Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New Ways to Market

There’s a lot of talk about inbound and outbound marketing, but not necessarily so much talk about how to finance that marketing. While newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer close their print shops in favor of web only reporting, venues for marketing seem to be diminishing. Traditional venues are also very expensive for large scale campaigns. (I talked in an earlier blog about creating large scale media from single billboards. )

On the other hand there are the “inbound” marketing venues. While these are typically cheaper, they also require time and the goodwill of internet surfers. Inbound marketing can be somewhat passive, when it comes to branching into brand new markets, especially where only a fraction of the target market is interested in venues such as Twitter.

Technology and the internet has however, opened new versions of traditional marketing venues, while dramatically lowering the price. One such example is internet radio. Nowadays, a little research can net you a permanent radio station for very low cost and very high quality and extensive reach. Furthermore, spin-off advertizing can actually offset the cost. In fact, if you plan well, your radio station will net you a large profit and not cost you a dime!

Now that’s a venue worth pursuing!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Hewlett Packard shows way to win back customers on the brink

It’s been a few days since the last blog - basically because my computer stopped working. Well, that’s not quite true, the internal modem just seemed to disappear from view. I’ve only had my HP Pavillion for between 2 and 3 years, so I was a little miffed to put it mildly. The first phone calls I made to HP were not an example of good marketing and sales. However, despite the fact that Hewlett Packard is having to tighten its strings, I was eventually blown away by a call that showed real customer service and ethics.

The biggest problem in my experience of HP was the number of people I talked to who were not educated sufficiently for their positions. Rather than put me through to someone who could help they confidently told me things that turned out not to be true, or they omitted some pretty important information. For example, the tech support person I called (in the US), confidently told me my motherboard was fried with very little investigation. They apparently forgot to tell me that HP had issued a notice on my model because of recurrent internal modem issues. (That would have saved the next calls).

Nowadays it seems impossible to operate for too long without a computer, so I decided to see what I could buy from HP in the way of another Pavillion laptop. I think I called about 4 or 5 times after I was “advised” by my US tech-support person on what to buy. I was put on hold several times for 15 mins or more. None of the people could answer some basic questions on components.

At this point, I decided to forget HP altogether and emailed their CEO on the webpage form. Rather surprisingly I got a pretty swift reply from Customer Service. I gave HP sales one more shot, and spoke to a representative who actually was educated in the computers he was selling. He got my business and I’m typing this on a new Pavillion laptop.

BUT that’s not all!! A few days later HP called out of the blue to inform me that I should have been told about the notice on my last computer. They sent a Fedex box and it’s currently at HP, possibly about to be repaired for nothing, as the only issue seems to be with the modem. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t tell me about this before I spent money on a new computer, but I really appreciated their proactive honesty.

What lessons can we learn for the recession/depression? Those companies that take a proactive ethical stance and value customer care are the companies that will emerge with loyal, satisfied and even tolerant customers. Education for the sales and tech support teams would have avoided my frustration but my own experience shows even large mistakes in these areas can be rectified with proactive customer service. It would have been easy for HP to forget me, and it costs HP to bring in my laptop to fix it on their dime. The temptation to avoid good service was considerable, but kudos to you HP. You did the right thing, and I believe these principles will stand you in good stead.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"We" or "You" in International Marketing

Gunnar Brune recently highlighted the increased use of "we" and the increased used of the familiar form of address in international advertizing (AdAge 1.28.09). But how do we make marketing more effective through use of language?

Those who are sharp (or not American) will notice the date in the first sentence. This immediately confuses or puts off most of the world, as America seems to be the only country which puts the date month/day/year. This highlights that there's a lot more to international marketing than a word or two. Not that Brune says there isn't. He does however seem to give one factor a little too much weight in my opinion. He rightly states that the growth of social media has greatly accelerated the move to the "one world family" feeling. He then cites recent ad campaigns which either include "we" or familiarize" ("Du" in German, "Tu" in French/Spanish, etc.) he appears to suggest as the "way to go". This is the conclusion I would clarify.

I believe it certainly helps with branding if one can gain the dominant image in a country or community. Imagine if it was as natural to the average Greek to identify "Greek" with your product in the same way he or she identifies "Greek" with the national Greek Orthodox Church. But how can we get there, or is it even desirable to get there?

There are many cultural issues that need to be confronted for the marketer. "We" and "Du" won't work by themselves. For example, what do you do in a language and society that is very highly structured with many different levels of address? This would be the case with Korean. In Korean younger siblings still address older siblings with great respect. How would this "instant familiarization" play out there? What image would your brand have? What effect would that have on sales?

Another area to consider is the growing "primary culture" or less technical world market. "Group think" already exists and does not need to be reinvented. However, there are generally gatekeepers who still demand certain protocols. This may seem foreign in the West but the same is true here too. Consider the fashion industry. The Fashion gatekeepers decide what's "in". They have to be addressed in the right way. Fashion conscious buyers still adhere primarily to these gatekeepers' opinions.

Lastly, if our brands follow everyone into the "melting pot" what will set it apart. It's a balance to be sure, but as well as recognizing the present, we need to plan for the future.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Advantages of the Economic Crisis

It’s true that the job losses are mounting every day, and I’m compassionate for the individual tragedies that this can engender. Looked at one way, we are sliding down a bottomless pit and most people are only jamming on the brakes, hoping they don’t slide in too.

