04 December 2019
Author: Steve Bleh
Any plan for identifying, targeting and attracting customers to your brand almost always involves some sort of analysis of the customer journey. It’s the path from the Zero Moment of Truth, through something like a Sales Funnel, and leading ultimately to the Last Three Feet. Then we’re done, right? Everybody high-five and start filling out the awards submissions. The reality is that last moment of truth is not where the marketer’s job ends—it’s just where it starts over. With some notable exceptions—burial plots come immediately to mind—most of the brands and clients we serve are hoping for something more than a one-off transaction. So, what can we do to keep those customers coming back for more? First, be certain that the earliest customer experience is not only more than they expect, but clearly what they expect. Advertising messages that confuse your audience or imply a different kind of experience will leave guests confused, disappointed or worse. That means that a clear definition of who the product or service is for has to be baked into your strategy. This requires an analysis that goes beyond demographics or psychographics and gets to what customer need that initial purchase meets. It’s fair to say that the MegaMart and the art gallery have very different customer profiles, but patrons of the arts still, on occasion, need batteries or shoelaces. Second, anticipate that there still will be customers who walk away confused, disappointed or worse. Whether it’s because of an operations issue or a disconnect in your messaging doesn’t matter—it’s still marketing’s problem to address. There once was a saying that a satisfied customer tells two people, but a dissatisfied one tells 12. That’s still mostly true, but through social media that unhappy customer could reach 12 dozen or 12,000 in a matter of hours. Have a plan for responding to these situations that in a way that reinforces your accurate brand story and reinforces your commitment to meeting and exceeding expectations. Third—and this where the journey starts over at the beginning—your marketing plan needs to remind all those happy (or at least satisfied) customers about the best parts of their experience invite them back. Many mass-market retailers and food service establishments solicit comments at the cash register or create rewarded surveys. For high-value purchases or those that are less frequent, consider a personal contact to ask about the experience—good or bad—and even to ask for referrals. With so many options for any service or product in the market, brands need to make sure that every step the customer takes with you is on the right path. The first transaction is just the beginning of the relationship. And the beginning of a new journey.
15 October 2019
If it doesn’t feel like we’re almost always in the middle of an election cycle or gearing up for one, you may not be paying close enough attention. It chews up your social media feed, shouts at you on your commute and dominates whichever screen you choose as a refuge in the evening. Nobody feels it more than marketers who need to navigate the complex world of media planning competing for placement with candidates for every office from township clerk to president. And the competition can be even more acute if your business relies on reaching consumers in a contested or (worst case) swing state in the general election. The key is in diversifying your media plan to ensure you’re reaching your customers without having to outbid some campaign or special interest group with deeper pockets. Careful planning early in the process can prevent unexpected costs or preemption later in the game, particularly in that 45-day window before the general election. A simple approach is to make sure you have a good media mix to target your consumers. One way to do this is to move out of higher-demand programming and cable networks that political ads will be buying up. New analytics help make this approach even more efficient. Using audience modeling, we can target the exact same consumers on other networks or programming to mirror the viewing habits we want. This also avoids putting your message in an environment where a flood of political ads sends consumers running out of the room at every commercial break. There’s no need to run away from traditional broadcast during an election. An option we can explore to put in the mix is sponsorships or sports packages, which are less pre-emptiable during election campaigns. While these come with time and budget commitments, they can complement your normal schedule to reach higher targeted-profile programming. An important thing to remember is to make sure you have an open communication with your media partners. By staying ahead of issues, you can work out any bumps in the campaign in advance. Streaming services—referred to in the trade as OTT or over-the-top—also present opportunities to communicate with your customers in a channel where election-year demand doesn’t create as much pressure. Because political campaigns need to focus their efforts on likely voters, your planning can be nimbler and take advantage of opportunities they pass on or simply overlook. OTT channels also aren’t bound by regulations requiring them to offer candidates for political office their lowest unit rates (LUR)—which means there’s more room for negotiation. Streaming audio channels offer many of the same advantages. Platforms like Spotify, Pandora or TuneIn deliver audiences that can be custom-targeted by both geography and interest, as well as by demographics. Campaign commercials may interrupt your favorite show or clutter up your news feed, but a well-considered plan can make sure they don’t spoil your marketing.
