‘Killing Marketing’ to Save It

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

Millennial marketing
“BMXr’s,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by micadew

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

It continues: “We must rebirth a new marketing that makes its living from building audiences for long periods of time, so that we might hold their attention through experiences that place us squarely in the initial consideration set when they are looking for a solution.

“This is the marketing of the future. It is achieving a long-term return on the one asset that will save our business: an audience.”

The book is wonderful — I highly recommend it. It’s chock-full of ideas about how to transform the marketing department from a cost center to a profit center. It details multiple ways to pull direct and indirect revenue from marketing, once true engagement with an audience has been established. In their words, it will transform your marketing into something more powerful than “the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make.”

But specific to the selection quoted above, for me it’s another spark of thought about the downside of personas based on demographics.

If you’re personas are demographic- lead rather than interest-led, then you’re setting yourself up for selling in short bursts of time. You’re not going to be able to establish a long-term relationship with an audience based on who they are and what they truly care about — because you simply won’t know what those things are. And you won’t create experiences that hold an audience’s attention for future consideration.

To truly build audiences for long periods of time, we need to start with interests and preferences rather than demographics.

To employ a far overused example …

Red Bull doesn’t define its audience as “Millennial males who want an energy drink.” The brand understands its audience by defining all of the facets of interests in a lifestyle of adventure — from edge (extreme) sports to music to fashion to travel and so on. And then Red Bull provides that audience with access to that lifestyle, through publications, events, social media content and more … and it sells some energy drinks, as well.

If Red Bull did the former (define a demographic), it would’ve been able to effectively place an ad for an energy drink on channels where Millennial males might be. And the brand would’ve sold some drinks, and perhaps captured some people who would continue to buy Red Bull through the years. But the brand affinity it would’ve created would’ve be thin, at best. And it’d be in a constant cycle of reloading short-term audiences. That’s a losing game.

Instead, Red Bull tilted toward the latter — personas based on interests. But … how did that happen?

Maybe the brand started with an idea like: “We see opportunity to engage the ‘extreme sports lifestyle audience regardless of age, location, etc.’ in a whole new, deeper way.” Or, perhaps Red Bull carefully observed its initial audience — the short-term customer audience it had when it first went to market with the drink — and asked questions like:

  • We see Millennial males are a big part of our initial audience, but what’s behind the demographic?
  • What commonalities does that portion of the audience share with the rest of the audience?
  • What is it that our audience — in aggregate — is telling us they care about most?
  • What information are they craving most?
  • And is anyone else providing that information? Access?

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. And most of the stories we hear about Red Bull’s content marketing successes don’t focus on the starting point of audience understanding. But I imagine it was more along the lines of not resting on an initial, demographic-lead audience understanding. I imagine the brand had a short-term audience, but decided it didn’t want to have to constantly reload. Good for Red Bull!

Smart marketers will take note and do the same. They’ll dig deep. They won’t rest on the easy, starting answer. They’ll get past the simple, demographic personas, and they’ll start thinking about interests that transcend demographic as the path to building a long-term, engaged audience.

In short: Demographic-led personas lead to decent targeting and short-term sales. Simple ROI. Interest-led personas lead to engagement and brand affinity for the long-term: Simple ROI plus customer lifetime value.

United Airlines: Securing Customer Loyalty That Money Can’t Buy

It’s not about points or free gifts anymore; it’s about what money can’t buy.

United brand image
(Image via United Airlines)

It’s not about points or free gifts anymore; it’s about what money can’t buy.

This is what Praveen Sharma, VP of loyalty for United Airlines, tells me about what it takes to keep customers loyal to brands in an age where consumers have more power and options than ever before.

MileagePlus, one of the airline industry’s most successful loyalty programs, is built around creating customer experiences — not just free flights, like most frequent flyer programs. According to Sharma, these experiences can include a training day with your favorite pro sports team, or a session in a flight simulator, VIP luxury venues and other experiences that are not for “sale.”

