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First, Best, or Different

Niche Marketing Matters
By John Bradley Jackson

The Busyness of New Age Marketing

July 1st, 2012

A recent article titled “The Busy Trap” by New York Times columnist Tim Kreider got me thinking about the busyness in my own life and the current state of what I call “new age marketing.”

This is a powerful article and it sadly describes my own busyness. Yet, I was not always this busy. I used to have unstructured time.

As a youth and young adult, I was not this busy. I lived an almost improvisational life with just a few major goals such graduate from college, learn to snow ski, and get a job

Even as a new parent I was not this busy. Yes, I had little or no sleep but I had a keen sense of what to do when the baby cried: pickup the baby, get a bottle or change the diaper.

Yet, today I am very busy. Too busy. I am doing so many things for myself and others that I cannot even remember them all.

What changed?

I think the web and its encroachment into everything I do is a factor. I have four blogs and I am deeply involved in social media which I justify for professional reasons. I say yes too much to others and rationalize it as my own generosity. Mostly, I think it is my choice to have been this busy. Or, better said, maybe a lack of prioritization creates busyness.

The new age of marketing reflects this as well. Companies measure their sales success using KPIs (key performance indicators) which measure busyness: # of sales calls, # of proposals, # of new customers, etc. Note that the KPIs describe activity rather than meaningfulness or satisfaction.

Facebook success for many brands is gauged by the # of “likes” or fans or contacts with a mantra of “more is better.” Likes are so absurdly important on Facebook that now you can actually buy “like” packages in quantities of 500 or more raving fans. Of course, the # of likes is almost meaningless as they truly measure little in the first place. (By the way, please like my page called First, Best, or Different” on Facebook.)

The new rage in new venture development is the “Lean Start Up” which advocates launching new products which are merely untested prototypes. Rather than perfect the product prior to launch, let the customers debug it for you. The thinking is that time is short and why waste it in product development. Who cares if the customer gets an usable piece of crap. Let them figure it out.

I submit that busy is not better. Activity is not an indicator of success or quality. Activity cannot be construed as a result. Busy is just busy.

I must now pause  to reflect.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2012
All rights reserved





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The Brand is Not a Hero

February 21st, 2012

It is cliché in classical consumer marketing that the brand is always the hero. The brand (think Coca-Cola) is always the fix or the problem solver. Have a Coke and you will be happy. Buy our product and life will be better. This is certainly the messaging that you see in the cable series Mad Men, for example. Back then advertising was at its pinnacle. The thinking of the day was that people needed to be persuaded to buy the product.  And in that case, persuasion often meant hearing or seeing an advertisement thousands of times until you were beat senseless by the repetition.

Today’s consumer is more sophisticated and not so easily duped. In fact, we are increasingly cynical about advertising messages and presume them to false or misleading unless we hear otherwise from our peers. Savvy consumers use services like Yelp and ratings on Amazon to help them decide where to spend their hard-earned money.

Yesterday’s advertising heroes were expected to be perfect.  In order to showcase the benefits of their product, many advertisers cast their product or service as the “hero”.  Today this approach can still work up to a certain extent.  The Most Interesting Man in the World featured in Dos Equis beer commercials is a good example of this. Yet, he is a parody and we know it.

However, modern consumers sometimes find this approach disingenuous.  Consumers today appreciate a more authentic hero — an everyman with both flaws and good intentions.  In the article “Heroes and Brands”, author Bernard Urban discusses why a flawed hero is ultimately more convincing.  In fact, our society is rather forgiving of the hero with flaws; this is especially true in sports. Think Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant. Despite their failings, their brands thrive.

What makes someone heroic today is that they overcome their limitations.  Overcoming obstacles makes their hard-fought triumph that much more romantic and believable.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2012
All rights reserved


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Marketing with Gender Stereotypes

February 17th, 2012

Boys like blue and girls like pink.  Men like football and women like romance novels.  Gender is pretty straightforward, right?

It’s actually much more complicated.

For example, what would we find if we were to look across time and space to discover what it means to be a man?  During the Renaissance era, only the manliest of men sported tights and frilly collars.  In China today, affluent businessmen carry leather purses as a status symbol. It quickly becomes clear that gender expressions vary immensely between cultures.

