Category Archives: Innovation

Marketers Sick of Web 2.0? Not So Fast

Survey results released this week from the Marketing Executives Networking Group and Anderson Analytics are getting a lot of play in the blogosphere, particularly this nugget from the press release:

Twice as many marketers are “sick” of hearing about Web 2.0 and related buzzwords such as “blogs” and “social networking” compared to last year’s survey; however, marketers still admit they don’t know enough about it.  This was evident in the results of a social media study MENG released on November 6, 2008 showing 67% of executive marketers consider themselves beginners when it comes to using social media for marketing purposes.

A couple of points here. First, only 19.4% of the 643 respondents said they were tired of hearing the term “Web 2.0” (up from 9.1% a year ago), 12.2 % said the same about “social networking”, and 11.3% cited “social media” as a term they had tired of. Not exactly overwhelming condemnation of the concepts. And it’s no surprise that the year-over-year numbers would go up, considering those terms generate an endless drumbeat of media coverage. Hell, I’m sick of hearing about/reading about/saying them myself.

What the press release and subsequent coverage of the survey overlook is that when the respondents were asked what they considered to be the most important marketing concepts, the percentages citing “word of mouth,” “social network sites,” “viral marketing,” “Web 2.0,” and “consumer generated media” all rose year-to-year. Granted, these categories did not crack the respondents’ top 10 priorities (word of mouth was #11), but it’s clear that these concepts are rising in importance, even as the buzzwords themselves are becoming cliche.

The greater concern should be whether marketers will be able to sustain any progress they’ve made with their social media marketing programs. With more than half the respondents noting that their ’09 budgets have been reduced, the tendency will be to fall back on more traditional investments like sales promotions, which are viewed as safer bets than the experimentation that goes into identifying social media strategies that really work. The sales folks will be happy, but innovation will take a hit. So even though 79% of the execs in the MENG survey said that customer satisfaction was their top priority, customers can expect to be subjected to the same hard-sell tactics that have become so annoying (and so easy to ignore). Talk about tired.

Corporate Journalism in the Public Sector

I’ve written from time to time about corporate journalism – the practice of applying traditional journalistic skills (investigating, interviewing, writing, editing) to create more authentic marketing communications, either for internal or external use. There are many flavors of corporate journalism; it can even be found in the in the public sector.

Last week the NY Times reported on a town in Vermont called Starksboro, whose leaders were looking to find a better way to get input from residents on upcoming revisions to the town plan. Most towns convene a series of planning committee meetings that at best a handful of residents attend (usually to complain about something). Starksboro took a different tack: it commissioned students at nearby Middlebury College to interview residents about their vision for the town’s future.

The concept is simple: talk to people about what they do and what they care about, transcribe the interviews, and look for common themes. From the article:

“The key is to project beyond immediate controversies over applications for subdivisions and to say, ‘Let’s envision the future that we would love to have,’ ” said Prof. John Elder of Middlebury, “at which point there is considerable agreement.”

The students … have spent the semester attending town dinners, exploring farms and forest, and visiting dozens of homes.

The objective in Starksboro is to develop a much more accurate picture of the community:

In their work, the students have seen certain themes emerge: Starksboro residents raise their children to leave. Few go to town meetings or interact with people outside their own sections of town. While newcomers perceive a strong sense of community, longtime residents say it pales compared with that of the past.

Any marketer can learn from this exercise. There’s inherent value in talking with your constituents – be they internal employees or external customers or prospects – to find out what they really think about a topic, an issue, a brand, a strategy. The output – interview transcripts, audio and/or video clips – is invaluable for anyone trying to take the pulse of a particular group. It can be used to inform decision-making and in some cases can also be packaged and served back to the community.

Sure beats the usual marketing-driven “thought leadership” that comes out of the executive suite.



Marketing in a Downturn

This is one of those recurring theme stories that pop up every time the economy takes a dip. “Don’t stop marketing!” the marketing pundits scream, as if saying it over and over again will actually make it so.

Sure, it’s common sense that you need to continue to entice customers to buy your product or service at a time when they are less likely to do so. But the reality is, when sales are tanking, something has to give, and usually it’s the marketing budget. Why? Because marketers have the most trouble justifying their investments. (So, to a lesser extent, does IT, which is why you see similar headlines proclaiming, “Don’t stop investing in IT during a downturn!” Same message, different audience.) They’re not equipped to say, “If we stop advertising, our sales will drop X%.” By speaking in generalities, marketing becomes vulnerable to any belt-tightening effots to offset falling revenues.

Some confuse marketing with innovation. Even Ad Age, which should know better, fell into this trap with a lamebrain story on innovations spawned during economic downturns:

Retail sales have gone from slow to declining, and the consumer-spending binge that propped up the U.S. economy for years may not return for a long time.

In short, it’s a great time to be in marketing.

Previous recessions have provided big opportunities — spawning the brand-management system, soap operas, modern cable networks, airline loyalty programs, the IBM personal computer, the iPod, Crest Whitestrips, Axe body spray and — for better or worse — fast-food value menus.

It’s safe to say that the success of most of those items had more to do with the quality and uniqueness of the products than the marketing campaigns around them. I guess the takeaway is that you still want to take risks during a downturn – but the bigger point is that you have to be operating from some baseline of reality. That’s where the real marketing innovation needs to occur; if you can’t start to draw a straight line from your marketing initiatives to some economic benefit for your company, you’ll never gain enough cache to protect your budgets when times get tough. Of course, you can always fall back on sending out more coupons.


Innovations in Cookie Packaging

I’ve been working with a client on an article about innovation, specifically how companies can identify not just the best new ideas, but the ones that are most likely to succeed in the market. In other words, you need to figure out which innovative ideas – for new products or marketing programs or packaging or distribution or whatever – will actually make money and help your company grow.

Sometimes the smallest innovations have the biggest impact. Consider the new packaging for the bag of Oreos we bought last week. You know how it used to work: You rip open the wrapper around the plastic tray or Oreos, and a week later any cookies that are left are stale, because there’s no way to re-seal the bag. (Not that Oreos last too long in our household, but hey, it happens.) But now Kraft has added a re-sealable Easy Open Tab to the top of the packgage – you pull it back to grab a few cookies and it sticks back in place when you’re done. Freshness preserved!

Apparently Kraft’s Snack ‘n’ Seal design has been around since 2005, debuting on a package of Chewy Chips Ahoy, and the design won an innovation award last year. I don’t know how much the packaging will add to Kraft’s bottom line – who knows, it may actually hurt profits by extending the life of every purchase – but the company certainly wins a few customer appreciation points.