October 02, 2014

Why You Need A Strategy

In the 1950's, the western powers devised a strategy to deal with the threat they perceived from the communist world. The strategy was called "containment."

In dumb-ass blogger terms, containment was essentially this: we'll let the communist block exist but we won't let it grow through military means.

This strategy informed the decisions western powers made and gave them a basis for deciding what to do and what not to do.

The strategy had its tactical successes (Cuban Missile Crisis) and its tactical failures (Vietnam War), but in the end it succeeded in accomplishing its two primary goals: avoiding nuclear war, and staunching the spread of communism.

Today the western powers also perceive a threat. The threat is from jihadist extremists. The difference today is that the west has no strategy. Every challenge is dealt with ad hoc. There is no unifying principle that gives rise to a strategy. The result is that just 8 weeks ago we were contemplating arming the Syrian rebels, and today we are bombing them.

Because we have no strategy, we are not clear on what our objectives are or what we are trying to do; we have not defined who our friends are and who our enemies are, and the result is a confused policy with too many failures and no definition of success.

Don't worry, this post is not about politics. It's about marketing.

An analogy can be drawn to most marketing. One of the disheartening effects of the proliferation of media options has been the ascent of tactics and the decline of strategy.

Far too many brands are buying into the nonsense of "360° marketing" which is code for trying to be everywhere. 360˚ marketing is not a strategy. It is absence of a strategy. As David Ogilvy said, "The essence of strategy is sacrifice."

There are two inevitable consequences of this folly.

First, nobody has enough money to be everywhere. The result of trying to be everywhere is that you spread yourself so thin that you are not very effective anywhere.

Second is that the tactical drives out the strategic. Each media type is assigned its own objective. And as each media type is optimized for that objective, it gets a little farther from what's going on in every other medium. Like our stellar universe, the brand universe keeps expanding. Each initiative moves farther away from every other one.

There is only one way to avoid this. Have a simple strategy, be clear on what it is, and make sure everything you are doing conforms to this strategy.

And remember, it is better to do three things well than thirty things half-assed.

October 01, 2014

The Anecdote Epidemic

I noticed it my first week in the ad business -- the naive belief in anecdotes.

As a junior copywriter I was amazed that account directors and creative directors could get away with it. They would stand before clients and tell the story of this company or that agency that did this or that and had remarkable results. And then they would inflate the anecdote into a rationale for what they were selling.

And the client would sit there and buy it.

It astounded me.

As time went on it only got worse. Specious claims about account planning or copy testing or whatever went unchallenged.

Then anecdotes went national. I would go to conferences and listen to experts tell how this thing or that medium (the one they were pitching) created a huge success. And the audience would accept it as if it were the rule.

There was no demand for what the normal results were.

And now, with the advent of the web, anecdotes have gone global. The most extreme case of anything is accepted as typical. So Zappos -- the most radical case of social media success -- became the case history that proved the standard power of social media.

We are in an endless echosystem of success stories about web marketing -- first it was podcasts, blogs and banners, then widgets and QR codes, now it's social media and content. And the thing that all these success stories have in common is that they are free of industry norms.

I have seen evidence that search and email -- as categories -- are effective online marketing activities.

But I have yet to see one disinterested study that shows me anything convincing about the standard effectiveness of podcasts, blogs, banners, QR codes, social, content, etc. If you know of any, please send them my way.

You would think that with the amount of money being spent on line, marketers would demand more than just anecdotes and outlier case histories. But it's hard to exaggerate the lemming-ocracy in marketing today.

September 29, 2014

5 Good Reasons To Ignore Millennials

I love millennials. My daughter is one. She and her friends are terrific, thoughtful people.

But I hate that the marketing industry has turned them into the cause célebre of marketing cement-headedness.

I am sick to death of hearing and reading marketing nitwits gushing about millennials.

Our industry is always on the lookout for some new jargonista bullshit we can invoke at the drop of a hat. Millennials are the latest magic. They are the mediocre marketer's obsession of the moment

The fuss about millennials is mostly
a) marketing flat-tires bloviating about their latest fetish
b) the noise of editors with millennial kids who think there's a big story there, or
c) the pathetic youth worship of older people who should know better.

Here are some facts about millennials that might attenuate your enthusiasm.

1. If you're in the automobile business and someone has convinced you to spend good money against a "millennial target" try not to soil your pants when you read this -- someone over 35 is about seven times as likely to buy a new car as a millennial.

2. If you sell luxury goods and your media target is redolent of millennials, you might like to know that millennials buy 3% of luxury goods. For every luxury product a millennial will buy, a baby boomer will buy 17.

3. If you're in the travel/hotel/hospitality business, people over 35 comprise over 70% of leisure travelers, and almost 80% of business travelers.

4. If you're selling "green" or "eco-friendly" products, millennials' much-vaunted commitment to such things seems to be a mile wide and an inch deep. Ten percent of millennials belong to an environmental organization. But once they have families this drops by 98%.

5. Like every group of young people the world has ever known, everything about these people will change when they get some money. For example baby boomers -- the generation that pioneered backpacking through Europe on $5 a day 40 years ago -- now represent the bulk of luxury travelers. By the time millennials are ready to become important factors in your category, they will have changed and so will your category.

If you think that by advertising to them now they'll remember your message in ten years, I've got news for you. They won't remember your message in 10 minutes.

Spend your advertising money where it will do you some good -- against people who are buying in your category now. If that's millennials, great. But if it's not, be careful.