‘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.

Brand Equity vs. Economics 101

The law of supply and demand: the only thing many people remember from Economics 101. When demand goes up, prices increase. When demand goes down, prices decrease.

Branding
“Branding,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Limelight Leads

The law of supply and demand: the only thing many people remember from Economics 101.

When demand goes up, prices increase. When demand goes down, prices decrease.

But according to the recent New York Times article, “Why Surge Prices Make Us So Mad: What Springsteen, Home Depot and a Nobel Winner Know,” strict adherence to this economic principle can be detrimental to a brand. Playing the long-game of building and maintaining brand equity is often more important than maximizing short-term gain.

Bruce Springsteen priced tickets for his one-man show on Broadway at $75 to $850 and implemented a system to thwart scalpers from buying up and reselling tickets at a profit. Lottery-winning ticket buyers-turned-opportunists priced their show tickets at $1,200 to $9,999 on StubHub. So Bruce could have made a lot more money by following the simple law of supply and demand, selling tickets at the price the market would bear, and filling the theater with his wealthiest fans. But at what cost to his brand?

One of my colleagues used to say, “You can always get tickets. It just depends on how much you’re willing to pay.” The aftermarket for sold-out concert tickets and sporting events can exceed 10 times the face value of the tickets, especially for premium seats. Yet hot acts and championship teams are reluctant to be viewed as price gougers in order to maintain the goodwill of their fan base.

“A good rule of thumb is we shouldn’t impose a set of rules that will create moral outrage, even if that moral outrage seems stupid to economists,” says Richard Thaler, a recent Nobel Laureate in Economics, as quoted in the Times on Oct. 15. Stories of bottled water selling for $24 in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma certainly produced universal moral outrage.

Contrast that with how mega-brand Home Depot responds to hurricanes. The chain has a corporate policy against price-gouging following a disaster, and it deploys emergency logistics to meet the demand of its customers in a disaster area with additional supplies of plywood, tape, etc. This approach meets demand by increasing supply, maintains stable pricing and boosts revenue. More importantly, it creates goodwill and trust in the brand.

So the economic law of supply and demand is not universal when it comes to brand equity.

“If you treat people in a way they think is unfair, then it will come back and bite you,” Mr. Thaler said.

Score one for the Brand.

Recruiting Tech: Is a Robot Interview a Good Brand Look?

I often talk and write about the explosion of marketing technology and how it can lead companies to focus on tactical wins while ignoring or hurting long-term consumer brand development. I would also apply the same caution to recruiting technologies.

You get an email from the CEO titled, “How do we become a destination employer?” You know this is a not-so-subtle hint in reference to the last “VP of Sales” candidate who came in a T-shirt, jeans and flip flops; or perhaps it is in reference to the one before, who averted eye contact and often gave one-word responses.

To get ahead of these pitfalls, some companies are using recruiting technology platforms to filter out duds early in the process. While the platforms are indeed powerful and have the potential to add data and structure to a process that has historically been very subjective and disorganized, this is another great example of the “land of shiny objects,” where the ability to do cool things has outpaced the strategic thinking of why things should be done. In this case, we find a budding industry that has built powerful tools to help companies design interviewing and recruiting experiences that work for their needs. However, I was curious as to what impact this is having on the Employer Brand from the perspective of the candidates, and if employers are going to get burned. I spoke to a friend who came across this experience during her job search, and she had some interesting insights to share.

A Candidate’s Experience With Recruiting Tech

Her first assumption, when informed about a video interview, was that it would be over Skype. Her first shock was learning that there would not be another person on the other end; but rather a technology platform, which would ask the questions. “It took me a while to understand that my first interviewer would not be a human. This was unfamiliar territory.” After she realized that she would be talking to a technology platform, her next reaction was a flood of questions, mixed with anxiety.

  • “What questions will it ask?”
  • “How much time will I have to answer questions?”
  • “What if I don’t like my response; can I have a do-over?”
  • “Will the employer be tracking how many do-overs, pauses and breaks I take?”
  • “Will the technology be analyzing facial expressions, ticks, as part of my answer?”

While the technology provider did its best to answer her concerns and was very supportive, there were some anxieties they could not address — such as the underlying reasons why the employer would put various time limits on questions, or if they would track the number of retakes and how that information would be evaluated.

During the interview, she spent hours in a locked room judging her responses and deciding if she should do a re-take or move on. “Being a perfectionist, this was not an easy process. On top of that, the unknowns were frustrating.”

She was eventually called in for an in-person interview and discovered an employer only trying to filter out non-serious candidates before investing time and energy on the next stage. Luckily for the employer, my friend was already familiar with the company, and so her negative experience was tempered by other information. Nevertheless, the experience did not reflect well on the employer.

My Take on Recruiting Tech

Despite my friend’s account, I found clear advantages to using recruiting technology platforms and, as a data-driven business consultant, I would encourage their use. However, I would also strongly suggest that employers think about the Employer Brand and plan more carefully before deploying recruiting technology.

I often talk and write about the explosion of marketing technology and how it can lead companies to focus on tactical wins while ignoring or hurting long-term consumer brand development. I would also apply the same caution to recruiting technologies, because I believe many companies are going to hurt their Employer Brand as they become enamored with new capabilities.

The right solution should begin with a vision of the Employer Brand you are trying to build and answer some important questions, such as:

  • When building the Employer Brand using technology, what will you measure and why?
  • What are the anxieties that might be created by injecting technology into the employer-employee relationship?
  • What are the trade-offs (short-term and long-term)?

While automation may be shrinking the workforce in the next decade or two (maybe not), most expectations are that the need for creative talent will increase. This means that your Employer Brand is likely to be a critical component of how companies will recruit the best creative talent. Getting lost in the land of shiny objects is not something competitive companies will be able to afford.