Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Just a reminder...

... if you're still following the Opinionated Marketers here, we've moved!

The new site is http://opinionatedmarketers.com and the new feed location is http://opinionatedmarketers.com/feed/.

See you there!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Housekeeping Note

We've moved the blog to our own domain and WordPress. So, if you're seeing this post, please go over to the new blog and check it out. All of the existing posts and comments have been migrated over. We're still rebuilding things like our lists of links, but all new material will appear over there. WordPress will also let us add information pages like background on us, resources, and so on, so we're excited about the upgrade.

The new RSS feed is here.

The template we're using was designed by Nathan Rice, who has some great stuff available free (in the finest open source tradition!) and who also does custom WordPress work. Have a look at his stuff!

See you in our new digs.

Starbucks-for-a-Buck. What's that all about?

For openers, I have to admit that I rarely drink anyone's coffee, let alone Starbucks' coffee, which I really don't like the taste of. (Some people I know claim that one of the reasons that Starbucks junks up its coffees with the latte-sugar-whatever stuff is to disguise that taste.)

As for coffee, sometimes I have a cappuccino - generally when I'm out to dinner or am taking a walk in Boston's North End and stop in at the Caffe Vittoria for a cannoli and to play oldies on their juke box.). Sometimes I drink iced coffee (generally from Dunkin' Donuts).

When I do go into a Starbucks, mostly it's to meet someone. I really do enjoy the coffee house ambience, and laud them for that (although, quite snobbily, I'd always rather spend my time and money in a stand-alone, non-chain place like Caffe Vittoria or Athan's Bakery in Brookline, Massachusetts).

Once a summer, or so, when I'm in a calories-be-damned mood, I have been known to indulge in a Frappaccino. Although when I'm in that kind of mood, I'm more likely to indulge in a Mochaccino at DD. (While I give Starbucks props for providing places to hang out in many of their stores, I'm just more of a DD kind of girl. Maybe it's that they're local, and I grew up with DD. Every Sunday, after Mass, my father would stop in at the DD in Worcester's Webster Square, just down the street from our church, and pick up a dozen donuts. Or two.)

Wherever I am, I mostly drink tea.

Which is a long-winded way of bringing up Starbucks testing an 8-oz. cup of joe that will retail for a buck. (In typical Starbuckian fashion, the 8-oz.-er has a cutsie name. It's called a "short.")

As reported in the Boston Globe the other day (Following up on an article that appeared in the prior day's WSJ),Starbucks is facing some caffeinated competition from McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, which offer premium (and frou-frou) coffee for less than the $2 or so something similar costs at Starbucks.

While the company issued a statement that their small gulp "short" is "not indicative of any new business strategy," you've got to ask yourself just what it is.

As a tactic to recession-proof themselves from regulars who might start questioning the wisdom of spending large for a "grande", I can't imagine that it's going to work. Someone who's become addicted to the Starbucks' experience is probably not going to feel relieved and grateful that they can keep buying there without spending big bucks. I'm guessing that they're going to feel short-changed, miffed, and tiny bit humiliated. (Now all the world can see: I can no longer afford to buy my coffee at Starbucks.)

They may already be doing this, but what might work better to secure their base is the buy-10-get-1-free cards that some places employ. (Two that I frequent are Cosi, where I buy salads for lunch a couple of times a week; and Copley Flair, a small local card store chain where I buy all of my greeting cards, not just because they carry a good selection, but because I get my card punched each time I buy one.) Loyalty programs do work.

As a tactic to bring in new customers, I can't imagine that this will be a big draw for McDonald's or Dunkin' Donuts patrons who like the coffee they're getting there just fine.

Last year, Starbucks' Chairman Howard Schultz warned against Starbucks "'watering down' its brand." More recently, he stated that the new offerings Starbucks has been coming out with aren't "'exciting'" enough.

The short strikes me as both watering down the brand and as decidedly non-exciting.

Is anyone over at Starbucks listening to their own Chairman?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Some People Just Don't Get It

The other day I wrote about my furnace repair guy who had an instinctive understanding of how to monitor and measure his marketing activities. It might have sounded like an overstatement to say that he was better at this than some marketing pros. Not really.

Just after the furnace fun I put an ad on Craigslist looking for somebody to do SEO work. The ad explained what we were looking for in a couple of paragraphs, how we'd want to relationship to work between us, an SEO person, and our clients, and requested that people in a specific geographic area only respond.

Five minutes later I got my first response: someone sending me his graphic design portfolio, with an LA phone number. (LA was not the location specified.)

His work wasn't bad... but I wasn't looking for a graphic designer, and he apparently hadn't read the ad. (The response came so quickly that I wondered if he had some method of monitoring Craigslist postings and sending automated replies.)

Then I got something from somebody else, in the wrong place, that instead of telling me anything about him, said basically "Why did you specify that location in the ad?" (Um, because I want someone in that location?)

