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HubSpot in Higher Ed: Lessons from the Classroom Part II

May 10, 2017

Title Again

Introduction

In my last post, Lessons from the Classroom, Pt. 1, I shared the journey for the Inbound in the Integrated Marketing Framework as it was unfolding, leading up to and through the first half of the semester, with all the twists and turns on the way of what truly is a different type of applied learning experience in the college classroom.

As I write this, the semester has just come to a close and I just submitted the final grades. I apologize for this posting’s length (it’s long!), but I thought it would be best to offer up the full story here for all those who have an interest in the second part of this adventure in marketing education.

The Good News!!!

First off, I am happy to report that the class as whole rose to the challenge and built out the content offers and conversion paths to meet the requirements of the Practicum component of the HubSpot Software Certification process!!!, including:

  • 400 identified Keywords targeting six (6) Student Personas
  • Four (4) Content Offers
  • Optimized Landing Pages, Calls-to-Action, Forms, and Thank You Pages and More
  • Over 30 Blog Posts
  • A constant stream of Social Posts
  • E-mail campaigns
  • 30% Conversion Rates
  • And more!

I am honored to be one of the first professors to have had this opportunity to partner with HubSpot and create for students a timely and relevant learning experience like this— one that offers some of the top marketing and communications students in the country the opportunity to not only work hands-on with current tools on the leading edge of marketing today, but also to develop a full blown Inbound campaign and earn a HubSpot’s professional software certification.

In this case, the client SafeRide can be considered a start-up seeking to differentiate itself in its own unique way, in a crowded space. They had no social presence, or established user base to work from. It’s all new. A blank canvas as it were.

It is now clear that this partnership or what I would call “hybrid” model can inject a higher level of responsiveness to the college level marketing curriculum in a manner that supports and enhances it, while also giving students practical high-value skills they can use to advance their careers immediately — one of our core goals.

The students that took this course by definition are “Pioneers,” or Early Adopters, of this hybrid style of education. Each and every one of them deserves to be called out for taking the risk and helping chart a new direction for education moving forward.

Here they are:

  • Hantzley Audate
  • Lindsey Di Costa
  • Max Fallows
  • Milo Goodman
  • Sam Ho
  • Amber Hughes
  • Kennedy Kelley
  • Nick Kitsos
  • Catalina Nguyen
  • Paige Niler
  • Emily Schnider
  • Jamie Wong

To all of them, my undying thanks for going on this ride.

And I also have to call out HubSpot’s Isaac Moche, Education Partner Program Manager, and Jon Gettle, Consultant Extraordinaire, one more time. Isaac has delivered unwavering support to the project since the beginning, and Jon’s two (2) class visits were transformative, as noted in Part I.

This experience will serve as the backbone for a curriculum guide that we will be producing, so others can adopt this program into their classes and offer up this high value opportunity to their students too!

Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn if you have any questions or are interested in getting the guide when completed.

And lastly, I want to recognize Dr. Brenda Wrigley, Department Chair, Marketing Communications at Emerson College, named by USA Today as one of the “Top 5 Marketing Programs in the US.” Without her vision, leadership and support, none of this would have come to pass.

The other piece of good news, is that this class is being offered to students again, in the Fall of 2017.

Bumps on the Road…

Since HubSpot Software Certification is a two (2) step process, it is essential that students, as in this case, 1. complete the Practicum requirements as a team, and 2. take the HubSpot Software course and pass their administered test, individually. Each student has to pass the test on their own first, and then submit the class’s collective Practicum achievements to HubSpot on their own in order to earn HubSpot Software Certification. This time around, the due date for taking and passing the test was the official last day of class. At that point 6 out of 12 had passed.

Students have to do their work through the client’s HubSpot portal as Authorized Users on the account, so students are also required to submit the required Practicum “achievements” through the client company’s portal. I didn’t realize at the outset and see now that the client should not and cannot be expected to carry student users once the semester ends.

In the end, it looks like nine (9) out of twelve (12) students have taken and passed the certification course and are therefore entitled and allowed to submit Practicum for full certification. Two (2) certifications have already been processed and awarded, with more to come.

I found that I had to work with SafeRide to extend the deadline for one (1) week to make sure every student has the opportunity to do this. It is clear now that the Practicum is an all consuming event and that having the deadline of taking and passing the Certification Test along with Practicum at the end of semester assignment is unrealistic.

I am addressing this disparity in the Course Design Recommendations section below.

Lessons Learned…

Now that we have gotten this out of the way, I thought it is would be useful for those of you who are Marketing Professors (Grad or Undergrad), Marketing Students or just plain interested to share lessons learned.

1. The Work

First off. This is an applied, hands-on course. It’s intense! There are individual and team components. In the final analysis, however, it comes down to doing the work. This is inescapable and can’t be understated.

There really is nowhere for students to hide when it comes to going through the Practicum process AND doing the work. It’s a team effort and everyone needs to contribute.

2. Culture Matters

As I also talked about in Part I, becoming conscious of Culture is one reason I embrace the “flipped” learning method, and giving students the full responsibility to “own” the project. It is so clear that for full learning value, students have to figure this stuff out on their own to really get it, and to understand for themselves how to function at their full potential in a world as the young, confident and competent professionals they are.

This is especially important if they are to function at a high level in a world where very often they are simply given a business problem to solve, or a goal to achieve, and expected to do it, and do it well. Some call this getting thrown in “the deep end of the pool,” and the best ones come up for air and figure it out… fast.

This was especially manifest clear during the final push to get the Content Offers and Conversion Paths operational. In typical form, some of the Content Offers were, for no real fault of anyone’s, late. Some of the deliverables that were built by students earlier in the semester, and which the Conversion Path Team assumed were ready to go, were not, and so on.

This meant that everyone in the class needed take an “all hands on deck,” and “get it done NOW” posture. The students that rose to the occasion, and a number of them did, wound up finding and internalizing this “whatever it takes” spirit, and in doing so transformed themselves from talented students into A-Players and even Rock Stars. These folks are now able to bring this spirit into the Culture of the organizations they go on to work for or with.

They also now know that in fact A-Players like to work with other A-Players, and Why!

By the way I am firm believer, and my teaching life has confirmed that A-Players are not born, but learn to be, and that one of our roles as educators is to be on the lookout for and use transformational learning opportunities to guide this development. And as I saw time and again, there can be no doubt that a class like this will reveal them.

3. Course Design Adjustments

In relation to the course design—as I shared in Part I of this post—I adopted what I would call “free-form” approach to the design that was organized around the Practicum as the central pillar. Taking lessons learned, below are some of the adjustments to the course design I will be making for course next Fall.

First, I learned that it is very important to get everyone up to speed with Inbound and HubSpot right from the start, and set aggressive deadlines in the first weeks.

A. Inbound Certification Course

This provides the conceptual Inbound Methodology and Framework and all students need to have this under their belts right from the start.

  • Watch Course Videos
  • Take Test
  • Pass Test
  • Submit Proof

For: Everyone

Assigned: Week #1

Due: Week #3

B. HubSpot Software Certification Course

This provides tactical and tool-based knowledge that we learned students need earlier in the semester, both to better address tackling the Practicum requirements, and prevent students from having to cram for the test at the end of an intense Inbound campaign execution process.

  • Watch Course Videos
  • Take Test
  • Pass Test
  • Submit Proof

For: Everyone

Assigned: Week #1

Due: Week #7

NOTES:

  • Week seven (7) represents the midway point of Emerson’s 14-week semester.
  • Taking AND passing the test at this time can serve as a required midterm “test.”

C. Persona, Content Offer, Landing Page, Call-to-Action Activities, and Assignments

To extract maximum value, each and every student needs to not only go through the course, but also “get their hands dirty” with the HubSpot tools themselves. I will also be embedding these individual assignments and activities in the first half of the semester.

Pt. 1. Personas and Content Offer

Students will be given the assignment to define personas and suggestions for possible content offers (with titles): ToFu (Top of Funnel), MoFu (Middle of Funnel), and BoFu (Bottom of Funnel). Sorry for the jargon!

Due: Week #3

NOTEs:

  • These will be shared in class, and the best suggestions voted upon.
  • Content Offer mini-teams will be established to create them, with deadlines set by them.
  • Other functional teams aligned with Practicum begin here.
  • Program Management/Weekly Reports begin on Week #4.

Pt. II. Landing Page, Call-to-Action with Form and Thank You Pages

Each student will be tasked to with building a Landing Page, Call -To-Action with Form, and Thank You Page all on within HubSpot.

Due: Week #5

NOTE: This assignment is core to the “Flip” and will also set up the HubSpot expert’s in-class visit. Students will share their work and the Guest will be available to review the work, and address any questions or issues that students have been struggling with.

D. Program Management

All marketing professionals know the value and apply program management to the work we do, as a matter of course. In this context, it was amazing to watch students to respond to this need and figure out how to organically bring a sense of stability and order, organically. It took a while, but in retrospect, would be useful to call out and speed up.

In the end, one highly gifted student rose to the challenge and took the lead to develop a Project Tracker using Google Sheets (spreadsheet), which was open and available to everyone in the class. She also assumed the Project Management function organically and was shared with another Rock Star, whose job then was to align and optimize the key words and then post the content.

Program Management to Begin Week #4 or thereabouts.

Features Include:

  • Use to foster Cross Team Collaboration.
  • Breaking down the class into Functional Teams Organized by Practicum
  • Use to Highlight Weekly Work Updates and Reviews with Full Class
  • Apply Discovery Meeting Style with “Show and Tell” by all
  • Define Assign & Track Weekly Progress and Accountability
  • Use Tracker to Organize Project

Please feel free to reach out for more information on course design.

Final Thoughts

The first time with a new course like this always poses some challenges and risks for the professor, and there clearly have been many all along the way, which I have done my best to share with you.

There also is no doubt that marketing and communications are undergoing a digital transformation, and an (r)evolution that is moving very fast.

This presents colleges and universities today with the not insignificant challenge of offering current and relevant learning experiences in a time of transformation and change.

So can this type of partnership or hybrid model work collaboratively with the status quo of the curriculum? And does the combination of the two yield a meaningful result for students?

It’s clear to me that hybrid courses like this represent the future of marketing education, and offer one (1) path to solve this synthesis that is both timely and relevant. This class has proven to me without doubt that hybrid courses can be designed to magnify the best of both… a tried-and-true curriculum that provides the foundation, context and frameworks, together with hands-on learning and application of latest and greatest tools all applied to solve a real world business problem.

Here is what some of the students say…

I really love that we were able to dive into the software and that no features were off-limits… this is the only class where I genuinely feel I’ve gained job-ready knowledge and skills in one semester. I’m proud to have this program on my resume and in cover letters. – Paige Niler

My favorite part of the project was learning how to use the HubSpot software and then immediately going to the tools and figuring out how to create content and pages with my own writing and edited work. – Emily Schnider

It really gave me confidence in my ability to use what I’ve previously learned and frame it in ways that have enabled me to succeed. – Catalina Nguyen

I’m really pleased that I was able to learn to use every aspect of the software in this project, as I’m sure this will apply to my future marketing career. – Milo Goodman

The hands-on nature of using HubSpot, particularly with this class, was extremely liberating in terms of working with a client and a classroom environment. – Amber Hughes

My perspective on marketing has changed after taking this course. I used to see inbound as a way to support outbound but now I see them both as equally important when doing an integrated marketing campaign. – Lindsey Di Costa

Before, I was so focused on outbound because that’s what was taught to us. With inbound, we can do more with less and it’s a game changer. – Hantzley Audate

Teacher’s Thoughts…

The process was by no means perfect. And there is no doubt that some students gave more to the project than others, and got more out of it as a result. Every student got a new sense of the possibilities ahead of them, and experienced (or not) for themselves what it takes to make it so.

