Consumer Marketers, Looking to Test New Data Categories? Try These

We are all trying to create and sustain customers, using data to discover new patterns, new audiences, and new prospects — and that requires a lot of testing, and innovative data sets to explore (responsibly). Let’s make it experiential, as well as experimental.

We in the data marketing business love to test — at least, we should. And what we should test for is new data categories.

Expanding the marketing universe — and stretching the marketing budget — depends on higher efficiency in our lists, offers, and creative. We should be eager to test new proofs of concepts and new categories of data sources as they enter the market … if only to know whether or not they produce incrementally or otherwise.

I’m still surprised when I hear some of my data-vendor friends say that a good number of their clients pass on testing — and just go all-in on new lists and data sources. It seems like testing is still too much work for some, or they feel the only way to test is with an entire data source. Guess these client-side folks have money to burn, or are operating very much on-the-fly.

In some ways, digital marketers have it all over offline marketers in their ability to test, cycle, test again, and so on — often, many times over by the time a direct mail or direct-response print or broadcast test cycle has run its course. Yet, in this speed, have we sacrificed some quality in our prospecting strategies?

Online audience algorithms can produce some highly categorized niche segments, based on site visits and app usage — much of it de-identified, from a personal perspective. But how do these segments really stack up against a transaction database, or response lists, or even compiled lists, based on personally identifiable information? Thankfully, we can test for this, or even overlay data! (I am not advocating re-identification here, nor should you. Oh California, please don’t force us to identify non-PII. It’s soooo anti-privacy.)

Recently, the Direct Marketing Club of New York (DMCNY) held a very interesting breakfast program titled “Beyond Demographics: The Data You Need to Max Out Marketing Performance.”

Some Fresh Categories for New Reach and Affinity Discovery

Consider some of these data sources for testing:

  • Values Data — Test cohorts based on “shared values,” rather than simply choosing audiences based on demographics or psychographics. David Allison, principal, David Allison Inc., and author of “We Are All the Same Age Now,” pointed to his firm’s internal research that shows that popularly defined age groups rarely (or barely) match on what they agree upon, or value, as a generation. For example, Baby Boomers agree with each other about 13% of the time; Gen X, about 11% of the time; and Millennials, 15% of the time. Thus, targeting based on demographics alone can be extremely wasteful if the marketer is assuming some sort of shared attribute among them, other than age.However, when targeting based on shared “values” — Adventurers, Savers, and Techsters, and the like — all of a sudden affinities jump sky-high. In these cases, 89%, 76%, and 81%, respectively. These “valuegraphics” are based on “big data” segments — rather than small data (response lists, for example). Still, when compared to demographics targeting alone, shared-value targeting offers an eight-time lift!  Well, that’s worth testing.
  • Attitudinal Data — Another perspective on “beyond demographics” came from Mark Himmelsbach, co-founder, Episode Four, a creator of “brand hits,” such as this one for Charles Schwab. We often have stereotypical views of many demographic and other audience categories — and too many algorithms, he said. But analyze the data for unusual patterns, and suddenly you can find “who knew?” commonalities among certain audience segments that would wow any of us.Who knew that ultra-high net worth individuals are electronic dance music enthusiasts? Who knew that African-American married women are high on the e-sports genre? Or that young Hispanic/Latino adventurers are really into escape rooms? These discoveries give brands new advertising, product placement, and sponsorship opportunities, for example, which might otherwise go untapped. I’m still trying to get my head around these reported affinities, based no doubt by my own preconceptions.
  • Location Data — According to the World Economic Forum, 90% of the world will soon have or already has a supercomputer in their pocket — a smartphone. We’re actually closing in on four connected devices per person, reports Jeff White, founder and CEO, Gravy Analytics. With smartphones alone, as constant companions, we have a huge opportunity to leverage responsibly use of location data. Location can provide huge “affinity” targeting opportunities.A casual wine user might search and buy online his or her wine. But a wine aficionado visits a winery (Location X), or attends a wine tasting (Location Y), and now you have a true affinity opportunity. Granted, location data has a level of sensitivity that carries, more often than not, an opt-in requirement — but the marketing lift can be a significant reward for the advertiser who strategically applies such insights from it. Makes me want to tag every latitude and longitude for some hobby or interest!
  • Experiential Data — Live Nation may own concert venues, Ticketmaster, online game communities and music/culture festivals — but across these many first-party experiences, the company can provide deep analytics that help monetize its various audiences through enriched second-party relationships, said Anubhav Mehrotra, VP, Live Nation. Hilton, American Express, and Uber are just some of the brands Live Nation has teamed up with to enrich brand users with engaging experiences, such as backstage tours and “meet the artists.”

