The Wax Blog

marketing planA strong marketing department or a marketing consultant in whom you have confidence can relieve a lot of the stress of running a business. In this business we tend to get fancy with our concepts in order to feel like we're bringing some new, innovative strategy to the table. As important as it is to understand the "customer experience" for example, or to maximize "sales enablement," we can get distracted by the bells and whistles. The customer experience is the collection of steps people take to buy your stuff. Sales enablement means supporting your salespeople with the best processes, tools and training possible so they can do their thing. Whether you're a CEO of a Fortune 500, a growing company big enough to afford a marketing person or two, or a small business where you're wearing the CEO, CMO and a billion other hats it all boils down to a few basic things. Here are five simple things to remember when you're building or reviewing your marketing plan in 2016:  
  1. Marketing is about failing forward. No one really knows what works 100% of the time. As market conditions change, tactics that used to work sometimes stop working. For those reasons and others you should think about the concept of failing forward. Learning from what doesn't work can be just as important as learning from what does. Fear of failure paralyzes a lot of businesses. It's why many small businesses stick to their tried and true print ads. Or why large corporations "steal" marketing departments from others to try to mimic their success. Look how well that worked for JC Penney. Develop a marketing mindset that expects results but welcomes the failures, particularly early on.
  2. Have confidence in your approach and stick with it. The problem with most business owners (and often shareholders) is that they don't have the patience to give tactics time to work. This doesn't mean that you should throw away money for years, but marketing takes time.  If you're frustrated that something isn't working, check yourself so that you're not reacting out of impatience or fear. And if something does fail, analyze it carefully without beating yourself or anyone else up. Remember those failures contain nuggets of valuable information. Staying true to strategies but tweaking your tactics is one way to think about it. (Here's more on strategy if you're intrigued by that idea.)
  3. Don't rely solely on the numbers. It can be very easy to live in the left side of your brain, especially if you do a lot of digital marketing because numbers are comfortable. Numbers are great but they don't tell the whole story. You need to apply some creativity and have at least a couple of qualitative goals in your plan. Not only does this help keep your tactics evolving - which is important when things stop working - it keeps you moving forward. I teach a marketing course for PRSA, and I've seen many KPI-dependent communicators experience "aha" moments while we're brainstorming on strategy and tactics. Numbers aren't always right and they don't always have to add up. Chew on that one for a while.
  4. Keep your eye on specific, targeted customers. I always talk about knowing your best customer and your plan needs to be focused on those people or businesses if you're B2B. Just like a camera lens, a good focus might need some adjustment from time to time.  The more confident you are that you know your best customers, the more confidence you'll have in your plan. And again, don't just rely on numbers and demographics. Know them as people, with hopes, values, and the like.
  5. Finally, keep your marketing plan short and actionable. My plans must be less than five pages, and I shoot for two pages.  If you hire a marketing consultant and they bring you a plan that you cannot implement then they have failed. Your plan should have measurable goals with strategies and tactics that clearly align with those goals. The main points should be ones you can stick on the wall and look at often.

Why are Bond films so successful? First, you start with an incredible hero brand. Enter the dynamic James Bond -- a man with a hypnotic and cheeky personality loved by both men and women. He owns the coolest gadgets and cars on the planet and saves the world from destruction and terror. What more is there to love? Throw in a far-fetched espionage script with exotic cinematography set in stellar locations coupled with electrifying stunts. And finally, no Bond film is ever complete without a creepy assassin and an uptight British supporting cast. Energy, suspense and sheer entertainment -- therein lies the secret sauce. (No, not the martini.) For more than 50 years, this recipe of success has not changed. And why should it? The Bond brand has kept its core audience and gained new fans along the way. Producer Albert R. Broccoli figured out how to make a ton of gold bullion and keep people coming back 50 years later, despite repackaging the lead a number of times. Here are five things Agent 007 can teach us about branding:
  1. Know your audience. Cater to them and give them everything they expect and love from your brand. Don't mess with your brand. Think Coca-Cola -- don't mess with a good thing.
  2. Keep the message simple. Don't convolute your product message. You can't be everything to everyone, so keep it simple. Brands like Dove, Apple, KFC and Tiffany & Co. all stay closely aligned with their brand purpose and so should you.
  3. Stick to your core product design. We like the tux, we want a catchy theme song, and we relish the villains. Like Bond, stay with what works for you.
  4. Deliver an indelible brand experience. Make your customers feel and appreciate what you do at every touch point. Make them ambassadors of your brand. (Me writing this blog post is an excellent example!)
  5. Keep the brand fresh. Although you have to know what works, you also must ensure your brand is relevant for current audiences. You may be 50 years old, but you've got to keep it fresh. This is what we mean by a "transformative" brand. (Thank you Adele for singing Skyfall.)

It's every marketer's dream to create a viral sensation with a website, produce or service, generating an enormous amount of positive word-of-mouth and a slew of new customers. What most people don't understand is that viral marketing is more math than art.  As a marketing person I've found myself using my math minor more and more (not to mention my IT background) as the business becomes more about numbers and less about copy. Here's a quick primer on how marketers use K-factor to chase virality. In marketing, K-factor is the formula by which we can calculate the growth rate of just about anything. Roughly, it goes:
k = i * c
...where k (K-Factor, or virality) equals the number of invites to a product, website, etc. (i) sent by customers resulting in conversion (c is the percentage rate of the invites' conversion).

