Monthly Archives: October 2014

Whistling In The Dark

When we’re afraid of something but want to put on a brave face, we’re said to be whistling in the dark.  I suspect that many marketers are, or should be, doing exactly that.  It seems, you see, that the level of mistrust of what brands are putting out there is so high that a significant portion of online users trust a stranger’s opinion on public forums or blogs more than they trust branded advertisements.


The Forrester folks found that nearly a third – 32% – of people feel that way.  One response, therefore, might be to consider a shift to content marketing.  As I’ve written before, since much of that sort of marketing is what one might term “sneaky” I think it compounds the mistrust situation.   Maybe the right answer is to find and engage brand advocates – someone who enjoys your product or service so much that they’re eager to tell others about it.  It’s not hard to find them – see who is engaging with the social content you’re putting out there for starters.  Maybe offer them a discount.  Maybe give them “insider” access or let them know what’s in the product pipeline.

Most of what you’re trying to do is to make them feel special because they are.  They are a trusted resource to their networks and what they say is more believable to many than what you have to say as a brand.  Of course that also means you can’t lie to them or mislead them.  The stakes become higher since they can tear you down just as quickly as they can help you grow.  Then again, since we’re always trying to be consumer-focused, open and honest in our marketing, this should not be an issue.

We can whistle in the dark and pretend all is well or we can think about improving what we’re doing every day without hanging on to legacy thinking.  Your call.

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud

Shining A Light On Flashlights

You probably have a flashlight app on your phone.  I know I do.  It comes in quite handy as you’re fumbling around when you get home later than expected and haven’t turned on any lights to help you find the door lock.  Prevents one from tripping over any stray cats in the driveway too.

Here is something you might not know about your flashlight app or about any other app for that matter.  It may be doing way more than just lighting up your way.  It may be spying on you and leaking data about you all over the place.  According to a piece on Wired this morning:

The FTC has clamped down on another flashlight apps for doing downloading data for advertisers without informing consumers, and these seemingly innocuous apps are only a small part of the problem. On my phone, several apps want access to information they probably shouldn’t, and odds are, that’s the case with your phone too. The lesson here is that when it comes to mobile software, there’s really no such thing as a free app. But there’s a corollary, and it’s that this whole world of mobile app privacy is both murkier and more troubling than things are on your computer desktop.

Scary.  I did a quick audit of the dozens of apps I have installed on my phone and while most don’t seem to ask for more permissions than might seem logical, a few do.  One app – which ostensibly is there to help me find recipes – asks for permission to :

  • find accounts on the device
  • add or remove accounts
  • read sync statistics
  • create accounts and set passwords
  • use accounts on the device
  • read sync settings
  • toggle sync on and off

Of course I went to read the FAQ section of the app and while it was easy to read it mentioned nothing about what and why it was collecting the data.  So I checked the Privacy Policy which did explain it in legal terms. For most people, that is far less friendly than plain English.  The format of the policy made it almost impossible to read on the device.  It was presented unlike any other piece of information about or in the app.  This tells me one thing: they’re hiding something.  The app is now gone even though I think I know why they want those permissions (the app has its own account system to let you save recipes, shopping lists, etc) because I don’t trust it.

We build trust via transparency and good behavior.  Stealing user data to sell to advertisers without an explicit permission from the data’s owner is neither.  Some smart mobile company is going to position itself as being the “completely safe” one, an environment with apps that don’t leak data and where encryption is the norm.  Until then, check your app permissions.  You might find it illuminating.

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Everything Is A Special

Foodie Friday Fun this week begins with a chalkboard.  I went out for dinner last night and the place I went was small.  After having been seated, one might expect the server to produce a menu.  He didn’t.  Instead he pointed to a chalkboard hanging on wall next to the open kitchen.  “Tonight’s menu is there” he said.  There were no specials – everything was a special.

