Thursday, March 26, 2009

This is Your Brain on Brand Loyalty

A new study just came out on how we make choices in the March 25 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience. The brain research has major implications for marketers.

The original study, done in 1956, showed that after choosing between two similar home appliances, women claimed that the one they picked was better and the one they rejected was worse than they originally thought. But no one really understood why.

Now new technology that allows researchers to look into peoples’ brains and study its parts as they are making decisions, can help us better understand how people make choices.

The research was done twice, once while people were deciding what vacation destination they preferred (Greece or Thailand), and after they chose Greece as where they wanted to go.

As the research participants were mulling over their choices, the candate nucleus or part of the brain that attaches emotional significance to things, became much more active. After they had selected Greece people were asked to view both options again. When they viewed Greece, the candate nucleus became even more active than before. But when they looked at photos of Thailand, the brain's activity slowed dramatically.

What the heck is she telling me this for? Because we are marketers. People make decisions every day about whether or not to buy our products or services. We try to convince them to choose us. But if they don’t choose us, this research shows that the case against us they made during decision-making strengthens. It’s a normal effect of human brain processing. The dating implications are huge – but that’s another story.

This research strikes the very core of brand loyalty. When a customer chooses our brand she decides she likes us more than the other choices. And she convinces herself (or at least her brain does) that she's made the right choice. The brain sends out all these signals making her believe her choice is by far the best product out there.

So as marketers we need feed that choice when it's originally made and nurture it. And show this customer our love. Because if she chooses another product, which is unlikely unless we really screw up, she will repeat that same investment process again. And bringing her back is really, really hard.

Remember touch point marketing? That 90s term invented by some advertising or marketing guru who said at every point we interact with the customer we have to deliver the same level of service and quality to keep her loyal to our brand. That wasn’t just a catchy slogan. He or she didn’t know it, but that’s how our brains work. We are loyal because once we make a decision we convince ourselves that the decision is right.

So if someone calls your company and goes through computer hell to get an answer to a question – hello every automated customer service department or one that is located on the other side of the planet – it chips away at that loyalty. If our product doesn’t work right the first time it chips away at brand loyalty. If tech support doesn’t call you back within 24 hours, or ever, it chips away at brand loyalty. And when our customer decides to leave - despite what her brain originally decided - it's a done deal.

Here’s my story. I really like Verizon Wireless for my cell phone service. Everywhere in this country that I go except at the top of the La Jolla canyon and on a mountain in Yosemite, my cell phone has worked. Others have failed when I cross from Maryland to DC. Or go to a different state, etc.

And the Verizon Wireless people are really nice to me. I was supposed to get $150 worth of rebates on two Verizon phones and I never got them. So I called Verizon Wireless customer service and within seven minutes they took $150 off my phone bill. And said they were sorry. Turned out I wasn’t the only one. And every time I have dealt with them they made me feel valued. Every time.

So then I decided to switch everything to Verizon Fios – Internet, cable, land line (yes I still have one). And Verizon Fios really, really screwed up. Two days before I was supposed to transfer my service they shut off my old Internet which was also through Verizon. And I’m a home based business. Two full days.

So I spent the better part of the first day trying to get Verizon to turn my service back on. And I spent two hours going from person to person until I finally ended up in India yelling at some poor guy I could barely understand who read to me from his service manual. Another 2.5 hours later after being put on hold countless times while he called America, he finally concluded that they couldn’t turn it back on. So I told him to cancel everything.

And then the Verizon Fios people showed up at my door two days later because the guy in India has no power whatsoever - even to tell them to stop the service call. And once a month after that for about six months some Verizon Fios guy would show up at my door to change my service back.

But I was done when I finished with the guy in India. I called Comcast who came out the next day and turned all of my service back on. And I converted everything in my house to Comcast. They also explained that Fios (even with its commercials that have spooky houses and people with no service who go with other companies) isn’t really all that different than they are.

But I still kept Verizon Wireless for my cell phone service. Because when I deal with them, my brain tells me again and again I've made the right choice. And I will never, ever in a million years switch to Fios because when I even think about that situation my brain shuts off.

