Marketing Students guilty of negligence?

Marketing BooksAs a marketing graduate I read with interest David Meerman Scott’s views on how many marketing professors could be guilty of malpractice in the way they teach the subject.

Part of me agreed, I remember in a tutor group session explaining Chasm Theory to my fellow students and the lecturer. But then I thought ‘how come I knew about Chasm Theory and other students didn’t?’

The answer is simple – and this advice holds for students of any subject: read around your subject. Voraciously. Find online discussion groups (this was 1996, I was on Guy Kawasaki’s Rules for Revolutionaries mailing list and the contact with real-life tech-savvy marketers was invaluable and inspiring to me). Nowadays there are many more forums, mailing lists and groups to get involved in. Authors, like David and Seth Godin have blogs so you can keep up with what they’re thinking about in-between books. Not that one has to wait long for something to read these days; it seems there’s a new ‘New Marketing’ or Social Media Marketing book published every week. The biggest problem is keeping on top of all this material.

For this reason I would have to disagree, marketing professors shouldn’t be sued for malpractice – they teach to a course, a curriculum set well in advance and based on a course prospectus. I get that the text books are long in the tooth, I think it’s great that David’s New Rules of Marketing & PR is on the reading list for a number of marketing programmes, it should be on more. So should Purple Cow. And How to Drive the Competition Crazy, because the marketing set texts are dry and stuffy. The practice of marketing on the other hand is not – it’s the lifeblood of an organisation. Books that encourage you to try something new, be remarkable and give recent real-world case studies prove that.

Is there still a place for Kotler?

Absolutely. A lot of Marketing Management is just common sense couched in academic terms, but it needs to be ingested. Some of it just begs to be overturned (one of my favourite essay approaches was using contemporary case studies to prove a particular assumption wrong) but for a book like ‘New Rules’ to make any sense, don’t you have to know what the old rules are? Don’t you need an idea of what kind of predictable moves the competition are likely to make? (Admittedly an assumption on my part – that the competitor’s marketing team are still running on Marketing 1.0.)

Shiny object syndrome

The presenters of the marketing podcast Marketing Over Coffee often refer to ‘Shiny object syndrome’ – the way that some people obsess over the latest new toy/social network/location-based game. There’s a danger in pursuing the shiny object too fervently. if marketing lecturers had spent a semester teaching Second Life, a few years back, how would those students feel about that module now? I was taught basic HTML as part of my marketing course. It was somewhat superfluous for me, but for the rest of the class? At least they understand the difference between H1 and P tags. If the lecturer had taught Pagemill (yes I’m that old) instead, how much use would those lessons be now?

What to do?

I was impressed to learn that my alma mater now includes real-world marketing experience as part of the course. Students are, under adult supervision, given a small budget to market a local business. Assignments like this will favour students that read around and are familiar with the more efficient methods that Marketing 2.0 brings. Universities could provide recommended reading lists, but that takes away the initiative from the student. Marketing students ought to be mavericks, railing against the hegemony of Kotler et al. Anyone who isn’t is doomed to play by the old rules. Any student that doesn’t take their education seriously and relies on their professors for all their learning is themselves negligent. So what’s the answer? Drum home the message READ AROUND YOUR SUBJECT!

Image credit: Hubspot via Creative Commons on Flickr.

Holding On – The right and wrong way in customer retention

apple pieCustomer retention seems to get little thought in some companies. The fact that retention tactics only kick in when you tell them you want to terminate your contract is a significant part of the problem. Customer acquisition is an expensive business but it seems that some marketers are obsessed with it, accepting churn as a fact of life, with holding on to existing customers given only cursory attention.

Keeping customers is too important to be left to a salesperson calling the customer after they leave, you should be aiming to be so good for your customers that they never even think about leaving. Good marketers do this by making sure that all parts of the customer experience are faultless. ‘It’s not my department’ marketers on the other hand constantly have to come up with ways to retain customers that are disappointed by the service delivery.

