Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Branding Lessons from a Master Marketer

For those looking to build a brand with a seemingly endless amount of cash to spend, the story of AARP’s transformation is one that can and should be duplicated. Most of us don’t have the wealth that this association has, but a lot can be learned from the steps AARP took to transform its brand into the powerhouse it is today.

Emilio Pardo, chief brand officer, AARP, spoke before the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG) on November 20th in Washington DC. Pardo said AARP took the stigma of getting older that was glued to its brand for most of its life, turned it on its head, and created a cult (my word, not his) around doing and getting what you want at 50-plus.

With 40 million members ranging in age from 44-62 (the bulk are in their 50s) AARP has an enormous challenge. Most of you have seen the data, but I’m always impressed by how rich the baby boomers are (or were until recently?).

They account for:
• 83% of consumer spending
• 70% of the country’s wealth
• And 51% are still working.

Here are the lessons learned from Pardo’s talk and the Q&A that followed.

1. Create core, positive, universal messages – Aging is not something people like to talk about. Yet their lives and needs are changing. AARP decided to focus on the good part. Its core messages are wrapped around three words all with big plus signs in front of them.

Legacy – Independence – Personal Growth

A host of services and how-too information that make these possible became packaged underneath these core messages.

2. Acknowledge and address differences among your target customers. Not all 50-plus are created equal – or in a similar life stage. Pardo talked about the differences by referencing three different types of 50 year-old women – all AARP customers.

• The Grandmother – She had her kids young, is taking Pilates or water aerobics, among others, may or may not be working and with her spouse or without, is embracing her golden years.

• The 50-plus mother – She had her kids late, had or has a career or a job, is the one with the gray hair at the elementary or middle school picnic. She delayed motherhood as long as possible, and now embraces it.

• The “It’s time for me” woman. If she had kids they are gone, if she didn’t she works, has at least some disposable income, looks great and is into self-improvement (back-to-school, learn an instrument, travel).

Understanding the variations in AARP members of similar ages is particularly critical because most are living in multi-generational households. And how complicated it is when you’ve got kids, teens, early career professionals, parents and even grandparents sometimes living under the same roof.

Key lesson: AARP members wanted advice not just on how to manage their financial future but on setting up one for their kids, particularly 20-something mothers for their daughters.

3. Connect and engage with customers through a wide array of media. The AARP web site has hundreds of groups focused on interests of its members. It has created social networking paradise, all under the AARP brand which appears on every page and level of the groups and site.

And you don’t have to be a member to explore them – but of course once you do they have your contact information. Pardo also pointed out that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 50-plus. The former AARP magazine called Modern Maturity, a name 50-somethings didn’t like to see in their mailboxes anymore, is now simply AARP Magazine. It extends the brand and exudes the joys that come with maturity – without saying so.

Of course, the big unanswered question in the room while Pardo talked is WHAT NOW? And he really couldn’t answer that. He was honest about it. He said things will get worse before they get better. And then he went off to try and figure out what to do next.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Capitalizing on the New Spirit of Inclusiveness

Everyone wants to make nice with Barack Obama these days but particularly in DC, with its eight year history of favoring those who give money to the party in charge and spout the party line, many don't know what to do.

If you watched Fox News for a few days after the election you know what I mean - it was like a short circuited computer - people who were used to spilling bile and cutting off anyone who disagreed with them suddenly had to report on the smart, African American who will now lead the nation for the next four years. They had espoused hope for so long they couldn't talk about it - and then I just stopped watching.

Obama's new message of inclusiveness, let's invite everybody to the table and figure out what to do as a nation, is in many ways just a return to the American spirit of we're all in this together - and family and community first. Although conservatives tried to co-opt traditional American values as theirs - it was only true for those like them. Now it's about all of us. And it makes perfect sense in the world of the Internet and social networking - we are all connected and we all have a voice - so why not listen to it?

So how do we as marketers - in this thorough mess of a world we live in - capitalize on this new message of let's come together. How can we employ it to build our businesses?

Here are some thoughts:

Reach out to all your employees. CEOs, particularly those who are very well paid, are not very popular these days. There are too many line workers getting laid off, and to many mid-level employees who are terrified of losing their jobs. Start a breakfast series - have your top management invite a rotating group of employees at every level and from every department to the conference room each month to share what they've heard from customers and/or ideas for new products or services. And let them know about and take credit for what you use.

Start a Mentoring ProgramYour public schools need you. Far too many local middle and high schools never see business people in their classrooms, even when they are studying a subject related to your business. In Chatanooga, TN a few years ago, senior executives of local companies met with teachers from local high schools and discussed the kinds of skills they needed in graduates who come to work for them. The curriculum changed to make kids better prepared to go to work in their communities and executives started coming into high school classrooms. It went a long way to building business/education partnerships and all benefited.