persona-exampleI'm a huge fan of using personas to help drive strategy and tactics, as you probably know from recent blog posts.  It always surprised me, however, that many traditional marketers (outside of the food and beverage industries) shy away from personas.  In most cases, it's a lack of understanding and an old-fashioned perception. Here are the main misconceptions about creating and using personas I've run across with marketers
  • Personas don't describe behavior, so they're useless for targeting.  If you're really trying to boost your marketing communications results, personas must contain a huge amount of information about behavior. If you're involved in influencer marketing, you need to know where those influencers receive their information. If you're selling glasses, you need to understand the common problems experienced by those in spectacles. Some (mainly traditional) marketers only think of their customers in terms of demographics, psychographics and possibly values. They don't understand how to analyze for behavior and therefore are unable to add that information to their personas.
  • Digital marketing is all about the numbers therefore personas are irrelevant. On the flip side of this argument, we have a large number of digital marketers who insist that everything can be achieved if you analyze your quantitative results often enough. This is the "blast" approach, where you're making changes to influence some kind of conversion but you really know nothing about the actual people buying your product or reading your content other than when they are more likely to read it and which message is most likely to convert. Arriving at this information is a failing forward process that takes a lot of time and testing. Personas move the starting line much further ahead and help you get to the results much more quickly.
  • Personas are too narrow and you'll miss customers. This is the old-fashioned argument that we've been hearing for years. What happens if you choose the wrong personas? What if you've missed the mark on your target customers?  I would argue that it's much easier to move the target than it is to blindly shoot thousands of arrows at once. I have chosen the wrong persona many times, but that exercise has helped me reach the right persona much faster than if I'm trying chase after a wide demographic. Plus, messaging to a huge target audience is impossible. It becomes so generic, it's worthless. Better to aim and shoot your arrow at a few targets at a time, refining as you go. Have some confidence in your experience and intuition to create your first set of personas.
  • Personas are fine for B2C but won't work for B2B.  Many of the persona conversations I've had with my B2B clients often downgrade into an endless argument about specifics like name, age, etc. This is often because B2B still relies heavily on a field sales force who like to regard every client experience as unique. Developing those human connections that are crucial to sales means that cookie cutter approaches (as personas are often viewed) wont' work. It's a massive reason why sales adoption of marketing content is so low, and why they still develop their own slide decks. Within a B2B environment, sales and marketing needs to understand that personas can help get them to that face-to-face encounter more quickly. They don't supplant the human connection, they just help us get there faster.
  • You need to meet real customers, not hide behind fake personas. This is an argument I hear often, surprisingly from many content marketers. The problem is, you can't meet all your real customers. And the ones you CAN meet might not be enough of a sample to derive the type of behavioral information you need to drive strategy. I personally hate focus groups because I believe people are influenced within the group and are not always telling their honest opinion. I feel the same way about real customers except in one case - when they're mad. When customers are angry, you get the best information possible. More on that later.

[caption id="attachment_6886" align="alignright" width="150"]Personas for Subaru turned into a major cause marketing campaign. Personas for Subaru turned into a major cause marketing campaign.[/caption] Now that we've discussed using personas for PR, let's talk about how you create them. Years ago, I worked with a small Subaru dealer. Due to geographic restrictions from another dealer nearby, we were limited in what we could do for unique messaging. Most of the ads went to “a Subaru dealer near you.” It was my job to create an integrated campagn to draw customers to THIS dealer without breaking any of the franchise rules. I began to observe Subaru drivers. Although they were quite disparate in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, they shared a couple of common behaviors. One group I nicknamed the “sporty” group. I found that a huge number of Subaru drivers in the area were both cyclists and cross-country skiers. So my first persona included the “sporty couple,” very outdoorsy and active. I also found through casual surveying of this group at a cycling event that they were very environmentally conscious and voted with the Democrats. Another group of customers I labeled the “dog rescuers.” These were mainly women who were passionate about the humane treatment of animals and rescuing dogs in particular. These women typically were also involved in charity work, sometimes for animal rescue sometimes for others. I used these two personas to build my strategies which were a combination of events, PR and online marketing. We supported the local humane society, offered cars to any local 5K’s that needed them, and sponsored all the local cycling and cross-country races we could find. All of these events were carefully synchronized with online messaging, relevant content on blogs and news stories for the charities. As a result, the dealership business exploded. One woman even drove from South Dakota to Minnesota as she said “because you helped the dogs.” Eventually, Subaru noticed that other dealers were having similar success with this type of approach around the country. You may be familiar with their “Share the Love” program every fall. That program is a direct result of projects like mine in Minnesota. Let’s assume we’ve built a case here. What is the process, then, for creating your personas? Here is how I go about it. Remember that my clients do not have huge budgets. This doesn’t have to be a months-long process and please, don’t just use quantitative data. Use your eyes, and your ears and the power of simple observation to create these as well.

If you’ve spent any time in the advertising industry, you are familiar with the use of personas. Personas have not been as popular in communications work but they should be.  If we believe Gartner Group that by the year 2020 75% of the customer experience will occur before a direct brand interaction occurs, then we all should get serious about personas. What is a persona, in the first place? A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. Personas are typically based on real data about customer demographics and behavior, along with educated speculation about their personal histories, motivations, and concerns, and values. The information used to build personas comes from surveys, online and social media analytics, past customers and plain observation. Before we get too far into how to create a persona, it’s important to understand why we use them. Personas create reference. They create a target audience representation that helps us brainstorm and vet new ideas, test messaging for alignment and predict behavior. In some cases, they can also provide the foundation for eventual advertising but this is not their primary use. Perhaps the most famous persona of all? Betty Crocker. In fact, surveys still show that about 50% of people in America think that Betty Crocker was a real person. There’s a bigger reason why personas are becoming more important and that goes back to the Gartner statistic.