We are all trying to create and sustain customers, using data to discover new patterns, new audiences, and new prospects — and that requires a lot of testing, and innovative data sets to explore (responsibly). Let’s make it experiential, as well as experimental: I sure hope to meet some ultra-high-net-worth individuals at the next Electronic Dance Festival I attend. Or not.

When Brands Apologize, Customers Often Listen and Forgive

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”? Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances.

Happy customers are loyal customers. But what happens when “surprise and delight” is actually “surprise and incite”?

Social media has raised the stakes for brands. Customers, most often angry ones, have a forum to air their grievances. I see it constantly on Twitter, and have admittedly participated myself, when air travel goes terribly wrong or quality falls short of expectations.

The good news is that it’s recoverable.

Brands that react swiftly, thoughtfully, and transparently are the ones who win. And by win, I mean they don’t necessarily lose customers as a result of their actions, inaction or missteps.

This week alone, two retailers were seemingly insensitive to their female customers and perceived as body-shaming the very people they want to empower.

Macy’s

Macy’s was called out in one tweet that received 48,000 likes and 6,000 comments for plates by a company called Pourtions that were highly controversial for their message. Intended to bring humor to the concept of portion control, the dinner plates feature a large ring that read “Mom Jeans,” a smaller ring that read “Favorite Jeans,” and an even smaller ring that read “Skinny Jeans.”

Macy’s responded by apologizing and vowing to remove the plates from their stores. Of course, not everyone in the Twittersphere agreed with this decision. But it does show a sense of responsibility for its products and consideration for its customers.

Forever 21

Forever 21 also came under fire this week for sending Atkins bars in online orders with plus size merchandise. They’re not just good at fast fashion, but they also showed they can deliver a fast reaction.

In response to press coverage of the “snafu,” Forever 21 said:

“From time to time, Forever 21 surprises our customers with free test products from third parties in their e-commerce orders. The freebie items in question were included in all online orders, across all sizes and categories, for a limited time, and have since been removed. This was an oversight on our part and we sincerely apologize for any offense this may have caused to our customers, as this was not our intention in any way.”

In this case, I think the word “test” is a critical one. If Forever 21 had done some market research and testing, perhaps it would have learned that a partnership with a brand like Atkins, that is depicted as a diet company, could be detrimental to its brand perception.

Conclusion

The merchandise you sell, the partners you align with, the sites where your ads run, the people you hire, the way you respond to criticism — all of these decisions impact your customers and shape your brand identity.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

Politicians Reveal 3 Important Branding Lessons

Marketers and brand managers can learn useful branding lessons as politicians embark on their political campaigns ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is NOT a politically-minded post (however, we should expect that all of you will exercise your voting privileges). All examples used here are from the June Democratic debate for the purpose of timeliness, and ahead of the second debates that will occur at the end of the month.

The recent Democratic Presidential debates that kicked off in June fielded 20 candidates over two nights, and sparked a lot of questions about the people on the stage:

  • Who stands for what?
  • How are these folks really different than one another?
  • Are those major differences major, or just minor?
  • Who spoke to your heart?
  • Who impressed your mind?

With only several minutes for each candidate to speak, did any individual communicate so well that you got clear answers to any of these questions? Did you get a clear sense of who each person really is?

Which candidate would you choose … and more importantly … why?

So, I got curious when I saw those Democratic candidates. What did they do to make themselves different from each other, and relevant to voters?

In politics, the candidate is her/his own brand. It’s clear what the playbook looks like for the most successful candidates, and those plays should sound familiar to consumer brands, too.

There are three important branding lessons that apply well to politicians (and your own brand, too).

