Monthly Archives: April 2012

Trust Me

For you trivia buffs in the audience, there once was a TV game show called “Who Do You Trust?” The host of the show was a struggling comic named Johnny Carson and a year into the run he picked up a guy named Ed McMahon as his announcer sidekick. The rest is television history.

That bit of history has very little to do with today’s topic other than it asks the question the study I want to highlight answers. Who do you trust? For consumers, the answer appears to be one another.  Nielsen released its Global Trust in Advertising Survey and it shows that

92% of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising, an increase of 18% since 2007. Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70% of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform, an increase of 15% in four years.

That’s the good news.  The bad?

…While 47% of consumers around the world say they trust paid television, magazine, and newspaper ads, confidence declined by 24%, 20% and 25% respectively since 2009.

You can read more about this here but the data reinforces the fact that we’re in the midst of a huge transition in marketing.  While most brands are still making the bulk of their marketing investment in paid media, the messages those media disseminate are declining in effectiveness as consumers find other sources of credible information to help with purchase decisions.  Visibility and relevance are not the same thing.

More brands are making efforts in what’s popularly called “earned media.”  They hire an intern to monitor message broads and social media while at the same time they spend millions paying creative types and media buys to work on their TV and print.  While I’m not for a minute suggesting the abandonment of traditional media, perhaps it’s time to look at reallocating resources better to reflect modern realities?  The money spent on the last two titles on your media plan could be working a lot more effectively elsewhere in media more trusted by your consumers.

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Your Customers vs. Your Partners

Here is an interesting story from the folks at MediaBiz that just cuts to the core of almost every business issue.  It points out the Sophie’s Choice created by some older business models in a time when technology is forcing them to change.  First the facts:


DirecTV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A handful of DIRECTV subs stopped receiving HBO after the company started blocking the signal on older TV sets that don’t have the encryption standard High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). DIRECTV… recently added HDCP protection to all HBO-owned channels and “will continue rolling out to other premium services in the coming weeks.” The company said affected customers should replace their HDMI connection with a component video cable and a separate audio cable (emphasis added).

Most folks who do so for a living will tell you that HDMI is a better signal (and therefore picture) than component video.  DirecTV also markets itself accurately as providing a better picture to consumers.  Without content, however, there is no service – it’s a big, empty pipe.  It’s the content providers who are insisting on the use of HDCP.  They’re the ones whose business model is most impacted by what they presume is widespread piracy and are insisting on this protection layer.  DirecTV is placed in the untenable position of either losing the content by catering to their partners or telling customers to degrade their pictures and potentially losing customers who can get better video elsewhere using more current technology.

Ultimately, customers pay the bills.  I believe we win when we serve them and while that may, as in this case, cause problems with partners, suppliers, and others, that downside risk vs. that of angry and vocal consumers is minimal.  In this case, the customers who would most notice the downgrade to component video are probably the ones who would know how to cut the cord and get the content they seek elsewhere, hopefully through legitimate means rather than piracy.  As businesspeople, we encourage that illegal behavior by choosing any segment over our customers – witness what the music business did for a very long time.

That’s where I come out.  How do you see it?

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Showing Up The Pitcher

An item in this morning’s USA Today sports section caught my eye.  It tells the story of Yoenis Cespedes’ first home run and how he stood at the plate and admired it, only to get drilled (hit by a pitch for you non-sports fans) for showing up the pitcher in his next at bat.  Why?

As if absorbing a new language weren’t hard enough, the Cuban defector also has to learn baseball’s unwritten rules at the major league level.

And that’s today’s business point.  Most of us learn, over time, to speak the language of our customers.  As with the Cuban ball players learning English, it’s only part of the battle.  Of course, the marketing world is littered with companies not even advancing that far.  There are marketing tales that he symbols in Chinese that sound like “Coca Cola” mean “bite the wax tadpole” and we’ve all heard the story of the Chevy Nova being marketed under that name when in Spanish, “No Va” means “doesn’t go.”  Exaggerations or not, these examples make the point.

Assuming you have competent linguists someplace on the staff, learning the culture is a challenge.  While it’s most apparent when marketing internationally (and one might ask what in digital isn’t marketing internationally), a brand can trip over itself even at home.  Language is in part generational – very few under 30 have ever experienced a “broken record” so how do they know if they’re going on like one?   Somehow calling my 86-year-old father “dude” doesn’t quite work.  The cultural gap is deeper than just that word.  Frankly, I’m offended by ads showing people emailing or texting during meetings – a cultural thing, I know.  You consider that a product feature – I consider it rude.