Many who were initially reluctant or intimidated, jumped in with the help of Jon Gettle’s strategic visits in particular, and in doing so transformed themselves from students who were used to external guidance and spoon fed projects, into real A-Players, adopting a “get it done no matter what” mind-set to overcome each and every obstacle thrown their way.

And some of Rock Stars emerged as well, students who were able to pull it all together and “drive the bus” and lead, without prompting from me. Totally awesome!

This happened right in front of my eyes, which is one of the fundamental reasons we as teachers do it.

The bottom line is that each member of the class overall has been offered the opportunity to enter the workplace HubSpot Software Certified. Most will make it, and in doing so will benefit by a low supply of trained talent and large demand by companies and agencies that need their newly minted HubSpot talents, fine-tuned marketing skills, and professional work ethic.

So to address the question again is, is this “hybrid” type of course worth doing? Yes!

Would (and will) I do it again? Yes!

And do I encourage other professors to bring partner with HubSpot to bring HubSpot Software Certification into their curriculum? Yes! Without reservation.

Final Comments to the Students of MK371… 

You are pioneers. Who else would be willing to sign up for a brand new 4-hour class from noon to 4:00 pm on a Friday afternoon? You are all also trendsetters and I am truly grateful to you for taking this course on.

You have not only turbo charged your skills and opened a whole new set of opportunities for yourselves, you have also helped light up the path for a different approach to marketing education that will in no small measure benefit other students that most surely will follow in your big footsteps.

Supporting Materials

If you are a professor considering an Inbound course for either the undergraduate or graduate level, and have any questions, by all means reach out. I am happy to share what I have learned to help spread the word.

I invite you to check out the Course Wrap Up deck, and the Know Your Rights Guide, one of the awesome evergreen content offers developed by this team to give you an idea of what students at this level are capable of.

I will also be happy to share my revised syllabus for next semester with all the adjustments noted in this article. Again feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn or at randy_harrison@emerson.edu, and I will send you a copy later this spring/summer.

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HubSpot in Higher Ed: Lessons from the Classroom Part I

May 9, 2017

Inbound Blog

Emerson College HubSpot and SafeRide come together to pioneer a unique, hands on learning experience… Including the opportunity to earn full HubSpot Software Certification.

Introduction

We are halfway through the semester of our first full blown Inbound Course at Emerson College in Boston entitled Inbound in the Integrated Marketing Framework in partnership with HubSpot and client SafeRide/WalkSafe.

At this point I can say with certainty that this has been one of the most exhilarating, scary and exciting classes I have ever taught over these past 15 years, with the positives making the ride worthwhile even before the semester is over.

That said, and with this halfway milestone reached, this seems to be a good time to share what we have learned so far with anyone interested in HubSpot and Inbound, including Academia – Students, Faculty and Administration or anyone who may want or be looking to bring Inbound and HubSpot into their academic environments.

THE Mission…

The core missions of this partnership are to:

1. Provide students a hands-on experience with HubSpot tools on behalf of a live client, in this case a ride sharing security app called SafeRide/WalkSafe (now a HubSpot customer as a direct result of this project), and

2. Offer students access to the HubSpot Software Certification course and the opportunity to earn HubSpot Software Certification, which is traditionally only available to HubSpot customers.

It is clear HubSpot views its relationship with the academic community as a partnership, all predicated on the open source creed of “information wants to be free.” Info Libre!

As one of the top ranked marketing programs in the country, Emerson is outstanding in offering students the core foundational and customer-centric skills in marketing and communications. HubSpot is the leader in Inbound.

The outcome of this partnership can be considered a “hybrid” to a traditional marketing course. In this case, students are offered an applied learning experience using the “latest and greatest” digital marketing tools to produce tangible business results for a real client, coupled with the college’s core competency of providing students context and strategy in the framework of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), and exerting influence in any and all customer touch points from product development all the way through the product lifecycle.

What led my personal teaching journey to this place is the quest to expand learning opportunities around B2B and Direct Marketing, and how it all connects to the digital transformation we are experiencing at an accelerated pace today.

With this hybrid educational model in play, students are offered the opportunity to learn and earn HubSpot Software Certification in a manner that works in parallel with and complements Emerson’s robust Marketing Communications curriculum, while opening up new internship and career tracks leading to well-paying jobs right away, for those that are so inclined.

A Hybrid Model for Education: What We Have Learned To Date

Overall there are three (3) high-level learnings I have been able to take away from the teaching the course so far:

1. The students are, in this context, classic early adopters and naturally digital savvy. Their participation indicates a real hunger for the opportunity to work with latest and greatest technology in a real world setting. Word-of-mouth around campus for this course, which currently takes place on a Friday afternoon for four (4) hours, is strong and demand is growing.

2. From the college’s point of view, this experiment clearly opens the door to develop leadership in terms of the transformation of the ever faster changing marketing and communications landscape in a manner that supports and works off of the traditional curriculum at the same time.

3. This “hybrid” model works and can indeed open the door for other institutions and other marketing professors of all stripes to offer similar opportunities to their students.

Course Mechanics: Seven (7) Steps So Far…

Step #1: Certification Courses

There are two (2) certifications that we sought to integrate into this Inbound course:

A. Inbound Certification Course

Inbound Certification reviews the basics of Inbound including the Methodology and “Buyers’ Journey.”

This course is free to anyone. I found that it is essential that every student take and pass the high level Inbound Certification course immediately. I would now allocate a maximum of two to three (2 – 3) weeks for students to complete, and pass the test!

B. HubSpot Software Certification Course & Practicum

The HubSpot Software Certification Course is broken down into two (2) components:

1. The Video Course and associated test, administered by HubSpot; and

2. The thirteen-part practicum, which is all done on HubSpot though a Customer Portal.

Originally when I set up the course calendar, I allocated the full semester for students to complete the HubSpot Course itself, as well as take and pass the test.

All of us realized early on that the videos are themselves the primer on the tools, and since they are aligned with the practicum, watching the whole course provides essential information students need right from the start, and as such, be experienced at a high level by students, much, much sooner.

In response, I broke things up and assigned watching the whole course a 1st half of the semester activity, with the deep dive and passing of the test a full semester assignment. I will zip this up even faster next time. Lesson learned!

Step #2: The Kickoff

I am very lucky in this regard in that Emerson is located in Boston, right in HubSpot’s backyard of Cambridge, Massachusetts. This afforded us the opportunity of kicking the course and semester off with an offsite visit at HubSpot’s offices. The kickoff included a tour and overall presentation, as well as a meet-and-greet with HubSpot recruiters and Emerson Alum HubSpotters.

A couple of things for non-Boston area professors to consider.

Isaac Moche and the HubSpot Academy team put together two (2) great tools you need to be aware of which can be used to create your own course kick-off even if you are not in the Boston area:

1. A great Project Kickoff Deck with links to the HubSpot Academy and relevant resources drawn from the Academy’s robust suite of materials. The scope and scale of this content can be overwhelming!, so these links coupled with the Practicum are a great and necessary starting place for students.

This element is important in that it does a great job of defining the opportunity, the “what’s in it for me” as well. As we all know, there is literally zero (0) unemployment in this sector of marketing right now, and students who earn certification and possess soft professional skills can be assured of well paying job opportunities ahead.

Simply put HubSpot, and the HubSpot ecosystem of Agencies and Customers need high quality talent that can hit the ground running.

2. Direct Track to HubSpot HR and both the Job and Internship Recruiter Teams, with an associated checklist of what HubSpot and its partners are looking for, along with a live mini-resume review. The students loved this.

3. Don’t forget Culture! I used to pooh-pooh culture until I got in the tech space way back when. Culture and understanding both how it works and learning what is expected are essential, along with, of course, how to surpass expectations too. HubSpot’s Culture deck is a great tool in this regard and one can argue that its core characteristics apply in any company today.

Step #3: Project Brief

I put together a Project Brief that is mapped against the practicum, which itself is mapped against the HubSpot Software Certification Course chapters. Feel free to reach out to me through LinkedIn if you would like a copy.

A couple of things to note:

1. HubSpot Software Certification with the associated practicum is, by definition, a real-world and applied learning experience, not an imitation! This is part of what makes this type of class so exciting.

Remember too that HubSpot Certification requires working with a client that is a HubSpot customer with an active portal. Students get access to HubSpot and the Academy as “assigned users” through the Portal.

2. In the academic setting, one ideal client would the school itself. This way HubSpot can serve as the platform for using authentic student generated content to attract and convert a variety of constituencies and focused on a variety of objectives from enrollment and alumni fundraising and mentorships and much, much more.

3. The practicum requires some real results from live campaigns. In order to have the time to meet these criteria, I broke the semester in to three (3) pieces: 1. “playing” and hands-on learning; 2. building on HubSpot all the necessary content offers and campaign elements; and 3. going live and adjusting based on results.[10]

It will be fun to see what happens when we go live somewhere around week 9 or 10 in the semester.

Step #4. Flipped and the Learning Power of Being in the Deep End of the Pool

I have found that in an applied learning environment, the “Flipped” learning approach works very, very well, and is the core of the first phase of a course like this.

The idea is simple.

Once the Kickoff (Step #2) has taken place and the Project Brief (Step #3) distributed, students are granted user access by SafeRide to the HubSpot Portal and the Tools, and then given the instruction to “figure it out” to make sense of it all… you can say they are literally thrown in the “deep end” of the pool, just like real life.

In this phase, I see my role as the Facilitator. This period went on for the first five (5) weeks of the class.

During this time, students asked all sorts of questions and tried to lean on me to provide structure, to set up deadlines and milestones besides what I already provided, for example. I declined.

Some asked me how do they manage the project? Again, I declined, and asked in return “what do you think you need to do?”

And others asked about specific problems like how do I set up say a Landing Page? My answer… Google It (HubSpot Landing Page).

This part of the process is crucial!

Students need to grapple with and attempt on their own to figure it out. Some were clearly intimidated. Some afraid. Now the controls are in their hands, and no doubt about it, learning a new set of tools on the fly like this, is by definition, scary.

Will these talented juniors and seniors rise to the challenge?

Step #5: Inbound Expert In-Class Visit #1

Fortunately I have been through this before and believe in the power of today’s students to rise to any challenge. The first time we brought HubSpot into one of my classes in the Spring of 2014, the students were frustrated, angry and upset at this point of the project. I was getting all sorts of e-mails(!), and was, quite frankly concerned what would happen.

I was very lucky in that I had scheduled one of HubSpot Academy’s amazing instructors, Lindsay Thibeault, to come in and address their concerns after struggling with building, in this case, Landing Pages and Calls To Action.

All I can say is it was magic! Over a period of an hour and a half, students’ frustration and fear transformed into confidence and certainty… “We can do this!” You could see it and feel it happen. Extraordinary!

That was then, and the question now was could it happen again?

This time around we were lucky to have HubSpot Consultant extraordinaire Jon Gettle come in to an equally emotionally charged class, and the results?