1. Have a Clear Plan

The cliche of “the confused mind says no” is absolutely true. If you don’t understand your brand’s plan for transforming your customer, then the customer won’t either. And they won’t engage. Remember that you are the mentor, and that you as mentor need to have both empathy and a plan.

Many politicians state their plans for the economy, social justice, climate policy, immigration, etc. Those plans need to show they understand the issues, care for the people affected by the conditions, and clearly can map a good path forward to a better tomorrow.

Like her or not, Elizabeth Warren has positioned herself as someone who has a plan for everything, including Ashley Nicole Black’s love life.

The plan for Dove Soap is very clear: it offers pro-age formulas that enhance your real beauty. Dove doesn’t promise that their products will make you look younger and sexier. Dove’s plan for you is that — whatever your age and however you look — they will help you love and reveal your own real beauty.

2. Stay on Message

Brands — and candidates — need to do the important job of staying on message. Stay consistent. Maintain the position.

Like him or not, Bernie Sanders stays on message. He has never wavered from his position of Universal Health Care and taxing the wealthiest Americans. Disagree or agree, we all know exactly what he stands for, and what his message is.

When a brand like Coca-Cola stays on the message of “Choose Happy,” then all of their marketing over time can reiterate that message and concept. Look, everyone knows Coke isn’t healthy for you. Coke knows that. But Coke can bring a small spark of joy and delight. So Coke stays on the happiness message in all of their ads.

If you don’t believe me, just go to YouTube and search “Coca-Cola Happiness.”

3. Keep Working and Trust in the Process

The political season is a long slog for these folks! So many events, road trips, questions, prying cameras, the works … and it goes on seemingly forever. Think about it: one of these folks is in the heat of it until election day in November of 2020. That’s almost 500 days of being ON. But honestly, you would think that some part of each person must love this experience. Otherwise, they couldn’t do it.

Joe Biden, like him or not, seems like he has been working political processes since The Dawn of Time. Clearly he must love the engagement, feeds off the energy of his public appearances, and enjoys pursuing the hard negotiations needed to move legislation.

Of course, your team has been working hard, too. It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly process of constantly refining and reinforcing your brand message. The best reward for the constant, consistent effort is that if your team loves it. They must love the process of having a brand message they stick with, or else they’ll get tired and fatigued.

I’m going to be following every step of the political unveiling and see what lessons can be gleaned from these folks. Because in Politics…the Person is the Brand.

As always, I welcome your comments.

8 Ways to Keep the Rust Off of Brand Trust

We in the marketing and public relations business talk a lot about brand trust. Do we walk it? With trust, simply put, you have a chance to succeed with prospects and customers. Without it, well, you do the math.

We in the marketing and public relations business talk a lot about brand trust. Do we walk it?

With trust, simply put, you have a chance to succeed with prospects and customers. Without it, well, you do the math. In data-driven marketing, where data is often described as the currency of customer engagement, here, too, trust is the bank.

Right now, sad to say, trust appears to be available only at a premium. There seems to be less and less of it at a time when we really need more and more of it. This is societal. It’s not just advertising and business where trust may be in short supply. Government, institutions, education, medicine, media all seem to be scrutinized, with a loss of trust in the balance. At a time when and where factual information has never been so available and transparent, fears of misinformation, opacity, and malevolence also appear to be heightened.

Believability is at risk.

I can’t fathom how to regain trust in all these institutions just now. But I can think of our world of marketing. Brand, and brand trust, matter more precisely now, because trust everywhere appears in short supply.

Recently, Edelman, a global public relations concern, published its annual “Trust Barometer” report, looking at trust issues among consumers across eight nations, among them the United States. I find the results illuminating, because it helps provide a blueprint of where brands might concentrate efforts to bolster trust.

MarketingCharts.com summarized some of the findings here:

brand trust chart
Chart Credit: MarketingCharts.com, July 2019

(Re)Gain the Trust Some Insights From the Report

Here’s my take on eight areas of the findings:

Product Must Perform

While it’s increasingly a customer-centric world, product still matters. Quality, performance, convenience consumers won’t even entertain trust if the produce/service fails the bar. In fact, it’s the biggest trust factor. Reputation may enable consumer consideration, but 67% of customers report they won’t come back if the product fails. More than eight in 10 consumers cite quality, convenience, value, and brand trust as a “deal breaker” or “deciding factor” in a purchase decision.