My candate nucleus made that choice. Then it validated it. Over and over again. And that is what brand loyalty evidently comes from. It’s primal and it’s a survival thing. It tells you to move on and stay with the decision you made. Try convincing someone to switch brands if they’re really loyal. Doesn’t work.

That’s my post for the day.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reality Bites: Nurturing and Keeping Your Talented Millenials

We’ve all read far too much information about the 80 million strong Millenial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000. Those of us who have worked with them know they are different than past generations entering the workforce.

They’ve been coddled, gotten pretty much whatever they wanted, and have a sense of entitlement more likely to be found in prep school and Ivy League grads than in someone with a few years of college that expects a signing bonus.

Why are they like this? Many reasons, among them they:

Played in little league with no winners or losers, where everyone got a medal.

Have no loyalty to companies because there were so many jobs they could just pick up and leave.

Only take "yes" for an answer.

Are tech savvy multi-taskers who talk, walk, listen and type, and text.

Have a simple set of priorities – It’s all about me.

Entire companies were created to teach people like me how to work with this generation. Some of the things these Millenial experts preach:

Coach rather than direct

Let them have a life, they’ll get the work done too

Feed into their sense of social responsibility

Remember when they care and are motivated they can get a new president elected.

Guess What Kids, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

But times have changed and the Millenials are going to have to change with it. They’ve never been through a recession. They don’t remember anyone getting laid off. And because they never knew anything but economic security, the world as it stands now is a rude awakening. Many don’t have the skills needed to compete in a cutthroat job market. What are their weaknesses?

They’re not used to interviewing – they grew up communicating by computer and cell phone not in person.

They’re used to getting handed professional development as a perk – and there are no more employer sponsored MBAs, or courses, period.

They can no longer make their own schedules and they must prove they are worth keeping.

They can’t get mentored because middle management has its own problems, if they’re still around at all.

So how can you help the bright young people you want to keep?

Tell them the truth with an optimistic voice – Yes times are tough but those of us who are older know that it won’t last forever. Economic downturns do eventually turn around. Yes it’s an absolute mess, but without optimism you’ve got nothing. And eventually it will get better.

Teach them how to network – Help them learn to get out and talk to people as well as use social media professionally, not just personally. Take them to industry events. Show them how it’s done. Let them learn more about your business. Have them give reports when they come back if they go alone. Make them feel valued.

Teach them how to use the old media. Help them link to other industry resources such as no don’t say it . . . print magazines and newspapers and academic journals and books. . . other than just reading things on line. Help them get more depth from information about your industry. Tell them to start watching the evening news.

Develop mentoring programs for young professionals. You may not have time but make the investment anyway. Take young staff under your wing and help them figure out how to get ahead in your company. Ask what they want from your company and try to help them get it.

Help them learn to work as a team. This is very 1980s, but put your young people on cross functional teams with a range of staff from VPs to assistants and let them figure out how to address organizational and industry issues.

Prove that you are listening. I used to work for a company where the top management would ask me what I thought, nod and ask questions and then completely ignore it. It made me feel like an idiot and I stopped caring. Demonstrate that you’ve taken your young professionals' advice under advisement and if you don’t use it tell them why. Let them help you navigate the social media world professionally, they know how to do it for themselves, let them help you do it for your company.

Thank them. There are many tales of millenials who take the money they’ve got, sublet the apartment and decide to just travel or drift around rather than stay in a place of enormous pressure. Or they go home and live with parents and go back to school. If you want to keep yours, let them know how much you value them. And let them move ahead, because they’ve earned it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jim Kramer vs. Jon Stewart - PR Stunt or Real War?

If you’re a devotee of the Daily Show, and these days who wouldn’t be, you’ve heard/read about the war between its host Jon Stewart and Jim Kramer of CNBC’s Mad Money. It started when Rick Santelli, idiot extraordinaire had a temper tantrum at the Chicago Stock Exchange over the federal government bailing out people who are losing their homes. He railed against people who took subprime mortgages and couldn’t pay them.