Open your doors to the community for a day.
Most people know very little about the businesses that live and breathe right near them. Work with the local Chamber of Commerce to schedule one day a year as a Business Open House. Arrange tours of your facilities. Let people meet your employees. If you make a product give out free samples. Explain what you do and the value you deliver. Get your local politicians involved too. The next time people need a product or service - they will think local.

Don't cancel the office Christmas party, invite families and kids of both employees and clients. Times are tough and people are scared. Good cheer goes a long way in rough times. There was an article in the Washington Post recently about the Great Depression (yes it was upsetting and the stock market went below 8,000 the next day) and how everyone pitched in and helped each other during that time. Let your employees, your customers, your vendors and their families know you care. Schedule the party for after the holiday season too - it will save you a bundle.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Four Ways to Help Clients Address their Fears

I was watching Bill O’Reilly last night on Jon Stewart and they were arguing about America. O’Reilly was talking about how we should be afraid of Barack Obama and Stewart was talking about how Americans are optimistic and want to believe, even in the worst of times, that good things are just around the corner. O’Reilly kept saying “But we don’t know anything about him and we don’t know what he will do.” And I wanted to scream “You are such an idiot.” But I didn’t have too anymore because they lost.

We are all still afraid – and it’s hard to shake it. We’re afraid that the stock market will never come back, that major American companies will continue to fail, that lay-offs are the end of job growth, that the mess can't be fixed. Our clients are afraid for their families, their jobs, their futures. They are under enormous pressure to rein in spending, to find ways to cut back on their advertising, marketing and communications budgets.

But Jon Stewart is right. Americans are a hopeful people. In this mess of a world we live in, we as marketers and communicators need to reassure our clients that better times will come – that we are there for them now and will be there when it improves. And we need to convince them that if they don’t keep investing in the future of their brands, they will be the losers.

So what can we do to keep our clients from giving into the fear?

1. Acknowledge it – This is the best piece of advice I ever got about parenting and it works with adults too. Your kid is afraid of spiders or the monster in the closet or a bad dream. Don’t dismiss it. Validate that the fear is real and let him talk about it. Then slowly talk about strategies for how he can deal with his fear and move forward in a positive way – one that is good for business.

2. Say thank you – Your clients have stuck with you for a long time because they know and trust you. Take them out to lunch, invite them to your home for a meal (how incredibly retro that is) or send a small gift that shows you know what they like and care about. It doesn’t have to be extravagant and spending a lot will send the wrong message. To quote my mother, it’s the thought that counts.

3. Keep those creative ideas coming – So your clients don’t have much of a budget these days and they cannot fund the new work or even some of the current work they want too. That doesn’t mean they don’t want their bosses to know they’re trying. Turn off the meter and ask them to tell you about some of their business challenges. Provide free advice or even a free service. It will be greatly appreciated.

4. Show you care – The best salesman I ever knew scoured his industry for new information and competitive intelligence. Then he’d share what he found with his clients every week or two. I’m not talking about creating an RSS feed – but picking through all the stuff on that feed and finding information that really matters to your client. Send what you find with a sentence or two about why it’s important. Read what industry experts are saying and cite information that may be valuable. Make sure you show you are thinking of them all the time.

And how should we as marketers maintain our optimism? Find something that makes you feel better and do it. I bake. I baked for the Virginia Obama volunteers and I'm still baking. Most of what I bake I give away, or feed to my kids, but the smell of cake, cookies and brownies - with real butter - reminds me of better times.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Marketing in the Social Space is Still Marketing

A colleague recently talked about a social networking presentation given at her public relations agency - 60-plus employees in New York City. She said that the young woman presenting was treated in a God-like manner because she was an expert in this new space - but what she said was Marketing 100.

I wrote about marketing for senior executives in the late 1990s and after five years handed off my newsletter because I thought there was nothing new to say.

Despite what the social networking consultants tell you - marketing is still marketing no matter what space your in.

What's changed is the medium and delivery system.

A recent Online Spin blog posting by Joe Marchese entitled "A Marketers' Dilemma" said in the social networking space marketers are trying a bunch of tactics including:

Humor - It seems some marketers think the secret to success is to be funny or edgy, in hopes of achieving "viral" status.

Responsiveness - Get my attention and keep it by in many cases flooding me with content.

Keep it Fresh - Adapt the style of the medium to your product/service.

Show you Care - Reward your customers for sticking with you in tough times and show you care by giving to others.

Each one of these is a basic marketing tactic as old as Coca Cola. The bottom line is you're in a new medium - respect its rules. His advice is basic marketing too. I've translated for those over 30.

You don't want your marketing program built too heavily around one particular tactic. Mix them up. Translation: We used to call this integration - it means use a variety of tactics that all work together to achieve a common goal.