Here are some student comments:

Jon is an absolute HubSpot ninja. He knew exactly what we were getting at even when we felt lost with the software and the direction Inbound needed. Jon expertly broke down the complexities into something we could immediately implement and feel comfortable working with. — Emily Schnider

He explained the concepts and software in terms that were easy to understand, and that made a big difference. — Milo Goodman

We would make things harder and more complicated on ourselves, but Jon put us in check by letting us know that we need to take a step back, take a breather, and focus. We feel good about the direction everything is going now. 🙂 — Catalina Nguyen

Jon is a great resource that bridges the gap between HubSpot and the class. It’s beyond helpful to have a living, breahting HubSpot resource in the classroom to address any roadblocks and troubleshooting we have. — Amber Hughes

Jon was really knowledgeable about the inbound stuff, and knew where we weren’t doing well and where we were doing well. He helped us with landing pages and keywords, and overall added to the HubSpot process. — Jamie Wong

HubSpot is not just marketing, it is life, it deals with the same principles and understanding of the world! — Nick Kitsos

He was also able to connect with us and was VERY effective with his analogies. HE CAN TALK WITH THE YOUTH! “The juice is not worth the squeeze.” — GENIUS! — Hantzley Audate

As the Q&A with Jon progressed, it became clear that the path ahead was do’able and not out of reach. You could actually see and hear the energy of the students change as the visit progressed as frustration and struggle turned into the “we can (and will!) do this” energy and spirit.

And here is what Jon himself said about his class visit:

I love seeing the “a-ha” moments the students have during our conversations when you can tell they are really grasping a concept. Seeing the next wave of talented inbound marketers apply the concepts we think about every day at HubSpot is rewarding in a special way. — Jon Gettle

Magic Again! Mission Accomplished!

Again there are three (3) aspects to consider in this phase:

1. Struggle is necessary. The greater the struggle, the richer the learning experience.

2. Students at this level, once challenged, WILL rise to it.

3. The need for Inbound/HubSpot expertise is a key. Most of us who teach marketing in higher ed may be very familiar with Inbound and HubSpot, but we are not Inbound/HubSpot experts. HubSpot knows this, and we are working with the Academy Team right now to build out a process to help fill in this gap for classes everywhere.

Step #6: HubSpot Customer/Power User Visit

After all that has taken place this first half of the semester, it was time to lighten things up, take a larger view and see how it all fits, in application. In other words a Case Study. And what better way to do that than have a real Inbound user come visit to provide this real-world context?

In this case, we had a local Inbound/HubSpot power user, Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance and Lighting in Boston to come to class. Students loved hearing from a master how it all works, and what can happen results-wise when it is done really, really well.

It’s one thing to learn from the Certification Course videos, another to get the under the hood view from a real customer. When it comes to Inbound and who sells the “Best Appliances” with the “Best Service” in the Boston area, no one does it better than Yale.

Dishwasher User Guide anyone?

Step #7: Do the Work

With just seven (7) weeks (out of 14) under our belts, we have gone through a couple of cycles, in terms of who does what? This was a surprise.

This class is made up of twelve (12) students.

SafeRide/WalkSafe is an app that you can use to alert your friends that you are in transit… Cab, Uber or Lyft… or even walking alone, and that you have arrived to your destination safely. If there is a problem, the app provides a way to alert the network you set up as well.

From a product positioning point of view, users in essence create a micro-community of like minded folks who watch out for each other, who have each others’ back. And all for just $.99 at the app store!

SafeRide is new. The space is cluttered. And in their wisdom, they adopted Inbound and HubSpot as their marketing tool of choice, and sought to focus on college students as their beach head, to use Crossing the Chasm lingo.

One more thing. SafeRide seeks to scale its user base, and after some initial discussion has basically agreed to offer students the app for free.

Multiple Class “Re-Orgs”

That said, here is the progress of how the teams re-organized themselves and the work progressed:

1. In the beginning… it was a free for all. Where to begin? What to do? Students broke into two (2) competitive teams of six (6) students.

The Student “Market” although a niche perhaps if you take into consideration the market as a whole for SafeRide, was still way too broad and hard to “personify” as is. So the question then became where was the most value for SafeRide in this population? And value as the students started to perceive it equates with safety and vulnerability, and what student communities are potentially most vulnerable, and would get the most value and benefit from using the SafeRide app?

As the students and teams digested the project, the first action item was to define the Personas with each team focusing on three (3) content offers, one for each of three (3) personas.

Some of the Personas students identified in this manner include:

●      Sororities

●      Fraternities

●      Women of Color

●      International Students

●      LBGTQ Communities

●      Freshmen

●      Tinder/Daters

●      Late Night Working Students

2. During the next phase, students organized themselves in teams of two (2), each focused on building out an individual persona, and seeing how for they could take it. It was in this mini-team format, that students were in during the struggle phase, when HubSpot consultant Jon Gettle visited.

As the process unfolded, it became clear that the class as a whole needed to focus on SafeRide and its objectives, all aligned with HubSpot Certification, and not be distracted on competing with each other. The oars needed to be moving in the same direction if this was going to work.

3. Coming Up. The Final Phase… The class is made up of students with a diverse range of talents. Some are content and creative types, some are analytical and SEO savvy. We also have a few Quants, sprinkled in with some Strategy and Account Managers with an Entrepreneur or two, and Student Leaders. Some are working professionally already. All are digital by nature.

One thing I was struggling with is how to organize these student resources to ensure efficiency and non-duplication of efforts, consistency in terms of messaging, look and feel and the developing SafeRide Brand, let alone meeting the Practicum requirements so that students who pass the HubSpot Software Certification Course Test can earn full HubSpot Certification?

Then it became obvious. Use the practicum to re-organize and break down functionally.

So once the class reconvenes after Spring Break, each student will be tasked to take responsibility for one (1) Practicum requirement, and then draw from the collective resource pool of class talent to assist in meeting their requirement.

Classes will then be in essence “floating meetings” to meet, collaborate and track and do work, to both ensure consistency and that all the requirements are met by semester’s end.

Three Next (3)Steps…

Here is what is coming up for the second half of the semester:

Step #8: HubSpot Expert Visit #2

Step #9: Going Live on HubSpot

Step 10: Improvement and Delivering Results!

It should be fun to see how this works… More to come

The Tesla Model S… Marketing and Innovation Together Means Stunning Success.

April 9, 2012

Even though the tepid response to current all-electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf indicate otherwise.

Here is quick review of the state of electric vehicles, as of Spring 2012…

“General Motors has temporarily suspended production of the plug-in electric Chevy Volt because of low sales. Nissan’s all-electric Leaf is struggling in the market. A number of start-up electric vehicle and battery companies have folded. And the federal government has slowed its multibillion-dollar program of support for advanced technology vehicles in the face of market setbacks and heavy political criticism.” – NY Times, The Electric Car Unplugged, March 24, 2012

A number of years ago, a friend turned me on to a quote by Peter Drucker that goes something like this… “The two drivers of business growth are Innovation and… Marketing.” This got to me and is a big reason I chose to get in the game of marketing way back when.

At our core, we are a big fan of “new stuff.” We love the challenge of taking new ideas to market, of creating or exploiting demand for products people don’t even know they want, need or love yet.

You Say You Got a Revolution!

In this regard, today is a feast for marketers with a taste for taking innovation on. That’s because we are living in a period of radical change powered by exponential growth of a variety of enabling capabilities. The most notable example perhaps is Moore’s Law and how the number of transistors on a chip have been doubling every 18-months since 1965. Starting gradually, almost flat, after enough doubling, the curve starts to climb and then goes like an elevator straight up if this compounding effect can be maintained.

There are a number of other enabling technologies entering this supercharged phase simultaneously including Bandwidth, Storage and Information creation itself as indicated by the Digital Universe Study conducted by IDC in association with storage leader EMC will attest.

The Potential of Innovation: A Vacuum Effect That Pulls Innovation Forward

Add it all up and we are living in a revolutionary period that is driving the Potential of Innovation, on the grandest scale.

What do we mean here by Potential of Innovation? Simply put, it’s when a Capability has entered the latter or steepest phase of the exponential growth, and the deployment or Utilization of this potential is lagging well behind, as the chart above indicates.

Over the years I have heard technologists describe this gap as a vacuum, a vacuum that by its very nature must be filled… and from what I can tell, the best of what fills this empty space can be boiled down to vision, creativity and innovation.

One company that to us most exemplifies these characteristics is Tesla Motors and most especially the Model S, their new vehicle that is now gearing up for production. With over 7,000 advance orders already on the books for this gorgeous pure electric vehicle, we believe the Tesla S will be a game changer and the first vehicle to truly fulfill the promise of widespread adoption of a car that is not powered in any way by the internal combustion engine, New York Times notwithstanding.

Here’s why?

Again and again we hear about energy efficiency and “green values” relative to the environment and planet we all live in. There is no doubt there is a much higher level of consciousness than ever before. The only problem is, although we may expect or want companies to be good environmental citizens and follow best practices, we as consumers don’t necessarily want to pay extra for it. And for all the talk about energy-efficient cars, the reason we don’t have them now is that customers traditionally follow the money… lower gas prices means we accept the status quo, high prices mean that we cut back. In other words we cut down consumption when fuel cost is high, but invariably resort to our old gas guzzling ways when prices go down with no real alterations made to efficiency standards.

Electric Vehicles: Niche Category…

What this means is that true electric cars appeal by definition to the niche we call Early Adopters, who are into energy efficiency and green tech because they believe in it and are quite willing to pay extra and buy before anyone else to support this belief. And Hybrids? These vehicles aren’t disruptive in any way except that they get good and often great gas mileage. They do prove however there is an audience for energy-efficient products.

This is what makes what Tesla is doing very interesting.

Tesla’s first car the Roadster has been on the market for a couple of years and has sold, if the public account is accurate, around 10,000 vehicles at $100,000 each. These cars are not only pure electric, they are also a very fast, super premium product. In other words, the Roadster is a high performance (0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds) sports car that can perform in a league with a Ferrari or a Porsche, that just happens to be electric.

As far as markets go, this is an extremely limited audience by any measure. However, the Roadster is a clever first step from a strategic marketing perspective, as it begins to alter the accepted perception that electric cars by definition don’t measure up to those powered by internal combustion engines.

One of the other objections to electric vehicles overall is that they necessitate new driving habits and expectations that American car buyers have been slow to accept, if at all. The perception is that electric cars are slow, don’t drive as well, cost more than they are worth, and what’s worse, make driving a structured activity posing the risk that the batteries may run out of juice mid trip. This is not a recipe for wide-spread adoption in the US market, certainly.

You can see this reality playing out right now with the Chevy Volt:

“Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

The Volt has a range of approximately 35 miles, when the gasoline powered generation system kicks in, so drivers don’t have to worry about getting stuck. It doesn’t look bad, but politics notwithstanding, with a pure electric range of 35 miles a charge, it is compromised and production has stopped, at least for now.

“the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

And then there is the Nissan Leaf.

The Leaf looks funny, and with a range of 65 miles seems too complex and different for the mainstream car buyer. Again, this is a compromised driving experience, something only an early adopter electric car buyer could and would love.

… Or Mainstream?

The Tesla S is clearly different.

Tesla Model S: Another Vehicle Entirely…

As you can see it’s beautiful. I’d put it next to a Lexus, Mercedes or Infiniti anytime. It also boasts great performance for a luxury sedan (0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds), can go up to 300 miles on one charge, and because the drive train is all-electric, it opens up cabin space and also lowers the center of gravity for a great driving experience. In other words Tesla S is great luxury sedan designed from the ground up that is electric and not the other way around.

In fact, most drivers can get back and forth to work for a week on one charge.

Marketing is a Key Enabler

The question now is, how can we position this vehicle so that the mainstream car buyer get’s it?  As it turns out Marketing has a set of tools that can help us figure it out.

Here is the current positioning from an outside looking in point of view:

Tesla is beautiful luxury car that performs better than any other sedan on the market, including Mercedes, Lexus or Infiniti. It (base model) costs $50,000 gets up to 300 miles a charge, costs a few hundred dollars a year to run and is all-electric.