A personal example

My dad recently decided to switch gyms. He even took the time to tell the Fitness First retention agent that called him the reasons why he was leaving.

A few days ago he received this text message:

As a thank you for being a member we would like to give you Aug for FREE.
Limited spaces – 1st come 1st served!
Contact 0208743 4444 to redeem

“OK,” he thought, “a month for free, as a thank you, that’s a nice gesture, maybe they’re trying to win me back, plus I can go to the gym with my sister for another month.”

So he called them up and said “I’d like to take you up on the August for free offer you just texted me.” Only to be told that the August for free offer was contingent on signing up for a whole year. Even as a retention offer, 8.33% extra free is pretty weak but what really irked him was the fact that they’d sent him something phrased as a ‘thank you for your past custom’ that was contingent on future custom. So he called their head office and asked them whether they knew the difference between a thank you and an offer on a future purchase. They conceded that the message could be worded better. Whether they change their approach or not is doubtful at best.

Maybe the bright spark that came up with the offer thought it sounded compelling. Maybe they thought that the best way to entice lapsed members back is by offering them 8.33% off their next year’s membership fee. Maybe they didn’t really consider what it would feel like to receive this text.

Reframe so you can think like a customer

Here’s a trick for when you’re working out an offer, whether it’s a retention offer or an acquisition offer: reframe it into a different industry. I like to use hotels or restaurants to do this – everyone knows how they work and know what it’s like to be a customer, so it’s easy to explain and get others’ opinions on. The idea is to transplant your situation to an industry that you are a customer of. This works for pretty much any kind of marketing you do – ‘think like your customer’ is rather obvious but it’s amazing how many marketers have forgotten how to do that.

Reframing applied

Take the gym example above, reframed to a restaurant. A couple is dining at a restaurant, they decide not to have dessert and to just have coffee. The restaurant would like them to return some time and by foregoing dessert they’ve indicated that they’ll be finishing soon and asking for the bill. So when the bill is given to them, along with it is a coupon that says ‘We appreciate for your custom, as a thank you have a free dessert with your next meal’.

Is a free dessert, that the customer has to remember to bring a coupon for, on a future visit sufficient to convince them to return? Possibly, possibly not.

Ask yourself: would that work on me? If the answer is no, clearly you need to rethink your retention tactics. Think about how the restaurant could do it better and you have your answer.

What if instead of making that offer contingent on future payment, the waiter, when he takes the coffee-only order, says “how about some apple pie (offer whatever the kitchen has plenty of) with that, on us?”. Most people can make room for a free dessert. The customer is rewarded right there and then, they have an experience worth talking about – an act of unprompted generosity, and they’re more likely to return as well. Total cost – less than with printing a coupon, with more efficacy.

So how could the gym have handled it differently? Point 1, if it’s a thank you then it’s a gift, free as in beer. Point 2, don’t make people call up to claim a limited offer, tell the customer their membership has already been extended for them – if they don’t turn up it doesn’t cost you a thing, if they do, the marginal cost is negligible. Is this going to convince someone to renew at the end of the month instead of lapse? Who knows, but you stand a much better chance at winning someone back by giving them something instead of dangling a carrot.

What kind of marketer are you?

The question you have to ask yourself is what kind of marketer are you? Stuck in the 80s, with cut-out coupons, conditional offers and small print? Or evolved, aware that customers have more choice and power than ever before, aware that your job is to make your customer like you by treating them well, not beguiling them into signing something.

Image credit: code_martial

5 Marketing & Social Media Podcasts worth subscribing to right now


headphonesPodcasts are a great way to learn and keep your brain engaged when you’re doing something boring – exercising, housework, commuting, your day job (kidding!).

But your time doing any of these things is finite and there’s an awful lot out there to listen to. Here’s a rundown of the marketing podcasts I listen to regularly, the kind of content they cover, the average frequency and duration and why I like each of them.

Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel

Primarily covers social media/new media marketing, Mitch also writes for a couple of newspapers and is president of Twist Image, a marketing consultancy. Often alternates between a standard Six Pixels podcast and Media Hacks – though that may change, so subscribe to both, just in case.

Marketing Over Coffee

Christopher S. Penn and John Wall get together once a week early in the morning at a Dunkin’ Donuts for a 25 minute or so discussion of developments in marketing of all kinds from the past week. Everything from marketing 1.0 to search engine optimisation strategies.

Duct Tape Marketing

Usually an ‘interview with an author’ format show of around 30 minutes, a great variety of topics are covered. A new episode appears every 10 days or so.

The BeanCast

A weekly hour long conversation, hosted by Bob Knorpp, with a broad focus and a broad roster of guests, covering everything marketing from advertising, word-of-mouth and social media.

Media Hacks

A 3, 4 or sometimes 5-way chat with the rockstars of social media/new media marketing, Christopher S Penn, Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, C.C. Chapman and Hugh McGuire and Julien Smith. Episodes come out usually once a fortnight.

Some others worth auditioning:

Internet Marketing This Week

10 Golden Rules of Internet Marketing

The Engaging Brand

Marketing Edge

Inbound Marketing Strategies by Bernie Borges


Try them and let me now how you go, if there are any other marketing and social media podcasts that are a regular part of your listening let me know via the comments.

Photo credit Kevin O’Mara

Using sex to sell


I often come across advertising here in the Czech Republic that makes me think ‘wow, that’d cause a fuss in the UK/US/Middle East’.

This is one of those campaigns. It’s for a gym, advertising their ‘low prices from’. This one is ground-breaking only in that it’s the most striking of their poster campaigns so far. I’d just got back from a week in the UK and I saw the female version first and the mini culture shock of having been in the UK prompted me to think ‘um, that’s a little risqué’. Then I saw the male version and thought ‘ah well, at least they’re being even-handed’. Then I thought some more, decided it was a clever campaign (providing you see both, and on the basis of their space buy I imagine everyone will).

This provides a keen lesson in cultural differences when it comes to advertising creative. What’s perfectly acceptable in Prague will get people protesting against you in London. If you’re selling internationally, how do you handle local markets – leave it to your channel, or just play it as safe (bland?) as you can with your creative and hope you don’t trip over some other societal taboo?

Just who is the customer?


flowersA couple of days before Mother’s Day here in the UK, I saw a TV commercial for [amazon-product region=”us” text=”101 Housework Songs” type=”text”]B001QITOGQ[/amazon-product] – billed as The Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day.

Sure, if you want to get a smack upside the head!

When you’re marketing your products, who do you market to, the buyer or the intended end user?

Sure, this is an extreme example but this obvious marketing misstep made me think, do you start with the IT department or the accounts department if you’re selling payroll software? If you’re selling a mini-van to a 2 point 4 children family with a stay at home dad, whose needs are you addressing primarily if mom already has a roadster to drive to the office?

If you’re doing things right you appeal to all the key decision makers. Your payroll software should have all the key features the accounts department want and you should have answers for all the IT department’s questions, but the IT department aren’t going to insist they install your software, the accountants are going to drive that through.

I can’t quite imagine what, other than a lack of creativity and utter desperation would drive someone to try and market a gift that is belittling and insulting but I’m thankful for the example. If you really don’t know what to get your mother next mother’s day, it’s pretty simple: flowers, breakfast in bed, take her out to dinner, and do all the housework yourself – you can listen to whatever music you like while you do it.

Photo credit: wiccked

Marketing (over) coffee

mugHere in Prague we’ve got 3 players in the ‘Starbucks style’ coffee shop market (and some pretty decent small ‘classic’ cafes, and a fair few ‘grand cafe’ type places too). Personally I’ll have a coffee anywhere that serves a decent cup, but some of the smaller places are losing out to the chains. It would be a shame to lose some of these places but inevitability is knocking at the door.

