Technology Is NOT A Solution

March 1, 2012

I’m still amazed at the number of companies who believe technology is THE solution to a particular problem they’re trying to solve. Over the past 12 years, Voltage Factory has worked with several large, very well known organizations who have sunk millions of dollars into data warehouse, eCRM and other various, enterprise-wide software “solutions.”  In fact, one company with whom we partnered literally flushed 3 years and close to $8 million down the porcelain drain. One year later, one of their Dealers, working with his nephew, developed a rudimentary platform to enable him to do what the fancy software could not. Within 3 years his solution was embraced throughout the Dealer network, and a new company was born. So what was the difference?

Whether the Dealer knew this or not at the time, I cannot say, but the difference was obvious–his solution was not the technology, but rather how easily the technology ENABLED him and his team to significantly improve an identified process or practice that they, alone, understood. Today it seems as though “automated marketing” is becoming all the rage. I foresee a similar situation developing. More and more silicon valley types see the void in the marketplace and are clamoring to perfect automated marketing platforms. Typically these “solutions,” developed by well-funded start-ups, and populated with software geeks,  look to solve the sales and marketing dilemma strictly through the lens of technology. In fact, last week I was nosing around the website of one such firm. I went to the “About Us” section and reviewed the resumes of the management team. As I suspected, each one touted their previous successes in technology and software development, with virtually no one having any previous, practical experience in marketing. The problem? They cannot have an intuitive understanding of how marketing actually works. As a result, they produce “solutions” that are ridiculously complex, and do not prioritize, focus nor enable improvements of the most vital sales and marketing processes for their individual client. Their “solution” involves selling user licenses across an enterprise, even if it means a majority of the stakeholders will never use it. To address this, they conduct hours upon hours of training so that these same stakeholders spend less time doing what they were hired to do, and more time trying to become computer geeks.

In my 30 plus years in advertising and marketing, I have never run across an organization whose situation was identical to any other. In fact, it’s ironic that most companies with whom I’ve partnered have all tried to differentiate themselves through their sales and marketing programs. So why do people continue to hope that a one-size-fits-all,  off-the-shelf technology solution will work for them? The key word here is HOPE.

Technology can only ENABLE an organization to improve if it is easy to use, focused on the right problems, embraced by all of the key stakeholders, and is customized to meet their unique and distinctive needs. So if you run across an automated marketing “solution” that entails user / license fees and hours-upon-hours of training, avoid the pitfall of wasting lots of $$$$ and time.


It IS Personal

February 15, 2012

Most people have a deep psychological need to stand out from the crowd, to be treated with respect and to relate with others on a personal level—especially when it comes to forking over hard-earned dollars for a product or service. Yet, most people would agree that there is a severe lack of personal “connectedness” in a majority of business dealings these days. It’s as if companies have put their employees through training at the local DMV. What’s up with THAT? Why is it that so many companies really don’t seem to care anymore?

Creating a sophisticated system for gathering, organizing and utilizing "primary data" from Customers and Prospects is the engine for Personalized Marketing.

Look at it this way. Think about the last time you saw an ad on TV for a limited time, significantly discounted service (banks, mobile phones and satellite TV services come to mind).  Now, think about how YOU felt—you, the customer who had had just signed up for that service  just two months before, with no special offer. You’ll have to admit that it made you a bit upset when the ad clearly states, “for new accounts only.” Heck with you, Customer! That’s the downside with most advertising and marketing communications.  The bulk of it is still lowest-common-denominator, one-size-fits-all, broadcast-dependent messaging.  One could surmise that the carefree blanketing of ads everywhere is a reflection of their impersonal approach to doing business.

Here’s the good news. It really doesn’t have to be that way anymore. With standards and expectations at an all-time low, opportunity abounds! What if you could deliver a marketing campaign message that was tailored to the individual’s unique needs and personal desires, and actually provided the relevant information about your brand, product or service that was customized to them? You can! And you should!

Personalized Marketing is now a proven methodology that is a vital differentiator for brands, and should SERIOUSLY be considered as a way of doing business–for the good of the prospect, your customer and most importantly, for you. We’ll save you the techno-babble, but it involves a commitment to utilizing marketing to gather primary, user-generated data; a system for organizing the data; and the practical application of advanced communications technology (termed “digital variable”) to produce and deliver the message directly to the right person.

We’ve been pioneering and perfecting Personalized Marketing for over 12 years and have been a leader in developing the necessary corporate mindset, processes, technology and creative development techniques necessary to achieve true, authentic, personal communications. And by the way, did I mention that the results are 100% measurable and truly mind-blowing?  We can prove it!


DATA Is The New Currency of Marketing

February 1, 2012

I stumbled across an article last week about a new virtual currency called Bitcoin. Wrapping your head around the idea will hurt your brain. Basically, it’s a totally new currency system developed by some MIT geniuses using peer-to-peer technology. Their purpose is to develop a worldwide currency platform that is not affiliated with any government, has no central banking system, and cannot be tracked, taxed or controlled by any country.  Unlike other online payment services such as PayPal, their’s is a stand alone system that is not dependent on having the currency translate back into any standard monetary form.  That’s about as far as I’ll go in trying to explain the concept (view a simple demo at http://www.weusecoins.com).