That’s the public side of this crisis, but it’s not the underbelly. The crisis has given new impetus to creative innovation - new products, services and business models. The bulk of these have yet to gain an audience of more than 100, but several are surely the juggernauts of the next decades.

I’ve had the privilege to talk to five start-ups in the last few days. Each one has excellent possibilities. They are coming to market at just the right time. The traditional players, who would typically “muscle out” competition of superior products, are now unable to compete from the same position of strength. The market is looking for better and cheaper products and services. Even though the crisis has produced risk-averse characteristics in several executives, those who are looking forward, are more than willing to streamline, improve and innovate.

I believe that this is the time for the entrepreneur. I’m excited at the potential out there. The world is flattening and is really our oyster. Let’s see what successes are soon birthed to take us into the next generation of business and profit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Is Twitter Twittish?

Twitter is all the rage for many social networkers. For the rest, it is often viewed as a despised waste of time. Who’s right? Is Twitter the smart way forward or are you a twit for using it? Mashable.com just published an article on the top 40 Company Twitters. It also comes to some interesting conclusions.

First, the top Twitters: They come from a variety of industries. Representing cars is Adam Denison from Chevrolet. He tweets “because he wants to be part of the online dialogue around Chevrolet.” Ford, GM and Honda also have dedicated Tweeters. Travel is headed by Jet Blue and their Tweeter - Morgan Johnston. Other industries with companies that are serious about Tweeting include the leisure industry, sports, accounting, warehouse/retail and fast-food outlets. Only one non-profit is listed - the Red Cross.

What do they think about the value of Twitter? Obviously they value it, or they would not dedicate personnel to this endeavor. Lon Cohen at Mashable contends Brands belong on Twitter because Twitter is opt-in, Twitter is the new phone company and because Twitter enables Brands to develop real personality to a greater extent.

However, the final questions for this short blog are these: To what extent are customers retained and to what extent are new customers won as a result of Twitter? Are Tweeting marketers the engine that drives the demand, or is Twitter really gaining mainstream traction? If it is increasing its user base through natural interest in Twitter’s communication form, as opposed solely to marketers’ hype, then greater thought should be given to its international and multilingual use. Twitter’s communication is short, which is advantageous for those in communities with less connectivity. It could also enable those who are remote to feel part of the main debate. Perhaps Twitter could end up being a great “New Market Detective”.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Offshore or Onshore?

The economic crisis has spawned a new dilemma seemingly at odds with the “flattening of the world”. Flattening is a term often used nowadays to emphasize the strength of contact between countries. Nowadays travel and the internet have made it possible to segment companies across continents.

Why do companies go this route? Unsurprisingly it’s for profit. For better or worse economics usually end up driving the train. While companies generally increase their profits by this kind of offshore segmentation, the shareholders are usually the only ones to see the benefit.

While there is high employment in a country then everyone is happy, however when there are large numbers of lay-offs the ethic of “offshoring” become more personal. Suddenly your friends are laid off because their jobs have gone overseas. The resulting questions are complex:

Against offshoring:

  • It creates hardship for local workers.
  • If all profits only go to the upper echelons, shareholders or developing greater offshore structure, jobs will never return to the local workforce.
  • Poverty in the workforce and large-scale unemployment worsens a shaky economy.
  • Local workers’ lives should be more important than quick profits.

For offshoring:

  • It may be the only way a company can survive the recession.
  • Resulting profits could create future jobs for rehiring of locals.
  • A failed company will ultimately be worse for the country’s economy.
  • It’s going to happen anyway. Be the first to gain from it. Your workers will have to retrain before too long regardless. Better sooner than later.

Is there a clear answer? Not really. Economically offshoring makes more sense, but it would be nice to think that companies would put on a self-imposed limit on spending the profits. Rather than allowing them all to go to upper echelons and shareholders, perhaps they could commit a portion to retraining and new job creation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is Blogging Important in International Marketing?

Today Advertising Age published a list of the 934 most visited blogs. Somewhat unsurprisingly Seth Godin’s blog is at the top. Trolling this list however, it was very hard to find any non-US blogs. Coming in at number 3 was a blog based in Bahrain. An Australian blog hit number 10 and Italians and Canadians took the number 15 and 16 spots. Of the top 50 blogs 40 were from the US, 3 from Italy, 2 from Canada, and 1 each from Sweden, Bahrain, Australia, Netherlands and the UK.

What does this tell us? Firstly, we have to suspect that these stats only refer to English blogs. By all accounts China is a blogging force, but of course the language creates a seemingly insurmountable barrier to cross-fertilization. Secondly, we see a clear trend when it comes to marketing outside the US in English. While English blogs may increase in importance for marketing, they are certainly not there yet. Undue investment in this area will create an unbalanced campaign, unless low-level research reveals specific advantages for your market segment. Thirdly, if blogs are not being used in indigenous language, what e-communication is being used and what communications technologies are promising strong growth in that country or culture? E-communication is obviously growing worldwide, but preferred forms can vary widely from culture to culture and from country to country.

Some of my suggestions:

  1. Blogs that include automatic translation tools on their sites will be the first to cross the seemingly impenetrable barrier between language groups.
  2. Keyword searches in multiple languages.
  3. Assess how much the “blog phenomenon” is driven by US bloggers. If bloggers drive demand rather than consumers, then this form of marketing will quickly lose ground to the next new craze? Look abroad, because the next new craze might just be starting there already.