Tag Archives: Marketing and Advertising

Unlimited Gall

You might be aware of the battle going on in the wireless provider space which revolves around “unlimited” service. Yes, I meant to put unlimited in quotes because as it turns out there is no such thing. I’ll explain the details in a second but what this represents is mirrored in other businesses too and is a ridiculous bit of anti-customer behavior in which none of us should engage. Let’s see what you think.

First, the phone war. Verizon and T-Mobile are the primary protagonists. Verizon announced it was bringing back unlimited data so you could stream video on your mobile device to your heart’s content. Of course, as one article reminded us, unlimited is actually not:

“Unlimited” data also continues to be a misnomer. If you use more than 22GB of data, Verizon may throttle your connection. You also only get the $80/month price if you sign up for Autopay. If you don’t, it will cost $85/month. While this includes the $20 fee for adding a line, it doesn’t include your phone’s payment plan, so if you want to pay monthly to buy a phone, it will cost more.

T-Mobile responded with changes to their own so-called unlimited data plan. While the plan was unlimited previously, it added on charges for video quality over 480p (that’s not great). It also charged you extra to use your phone as a high-speed (meaning 3G quality) hotspot. It slowed the data down before. In the new plan, those limits are gone but T-Mobile says subscribers who use more than 28GB of data in a given month may see their speeds reduced due to “prioritization” in congested areas. In short, using the word “unlimited” is crap. There are still limits, and if you’re a consumer you have the right to expect that there really aren’t.

The phone companies (and Sprint and AT&T aren’t much better) aren’t the only businesses that do a form of bait and switch. It’s no secret that what you’re quoted as an airfare is also only part of the story since there are fees for bags, boarding passes, seats, and just about anything else depending on your carrier. The airlines say the fees are optional. Yeah, sure. And pay the fee at the airport and there is a fee to pay the fee!

Ever buy tickets to a show online? Convenience (whose convenience?) fees, printing fees, etc. Ever book a hotel room? Resort fees, safe fees, service fees, and more. My bank charges my business account a monthly admin fee even though they make money off the money I have in the bank. My cable operator charges me for sports channels I can’t refuse to take.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that businesses need to be upfront about their true costs to consumers or face a backlash when their dishonesty is discovered. I’d much rather know the true cost of something than to feel as if I’d been ripped off later. Wouldn’t you? Isn’t that how we need to treat our customers?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Asked And Answered

I’m constantly advocating that we listen to our customers. One of the ways that we can do that is through surveys. The problem with many surveys is that we don’t ask the right questions, or we ask the right questions in the wrong way. Let me explain.

Suppose I were to ask about Obamacare. I might ask if you approve or disapprove of the law. Simple question, right? Unfortunately, wrong. To someone on the right, the “disapprove” answer might come from a disagreement with the mandate that we all have health insurance. To someone on the left, the “disapprove” response might come from feeling that the law doesn’t go far enough and a single payer system is what we need. Same answers, very different perspectives.

We often make that same mistake by not digging deeply enough. We’re told to avoid open-ended questions in survey design (they’re not computer friendly, after all), but in so doing we end up with data which is ambivalent at best and useless at worst. We also make the mistake of asking both new and returning customers the same things. Their perspectives are different and one group should have better, different insights from which we can learn.

Try to remember that consumers get hit up with surveys everywhere these days. You can’t make a customer service call without being prompted to stay on the line after you hang up to complete a survey. Many websites will pop up a user-experience survey while you’re in the midst of trying to find some important information. We need to survey but we need to be judicious. We need to be as personal as we can and to be respectful of our consumer’s time by not asking 30 questions (3 or 4 are optimal).

As with anything in business, put yourself in the customer’s position first. If what you’re asking is vague, repetitive, burdensome, or impersonal, you’ve already got your answer. It’s in your low response rates.

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Smoke And Mirrors

I wrote last week about magic and distractions. Another magically-themed post today about the smoke and mirrors magicians use in their acts. That expression has come to mean something that’s deceptive or fraudulent, and a couple of pieces about the marketing business got me thinking about that term today. Even if you’re not a marketer (but who isn’t!), there’s something to take away.