There are a number of reasons why Starbucks, Costa and Coffee Heaven are always busy and the independent are not.

Reason one: to-go

The big guys will all serve you coffee to go in a big takeaway cup. The smaller cafes don’t even have a serving size equivalent to the Venti or Massimo (extra large!). That just doesn’t fit with the image of a coffee to go that we see on TV – business person drinking from an oversized coffee cup like it’s a baby’s bottle.

Reason two: comfy chairs and sofas for those who drink ‘in’

Reason three: an array of pastries and snacks on display, some that you can pick up and go to the counter with

Reason four: consistent, basic service – sure table service is nice (well, in Prague it sometimes isn’t) but walking up the counter and ordering your beverage of choice, in the knowledge that it’ll be ready in around 2-3 minutes, is comforting in an odd ‘hanging around at the end of the coffee counter’ kind of way. And you know what the score is there, you don’t think ‘is it table service or counter service? Do I pay when I order or after?’.

If you’re in Prague the following names will be very familiar to you: Dobra TrafikaKaaba and Kava Kava Kava (so good they named it thrice).They were all here before the chains arrived and they do OK but they’ve not expanded as much and don’t have a presence in malls, like the others.

The chains have innovated – they’ve expanded the product line – you’d get odd looks asking for a ‘tall soya latte with caramel’ in Ebel. They’ve innovated with branding – creating brands that are instantly recognisable, stamped all over the china and paper cups, on bags, loyalty cards and merchandise. They’ve innovated experientially – it’s a comfy chairs, spend a few hours kind of place. They deliver an experience in the same way that McDonalds and Coca-Cola do – with coke it’s not about the taste it’s about the advertising, the smell of the burgers that reminds you of your childhood, the ‘hand-embellishment’ of the can or bottle.

Whilst they’re a little less personal, the chains are winning out because they’ve got the money to spend opening branches. They’ve got the brand that says ‘you’ll get decent coffee, and pre-packed sandwiches here’.

How could the independents fight back? Loyalty cards? Start selling factory-produced sandwiches and overpriced microwave-warmed muffins?

Here are a few simple ideas that might help:

  1. Bundle – none of the chains are doing this, in Prague at least. None of them are doing the simplest thing McDonalds did to boost revenue – the ‘extra value meal’. It’s all about share of customer. You’ve already got them in the door, why shouldn’t you try and make the most you can by serving them? Coffee and cake are meant for each other – give a small discount and make the customer’s decision easier. Do I spend $3 on a coffee and another $3 on a cake? How about $5 for coffee AND cake. Their cakes are usually better and fresher than the chain ones anyway!
  2. Loyalty mug – have some mugs made with your logo on, buy a sharpie. Your staff recognise your regulars – you don’t need to tempt people with expensive-to-run loyalty cards. Write the regular’s name on the mug with a sharpie, along with the details of their favourite coffee. Hang them up behind the bar – others will want one for themselves. (And yes, I did take this idea from the local pubs that do the same for their regulars.) For extra points (we’re out of the realms of simplicity here but this is where it gets good) barcode it and match the barcode up on your point-of-sale system – and every now and again (randomly, maybe every tenth or twelfth visit) comp their coffee and say ‘this one is on us’, you’ll also be able to see how effective this strategy is, with real numbers. Record how often that person comes in. Really regular customers get a mug to take home too (just give them their old mug and write on a new one).
  3. See what the big guys are doing well and neutralise their competitive advantage as much as you can. Offer free wi-fi if you aren’t already. Make it obvious that you offer to-go, put the to-go cups on display and on the large menu board you have above the bar (you do have one of those don’t you?) have a section that says ‘place to-go orders at the bar otherwise have a seat and we’ll come take your order’ – and put menus on the tables so people aren’t straining their eyes to see the menu at the bar. Don’t have comfortable, welcoming seating? Get some.
  4. Be thoughtful. You should really clear your palette after drinking a coffee, but after paying $4 for a coffee at a chain, you’re not that enthusiastic to spend another $2 just to clear your palette. Some but not all places do this – serve a small glass of water with the coffee, it doesn’t have to be expensive bottled water (for environmental reasons it shouldn’t be), but use a water filter and make sure customers know it’s not just tap water.
  5. Celebrate your differences – as an independent you’re not bound by ‘corporate think’. Encourage your staff to be creative in their work and test out new ideas. Involve yourself in your community, have local artists hang their work on your walls. You’re not an impersonal chain, you are your customer’s very own coffee sanctuary.

