Archive for October, 2010

Transparency is a Thimbleful of Water

October 30, 2010

When Jeffrey Eisenberg gave an inspiring and thought-provoking talk last Thursday at Innotech Austin, he talked about how transparency is no longer a choice for companies. Your information will be out there whether you like it or not due to the number of employees, customers and competitors using social media. Your choice, he said, is authenticity.

I agree with Jeffrey that the debate on transparency is over, but for different reasons and with a different conclusion. In my view transparency is not enough. It comes from a group of executives agreeing that transparency, in this modern world, is a good thing. They then decide what to be transparent about and set a timeline to disclose it. The marketing person (you or me) “crafts messaging.” Transparency is implemented as translucency – selective disclosure. It’s a wall of glass bricks where you can see that someone’s in the shower but can’t see what Monty Python calls “the naughty bits.”

Is transparency good? Sure. A man dying of thirst in the desert won’t turn down a thimbleful of water. But it’s nowhere near enough. Companies that talk about transparency are simply disclosing marginally more information than is required by law. Calling a thimbleful of water a sea change is asinine.

OK, what about Jeffrey’s concept of authenticity? Authenticity is about being who you are. That’s good, right?

Before we got busy with kiddos my wife and I indulged a passion for traveling in rural Mexico. I’m not talking about Cancun or Baja. Every single time we got as far off the beaten track as possible, visiting towns that were only accessible by train or on foot. We slept on rooftops and in homes in towns where there was no hotel because no one visited. I remember a conversation with a family about domestic animals. After we revealed that we had only a cat to our names, our hosts looked at us with pity, the way a social media addict looks at a person without a smartphone. They thought we were beyond dirt poor. So they welcomed us into the three-room house in which they, as people of means (with two pigs, many chickens, a goat and two cows) lived. I’m not mocking these generous people. On the contrary, they were fantastic hosts and taught us a lot. And the food was authentic.

At the grocery store I can buy Old El Paso salsa with the word “authentic” on the label. It does not taste the same. Sorry Jeffrey, but the word authenticity is too easily abused. Just like transparency. The more syllables a word has, the more easily it is twisted – that’s why MBAs and lawyers love their polysyllables. So where does that leave us?

It leaves us in search of a word so direct and real that to abuse it would be unthinkable. I suggest “honesty.” Be honest with your employees, customers, prospects and even competitors. Honesty doesn’t mean disclosing earnings and salaries when the SEC doesn’t require it (although some companies do).  Honesty means telling people the facts unless there’s a good reason you can’t tell them. And when you can’t, honesty demands that you don’t waffle. Instead, you say “I can’t tell you that and here’s why.” You can choose to keep information private in an honest way.

Admit to not being transparent and you admit to failing in the implementation of your communications strategy. Admit to being inauthentic and you admit to wearing a tie and sport coat when you’re more comfortable in jeans. Admit to not being honest and you acknowledge a major failing in your character. See the difference? You’ve moved up from the nickel slots of corporate communications to the high stakes poker game of integrity. Are you ready?

This is a huge challenge to marketers when our three favorite words are Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Are you ready to leave that behind? Can you?

After all, marketing has shifted from advertising to conversation. Want to end a conversation? Try not being honest. As soon as the other party figures it out, the conversation ends. Want to end a conversation with your spouse? Try “crafting messaging”, setting a timeline, and selectively disclosing information about something important, like what you’re spending money on. But be careful. You may end more than just a conversation that way.

Transparency is a timid step in the right direction. It’s pointing at the moon, not launching a rocket to go there. Authenticity is better but it’s too easily co-opted, messaged and massaged. Try honesty.

And if the three syllables in honesty give enough wiggle room to “craft messaging” rather than simply saying what is, then we’ll have to settle on one syllable. (I know you’re thinking by now that it’s “rant”, but it’s not.)

True.

Just be true.

Photo by michael.dreves

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A Frog That Changed Everything

October 23, 2010

Everything changed the moment the frogs were handed out for mandatory dissection in biology class. A student who was on course to become a doctor suddenly changed course towards law school. Everything changed the moment the shy girl in class had her first experience on the debate team the teacher had steered her onto. Suddenly she recognized her ability to weigh both sides of an argument as the strength it was.

This is not fuzzy, touchy-feely stuff. Apple’s marketing is entirely built around delivering moments. Remember the first time you held an iPhone or an iPad? Their television commercials and website are designed to capture that experience as closely as possible. You can’t capture or create those moments by bullet-pointing out features and benefits.

Not many companies focus on delivering those positive moments. But they often deliver the moments of being disconnected after being on hold endlessly, or of receiving an incorrect bill for the third month in a row.

People make decisions in those moments. Sometimes it’s “I’m buying an iPhone.” Other times it’s “I’m switching cable companies.” They’ll never tell you that’s the reason, though. Instead, they’ll build a set of rationalizations so they can explain to their dad why they’re not going to become a doctor, or explain to their wife why they bought an iPhone. Rationalizations are used to explain decisions, not to make them. Rationalizations are very similar to the feature and benefit bullet points marketers like. Because marketers run surveys and focus groups which excel at collecting rationalizations but are not designed to collect moments.

Do you know what moments change everything for your customers? What are you doing to shape them?

ROI Is For Cowards

October 22, 2010

This morning I heard a snippet of talk on AM radio. As AM talk radio often is, it was offensive. The announcer said, “And with Val-Pack’s guaranteed ROI…. ”

I switched to my iPhone playlist, but those offensive words stayed with me. I’m going to pay to have my offer bundled in a snail-mail envelope that most people will throw away? Really? Because of guaranteed ROI on marketing that may annoy more prospects than it delights?

As online marketers we’re better than that…right? Well, maybe not. We cut branding activities while spending more on email marketing and pay-per-click because the email and PPC yield reports, metrics and charts with lines going up and to the right. Up and to the right keeps us from getting fired. That’s not hypothetical. I have a friend who had the courage to note that driving one particular line up and to the right was expensive but dropped zero dollars to the bottom line. He cut that expense and reinvested in activities that drove both incremental dollars and better customer experience. That kind of courage draws interesting rewards. He was fired but is now a CMO in a ground-breaking company and loving every minute.

If you don’t want to be a CMO in a ground-breaking company and love every minute, keep your head down while driving things up and to the right. Don’t ever ask why. Too risky.

I’m in favor of measuring ROI and I do it rigorously. I’m also in favor of keeping an eye on the gas gauge and speedometer because they provide key information. If you’re driving to Las Vegas, you have to do those things.

But the gas gauge and speedometer aren’t a road map to Las Vegas. You can monitor your performance by watching them all day while driving in the wrong direction. Marketing is about telling people where you’re going and getting them to go there with you. A gas gauge and speedometer won’t do that. A map helps tell people where, but not why they should go with you.

First you need a vision. Start with an image of the fireworks and fountains in front of the Bellagio.  Next is a map. Or a GPS if you’re into marketing automation. The GPS serves the same purpose as the map, but you can’t automate vision. Finally, fill the tank and watch your speed, especially across West Texas.

My father’s joke on long road trips was “we took a wrong turn, but we’re making such great time we’ll just keep going this way.” The kids in the backseat knew it was a joke. Do we sophisticated marketers know it?

Photo by Steve Snodgrass