Stewart was incensed by Santelli’s outburst especially because CNBC, which purports to “Have the financial expertise you need,” blamed the people who are losing their homes. At the same time, the network appeared to have had no clue that the market was about to blow up.

Stewart has been playing clips of Kramer recommending people buy General Motors and some of the investment banks right before the stock market went into a tailspin.

OK, I’m not a Wall Street person, and have certainly lost my fair share of money in this mess, but as a PR person I’m really impressed. Stewart starts complaining, the talking head newscasters on the broadcast networks and the bloggers turn it into a “war,” and suddenly everyone is watching. Last night when Kramer came on the Daily Show, it had one of its biggest audiences in a long time.

Was this a PR stunt, or Jon Stewart echoing the rage of the American people that we’ve all lost tons of money, while the “experts” and the “financiers” walked away rich? Probably a bit of both.

But it sure goes to show how much media you can get if you hit the nation’s emotional center head on. And Stewart has.

The actual face-off wasn’t that dramatic. The first 10 minutes Kramer stuck to his talking points which were all mea culpa, etc. and Stewart waited. Kramer's talking points reminded me of Ronald Reagan's "I can't remember."

Kramer’s messages -

“We all got it wrong.”

“I’m chastised.”

“I am trying to expose this stuff and get regulators to do their jobs. Don’t you want people like me to expose that?”

“Absolutely we should do better.”

“The market was going up for a long time, and we all thought it would continue.”

And my personal favorite – “I thought Bear Stearns was honest.”

It’s amazing to me that a comedian like Stewart could be so incredibly smart. He went after Kramer in the best possible way – far more strategically than any of the reporters who cover the financial markets these days.

First he let Kramer talk for awhile – interjecting a few lines here and there when he almost couldn’t stop himself. Some included. . .

“Stop talking to me like I’m five,” as Kramer tried to explain that he didn’t really understand what was going on in the market.

“It seems to me that there are two markets, Stewart said, one that real people invest their 401Ks and futures in and we’re told to get in and stay in for the long-term, and another where there are piles of money being exchanged. The second one is done in back rooms by people who will do anything to make more of it as quickly as possible.” I’m paraphrasing but the point is right.

“You are pretending that you are some dew-eyed innocent, don’t pretend that you didn't know the tsunami was coming.”

“You have a show called Fast Money – I’ll teach you too be rich,” said Stewartwhen Kramer tried to explain that he really isn’t an expert.

Then Stewart showed clips of Kramer when he was a hedge fund manager saying all of the things that he’d explained in the beginning of the show he didn’t do. The clips basically talked about how you must manipulate the market, and the minds of investors and the media, to get stocks and funds to go up and hedge your bets.

So as a PR person what do I take away from this?

The “I didn’t know, they hoodwinked me too, I’m on your side” approach that so many PR people think will make their talking head look sympathetic doesn’t work anymore. The country is tired of it. Welcome to the new world order. We have a president who doesn’t evade, make excuses, hide from the truth and his responsibilities. People are starting to expect honesty - what a refreshing concept.

Kramer would have been much better off if he’d borrowed from Obama’s approach and just said to Stewart, “You know what, you’re right, I screwed up, good people are hurting and I lost a lot of money too (which is probably not true) and I’ve learned from this experience. . . blah, blah, blah. Next time I will do it differently."

Of course, Kramer’s ego would never have allowed him to do that. Nor would the people pulling the puppet strings behind the curtain.

Wake up communicators. The rules of the game have changed. People are tired of the bullshit. We’ve had eight years of it and we’re done. If you want to be a successful PR person in these tough economic times tell the truth – even if it’s ugly.

Here's your link to the show:

Monday, March 9, 2009

Four Ways To Maximize Your Web Site for Marketing

Dori Kelner, co-owner at Sleight of Hand Studios, a visual communications firm in Fairfax, VA, gave a talk at IABC’s February independents’ lunch. She discussed search engine optimization (SEO) and gave advice on how to make sure your Web site is set up for optimal marketing.

