public relations

Don’t Blame Brands (Always) In A Time Of Crisis

The tweet heard around the world.

There was a disaster somewhere in the world. I think it was the tragic Boston Marathon bombings. I was in France at the time speaking at an event. I was crawling into an early evening slumber when the news broke. As we do these days, I hopped over to Twitter. I was immediately taken by someone many would acknowledge as a social media expert who tweeted out something along the lines of “Attention brands: please turn off all of your automated tweets, etc… out of respect for the tragedy in Boston.” In the past, we’ve had many instances when brands (with good or stupid intentions) have firmly placed their proverbial feet in their mouths. It happens. It keeps happening. As bad and tragic as these events are, the world does not stop. I looked down to the pool/terrace area where the reception was continuing on without me (I was on a lower floor). You could see people scrambling to talk to one another and share the news of what was taking place in Boston. You could see groups of people huddled over mobile devices and the bar had changed the television channel over to CNN (or whatever the equivalent is in France). Still, the party raged on. Champagne was consumed, the buffet tables looked busy. Humans beings are a complex bunch. So, in one instance, we’re telling brands, don’t communicate anything during a national/international crisis, but on the other hand, the corporate parties and events keep raging on.

What is right in a world that has gone so wrong?

“Oh no. Not again.” That was the sum of my initial thoughts when I first heard about the Fort Hood shooting. Tragedies everywhere. People struggling with their own demons, and violence becomes their desperate cry for help/attention. Sadly, people (now victims) become collateral damage in these cries for help. As usual, I head online to get perspective, read the discourse and more. Once again, a very senior communications executive sent out a message (this time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) about a tweet: “#FortHoodShooting sweet Save 10% plus free shipping on your order at Acme Inc. use coupon code: BUY19.” The comment from the senior executive read: “The dark side of Twitter and hashtags. National tragedy unfolding and trending topic attracts marketing.” I changed the name of the company and the promo code for a specific reason. This company was now taking a lot of flack for looking very insensitive during these times. As if that weren’t enough, it is also (somewhat evident) that it’s probably some kind of automated tweet that gets triggered for any trending topic/hashtag.

So, do you HATE that brand? 

It’s hard not to be immediately disgusted by them. But, here’s the thing: upon closer inspection of this instance, you can easily uncover that the brand (probably) had nothing to do with this tweet. It looked like an affiliate marketer who gets a commission of their sales when someone uses that, specific, promo code. So, this unsophisticated affiliate marketer is doing the equivalent of spamming trending hashtags in the hopes of picking up a few bucks here or there. Still, the brands takes the brunt of the hit, pain and crisis management that ensues.

Having a media brain.

How many people do you think saw that tweet and were simply disgusted by the brand, instead of taking the time to scratch a little beneath the surface to uncover the truth? It’s just another example of how brands can take a hit without ever having done anything wrong. Yes, you could easily say that businesses need to be careful about who they do business with, and that all affiliate marketers should be vetted in a more professional manner, but let’s get real here: what’s stopping anybody from going online, saying something like this about any brand and attempting to make them look bad? It’s easier than you think. It happens all of the time. The general mass populous are not trained media professionals. It’s not their jobs (nor do they care) to vet these tweets for validity. The brand gets hurts worse than anyone else in this scenario, and it quickly becomes this massive pile-on. Personally, I feel bad for the brand that got caught up in this storm. But, it just goes to show you, that even if you’re doing everything right, in terms of using social media to connect in a more real and authentic way with you consumers, that little mishaps like this are sure to happen. And, no matter how much is done in the aftermath to correct-course, there will still be even more people who saw that terrible tweet and now have a terrible brand impression.

Is time to talk about brands and control again?

Tags:

What Keeps The Chief Marketing Officer Awake At Night? – Part 1

There is no doubt that the current role of the Chief Marketing Officer is fundamentally changing.

What was once considered to be one of the most interesting and creative positions within the corporate environment, has now become one of the most contentious job titles any business professional could have (if they can even hold on to it). It’s hard not to imagine how challenging of a position this can be, in a world where the marketing landscape has shifted so fundamentally in the past decade. It’s not just about how technology, the Internet and social media have changed the way that brands connect to consumers, and how consumers connect to brands (and to one another). It runs much deeper than that. It runs much deeper than financial meltdowns, funky things out of Wall Street, a mortgage crisis, globalization, and more. It wouldn’t be brash to say, that there are those who feel that there is no longer even a need for a Chief Marketing Officer within an organization. Don’t believe me? Google it.