Last night I got something from a company in India, and this morning I got something from somebody with a Yahoo address that told me about his or her SEO work, but did not have a link to their site, a name, anything.

People who do SEO are, one would presume, marketing oriented people. Wouldn't you think they'd have some idea how to present themselves?

Here are the basic, Marketing 101 rules that they broke.

  • When you're pitching for business, have a name on your email. If the "From" field reads "Big Honking SEO Company," I don't feel like I'm hearing from a person, I feel like I'm talking to an autoresponder, and I don't want to do that.
  • If I mention specific things I need someone to do, tell me about how you do them, have done them, and are prepared to do them again. A sentence or two would be fine.
  • Give me some option besides contacting you. A link to your site, a portfolio, or your blog would do it. Let me find out more about you.
  • If I say "Houston area only" and you're in California, Idaho, or Bangalore, don't reply. Or, if you do, tell me why: "I'm in Los Angeles, but I work with clients all over the country, and I'm sure I can help you" is actually enough to tell me that you at least read the ad. "I'm in Miami, but I have some clients in Houston and visit once a month, and I'm sure I'd be able to work with you long distance." Just let me know that you heard what I said, you understood it, and you have some reason to think that maybe I'll be interested anyway. If you ignore what I say, what's going to happen when a client tells us what they need?

This is not complicated stuff. I just want to know that you heard me, you understood me, and that you are responding to what I asked. But it's very important. If you can't comprehend what I asked you and reply appropriately, do you think I want you with a mile ofmy clients?

And these are people who are supposed to be providing marketing services. Scary. I'd rather have the furnace guy take a crash course in SEO and put him to work on it; knowledge can be acquired, but the ability to listen and think is usually either there, or not.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Age of Specialization

Not to take anything away from polymath geniuses like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but it sure must have been a whole lot easier to know everything when there wasn't all that much everything to know.

And not to compare the average marketing person of yore to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, but I'm sure there was a day and age where an experienced marketing person could pretty much know just about everything there was to know about the elements of marketing.

But as with everything else these days, those days - if they ever really existed - are likely coming to a screeching halt.

I started thinking about this when I read one of John's recent posts in which he wrote,

So here's a recommended new year's resolution for 2008: don't throw out the past and don't forget history. Old media still matter (and in some market segments, matter more than new media). For marketers, the trick is to remember the whole picture - not just the most exciting shiny and new parts of it.

While John's post had a specific angle to it (he was talking about audience size), the more general point can be made that marketers need to incorporate "the new" (online advertising, social networks,SEO, e-mail blasts...) into their bag of tricks, without letting go of "the old" (print advertising, direct mail, live events....). Just because there's new stuff to know doesn't mean that we can or should toss out the old.

This makes life more demanding for marketers.

There's a whole lot more to know about these days - and as the pace of change accelerates, it's just going to get harder and harder to keep up with everything. Thus, we will see more and more specialization within marketing.

To some extent, this is nothing new. Most of us have specialized in some way shape or form: We do B2B, or consumer, or non-profit marketing. We develop expertise in PR, or direct marketing, or marcomm, or product marketing.

But I have a sense that it will become less and less possible for people to utter the words I've spoken on more than one occasion: "I've done everything on the marketing continuum, from write specs for a product to assemble the trade show booth."

In fact, as more and more gets added to the marketing continuum, it becomes less and less true for me. I've done a bit of SEO and e-mail marketing, but virtually nothing with - say - building an on line community.

Say, maybe "they" were right and the Internet does change everything...

So what's a marketing professional to do?

Whether you're a solo practitioner, individual contributor, or marketing manager, you need to make sure that you keep up with what's new and exciting in marketing.

No, you don't need to become an expert in everything that's new and exciting. You just need to know a bit more than that it exists. You need to know what "it" is and what "it's" used for. You need to have at least a vague idea of whether you even need "it." And you need to know who would do "it" for you if you needed "it" done. In other words, you need to know what you don't know. (And not draw a complete "duh" blank when someone asks you about one of the new-fangled ways of doing marketing.)

Clear enough for you?

The point is that there's a growing body of things to know about in marketing, and not all that much that has (yet) fallen off the table.

Sure, there are virtual trade shows - but there are still physical trade shows, and if you pick your spots and work them well, they can be excellent venues for finding new customers. Sure, there are online communities - but there are also user groups, where your most rabid customers gather in the flesh, and want to hear from you about what's new and exciting. Sure, there are opt-in e-mails, but there's also good, old-fashioned paper-based direct mail campaigns.

In fact, I can't think of one thing that I was doing twenty years ago in marketing - other than print thousands of copies of the new brochure - that I wouldn't also consider doing today. Trade shows. Direct mail. Breakfast seminars. User groups. Collateral. Sales tools. Advertising. PR. They're all still in the mix - it's just that mix has gotten more intricate and more complex.

