Friday, December 30, 2022

Why Customer Touch Points Matter

When people think about brands and brand management, they usually think about one of these things: brand positioning, brand strategy, brand identity and brand marketing. But they should also think about customer touch point design and execution. This is often driven by processes, systems (human and computer), organization design, front line employees (including customer service and tech support), hiring criteria, training, metrics, reward systems and other HR, operations and IT functions.

Consider the impact of each of the following scenarios on how you might perceive the brand:

  • Someone in a branded vehicle cuts you off in traffic and gives you the middle finger.
  • You call a customer service line and are asked to punch an endless set of digits only to find that there is no option for what you are seeking.
  • You call a customer service line and are put on hold for over 20 minutes only to have the call dropped so that you have to start all over again.
  • You interact with a tech support person who knows less than you do about fixing a problem you are encountering.
  • You complain at the front desk of your hotel about a problem in your room but no one ever shows up to fix it or to compensate you for your inconvenience.
  • (This one actually happened to me this year.) You sit on a chair in the hotel. As you get up a small nail sticking out of the seat tears your brand new dress slacks and cuts your leg. You inform the hotel staff but they do nothing about it. You move the chair away so no one else encounters the same problem but they put it back again...repeatedly.
  • You find rodent hairs in your soup.
  • Your online reservation is lost when you arrive at the hotel. They tell you that there are no available rooms except for the presidential suite, which is $600 a night.
  • When you reach a customer service representative, she informs you that she does not have the proper authorization to fix your problem. 
  • You receive a defective product via FedEx or UPS. When you reach the company's customer service person, he doesn't give you a pre-paid return address label to send the defective product back. Instead, he gives you the address to which you need to ship the defective product at your expense.
  • You enter a cafe's restroom only to discover filthy toilets, sinks and floors. You are afraid to touch anything, especially the toilet seat.
  • You are served partially frozen food at a restaurant. The food was supposed to be hot. Your waitress has disappeared. You can't find a waiter or waitress to whom you can complain. 
  • Or, we are in the mist of this, Southwest Airlines has cancelled your flight and the flights of most everyone else because of a systems problem. You can't get back home. You are furious and they can't seem to solve the problem.
While brand marketers can say all they want about the brand through advertising, social media, mobile marketing, etc., this is not going to overcome poor or inconsistent quality or service, which are mostly caused by HR, operations and IT issues. The brand manager needs to work closely with these functions to ensure that the brand is consistently delivering on its promise and creating positive emotional connections with its customers. And this alignment needs to be driven and supported at the highest levels of the organization.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

Hiring Marketing Professionals

I recently helped a not-for-profit organization hire a new marketing director. That position's responsibilities span many marketing sub-disciplines. The skill sets we were seeking were extensive - corporate communications, PR, crisis management, blog and newsletter content creation, graphic design, videography, marketing plan development and execution, marketing research, brand management, collateral material development, social media marketing, CRM, marketing automation, guerrilla marketing, etc. That person would become a marketing department of one person, with the ability to craft winning marketing strategies while also executing all of the supporting tactics. He or she would work with outside marketing agencies, influence other staff members, work with volunteers and insure that the sales force was following through with leads. 

A large number of people applied for the job and we interviewed a smaller number of them. As an experienced marketer I was both surprised and not surprised with our selection. There were number of candidates with MBAs. We did not hire any of them. There were candidates with bachelors degrees in marketing, communications, journalism, and graphic design. We did not hire any of them. Most people had worked with the Adobe suite of graphic design software, CRM platforms, marketing automation software, Facebook advertising, Google Analytics, SEO, etc. We also bypassed several people with the most extensive of these skills. 

Who did we hire? We hired a person with an associates degree in business administration who started out as a wine buyer and store manager. Why did we hire him? Well, he did attend Google Analytics Academy. He has used the Adobe suite of software products and created and edited very successful videos. He has conducted marketing research. And he has managed press releases and public announcements. He created a very successful viral marketing campaign. He has also developed and executed comprehensive marketing plans. But this is not why we hired him.