This can be reflected in Tesla’s own taglines:

  • Performance for the 21st Century
  • Electric from the Ground Up
  • Zero Emissions. Zero Compromises.

Not bad…

The issue here is these core positioning tag lines are not connected directly, and the umbrella line of “Performance for the 21st Century” forces us to define what that means to us. And since there is no “Mainstreet” context for reference,  the “Electric from the Ground Up” with “Zero Emissions and Zero Compromises” then is clearly focused to Early Adopters, which is fine except that it misdirects the overall value proposition away from the mainstream audience and dilutes the position that is inherent to the product to engage the larger “Majority” audience and therefore fulfill its true sales potential.

Positioning for Success

Let’s use our double vector model to break this apart and see what we can do re-position the Tesla Model S for even greater success.

Vector #1: Luxury Sedans

In this case, the Market Alternative is Luxury Cars.

The singular “value vector” in red comes down to best luxury performance in a world dominated by leading brands such as Lexus, Mercedes and Infiniti among others.

With a gorgeous bottom to top design with acceleration from 0-60 in 5.3 seconds and amazing handling, the Tesla S can clearly outperform its gas-powered luxury sedan counterparts.

Vector #2: Electric Cars.

As we can see, there are some stunning differences especially related to design, but here we are looking for a more logical or mental key difference, and what really sticks out is the range. Model S gets up to 300 miles a charge, the others not even close. The Volt goes so far as to integrate a gasoline powered generator that kicks in after 30 miles, but that is an obvious compromise. Tesla does not compromise here. This is where Tesla’s no compromise position noted above obviously comes from.

“X” Marks THE Position… Where Differentiation Matters

Add the two up and Tesla can now make a statement like this:

Add it all up: The Tesla S is designed from the ground up to be a beautiful luxury sedan that just happens to be all-electric. And because we make no compromises, Tesla S not only outperforms any gas-powered sedan in terms of pick up and handling, it also gets up to 300 miles a charge so you drive everyday and never fill up at the pumps again.

Now let’s revisit our tag lines:

Nissan Leaf boils it down this way – “the new car. 100% electric. zero gas. zero tailpipe.”

Chevy Volt – “Volt offers the fuel efficiency and forward-thinking you’d expect from Chevrolet.”

Tesla Model S – THE Luxury driving experience with no compromises, no emissions and up to 300 miles per charge.

Bottom Line: Now, what car do you want to buy? And I am not just directing this question to Early Adopters, who will validate the product, but mainstream car buyers who will elevate this 21st Century Silicon Valley startup into a real player on the auto manufacturing stage with a product category that for the moment at least, is given up as lost.

Marketing and Innovation: Where Everything IS Possible

On one level this is monumental achievement, but for someone like Tesla’s Elon Musk, whose other company SpaceX actually launches stuff into orbit around the earth, this is a manageable task. Tesla clearly demonstrates that when marketing and innovation come together, everything is possible.

Mitt Romney’s Uninspiring Campaign for the Presidential Nomination: A Marketing “Train Wreck” that Doesn’t Have to Be.

March 19, 2012

Sorry for the long hiatus from the blog. We needed a break… but now we are back, smack dab in the middle of the political campaign season. At this point we are mid way through the primary season, which often serve up best and worst practices in marketing positioning by candidates in either party. There is so much to learn from and consider, but today let’s look at Mitt Romney and his campaign through the marketing lens as a classic worst practice.

“Front runner” Romney is one of the most disciplined candidates ever. He looks the part, is extremely successful, well-financed, a proven business entity, and with the economy having suffered the worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, a clear shoe-in for the Republican nomination. Right?

A Train Wreck in the Making from a Marketing Point of View

But as yet, especially with his recent loses to Rick Santorum in Mississippi and Alabama just a few days ago, Mitt is unable to “close the deal” with party activists of all stripes and get on the with the business of running a presidential campaign.

This was captured from prime real restate on the Romney.com Home Page and speaks for itself. This is about as uninspiring a message as I have ever seen from a top-tier candidate in any party... ever.

It is easy to see why he is having trouble, when looked at from a marketing/positioning lens. This is not inspiring to anyone. In fact its depressing. Who is responsible for this train wreck?

Winning Minds is Half the Battle…

Effective positioning requires two clear vectors of differentiation if we are to create the much-needed “compelling reason to buy.” Let’s see what we can do to untangle this mess and get Mitt his mojo back.

We know and he has defined the first vector as being a successful, problem solving business person who would be a capable steward of the economy and getting America to work again. The message… Obama and the Democrats blew it, the American Economy is in a shambles, and he is the most qualified to turn it around. Strong indeed.

Here is what it looks like.

Ready to cast your vote for Romney yet?

Winning Hearts is the Other

As the graph indicates, this does not give us as the electorate enough information to get a real “bead” on him. This gives us the mind or mental piece, but where is the heart, the emotional center that is lacking in this “message”?

This is why Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum have been able to gain so much traction and capture the support of the conservative base of the party, where the passions of morality and social conservatism lay. In fact, just a couple of days ago in an article in Slate entitled Stop, Right Now! You’re Making a Scene!, by John Dickerson, the first sentence reads “The Mitt Romney campaign would like Republican voters to stop and think like Mitt Romney for a moment: rationally and without getting overly emotional about things.” Ouch! And this response is by no means unusual.

Romney gets none of it and has created a dangerous (for him) vacuum filled by the other republican candidates, hence his dilemma today.

So we get it. Pundits proclaim Romney has no message. In fact he has half a message, which in this case may be worse than no message at all.

The Marketing Solution…

Mitt is not like most of us. He is not just successful, he is incredibly so. He knows how to make money for himself and his investors. He is cool and calculating. He also holds to religious beliefs that many appear foreign to many voters. Where then can an emotional connection be made?

Our positioning model again shows us a clear path… a path if taken will lead to a certain and swift victory for the nomination, and the ability to compete and perhaps defeat a sitting president who gets stronger every day.

Create the Emotional Connection

I will argue it’s the American Dream itself. For the first time in many years, people feel afraid that opportunities to create wealth and success are closed to them. Mitt himself is a living embodiment of the Dream. He has done it!

To win, the marketing view says he needs to embrace his success in this context and therefore position himself as the embodiment of and protector of the Dream in a way that no other candidate can. The man who can fan, as some have categorized, the “dying embers” of the American Dream and bring it roaring back to life, so the rest of us mere mortals can have a crack at it too.

The last step is to roll the two, the head message of the proven steward of the economy and heart message of the defender of American Dream together.

Romney = The Caretaker of the American Dream

This is what the Head and Heart position would look like.

Add it up this way and Mitt Romney in this case is the “Proven Businessman and Candidate Who, As President Will Preserve and Protect the American Dream for All.” This is a far cry from the screed on the home page that urges voters to support his current, “not to spend more than take in” rallying cry and would give him a direct, powerful argument that is capable of connecting to the aspirations of conservatives and moderates, and the independents he will need to reach the goal.

Don’t Go Away Mad… Just Go Away: A Marketer’s Perspective to the Thorny Issue of Technology & Privacy and What to Do About It Now.

November 6, 2010

Last week there was an interesting article in the October 25, 2010 Wall Street Journal, A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name, about a web company called RapLeaf that takes data collection and web profiling to a new level.

Privacy in the 21st Century: A Brave New World

This is one of a whole onslaught of articles in the Journal and media overall regarding the apparent erosion of privacy, information and how it is and will be used in our 21st Century world. The information that is collected about us and our behaviors and now embedded on our computers and mobile devices for “harvesting” by companies intent on delivering ever more relevant marketing to us based on our actual search, purchasing and other trackable behaviors on and offline is astounding.

As a marketer, this is a nirvana like condition… a “brave new world “ of actionable, personally relevant information. Information that can be applied to customers one-to-one, with the idea of improving response rates for our online marketing programs. Better clickthroughs on PPC (pay per click) ads and banners, more targeted and specific messages to our prospects and customers. Eureka! The proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is at hand.

…Or 1984

And the “best” part that this is done automatically. We don’t have to do anything differently, it is done for us. I don’t know about you but this almost sounds more like Big Brother and “1984” when you put it like that.

So let’s circle back to what started this off… RapLeaf. Up until now, we have been told by Google, by Facebook, by ISPs, by Telecoms and all the rest that they collect anonymous data about us.

Fair enough, perhaps. At least we are used to it and may have a cookie (sounds so innocent doesn’t it) or a beacon implanted on our computers that may identify our habits, but not our names and e-mail addresses, we are number. That is until RapLeaf. They have collected it ALL… names and e-mail addresses and other contact info along with the rest.

Although RapLeaf claims otherwise, companies or other entities such as political parties and candidates use this information for highly targeted, pinpoint marketing programs, as the example in the Journal so clearly noted. This opens up an array of questions and issues that I am sure will be a part of our national (and international) conversation for quite some time, as these capabilities grow in every increasing frequency and at a faster rate beyond the traditional checks and balances, regulations, etc., that are now woefully out of date.

However our real fear, and possible solution, a marketing one at that, is a bit different.

A Marketing Point of View

Offering users the choice of how they wish to interact with technology increases ad relevance and value. Loyalty and other incentives for user determined levels of engagement further improves performance and reduces privacy concerns.

For an example of what I mean… if today you are a member of CVS’s ExtraCare® or similar loyalty program, and you swipe your tag at point of purchase, you may receive a seasonal discount offer for say, suntan lotion in the summer after every two or three purchases you make. Basic and static, these swipes are more about information gathering and over time CVS has acquired massive amounts of information this way.

Moving forward from now, it can and will be quite different. There is the new reality, currently in the process of being built.

Every time you interact with a CVS or any other retail environment, it will be tracked. And not only can the swipes be accessed in real time, so can your overall purchase behavior and credit card info as well. Tie this in to your personal info like mobile phone number, e-mail, web and actual addresses, now a whole new level of direct interaction is possible.

Let’s say you have allergies and every Spring you buy Claritin®, for example. That e-mail offer you may get, or ppc link on your Google or Bing search, or text message in March at the beginning of allergy season may feature, you guessed it Claritin… buy two, get one free. Or if the GPS on your cell is activated, you are in a CVS store around that time and isn’t that ironic, there is that bar code on our smartphone for you guessed it, that very same offer delivered to you in real time, right at the point of sale. At some point you may be walking by a Walgreen’s and…

Fantastic! So what is the difference between the realities of Brave New World or 1984?

The Customer-Oriented Solution: Transparency, Control and Choice…

In the CVS example, you freely give your information in exchange for discounts, relevancy and other benefits in exchange. There is a clear incentive. In the other, it is done to or for you without your consent or control, as we saw in the Journal article.

What about relevance?

Clearly having relevancy defined for you, sometimes doesn’t always work as intended:

  • Remember that baby present you purchased for your niece or nephew a while back? Isn’t it weird to have sponsored links for baby carriages and disposable diapers follow you around, even if your kids are off to college, or you never had any?
  • Or if you do have kids. One way or another they have figured out how to work around the parental controls and now you are getting all kinds of e-mails, and links to crazy sites you would never visit in a million years. Ooops.

We know that one of the hallmarks of Web X.0 and the Inbound Marketing trend is control, customer control. Transparency in being up front and offering choice supports this reality. Permission as we now know it, giving your permission to engage or accept a newsletter or such, is only step one.

We argue that we need to go further. As you can see in one of our earlier blog postings Hulu Pulls a Lulu, there is a strong bottom line marketing rationale to offer customers more control, more often.

And if choice and choice were adopted side by side with the latest information processing capabilities of say a RapLeaf, we can see that even more value could be created, not less as it may appear, and in a manner that does not conflict with the issue of privacy, in fact a manner that respects it.