We all get our turns at the plate and once in a while we hit one out of the park.  Cespedes’ experience is a good reminder that for every happy batter there is a miserable pitcher and we need to be sensitive to the unwritten rules of business to avoid a bad experience the next time around.

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The Boss And Your Consumers Are Thinking Alike

Part of what my clients pay me to do is to make connections.  Sometimes that’s in the literal sense – an introduction.  Most of the time it’s in the sense of making connections among seemingly random things – putting pieces together to form a coherent picture.  This morning, I’m getting ready to go see another Bruce Springsteen show – anything worth doing is worth overdoing, right? – and I came upon two pieces that seemed to fit together so I wanted to share them with you.

Bruce Springsteen (with Max Weinberg in backgr...

Bruce Springsteen in concert (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first is an excellent article from The Nation about Bruce’s political voice – where it came from, how it’s grown, and what it’s saying now.  The second is a piece of research about socially conscious consumers.  Now as you know, we don’t do politics here so there is an important business point both pieces make and that’s what I want to share today.

The Nation piece says the following:

Springsteen began to ask questions of himself about what really determined the contours of the lives of the working-class characters whose tribune he had become. “A lot of the core of our songs is the American idea: What is it? What does it mean?

Speaking to reporters in Paris on the occasion of (Wrecking Ball’s) release, he made the album’s inspiration—and intention—explicit. “The genesis of the record was after 2008,” he told a group of reporters there earlier this year, “when we had the huge financial crisis in the States, and there was really no accountability for years and years. People lost their homes, and I had friends who were losing their homes, and nobody went to jail. Nobody was responsible. People lost enormous amounts of their net worth. Previous to Occupy Wall Street, there was no pushback: there was no movement, there was no voice that was saying just how outrageous—that a basic theft had occurred that struck at the heart of what the entire American idea was about. It was a complete disregard of history, of context, of community; it was all about ‘what can I get today.’ It was just an enormous fault line that cracked the American system wide open.”

In other words, Bruce has done what most great artists do:  reflects his times in a timeless way.  We could digress here and look to the Occupy movement, the current presidential campaign, etc. but you figured that out already.  As it turns out, many forward-thinking companies have as well.  The second article is about a Nielsen study about how companies and consumers are becoming much more socially conscious:

The survey confirmed that the majority of consumers express a general preference for companies making a positive difference in the world. 66% of consumers around the world say they prefer to buy products and services from companies that have implemented programs to give back to society. That preference extends to other matters as well. They prefer to work for or invest in these companies. A smaller share, but still nearly half, say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from these socially conscious companies.

So today’s point is this:  while doing well by doing good isn’t a mandate, consumers are paying attention, and if your business isn’t, you might be falling behind.  To paraphrase Dylan, the times are a-changin’ yet again.  I’ve pointed out before that marketing today isn’t about you but about us – your consumers and our connections to your business.  That outward focus needs to mirror the concerns and solve the problems of your customers, who clearly are more socially conscious than they’ve been.

Those are how these pieces connect in my mind – how about in yours?

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Strange Brew

“Strange brew, killin’ what’s inside of you”.  That’s the refrain of Cream’s 1967 song and our Foodie Friday theme today.  I got to thinking about this as the “pink slime” debate raged.  For anyone uninitiated, that’s a food additive that meat processors use and many of us unwittingly consume.  Suffice it to say it’s gross.  There was an article in the Wall Street Journal about it last week.  That piece got picked up in a post by Media Post about the controversy.  Not the best of things to read around meal time.  I don’t care to have ammonia in my food.  In fact, I definitely don’t want anything in my food that I would not be expecting and if there is something unusual in there it needs to be identified so I can make a decision about how brave I’m feeling.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 31:  Fresh ground ...

(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Every so often I think it’s good to remind ourselves that these types of products don’t make themselves and that food isn’t the only business that produces products that aren’t fully transparent with respect to how they operate.  Tracking pixels anyone?  As marketers, there’s really no upside in being nefarious.  In a connected world, we end up getting caught more often than not.  As people from Nixon to Clinton can tell you, the cover-up is way worse than the crime.

Let’s think about this from

Food adulteration is more than just your neighborhood fish counter selling you farm-raised salmon and telling you it’s line caught. It’s ingredients that can go in ingredients to make products sold by your reputable local grocer or restaurant.