It got me to thinking about “currency.”  Can a few smart people really create and replace a global system that has been the backbone of world economies for a few lifetimes? Going back to my formative years in the ad business, “back in the day” it was all about money.  How many times did my agency employer put pressure on a client to ramp up their media budget on the premise that it would drive sales?  “You’ve got to go national with your TV buy!”  “We cannot help you unless you agree to double your budget!” (Yes, I am fully aware that the practice is alive and kicking today). Coincidence that the agency made more money when a client “upped” their budget?  Without any proof whatsoever, the widely-held belief was that money is THE solution to all marketing problems. It was hog waste then and still is now. So if not $$$$$, then what?  Well, in a word, DATA! And it goes like this…

(Oh oh, here comes a giant “BGO”–Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious)!!!  The technology revolution has unleashed a torrent of change (wait, stick with me…).  At the most basic level, two of these changes have had a profound impact on marketing: 1) the digitization of almost everything–pictures, words, even personal relationships–into tiny bits of code, and the ability to store unlimited amounts of it; 2) the conditioning, acceptance and familiarity of people to voluntarily interact, share and even control the flow of information (web 2.0 anyone?). In my view, what’s really happening is this– the world of advertising and marketing is shifting from one that was (and still too often IS) based entirely on a BROADCAST model whose fuel is money–to a NETWORK model whose fuel is user-generated DATA. And the “winner” in the NETWORK model will be those who recognize and embrace that the new currency platform running all things marketing is DATA.

“…what’s really happening is this– the world of advertising and marketing is shifting from one that was (and still too often IS) based entirely on a BROADCAST model whose fuel is money; to a NETWORK model whose fuel is user-generated DATA.”  

In fact, it’s already happening.  Think about companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook.  Ten short years ago only two of them barely existed, and yet today their combined market cap (including Facebook’s estimated IPO value) is close to $400 billion! (I wonder how much that is in bitcoin?).  At their core, they all do the same thing…amass large audiences, and use sophisticated data collection and data analysis tools to virtually run their businesses. Interestingly, in all three cases, money is the RESULT of a currency platform that is DATA!

The implications and potential are enormous.  I can easily foresee a world where the consumer finally realizes the value of their personal data and, instead of giving it away freely to marketers, they store it in virtual wallets to be used to negotiate one-to-one, real, monetary value (in the forms of discounts, upgrades, etc.).  Or one where virtual “agencies” appear–in this case, they work on behalf of consumers, not marketers, and use their vast consumer data to negotiate larger deals and discounts for participating members with marketing organizations–on the premise that these deals will be more than paid for by the elimination of waste in the marketing process.

But for now, the world is much easier to forecast and the implications more straight-forward.  And it goes like this…every aspect of your sales and marketing planning and program execution SHOULD be evaluated with a different currency system in mind.  Make a commitment to move away from the “monetary” system and move as quickly as you can to the “DATA” system. In a few short years you’ll be glad you did.


Building The Bridge Between Marketing and Sales

January 5, 2012

Marketing working in tandem with Sales will build bridges for the end Prospect to cross.

The truth? Still too many companies today have virtual (or intended) walls constructed between their marketing and sales efforts, teams, processes, etc. In fact, in a recent meeting, a senior marketing executive stated, “our job is to lead the horse to the water, but NOT to make him drink.” In our experience, the problem stems from a simple cause that is relatively easy to correct…all stakeholders are simply not linked together and working towards the same goal.
Take a review of this recently published report. It encapsulates the challenges still faced between marketing and sales, as well as provides performance benchmarks. If nothing else, it will make you stop and think.



Tip of the Iceberg

November 20, 2011

A bit of advertising trivia.  Not too many years ago, there was a term often used to categorize different forms of advertising. This term was first used in Europe, but quickly spread to the U.S. as agencies consolidated, and global agency networks were born.  The term? “Above The Line.” It referred to advertising that was deemed acceptable (by whom, I never knew), and was most often used as slang for TV, radio and print. The truth is, it emerged as the result of an accounting procedure that was used for recording the cost of advertising in client budgets. “Above The Line” advertising costs were considered acceptable to itemize in a budget. Of course, the antithesis term followed, “Below The Line.”  This referred to advertising that was considered non-traditional and really, it was used as a derogatory term for the less sophisticated forms of advertising, in particular sales promotions, direct marketing, database marketing and direct mail.  If you worked in these emerging areas of any ad agency, you were considered the cellar dwellers (or, as one agency head once referred to our group, the “trolls under the bridge.”  True story!).

Back in the day, almost all of the focus and resources went towards that part of the advertising and marketing iceberg that was visible–above the (water) line–the campaign creative. In fact, without naming names, I recall high-paid Creative Directors being treated literally as royalty within the various agencies where I worked. The TV, print and radio creative was the religion, and the geniuses who birthed the ideas were the gods. Creativity ran the ad world.