How is that?

Choice = Value

Remember the old axiom from Direct Marketing 101? The one that says the greatest cost and lowest return is in the initial “getting the hands raised” action. Say you spend $1 million to reach an audience of 1 million people. The cost is $1 per person, and you get a 1% response or 10,000 people act. The cost per response is $100. It’s expensive.

Now you a pool of 10,000 folks that have already acted and declared an interest in you and your product. Working that audience not only costs less, but since they are aware of you and have already expressed an interest the product or service, response rates can go up, often significantly, as the relationship develops, if you engage this very valuable audience of folks that have “raised their hands”.

One argument I have heard is that if you offer choices, you in fact limit the impact of your message to only those that act, and slash your response rates. This is valid I suppose, especially if say you trying to go viral with a compelling white paper and force readers to register first. Response rates can drop to almost zero.

The question is does it have to be either/or?

First. Using the direct response model and our technological quest for more marketing relevance, it may be true that overall response rates go down if active choice is offered, but at the same time shouldn’t the value of the response go up? If I choose to view automobile ads, or better yet, brand-specific auto ads, aren’t I self-selecting and indicating my possible interest?, and doesn’t that have higher value than just a general click through on a banner, a sponsored link on Google, or other such online device?

The next step of course is to learn if I am a potential buyer, and if so, when? But isn’t that easier to assess once our interest is established?

And if a short-term buyer I am not, could there still be longer-term value as a quote unquote lead. I may know someone, or have a child looking for a vehicle, or I may be in the market later. In other words, underneath the choice to receive information, is my customer initiated response, opening the door to develop a long-term relationship.

To continue with the car example, information and technology could add value, as an added layer on top of my choice levels. It could offer me a variety of car options using what it “knows” about me… to validate brand, type, features, and my needs, and then facilitate the most appropriate, highest value interaction with the product. This way the technology is my information partner so that I get the most relevant information, because I choose it to do so.

Re-Positioning Latest Technologies as Enablers to More Relevant Information

In this case the technology is an enabler helping me get information I want and need.

What if we don’t want and choose not to actively interact, and therefore want the technology to do it for us, to serve us messages and links that the system identifies as relevant, much in the way Google does based on our search query today?

Create a mechanism to let us choose this option.

If we want to be creative, we can even use a CVS ExtraPoints/loyalty program as a model. Imagine if incentives are in play in return for the freely given exchange of information? This recognizes and provides value in exchange for levels of privacy that in essence are “surrendered” and offers the opportunity to deepen the relationship over time, at the same time.

And of course, there will be those that won’t, don’t or can’t respond. That may be the subject of another posting.

Let’s take this approach to another hot spot that has received a lot of attention relative to its privacy policies lately, Facebook, the 800-lb super gorilla of social networks.

Under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership, Facebook has consistently attempted to stretch the privacy envelope in order, it appears, to monetize as marketing intelligence, the deep, deep profiles, Likes, Friends and other information it has on it’s users. Again and again we have seen sudden changes to privacy controls and policies, and more feature introductions like the ill-fated “Beacon” program that would have been used to create high value information that could be sold at a premium to third parties.

What has astounded me over time is:

  • how people haven’t fled the network as these initiatives were imposed, often without warning
  • how Facebook’s users have pushed back when they felt privacy envelope had stretched too far, and
  • how Facebook has responded, pulling back as it attempts to monetize the information on hand.

I would have thought users would leave… but we didn’t and apparently don’t. And the question remains, knowing that this robust info about us exists, how can Facebook marry in a cool, mutually beneficial way the information it has with marketers that still gives us as consumers control and allows us to determine the levels of relevance we want?

One simple way could be to add a profile section specifically for marketing purposes. Invite us to participate. The promise: relevant communications between companies looking to match their products to people with expressed interests with products or services of that type. The value of the interaction to all parties jumps here.

Facebook could get slicker and stickier create a platform where we get points when we click, when we share, and when we buy or act. This way the user could be recognized as an influencer driving word of mouth and/or a customer.

More Choice = More Relevance = More Value

In return there could be an interaction where we are actually offered a dynamic menu of advertising choices based on our profiles and technology where we then get to choose (raise hands) for relevant products with a higher likelihood of interest.

By the way, couldn’t this type of thing work with Google too?

With such a mechanism, Google could engage with us when certain potential buying patterns emerge with our queries. Kind of a super Pay Per Click.  “Are you looking to buy… a car “ type of dialog could help Google serve up even more relevant links based on an actual declared interest. This could even have an impact on organic search as well, where a simple added interaction would help Google fine tune their search results to truly match our needs immediately and over time.

Couple this with the semantic web capabilities coming up and this enhanced search capability could add even more value to search, which could help offset inevitable maturity of the product.

And yes, choice does apply to YouTube, Hulu and so many others. Give us choice and the value of our information and interactions increase and privacy recedes to the background, as long as it is treated with respect, which includes transparency and security. Under these circumstances, a RapLeaf offering may not be so intrusive after all.

One last thing… please talk to us in plain language. Have you seen the electronic terms and conditions for say Apple’s App Store? The basic agreement is 55 screens long. Who reads this? Not us mere lay folk.

Maybe we need to agree in the form in legalese, but give us a one-pager in every day language please. And if you make an update to the terms, give us the bullet’ized version summarizing changes in plain language again. Then when we agree, especially if it is in relation to control, transparency and such, we know what we are doing, and as such have added the value of conscious choice to the action, which adds true marketing value to the relationship overall.

Doing Good… Is it Good Marketing?, Good Business?… or Just Crazy?

September 9, 2010

Knights Apparel is paying its workers in the Dominican Republic three and half times the going rate. Can they thrive when their shirts cost 20% more to produce than everyone else?

  • Introduction
  • Investing in better working conditions and worker salaries in Dominican Republic so that product costs are higher than the competition… are they crazy?
  • Why it can work… applying marketing principles to counter the drive to lower prices and commoditize the product
  • How “doing good” can be good business

Introduction

One of my roles is marketing professor at a great college in Boston. A foundation of all of my courses is to have students comb traditional and online media to find and share marketing-related stories in each and every class. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that business is dynamic and literally evolving on a minute by minute basis sometimes, a fact that no textbook, at least in the print format, can ever keep up with.

What this means for me as a teacher is that I have to “eat the dog food” as well, if I am to keep up, let alone lead such a research-based activity in a classroom.

So it is that earlier this summer I came across an article in the New York Times last month by Steven Greenhouse, Factory Defies Sweatshop Label, but Can It Thrive?

I was very excited when I read the article and have not been able to get it out of my mind since. This is because contrary to the implication that “doing good” cannot lead to business success as implied by the question “Can It Thrive?” in the headline, when looked at it through a marketing strategy and positioning lens, we can easily see it is very likely this business can and will survive, thrive and perhaps be a model that other more well known consumer brands can and should adopt.

Lowering Costs Drives Business, Doesn’t It?

No, I am not trying to buck the research that typically asserts doing good for its own sake does not necessarily move customers or prospects to act and buy a product or service. There was much discussion a few years back about “green” business initiatives and would customers pay extra for them, and if so how much. Was Green enough on it’s own to drive a marketing program and deliver results?

Perhaps not.

We may have, want and maybe even expect a “green sensibility”, but we see again and again that when it gets to the pocketbook, we don’t want to pay more, at least too much more. We may penalize a product for say a lack of “green-ness” but we don’t necessarily reward them for it either.

In this mindset, the negativity implied in “Can It Thrive?” may make some sense.

The answer however, is far different from a strategic marketing perspective when doing good is positioned as added value.

First a little background.

Introducing Knights Apparel

The company in question is Knights Apparel, based in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Knights is, according to the article, “the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensing Company.” The factory discussed in the article is in the Dominican Republic and produces high quality, college/university logo’d t-shirts for sale under the Alta Gracia label in campus bookstores across the US. The cost of the actual shirt is $4.80 with a wholesale price of $8 and retail cost of up to $18.

What is unusual here is that Knights pays workers a living wage. Where other factories may pay workers $147 a month in often harsh working conditions, the lucky workers at this factory earn $500 a month, up to 3 and a half times more. Not only this, workers are allowed to unionize and work in a clean, friendly, modern and safe environment, which is unheard of at most factory locations.

Shirts of this quality which may cost others $4 to produce, costs Knights $4.80, a 20% premium, so there is an added cost.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Whereas in today’s globalized manufacturing world companies are on a constant quest for countries and workers where they can pay ever lower wages and cut overhead costs in order to maximize profits and value to investors, here is a company bucking the trend and going in the opposite direction.

Plus if the research is to be believed, what customer in their right mind will pay a higher price for a commodity item like a T-shirt?

We do, and we do it all the time.

Positioning Can Be Used to Support Different Business Strategies

It comes down to positioning, brands and value. Using the product adoption lifecycle for a model, we can see the following:

The Early Majority supports leadership and works like a herd… if my friends and peers do it, so will I. And not only that, this audience will pay a premium for a leading product, for its perceived value. This is where brands come in and why they can be very successful. If my friends see value in Nike, so will I. And yes, we all know that cool little swoosh will cost me more, sometimes much more.

To the Late Majority, a t-shirt, is a t-shirt, is a t-shirt. Lowest price wins their purchase. And if we can get a branded shirt at a lowest price in say a discount store, we are not fools, we will buy it. But if it costs more, forget it. Cost, lowest cost is more important to here.

The game here is added value. If Alta Gracia shirts were focusing distribution on say Wal-Mart or other discount channel, the strategy would fail. Pennies matter to the cost of the product, and the higher production cost would not be able to play out in this arena.

But as we read, Knights strategy is to not play in that space. In fact, they are reverse positioning themselves to play in the Early Majority segment, and quite cleverly.

Reverse Positioning For Added Value

Here’s how.

1. The shirt is a high quality shirt. The facility is not manufacturing a commodity quality, no label generic t-shirt.
This alone is not enough.

2. Alta Gracia has not yet built awareness and value for itself as a stand-alone brand, although apparently there will be point of sale merchandising in college bookstores to raise awareness.
However, by providing the academic market with college/university branded product, they in effect are partnering with colleges and univerisites to offer a high quality, high value, co-branded product.

3. Students (and therefore their parents) are known to care about social concerns and they do support with their wallets.
These customers will pay a premium for products that they consider to fair traded, if the value is clear and the cost is in line.

Have you checked out the price for a Nike T-Shirt lately? Alta Garcia’s wholesale and retail pricing is well in line with other high value branded t-shirt products that can often cost $20 or more.

Add it all up and Knights has done its work to strategically position this product right where it needs to be, so it can, and I will argue almost certainly will meet its social and business objectives.

Does “Doing Good” Make Sense?

Are there lessons here for the Nike and Reebok’s of the world, whose logos have high brand value in their own right?

It seems like they have a choice.

A few years ago, Nike and others (remember Kathy Lee Gifford’s clothing line?) were slammed by the media, and customers for simply the appearance of allowing sweatshop conditions in some of their out-sourced, off-shore factory operations. They felt the pain of lost sales and as a result developed and imposed higher standards and better working conditions over time since then.

Left to balancing the quest for higher profits against the public’s expectation of social responsibility, it seems likely this kind of back and forth may continue. Companies will try to cut costs all they can, and consumers will respond if it appears they have crossed some ill-defined line and gone too far. At what is too far?

Is there a business value to a more pro-active posture like the one taken by Knights?

Costco Thinks So

As it turns out, there is a best practice we can look at here as well courtesy of Costco, the leader in the warehouse store category, outlined in a 2005 article in the New York Times, How Costco Became the Anti Wal-Mart.