Here is why we hired him. He has great interpersonal skills. He is very good at building rapport fast. He has a lot of common sense. He is an out-of-the-box thinker. He isn't afraid to try something new. He has an intuitive sense of customer needs and behaviors. He is curious and a lifelong learner. He is self-taught in all the of the marketing skills he has acquired. He watches YouTube "how to" videos and listens to marketing skills development podcasts. His first inclination is to create inexpensive media attracting events and other low- or no-cost marketing tactics. He is curious and wants to continuously grow professionally. He is honest. He tells you when he doesn't know something. He has a strong work ethic. And he was very concerned about not letting his current employer down during his job transition. The bottom line? He is a natural marketer. He has a great emotional intelligence. He is humble. And he is constantly growing professionally. I am convinced that he will pick up what he needs to know as time goes on.

So, why have I written this piece? I have learned over time that it is better to hire for personality and character than for specific skill sets. We can teach skills. We can't as easily change personality, character and the capacity for thinking and continuous learning. And some people are out-of-the-box thinkers, while many are not.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Positioning Product Brands

When entrepreneurs or organizations start out with a product seeking a market versus the other way around, they need to think carefully about which market or markets their product (and brand) would be most wise to serve. 


This involves target market identification, product category selection and unique value proposition determination.


I will use a real-life example with which one of my client companies is now wrestling. This company has created a very tasty parmesan cheese substitute that has no dairy component. It is in a ground up form that can be added to food from a shaker. The product includes many healthy ingredients and no artificial or harmful ingredients. It is a very good product. But the question is, "What are the most advantageous markets for the product?"


To determine this, we must consider the customer segments, potential product uses, market sizes, market growth rates, market profit margins, and the competition by market. Once these are used to identify the most advantageous market segments, then the appropriate product category or categories must be selected and the unique value proposition must be crafted to fit the chosen category or categories. 


Going back to the parmesan cheese substitute, it could be added to pasta, used to flavor popcorn, shaken on top of grilled steaks or seafood, added to soups, stews or salads, added to quiche, added to fondue or eaten with a spoon as a snack. Which are the most likely uses for each potential market segment? Which uses provide the largest markets? For which uses are the largest quantities consumed? Which uses have less competition? Which uses would make the most intuitive sense to people? Which uses would be the most compelling?


What do the targeted markets and the intended uses imply about the product category? Is the product a healthy parmesan cheese substitute, a non-dairy parmesan substitute, a cheese-flavored seasoning, a condiment, a healthy food additive, a flavor enhancer or something else?


Each of these product category descriptions might appeal to different target markets. For instance, a non-dairy parmesan substitute would primarily appeal to vegans and people who are lactose intolerant. How big are these two markets?


One must also consider who cooks, what types of meals they prepare, how often they prepare different types of meals, how much the snack, what types of snacks they consume and what flavors their palates prefer. 


In the case of this product, one must also consider whether it is to be positioned as a variation on a traditional ingredient in classical cuisine or as an ingredient associated with nouvelle cuisine.


Once the target markets, product categories and product uses are determined, one must also consider the competition in arriving at a highly compelling unique value proposition (UVP). What will make this product and brand stand out within its intended product category?


Also, one might think through whether the product or brand might best be associated with comfort, nostalgia, family, friends, experimentation, excitement or something else.


I hope this helps you to see that product uses, product category definitions, target markets and market segments and unique value propositions need to work together to create more focused, integrated and effective brand and marketing strategies. These are all components of a brand's positioning.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

New Product Development - Corporations versus Startups

It is interesting to compare and contrast how we approached new product development within Hallmark's Product Discovery & Development division versus how startups that I coach through RIT's Venture Creations business incubator do it.