19 September 2019
It’s no surprise: we all work hard to ensure our departments and companies are running as lean as possible, building flexible teams of multitaskers. The upside? The latest user-friendly technology and trends make it easier than ever to do things yourself. The technology is amazing. Things that less than a generation ago required teams of professionals or months of effort—from animation to finding a relationship—now can be programmed, automated and executed at the touch of a button. Or a swipe on a touch screen. It’s a brave new world. What a time to be alive (and all that). Less than sure about how to use all these new tricks and toys? Good news: there’s probably a video tutorial, cheat sheet or simple hack just a few keystrokes away. But is the do-it-yourself route the best thing for your company? We see the DIY urge most often in specialized disciplines, or where final results or performance expertise can be highly subjective. Why hire a professional photographer when somebody already on the team has a perfectly good camera? Who can really say that John’s homemade eggrolls aren’t as good as the caterer’s? To make do with the assets you have—they seem experienced enough, right?—is a tempting choice. But before you decide to trust an enthusiastic amateur with a professional job, consider: Are the savings worth the hidden costs? What you save upfront in professional fees may get eaten up by lost time or compatibility issues with other systems. The web design your neighbor’s friend can do on the side might look spectacular. But can it connect to your inventory system? Is the quality the same? Some basic tasks, like uploading a video or social post, are either completed or they’re not. But most projects in this business need to perform to a higher standard. A repaired computer that works but runs slowly causes inefficiency and costs you money. A product spec sheet with great copy but factual errors can cost you a sale. Or a customer. Can you count on delivery? People tend to give priority to assignments that are the most important … to them. A good product at a fair price is of no value to your operation if you don’t have it when and where you need it. There’s a story about a famous photographer at a dinner party. After the main course, her host comments, “I’ve admired your work in many magazines. You must have a terrific camera.” The photographer replies, “I enjoyed the dinner. You must have a great stove.” If there’s an app for that, maybe you technically can do anything. If there’s a friend of a relative who knows someone who can help, maybe they’re the asset you need. Maybe not. But nobody can do everything, at least not well. And not when your success—and your reputation—are on the line.
04 September 2019
Amidst these days of digital dominance, it’s rare to find a business that doesn’t understand—and try to capitalize on—the importance of good SEO. In fact, you’ll find that most organizations, regardless of size, agree it’s among the most vital factors for long-term success. And yet there are still some that are missing the mark on having a solid SEO strategy in place. Some without a targeted plan at all. Others who’ve just let it slide a little (or a lot). There are countless experts and articles underlining the tactics, trends and tools that still matter—and more important, that still work. SEO is alive and well, so why would any business push it to the back burner? Or worse, ignore it or table it entirely? It’s a long-term strategy. SEO takes commitment, especially from key stakeholders within a company. When it comes to digital tactics, oftentimes the mindset is to simply deliver instant traffic and hit all the desired key performance indicators. *brushing off hands* “Mission accomplished,” they think. In reality, a strong digital media strategy is more complex than that. Of course, all the paid methods such as Facebook ads, Display and Search provide instant gratification. But the critical connection is the one between your SEO strategy and your marketing efforts—meaning, are they working in conjunction? There’s a wealth of keyword information to be had from just one search campaign … including deeper insight into which keywords are actually driving conversions. It lacks a tangible objective. Crazy as it sounds, there are businesses out there that don’t know what their goals are—or have trouble articulating them in a way that can be capitalized upon. Maybe those goals have changed. Just like with paid campaigns, a business needs to have clear KPIs attached to their SEO efforts. Think about what you want to accomplish from your SEO: Generate more organic leads? Increase the number of people reading your content? Create a better user experience? Secure higher placements? Once those details are identified, a clear SEO strategy can be crafted (or adjusted). It’s overwhelming. Many times, companies just don’t know where to start. They know their business objectives, but maybe not how to translate them into SEO objectives. Or an established business has an old SEO plan that doesn’t seem to be delivering the way it once did. Regardless of SEO experience or history, the best thing to do in these situations is to run a comprehensive SEO site audit. This in-depth assessment can uncover items that need to be addressed, added or fixed in order to ensure your site ranks well in a search—presumably, higher than it was before the audit. It can also improve your site’s overall user experience and increase conversions from other sources of traffic such as Google Ads or social media. Getting Started: The place to start often is with a site audit. Through this process, you and your team will identify opportunities to better align your online presence with your business objectives. Then you can track the metrics you’ll use to measure success. SEO is never a one-off project. It’s a continuing process of responding to your customer preferences and user behavior, and adjusting to changes in both the online and competitive environments.