Trust: Why Now?

Consumers report several reasons why trusting brands is more important: 62% cite concerns about product experience (can’t afford a bad purchase, need products to keep pace with innovation, and reliance on brands for increased automation); 55% about customer experience (use of personal data, use of tracking and targeting, and use of artificial intelligence in customer service); and 69% about societal impact (fake news and misinformation, brand involvement in social issues, and affinity with personal values).

Yet There’s Considerable Room for Improvement

Just 34% of consumers trust most of the brands they buy and use. While some might see this as in indictment, I choose to see it as a huge opportunity. In the United States, overall, 54% trust businesses to do the right thing trust in government, by the way, is 40% .

The Trust Dividend Is Real

When trust is earned, the payback is pronounced. The difference between not fully trusting brands and trusting brands for a long time is a 28-point lift in percentage when considering what brand to buy first; 33-point lift in staying loyal; 27-point lift in being an advocate; and a 21-point lift in defending a brand.

We Must Walk the Talk

Remember greenwashing environmental benefits? “Trustwashing” is also a concern regarding brands and authenticity. Worldwide, 56% of consumers feel too many brands use societal issues as a marketing tactic to sell more product. Trust in business vs. trust in government has fallen off year-over-year between 4% and 6% in brands’ ability to effect positive change on societal impacts. If you’re buying into social good, it had better be the real deal. That means an enterprise commitment that’s followed through rather than a marketing promotion.

Most Consumers Have Taken Steps to Avoid Ads

I think it’s a mistake to say all ads are held in low esteem they’re not. Other surveys have shown that eight in 10 consumers still rely on advertising to discover new products and services. But three in four consumers have taken steps in their lives – ad blocking, paid subscriptions, and changed media habits to curtail the amount of advertising they see. More than three-fourths of consumers says they pay attention to ads from brands they trust!

Enable Reviews and Influencer Involvement

Most consumers say they trust what others say about a brand, more than what the brand says in advertising about itself. Working in combination peer review then owned, paid, or social content (ads) can work together to lift trust.

Run Hard

Interestingly, the more saturated the message (meaning, engagement across media channels), the greater chance for trust. One might think this doesn’t square with the previous ad avoidance message, but it goes to show repetition and reinforcement work. But only when the message is on-point, resonates with the user, and conveys authenticity.

Conclusion

Those of us who worry and work a lot about “trust” we have some mighty work to do. But even in an age of consumer skepticism or simply skepticism the hard, honest work of trust-building often becomes its own greatest reward, regardless of business payback. Despite all the doubts and pushback, consumers do want to believe this necessary work is getting done, and brands and ourselves can be all the better for it.

A 4-year-old Girl Shows the Power of a Strong Brand

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

Recently, I was reminded about the power of a strong brand by my 4-year-old granddaughter who told me, “You know how I can tell when there’s a McDonald’s close by? There’s a sign with yellow M on a red background. That means there’s a McDonald’s near here.”

McDonald’s has certainly built the golden arches “M” brand over the course of many years; my earliest remembrance is from the early 1960s. But the fact that a 4-year-old girl learned the symbolism in a much shorter timeframe illustrates how powerful great branding can be.

When I recently Googled “direct marketing and branding,” I was surprised to see that there are a lot of search results positioning the two as separate marketing strategies. I thought that debate was put to rest years ago — you need both.

The Internet has turned everyone into a direct marketer, and those who have built strong brands are the big winners — think Amazon, 1-800-Flowers, Omaha Steaks, Zappos, etc. When I was with Roska Direct, our results showed over and again that when we did direct response marketing using the umbrella of a strong brand, we achieved better response and conversion rates than when we downplayed the brand in an attempt to juice response.

According to Statista, Google enjoyed a 90%-plus share of searches from 2010 through 2013, before it dipped into the high 80s, sneaking over 90 only in October of 2016 and 2018. So what’s Google doing about it? Running a national brand campaign on television, Here to Help, using The Beatles 1965 hit, “Help.”

Interestingly, if you try to find those branding ads by Googling “Google ad campaign,” you won’t. What you’ll find is Google in direct response mode, helping you construct your own online advertising campaign through Google.