Because we know that gender varies across time and geographical location, it is safe to say that it is primarily a social construction. Gender is a meaning system created by society that slips into every facet of our lives.  It is through gendered social norms that we learn how to act in every social situation.  From birth, we are taught how to behave within the confines of our designated gender: male or female.  Our walk, talk, dress, and emotional expression are all informed by this binary system.  Though it may be harmless, baby girls do not inherently prefer pink to blue.

Today, an overwhelming amount of products are gendered.  Such gendered commodities include alcohol, clothing, toys, furniture, automobiles, books, magazines, films, and even food!  It is usually easy to pinpoint, while walking through Wal-Mart, which products are feminine or masculine.  Even though it is a social construction, gender weighs in on almost every purchase we make as consumers.

What does this means to marketers? Gender stereotypes are real because we perpetuate them and accept them. One option is to accept this “gendering” (I think I have invented a new word) of products as the status quo. Essentially, marketers can use the gender stereotypes as a tool to market more products by offering everything in pink for the women customers. Men get burlap.

Alternatively, firms could choose to be different by offering messages that buck the gender norms. This is based on the premise that there may be large segments of buyers that are not getting what they want. This could include women that desire high performance sports cars and older men who want make up to look more youthful in the workplace. Something tells me that these other markets might be bigger than the stereotypes might have you believe.

For some interesting examples of gender stereotypes please visit the Society Pages.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2012
All rights reserved

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Brand Narratives Tell Stories

December 30th, 2011

We are exposed to brand narratives every day.  From L’Oreal cosmetics and shampoo commercials that tell us “we’re worth it,” to TOMS Shoes which donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for each pair you buy – we are bombarded by brand narratives.  A successful brand narrative tells a story about a product or service, but more than that, it engages consumers on an emotional level that traditional advertising is no longer effective at reaching.

A brand narrative differs from a traditional elevator pitch.  The elevator pitch is what you would say to a potential customer in order to entice them to consume your product or service.  While similar to a brand narrative, the elevator pitch is directed by the company.  The brand narrative is a partnership, started by the company but ultimately steered by the consumers.  Your brand narrative is what people say about you, and how they connect emotionally with your product or service.

This emotional connection is critical for a brand narrative to thrive.  People want to be involved and interact with a product or service.  Social media platforms provide a nearly perfect arena for this sort of interactive storytelling.  These platforms allow people to connect with products that reinforce their values or identity.  This is great for business, because these days consumers are more likely to trust their peers than regular advertisers.

Creating a powerful brand narrative is simply good storytelling.  Every story has some major components, like an overall message and a relatable protagonist.  Take Coca-Cola, for example.  Much of Coca-Cola’s advertising has been designed to promote an overall brand narrative that emphasizes the tradition and history of Coca-Cola, as well as the desire to relax and have fun.  Both of these connect with people on an emotional level, tapping into their nostalgia as well as the very primal urge to seek pleasure and gratification.

In a good example of using social media to further evolve its brand narrative, Coca-Cola’s Facebook page is a hub for consumer interaction.  Coca-Cola has recently partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to raise money for polar bear habitats.  Consumers who donate money can track actual polar bears in an interactive platform on Facebook.  This paints Coca-Cola as a hero in its brand narrative, but it is especially brilliant because it also allows consumers to feel heroic because they are helping polar bears.

Humans have long relied on stories to communicate our hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.  Brand narratives use this natural tendency to create an environment where consumers interact with a brand in order to tell a compelling story about the brand and how it fits into their lives.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2011
All rights reserved

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Beautiful People Sell More Products

December 20th, 2011

Even if you don’t spend inordinate amounts of time on the internet or watching television (and there are plenty who do), you have undoubtedly seen thousands and thousands of beautiful faces used to advertise products and services.  From perfume, tennis shoes, and power tools, to airline tickets, car washes, and online classes, the image of an attractive human face is an essential tool for advertisers.