One piece on Digiday dealt with ad-buying technology. You’re probably aware that the majority of digital ad buying (which will soon cover TV as well!) is done programmatically. No humans are involved other than to create the platforms on the vending end and choosing the ones to use on the buying end. The Digiday piece contains the following statements from an ad tech software developer:

I can say from first-hand experience that a lot of it is taped together stuff and nowhere near the sophistication that’s talked about…It is really easy to put up a website and mention “algorithms,” “machine learning” and a bunch of buzzwords. Nobody knows how that works. You can’t actually look into it, it is all just black boxes. But underneath, there is no real special sauce for a lot of these companies.

In other words, smoke and mirrors. Billions of dollars are spent this way and marketers are (finally) demanding to know how their money is really being spent. They’re turning on the lights and blowing away the smoke. Which leads to the second piece from MediaPost. It mentions “the terrible murky waters of rebates and contracts” and the same lack of transparency to which the other piece alludes. P&G is demanding more transparency, insisting that media agencies show that they are using providers that apply industry standards in measuring viewability and fraud. Ogilvy and Mather is reorganizing under a single P&L accounting structures for clients and thereby boosting transparency. Both of these moves are sending the magicians home.

We all need to ask ourselves about smoke and mirrors in our businesses. We need to challenge sources behind reports and assure ourselves that what we’re reading or hearing is rooted in fact and not someone’s fiction. A good practice outside of business too, don’t you think?

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Filed under Huh?, What's Going On

Digging Out Of A Hole

Let’s begin the new year with some (more) sobering news. People think marketers suck and don’t trust us. Actually, that’s not a recent development according to the Gallup folks who conduct an annual poll about various professions and how they’re perceived. Since Gallup has been conducting the survey (as far back as at least 2001), “advertising practitioners” have always appeared near the bottom of the professional rankings:

When it comes to rating the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, American adults rate medical professionals highly. But advertising practitioners? That’s a different story. In fact, just 11% of adults rate advertising professionals highly for their honesty and ethics.

That’s from the Marketing Charts summary of the poll. You can see the chart listing the various professions off to the side. Is anyone shocked by these results? Let’s think for a minute about many of the prominent ad stories of the past few years. They’re a litany of theft and fraud but those don’t really affect consumers. The big consumer ad story is probably the rise of ad blocking which is a response to irresponsible behavior on much of the advertising/publishing ecosystem.

That’s just the online world. Offline, one needn’t look very far to find examples of “free” offers that require one to submit a credit card, businesses suing their customers for accurate but negative comments on social media, and just about any political ad this last year. Each of these things further reinforces the negative perception that this study finds.

It’s a new year, and every new year brings the possibility of fresh starts. Maybe this is a good time for any of us who make a living within the marketing community to start digging out of this perception hole? We can do so by reminding ourselves that our families and friends are the consumers we’re pitching. Would you try to run a scam on them? Would they find the ad you’re running offensive? For those of you not engaged in the ad business, you’d do well to ask yourself the same types of questions. My guess is that we’re going to hear a lot about ethics this year. Let’s try to make our profession a better example of the right kind of ethical behavior. You with me?

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints, Huh?

Social, Smoke, And MIrrors

I’m frustrated. Some of the frustration is with myself because I can’t seem to explain why hiring certain people to work on your business is a bad idea when compared to hiring other kinds of experts. Some of the frustration is with businesspeople who don’t seem to grasp that the tools aren’t the business. In an effort to ease my aforementioned frustrations, let me vent a bit and, hopefully, in the process of doing so help clarify the issues.

With very few exceptions, a recent college grad is not an expert on how to use social media as a marketing tactic. I think the supposition is that since most of these kids have been on social media for a decade and are generally quick to adopt the next new thing that they’re qualified to lead your social media efforts. That is as ridiculous as assuming that I am qualified to repair my car just because I’ve been driving for 40 years. Rattling off buzzwords isn’t the same as understanding business goals. Doing things because they’re “cool” or because they appeal to the social media person isn’t a great strategy. Things are done because they serve the customer and in so doing, move the company toward one of more business goals.