Like I said, you need both.

Why Brand Teams Need to Stop Pushing Brand Equity as an Asset

Most brand teams are constantly fighting for investment. Their lives would be much easier if they stopped pushing brand equity as a long-term asset when it is becoming more like the cost of goods sold.

Most brand teams are constantly fighting for investment. Their lives would be much easier if they stopped pushing brand equity as a long-term asset when it is becoming more like the cost of goods sold.

It’s almost Independence Day 2019, and I conducted a small consumer focus group session. Actually, it was a small group of friends, gathering to celebrate America, and we ended up talking about old brands.

Brand Equity and ‘Whatever Happened to … ‘

The topic began with WHT, or “whatever happened to … ?”

My candidate for WHT was Fruit Stripe gum; which, it turns out, is still alive and undergoing a small revival. As the conversation drifted toward more recent times, we started talking about the more recent troubles of iconic retail brands, like Barnes and Noble, Sports Authority, and Toys”R”Us.

Because the group consisted mostly of GenXers, there was strong nostalgia associated with these brands, with many happy firsts: first soccer ball, first video game system, first flirtation with a stranger over coffee while trying to look intellectual. There were such emotions and nostalgia, it made me wonder why these businesses had to close or severely reduce their footprint.

Yes, Amazon is the direct reason, in most cases, and there is a new trend to vilify it for killing these now-nostalgic brands. Let’s not forget, however, that B&N and Borders were once considered villains, running the local bookstore out of town. We also rarely hear about the villainy of Walmart and how it destroys local business. In fact, I was surprised to see that Walmart was now listed as a highly trusted brand by GenZers (18 to 21 years old). It is hard to Imagine the day when we will be nostalgic for Amazon; but if history is any indicator, that day will come.

Why Good Brands Go Bad

It is important to understand why we miss some brands when they are gone, but do not come to their aid when they are dying.

I believe the answer is that positive brand associations have a diminishing effect on brand survival. For example, there was a fast food joint I used to frequent and think of fondly when I was a child. Hoping to share that moment with my kids, I took them there. To put it mildly, they were less than impressed. Our family has been trying to eat fresh and healthier food for some time now, and we are part of a growing trend. Simply put, my kids could not relate to the greasy, yummy, and cheap goodness of my youth. I expressed shock, disappointment and called them bourgeois food elitists. This got me sympathy and pity, but not an ounce of guilt on their end. Later, once I got over the hurt, I, too, had to admit it was pretty bad food. This was my last trip to this joint.

Good brands solve current problems, delight customers, and address unmet needs, which build positive associations and create brand affection. However, like any relationship, fond memories do not guarantee that the relationship survives. Brands that survive can no longer rest on brand equity; rather, they are constantly investing in building and maintaining it.

This has implications for how marketers position the brand as an asset in the company.

How Brand Teams Position the Brand as an Asset

Most companies think of brand equity as a long-term asset. While brand equity is not a recognized asset under GAAP rules, brand proxies such as goodwill, brandmark, and trademarks are recognized as long term assets. Long-term assets are investments a company makes which benefit the company over the long term such as property, plant, and equipment and include other assets such as patents, licensing agreements and bonds. This classification makes sense since strong brands used to stand the test of time and had equity with staying power.

However, the new business environment sees new brands come and go and once esteemed brands die off every day. In this environment, there seems limited long-term value to brand associations and positive memories.  More and more, brand equity is reflecting the characteristics of short-term assets, like inventory or working capital, which needs to be constantly replenished. When a company fails to adequately invest in inventory, sales drop quickly. It seems like the brand is drifting in that same short-term direction.

When making the case for brand development, perhaps we marketers need to change our perspective. Generally, the marketing narrative placed brand as a long-term investment because the costs are so high, and the return was measured over a long period. At one point, this argument seemed appropriate. However, today it seems like there is very little long-term component to brand equity. Especially as branding is becoming more aligned with experience and operations and less with advertising. As a critical component of every customer interaction, we may need to understand that brand is becoming part of the cost of goods sold. This means companies should invest in branding frequently like they invest to have enough inventory or working capital. Only then will brand receive the investment flows it needs to survive in today’s market.