Here’s a summary of her talk with some marketing insight added by Stern Communication, which arranged the talk.

1. Hire a Developer Who Really Knows Online Marketing

Many developers will say they optimize for search engine optimization but they really don't know how to do it. Here are key questions to ask potential web designers before you hire them.

How do you handle on-page optimization versus link building?

Your potential developer should explain that on-page optimization is about providing relevant content (This is text on pages, including headlines and copy, that is sprinkled with key words so it will search higher) and meta data (These are the tags used in the coding of your site that search engines read)to drive people to your site. Link building is about getting other relevant Web sites to link to yours.

***Relevant content is used a lot and it basically means what you think it means, information that matters to your business and your marketing.

A new Web site should follow the basics for on-page optimization and work at organic link building (natural linkages among your site and others related to your business). An established Web site should monitor link progress and further leverage other on-page factors such as headlines.

Who will develop content and what languages do you use to write the Web site code?

Make sure that a writer experienced in SEO is developing the content for you. She should know how to research keywords, populate meta data, and write for people who are interested in your business. After all, you are not selling to the robots(the invisible to us code readers, such as Google) even though they will be reading your code.

The developer should indicate that he uses HTML, with semantic mark-up and CSS. What does this mean? HTML is the language of the Internet, this is what the robots can read. Semantic markup and CSS are the way the code is styled. For example, the code that says that your text is to be displayed with the color red and 12 point Arial font should be in a file separate from your content. It’s not important to the robots and this way they won’t read it.

You should be concerned about Web sites coded in some formats such as Flash. Right now these are not robot friendly. You also don't want your developer to use JavaScript to code for navigation on your Web site.

2. Align Marketing Goals with Design of Your Web Site

Good search engine optimization (SEO), like good Web site development and smart marketing, starts with defining the goals of your Web site.

Some key questions to ask are the same questions you would ask of any marketing vehicle:

• What types of products or services am I selling?
• Who are my key target audiences?
• What am I trying to accomplish - increase traffic, improve brand awareness, improve visibility, sell directly from the site, etc.?

Your goals will help you determine the right content and set key performance indicators (KPI or how we measure success) to monitor your progress.

For example, Sleight-of-Hand Studios is building Web sites that are aligned with the business plan and marketing strategy of their clients, so it is careful to build sites based upon clients’ marketing goals.

3. Design and Measure Key Performance Indicators

KPIs must be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Some examples are we want our site to:

• Rank in the top five results for a specific keyword within 6 months
• Increase traffic 10% by the end of the year
• Get 30 new e-newsletter sign-ups within two months
• Sell 500 high-margin items by September 1st.

Once you set these KPIs, you can monitor your progress and adjust your SEO to achieve them.

4. Maximize Meta Data and Content for Search Engine Optimization

Here are a few hard and fast rules to make sure your site scores high on the search engines for the key words you’ve chosen.

Make sure you use the right search terms. There are many ways to research the terms that you will need to help clients and prospects find your site. A few suggestions: Look at the Web sites of your competitors and the types of words and phrases they are using. Think about the key terms that you use when selling face to face. Ask what are the current buzzwords in my industry?

Create content that is of value to your reader. You need to provide information that is valuable and then place your key words into the text you’ve written. Don’t let search dictate content, let the market dictate it and then optimize for search. Aim for 2-3 relevant keyword phrases per page.

Create valuable linkages to other sites. You want companies that are related to your business to
link to your site. One way to justify why they should is to provide industry information. Put up research papers, link to RSS feeds, or provide a searchable database that will be valuable to others in your industry. The more important industry information used on your site the higher it will score on a link building algorithm.

Be sure that all meta data is filled out in the code of your Web site. This information is included in meta data:

Page Titles - These are the titles that come up at the top of your browser window. They should be unique on each page and incorporate a relevant keyword term for that page. These are not headlines which are considered content, they are how you tag each page with code.

Descriptions - These are the text that the browser reads with the search results. It should be unique and a variation on the page title.