For many years Costco has been a leader in the retail industry paying its workers “liveable” salaries well in excess of those paid by another leader, Wal Mart (and others) where associate salaries are pegged to the Minimum Wage.

At the same time Costco’s management has been under pressure to lower employee costs, something that Costco’s management has resisted. As noted in the article, one analyst even complained that with Costco “it is better to be an employee or a customer than a shareholder.”

Why then does Costco resist this pressure?

Costco has found that fairly compensated employees are loyal, honest and stay with the company longer. Churn is down, retention high, training costs reduced, and productivity enhanced. Throw in that Costco’s affluent customer base appreciates that lower costs do not come at employee expense, well we get the idea, there is a monetary benefit.

As Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal put it, “This is not altruistic, this is good business.”

Sound familiar?

Our marketing model shows that companies can do good, quantify its value, serve customers and in the deliver more value to customers, if they live in the right place on the Product Adoption Lifecycle.

The Marketing Lesson of the Product Lifecycle… You Can Choose Where You Live

Then think of the transformative impact this has on the actual workers. One of the workers at Alta Gracia put it this way, “We never had the opportunity to make wages like this before. I feel blessed.” Feel good now?

Here is the recipe that adds value and re- or reverse positions Alta Gracia T-Shirts from a commodity to value product:

1.    The higher quality of the product itself

2.    “Borrowed” Brand Value that leverages the affinity of the College/University

3.    Added Value of a Good Deed that in fact is also doing “Good Business”

4.    Opportunity to build Alta Gracia as a stand alone brand recognized by students

5.    Natural brand extensions to other intersecting markets (parents, etc)

6.    Other affinities, such as sports, music and others can build on model

Add it all up and it means higher value, the kind of higher value customers are willing to pay a premium for.

Marketing The New Gillette Pro Glide: From a Positioning Perspective, Is this The Best A Man Can Get?

July 11, 2010

Today we will explore how we can use positioning best practice to engage the full range of the product adoption lifecycle simultaneously in order to:

  1. Capture the larger Early Majority segment
  2. Extend the reach to the Late Majority/Commodity buyer at the same time
  3. Provide a compelling value proposition and pathway to convert many of these commodity customers into more profitable premium buyers
  4. Lift the whole product category.

I have to admit it. When it comes to Gillette razors, I am a classic early adopter. I just have to get their latest and greatest right away. Why?

Maybe it goes back to when I was a kid. I remember watching my dad shave in amazement morning after morning. Such an arcane process that never seemed to change: shaking up his can of Foamy and slathering that creamy stuff all over his face. And then the razor. The heavy chrome handle that would pop open by turning a knob on the bottom. Slide in a Super Blue from the special dispenser, twist the handle closed and then let the shave begin. When completed he’d sprinkle Aqua Velva on his hands and slap it on. Done!

I also remember feeling his face. He had a heavy, scratchy beard, something I inherited. After the shave, his face felt smooth as glass.

Is it any wonder that at 10, I desperately wanted to shave too. Dad would always say, no rush, no rush. It really isn’t fun. And if you don’t do it right… ouch. I remember those little dabs or two of toilet paper on his face to staunch the bleeding on a bad day.

As you can see, there is deep connection I have with the process and the Gillette brand that transcends the actual experience itself and sets me up as a classic Early Adopter in this category.

In this light I recently found myself excited when Gillette announced that it’s latest and greatest Fusion Pro Glide System featuring 5 thinner blades with a special low resistance coating and a suspension system that would eliminate that pesky tug and pull. I couldn’t wait. My excitement mounted as the launch day, June 8, 2010 approached.

Needless to say, I got one right away and the product does not disappoint. It’s awesome! It really feels like the razor is literally gliding as I shave, and afterwards my face, well it feels smooth as “glass,” even smoother than my Dad’s.

The Right Message for the Wrong Audience?

Now regarding the marketing… Yes, it’s slick, it’s integrated… And it’s old hat. Not to say that this is bad. Or not effective, at least as far as it goes. After all, the previous flagship blade in the Gillette line, Fusion with its Turbo style imagery, was the most popular razor in the world. But is there more?

Here is a screen capture of Gillette’s today.

As you can see, in the current state, the message is all about the product and its features and the primary message is turning Shaving into Gliding. As an Early Adopter, see arrow, I am sold. And in truth, it didn’t matter what the claim or message, I was sold even before the blades hit the market.

It All Comes Down to Connecting the Dots

The goal in positioning is to connect dots and answer questions for the customer, not pose them. And as we have learned from Apple and other marketing virtuoso’s, linier time as far as the Product Adoption Lifecycle goes is often a self-imposed obstacle. So why wait if you don’t have to, especially when there is so much at stake on a global scale?

With this in mind, and stepping outside of my Early Adopter mindset, what do we see with Gillette’s Fusion Pro Glide?

Product Lifecycle: A Quick Review

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, here is the famous Product Lifecycle bell curve made famous in Geoffrey Moore’s landmark book Crossing the Chasm.

Early Adopters like me love a product and it’s features. We are not price sensitive and are always on a quest, in this case, for a better shave. We have to have the latest and greatest right away.

However, Early and Late Majority buyers, where the heart of the lifecycle (and greatest profits) resides, have no interest in product features.

The Early Majority is concerned with “what does the product do for me” coupled with market leadership and peer adoption. If my friends buy, so will I. These buyers are also willing to pay a premium for the acknowledged leader.

The Late Majority is concerned about price… getting the product for the lowest price. They also don’t want to be bothered with the rest.

Positioning to Win for Maximum Impact

As we all know, Proctor and Gamble, Gillette’s parent company, is a brand and marketing powerhouse. And Gillette is an established market leader in the razor space and has been so for decades.

This means that a big part what it takes to capture and exploit the Early Majority is in place already with brand leadership and millions of satisfied users around the globe.

In it’s current state, you can see that the current product messaging is actually talking to Early Adopters, NOT the Majorities. The marketing question is, is this it for now, or is there more we can do to exploit the new Fusion Pro Glide product?

If we look at positioning best practice, the answer is yes!

Here’s a structural model of how this can work (by segment):

1. Early Majority

A. Leadership
These buyers appreciate and will pay a premium for the leading product in the category, making this is a clear sweet spot for this particular product now.

As mentioned earlier, the key to effective positioning here is connecting the “what’s in it for me?” question in the clearest terms possible that yields maximum results. In this case, Gillette has opted for a “Turn Shaving Into Gliding” message, which begs the question, “What does Gliding mean?” It glides, perhaps, but so what? What does Gliding do for me?

And yet buried deep in the current presentation, there is an answer… all the wonderful product features, YouTube videos, NASCAR endorsements, and Dream Job promotions are designed, perhaps indirectly to support the message that Fusion Pro Glide delivers “Gillette’s most comfortable shave ever.”

That’s what Early Majority buyers looking for. Now we get it! The big benefit, the compelling reason to buy. It was there, but buried by the Gliding message. All we need to do is call this message out front and center. And if you want to be slick about it, again from the current messaging, add… “Guaranteed.”

Roll it all up, here is what’s in it for the Early Majority buyer. Pro Glide Fusion is: Gillette’s most comfortable shave ever. Guaranteed.


B. Peer Influence
The next element to drive this segment is peer influence. “Do my friends have it, and do they like it. If so, I want one!” This is where endorsements fit. Gillette is a master of professional endorsements and has been so for decades. Today it’s in the form of NASCAR personalities and the “Young Guns” Challenge.

Even more interestingly perhaps is Gillette has begun to masterfully use social networks to get the “every man” endorsements that most likely will be more important as a marketing activity moving forward.  It takes a lot of guts to surrender control, which is essential for authenticity to address “Do guys like “me” use it, love it, etc.”

This is where Early Adopters come in. If we love the product, we are natural advocates and influencers, and can be one of these authentic  guys “like me” who heartily recommend the product to our “Johnny come lately” friends. What we need is some help or incentives to voice our feelings. In other words a promotion.

Example:
Right now men are invited to vote for their favorite “NASCAR “Young Gun.” The winning driver gets to donate $10,000 to their favorite charity. What do we get? How about adding a Win Blades for Life! premium? This could be for the vote if the person registers. And if we are looking for real endorsements by real men, it could be for submitting the funniest Pro Glide testimonial. And the prize, along with the charity donation could be presented to the winner at say, a NASCAR event.

2. Late Majority

Research I found seems to indicate support my Dad’s feelings about shaving. It is a necessary evil, something we have to do due for social conventions, but inconvenient at best. This attitude sets up commodity-style, low-price “just get it over with” thinking.

As it stands, Gillette has a dizzying array of lower cost blades and razors from earlier category leaders Fusion and Mach 3 to a whole slew of disposables. “Dizzying” is the operative word. Extremely complex.

What we need here is a clear roadmap of products, perhaps broken down into 1. blades and 2. disposables from Good to Better and Pro Glide in the role of BEST… with a blade price of “lowest” to “more” to “most” expensive. Your Choice.

And since Fusion Pro Glides fit in millions of Fusion handles already in the market, it is easy to slip in a free blade and coupon for later purchase in the package to engage these established buyers and get them into the pipeline.  We have to assume this is in the works already.

3. The Best A Man Can Get: Positioned for Growth Across the Lifecycle

If we go back to Gillette’s core brand, we can see we have the platform we need to cut across the whole razor line… “the best a man can get.” I was surprised to see that it is still alive and core… embedded right in the logo treatment itself. As one would expect with a brand of this caliber, it was like seeing an old friend. Powerful indeed.

This offers up a value platform with the opportunity to move customers up the ladder from “cheap” to Better and Best products and from a commodity buyer to a premium one. I call this Marketing JuJitsu. Here is where positioning focused on costs per shave and other metrics commodity buyers think about can come into play to demonstrate brand value to the these buyers too.

Example:
Let’s assume we can get two-weeks of shaves out of one Fusion Pro Glide blade. (Note: I have gotten up to four weeks, even with my heavy beard). Two weeks of comfortable shaves at $3 per blade equals approximately $.21 per shave. Let’s assume you can buy a disposable for $.20 per razor that safely delivers a shave, or two. Now the value proposition to this segment can be turned around to something like…

“For just pennies extra a day you can move up to Gillette’s closest, most comfortable shave. Take the challenge to see and feel the difference for yourself. Low(est) cost and most comfort from Gillette… The Best A Man Can Get.”

Here is what the structure looks like all together with above.

As you can see, now we have a Strategic Framework capable of positioning Fusion Pro Glide in multiple segments across the Lifecycle simultaneously under the Best A Man Can Get Brand Platform:

  1. Early Adopter with Glide
  2. Early Majority with Comfort
  3. Convert Early Adopters to Influencers building on incentives and promotions
  4. Create simple and understandable tiers of lower cost products for Late Majority
  5. Drive a Cost per Shave Value Message and convert Commodity into Premium buyers


This is FIOS… This is BIG!???

June 2, 2010

Summary:

1. The Situation
• The Curse of the Anti-Brand Continued
• Field of Dreams Marketing: Build It and They Will Come?
• Oh Really!

2. Positioning 101
• The Ultimate Choice in Marketing: Make It Easier to Sell… or to Buy
• Customers Know “This is Big,” is Bad and Act Accordingly

3. Recommendations/How to Fix It
• The Power of One Word
• See The Difference

4. Conclusion

• Getting the Positioning Right Means Success. Getting it wrong…

This is Bad!
We have explored anti-brand/worst practice marketing before, notably in the airline industry. We explored the disintegration of the legacy carrier brands (United, Delta, American and the like), and how this has created openings for the quote unquote discount carriers such as Southwest, Jet Blue and Virgin to add value to in a variety of ways and in doing so develop true and sustainable brand connections with customers.