The menu was small.  A few different types of crostini, two different types of pasta, a fish, a lamb dish, a beef dish, a duck dish and dessert.  Only three.  Everything was based on the ingredients available locally that day.  Having researched the place prior to going, I’d seen an assortment of previous menus.  One or two of the dishes popped up several times but the menus really varied from day-to-day.  They reflected the philosophy of the owners: fresh seasonal ingredients prepared simply.  Which of course got me thinking.

Many businesses try to be all things to all people.  They produce products in response to a competitor’s success.  Brand and line extensions are one way to leverage all of the brand equity we’ve built up.  The reality is that if the “larger menu” isn’t done as well as the array of choices that built that equity in the first place, we end up diluting what we’ve built up in the consumer’s mind.

The local ingredients had another advantage – much lower costs since they weren’t being shipped from around the world.  The prices at this place were reasonable.  They didn’t serve wine or liquor although you could bring your own (and they didn’t charge corkage!).  Again, maintaining a wine list was a distraction for them.  No inventory can go bad when you don’t have any.

I think this place’s philosophy is a good one for businesses to emulate.  Do a few things well.  Make everything special.  Make your products with the best “ingredients” you can find, where they be the people who provide your services or the materials from which your products are made.  Quality over quantity?  Maybe, although I think quantity comes from quality.  What do you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food

What’s Missing?

Big headline this morning on eMarketer.  It reads:

Good News: Publishers and Media Buyers Both Like Native Ads

I don’t know about you but I feel so much better that native advertising is here to stay.  For those of you unfamiliar with the subject, native advertising is ad content that presents itself as editorial.  Maybe you’re reading the website of a popular magazine and there is an article on what to look for when buying sunscreen.  Maybe you don’t notice that it’s written by the head of marketing from a sunscreen manufacturer.  If you know that, does it call into question any of the information you’re reading?  It does in my mind if that information recommends that you look for certain things on the label (you can bet they’re on HIS product’s label), etc.

This piece over at copyblogger can show you more examples.  My guess is that you had no idea that some of what you’ll see is advertising.  That’s the issue I have with the headline.  Publishers are represented.  So are advertisers through their media buyers.  What’s missing?

You are.  We are.  Consumers are.  They may like it but do you?  I don’t.  And this does not make me feel any better about it:

In a June 2014 study by Mixpo, nearly three-quarters of US publishers said having a native advertising offering was important. And they were taking action. The majority of respondents offered a native advertising solution, and an additional one-fifth planned to do so within the next few years at most.

I don’t want to have to wonder if anything I’m reading is editorial or advertising.  I don’t want to be researching my research to ascertain if it’s unbiased or quietly (some might say sneakily) advocating a brand.  I don’t like native ads unless they are clearly labeled as “advertising” and I’m sad that what I think (or what you think) doesn’t seem to be part of the equation that’s formulated about its future.

What’s your take?

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Filed under Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Brand Actions And Words

I’ve mentioned in this space before that brands have a lot less – if any – control over how they are perceived by consumers due to the rise of connectivity among those very same consumers.  That contention is supported by some research from The Society For New Communications Research which conducted a study on the topic of Social Media and Societal Good.  Main conclusion?

The reputation of a company is no longer defined by what they “report” or what they “say” they stand for. Instead, they are increasingly defined by the shared opinions and experiences of socially-connected consumers.

You can read the study here.  It’s interesting although not particularly surprising.  While the vast majority of people still rank the quality of products and services are the most important reason behind how they form impressions about a brand, some other traditional factors are ranked way down the list in importance.  Only 43% say that a company’s ads are either mildly or very important in forming impressions while  76% cite family and friends that way.  While many brands are obsessive about their social media presence, only 28% of consumers use that to form impressions.  Interestingly, since 78% mention the customer care program as important, perhaps the social media emphasis needs to be more about caring and less about sharing.