The tools aren’t the business. We use the right tool at the right time for the right purpose in everything we do. We don’t decide “I’m going to use a hammer” when the goal is to cut meat. I’ve had discussions with potential clients who have no clue why they’re on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve had others who blast out a dozen pieces of content a day with no examination of their analytics to help refine the type of content they’re pushing, the frequency with which they do so, and the channel(s) they employ.

I’m open to suggestions for cutting through the smoke and mirrors. It’s not so much that my proposals to help aren’t chosen (and I know I’m speaking for several other senior consultant types here) but that the ones that get chosen are doomed to failure because they’re style over substance. This hurts everyone – platforms, clients, consultants, and ultimately customers. We can’t expect clients to invest in developing channels – particularly social – if we can’t produce results. We can’t produce results if we don’t understand the underlying business and its customer base.

Thanks for indulging me today. What’s on your mind?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Bursting The Bubble

Would you buy from you? Knowing what you know about your product/service and the team behind it, would you invest your hard earned capital in your company? Hopefully, the answer is yes, and it’s just as important that your response is based on real-world experience and not some vision you conjured up of your business as seen through a Vaseline-coated lens.

I raise this today because I read the chart you can see over there which summarizes the results of a study as reported by Marketing Charts. 200 Chief Marketing Officers were asked, by the CMO Council and Deloitte, how they prefer to spend their time:

When respondents were asked where they would prefer to spend their time as marketing leaders, a leading two-thirds said they’d rather team with leadership on global business strategy (66%), while a majority would also want to innovate and implement new approaches, products, and strategies (58%). Just 1 in 6 would prefer to spend their time in meetings and only 1 in 10 would want to review budgets and campaigns.

How this relates to the question I asked initially is simple. My questions put you in the position of the consumer. They imply that you’ve actually used your product or service and have done so as a consumer would (sort of like a secret shopper). The survey responses feel to me as if the CMO’s would prefer to live in a bubble, dreaming up new strategies and products while not particularly wanting to get their hands dirty in the real world activity of listening to customers.

You might wonder how any CMO can strategize without keeping the customer front and center. What’s interesting is that only 6% report that they are tasked with driving routes to revenue across all facets of the business globally. That reads like life in a bubble to me.

Each of us needs to burst whatever bubbles keep us away from our markets and our customers. Planning new products is fine but they can’t be solutions to problems that don’t exist or for which there won’t be demand once consumers realize they have a need (and hopefully they already do). You with me?

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Filed under Huh?, Reality checks

Fighting About Data

I think everyone knows that a lot of data is collected as we conduct our daily digital activities. Google and the other search engines know what we’re looking for, Amazon and other commerce sites know what we’re shopping for, Facebook knows what we like, LinkedIn knows who we know, etc., etc., etc. These data footprints are collected and in many cases sold to marketers and their agents to allow them to serve ads to you. If any of that comes as a shock to you, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last decade or more.

What you might not have thought about, however, is that the ads themselves collect data. How many times has someone seen it? What kind of person (that pesky data that the aforementioned guys have) has responded to an ad, and how well do the ads translate to sales (lovingly called the conversion rate as if someone is changing religions…). As it turns out, there is a bit of a controversy about who actually owns that data: the advertiser or the agency. The marketers believe that they are the rightful owners while the agency folks believe just as strongly that they are. Neither side feels that the publishers who serve the ads and, therefore make data collection possible, have much of a claim to it. Of course, even publishers came out ahead of one other group as the rightful owners in the survey: consumers.

As you can see in the chart, only 10% of advertisers and 15% of agency respondents believed that consumers had a claim to their own information. That’s tragic. Why? Because it represents a mindset that is ultimately self-defeating. It can lead to legal problems at worst and consumers opting out (if they can figure out how) at best. What have the advertiser or the agency done to give the consumer value for the data? Nothing, in my mind. One could argue that the ads they serve make possible the content the consumer enjoys, but those very ads make that enjoyment nearly impossible given the state of ad-serving today, particular in mobile.

Unless and until we on the marketing side see the consumer as at least an equal partner in our business and not as a bunch of rubes or just as “data”, the problems with ad blocking, anti-spam rules, and other protective measures aren’t going to go away. What will go away are the people represented by the very data over which the agencies and marketers are fighting. You agree?

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