Yes, the times they are a changing. In 1995, Budweiser had one of the top campaigns of the year. Remember it? The swamp frogs, starring Louie and Frankie. In fact, Gore Verbinski directed the spots. Don’t recognize the name? He went on to be the director of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Quick–what was the top campaign from last year? I’ll let you research it yourself. You’ll discover as I did…there is no such category anymore.

A recruiter friend of mine just last week lamented the fact that suddenly he is being inundated by clients who are looking for seasoned professionals with “below the line” experience (translation: direct and database marketing expertise).  Global agency conglomerates have switched positions in their names, putting the direct brand first (Wunderman and Draft FCB come to mind). The reasons? There are many, but much of it has to do with the fact that these “trolls”, who were all raised on the boring, non-glam, “below-the-(water)-line” skill areas such as data, analytics, database technology, measurability, R-O-I, systems planning, and the more-science-than-art skills of discovering compelling insights from vast quantities of information, now provide the backbone skills needed for successful marketing.

Although times HAVE changed, terms “above-the-line” and “below-the-line” work even better in today’s world. Take that iceberg. Today, instead of symbolizing the campaign creative, the tip is the part of the marketing mix that is visible to the target, representing the numerous channels for reaching prospects and customers alike.  But also like an iceberg, increasingly the entire foundation for all marketing now lies “below-the-(water)-line”. You see, it’s still all of the non-glam, boring, complex data, systems and technology junk that enables the tip of the iceberg to be visible.  So, while the perceived market value of the expertise of the “trolls” continues to grow rapidly, here’s the good news (for the creative types, at least)…the trolls’ work still remains below-the-(water)-line.


Is AWARENESS Still The Primary Focus in Marketing?

November 18, 2011

I stumbled upon this interesting article written from somebody who is, quite obviously, in the social media trenches. Three excellent points made in this article are worth further embellishment (click on the pic to read the full article):

1. Current Social Media Platforms were NOT built, nor intended to support, brands, products or promotional advertising. Like many internet ventures, advertising becomes the de facto business model (and primary revenue generator) long after conception and development of the initial idea. Why is this important? Call it “context,” but it’s critical to keep this in mind as more-and-more brands clamor to invest in social media. Facebook was never designed to work for marketers (I don’t recall any scene in “The Social Network” where the Mark Zuckerberg character stressed about  ways to attract and engage advertisers).  Think of it this way–imagine a neighbor is having a large party that you’re attending. Half-way through the event there’s a knock at the door, and in strolls 15 sales representatives from various local businesses. Each proceed to attempt to distract you, “pitch” you on their wares, with the sole intention of asking you if you LIKE them. Intrusive is a word that comes to mind. Now, imagine a similar party one week later. Instead, sprinkled throughout the party are attendees who are already a part of the social community, and who happen to represent various local businesses. Instead of “pitching” their wares, they have authentic, one-on-one conversations with the various party-goers, and get to know each of them better, and as individuals. They recognize, and accept going-in, that not every party-goer will have an interest, need or desire for their wares. But for the few that do, they mutually agree to reconnect at another time and place, in a setting and “context” that is more conducive to doing business.

It is, and always will be, imperative to keep the “context” of the social media environment top-of-mind as you plan and engage in social media on behalf of your brand.

2. “LIKE” is NOT a Purchase. Call me a cynic, but I get a kick out of the number of marketers who stress and over-invest in getting “LIKED.” Honestly, it reminds me of high school. Yes, I “get” that it happens to be the currency of the social media landscape. But let’s use some common sense for just a second…being LIKED is not the same as making a sale. From my vantage, too often the desire to be “LIKED” can actually work AGAINST your brand. My observation is that too many brands use discounting, incentives, and whatever monetary means is necessary to ramp-up LIKES. Effectively, they could be making some very basic marketing mistakes: a) by using the discount magnet, they could be attracting the most unprofitable group of new customers; b) they are conditioning their new customers to buy on incentive or discount, and reduce the chance of continued re-purchase at full rate; c) they risk pissing off their loyal, profitable group of existing customers.

3. The largest media network in the world. At the most basic level, the primary reason so many marketers wet their pants over social media is simple–it represents the largest media network in the world, and the prospect of reaching one-sixth of the world with my message is just too much to resist. This way of thinking harkens back to the “I Can Buy Awareness,” TV network days when the bulk of advertising dollars were spent on network television (anyone remember Pets.com? Super Bowl ad from 2000?  What was the brand icon? What ever happened to it?). I find it ironic, and a tad pathetic, that so many marketers take the limited view that social media is just another advertising network. The size of the network is totally and completely irrelevant. What IS important: a)whether it has a concentration of the types of people with whom I want to do business, and that I can identify, reach and engage efficiently; b) if / how I can best use the context, tools and principle reasons people have naturally gathered together, and the HONEST determination that my brand fits in; c) whether I can engage and get to know enough of them to make the investment worthwhile; d) whether I can demonstrate that the investment (time, money, all resources) results in more sales–enough to offset the investment.


Generational Media Consumption

October 16, 2011

Interesting article published by Ad Age regarding different generations, and their media consumption habits by day part.  (Click on the pic to read the full article):