What ways would you suggest an independent cafe differentiate itself from the Starbucks of this world? Comment here.


Photo credit: MezzoBlue, Title: Marketing Over Coffee

Loyalty Cards – How Many is Too Many?

loyaltycardsWe all like to be treated well by companies we use frequently and the loyalty card is the simplest tool at a marketer’s disposal to identify your best customers. Used well they’re very effective – they keep a customer using your airline, even when the others are more expensive, they allow you to track customer behaviour and target your marketing efforts more effectively.

There’s just one problem – they’re a huge pain to carry around. In this image there are cards for a restaurant, a cinema, a coffee chain, a drugstore, an airline, a hotel chain… It’s all very well for marketers to assume that a customer will only have their airline’s loyalty card in their wallet, but what about all the other companies? Supermarkets, petrol (gas) stations and every other loyalty card scheme are all vying for space in your already over stuffed wallet/purse/pocketbook.

Some supermarkets have figured this out, they give you a different piece of plastic with a number on – a small card to go on your keyring, so of course you can’t leave home without it – that works fine until you end up with 10 of them on your keyring and your bunch of keys won’t fit in a pocket any more.

As Guy Kawasaki says ‘never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself’. Loyalty marketers need to consider this: would you carry around a wallet full of plastic just for the, at best, 10% benefit the card earns you, if you remember to show it?

If only there was a universal card that everyone carried…

All a loyalty card does physically, at best, is carry a unique identifier. You usually have to fill in a form when you get it, parting with various pieces of personal information. There should be an option on these forms for you to enter the number from a piece of ID that you always carry. A National ID card in a lot of countries serves this purpose. For Brits or Americans, it would be the driving license. Make the hardware that’s used to scan the loyalty card also capable of reading the various types of ID card in use. Oh, and tell people ‘you don’t need to bring this piece of plastic with you providing you’ve got this other piece of ID you’ve registered with us’. The tinfoil hat brigade are happy – this is optional – and the rest of us don’t have to carry around a huge pile of plastic cards.

What are the potential pitfalls in doing this?

1. Customers may forget they have a ‘loyalty card’ and spend their money elsewhere instead

2. No analogue backup to enable you to check someone’s account if your database goes down

Point 1 is easily dealt with – if the only thing that enables you to retain a customer is a piece of plastic then you have bigger problems; you’ve clearly not been marketing to them effectively and your service is lacking too. As for point 2, that’s an internal systems issue, nothing to do with your customer. If someone says they’re entitled to the top level of discount offered by your loyalty programme, give it to them. Your clerk can always take the customer’s details and enter it later. If it doesn’t check out, so what, you’re still making a profit on your best customers aren’t you?

This problem’s going to get worse as it gets bigger but if you’re a loyalty marketer I implore you to consider this as an option to provide to your customers.

UPDATE 2009-05-30: An iPhone App by CardStar, profiled by Mashable, looks to solve the problem, for iPhone users at least – providing the merchant can scan your barcode (or will accept typing the number in) – sounds like till operator training is required more than anything. One of the commentators on the Mashable piece said that he just took pictures of his cards and saved them in an album on his iPhone.