Heading tags - These are the headings in the content that the audience reads. Just making the text bigger does not make it a heading; it must be tagged as such in the code. The headings on a page should incorporate a variation of the keywords you’ve identified.

Make good use of anchor text. Let's say you have a page that discusses top-of-the-line flashlights. Other pages on your website may make references to these flashlights, and you will want to link those pages to the flashlight page.

You may be tempted to say, "To learn more about our flashlights, click here." The phrase "click here" is anchor text; it is the text that links you to the flashlight page. You want this text to be meaningful and use a keyword phrase. A better way to code this would be, "See our full selection of high-quality flashlights." Now you have created a meaningful linkage on your website.


Dori provided a list of great websites for marketers to learn about SEO. These include:;;

Good tools for keyword discovery include:

Google; Yahoo; Wordtracker; SEO Book; Overture

(Sleight-of-Hand Studios integrates its expertise in business, technology and design to extend brands to all media – web, print, photography, presentation and d├ęcor – with the assurance that your image is distinctive, memorable, consistent, and repeatable. SOH translates your vision into strategic design).

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Capturing the Hearts and Votes of the Millenials

You’ve all probably heard this story or read it somewhere, the one of how Barack Obama transformed the presidential campaign by reaching out to the young. It’s a compelling tale and has many lessons for all of us. The speakers were at an Ad Club DC lunch yesterday. They talked about the campaign's use of technology, advertising and mobile marketing to win. Here's who talked:

Andrew Noyes, a reporter for Congress Daily who writes on technology and government and writes the award winning Tech Daily Dose blog for the National Journal.

Greg Pinelo, of Washington's GMMB, one of the lead Obama campaign agencies. Greg was one of the people staying up all night to create new ads to air in battleground states the next morning.

Jeff Lee, the President of Distributive Networks who worked on the Obama mobile marketing campaign.

Here’s a summary of some of the best information they gave.

Andrew Noyes

Harnessing social media - Obama was the first national candidate who understood the power of Web video. He was on all of the social networking sites – My Space, Facebook, YouTube, more than a dozen sites in all.

Mobile volunteering - To make it easier for volunteers to work on the campaign they asked and got an IPhone application that let people organize their contact lists for battleground stakes. So volunteers could get a phone list by email and call anyone, anywhere. The campaign even had its own ring tone.

Let your voice be heard – The campaign team knew that it had to talk to the young the way they communicated. Obama modeled his campaign after the social networking world – creating a citizens' briefing book so people could keep up to date on the campaign and allowed a lot of opportunity to comment. This created the same two way dialogue that this generation has in social media.

Noyes’ question though and one that no one has answered is was this new openness found in and now in the new White House web site and really two way communication?

What did the campaign do with all the comments it received? Did it really gauge what people were saying, and adjust strategy based on feedback? It has never answered this question.

My personal experience was the comments didn't get answered, and I don't think they went anywhere. I wrote to the campaign multiple times – I am a PR person after all – and suggested approaches, etc. The answer was a canned message which all of the candidates had saying thank you, your voice has been heard, we can’t answer everything, and thank you again. One thing is certain, if it was all smoke and mirrors in terms of two-way communication it still worked.

New web sites encourage our participation – The Obama administration continues with its policy of openness, such a refreshing change after 8 years of talking points and non-answers. An industry has sprung up monitoring government sites such as,,

Here are some of the new monitoring sites to check out:

Show Us the Data – You can ask for federal government reports and information on this site.

ChangeTracker - An experimental new tool that watches pages so you don’t have to. When the White House adds or deletes anything ChangeTracker will let you know.

The Sunlight Foundation – Which demands transparency in government. It’s current campaign – "Read the Bill."

Greg Pinelo

His talk was on branding the presidency. The brand promise was encapsulated into four words which were emphasized in ads and speeches. I've included links to YouTube videos so you can see how the messages were used.

Change – Obama will change government and the path of the nation

Unity – Obama is someone who can unify the country

Honesty – Obama will tell you the truth even if it’s not good news

Hope – We can all do better.