21 August 2019
Social media and other digital channels have given analytical marketers exactly what they’ve always wanted: more numbers to drop in a spreadsheet. I’m not dismissive. Data is very useful and important. It’s how we determine how to invest resources, where to double down, when to cut our losses, switch channels or change messages. But for a discipline that is relatively new, there already seems to be an established orthodoxy for measuring results. In just a decade, entire industry sectors have sprung up to provide real-time analytics on the number of impressions, shares, comments, reactions, new followers, audience attrition … you name it. And all of these measurements can be very helpful if, as my colleague Kyle likes to say, you ask the right questions (subtle boss shout-out). The challenge arises when the metrics themselves become the measure of success. British economist Charles Goodhart described the problem when writing about national economies, but the principal still holds true—whenever one statistical measure becomes a stand-in for evaluating the whole, it will cease to be a useful measure. This doesn’t necessarily mean that people are gaming the system. It’s simple human nature to repeat actions that are rewarded—and if moving that “Like” number one percent higher than it was last month makes the boss happy, then that’s what we’ll do. Standby for adorable puppy video in 3 … 2 … 1 … So, your team pumps out some “fresh content.” Some people like it. Some comment on it. Some share it … and all the numbers look great again. But why? And why is that better? There are situations in which the basic metrics are, indeed, solid measurement tools. If you’re marketing a mass-market product, follower and impression counts certainly factor into your evaluation. Grade-A, certified-genius-level content might make you feel good, but it’s not going to move much product if only 17 people see it. Gaining new followers may be in order. Conversely, if you’re marketing a highly specialized product or service with only a dozen or so potential users in the known universe, even a few million fanboys cheering you on in a social space won’t help if you can’t reach those key decision makers. But unless you’re a big-time professional online influencer, audience growth is likely, in and of itself, not a business objective. Most of us are in the business of marketing products and services. That’s the entire point of your brand’s social presence. By all means, keep an eye on your social metrics and pay close attention to when and how your online audience is interacting with your brand. But understand those numbers for what they are: leading indicators, not business objectives. Finding the right audience is more important to your real-world business objectives than reaching the biggest one. And even then, it really only matters when we succeed in motivating some action based on what we’ve shared. Y’know, in the real world. That’s why.
14 August 2019
The best marketing strategy in the world can only have temporary results if it doesn’t account for the entire customer experience. Sure, our first job is to get people in the door, on the lot or to the website, but that’s just the beginning of the journey. I was lucky to learn this at my first and only job before I started my professional career. I was working at a high-end butcher shop in downtown Cincinnati where the clientele had expectations for their rack of lamb just as high as my current clients do for their multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns. How does a teenager become a butcher at such a place and what did I learn from my time working there? For the first question, ask my dad. For the second, I think it’s safe to say that I learned as much working as a butcher as I did in college. Scary, right? The most important lesson I learned there is that the experience is just as important as the product. This is easy to overlook while organizations focus on product and process, but it can be the most important part of your business plan. Marketing’s job isn’t over when the customer comes through the door. In some ways it’s just beginning. Think about it. One of the first lessons at the butcher shop was wrapping orders. At the time I didn’t understand why my father made such a big deal about it. Finally, he explained that the package that goes out the door is a big part of the experience. The way it feels in our guest’s hands, the way it looks that afternoon in the refrigerator. The appearance, the aroma, the reveal when he first unwraps his roast or chops to start cooking. All those moments are an opportunity to reinforce his decision to choose us. The challenge is to own as many of those moments as possible. Why is that customer in the market in the first place? It’s a butcher shop, so the simple answer is for food. But probably not because they’re hungry. Usually, our customers were preparing a meal to be shared with others, and likely somebody they wanted to impress. That changes the equation. It means they need more than just quality product. They want and expect our expertise beyond which cut is particularly good that day. We’d make suggestions for preparation and serving, selecting side dishes and other ideas for making their meal a success. We understood that we were playing a role in that special meal and it could very well be one of the most important occasions in our customer’s week … or career or relationship. And the customer experience isn’t complete until the dishes are cleared from the table.