We respond so viscerally to the image of an extraordinarily beautiful or handsome face because of the way we are programmed.  Evolutionarily, we are designed to seek out attractive mates.  Nancy Etcoff, author of Survival of the Prettiest, highlights some of the traits that we are naturally drawn to when seeking a mate.  Women, for example, are often instinctively drawn to males with strong jaws, thick brows, and broad shoulders.  Men seek facial symmetry in their partners, as well, but are often attracted to women with full lips and large eyes.

The presence of these attributes suggests increased fertility.  Because of the way we are biologically programmed, we want to produce numerous healthy offspring.  It makes sense that we want to select physically healthy, attractive mates.

All of these natural proclivities are heightened and manipulated by advertisers in order to connect with you on a visceral level.  It may sound creepy, but it works.  Beautiful women, in particular, are used to advertise countless products that reach multiple demographics, from low-fat yogurt to luxury cars.  Men with unusually handsome and rugged faces are often used to advertise “masculine” products, like razor blades and cologne.

We are bombarded with more print and commercial advertising than ever before.  Our brains process a huge amount of information, and many worry about the effects of so much advertising.  Especially when advertisers use images of hyper-sexualized faces and bodies, our perceptions of what is normal and what is beautiful changes.

As bizarre and superficial as it may seem, our visceral response to beautiful faces is probably a good thing for our species, because it means we will continue to have offspring.  Advertisers use these biologically attractive features to connect with customers on a primal level and get them to buy their product and service.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2011
All rights reserved


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Global Mobile Device Growth Explodes

August 23rd, 2010

Research indicates that mobile devices are being adopted at a rate of 3-4 times that of PCs globally. What’s the big deal you ask?

In a nutshell, we are witnessing a disruptive technology on a global scale. An edge that developed countries have held for the past decade (or longer) has been the ownership and usage of the PC and the web for the distribution of information. The third world could not play this game since they could not afford it.

With the low cost of mobile devices and the flood of information now delivered by them, the gap between developed countries and the third world closes overnight. The implications are staggering. In particular, the role of media changes dramatically.

With mobile device usage so common place, advertisers and social media can reach over 6 billion people. Local or national brands can morph into global empires. Are you still making fun of Twitter and Facebook? Think again.

Oh yeah — one more thing. The jobs will follow the mobile device usage. This means that income and wealth will be redistributed globally.

John Bradley Jackson

© Copyright 2010

All rights reserved.

Source: Neilson and Cambridge Group

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People Trust Social Media More Than Advertising

August 7th, 2010

Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers,  wrote about the impact of social media. One of his key points was that 78% of consumers trust each other more than they trust advertising – which is why they hang out at Facebook, read blogs, and seek out recommendation sites.

For all intents and purposes, traditional advertising is dead. Consumers are numb from it all and, even if they actually hear the message, they don’t buy it. Instead, they increasing rely on peers via social media for advice.  Don’t believe me? How about Yelp.

Per the Yelp about us page, “Yelp is trying to make the world a better place by helping people to connect with great local businesses. ” Yelp was founded in 2004 to help people find great local businesses like dentists, hair stylists and mechanics. As of June 2010, more than 33 million people visited Yelp in the past 30 day. Visitors have written over 12 million local reviews, over 85% of them rating a business 3 stars or higher.

For many, Yelp is the first place to look for a restaurant or bar. Who needs to advertising when you have friends?

John Bradley Jackson

© Copyright 2010

All rights reserved.

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Beautiful People Have an Advantage

August 2nd, 2009

Ever catch yourself staring at a beautiful person or the image of one? I know it sounds a little creepy, but it is like you can’t help yourself from staring at them. Don’t feel weird, as it turns out humans may be hardwired to do this.

There is something compelling about a pretty face, whether it be male or female. We prefer to be around them instead of average looking, or, heaven forbid, ugly people. We tend to chose leaders who are better looking—you have to admit that Obama is a good looking guy. Ever notice that many CEOs are tall and handsome? It is no accident.

Advertisements that include pretty people sell better than those with average people. Open any magazine and you will see products being pitched by pretty women and handsome men. Advertising agencies know this and so do modeling agencies.

As for ugly people, we like to laugh at them. Most comics have big noses or are fat or are just plain funny looking. Think Phyllis Diller, Stephen Wright, Carrot Top, or Margaret Cho. Yep, this is not a pretty group.