Pinelo also talked about how it was easier with Obama because he was really, really good at delivering these messages. He said every time McCain changed course or a new attack ad came on they would revisit these four core messages and create something to reinforce at least one of them. That is smart marketing. And that’s why Obama seemed so rock solid and McCain who changed his messages it seemed like almost daily, sounded like he didn’t know what to do.

Jeff Lee

This pioneer in mobile advertising made a compelling case for why it was a great strategy to reach the young. Here is part of it.

There are almost 263 million cell phones in the United States.

People have them with them 19 hours each day.

The majority of text messages are read in 15 minutes and responded to within 60.

The numbers for the young are even higher.

Obama’s mobile strategy was very straight forward. He committed to this channel early and controlled it. They leveraged mobile’s unique strengths. They were careful about the number of texts they sent out – and conscious that people reached had to pay for them.

Two key things the campaign did was build their opt-in list and develop robust participant profiles. They got information on mobile users by putting their call to action everywhere – people filled out cards at Obama events, they ran mobile information in their ads, they screened text messaging codes behind Obama at campaign speeches.

The list was so well built that when they texted people to tell them they planned to announce Obama’s VP choice in real time (so mobile users could get information the same as everyone else) the opt-out rate was only 2-3%.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jon Stewart onTwitter: You're Not Paying Attention

A hilarious segment on last night's Daily Show discussed Twitter and how it distracts you from getting anything done. It showcases Congressional Twittering during sessions, and brings up the point that "Everyone can see what you are saying." He also mentions there's a reason why schools don't allow social media in classrooms - because kids won't pay attention.

Many companies and associations are now doing Twitter updates from conferences and other meetings - hoping to build enthusiasm and engagement. It can work, but you have to actually Tweet about what's going on in the room. And there's always the issue that someone is misinterpreting content.

Here's a guideline on Social Media ethics - Everyone is going to see what you say. Remember it can haunt you and go viral. Pretend you are in a meeting with your boss. Don't say anything you wouldn't tell him or her to their face.

Had a recent situation like that where I complained about inedible food at a PR lunch. A hotel in VA served us brown flavored globs of meat in gray sauce with onions that made the shish kebob vendors in Manhattan look like gourmands. I was starving - and ate it - and then got really sick afterwards.

So I complained. The lunch cost $45.00, and I didn't learn anything. The speaker's contribution to my knowledge was basically "You need to put a link to your press release on your home page." Duh. The problem was the company sent someone to speak who was a techie not a media person. When we started asking him questions about Google Analytics and how to measure success of your site, he had something to say.

So I sent a note to the person who asked me to register for the next one about the food. I said it was really disgusting - and got my head handed to me by some PR person whose web site doesn't say anything except we do appropriate things for big companies and charge them a lot of money. That's what most PR is and that's why we're different. We tell clients the truth even if it isn't pretty. Because in the end if you BS them you won't be successful for them or you.

She said "And you're in PR?" Sorry, I suck at being diplomatic unless I have my client voice on. Here's an alternative - "Your food could have been improved should you have chosen a location that didn't give food poisoning to its guests."

Anyway, my point is remember if you tweet something online it gets passed around - a lot. And in this economy none of us can afford to alienate people even if we would rather live in a cardboard box than work the way they do.

So that's my rant for the day. And here's my idol Jon Stewart with a solid reminder that the online world is a place where bits of unimportant information pass for analysis and news and that if you pay attention and think things through you can learn something. By the way, one of the reasons I adore him, is because he is direct too. It's a New York thing.

Sam Bee says Twitter has become such a big deal among legislators and the media elite because it's awesome.

By the way, look for a later post on how to deal with the millenials now that we've hit hard times. We no longer have to coddle them. All those people who've made money teaching middle managers how to deal with their newly minted college grads need to change their tune or glom onto another trend.

Read a recent article about millenials who spent a couple of years on Wall Street - got laid off and are cashing in what they've made, selling their apartments and traveling around the world. Those are kids with their priorities straight. More power to them.