Friday, June 27, 2008

Are surveys dead?

In this new landscape of user-generated content (UGC), blogs, and online fora - what is the relevance of good old-fashioned surveys? Here's how I see it:

Unsolicited comments (like blogs or posts in a forum) often tell you WHO you didn't know was important.
Because of the democratization of the web - the ease with which nearly anyone can publish an opinion (or video, for that matter) - very public rants or raves might come from unlikely or unknown sources.

Yesterday I was reading a random blog (highlighted by Blogger) of a woman who has an eco-conscious focus, but writes a couple of times a week on various topics. Her typical post is about politics or alternative energy or recycling techniques. Last week she wrote an absolute rave personal review of this mineral rock deodorant thing - I mean, she went on for 4 paragraphs about how great it is. If I were the maker of this product, I'd figure out how to engage more influential folks like this. So if they saw the post, that company may have just discovered WHO might be helping sell their product.

Surveys will usually tell you WHAT you didn't know was important.
People who care about you or your company are typically the ones that respond to a survey. In fact, you often have targeted a group of prospects or clients (or people like them) in your distribution list. But, your respondents may type in comments or respond differently than you expected. Surveys are a great way to determine how to focus on the products/services that matter to your customers.

When the company I work for, Allegro, did a survey a while back - we learned that one of our key customers depended on us primarily as a technological resource. Our opinion was that Allegro was a creative agency first, with techy stuff as a tag-along service offering. This customer really changed our perspective on the value of technology. The opinion of that client spawned a dedicated team in our company that works on and promotes an online tool called FreshDM. It has become a significant part of our business.

Structuring and sending out a survey is a great way to focus - just writing the survey will cause you to concentrate on an objective way to measure your firm's impact. By the way, I highly recommend an online tool called SurveyMonkey - I started using it on a project in biz school a few years back, and it really is great. They have free and paid versions, depending on your needs. Be sure to consider phone or offline (paper) surveys - if that's your normal mode of communication with customers & prospects.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Easy is the new black.

As marketers, we are often called on to sell or inform about a product that is complicated. The complexity of, say, a technical service - or a financial instrument - or a gadget, could be what makes it really cool and desirable. We might go on and on about the key benefits, how sophisticated it is, how valuable, even how affordable. But the truth is, most people just want it to be easy.

Look at how convenience sells in the U.S.: have you bought vegetables in a little pre-packed plastic bag, just so you didn't have to wash them? Been to a drive-thru window lately? Used's "one-click ordering" function? Looked at the freezer section in the grocery store?

In so many aspects of our lives (and our customers' lives), we are looking to save time. We want to check things off our list and be done. We will settle for something that is less tasty, less nutritious, or lower quality - just because it's fast or convenient. We'll even pay a premium for that convenience (i.e. 150% more for lettuce, or a $4 coffee at Starbucks).

What does this mean to us as marketers? Well, I think easy is the new black. It's time to take a closer look at whether we are making things as easy as possible for our customers and prospects. Here's a little checklist for you:

1. Is it easy to find you?
If I'm looking for your company or service, can I easily locate you on- and offline?

2. Is it easy to buy your product?
How many steps does it take on the phone/web/in person?
How long is your sign-up form or application?

3. Is it easy to understand why to buy your product?

Do your promotional or marketing materials simply state the key reasons to buy from the customer's perspective?

4. What are you doing to be the most "convenient" provider in your marketplace?

Check out your competition.

Take it easy,

PS: Didn't black become "the new black" because it was so darn easy? :)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What about the meatballs?

So, I've been thinking a lot about the Seth Godin book (Meatball Sundae). His idea of inventing new products that take advantage of the "long tail" (lots of people who all want different things) - it's so seductive. Just come up with a unique and easily distributed product/service that you can sell at a profit, put it on a website, and get people talking. Sounds like a simple recipe. But what if you (or your client) has a ton of "meatballs" already? What if you are selling a highly regulated product, like insurance, that is difficult and expensive to reinvent?

Here are my recommendations for folks that have a lot of meatballs.

1. Be honest (with yourself and customers).
If it looks like a meatball, it probably IS a meatball. Transparency and clear communication will take you far.

2. Make some marinara.
Find a service method, packaging, distribution model, companion product, or extra perk that makes your meatball the most delicious one out there.

3. Serve on your best china.
Making customers feel special is wildly underrated. In this era of blogging and internet media, news travels fast. A good customer's experience can become a positive influence for your product, brand, and company. Add up a few good experiences, and you're in business.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My take on: Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin

I'm just finishing reading the book Meatball Sundae by Seth Godin. He's the permission marketing guy who also wrote Purple Cow and many other books. It's a really good guidebook, especially for folks who are marketing to consumers. Mr. Godin always seems to have a lot of "old school" and "new school" comparisons, and this book is no exception. He gives lots of real world examples, and I love that.

The idea of a meatball sundae - there are a lot of companies out there who have "meatballs" to sell - traditional products that are pretty good, but ordinary. Mr. Godin observes that the "old way" of just putting a TV ad out there and presenting a pretty good product to a large audience is failing. Then, he points out pitfalls in the technique of using "new marketing" (internet-driven techniques) to sell "old products". Hence the "Sundae". Some companies are trying to put hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry on top of a "meatball" and then wondering why the marketing techniques don't work.

Here are some key takeaways from my perspective.
  • the Internet has enabled and empowered consumers in a totally new way.
  • unique distribution and marketing channels have spawned micro-markets that can now be successful without physical locations (like T-shirt co. microfinance co. Kiva and others)
  • customization is king: more than ever, consumers want choices and ways to strip away excess "features" to save money
  • as marketing clutter surges, interruption marketing (like TV ads and email promotions) are less viable
  • great service wins (by the way, service and marketing are inextricably linked)
My recommendation: if you read through the 14 key points, and use 3-4 of them, it's a very practical approach. As always, I really enjoyed Mr. Godin's insight.