By allowing MileagePlus members to use their points for aspirational experiences that deliver emotional fulfillment vs. just a free airline ticket or upgrade to First Class, United Airlines’ customers remain loyal to a brand, regardless of price. As a result of rewarding customers in unexpected ways, and by allowing members to choose their rewards, MileagePlus is the largest loyalty program in the industry, with more than 100 million members.

So what’s in your loyalty program? Chances are, you’re still offering one free product for every 10 purchased, or points redeemable for a free hotel night, for 10 percent off their next purchase of $200 (not a big deal by the way), and other way-too-common ways for rewarding customers.

Loyalty today is not about price. It’s not about “free” anything. As United Airlines has discovered and proven under Sharma’s leadership and dedication to providing emotional value over monetary value, it’s about the “feelings” you create among the customers you serve. Feelings come from how you are treated, unexpectedly and expectedly.

For example, a friend of mine flies United almost weekly, all over the world for his business. When he had a tight connection at a large airport with terminals far apart, there was a car waiting for him at his gate, ready to take him to the next gate. That kind of attention to individual customers’ issues and acting on imminent needs is what creates brands like United Airlines that last not only for a customers’ lifetime, but for generations of customers over decades of change.

No matter how large or small your brand may be, there are many lessons here for every business for creating loyalty programs that enable your sales, profits and marketing ROI to soar to new heights.

Here’s just a few tips from Sharma and myself:

  • Build an Ecosystem: Build a network of partner brands that reflect your brand’s standards and value, and complement or support your offerings. Align with brands that can provide experiences for your customers beyond your product line, that offer supplemental experiences, services and products, and are as eager as you are to reward each others’ customers with new offerings and ideas.
  • Build Your Data Capabilities for learning and communicating instantly across all channels your customers use: mobile, phone, email, social. Communicate on what matters to customers, not just what matters to you.
  • Use the Rule of Five to send tips, ideas, informational notices, updates on services, products or, in the case of United, changed gates or ETAs. Send five messages about the customer before you send one message about what you have to sell.
  • Create Points of Engagement that enable you to learn. Surveys still work, but so do other tools. Consider creating a loyalty board with a diverse mix of customers to learn firsthand what you need to do to keep loyalty up and growing via evangelism. And insert a one-question survey each week on your website to keep the dialogue and insights flowing.
  • Never Set the Loyalty Trap. Some companies and business models wittingly and unwittingly “trap” customer loyalty with sales models that make it really hard to switch brands. SaaS contracts are an example of how this can happen, because of the upfront time and energy required for most subscription-based services. Once you get clients set up to use your product, trained and “vested” with time and money, it is hard for them to cancel that contract, even though you’ve given them many outs, because they will lose too much time and money to start over. However, these traps, when set intentionally, rarely work. If your onboarding, product functionality, service, support and other aspects do not meet expectations and trigger satisfaction more often than not, customers will make the effort to change and will tell everyone they know to go with them.
  • Reward Loyalty With Experiences, not just product. Consumers define a brand’s value to them by the experience and emotional value delivered more than anything else. Price and customer service can be replicated quickly and easily by just about any competitor. But experiences and feelings of achievement, appreciation, joy and security, not so much. This is why MileagePlus offers experiences of a lifetime that money can’t buy; like the training day with a professional sports team or flight simulator sessions mentioned above.


No matter how big or small your business reach, or how large your customer database is, you can define and deploy strategies and experiences to create loyalty. Think big, think differently, and think about the “emotionally rewarding” value that your brand is uniquely set up to deliver — time and time again.

Retail’s Future: The Store as Entertainment

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt?

Audrey Hepburn
Source: Pixabay

When was the last time you went to a store and felt happy just by being there? Remember the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”? In it, Holly Golightly lovingly looks into the Tiffany store window on Fifth Avenue and says “… nothing very bad could happen to you there …” How wonderful to feel that about a store experience! Whether feeling special or entertained or valued, stores that make you feel that “nothing bad can happen” have a special place in the hearts of their customers.