WWTT? IHOP Calls Burgers ‘Pancakes’ and Creates Bancake List

Earlier this month, IHOP decided it was time for another stunt focused on its burger menu, this time referring to burgers as “pancakes” and instituting a Bancake list based off of people who tweeted negatively about the restaurant’s IHOb campaign from 2018.

Earlier this month, IHOP decided it was time for another stunt focused on its burger menu. In 2018, the International House of Pancakes decided a name change was in the cards, and opted to be called IHOb, switching out pancakes for burgers.

I shared my thoughts about this marketing stunt last year, and while the marketing ploy — which wasn’t even a full name change — may have worked, I still think it was pretty lame.

[brightcove videoplayer=”5797280539001″ width=”100%” height=”100%” autostart=”false”]

But now, since so many people gave IHOP “grief” over the IHOb campaign, the restaurant chain has something new up their sleeves.

So …IHOP just continues to double down on weird … and not even the interesting kind.

According to Food Newsfeed, there were over 3.3 million tweets about last year’s stunt, and not all of them were positive. CMO Brad Haley is quoted:

“So, our lead creative agency, Droga5, created a digital experience to engage last year’s naysayers and convert haters into eaters. Those who tweeted something, shall we say, unkind last year may find that they’re on ‘The Bancake List,’ an aggregated list of Twitter users who tweeted at IHOP to stay in its lane.”

Yes that’s right. Not only is IHOP calling burgers pancakes, but they created the website Bancakelist.com. There, you can enter your Twitter handle, and if it comes up that you said something nasty about IHOP and last year’s stunt … well, you can “make it right” by tweeting something nice, and you can receive a “reward.” Because folks, this is how you spend marketing dollars wisely.

IHOP Bancake list IHOP Bancake list

Needless to say … I didn’t send that tweet.

I understand the need to get a customer-base excited about a product, and to market it well. But this continues to be goofy and borderline-dumb. Those burgers look delicious … so why not focus on that? Why call them something they’re not, just to get the public riled up, and institute a Bancake list?

If the response is “Well, it gets people talking?” then my comment is: What’s the ROI of that? Marketers, tell me what you think!

Using Marketing to Decrease Risk, Without Devaluing Your Solutions

Using introductory offers in your marketing can reduce perceived risk and help your prospects get to know you. Done poorly, they can also damage your brand and destroy your differentiation.

If you’re asking your prospects to make a buying decision that involves a significant budget or any other form of risk, it’s wise to create a low-risk way for your prospects to get to know you. Increasing comfort decreases perceived risk. And that’s essentially the goal of all marketing today: to decrease risk and make a purchase easier to defend emotionally and logically.

Introductory Offers as Marketing Tools

Often, the path marketers take is with introductory offers. There’s danger, though, in creating inexpensive teasers if they’re done wrong. You can cheapen your brand, acclimate your audience to lower pricing and lower value, or all of the above.

The worst cases we see are what we call the “transmissions and tax returns” problem. Chances are, you wouldn’t bring your car in for service at Ted’s Transmission Repair and Tax Prep Services — and you definitely wouldn’t have Ted prepare your corporate returns!

But the disconnect doesn’t have to be that obvious. I still question the wisdom of Porsche’s need to add an SUV to its line-up. Or Mercedes Benz and BMW’s addition of the A-Class and 1 series, respectively.

Don’t Lose Your Differentiation

Instead of being all things to all people, do what you do and do it better than anyone else. (There’s only one “Utimate Driving Machine” and it doesn’t have to be priced for the masses.)

If you need to expand beyond what your brand means to the market, perhaps take the Honda/Acura or Toyota/Lexus route and create a family of brands. If that’s not possible, reconsider whether the proposed new product/service is a good long-term fit.

This possibility of brand dilution is particularly deadly for small- and mid-size B2B businesses, where the kind of brand equity we see for Fortune 500 companies is unlikely to exist. In other words, losing your differentiation can be deadline.

Relative Pricing Matters

That’s not to say that you can’t make a lower-priced service line work. For example, if you offering market research to consumer brands and typically charge five figures for an engagement, you may want to offer executive summaries with much narrower scopes for, say, $400 or $500.