So while word of mouth matters, so too does how a company behaves in the world as a whole.  We don’t yet seem to be at a place where consumers research a company’s social and societal impact before doing business.  However, when a company’s behavior comes to their attention – maybe through a news story, maybe through a friend – news of the negative societal impact of a company has impact and more so with women than with men:

When quality and price are largely equal in a purchase decision, nearly three in five people report a moderate to strong positive impact on likelihood to purchase when they discover information on the positive societal impact of a company. 61% report a moderate to strong negative impact on likelihood to purchase when hearing news on the negative societal impact of a company.

So let’s behave, people.  We are what we do, not what we say we are or will do.  Our customers are paying attention.  Are you?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Reality checks

Disconnecting On The Phone

A report this morning from Kitewheel got my attention this morning. They “examined the current breakthroughs and breakdowns in engagement with today’s connected consumer.” The results aren’t very encouraging to those of us who like to think we’re in touch with the expectations of our consumer base

They hired some folks to survey consumers and marketing decision makers with respect to consumer expectation around experience and brand execution.  A few key findings:

  • 76% of consumers use mobile devices to compare prices and read reviews while shopping, yet 51% of marketers are not currently managing mobile apps as a consumer touch point.
  • 55% of consumers state frustrations in downloading an app that offers no functional difference from a business’ website.
  • 68% of consumer respondents expect a response to tweets directed at a brand, and one in three expect a response within 24 hours. Yet 45% of marketers state it is unlikely that their company can respond to every one of these social media opportunities.
  • 73% believe that loyalty programs should be a way for brands to show consumers how loyal they are to them as a customer; but 66% of marketers still see it the other way around.

In other words, we’re disconnected from those who access our brands via their phones.  We look at loyalty programs as consumers putting their hands in the air to show they love us.  They want them to be ways in which we show how much we love them.  Doesn’t sound like the basis for a happy relationship.

Five areas of disconnect were discovered including: mobile, social media, real-time e-commerce, omni-channel capability and brand loyalty.  Every one of those five has become far more important over the last decade and yet it seems as if many marketers are living in 1999.  As the study says, the overall journey of today’s consumer is frequently a broken one, with significant misalignment between consumer expectations and brand execution.  We need to think about how to fix that misalignment and do so quickly.  You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Shaving The Cord

You might have heard something over the weekend about a glitch in the Nielsen ratings system that affected the estimated audiences all the way back to March.  While that is kind of problematic for the TV industry, it was other Nielsen data that presents much more of a long-term problem.  As Cynopsis reported:

The top 40 cable channels have lost more than 3 percent of their distribution over the last four years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Nielsen ratings data. How to account for the decline, which exceeds the loss of subscribers? Pay-TV customers are signing up for less expensive bundles with fewer channels, says the WSJ. “What we are seeing is some cord cutting and some cord shaving,” Nielsen global president Stephen Hasker told the paper. “Consumer time and attention is shifting.”

You can read the Wall Street Journal article by clicking through.  As someone who spent a long time in the TV business I understand why channels are bundled.  Way back when, the market was far less fragmented and the business model evolved where there really weren’t tiers other than the true premium channels of HBO and local sports networks.  Today, even the “major networks” of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC attract audience ratings in the low single digits even for top programs.  Yes, DVR viewing can boost some of their audiences as much as 80% but think about it.  What’s the difference between watching “Gotham” via Hulu (the internet) or on your DVR (the cable bundle)?  Other than being able to skip the commercials on a DVR, not much.  In fact, one could argue that advertisers would prefer that consumers watch in the non-skippable internet interface.

The real point is that how consumers come to content has changed and yet the people who are the middlemen in offering the content – the cable companies – haven’t moved off a business model that evolved in the 1980s.  As the  Journal sates:

Data points are piling up to show “cord shaving” is for real. At least two pay-TV providers say about 10% of gross TV subscriber additions are customers who are taking a slimmed-down bundle—in contrast to the bigger ones with hundreds of channels that can cost upward of $100 a month.

So the choice for the providers, as it is for all of us in our businesses,  is to change or to shrink.  They can’t just keep raising prices.  At some point that makes the problem even worse as consumers pay more for channels they don’t watch.  What’s your solution?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media