Another industry that traditionally seems to take this anti-brand/anti-customer approach is the telecom sector – phone, cell phone, cable and broadband providers again and again seem to go out of their way to make it as complex as possible to purchase and service these vital products that are so much a part of our daily lives today…. plans, contracts, service agreement periods, rebates, data services, VoIP, bundles and variable pricing, locked phones, unlocked phones, smart phones, dumb phones… figuring this all out is a daunting task!

And it is not to say these anti-brands don’t spend money on marketing. They do. And lots! It’s just that from a marketing and positioning perspective, many of these companies have attempted to make their product easier to sell, not easier to buy. This is a subtle yet often profound distinction which has often led customers to such a confusing array of product and bundled offerings and “deals” that get in the way of achieving the desired outcome, ironically of maximizing sales.

The result…

A Better Product Alone Does Not Mean Success
Last week, after a 2-year wait, we finally had Verizon’s FIOS installed in our home, and the promise of fiber optic digital broadband bundled with HD and voice over internet IP phone service was a reality for me and my family. We are all delighted to be freed from the shackles of our former broadband, cable TV provider for reasons noted above. We met our contract obligations years ago and costs continued to rise to unacceptable levels for what amounted to basic TV and Internet service without recourse.

When at last the day arrived, we were lucky enough to have a savvy, seasoned installer handle the actual installation process. It was in talking with him, that the results of anti-brand thinking, relative to positioning became very clear to both of us.

Just like the Nexus One discussion in an earlier posting, FIOS to me is a clearly superior product. Fiber optics is a much more efficient networking technology over say, cable and copper wire. Plus fiber is 21st century technology, copper wire represents the past.

On one level what this means is that FIOS’ speeds are faster, and do not slow down if say others on the same line are also connected at the same time as they do with cable or DSL. All things being equal, we found that FIOS is cheaper than the cable offering available to us with many more TV channels, and unlimited long distance to boot.

Sounds like a recipe for competitive advantage and market share domination, right!

This is where the conversation with installer got interesting.

Misplaced Positioning Can Doom Even the Best Products
Superior product and a massive TV buy not withstanding, he told me that FIOS apparently only wins only a small portion of the business where it competes against cable, and has not meet expectations for quite some time. It does apparently carve into the cable business some, but it does not dominate, not even close, at least in the markets covered buy our installer.

That was a surprise, especially since FIOS can make the case of being superior and cheaper! And then there have been news reports lately that FIOS’ planned expansion program in other markets has been postponed, affirming lackluster results so far.

What could be the problem? Could it be loyalty? Is there a deep brand connection to cable providers?

Nothing in any research I have seen over the years indicates consumer love for cable companies. Many are anti-brands with a clear take it or leave it attitude. Customer-centric service? Forget it.

In fact from what I see, on the TV side in particular, customers really resent cable providers. Many dislike bundled programming offerings in particular, and often feel gouged with ever higher prices and the inability to pay a la carte for just the channels they want.

And then without prompting, the installer and I both blurted out at the same time, obviously in harmony with an “aha” moment… “This is FIOS, This is Big!”

Verizon has spent untold $ millions to embed this unforgettable slogan in our minds. But what does it say from a positioning point of view?

Slogans are often what we remember, what we pass along, what we act on… or don’t.

Slogans that get the positioning down and answer questions, connect dots, and give us that “compelling reason to buy” message right on the spot are the ones that deliver results. Slogans that don’t, memorable though they may be, can’t do the job, no matter how much cash is thrown at it.

Unfortunately this is where Verizon missed the boat.

It Comes Down to One Word…
Let’s take this slogan apart for a minute. We know from an overarching perspective this is a Verizon product, and Verizon is the network, isn’t it? But what is FIOS anyway?

I will guess it has to do with FIber Optic System or something like that. It could be called ACME or ALPO for that matter. The name can be important, but all of us have seen meaningless names such as Accenture, Altria, and Exxon that have been created for very successful companies.

No, the problem word here is not FIOS, it is the word BIG. This is the key word and it does not tell us as customers what’s in it for us. To be effective, this word has to be clear, direct and mean something. It has to answer questions, not beg them.

In this case, BIG addresses the latter. I am sure Verizon loves the technology… they invested $ billions to bring it to us. But BIG. What does BIG do for you and I? We don’t know. We… have to think about it.

This is a problem because actually, in today’s busy world, we tend not to think about things like this. When left to our own devices and unintended questions arise in our minds, usually these questions support inertia and inaction.

For example, isn’t changing providers is a hassle?, and why change now?, immediately come to my mind. Customers, typical mainstream customers facing such a rhetorical quandary without a clear reason to switch, will typically say to themselves “I will happily stay where I am” and act accordingly.

This puts the “connecting of the dots” in the hands of market forces outside of Verizon’s control, which in terms of grabbing market share, is deadly! And Needless!

All of this is wrapped up in one, in this case, one misplaced 3-letter word.

BIG or BETTER Internet Service. What Do You Prefer?
As a marketer I have learned over the years that if you are going to critique someone else’s work, you should also offer up an alternative. This is only fair after all. So in this spirit, I offer up the word… BETTER.

The altered slogan would then read:

This is FIOS, This is Better!

I am not saying it is perfect or pretty or elegant, but now we as readers of the message have something to grab on to, that we can understand. Leadership is reflected in qualitative advantage… something that differentiates FIOS from the cable product and says there may be something in it for me as well.

Imagine now the conversation I might have had with the installer if the take away message we all remember is… This is FIOS, This is Better.

In the one instant a series of questions posed by the word BIG are replaced by a declaration of superiority over the competition… the Better that is Fiber Optical TV/Phone/Internet connections over copper wire/cable. Customers would almost feel like they are acting foolishly not to get a better product and better deal, no matter what.

Our minds would be embedded with Better than… cable positioning, so taking the buy action is natural and something already clearly mapped out. This is what effective positioning is all about and one example of creating a compelling reason to buy with a positioning core.

Toyota and Tiger… Brand Collapse or Rebirth or Both?

March 25, 2010

We have all heard the news…. 8+ million Toyota automobiles are recalled due to a variety of malfunctions; and everything and more than we wanted to know about the many loves of Dobie Gillis… oops, I mean Tiger Woods.

Toyota, a brand synonymous with quality and reliability for decades appears to be imploding right before our eyes. Their war room/siege mentality, ready to rebut “any and all” negative customer comments strategy does not resonate with the public or in any way appear authentic. Whether it’s the floor mats, the gas pedal or of course, customer error, yes, the company is sorry, so sorry for injury or death. Software, hardware issues? Apparently Toyota can’t replicate some of these problems, therefore it appears they do not exist, or isn’t it our fault anyway?

And does this calm our fears?, and support the brand promise of quality and reliability?

I don’t know about you, but I feel a deep and shocking sense of uncertainty with Toyota’s response. And I own two Camry’s, although of a vintage before these apparently unstable “drive-by-wire” electronic technologies we adopted. Yikes!

Talk about a brand conflict, reliability versus uncertainty.

This is a huge problem for Toyota. And a major inconvenience at best for customers worldwide. We have to bring our cars in for a fix we aren’t sure will solve the problem. Oh, and now what about the resale value of these cars? Toyota was noted for high resale value… who wants to buy a used and potentially unsafe Toyota now at any price? Not me! You?

And if that isn’t enough, Toyota appears to be diddling. You can sense it, and as some of their internal e-mails we hear about attest, their approach is to delay, stall and of course, minimize the cost of the damage.

Their ads add insult to injury. “Thanks for sticking by us,” they intone… and to “thank you, we are offering incentives like 0% financing so you can buy a new one.”

Just what I want! Even though you, Toyota can’t replicate them, these issues may still exist. People have died, cars have very publically careened out of control for who knows why, and resale value at least for now has gone down the tubes. And to top it all off, I have to suffer the inconvenience to bring in my car to get a fix that may or may not take care of the problem, and you thank me by trying to sell me a new car!

This is outrageous and insulting. Add it all up and what this says to me is that Toyota has lost touch with the power of their brand. And such moves like these are damaging it, perhaps permanently.

Tiger has a similar problem. Although perhaps not on the same scale as Toyota, he is a very public, well known brand, like it or not, and a multinational one at that. For many people Tiger is golf itself and a $ multi-billion corporation burnished with a champion’s glow…. He and his handlers positioned him as a problem-solving icon able to take on and beat any challenge that may come his way. Until now.

We now know this is may, I repeat may, be limited to the golf course and in the “perception is reality” world of brand recognition, but certainly not in real life.

I will argue that Tiger’s final lot as a brand is not yet set in the public mind. Yes, he is certainly human, a junk yard dog perhaps, but is this unusual? And yes, a number of high profile sponsors like Gillette and Accenture have pulled away.

Questions still linger that if answered authentically and humanly, could likely restore his brand image to be even more powerful than before.

Here’s how.

Tiger himself proclaimed at his highly staged news conference a few weeks ago that he thought he was above it all and could behave as he wished… that the rules the rest of us follow didn’t apply to him.

He also told us that he understands the hurt he has caused and the error of his ways and that he will do what it takes to be a better person. Great stagecraft!, and positioning…. I am working hard to be a better person. Who can throw the first stone with such a revelation?

So that is where we are.

Two powerful brands under attack, one disintegrating right before our eyes, the other, a work in progress, the jury still out. What kind of marketing thinking and strategy could be applied to turn these brand conflicts around?

Let’s look at Toyota first.

Toyota’s issue is that they appear to be self-absorbed and cheap, focused on cost containment and damage control, going so far as to lay the blame on those pesky customers that are us.

This is not the time for that type of non-marketing approach by an automobile company. Audi famously blamed their customers in the 80’s for cars that apparently shifted into gear on their own. They had to change the names of their models and literally re-build demand for their vehicles from scratch, a costly process that took them out of the game for years.

In this case, assuming Toyota is doing everything in its power to solve the issues, known and unknown, the company needs to remember that it’s the brand connection and it’s relationship with customers that matters most. That is where real long term value is.

I am not privy to the details but over time, the value of the Toyota brand, as the perhaps soon to be world’s former #1 auto maker, has to be in the $ hundreds of billions, or even more.

From an integrated, marketing to win perspective, Toyota needs to take a two-pronged, pedal to the metal communications approach:

1. Reassuring the public that the cars are safe, and

2. Acknowledging customers’ inconvenience and uncertainty along with the hassles of bringing cars to the shop entails.

In other words, they need to be bold in terms of solutions, it will cost, and the investment is worth it!

As far as reassurance is concerned, good news or bad, in today’s instant, social media world, transparency is essential. Customers need to be in the loop to see for ourselves what the company is doing to make us safe again.

It easy today to take us the labs and testing grounds, give us Q&A and other access to the engineers and scientists, etc. Let us see that no stone is being left unturned and at the same time show us the operational excellence the company is famous for, in action.

And as far as customer inconvenience is concerned, Toyota needs to honor the value of our time, let alone the anxiety we feel, and understand it in the context of brand value as well.

Once understood, the company then needs to then honor us with something tangible. That means, Toyota if you are listening, setting up drive in check stations for all post 2002 cars and then, give us something in return like a free oil change or service, something of value that honestly recognizes the value of our time and our loyalty. Giving to receive is the operative principle here.

I can tell you now, that a great deal on a new Toyota feels cynical and indeed is NOT it! And if they were clever, perhaps Toyota could partner up with say a Sirius/XM or other outside entity and offer a free 3-month subscription or something like that… because “you care… care about us, your valued customers!”