In today’s digital world, how can stores create the feeling of engagement and excitement that Holly felt when looking at the Tiffany’s store window? Our surveys show that customers are still interested in shopping at stores, but the store experience they value today is very different than what they valued in the past. And their expectations of the future will be very different as well.

In the “Synchrony Financial Future of Retail Study,” when asked about the most exciting ideas for the future, 55 percent of consumers surveyed picked “an in-store experience that entertains me” as one of the top three most exciting ideas. And according to the “Synchrony 2016 Affluent Study,” about 70 percent of shoppers say they would rather spend money on experiences over spending on things. The message is clear — shoppers want to be entertained when shopping.

Below are some new shopping formats that we may see in the coming years as brands respond to this sentiment:

  • Experiences merged with shopping. Various categories are now being added to the retail experience. Examples include coffee shops, cafés, music experiences, bars or complimentary products or services inside the store. It’s a big reason why local “markets” are making a resurgence across America. Some call it “retail-tainment.” The retail experience can be a place to gather or a place to just relax and have fun.
  • Crafts and learning within the store. Retailers can let shoppers see how a product (like a leather belt) is made from scratch. While this experience is already being used, it may become more mainstream in the future.
  • Retailer apps that are interactive and combine the digital and store experience. For instance, a customer can pick out clothes and reserve a dressing room right from the retailer’s app. This is both a timesaver and a delighter.

Ryan Mathews, a Futurist at Black Monk Consulting says,

“So, the question then is, if you don’t need to go to a place to get stuff, what do you need to go to a place for? And that’s kind of what we call higher engagement things: the experience, advice, consultation, fun. It’s moved beyond transactions into real relationships.”

So, looking to the future, the bricks-and-mortar store may no longer be a place to just pick up a sweater or a pair of shoes. It may be a place to meet your friend for a drink, learn to mix a cocktail and pick up that cute scarf that goes perfectly with the pants you’re wearing. For the Holly Golightly of the future, that could be the next “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” experience.

Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the blogger and not necessarily of Synchrony Financial.

Experiences Cut Through the Noise

We live in a world where all forms of information — from the hottest entertainment to the most niche marketing messages — are a finger click away. They’re ubiquitous. They’re more and more boring! But people will still pay attention to an experience.

Experiences MatterI think maybe we’re missing the lesson behind the success of Pokémon Go, and a few other things that have grown more popular among younger adults in recent years (city living, Fitbits, boutique food, the rise of pop culture conventions): Experiences matter.

We live in a world where all forms of information — from the hottest entertainment to the most niche gadgets — are a finger click away. They’re ubiquitous. They’re more and more boring!

But people will still pay attention to an experience.

They want to pay attention to experiences! They’re hungry for them. The more online and virtual life gets, the more people want to leave the house and get their hands and feet into what they’re doing.

Despite the fears of some prognosticators, Americans are not going quietly into that good night of Wall-E fat-o-loungers.

Scene from Wall-E
Pixar knows what scares us better than Stephen King.

Give people something they want to do, and they’ll leap at the opportunity to do it.

How Can You Use Experiences in Your Marketing?

Pokémon Go has people looking all over the real world to find and train Pokémon, from school yards to downtown monuments. Those are experiences. They create memories. And those memories will forever be linked to the Pokémon brand.

Offering an experience can take a lot of forms. Many party-friendly brands like beer and soft drinks put on summer parties or concerts. Remember Bud Light’s “Anywhere USA” campaign last year? Contests that ask viewers to create a video or something else that takes effort can also be great experiences.

Those are pretty obvious experiences, but I think something like Zappos’s #ImNotABox box counts too. Look at how engaging with this box engages Melissa and Rob in this video, and how it reinforces the Zappos brand as a personal experience to them.