The executive summaries offer a relatively inexpensive way for prospects to see if your approach and style fits their needs. It’s very little risk, in terms of opportunity costs, and palatable financial risk.

Who Are You Marketing To?

The price point for your get-to-know-us product is important and bears some research. A $49 price tag would absolutely tarnish the value of your big-ticket consulting. More importantly, it would likely attract the kinds of customers that you aren’t interested in. (i.e. Those unwilling or unable to pay your consulting rates.)

Be careful in trying to serve multiple markets. You can create different content and marketing materials to serve, say, corporate bookkeepers and CFOs — who will naturally have very different concerns, but may be interested in the same service.

But don’t try to serve CFOs and lang-haul truckers. There’s just no overlap there. (With the possible exception of something that saves money/fuel/time and improves the driving experience.)

A price that balances the value of your services with the desire for a prospect to get to know your work a bit better before committing tens of thousands of dollars can be a valuable marketing tool.

What Are You Marketing?

Finally, be clear on what you are marketing. Your strategy should be different, depending on whether you are marketing a new service meant to appeal to a new market, or using a new service as a way to reach the same market for your existing services.

Critically, you must identify your primary product line and most important audience segments, and serve them first.

Does Marketing Require Your Website to End in ‘.Com’? If Not, Here Are 7 Options

There is no definitive answer to the value of TLDs besides .com, but deciding on one is a marketing conversation more than an IT discussion. The value of the myriad other options available will depend on your brand personality, your message, and who you are trying to reach.

Whether you know what “TLD” stands for or not, you’re probably thinking that a discussion about top-level domains is likely to be pretty technical. It can be, but we’re here to talk about TLDs from a marketing perspective.

So stow the eye glaze (you know, for when your IT director really gets going and your eyes glaze over …) and lets dive into what to consider as you assess your domain name options.

First, let’s acknowledge that it’s the web’s enormous growth that has led us to a point where the domain name you’d like — yourcompany.com —  simply may not be available. Certainly, just about every single-word .com domain has already been registered, even if it’s not in use. So what are your choices?

Changing Your Firm’s Name to Get the TLD You Want

If you can’t register the domain you want, you can change your firm’s name. Typically, that’s going to be a pretty radical option, though this is more palatable if you’re just starting out. If you are launching a new venture, you should find (and register) the domain name you want even before you have your attorney do a legal search for the viability of the name you’re considering.

Variations on a Name

You can also choose a variation of your name. For example, the social media management tool Lately arrived on the scene too recently to register lately.com, so they’ve opted for trylately.com. That works exceptionally well as a domain name for a marketing site.

Relocate Away From .Com

Another option, of course, is to select a TLD other than .com.

The options here have exploded over the past few years. Which option you choose should depend on your market and your audience. Some choices will feel more traditional, while others may provide a level of differentiation. Your choice should be based on your brand’s needs.

Once you’ve determined that a TLD other than .com is your best bet, there are still a lot of choices to be made.

Custom TLDs

One option is a custom TLD, as Google has created. (Which it uses for sites like https://sustainability.google/.) The expense of these TLDs — $185,000 — makes them an impossible investment for most companies, other than very large consumer brands.

Restricted TLDs

Sticking with existing TLDs, you’ll find that some are off-limits to anyone outside of the groups they’re meant to serve. These include .gov and .edu addresses, as well as some country-based TLDs, like .com.au. Domains using that TLD are reserved for businesses registered in Australia.

Country Code TLDs

Other country-based domains are open to outside registration. “Co” implies “company” to most folks in the U.S., which is why the .co TLD is quite popular here, even though it is actually Colombia’s TLD. It ranks just above the .us TLD here in the U.S.

We’ve seen an increase in .io sites over the past few years. It’s not 100% clear why this is a popular TLD; though, the fact that it rolls off the tongue nicely and is shorter than .com when most other newer TLDs are longer certainly helps. (In case you were wondering, .io is the TLD assigned to the British Indian Ocean Territory. All of you “Old MacDonald” fans should also note that eie.io is currently available …)

TLDs to Avoid

On the negative side, there does seem to be a growing consensus that .info sites are often home to some of the less savory businesses on the internet. You may want to avoid that TLD, even if your site is purely an informational site.