Heresy you say?

There are five core foundational reasons why the Chief Marketing Officer’s role within the organization is in such a fragile state. Over the next few months, we will deconstruct the following five areas that the Chief Marketing Officer must pay increased attention to, in order to figure out what the next decade of marketing will look like for businesses.

The five areas that Chief Marketing Officers need to pay attention to:

  1. The corporate function.
  2. Data and information.
  3. IT and technology.
  4. Media and communications.
  5. Talent and recruiting.

Let’s start with the corporate function…

Peter Drucker once famously wrote that a company only has two key functions: marketing and innovation, and that all other functions within the organization should support this. It feels like nothing could be closer to the truth in this technologically advanced and sophisticated day and age, and yet it feels like the Chief Marketing Officer’s stock within that mandate continues to plummet. If you take a close look at some of the world’s most respected brands, the Chief Marketing Officers are not much more than Chief Advertising Officers. If we are going to go back to the fundamentals of what marketing is – as a function of business – it’s hard not to think of the classic Four Ps of Marketing that we all learned about in college: product, price, promotion and place. Think deeply about just how much the marketing department truly affects these four areas of business. It’s quite obvious that the “promotion” piece has become the bread and butter of the marketing department. Most marketing departments act, fundamentally, as brand stewards and have little insight and input into what the product or service actually is, and how it better serves customers at large. It feels like the true marketing work is actually being done by the COO, the CFO, and the R&D department. Marketing is usually brought in way after the fact, to figure out how to best polish the look and feel of the product or service, and make it look sexy for the customers. At best, the marketers are also responsible for what happens after the product is purchased. Congratulations, these marketers are linked to customer service, and maybe get a chance to actually own the Twitter feed.

What is marketing?

Volumes of books, articles and blog posts have been written by some of the smartest business minds out there, attempting to define what marketing is? You could ask the top ten marketers in the world to define what marketing is, and you would get a different answer from each professional… and there is a possibility that you might even get a different answer from the same individual on different occasions. A definition that we can all wrap our arms around isn’t going to happen in this column. What we do know is that marketers might get a much higher level of credibility, if they, themselves, could bring some clarity and definition to the practice. If marketers can’t easily define what the role and function is within the organization, how can we expect the CEO to give us the keys to the car? Simply put: most people don’t know what marketing is anymore. If marketers want to improve their position within the corporate organization, a clear definition of what, exactly, marketing is would be a prime place to start.

It’s a numbers game.

Our world is filled with people who are financially illiterate. Just look at the credit card debt crisis in North America. You would think that after decades of advertising and communications from banks and investment advisors to help people better manage their money, that things would be better. You would be wrong. Recent studies suggest that financial literacy is at an all-time low. Some of the most telling articles on the topic start off by saying that the vast majority of Americans lack basic money skills. Why should we be surprised that marketers are any different? For the Chief Marketing Officer to regain their credibility within the organization, there is a dire need for them to become much more financially literate. Marketing needs to be directly linked to both sales and the overall corporate performance in terms of the P&L. Associate Professor and Distinguished Professor of Marketing, Kenneth Wong, from Queen’s School of Business often says that no marketing should be done unless it “adds to the economic value of the brand.” Business is a numbers game and marketers – who should be nothing short of rabid over the math – have somehow relegated themselves to the more touchy-feely parts of the business. It’s time to break out the abacus and find a balance between the creativity and the numbers. Chief Marketing Officers will struggle desperately through the data and information phase, if they can’t wrap their heads around the foundational numbers first.

It’s a global jungle.