Hallmark is a large corporate entity that is marketing-driven, but also risk adverse. While the startups that I coach are created by entrepreneurs who are willing to risk much to see their startups succeed. Most of these entrepreneurs have technical backgrounds, but little to no understanding of marketing including marketing research.

Given Hallmark's high profitability hurdles, risk aversion, and large marketing research department, we often succumbed to analysis paralysis. 

At Hallmark, we would explore trends through our resident environmental scanning manager, who would report a new societal trend in depth each month. We would also hold new product ideation sessions for each market or trend that we identified as "high potential." We conducted more than one hundred focus groups a year to explore different potential markets. When one of our new business strategists came up with an idea, we would have that person develop a concept statement and later an "ad-form" concept statement (including a visual), which we tested against a normative database (ConScreen was one of them) to determine market need and gap and to project potential sales volume. Each concept needed to explain the product concept including its primary benefit or benefits simply and without any modifying superlatives. 

After the concept testing, we would often refine the concept, and if it seemed that it had enough potential, we might conduct a few more focus groups to refine it even further and then test its marketplace need and gap again against a normative database.

The Hallmark new product development process is based on the concept of a screening funnel with most new product concepts dropping out at some phase of the evaluation process. We often developed product prototypes. We sometimes performed attitude and usage (A&U) studies to size a new market and determine its sales potential for a specific category of products. We used conjoint analysis to refine product functions and features. Sometimes we would conduct market segmentation analysis. And sometimes we would test product package designs.

The final step in the funnel process for the successful product concepts that had made it that far was a full-blown market test in which the product was developed and tested in a test market. A component of those tests was testing different marketing approaches for the product to determine which might work best for the full product launch.

Now I want to contrast Hallmark's approach to new product development to that of our mostly younger entrepreneurs. We have to work hard to get those entrepreneurs to develop unique value propositions for their products. And we push them to conduct "customer discovery." Sometimes, that consists of only ten interviews with potential customers, although it should consist of far more interviews than that to increase the likelihood of success. 

One of the flaws, but also one of the advantages, of entrepreneurs is that they often (but not always) jump into their startups without much knowledge of what they are getting into regarding industry, product category and business functions outside of their general knowledge or academic training. This makes me think about the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which recognizes that the people who are the most ignorant about something are often also the most confident about it. This can lead to many stumbling blocks and mishaps, but it can also lead to novel solutions for problems that industry experts and others with more knowledge assumed had no solutions. This, in turn, can lead to true breakthroughs as there are no preconceived notions that align with those of industry insiders.

Entrepreneurs often start with what is called minimum viable products (MVPs) and incrementally add functions and features to the products as dictated by early adopter feedback and as their resources allow. 

I hope this illustrates the two ends of a continuum regarding how new products can be developed. One end is based on exhaustive, methodical research. The other end is based on learning as you go, nimbleness and rapid pivoting. 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Essence of Marketing in One Paragraph


Recently, a Venture Capital intern asked me to explain marketing to him at the end of our two-hour interview. While I have spent more than 40 years working on hundreds of successful marketing campaigns for almost as many brands, and while I could spend days talking about the nuances of marketing research, brand strategy, brand architecture, PR, pricing strategy, distribution strategy, digital marketing, marketing automation, package design, retail merchandising, etc. - I believe in simplicity. So, I explained the essence of marketing to him in less than one minute, which can be articulated in one paragraph. This is what I said...

The first step in marketing is being able to completely put yourself in the customer's shoes. What are her hopes, fears, beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors? What are her pain points? What does she need and what does she desire? What problems is she trying to solve? Then you must craft a product/service solution that uniquely meets those needs and then articulate that unique value proposition as simply and powerfully as possible. Your brand's unique value proposition must be presented to her in as many ways as possible as often as possible to build her awareness of and emotional connection to your brand. And finally, you need to possess common sense to say and do the right things at the right times to move her from brand awareness to brand purchase and then ultimately brand loyalty and even brand advocacy. 

It's as simple as that. All of the rest of marketing is just tactics, which can be taught.