Defensive Measures

Type the name of your favorite mobile phone provider, airline, or cable company into your browser’s address bar with “.sucks” appended to the end. You’ll see why owning that domain name for your company under the .sucks TLD is a smart defensive move. You don’t want a competitor or disgruntled former employee creating a site ranting about your firm.

Wikipedia’s list of TLDs organized by type can be a great resource to see if you can find a domain name that works with your company name. (We’d love to own andi.go if there was a .go TLD.)

So while there is no definitive answer to the value of TLDs, deciding on one is much more than a conversation for your IT department to have by themselves. It’s tough to argue with .com as a known quantity. You should always register the .com, if it is available. The value of the myriad other options available will depend on your brand personality, your message, and who you are trying to reach.

.com and TLDs

Are Boomers Really Underserved by Digital Marketers?

Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Digital marketers see future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Did you hear the one about the entitled calling out the entitled?

I’m entitled. I was born during the peak year of the Baby Boom — and one thing I never had to think about was being ignored by marketers. Even digital marketers today.

Riding the “age wave” as a consumer, I was courted by brands from a tender young age. I was taught young how to be a good American consumer, and I was duly paid attention to by marketers.

And though the peak year of the Baby Boom presented challenges growing up — we all competed fiercely for college placements, job placements, housing, and status — it also prepared us well for the Reagan era’s rugged individualism, a concept and social structure that seems to have gone far, far away in our “it takes a Village” reality today. At least in the ’80s, I could afford to move to New York — though barely.

Witness a new generation — the children of Baby Boomers, Millennials — who are rising to dominate the workforce, and asserting new social values (built on inclusiveness, sustainability, fairness, and tolerance) and, gee, are brands paying attention to them! No, I’m not jealous — I’m thrilled. No, really!

Transparency, Authenticity, Sustainability, Diversity, On Demand — Brand Attributes That Appeal

According to a newly updated Deloitte Insights study, there are nearly as many Millennials as Boomers in the United States. These two generations are both forces for economic growth — as consumer spending drives two-thirds of the U.S. economy. Boomers certainly have more disposable income — and Millennials have more debt relative to income. But where digital strategy drives the marketing, Deloitte reports, Boomers may matter less, at least in practice. My guess: Marketing to Millennials is out-sized in digital media, probably because of the upside potential. Future lifetime value is always bigger when you’re going to live another 50 to 70 years.

Also, Millennials live, work, and play online. Boomers consume digitally, too. But when you tune into the nightly television news, you know the audience is comprised of Boomers and the Silent Generation before them. (Granted, when I watch TV news, I’m also skimming my smartphone.) Just watch the ads for prescription drugs, incontinence products, memory care, nutraceuticals, and other products for an aging audience — and you know there’s hardly a soul under 40 (or 50) watching scheduled newscasts anymore. The cord-cutting is rampant when “triple-play” packages cost hundreds per month, and Millennial-led households and individuals don’t see any need or logic to pay like their parents do, even if they can afford it.

They consume media completely differently, and always can steam any live events, news included, from their own trusted sources fairly easily. Media consumption, disrupted.

Brand attributes are changing, too. Many direct-to-consumer brands, popular among Millennials, have arisen not just because of perceived convenience and superior product, if that is indeed true — but because they connect using data flows that recognize the consumer from device to device, and learn in the process (that matters). They also connect because of what the brand represents, by establishing emotional and identity connection. Does the brand speak to the individual with respect and display a social aptitude? If the answer is yes, you have a better chance of gaining business and loyalty. It helps, too, that marketing is personalized at mass scale – and product personalization is booming. As “social” a cohort as Millennials are, they still demand “rugged individualism” when tailoring the product or service to their own wants, needs, and interests. For any of us at any age, we love such personalized connections, too.

So let’s congratulate Millennials, their digital prowess, and the brands’ love affair they are experiencing on their devices — and that I’ve enjoyed for decades elsewhere everywhere. It’s not as if I’m ignored online, I know I’m still coveted. But let’s not talk about sex.

digital marketers
Photo: Chet Dalzell, Photo inside JFK – Alitalia Lounge, 2019. I’ve enjoyed the attention. | Credit: Chet Dalzell