On the Tiger front.

His solution is a bit more under his personal control, but no less impactful. He can no longer claim the cover of privacy to be left alone… the genie is out of the bottle and won’t fit back in. And yes, just like the Wizard of Oz, we now have peered at the man behind the curtain, and see all too well that he is human like the rest of us.

Now that Tiger is off the pedestal and the announcement has been made that he will indeed play at the upcoming Masters Tournament, it comes to two things again:

1. His performance on the course, and

2. His performance on the course.

What do I mean?

On one level, we will expect him to play well and perhaps even win. He is to many, Golf after all. But we also expect that he has learned from his self-induced embarrassment, that he is, in fact, in the process of becoming that better person. This means that no, we don’t necessarily want him to be more approachable, but we need to know he can perform in this “better,” more realistic and human manner.

So how does this play out?

First, that he handles the catcalls, the embarrassing hoots, questions and other assorted unscripted realities that will inevitably come his way with humor and poise. That he not dodge but roll with it in a manner befitting a champion. In other words, the focus and drive (no pun intended!) that has made him the champion he is, also extends to his personal improvement, and that he is a winner here too.

If he does a Brat Pack-type, moody thing and wrap a club or two around a tree or smash a camera, punch someone out or otherwise behave poorly, or that he sets up an impenetrable barrier so no one can get near and utter a bad word, he will be positioned by his own actions as an arrogant “bad person” which will forever tarnish the best golfer, iconic status that he has already achieved.

If you don’t believe me, remember 2004 presidential candidate Senator John Kerry? Like him or hate him, that wishy-washy answer he gave at the Grand Canyon regarding whether he would change his vote for sending troops to Iraq, knowing the original premise of “Weapons of Mass Destruction” was inaccurate, forever labeled him as… well you know, a Flip Flopper, irrespective of his many impressive achievements.

The jury is still out on this one, at least for the moment. One thing is certain, the embarrassment and hurt will fade over time, but the position he takes and fosters in the public eye through his next set of actions will stick, and the choice in the end will be his. So what will it be, great golfer and jerk, or very human champ for the ages. What would you choose?

And I will guess that if Tiger does take the high road and shows us he has or is mastering his demons like he has mastered his sport, will Accenture, Gillette and other more lucrative sponsorships be far behind? It is clear that the “championship, do anything image” would be more real this time, and well earned to boot.

Move forward Toyota… Go get ‘em Tiger!

Message to Steve Jobs. Thanks for the iPad. Now the heavy lifting needs to begin.

February 9, 2010

As a marketer, it’s hard to stay away from Apple. The marketing has been at virtuoso levels consistently for the last decade, serving as a best practice and shining light for us all, at least until now.

The iPad was launched to great fanfare (hype perhaps?) last month Wednesday, January 27, 2010. The hype machine was in overdrive leading to what appeared to be an anti-climatic event that felt like a let down to the media frenzy that preceded it.

I had the chance to watch Steve’s keynote address recently with my Principles of Marketing class.

Here is how Apple boils it all down in their messaging and positioning for the product in their own words:

Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price…
The best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, and video. Hands down.

For the first time in years after reading these value propositions, I asked myself, what are they are talking about? And why, oh why did they create unbelievable hype on a massive scale to deliver such a vague, “early adopter” message? I don’t get it.

Since on the surface, this just does not make sense, I thought it might be constructive to de-construct this a bit from the integrated marketing perspective and dive below the hype and superlatives to see if we can figure out what is going on here. Something is…

On the company and product side, clearly there is a lot happening. Disruptions abound, and they know it.

First, besides the overall product itself, is the A4 chip produced by Apple. I didn’t realize they had this capability, but if you look at it, should this tablet device take off and create a new category as hoped, a new chip architecture is in place… and its not Intel inside.

Apple is also we are told, undergoing a transformation. A couple of years ago, Steve Jobs eliminated “Computer” from Apple’s name to Apple, Inc. “We are now a software company,” he famously said.

This time around he took it another step further… “We are a mobile device company, the largest in the world.” Wow!

The tablet, which with its large touch screen interface, on the surface looks like an iPhone on steroids, with much of the same functionality built in. I originally dismissed the optimized iWorks part of the presentation but am now quite impressed that there is native to the iPad productivity (word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations) capability. This is no mere overgrown iPhone! The screen is large enough so we can actually see what we are doing. Will there be a touch-based Office app from Microsoft to come?

On the marketing side, it became clear that Apple understood that there was no direct competition for this ambitious, category creating product, and in response took one of those “going fishing” – everything for everybody, early adopter communication strategies that in the final analysis goes against the cardinal rule of positioning – which is to connect the dots of “what’s in it for me” for the customer versus setting it up so that he or she must figure it out for themselves.

You can see it in how they boiled down the core messaging:
Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price…
Compare this to the iPhone:

At launch:
Reinventing the phone

Today
The fastest, most powerful iPhone yet.

See the difference?

What does Magical* mean?, Revolutionary?, and what is this going to do for me, even with an “unbelievable” price?

* Note: Although it is not easy to figure out what this means on our own, lead designer Jony Ive does define “magical” quite well in one of the launch videos as “when something exceeds your ability to understand how it works, it sort of becomes magical. And that exactly what the iPad is!”

The Best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, and video. Hands down.

Also each speaker in this very same video, especially marketing VP Phil Schiller kept on using the word “BEST”… best e-mail… best photos… best internet… best this… best that.

Hey Phil, I hate to ask what does “best” mean, and then if so, so what?

The key and unavoidable question that is the core of what positioning is all about still comes down to addressing what does this mean for me?, and at the moment I don’t know.

Nobody said this was easy…

There were kernels of marketing strength in the presentation, most especially in Jony Ive’s video presentation. As the lead designer, he is the person most intimate with the iPad and two things he said caught my attention. 1. “It just feels right to hold the internet in your hands.” 2. “I don’t change myself to fit the product, it fits me!”

These two ideas are interesting and compelling… and if, once the units are available, we physically “feel” this connection with the product, and I have no reason to suggest otherwise… well then, the iPad will be successful, perhaps very much so, in spite of this awkward positioning.

At the conclusion of the presentation Jobs argued that then when you add up the 125 million existing iTunes and App Store Customers along with the 75 million iPhone and iPod Touch install base who already know how to use the product, along with the new e-book bookstore with 5 of the major publishers on board, “we have breadth and scale required for success.”

Except this.

Even with this built in audience base in place, I will argue that there is a classic chasm to cross with this one. The product as it now stands is too big to pin down, there are too many disruptive elements, as Apple itself admits.

For example, is it an e-Book reader, and if so is it for the popular, business, educational markets?, is it a media device?, productivity tool?, something else?

Kept at this high level, wide “everything for everybody” positioning is inevitable which means we as the customers have to figure out what we want and need about this device on our own. This is dangerous and contrary to Apple’s own best practice of product launches past.

What’s more, for the past years Apple had the benefit of its latest devices having direct lineage to the iPod, which fueled adoption for new innovations.

For example, the iPod’s leadership as the dominant music player on the planet, allowed Apple to successfully launch the new at the time, arguably disruptive video iPod with just one studio on board (Disney) and a handful of titles available for sales at the iTunes store. This is nowhere near to the ecosystem the iPad now enjoys even before it is available,

Even so, the poorly endowed video-enabled iPod faced the chasm, while also living as the top of the line, world’s most popular music player at the same time. Today every studio is on board and billions of video downloads have been transacted. The chasm was “easy” to cross here.

Today, with an astounding 250 million sold to date, the iPod market appears to be saturated and sales are flat or declining. And we could argue this is not what the iPad product is at its core. It is a separate product. And positioning the iPad as a direct descendent of the iPhone, which has created a category on its own, is also not really accurate and in this case would limit its disruptive power as a category-creating product.

So the product is out there on its own, almost as a blank canvas… a remarkable product looking for relevance from the market as a whole. That is the issue.

This situation is not new for Apple. People weren’t banging down the doors for Apple to create the iPod at the outset. The market wasn’t seeking a device that could hold 1,000 songs. And if memory serves me well, It took a while to gain traction and truly took off when iTunes became Windows-compatible.

Assuming the above and we have a chasm in front of us, what now?

The market opportunities are numerous, so for the sake of brevity today, let’s look at a couple of examples to see how we could position the iPad in the e-Book space, to give us some ideas.

1. Blue Ocean: Completely Different and Compelling
Amazon’s Kindle is the original category creator and undisputed leader of the e-book market to date. The iPad with it’s color screen, robust distribution channel and access to content by the major publishers is mounting a direct assault to Amazon’s dominance and has a competitive offering no doubt. The black and white Kindle is a powerful one-shot pony and costs $250. iPad as an e-Book AND the “internet in your hand” offers so much more for $499. Does iPad demonstrate enough value to topple Amazon? Probably not… yet.

One of the drawbacks to the iPad, as with the iPhone is the inability to run multiple applications at the same time. What if… you could you could reframe the reading experience?, so that when you are reading your e-book on your iPad, you can, say, listen to music at the same time.

War and Peace, and Beethoven! With this simple added element, Apple could change the rules of the game and position iPad as the tool that transforms the reading experience:

Apple iPad… Reinvents Reading!

Such a move would force Amazon to find its way again in what could be a transformed market that by the new definition would play into iPad’s strengths, not Kindle’s, perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Now I am starting to see the potential “magic” that Jony Ive was talking about.

Bt the way, this move isn’t far off from the iPhone value proposition, which also was a category-changing device.

iPad has the extra load of category-creation, but the “reinvention” position isn’t far afield from the “different thinking” we expect from Apple.

And it making a product alternation is too much, we could go back to the keynote presentation and look at the say the games, or NY Times apps that were shown.

This positioning could then play out as:
Apple iPad… Reinvents the Newspaper
Reinvents the Video Game

2. Textbooks: Get Rid of the Heavy Load
There is another natural niche that plays into Apple’s DNA. Positioning iPad in the education space to fill a true, long held need to lighten the load of the infamous text book bag, which as I have been reminded in my professor life, can weigh many, many pounds. Good for upper body strength, perhaps, but cumbersome at best in reality.

We know that students today are online all the time and comfortable with being there. Making the switch to electronic books with these consumers, which surprisingly hasn’t really taken off to date, should and could be a non-traumatic and natural transition.

Plus, although it slipped in the 90’s when Apple all but surrendered the academic space to the Dell’s and HP’s of the world, Mac laptops today have gained significant traction on many campuses to be a leading computer device of choice by students.

We noted with interest as the rumor machine for the iPad was in full swing, that Apple was collaborating with academic institutions and textbook publishers to ensure that the product meets the needs of the academic community. Color is essential we are told. Also, students like to highlight text and take notes. Dropping in audio and video content, being able to link to current news sources, etc., could create a robust learning experience, while reducing the physical load, and we assume textbook cost.

Add it all up and iPad should have what it takes to fill a need and make a friendly conquest of a familiar beachhead market that will facilitate a quicker chasm crossing for the product overall.

Here is how it could sound, once again in “tag” talk:

Weighing only 1 ½ pounds, the Apple iPad puts Textbooks, the Internet, and More, Right in the Palm of Students’ Hands for Less than a Laptop.

To sum it all up:

1. Before we adopt the iPad, we need to touch, feel and play with this device… now! 60-days is too long a time to wait, and when it is finally available, early adopters will try it, and buy it.

2. If it indeed feels right… if we feel and get the “magic,” then iPad will be successful… over time. Keys to success will be segmenting the market and adopting a chasm/beach head focused marketing strategy with clear and compelling reasons to buy, which aren’t even close to being defined yet.

Have fun Steve!