If you're a marketer who's been around for a while, make sure you keep your awareness level of "the new" high, but don't necessarily abandon the areas where you're the expert. You never know when a twenty-something will need your help, say, assembling that pesky trade show booth.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Some People Just Get It

Yesterday was a chaotic day at my house - the furnace died late last week, just in time for a weekend of lows in the 30s. Yes, I'm a New Englander, Houston winter should never be a problem, but come on - cold damp weather in a typically badly insulated Gulf Coast house is not a fun time. Long story short, an entirely new furnace and duct work went in today.

At one point I was chatting with the technician who was running the show, and we started talking about marketing. "I'm a marketing buff!" he said. And you know what - he sure is.

He was talking about how aggressive the salespeople for yellow pages ads were, and I said, "Are the ads worth it?"

"Oh yeah," he said, and explained why. And he knew his stuff. He had actually set up a system so that when new customers call, they track what ad they saw. He'd figured out what percentage of those calls result in business, how much that business is worth on average, and come up with a number for the value of the average inquiry from a yellow pages ad. So he could easily count the calls and decide if the ads were worth running.

Folks, I've worked at $100 million dollar companies doing B2B advertising that can't do that.

You don't have to be one of the big guys to get this stuff right. You just have to think about the process from inquiry to sale, and pay attention to how it's working, and attach some metrics. Yes, it can be more complicated that this. But the guy installing my new furnace today was brighter about this than some marketing execs I've known.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #14

This is the fourteenth in a series of posts on Practical Product Management Rules from Pragmatic Marketing.

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #14: Look for opportunities to deliver the remarkable.

I'll have to admit, when I saw that word "remarkable" my first thought was, 'is this one of those annoying words like passionate and personal brand that pop up from time to time to test my gag reflex?'

But that first thought was fleeting.

This is, after all, Pragmatic Marketing we're talking about here, and they strike me as an outfit that's long on the clear, the thoughtful, and the practical - and blessedly short on the buzz-word BS.

And the PM folks are right on. As product marketers and product managers, we should want to deliver the remarkable in whatever we do - remarkable in the sense of wonderful, uncommon, and singular - all definitions that I just found in the nearby dictionary. (But not so nearby that I'm willing to go look up just what sort of dictionary it was. So there'll be no sixth grade essay "According to Webster" stuff going on here.)

Think about it for a minute.

If you settle for "good enough" in your product, and don't make sure that there are at least a few nice to have goodies, your customers will greet the news with "it's about time," and your prospects will greet the product with "big deal - you've just got what everyone else has."

Is this the type of response you want?

No, you want your customers and prospects to have some sense of delight - something they hadn't thought of, something that's a bit out of the ordinary, something that they'll find really useful - or at least interesting.

It could be something as simple as a last minute time or grief saving feature someone thought of. Maybe it's a smooth integration with some tool or application that everyone in your target industry uses, but which has never really connected up all that well with anything else. Or something that's all new, first ever, state of the art - but something that everyone is going to be clamoring for any day now. You just got their first.

(With product related "remarkables", try to make sure that they're real. The last thing you want is a "who cares?" reaction from customers and prospects.)

The first place to get remarkable should never be playing with prices or services, but, let's face it, your remarkable "thing" could be a couple of hours of installation support thrown in - not because installation is such a bear - let's hope you've solved that problem - but because every environment's different and anything can happen. Or extending the number of seats the license will support.

Don't forget that you can be remarkable in your sales process by really and truly listening to what your prospects and customers are saying, and responding to them. (Years ago, when sifting through vendors to design and build my company's new web site, I gave four companies a detailed outline of what I wanted them to cover when they came in and gave their pitch. Nothing all that radical or out there, just something that addressed the questions and concerns I had. From my point of view, I was handing them gold on a platter by telling them exactly what I wanted, and saving them the time of soliciting this information on their own. But out of four companies who came in to pitch us, only one used the information I'd provided them. The others just went through their standard sales presentation - not bad, but entirely formulaic and not what I'd asked for. Do you have to ask who got my business? I didn't think so.)

You can be remarkable in your customer service process as well. Maybe it's a check-in phone call to follow up on whether last week's problem has been resolved. Or a call to welcome a newbie to the family.

Don't forget the finance side of things, either. Believe me, a lot of customers would find it quite remarkable if you contacted them to let them know you'd discovered an overcharge. Or that more attractive financing was now available.

It's a tough world out there. In order to get noticed - and get business - you need to do something to stand out. And it really doesn't have to be all that remarkable. Last week, I posted on the fine customer service I got at Best Buy/Geek Squad, capped by the original customer service person I spoke with seeing me wandering around the store an hour later, and asking me if I was all set. Maybe not all that remarkable in absolute terms, but compared to some of the don't make eye contact, gab with your fellow clerk, not to mention outright rude retail behavior we're all occasionally subjected to...Will I go back to Best Buy? You best believe I will.

So, don't forget to deliver the remarkable. It really does work.