Dare to say ‘focus on the consumer’ one more time

[Rant alert] Seriously. I’ve had it with this gratuitous expression. I get it, we all get it by now don’t we? There’s no reason for every presentation to feature a slide with this so called knowledge and then someone in the audience will tweet it and it’ll definitely generate a few retweets. And every time I can’t help thinking: why?

It’s not like I don’t agree, but isn’t that just the most obvious thing to say? That’s hardly rocket science is it. I find it even obnoxious if you are running a business or in charge of marketing that wouldn’t be the case by default. How do you believe you are ever going to win in business if you’re decisions are all based on everything but the consumer. And how do you deal with your marketing when the consumer is not present in how you build out your plans? Seriously. The fact that there are still so many people that ‘see the light’ when someone tells them they should focus on the consumer is beyond anything I can understand.

And – like I’ve written before – I don’t see how it changes how companies operate. Credit where credit is due, you see some companies transform, but since we can all maybe name just only a few I guess that proves they are still exceptions to the rule. Companies don’t all of a sudden focus on the consumer, they couldn’t even if they wanted to. In many cases they have little to no view on who those consumers really are. And then I don’t mean 18-55 year old women or millenials because those descriptions do more to prove my point than than anything else. Even in the age of ‘big data’ most brands don’t have too much of an idea about their consumer base, let’s just be honest about it. And how can you focus on someone if you don’t even know who that someone is?

So stop saying, start acting.
Please.

Big data, big promise

Big data is the whole grail of marketing. And yet not many is actually making lots of progress. There’s a good good on that captures well what the state of big data is if you ask me:

“Big Data is like teenage sex. Everybody talks about it. Few do it and they do it in the dark”

As always also here there are the exceptions that prove the rule. Companies like Starbucks or Taco Bells have showcased that they are actually using data to the extreme to help improve their business activities and communications. But in general only little data is being used, it’s something we encounter only occasionally during the marketing activities and also as a consumer I don’t see much return on the fact that people seem to know quite a bit about me.

And I wonder if that isn’t going to become a problem sometime soon. As a tech savvy consumer I know that companies have data on my consumption behaviour, I am very aware whenever I need to give someone personal data and I know that a lot of my online behaviour is public for everyone to see. Because I know, I also expect something in return. There’s a very one on one relationship between filling in a form before being able to proceed to a next stage and in that case you can immediately judge whether handing over that bit of data was worth the return. But that counts also on general consumption, on the data that companies can gather by tracking your behaviour. I know they do and also there, even if less one on one, I expect a return.

I’m ok with my data being used, I want my data being used or even more, I demand my data being used. I think consumers will get ever more aware of the fact that their data is being collected and as a result become more demanding on how they are treated. No more useless questions, seemingly random suggestions, repetitive data collection, … And that makes in my opinion the need for companies to start really using their ‘big data’ even more important. Not just because they indeed can improve their business and communications if they use it right, but because they have to as consumers will start demanding that. So big data is great, but it’s also a big promise!

So if you’re a business owner or a marketing specialist I think you really need to start figuring out which data you currently gather and how you can connect that to make consumers lives better. All in all I believe there are 3 kinds of data we have to think of that are key to improving your marketing & sales efforts:

  • Form fill: data that you’ve asked consumers to fill in, can be at various types of touchpoints, all data people hand over to you to get something in return
  • Usage: usage/consumption data from both sales as marketing activities, everything you collect through the customer journey
  • Public domain: everything people share in public online & offline that relates direct or indirect to your business

So think about it. The companies that are using it are outperforming you and taking a lead and your customers will move to those companies because they are living up to the data promise making the gap even better.

Image credit Avnet.

Why you should be using short-form video in your online communication

I’ve been a close witness to some of the impact short-form video has had on campaigns I was involved in. Small campaigns like the launch of IKKI.be (which most of you will be unfamiliar with) where the video was responsible for creating so much buzz within the target audience that we had reached the platform sign-up target within days instead of months. Or campaigns where the video travelled the world such as we experienced with “Bikers” for Carlsberg or “Push to add drama” for TNT.