Why should marketing be any different? The mass globalization of corporate affairs has struck at the heart of marketing as well. There has been global consolidation of marketing and communication services from most of the major brands, and we have even seen mass consolidation from the advertising agency networks themselves (think about the Publicis and Omnicom mega-merger). On the brand side, we’ve seen the purchasing of marketing and communication services become that much more of a procurement-driven process than anything else. If you look towards the industry at large, there seems to be more brands moving towards agency partners that are completely integrated. An agency that is able to provide both traditional mass advertising services along with digital expertise, coupled with direct marketing, experiential marketing, promotional marketing, partnership marketing and beyond. While brands seek out these “pink unicorns,” and the large advertising agency networks continue to PR that their networked agencies can provide such seamless integration, we have yet to see an integrated shop that is unified and integrated. What this has led to is the commoditization of marketing. With every large agency claiming that efficiencies can only be achieved through this model. A desire to have a truly integrated agency – in a world of deep personalization with media fragmentation across a myriad of platforms, channels and technologies – is more myth than reality. This idea that one agency of record to rule them all can beat out specialists – each with their own deep, rich and knowledgeable pool of experts and experience – has yet to be proven. At the corporate level, the Chief Marketing Officer is going to have to get a lot more knowledgeable about how to build “teams of record” rather than an “agency of record” relationship. Creating alignment with multiple agency partners (across multiple departments) in a bid to ensure that “best in class” isn’t just something that will score them some points in marketing jargon bingo is another prime directive.

Once the corporate function of marketing is secured, the Chief Marketing Officer can get down to the real work of data and information.

In the next post (in about two week’s time), we’ll look at how the Chief Marketing Officer must straddle between the future promise of big data, while grappling with the reality that they’re not doing nearly enough with the reams of data and information that they currently have. Along with that, we’ll dig deeper in the paradox of privacy and personalization, and how the link between data management and creative services must evolve, as our world begins to look more and more like George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As always, please feel free to add your perspective below…

Tags:

The Marketing Of Things

We put brands on everything.

Think about it this way: we put brands on everything and we’re putting the Internet into everything. It’s true. Brands will put their name on baseball stadiums, water bottles, the bottom of that plastic bin that we put our shoes into at airport security, and they’re even putting them in public toilet bowls. Anything to get attention. The Internet is being dumped into everything and anything that can be plugged in (or wirelessly enabled). Computers were just the beginning. Now the Internet is being plugged into phones, tablets, watches, refrigerators, barbeque thermometers, exercise monitoring wristbands, farming equipment, cameras and beyond (welcome to The Internet of Things). Marketers haven’t been negligent in this regard. You can’t see something on the Internet without it being surrounded in ads, sponsored by a brand or even created by a brand as a means to do something more than saturate the public with advertising.

So, if you can put a brand anywhere….

Why not put it on an operating system? It raised some eyebrows this past week when Google announced that the upcoming version of their Android mobile operating system will be named KitKat (the seminal chocolate bar from from Nestle). Android has been using names of delicious deserts and sugary snacks since Cupcake in 2009. Moving down the line alphabetically, they are now at the letter “K” (Jellybean was the most recent version). What makes this deal that much more fascinating, is that both Google and Nestle are portraying it as something more closely tied to partnership marketing than corporate sponsorship marketing. According to the Advertising Age article, Google Names Android Version KitKat, But No Cash Exchanged, “Stewart Dryburgh, an assistant VP at Nestle who oversees global marketing for Kit Kat, said the fact that no money exchanged hands was an ‘acid test [for] how confident both parties were in each other.’ He said there is an ‘equal amount of equity to be shared out of this.’ The parties began negotiating in January and closed the deal at in Barcelona a couple months later at a Mobile World Congress meeting.” Imagine that, a win-win for both brands with no need to exchange money.

A valuable expression about the power of impressions.

The Kit Kat website has already been updated to reflect this marketing opportunity. The media attention (in terms of PR) has been off the charts. For Google, it maintains its position as a playful and whimsical brand in a technology space that is – all too often – proliferated with industry jargon and engineer talk. For Kit Kat, a brand that has been around since the 18th century (not a typo), it gives them not only a rejuvenation and some cool factor, but something new and different to market in an impulse buy – low interest space. The fact that money isn’t a part of this transaction makes it all that much more interesting. For my advertising dollar, the most interesting aspect is still the one of impressions. This is still, ultimately, a game of impressions. It is advertising in the purest sense. Google’s brand looks whimsical. Kit Kat’s brand looks more relevant and hip. If you don’t think that this is a game of impressions, just check out this news item from Business Insider: Android Activations Hit 1 Billion. That’s right, while many people may not know the implications of over 1 billion activations on the Android platform, this is still a staggering number. There are now over 1 billion people who have Android activated devices in the marketplace. Out of those 1 billion activated devices, it’s hard to say which users, actually know or care about the fact that there is some kind of operating system with a name like Kit Kat attributed to it, still this is a massive game of massive impressions for two massive brands.

Size and reputation matters.

Whether this lives on to be anything more than a press release with a couple of co-branded contests in chocolate bar wrappers is a whole other story. In a world of Twitter feeds and chasing Facebook likes, it is moments like this (and the Super Bowl), when we are reminded about what can happen when you have a brand of size and depth. As a marketing professional, the more interesting point is that we can create new and interesting ways of making those big impressions create an equally big splash. It’s hard to imagine that a chocolate bar got naming rights to a mobile operating system. It seems insane to even write that last sentence. That just happened. It means that a whole lot more of new and interesting doors may be opening up for marketers that are creative enough to create them.

Keep those marketing ears open, folks. Opportunities are abound.

Tags:

Does Being Nice Pay Off For Businesses Today?

Episode #363 of Six Pixels of Separation – The Twist Image Podcast is now live and ready for you to listen to.

A natural born storyteller. That is one of the best ways to describe PR celebrity, Peter Shankman. He has led an interesting life… and it…

The Accidental Marketer

Sometimes, the biggest lessons in marketing come from the strangest places.

Selling a book is a lot of hard work. That’s the lesson I’m re-learning right now as CTRL ALT Delete enters into its second week of sales (re-learning, because I went through …

Supporting Those You Like – CTRL ALT Delete Comes Out Next Week

My new book, CTRL ALT Delete, comes out next week.

It took well-over six months of concentrated effort to write my second book, CTRL ALT Delete, which comes out on May 21st, 2013. The thing is this: you would have never known it or felt it. In that ti…

Die, Thought Leaders, Die, Die, Die…

So, what do you think of my thought leadership?

Ugh. Really? When you speak or write in a forum that has audience and attention, the people who are giving you the platform have to sell you. In that, you have to be able to sell yourself to those people…

The Powerful Art Of Resilience

Let’s start with a premise:

Whatever it is that you do, say, sell, produce and/or put out into the world does what says it will do and delivers on its promise. Nothing happens when you have a sub-par product or service. Once that premise is out of the…

The Art Of Fake Familiarity For Better Sales

We (still) live in a world of really bad email pitches.

I recently got an email pitch from a public relations specialist that read something like this: “Hey Mitch, I work with Lame Corp. I’m a big fan of your blog and your newspaper articles. I know t…

Marketing Is Dead

It’s a great blog headline that will get a lot of attention, right?

The Harvard Business Review had a blog post today titled, Marketing Is Dead, written by Bill Lee. Beyond the irony that Lee used a traditional marketing tactic (solid copywriting) to …

Can Breastfeeding Save Time Magazine?

When was the last time you discussed Time Magazine around the dinner table?

I found myself giving a dissertation on mass media at dinner the other night. It all started when one friend leaned into the table and spoke (in an almost embarrassed whisper)…

A Social Media Master Class

If you have not seen the Kony 2012 video, you may be living under a rock.

It is, without question, the hottest viral video sensation the Internet has seen in a long time. Looking beyond the forty million-plus views that this thirty-minute documentary/…

Scenes From The Frontlines

A post Christmas story that is worthy of your attention…

I was in the market for luggage. Not the usual business travel, but a luggage set for the family. We decided that we were looking to invest to get something of quality. I went over to the stor…

Newsjacking Turns You Into The Expert

Newsjacking.

As news broke last week that Amazon started selling its long-awaited entry into the tablet (and iPad led) market (Kindle Fire), many eyes were raised, waiting to see what those who would get their fingers on it would think. Would this com…

A Basic PR Blunder That Most PR Professionals Make… Constantly

Public Relation professionals do the darndest things.

Some background first: I practiced journalism, worked in communications and did a stint in a PR agency before shifting full bore into marketing and communications. My journey (which includes this B…

Spamming Mechanisms

It used to be a very clear line between what was considered spam and what was not.

Things have changed over the course of the past decade. I’m with the Wikipedia definition of spam: "to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately," but I…