05 August 2019
Ask most business owners who their customer is and they’ll likely point to demographic characteristics or the different types of media they consume to support their answer. While these data points always are important, they’re just that—data points—without a more intimate understanding of what drives your customer to make a purchase decision, and more important, when she or he is likely to make it. It’s true … we live in a brave new data-driven world that is stunningly (frighteningly?) easy for both ecommerce companies and mass retailers to collect granular details about shopper habits. Data that they can then use to generate insights on their customers’ habits and behavioral attributes. How do you compete with that technology if you’re in one of those businesses where you can’t obtain a deep customer profiles? Or simply don’t have access to that level of in-depth detail? We encounter this data disconnect particularly with consumer or in-home services brands. Accurate information is even harder to come by in categories where the sales cycle is longer or more considered, or when purchases are driven by a specific, perhaps acute, need. This is key—because if you don’t truly know who this customer is, if you’re not targeting the type of customer appropriate for your brand, you risk losing them to a competitor who is. So are these companies destined to be left behind in the data revolution? Not if they use data for what it does best, and trust themselves to continue doing what they’ve already proved they do best. While it’s not easy to create the perfect data model of your customers, there are still ways to better understand them. The right answers start with asking the right questions: • What problem is your customer trying to solve? • What other solutions have they considered (or will they consider)? • What information do they need before choosing? • Where do they get that information? • Do they do their own research, or do they rely on referrals from family, friends or social networks? • Do they simply follow the brand they perceive to be the market leader? • Which customers are selecting your competitors over you, and why are some leaving you altogether? By answering these questions, marketers in less data-rich categories can build a better understanding of their specific customers. Even better, that puts them in a position to target the right customer with the right message—at the right time.
11 July 2019
Daniel Lally When it comes to sharing industry advice—real-world marketing know-how, brand-building next-steps, current trends and important practices—we’ve always got something to talk (and write) about. Now, we’ve taken that talk to the next level: action. Since our launch as an independent agency in 1986, our entire focus has been to build our business around yours … our clients’ businesses. We’ve invested in new technologies and added capabilities, but only when it allowed us to better serve those clients. Because that’s what it’s all about, right? Our goal has always been to work more closely with our clients than is the norm in this biz. And from what we’re told, we succeed. We know that relationships based on transparency and trust are the most successful ones of all. Best of all, this often provides us insights into opportunities for building better relationships between brands and their communities. That insight is what inspired bringing a new division on board—along with a seasoned expert to lead it. Meet Daniel Lally, the newest member of the St. Gregory team and Vice President of Strategic Communication. Dan has been on both the agency and corporate sides of the ad biz for more than 20 years—notably, one of the early adopters of social media techniques among public relations professionals. He even co-founded a nonprofit to study and share best practices for using social media to achieve real-world business objectives. Practical PR at its finest. Along the way, Dan has created and led strategic communication efforts on behalf of leading consumer and B2B brands. He’s launched several familiar products you likely have in your house right now, and appeared on more than a few popular TV shows we know you watch from time to time. We’re confident both long-standing clients and new ones alike will appreciate the resources and experience Dan brings to our table—from marketing, media relations and social media to content development, community relations and crisis communications. More important, we know he’ll make our work for those businesses even better.
25 April 2019
There’s been a lot of talk about television viewers cancelling cable and switching over to subscription services like Netflix, Amazon Prime or Hulu, otherwise known as Over The Top (OTT). We see headlines like “Cord-Cutting Accelerates as OTT Video Keeps Growing” and “The Number of OTT-Only U.S. Homes Has Tripled Over the Last 5 Years.” But so far, the numbers don’t seem to reflect the giant migration advertisers had feared. While the headlines do reflect facts, they don’t provide much in the way of context. According to a 2018 report from the Video Advertising Bureau, the number of households exclusively using OTT streaming services and devices has tripled since 2013. But that adds up to only a small fraction of the U.S. market—anywhere from 11 to 13%, depending on which survey you look at. In fact, about the same number of U.S. households still use antennae to watch broadcast television—and nobody’s panicking about the rabbit ears taking over. The main OTT services—Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Amazon Prime—account for more than two hours of daily viewing per household per day, on average. Ad-supported television, meanwhile, averages 7.9 hours of usage each day. And most people who use OTT devices and apps—about 70%— also have cable. Some aspects of OTT subscription make estimating viewership a little fuzzy. Nobody’s quite sure what the effect will be of forthcoming OTT platforms like Disney, Warner, Apple and NBCU; we can assume that OTT viewership will increase, but there’s some question as to whether we’ll reach a saturation point at which viewers resist subscribing to yet more services. Further, it’s likely that we underestimate OTT viewership, since sharing passwords is so ubiquitous. And finally, since subscription information comes from the services themselves, critics like FX Network CEO John Landgraf accuse OTT services of “grading their own homework”—i.e., potentially spinning the facts to benefit themselves. While OTT subscriptions are growing by leaps and bounds, it’s not time to abandon traditional advertising just yet. A wise marketer will determine the balance of media advertising allocations based on the demographics they wish to reach—and keep all advertising options on the table.