All of these (and other) cases made me get a firm believe in short-form video used within online communication strategies. Fast Company believes the same – read “Why Short-Form Video is the Future of Marketing” – where they highlight some key reasons why that is the case:

  1. More and more users are consuming their video entertainment online
  2. Marketers are using video to engage with social media audiences
  3. Barriers to entry are low
  4. Quality is expanding quickly
  5. There are plenty of avenues for dissemination

All true, but apart from the 3rd point, all of these are mostly observations of what is happening and not really reasons of why it is happening. So I agree, but I think they are missing the point a bit.

Video is a very rich audiovisual experience but it allows brands as well to keep control of the story in a time there’s no more control. You can craft a message in such a way (editing, music, …) that you get the maximum effect and when people share it they share it generally for the full 100%. So basically if you’re doing a good job, people will share your video content adding comments etc so taking over control – but not over the message, because when it is consumed again, it will be again exactly how you as a producer crafted it in the first place. That is what makes it very powerful for online communication, the combination of this fact with the knowledge that more and more people consume online video entertainment.

This doesn’t mean video should always be the center piece of your communication online, but try to get video in that communication in some form as much as you can. It’s pretty powerful.

My 2 cents

Who are you?

Customer centric. Customer focus. I’ve heard it so many times, I’ve seen it written on dozens of business missions or as part of a brand’s values. Yet, I don’t believe it. Because quite frankly if you think about the business decision process within companies, which topics do you reckon come first on the list? Those about what the customer wants… or rather those about margin, reducing costs, maximizing revenue etc? And then you think maybe companies realize that as well, since we’re all buzzin’ about the consumer decision journey and stuff like that.

And let’s assume that companies really are customer centric. I wonder how they make it work, because simply put a lot of companies have no idea who their customers are. To illustrate this point I always show this little movie again: “The Break Up” (aka “Bring the love back”).

And I show it not so much for the reason it was created in 2007 but for this little bit where the advertiser replies to the consumer about not really knowing her:

“Know you? Sweetheart I know everything there is to know about you. You’re 28 … to 34, you’re online interests include music, movies and … laser hair removal. You have a modest but dependable disposable income. Am I the only one not getting the problem?”

That sounds about accurate. That sounds like how companies ‘know’ their customers indeed. So the point is, if you don’t really know who your customers are, how can you be customer centric? You can’t.

And that’s a huge issue of course. So it you really care about the full customer experience, you automatically care about who those customers really are. Thanks to research or just talking to them. Who are those people? What is keeping them up at night? What are their dreams? Etc. Companies do a lot of research to see how people feel about their brand, whereas they should research how people feel about themselves… and how they can affect that (dixit Lou Carbone).

Consumers don’t care about strategy

I don’t think there’s another product in tech that is ridiculed as much as Microsoft Bob. Never heard of it? That’s probably for a reason. Kudos to Monica Harrington for ‘confessing’ that she used to work on Bob and for writing a blogpost about it on Todd Bishop’s Microsoft blog. The product might have been a failure, the lessons learned are absolutely worth for everyone to read. Here’s one that stood out for me:

Consumers don’t care about strategy. Corporate customers do because if they’re investing big dollars over many years in a product, they want to know that it will continue to evolve in ways that are beneficial to the organization. In the corporate market, selling a vision is huge. By contrast, selling a vision to consumers is pointless. The key question they want answered is, "Does it make my life better today?"

It reminded me of how we always try to translate what lives in the ‘Meeting Room’ to something that can work in the ‘Living Room’ for all our clients. Make sure you read Monica’s full post, it’s worth it.

Meet the connected consumer

Last week Razorfish released their 2008 Consumer Experience Report which had (according to the report) a simple mission:

“To gain a better understanding of how technology affects today’s digital consumer experience and explore the emerging trends that will shape those experiences for years to come.”

I’ve been reading the report during my flight back home from Los Angeles and found it very much worth the time. Although I do prefer research that isn’t just US focused, I can recommend this to everyone so make sure you download it and check it out (PDF). More results are to be expected on Razorfish’s Digital Design Blog according to this post.

Consumer terrorism

I was rather surprised just a few minutes ago while reading a blog post from fellow Belgian blogger Ine. The post is in Dutch so I’ll translate a bit for you. Ine talks about an email she received from the BDMA – association from Belgian Direct Marketers – about their new congress: “Revenge of the I”. The email has some of the almost standard mumbo-jumbo in there like ‘in ages of consumer empowerment, social networks…’ catch my drift? And that’s all fair to be frank, but then there’s this rather odd sentence saying (and it’s a translation, I’ll do the best to keep the original sentiment):

“During the congress we’ll deepdive into the current era of ‘consumer terrorism’ that is coming up with the rise of digital and social technologies such as blogs, social networks and email.”

Consumer terrorism?! No speakers have been announced yet but I expect to see people from the Computer Crime Unit and others to learn direct marketers how to deal with dangerous bloggers and Facebookers.

Although on a slightly different note, it reminded me of another marketing event/congress organized in Belgium: Customer First… or should I say Digital Marketing First, since that’s what they’ve changed the name to for this year’s event. What’s the idea behind that? Who decides these things? It’s like saying: forget about the customer, this event is about us against traditional advertising and stuff so we have to change the name here!”

In the meantime the Belgian marketing publications ‘MM’ and ‘Pub’ are still as they were 5 years ago, so are their websites (and yes it’s still forbidden to link to MM.be) so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised of all this Belgian Digital Marketers against Consumer Terrorism stuff anyway I guess…

Beyond the hype

Content is King! Content is dead, Community is King! Context is King.… etc etc. What is right and what is wrong about all this? There are a few things I learned over time that I think are important values in marketing today. Let me know what you think. And by the way, it’s not one or the other right, it’s the combination of all of them.

Content is King

It’s clear it’s some people agree and some don’t on this statement, more than anything else this has sparked many discussion already and also I have written about it before. Mitch Joel says content is everything, Doc Searls said right the opposite and I respect them both, still I’m with Mitch on this one. And this is not just an online thing either. Whether you talk about Google’s search index, a blogpost, … it’s where it all starts. What has changed most vs. when we started using ‘Content is King’ in the nineties is the fact that creating content has become a lot more democratic these days, today you and I can create a lot more and easier than ever before.

Distribution is Queen

But content is not all. I think it was when email marketing really began to take off that we added ‘Distribution is Queen’ to the first statement about content being king. All of a sudden we were talking about push vs. pull, permission marketing, etc and it was clear that getting your content out there using more channels than the one it was initially created for was a good idea. That was back then. Today we have RSS, widgets, SEO, APIs, … and all kinds of different ways to get content distributed. Taking the example again of Google’s index being content, then we have to recognize that the clean and fast landing page, fast search, AdSense, etc etc also have been crucial in their success. Distrubution trumps destination.

Context Matters

You got great content and I can access it the way I prefer… still I need to be in the mood for it. Is this the right occasion, or that right timing? John Dodds recently said (when talking about content): “Your focus should be on giving people content they want, when they want it and realise that as soon as you don’t, they’ll move on and remember your content as being irritating multi-media spam in their noise-filled lives.” Microsoft Advertising and MEC Interaction did some research a while back on context which you can download here. Take the context into account and your message will become more relevant… and so will you.

Age of Conversation

Make it social. Get people involved, for real. Some people find the term conversation overused, I don’t. It still is a very good metaphor – yes a metaphor – about how consumers want to interact differently with brands. I’ll take the liberty to repeat this definition of ‘conversation’ found in Wikipedia: Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views of a topic to learn from each other. A speech, on the other hand, is an oral presentation by one person directed at a group. For a successful conversation, the partners must achieve a workable balance of contributions. A successful conversation includes mutually interesting connections between the speakers or things that the speakers know. For this to happen, those engaging in conversation must find a topic on which they both can relate to in some sense.” And yes it’s a cliche, but that conversation is already going on, you don’t have to set it up.

In the comments of Mitch’s post about ‘Content is everything’ which I referred to earlier there’s also a nice quote made by Kneale Mann putting it like this: “Content is king, context is the glue, community is the soul.”

Anyway, that’s my take. Tell me what’s yours.

Inspiration, Anyone?

When we launched ‘The Break-Up’ about a year ago we were impressed with the feedback we got on it. Yes we thought it was good, but still we never expected it to be as big as it became. And feedback was good, people like how we portrayed the changed relationship between consumers and advertisers. The second most common feedback was what we would do about it. We showed we understood the shifted relationship, what does Microsoft Advertising have to offer that work this changed situation?

In the second installment the advertiser is at his agency trying to figure out a way to solve his problem. This one is about inspiration… but just check it out for yourself.

Check getinspiredhere.net