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.

Generational Marketing: Gen Z Goes to College

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

I’ve taught in colleges since 2005, and have shared my observations about Millennials in several Target Marketing blog posts. Recently, I realized that most of my current students aren’t Millennials, so my curiosity about psycho-demographics has me trying to observe the generational marketing characteristics of this new cohort of college students, arbitrarily defined as those born starting in 1997.

Of course, changes in generational attitudes don’t occur overnight, and so I didn’t walk into class one semester and say, “Wow, these kids are different!” The oldest Gen Zers were freshmen in 2015 and because the lines between the generations aren’t always distinct, I don’t have a large sample on which to base my generalizations. But here are some of my initial observations based on some recent classroom encounters.

Technology and Ageism

Unlike the students of five-plus years ago, the current group does not automatically assume that older people (myself included) are digital idiots. Perhaps that’s because their parents are more technologically savvy and their grandparents have social media accounts. Although most identified their grandparents as laggards when it came to smartphone adoption in a recent assignment on the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, they don’t automatically assume that older people are technologically clueless. (See my post from 2016 on “Millennial Microagression”).

Financial Awareness

The cost of their education is always top-of-mind. It comes up frequently in classroom discussions about their consumption habits. Their formative years were marked by a time of economic uncertainty. In a recent marketing class at Rutgers, we were discussing how the economic environment affects marketing strategy and tactics. When I referenced the financial crisis of 2008, I realized that most of the students were in elementary or middle school during that time. Whether or not they experienced a parent’s job loss or home foreclosure firsthand, most understood that times were difficult and the financial future was not always assured.

Social Media-Cautious

In a recent assignment about retargeting, I asked them to cite examples of how their online activity led to seeing ads about things they posted or searched. Most referenced Google searches, and one student claimed that she was disadvantaged in coming up with examples because she has no social media accounts. Some have abandoned Facebook and, while they use Instagram, most keep their accounts private. By contrast, my experience with Millennials is that they were, and continue to be, much freer with their social media activity.

Look for more about Gen Z in upcoming posts.

LinkedIn Ought to Be ‘LinkedOut’

I have moved up the emotional scale from mildly irritated to pretty angry. I even considered a New Year’s resolution of dumping LinkedIn.

The first time it happened, I thought it was just an error caused by my chunky fingers hitting the wrong keys or clicking my mouse with too little respect for the useful creature. But, as it has continued, and LinkedIn has been impervious to requests for an explanation of whether what’s happening is intentional or not, I have moved up the emotional scale from mildly irritated to pretty angry. I even considered a New Year’s resolution of dumping LinkedIn.

Here’s why.

What would you think if you got this message in your inbox?

LinkedIn notification for Peter Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Like me, you might be complimented that people are searching for you for business, for pleasure or for anything. And you’d certainly be curious about who these clever searchers might be. So, just as I did, you would click the box. Right? And here is what you would get.

LinkedIn search notifications for Peter Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

That’s funny. I distinctly remember that LinkedIn told me (in the opening personal email from “Notification. No reply”) that I had appeared in three searches this week. Did the other two searchers get lost?

Only a week or so later, Liz, at LinkedIn Sales Solutions, tells me my 90-day fan club, albeit over an overlapping period, grew by 400 percent.

linkedin sales solutions notification for Peter Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

WOW. I really want to see who those folks are.

The only problem is that to see these 13 people, I have to sign up for a 30-day “Free” trial to Sales Navigator Professional with a negative option paid subscription after the 30 days if you don`t notify

LinkedIn credit card notification for Peter Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

them you want to quit. And to get the free trial, I have to give LinkedIn my credit card and lots of other data. Why? Helpfully, there is a very smoothly written explanation promising “a seamless subscription experience.” But, despite these assurances, when even the CIA and NSA can’t adequately protect their data, can LinkedIn?

The playwright Tom Stoppard has one of his characters say famously, “There is an art to the building up of suspense.” LinkedIn seems to have mastered the art, taking the curious (or not taking him) to find who is really interested in his profile.

And if that weren’t enough, here’s what came next.

Important LinkedIn notification for Peter Rosenwald
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

I know I flunked math at school but, despite a serious effort, I couldn’t figure out where the 267 number came from.

It’s obvious that like many of Silicon Valley’s progeny, growth in number of “subscribers,” paying for the premium service vs. taking it free, is the key KPI. That would help explain the rather over-the-top switch-selling which so annoys not only me, but lots of people who value the LinkedIn service — but not the hassle.

“Get them to sign up” is a standard digital mantra. And as LinkedIn is now owned by Microsoft, its bean counters are no doubt focusing on this and the data that each sign-up brings. Writing for Forbes, Grant Feller said of LinkedIn: “It knows where people work, their skills, ambitions, who they went to school with and what interests groups people share. LinkedIn knows about people better than Microsoft does.”

It is now virtually impossible to get a sense of whether this strategy is paying off. After Microsoft paid a cool $26.2 billion in late 2016 for the essentially profitless company with its tanking stock price, its figures are no longer available. At the time, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was quoted as calling the deal the centerpiece of its “cloud services and software” strategy. And it also makes Microsoft a major player in the increasingly competitive social network Olympics. But does this justify such a hard sell?

The question is: Should we all be LinkedIn or Out? That’s something to consider for your next New Year’s resolutions.