we surveyed admitted that most of their data work went into reporting on how they did, not showing how marketing drives better business results.

Measure what matters. Measure quality over quantity. Don’t “manage to metrics rather than performance.” OK?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

Believe It Or Not

We’re busy prepping Rancho Deluxe for sale and so we’re in need of some outside services to perform tasks such as washing the roof (damn lichen). In our digital age, I’m doing what any person would do: checking the web for reviews as well as for potential service people. The problem is not finding information. The issue is knowing which information to trust. I suspect this is an issue for you and for your business as well.

There are review sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List. Yelp, in particular, has a reputation, justified or not, of having issues. Fake reviews are allegedly rampant and the company has been accused of elevating negative reviews to higher positions in the results if the company doesn’t pay to advertise on Yelp. As an aside, a court found that even if they were doing that, it wouldn’t be illegal, but it sure makes one question the validity of what you learn. Angie’s List has had similar problems, saying that they’re consumer driven when 70% of their revenue comes from advertising. That makes them less than disinterested information brokers in my book.

Do people really use reviews? A new study by Trustpilot suggests that 88 percent of consumers say that reviews help when deciding what to buy and where to buy it. The study also found, however, that only 18 percent say they think online reviews are actually valid, so do consumers believe them or not? As a business owner, can you believe what you’re reading or not before you think about taking action?

I don’t think there is a simple answer. Most fake reviews are fairly easy to identify. You look at how many other reviews have been written by the author, you check if there are multiple reviews with similar verbiage, etc. I’m a fan of Amazon’s identifier of reviewers who actually purchased the product via Amazon, and some sites let you see if the person has actually checked in. That’s more of a clue for negative reviews in my book. Yelp and other sites are probably more of a help as a consumer than they are as places to conduct business based on some of the alleged shady business practices. Check multiple sites and social media, gather a lot of information and form an opinion based on the preponderance of the evidence (can you tell I hang out with lawyers?).

Actually, that last sentence is probably good advice for anything we do in business, wouldn’t you say?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Teaching The Master

It’s Foodie Friday! I was reading one of the many food blogs I follow when I came across a post from a baker who had updated his book on breadmaking. It was a very successful book and had won numerous awards but it was now 15 years old and the publisher had asked for an update. That isn’t particularly interesting since cookbooks are updated all the time – The Joy Of Cooking has been updated 6 times in the 75+ years since its publication. What is of interest to me – and which provides an interesting business point – is the mindset of the author.

There are two quotes in his post which resonated and which I think are instructive to us all:

  • Working on it (the anniversary edition) gave me a chance to examine all that has transpired during the interval, and to see where we might freshen things up to keep pace with all the developments.

  • Even after six thousand years of bread baking, we are still learning new ways to make it even better.

In other words, here is someone who is always learning and taking the opportunity to use what he’s learned to foster positive change in his endeavors. All of us should be reading, listening, and learning every day. No matter if we use RSS to digest dozens of sources of professional and industry information or if we just wander the halls speaking to people, one of the most fundamental things we need to do it to keep learning. In this case, we have someone who literally wrote the book on breadmaking and is considered a master. The only way to retain that sort of elevated status in any field is to keep learning.

The legal profession requires hours of Continuing Legal Education for members of the bar to stay admitted. Teachers are expected to keep earning degree credits and to publish once they get into academia’s highest realms. It needn’t be that formal. All that’s required is a willingness to learn, an open mind, and a fundamental curiosity about the world in which we live, both professionally and as humans. You with me?

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Filed under Thinking Aloud

Quit Pushing Me

We discuss engagement in this space fairly often. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m a believer in The Cluetrain Manifesto and that markets are conversations. Think about a conversation you’d have at a bar or a party. You would listen at least as much as you spoke and you probably wouldn’t keep tossing random lines at people, especially if those lines are only about you. Now let’s look at a piece of research.

According to The Future of Content: Rethinking Content Consumption, a national survey report, consumers want to discover digital content on their own and are skeptical of brands pushing online ads through interruptive channels. Rapt Media, recently surveyed an audience of more than 1,000 consumers to understand how content discovery is driving the content personalization trend.

Insights reveal consumers want personalized content experiences that are meaningful, helpful and valuable to their specific needs and interests. But equally important is their empowerment in discovering it on their own. The younger millennial generation is especially mistrusting of brands pushing interruptive online ads.

Key findings from the survey include:

● 95% take action to avoid seeing or receiving online ads
● 5% say ads influence their purchase decisions
● 57% of millennials block ad content because it is too pushy
● 43% say online ads are not personalized to their interests, but 62% say the content they discover on their own is personalized
● 61% say that even if content is customized, they still prefer to find it on their own
● 46% say content they find on their own influences their purchase decisions

I especially like this quote: “Programmatic push messaging is implicit personalization perceived by consumers as irrelevant and inauthentic.” Yep. The findings confirm that consumers have come to expect content personalization along with the opportunity to shape their own experience, so why are we spending time and resources on doing anything that delivers an experience other than that? Maybe we need to make our business behavior more like our cocktail party behavior (and who has ever pondered THAT before?)?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints