Category Archives: Marketing

Updogs, Downdogs, Marketing, and Politics

Yoga gives you time to think. And updogs and downdogs get me thinking. Thinking about optimism and pessimism.  Thinking about how we view the world, ourselves, and each other.

Mothers are traditionally considered nagging, restrictive, etc. by their children. All of that is true, of course, and the species benefits by the concern of the mother (and father) for the welfare of their offspring.  “Look both ways before you cross the street.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” “Wear your coat.”  “Be careful.”  Sometimes negative sounding words are said with love and concern.  On the other hand, mothers cheer their children on, applauding every step forward, marveling at their beauty and cleverness. Downdogs and updogs?

When we are an updog, we bubble humor and positive vibes, let’s say. We look to the sun as we bend upward. We’re optimistic. Then we have to do something nearly the opposite, designed to stretch an entirely different set of muscles and ligaments. The downdog brings blood to our head, focuses our attention on the ground, and might be considered the narrow, pessimistic, protective position.

Actually both positions remind me of the Village People making large letters, but that is neither here nor there. (Peter Minister gnomes below)  Yoga is fun and I’m easily amused.

So, my thinking drifted towards the difference between blogs that are light and amusing and those which are serious and about subjects which are important to the future of life as we know it.  Various marketing analytics have proven pretty conclusively that the most popular blogs are positive.  Let’s restate that to simply upbeat and downbeat posts: updogs and downdogs.  We all have enough stress in our lives, it seems, that we do not actively go seeking more.  So it would appear that the best advice for bloggers and marketing folks is to emphasize the positive.  Dwell on the solution, not the problem so much.  And, whatever you do, do not disparage the competition.  Ignore them.  Point out how your product is strong in an area, not how theirs is weak.  Your customers aren’t dumb, they’ll figure it out.  Know what?  It works.

But this is an election year.  And while it’s true that gunfights and fisticuffs rarely break out on the floor of the US Congress today, the verbal equivalent is everywhere, all the time.  The scandals that arise, the anger expressed on all sides are amazing to me.  I’m wondering how anyone can conceivably consider THAT candidate when they are obviously a perverted, arrogant tool of corporate interests with a massive negative advertising budget.  How can that be?  In the political world, “going negative” is done repeatedly, because everyone believes it works in the political sphere.

Why would “going negative” work in the political sphere but not in business to business sales and marketing?  Even consumer products rarely go “very” negative.  A taste test, perhaps, but Tide would never say that Arm & Hammer is terrible laundry soap and just plain doesn’t work.  (And it makes you fat!  Actually I recall a beer company years ago that set up a hotline phone number you could call and they would say things like that about their competition.  It was a hoot, but it was traded virally, under the table, not advertised. It was funny because it was snarky and underground.) That would be foolish.  Hardly anybody would believe a blatant lie about a commercial product.  But people will believe mudslinging charges thrown back and forth regarding political candidates, according to studies. I don’t find negative ads engaging or educational, but that’s me.

I am much more reminded of Adolf Hitler’s Big Lie Theory, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”  I read that many years ago and rather hoped it was not true.  But time has shown that it is, in politics.  Hitler is also known for having said: “It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” And “The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.”  Big, simple, lies, often repeated. Sounds like a description of political ads this time of year.  So how is it that so many people vote against their own best interests?  How do we allow some of these horrible human beings to run for office and actually elect them?

Tis a puzzlement to me. Updogs and downdogs are both designed to do us physical good.  Optomistic and pessimistic blogs may not be equally successful, but they can each have been written with good intentions.  Not every product review on CNET is a glowing tribute.  We seem to have invested so much emotion and faith in our political views, that a party which aligns itself with one important political view of yours would appear to capture your heart without your brain considering ALL the views of that party.  Belief is strong.  And unquestioning.

There is a 2004 book (with an awful cover) called Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate — The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff,  Howard Dean, and Don Hazen.  They raised questions about how the right was so successful in framing the debate and winning the hearts and minds of Americans.  Well, it seems simple enough.  When you control the media, all the media, you are likely to be able to get your point of view across better and more persuasively than any other view.  Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Lucy were shows of another, more restrained age.  I’m not arguing for their return.  Far from it.  In recent years I’ve enjoyed Chuck, 30 Rock, Psych, Burn Notice, Glee, and bits and pieces of other shows.  I can’t abide the bad manners, anger, and side of humanity I see in so much of TV: reality TV, Fox News, and so on.  These are values we’re transmitting to our children.  We’re teaching them that those behaviors are acceptable…. or they wouldn’t be shown on TV as part of our commonly shared (accepted?) culture, right?  Tipper Gore wanted warning labels on rough rock lyrics.  The  poor woman must faint dead away if she listens to what passes for some “rap music.”  Why do people watch these things?  Why do people listen to these things?  They presumably reflect something already in their lives.  Or their lives come to reflect them.

Is there a conclusion here?  The same one that’s been around for hundreds if not thousands of years: we are each responsible for our vote.  That people are trying to manipulate us and make finding “truth” very difficult is pretty much the human condition. The search for The Truth is an arduous, but worthy goal.  I can’t help but believe that a strong vision of the future and an expression of specifics the person would fight for makes better political advertising than mudslingging.  Or do I mean “better” in terms of how I would like to think of our society, as opposed to what constitutes effective political marketing?  Which is why I like business to business marketing, and not political marketing.  Please vote next Tuesday.

The Trap Door on the Road to Change

In March of this year, the McKinsey Quarterly interviewed Chip Heath about his book  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. This being a fascinating topic to any marketer, I hastened to read the interview, and I’ve put the book on my TODO list.  Business is about change.  Marketing is about change.  Heck, life is all about change.  And change is hard.  People are wired to pretty much keep doing what they’ve done in the past.

What interested me most in the interview was a description of a graph:

“In Switch, we discuss the design firm IDEO, which deals with this problem a lot because it often tries to train entrenched bureaucratic organizations to design more innovative products. An IDEO designer sketched a mood chart predicting how employees feel at different phases of a project. It’s a U-shaped curve with a peak labeled “hope” at the start and a peak labeled “confidence” at the end. In between is a negative valley labeled “insight.” In IDEO’s experience, there is always a moment when an innovation team feels demoralized. Yet eventually an answer will appear, so if the team keeps working through that frustration, things will get better. Every manager in a change process should steal IDEO’s chart because every change process goes through that same sequence of mood changes.”

To which I responded:

“I remember a consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation drew a graph similar to what you are calling a “mood chart” above. It was more of a stretched out U shape with a “neutral” dotted line maybe half or two thirds of the way down. What always stayed with me is that successful projects (and the successful integration of new employees) climbed the graph upward, while there was a trap door at the bottom for projects that failed. ”

While I have no idea who the consultant was or whether I still have a copy of the original graphic, it looked something like this (annotations are mine):

I share this with you because I have found it a useful meme to keep me going through difficult times and projects.  It also helps me support others struggling with a new venture.  This diagram is probably why I firmly believe that Nobody can stop you but yourself. And once you get past a the hard part, whatever that might be for you, things really do get easier and better.

Admiral Grace Hopper, who often spoke at Digital Equipment Corporation, is famous for having said “It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”  She was, and remains, a gleaming beacon who achieved success by continuing to do what she knew in her bones was right, regardless of the entrenched system around her.  Success has a way of confirming and supporting change.  Another Grace Hopper quote:  “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.”

Humans have a conflicted relationship with change.  We want it.  We need it.  But we really don’t want it to alter the way we do things.  As Albert Einstein pointed out: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  We humans are such interesting creatures.  It seems to be the case that for an individual to change they first must want to change, spend some time waiting for the change to magically happen by itself, then begin the tedious job of effecting change.  Leadership can help.  Some systems that support the change process can help.  In the long run, we just have to keep at it.  Nobody can stop you but yourself.

So How Did I Find You?

@Twitter_Tips 2nd time this wk somebody has asked me how I found their website… know any tools that can help me figure out how I got s/w?

I posted that on Twitter January 2, 2010.  When asked to elaborate, I recognized that any response would take several tweets, so rather than consume T bandwidth, here’s a little more on the subject…

Let’s say I click on a url that somebody (possibly @HubSpot or @GuyKawasaki, @MarketingProfs, @WBUR or other folks who regularly point me to interesting things) has posted on Twitter.  When the topic is interesting, I follow through by clicking on related urls at the target site.  Once in a while that leads me to a site where somebody has a Twitter-follow button.  So I decide to look through that person’s T profile, and that includes checking out their website.  Remember this is all presumably in a related area of interest.

At some point I e-mail or tweet to this last person who, in the reasonable spirit of understanding their audience, asks how I found them.

Beats me.

By then I’ve wandered through a Byzantine pathway, been distracted several times by legitimate work, and returned to an open webpage tab which prompted a response.  How I arrived there I have no idea.  While I don’t care, I concede that it is of interest to the other person or company.

There are lots of analytics tools out there and a webpage can capture where you immediately came from, but it can’t give you the pathway that lead to the website.   (Can it?)

“It would be nice if….” it were possible to capture the entire route.  Yes, there are obvious problems: how do you identify the beginning of the chain?  The data would have to travel with your clicks somehow, you surely would not want folks grabbing data off your machine.  But wouldn’t that be a useful tool?  I would be willing to turn on some tracking mechanism for my own use if I could clear it regularly or have it automatically clear after some number of days.  Since that tracking would have economic value to web advertisers and organizations seeking attention (like who isn’t?), perhaps there might be some offsetting value that could be offered to folks willing to participate.  Web users could review their own routes whenever they like, which has modest value.  Web users could also ok the access to that information by “all” or by one or more “specific” sites.  (It would be nice if you had to OK access to that data, but I suppose if it’s there somebody will figure out how to get at it.  Technical detail.)

I’m simply suggesting an optional but valuable set of data that could be collected and made available.  The trade aspects would be determined by the market and by whatever security protocol could be devised.  Personally I just think it would be nice to be able to tell someone whose work I appreciate how I found them.

PS:    By the way, the photo above was taken from http://artslink.wordpress.com/2009/05/ which is a Seattle based, University of Washington affiliated arts blog found by using Google image search for “travel.”  (Serendipity:  That page has a wicked awesome huge metal dog sculpture.)  I would not have found that soaring image without a Google image search.  I tried a Bing image search, found many of the same images I’d seen with Google, but the Google search found the type of image I sought, at least higher in the search returns.  (Neither site gave me anything I wanted to use if I search for an image related to the word “soar.”)  So the question is…. was this PS of any value?  Would there be any value in knowing that I went to Google image search first?  Etc., etc.

Customer Service: the best and the worst

Working with B2B technology companies, I am sensitive to customer relations.  Both as a consultant and in considering my clients’ customers.  There is always competition and always another vendor for your customer to patronize.  B2B customer relations tend to be easier to manage than B2C communications because there are fewer points of interface.  B2C companies have many customers and many points of contact with their customers, all of which ultimately reflect management’s view of the company.

Now then, let me tell you two short stories that illustrate the best customer service I’ve ever experienced and the worst customer service ever. 

The Very Best

The very best customer service experience I have ever encountered — and I still tell people about it very happily — was with Head N.V.  Head is a sports equipment and sportswear company founded in Maryland and now headquartered in Holland and Austria.  They do comfortable, well made ski clothing among other things.  I own, and have owned for many years, a pink and white Head powder suit.  I love it.  Here’s a picture of the front:

While skiing some winters back, an out of control (small) young person knocked me over and skied over my back.  No big deal.  I wasn’t injured.  I got up and kept going throughout the day. Any day on skis is a good day.  Right?  That evening I discovered that the little monster had managed to slice through the fabric on the back of my beloved powder suit.  Sigh.  I was prepared to either try to repair it or to retire it if necessary.  Hope springs eternal, so I called Head to ask whether they might have any more of that fabric.  Now my expectation level was very low here, believe me.  To my pleasant surprise they not only had some fabric left, they knew they had it.  I actually spoke with somebody who knew the style of the powder suit I was talking about, and they told me they had the ability to repair it for me.  $25.  You have got to be kidding me.  I mailed them the snowsuit and a few days later it came back to me with a patch on the back that looks like it could have been part of the original design.  See:

Now THAT is customer service.  Surprisingly good customer service.  Outstanding customer service.  Exceeding your customers’ expectations is guaranteed to give you a lifelong enthusiastic supporter.  I tell this story every chance I get.  I buy Head sportswear every chance I get… for myself and for gifts.  The quality is excellent and I love being able to support a company that connects with its customers in the best possible ways.

The Very Worst

Crocs.  You will not believe this, but I swear this story is true.  First let me say that we all agree Crocs are not attractive footwear.  Granted.  I would never have bought them at all except that I did something very stupid that resulted in dealing with plantar faciitis for a while. 

Ok, I’ll tell you what I did because you really don’t want to do this… I swim.  I love to swim.  I do laps.  So one morning I was doing my laps and for reasons I cannot imagine, I hyperextended my foot toward my shins and was kicking.  I discovered that if you do that really hard with both feet, your kicking will take you backwards instead of forwards.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  That’s what I told the podiatrist a couple days later when I was practically crippled from doing this.  He said it was plantar faciitis and recommended I get shoes with very good arch support.  Blah.  (And that’s why your swim teacher never taught you to do that!)

Meanwhile I had a paper catalog from Footsmart (which is a nice online source for shoes) that had various products for normal folks, such as I had been, and for folks with foot problems, such as I had become.  Online I researched their plantar faciitis products and found that they had Crocs that were especially designed for that condition.  They were relatively inexpensive compared to the other shoes I stocked up on to deal with the situation.  Turns out the Crocs people use different density plastic in different products, so the Crocs RX are soft and supportive while their regular Crocs are, I think, hard and dreadful.  But the Crocs RX were very nice to me during my recovery, so I was positively disposed to the products and the company.  (I’m just fine now, thanks.)  I even went to far as to bring a Footsmart catalog explaining same to my physical therapy lady who had a low opinion of the products. 

I was now on the Crocs email list, which results in your receiving WAY too many emails, but I finally saw one that had some cute Crocs women’s shoes that looked like Mary Jane flats lined with supposedly warm fuzzy stuff.  I figured that even if the plastic was hard, the liner would make them comfortable, so I decided to try them.  I placed an order in on December 8.  I waited.  I waited some more.  I kept checking online and the order was always listed as “in process.”  So, on December 30, I phoned.  You will love this…

The Crocs customer support lady said they cancelled my order.  I said “What?”  Poor lady, I must have made her say that four times because it was absolutely incredible to me.  Like most online ordering procedures, the Crocs site told me the product I was ordering was in stock and available in my size.  The customer support lady said that when they run out of inventory, they cancel the order.  That’s simply what they do when they run out of inventory, she tells me.   They did not notify me of this.  The online account area still showed the order “in process.”  She told me they would leave the order in that condition online, forever, as far as she knew.  When they are out of inventory, even though they told you it was there, they cancel your order, don’t backorder it, and don’t tell you.  I thought that was absolutely unbelievable.  Surely she must have misunderstood.  We went over and over it, and she made it clear that this is the company’s policy.  I have told this story to a number of folks, some of whom have been even more stunned than I was.  (And I thought that was impossible.) 

Lands End, L.L. Bean, Footsmart, Amazon, Staples, and any other company I have ever bought from online, have the simple approach of backordering something if necessary and delivering it when it’s available.  That has to be the basic, fundamental tenet of online customer service.  The very least you would expect of a retailer.  Just so you know… if you buy online from Crocs, be prepared to enter the Twilight Zone of customer service. 

If you have any best or worst stories about customer service, I’d love to hear them.

Marketing in the Summertime

I’m largely concerned with B2B high tech marketing.  That means that the sales cycle tends to be long, complex, and involve a number of decision makers.  In the summertime – as you know – getting a group of people to agree on a major purchase is not an easy (possible?) thing.  People are on vacation and just plain not available.  So, what is the most useful thing for marketing folks to do in the summer?

The goal of my marketing efforts has always been to generate significant numbers of self identifying prospects.  The sales cycle is driven by the customer’s need to solve a problem.  (Unfortunately not by our need to sell stuff to stay in business. )  So really we continue to do what we’ve always done.  We make sure that our products and company have visibility to the individuals with the problem(s) we solve.  And whether they come across our hard work the day after it’s done or a year later, the work we’ve done has value.

These days problems prompt us to use a search engine to find a solution.  “Trade rags,” as industry-specific magazines are called,  are just not as important on paper as they once were (now they’re websites).  That doesn’t mean they should be ignored!  A good article placement now and then is still worthwhile (and lets you put links to it on your website… presumably on theirs as well).  Reprints for handouts at tradeshows, etc. are all good reasons for placing articles.  We all know an article has more credibility than a paid ad.  Particularly if you have it written by someone outside your company.  The best articles are written by happy customers and you can offer to help write such an article.  Any happy professional will appreciate the publicity for themselves as well as for a product they happen to use and like.

This is not going to degenerate into musing about the best way to do SEO or some such.  You can read that in a zillion other places.  But you DO need to read about it and you do need to do it.

You need a website with constantly updated information.  And a corporate blog is a good idea.  If your CEO can do it, great.  I recommend companies find a smart engineer with some sales support experience to do a bit of blogging.  Encourage them to write about the types of questions they’re asked on sales support visits.  And, yes, you have to remind engineers not to mention any customers or prospects by name or company unless that has already been cleared – blah blah blah.  But you do need to explain that.  You might even offer to look over the blog entry before it’s posted.  A bit of editing never hurt anyone:  spelling, grammar, terminology and so on.  A consistant editorial voice is helpful to all your readers and that will likely come from the marketing and/or product management side of the organization.

Mind you, I love engineers (but that’s another story).  And we all have our strengths and weaknesses.  Clear, clean writing is a gift not often given to engineers.  So a little appreciation of what value we each bring to the party is important on all sides.

So:  articles, case studies, website updates, blog entries, traditional PR avenues, and you are using Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social tools that are popular with your customers – right?  Anything that can be searched is a place for you to gain visibility.  People search for the experience of others with the same problem(s).  I’ve read that the largest number of online searches is done on health related topcs.  And that figures.  We search for information important to us.  So when your prospect is looking for an answer, be sure they find you.

That’s it for today.  Driver just delivered “veggie soil” for my raised garden beds.  Got some exercise ahead of  me!