Friday, May 7, 2010

Dandelions and Blowfish...The Future of Marketing

Dandelions and Blowfish...The Future of Marketing
Jay McBain, Director, Small and Medium Business, Lenovo Americas
May 7, 2010

As an extension to the Community blog I wrote about a week ago, the core marketing function is going through a similar transformation. This is not meant to be another commentary on the effects of social media, but the change in corporate thinking that needs to surround it.

Marketing Legacy:

Step 1: Develop theme
Step 2: Define budget and obtain financial approvals
Step 3: Back into marketing plan based on budget
Step 4: Close on traditional marketing vehicles, blending branding and demand generation

2010 and beyond:

Step 1: Develop multiple themes and sound bites, define content owners and delivery mechanisms
Step 2: Transactional budgeting and just-in-time micro-investments
Step 3: Prepare for over 30 marketing vehicles and lock in communities, traditional and new media routes, and aggressive social media strategy
Step 4: Generate market visibility every day, blending messaging across brand building, demand generation, thought leadership, education, breaking news, industry value add and leadership, public persona building as well as a measured amount of hype.

Defining the change

Most of us sat through Marketing 101 learning the legacy model above. The main objective of traditional marketing training is choosing 2-3 “big” ideas and then hitting a homerun in the marketplace. Careers were made on the back of big sports marketing plays or the agency campaign that turned the corner for the company.

I have never been a fan of black or white rhetoric when predicting future trends. The traditional media vehicles have been, continue to be, and will in the future be very important for delivering results. TV, radio, magazines, billboards and the like will always have a key place in the marketing plan, especially when you consider demographics. Also, a celebrity corporate spokesperson who can connect with a targeted audience and who you can build a brand on will likely grow in importance in upcoming years.

The change is happening at the grass roots level. We are being taught by newer, younger companies that have neither the budget or, in some cases, the traditional training to adhere to the past principles of going “big” on a few ideas.

The Dandelion is a popular concept where survival is based on wide and effective dispersion of seeds into the ecosystem. Knowing that most seeds will fail to plant, quantity is preferred over quality. With today’s overwhelming amount of information coming in all directions, it is fair to say that most messages will fail to plant as well?

Marketing is evolving into quantity over quality

Recent experience at Lenovo has proven this. The decision to move into community based marketing was a good one. Market share is up, the amount of Partners signing up and unique customers is at an all time high. The down side to joining dozens of communities is the workload associated with driving content and delivery to satisfy the “seed” requirements.

It really comes down to a math equation. Joining 30 communities, who each have a loyal and passionate base of followers, combined with 30 marketing vehicles each equals 900 seeds that must be dispersed. For the first time, lack of budget is not the largest complaint in marketing circles. Each grassroots community may only be $2K - $10K per year to join, roughly the yearly budget of adding one or two salespeople or running a couple of magazine ads. Most of the new media vehicles are free or near-free to execute.

The challenge will clearly shift to content and delivery of these seeds.

Most marketing departments:
1. Are il-equipped to handle the workload
2. Lack the expertise to generate fresh corporate messaging and content everyday
3. Lack the skill to deliver the content in new media vehicles such as webinars, vod and podcasts, blogs, etc.
4. Do not have the power or influence within the organization to mandate business owners to do the above.

So, what is the answer?

Companies must start preparing for this shift towards communities and viral marketing today. Executives who are more comfortable in the boardroom will have to break out of their comfort zone. The old style of structured PR blitzes, carefully crafted involving deep preparation, is coming to an end. Most media companies are now looking for in-your-face, twitter-style soundbites. In fact, out of 7 interviews I conducted at a recent show, 5 of them were videotaped on a flip camera and simulcast on YouTube within hours.

The old-style press release with clean wording and great quotes are being ignored in favor of real-time customer or Partner feedback. People are just getting smarter. They recognize that most of those quotes are from people who were not involved with the development, and in some cases, have never even seen the product they are commenting on so favorably. Having a community connector give an endorsement to their faithful followers drives significant more weight than a company executive who gives that biased thumbs up.

That being said, don’t stop generating press releases! It forms another seed or “spray” into the market.

Why is spray effective?

Quite simply, everyone consumes content differently. There is no right or wrong way to disperse seeds into the market. Some have higher connection and conversion rates, but quantity is important to reach the entire audience.
Some of the behavioral differences are clearly generational. My dad enjoys his cup of coffee every morning and reads the newspaper cover to cover. Conversely, my daughter loses interest after 140 characters! Now, if you chose to “go big” on newspaper (and you think Calgary, Canada is a good market for you), odds are you may have impacted my dad.

There are dozens of ways people consume information every day, and there is no way to know the consumption preference of each individual person in your target audience. The Long Tail approach to communication, making sure you reach almost all of your intended audience, is to spray.

As I mentioned before, spray, like the seeds of a dandelion, will fail to connect almost all of the time. That is actually good news, because the amount of times it connects will outnumber the targeted hits every time. Yes, quantity trumps quality.
By quality, there is certain minimum standard that everything must reach. Spelling mistakes, poor graphics and creative, as well as language that doesn’t fit your company identity is unacceptable. A key role of marketing is to set these minimums or you will confuse customers and partners if each seed looks like it comes from a different source.

Finally, the blowfish

The one aspect of spray that I haven’t touched on is the collateral benefit of touching people well beyond your target audience. The old marketing rule of telling someone seven times before they get it is still valid. The evolution of the rule in this new age, is telling someone seven times, seven different ways.

Assuming you are spraying messaging across the marketplace and adding some degree of value (read as not selling), you will unintentionally pick up a following beyond your target audience. If you are touching a larger market with more and more marketing vehicles, you will likely have an advantage over your competition who may be stuck in the old ways. Remember, everyone has a preferred style of consuming content and if you happen to be the most ubiquitous, good things will happen.

This is the story of the blowfish, which expands its body size several times larger in the face of danger. This is the way that your company, in the face of opportunity instead of danger, can look much bigger than it is by showing up everywhere. A single owner/principal can look like a small company, a small company can look like a medium one and a Fortune 499 company can look like a Fortune 50. It works at every level.

Next steps:
• Embrace the changes coming – unfortunately, no one gets a vote
• Don’t send this to the marketing department to figure out and execute – this is a company-wide initiative and participation is by everyone who has the experience and skill to develop content and deliver it effectively
• Understand the community concept – they have the table already set (in most cases), waiting for you to join.
• Aggressively pursue new social media tools. The shelf life of current favorites could prove to be limited. Again the cost of execution is free or near-free, the content and delivery can be re-purposed, but does take labor.