So, what is beauty?

It varies from for men and women. According to Professor Victor Johnstone of the University of New Mexico, “Men look for an adult female face that is different from the average face. The two key measurements are the distance from the eyes to the chin, which is shorter – in fact it is the length normally found in a girl aged eleven and a half; and the size of the lips, which are fatter — the size normally found on a fourteen-year-old girl”. Thus, men have a specific facial profile in mind.

Men are judged differently by women. For example, studies show that women are more attracted to the men who are smiled at by other women. Women rely upon the attitudes of others to shape their own determination about the attractiveness of men. Women prefer a man that is desired by other women and feared or respected by men.

Biologically, women are drawn to men that lead the tribe or clan—this is tied to the desire to procreate and make the best babies for the survival of the species. Handsome helps but power is also desired.

Of course, body type, race, height, and other factors come into to play. But, the point is that beauty counts. It counts more than maybe more than you and I like to think. Sad but true.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2009 All rights reserved.

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Money Wasted in the Yellow Pages

July 4th, 2009

I am frequently asked to give an example of how marketing is changing and of a marketing method that is now outdated or not working as well as it should. The example I often give is yellow pages advertising.

Search marketing is quickly making printed yellow pages advertising obsolete. With the “Generation Y” and “X” crowd leading the way, a quick search of the web will yield quicker and more complete results for a local plumber, pizza parlor, or marketing consultant. Google and Yahoo! simply make a better mousetrap.

Yellow pages advertising success rates are hard to track and you have little control over the process. Online marketing methods will bury you in analytics about your traffic, which will allow you the ability to change your ads in response to competitive pressure. Also, yellow page publishers require that you sign a one year contract while pay-per-click sources let you come and go as you please.

To my chagrin, people are slow to change and the yellow pages remain a giant industry. According to Simba Information, “U.S. yellow pages revenue is expected to total $16.54 billion in 2009″—read that again. Small to medium sized businesses still empty their wallets to the tune of $16.54 billion a year for the yellow pages.

Marketing expenses get institutionalized and remain in place even when they don’t work as well anymore. Take a hard look at your marketing budget. My recommendation is to trim or eliminate your yellow pages spending now.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2009 All rights reserved.

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Mutant Guppies Still Haunt Me

September 22nd, 2008

When I was kid I had an aquarium in my bedroom that housed dozens, make that hundreds of guppies and neon tetras. They seemed to multiply almost daily and I was quite proud of them. While I enjoyed watching the pretty little fish, I did not enjoy cleaning the aquarium (much to my mother’s chagrin).

The stink got so bad one day that my mom took it upon herself to clean it for me. Her cleaning agent was Clorox bleach, which did a great job eliminating the bad smell. Unfortunately, after the cleaning I had a mass die-off of the guppies and tetras. In a week or so I was left with 5 mutant guppies. As near as I could tell they were all blind, scarred, and unable to reproduce—they also swam kind of funny.

Needless to say, my mother felt horrible. As for me, I learned a lesson from my negligence and the importance of acting now rather than later. The truth is that I am still haunted by the image of the 5 mutant guppies swimming awkwardly in the tank by my bedside. Poor little guys.

Companies can also be negligent and slow to change. Change is hard and companies will often wait until they have to change. Then they are left with little choice but to react very aggressively. Sometimes management will overreact with over-zealous layoffs or they will layoff the wrong people.

With sales declining and profits gone, firms will often call for a “new strategy”, which is business-speak for “make changes now”. While the changes may be needed, the timing is poor. The best time to change a strategy is when things are working, not when things are falling apart.

For example, General Electric takes pride in continuously changing the firm’s strategy. A key to the firm’s success is a constant review and revision of people, practices, and products. While the GE culture can be criticized for being a bit bombastic, it is hard to argue about their resilience. Former GE CEO Jack Welch had a mantra that still resonates in the hallways, “Change before you have to”.

Like the dirty aquarium, firms need to routinely clean house and review strategy. If not, you may end up with a bunch mutant employees scarred by the management’s swinging ax and desperate reinvention.

John Bradley Jackson
© Copyright 2008 All rights reserved.

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