More Experiences Mean More Sales

Marketers know that the more channels you get someone to engage with you on, the more likely they are to make repeat purchases. Similarly, sales people know that every small action you can get your prospect to take (take the call, have a cup of coffee, look at our website with me, critique their current bill, etc.) is one step closer to saying yes to the sale.

Connect those dots: There’s more noise and information than ever before, it’s boring, and it’s in the way of your marketing getting to your target market. They’re glutted on information, but hungry for experiences. Every experience you get them to participate in brings them one step closer to making purchases and becoming repeat customers.

Think about what experiences your target market wants and how you can give it to them. If you can get them to make a connection with you there, you’re a lot more likely to make a connection with their wallets later.

Social Media and the Marketer’s Monkey Sphere

Can you make personal connections at scale? The average human’s social sphere is limited to about 150 people, everyone else is just a monkey. And if you can’t deliver the experiences to make those connections, your brand’s just a monkey too.

There's a reason so may companies plan to compete on experience. If you don't break through and make that connection, you're just a monkey.
Slide from Jillian Falconi’s deck for the webinar “Social Media Marketing That Counts: How to grow your audience with insights that impact the bottom line,” airing June 2.

Can you make personal connections at scale? It’s the marketing question of our time.

Since blogging and social networks made the Internet the two-way communication medium it is today, Americans have paid less and less attention to mass communication and more and more to personal social bubbles around the things they care about.

Even when the thing they care about is a mass communication phenomenon, like Game of Thrones, their interaction with mass media is only as long as that event (skipping commercials) and then it’s back to the bubble to talk about it with their friends.

How do you make them care about you when your marketing is one of the things they’re trying to avoid in that bubble?

You need to offer an experience. You need to become one of those things that has personal meaning.

You need to get inside the monkey sphere.

Are You a Brand or a Monkey?

Have you every heard of the Monkey Sphere? Also called Dunbar’s Number?

Robin Dunbar was an anthropologist who studied primates. He found that social group size corresponded to the species’s brain size. Each species could only handle so many social connections. Beyond that number, the rest of the primates ceased to be seen as discrete individuals. Everyone who didn’t fit inside that limited social sphere was just a monkey.

Using the same ratios, Dunbar figured that the average human’s personal social sphere — the people who you know by name, know how they connect with the other people in your sphere, and that you have ongoing social relationship with — is limited to about 150 people.

Everyone else is just a monkey.

The thing is, brands are monkeys too. There are the ones you identify with and talk about inside your sphere, and the rest are just monkeys.

The problem with being just a monkey today is when people build their online communities and media bubbles, the monkeys don’t get in. And you can’t buy your way in with more ads.

The only way to be more than a monkey is to create experiences that make personal connections with the people in your audience.

Can you do that? Can you do it a million individual times?

That’s the difference between broadcast media and social media. In the heyday of mass media, people were grateful to gather around the radio or TV and listen to whatever was broadcast. Today, your audience is overwhelmed by media streams, so they only listen to the people and brands who connect personally with them.

Making a personal, emotional connection is your only way inside the monkey sphere. And you need to get inside a million monkey spheres. How do you do it?

In fact, there’s another side to the question: How do you keep all of them from becoming just monkeys to you?

Pretty much everything worth doing with marketing technology relies on the idea that you can use all these individuals’ preferences, behavior and data to send them more relevant, personalized and effective messaging. The entire world of marketing automation, clouds and social listening tools rely on the idea that you can do that.

You can’t possibly expand your personal monkey sphere to encompass all of your customers, but you can’t treat them like just monkeys, either.

What Are the Answers?

I honestly don’t know. It’s a complicated, contradictory issue. But I’ll be moderating a webinar on Thursday, “Social Media Marketing That Counts,” with Michael Dub from DXagency and Jillian Falconi from Falcon.io, that’s a good place to start.

I don’ think either of them plan to mention Monkey Spheres, but these questions are at the heart of their presentations: How do you figure out a way to make those personal connections, and apply it at scale, across millions of customer if you need to?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but tune in tomorrow and you’ll hear some good ideas on how to approach them.