Successful Social Network Advertising – An Idea

grapesSo, according to Nielsen (pdf) the big problem with advertising on social media is:

“The current level of advertising activity on social networks isn’t consummate with the size–and highly engaged levels–of the audience.”


“standard ad models – such as contextual search and standard unit sizes – won’t cut it.”

It’s been obvious to most advertisers for a while that an awful lot of advertising passes by unnoticed these days. An awful lot of content sites have click-thru rates that could be passed over as a rounding error. There are users who install ad-blockers into their browsers, then there are those why have literally become immune to banner ads, skyscrapers and buttons. In studies, content sites that use an ‘advertising style’ for the ads for other sections lose out on traffic because users dismiss these images as ‘just ads’.

The potential efficacy of social network advertising is enormous

Say you’re launching a new pseudo-healthy soft drink in a test market. You could launch it on Facebook using conventional advertising pretty well – you have the ability to demographically target very precisely: Want to advertise to 18-25 year old females living in your target market area? Not a problem. But those adverts in the sidebar on Facebook aren’t going to set the world alight, you’ll need to use old-school Marketing 1.0 tactics to encourage trial – tasting booths at events attended by your targets, in malls, any location that is highly-trafficked by your targets will do.

But if your trial packaging had a ‘become a fan on Facebook/MySpace and win’ splash on it and by becoming a fan and entering a 1-3 word description telling their friends what they thought of the drink, along with the code from the pack, they could win a prize. And every time someone does this, an item about your drink appears in the user’s personal news feed: “Caroline just tried TerriblyBerry Fruit Crush, she says: ‘Yum. Fruitylicious'”, of course this is accompanied by a link back to your page. As long as your product doesn’t suck, people will say nice things, their friends and relatives will be curious and may even want to try it for themselves.

Joining up traditional marketing to an online outpost on a social network you can start some buzz offline then amplify it online. I think we’re going to see a growth in this kind of promotion, driven by the more forward thinking advertising agencies, providing they can get over the fact that encouraging this degree of measurability might not be in their own best interest.

Marketing 1.0 still has a place

Marketing 1.0 still has its place – just because you’re hyper-connected that doesn’t mean your customers are. Learn to reach out to them in the spaces they’re in.

Image credit: MildlyDiverting Image credit: MildlyDiverting

With all the buzz about social media, inbound marketing and associated fashionable terms, it is useful to remind ourselves that Marketing 1.0 still has a place. That cumbersome, promotion-heavy, old-school way of marketing your wares isn’t dead yet.

Perhaps it is best explained by the fact that ‘You are not your target’.

I’m reminded of this particularly by a company I have worked with for a few years. They sell compatible ink cartridges. Their site isn’t a virtual community, it doesn’t provide opportunities for customers to communicate with each other on forums, any testimonials on the site are vetted from submissions in emails. The site design is functional, their on-page adverts and the newspaper campaigns they’re often based on won’t be winning any advertising awards for style, yet they are massively effective.

The majority of their business comes from large scale email shots to existing customers highlighting special purchase items and giving BoGoF promo codes for compatible ink cartridges – repeat business is the core of their success and is responsible for the lion’s share of their turnover. New customer acquisition is primarily via national press advertising, followed by the ‘tell-a-friend’ programme; a powerful combination of traditional marketing promotion and souped-up, incentivised word-of-mouth.

Without the old-world medium of national newspapers, they wouldn’t be able to reach their target market and grow their customer base. Their targets are not web-savvy comparison shoppers (because there’s always someone out there with a lower price), it’s people who still buy newspapers rather than read them for free online and are hooked by a ‘buy one get one free’ deal at prices that beat the OEMs into a cocked hat already.

To sum up, if you’re marketing a product that has a broad appeal, you have to accept that not all of your potential customers will be people like you. Understanding your customer isn’t just about gut feeling, it’s about research too. Get out there and meet your customers, meet people who could be your customers and don’t ignore the old-school methods of reaching these groups, just because it’s not hip or trendy.