You want to be funny, but not so funny that you lose your message. Translation - humor gets attention but it doesn't sell the product. Think of the MacIntosh ads on television with the fake Bill Gates refusing to acknowledge there are problems with Vista. They are hilarious but also drive home a product message that Microsoft is too rich and doesn't care about its customers.

You want to be responsive, but only when people are talking to you, or you have something very relevant to say. Translation don't flood me with information because I will stop paying attention.

You want to give something back to the conversation. Don't just talk to keep the dialogue going - Translation give me tangible benefits for why I should keep talking to you.

You want to be authentic. Translation - Blatant self-promotion turns people off. DUH.

The social networking space fascinates me and I know that whichever marketer figures out how to use it well early wins. But I'm still astonished by how all of the "experts" treat it as though nothing came before it. Go read a classic marketing textbook. It's all there.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Six Tips for Creating Winning Proposals

Proposal writing is an art, and it's one that many companies are not very good at. It took me a long time to learn how to write a concise and persuasive proposal - even though my background is writing.

So here's my advice:

1. Tell them something they don't know about their businesses. We all get swallowed by our own industries and need a fresh perspective. The Internet is a fabulous tool for learning more about your prospective client. Don't just look at its Web site - check out what their competitors, media and blogs are saying about them.

For instance, in a recent proposal to a health care association, I typed in What is a THEIR SPECIALTY? onto their Web site's search engine. And stumped them. Other stakeholders also couldn't answer the question. So I was able to tie my communications services to a needs assessment and got the work.

2. Call them and ask questions. Even the best RFPs need clarification. Create a short list of questions and call the person listed on the proposal as a contact. Make nice with them, without taking up too much of their time. Get them to talk about their challenges as they answer your questions. The benefit: When your proposal hits their desk, they will remember you.

3. Treat the proposal like its your first week on the job. Many companies use generic proposal templates and fill in the blanks, adding a few customized thoughts to make it seem special. Consultants hate giving out free advice. But if you cannot demonstrate how you will do the work - you sound just like everyone else. So treat the proposal like you've already been hired. Tell them more than you usually do. It will get their attention and make you stand out.

4. Create a provocative and value driven title. You must demonstrate creativity even in industries that aren't very exciting. Most proposals use basic titles with the company's name plugged in. PR firms often use titles like "Raising the Visibility of Xs New Widget," or "Helping X Enter the Emerging X Market." I'm sleeping folks. A proposal we submitted recently used a stage with a curtain drawn back and the heading "Taking Center Stage, Showcasing the Work of X." That worked.

5. Your proposal cover is the first thing prospective clients see. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it shouldn't look like your kid's report cover either. Use a graphic designer, even if it's your teenager who has a flair for design. Use strong, vibrant colors and an intriguing typeface. And spiral bind everything if it's printed - it's inexpensive and looks far more professional.

6. No typos ever. This may sound obvious but you'd be amazed how many proposals go out the door with typos and even the name of the company or senior executive spelled wrong. Very bad. It shows you are sloppy at best, and that you really don't care. Proofread - double check numbers, references, headlines and text. If you want to be on on the A-list, you must demonstrate you belong there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Mobile Marketing - Not Just for the Young

Recent articles on mobile marketing showed that it's gone from fad to fact and that it's becoming a more accepted way to reach consumers. Some highlights:

A study from Azuki Systems profiled in a media research report found that over 54% of mobile users surveyed said usage climbed by more than 25% over the last 24 months. Twenty percent said it jumped by more than 50%. The report did not say how many consumers were polled.

How much time did consumers say they spend on the Internet via mobile phone?

0-2 hours 61.5%
2-4 hours 22.4
4-6 hours 9.8
6-8 hours 4.5
8-10 hours 0.8
10+ hours 2.1

A new Limbo-GfK Technology Advertising Report being released this week reports that mobile marketing is growing and expanding past just text messaging. Brandweek reported on the study. The survey was based on responses from 1,000 adults polled via the phone. It reported:

104 million people (or an estimated four in 10 Americans) recalled seeing an ad on their mobile device between July and September 2008.

60 million Americans saw a text ad, a 42 percent increase from just nine months ago.

31 million viewed mobile Web ads.

57 percent of men surveyed said they viewed an ad on their mobile device. The demographic is not as young as you might think - about half were between the ages of 35-64.

Another article on Barack Obama's use of text messaging discussed its reach to young consumers. It reported:

Text message reminders sent to young people on or before the day of the 2008 primary elections increased the likelihood that they would vote by 4.6%.

2.9 million voters were reached by text with news of Obama's VP selection - yours truly among them. This helped Obama collect millions of mobile phone numbers for use in his campaign.