New research shows that the most common food fraud ingredients are olive oil, milk, honey, saffron, orange juice, coffee and apple juice.

I find myself shopping more often at places that display clear labels about food origins and buying products with ingredient lists and nutritional information that go beyond what’s mandated by law.  Hopefully they’re being honest.  But why should I have to think about that?  Who makes the decision to lie?  What’s the situation in your industry?


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Getting Engaged

I’ve been married a very long time (33 years and counting, thank you) but I still remember getting engaged.  I have no clue what it’s like today, but it used to be a big deal and there was a ritual to be followed (I still thank my lucky stars that her father was way easier on me than he should have been…).  I spend a fair amount of time these days talking about getting engaged except it’s not with my daughters (statement of fact, not a complaint!).  Instead, clients and I talk about “getting engaged” with their consumers.  The thought struck me that it’s not all that dissimilar.

Three stone engagement ring - in yellow gold -...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An engagement is a commitment in either sense of the word (marriage or otherwise).  The only way one partner can figure out if the other is worth spending a lot of time with is to engage one another in dialog.  You know –  appropriate questions, thoughtful, honest answers – a dialog.  Obviously, you can’t spend your time telling your prospective partner how great you are.  Things go a lot more smoothly if you spend a fair amount of time telling them how great THEY are.  While it’s important to keep your own goals in mind, you can’t be a crazed egomaniac if an engagement is your objective.

The hard part is listening.  As marketers and content producers, we tend to put out a lot about ourselves and don’t take in enough about our potential customers.  As an aside, we do the same as managers in a lot of cases – “jobs” are often known as “engagements” after all.

We need to woo our customers, our users, our clients  – whatever you want to call those who pay the bills – as we would a potential spouse.  That’s the only way to get engaged.  Hey – who says romance is dead!

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Can Major League Tech Overcome Apathetic Fans?

I noticed something yesterday that got me thinking about the role tech plays in rejuvenating “old” products.  In this case, the product is baseball.  If you’re over the age of 50, baseball was probably the first sport you came to love and follow because when my peers and I were kids it truly was the American past-time.  College football and the NFL were a distant second; the NBA was barely surviving, and soccer was something they did in Europe.

The Harris Interactive folks have been running a poll for many years which tracks which sport fans label as “their favorite.”  As you can see in this document, baseball has been falling for most of the almost 30 years they’ve been measuring this.  In 1985, baseball was about even with pro football when fans answered the question “If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?”  By 2011, those responding “pro football” were 2.5x greater than those responding “baseball.”   One might expect that baseball’s audience would be older – there’s plenty of research to support that – and this poll identified the 50-64 segment as the one with the most avidity for the game.

The modern MLB logo was first used in 1969.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s why, when I read this piece yesterday, I had a thought.  Another research company, Scarborough, found about the same percentage of “avid” baseball fans as did the Harris study.  However, it also found a lot of strength for the game among Gen Y fans.  Generation Y are the “echo boomers,” the children of boomers like me.  In fact:

54% of Gen Y MLB Fans more likely than all MLB Fans to have used a mobile device to read a newspaper in the past 30 days, 84% more likely to have listened to internet radio in the past 30 days and 22% more likely than all MLB Fans to typically watch reality TV. Gen Y MLB Fans are more than twice as likely as all MLB Fans to have visited Twitter in the past 30 days, 59% more likely to have read or contributed to a blog in the past 30 days and 68% more likely to have watched video clips online in the same time period. Gen Y MLB Fans are 131% more likely than all MLB Fans to have visited in the past 30 days and 65% more likely to have visited in the same time frame.

So this is my thought.  The game isn’t any faster nor has there been a breakthrough in game presentation that is stirring interest.  What is going on here in my mind has to do with the thing that MLB does better than any other sports league ( and I say that as someone who was once responsible for this at a major sports league):  digital media and technology.  Baseball’s tech arm, MLBAM, is widely recognized as the leader over the last decade.  Their commitment to make their games available on all devices was revolutionary at the time and their “At Bat” product is terrific.  I think this is what’s driving the reemergence of the sport among younger people.  It’s accessible, it’s presented in a manner they understand, and it’s everywhere they are.

Could it be that new technology is making our oldest professional sport new again?  What do you think?  How can it do the same for other “old” businesses?

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