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Why Sex Sells

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Original posted on Forbes July 25, 2011

Years ago some colleagues of mine built what we thought at the time was the “holy grail” of business marketing:  A sophisticated analytical tool that could tell a marketer where to invest, why, and what the return would be in sales productivity.   It could also tell them where to cut dollars, why and what the impact would be on the business.

It was an incredible feat of analytical modeling and technology.  Built for one of the most respected and well known companies in the world, so the CMO could answer with absolute certainty the CEO’s question: “What am I getting for my marketing spend?” We thought that it was our ticket to the big time and the rocket to ride to explosive growth, but that was not the case.

It turned out to be the only one we sold.   And that always baffled me.  Anyone who saw the tool was awed by its power and insight, but they didn’t buy.

Over the years, I picked up some clues as to why others would not buy:

  • The head of a major west coast based IT company warned us that our business intelligence tool and analytic model might limit his managers’ ability to make decisions based on their experience … “gut feel.”
  • The CMO of a global software company was concerned that our meticulously designed marketing processes, with stage gates and Gantt charts might limit his team’s creativity.
  • The head of marketing finance at a major Financial Service company told me that every year they run their marketing optimization model and it tells them that they overspend on TV, and under spend in print. But at the end of the year if there was additional budget leftover the CMO puts it in TV.

I’ve now been able to put the pieces together.  I came from a marketing science world and have since learned to appreciate and understand the value of the art of marketing.

Data and analytics can tell you where customers are, what they look like, what they’re interested in, but science alone can’t make customers buy.  It can’t make customers advocate for a brand, and it can’t make the hair stand up on the back of their necks.

Insightful, creative and relevant ideas that trigger human emotions can –  and do – sell.   For as much as I wanted to believe that buyers were rational creatures behaving in predictable patterns, I now understand that they are not.

Marketing, as much as we want it to be, is not an exact science.  Technology innovation has allowed us to better understand buyers, influencers and the performance of our activities.

But at the end of the day, business is personal.  We can’t remove the human element from the buyer or seller side.  Relationships and perceptions matter, how a product and/or a brand makes a customer feel is important, and it’s not easy to model or predict.

And with that, I found the answer: Although helpful and informative, good marketers don’t need to rely on sophisticated analytical tools to make decisions. Their experience, “gut,” and sometimes the hairs on their back of their neck do just fine.

5 Ways CMO’s Lose Credibility with the C-Suite

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This post was originally posted on July 8, 2011.  It also appeared on Forbes.com 

Here’s a hypothesis: Given the greater focus on ROI, marketing automation tools, and enhanced tracking of results, marketing is more of a science than ever. Therefore, marketers’ ability to defend and validate their value among peers should be easier than ever before.

So why does a recent study by Fournaise show that CMOs still lack credibility with CEOs?

The study points to several deficiencies with an emphasis on communication – are you sensing the irony?  Further, marketers tend to sabotage themselves in everyday interactions with the larger executive team, and in many cases, have no idea they are doing it.

Here are five common mistakes among marketers:

  1. Stumble explaining the value of marketing. Asked almost daily, and rarely answered properly. The key is to understand how the inquirer perceives the role of marketing. The question behind the question is “what is the value of marketing … to me?” According to the study, it most often relates to “revenue, sales, EBITA or even market valuation.”
  2. Limited product, service, and customer knowledge. Even the savviest marketer will arrive DOA in the credibility department if they fall short on this one.  And it is not about feature or functionality, but rather customer use and application that matter most and those factors vary by industry and size. Leave “speeds and feeds” to the product organization. Marketing’s job is to differentiate and develop compelling value propositions that sell. If products are built “inside-out,” then bring the “outside-in” perspective.
  3. Can’t Dance. Marketing comes with highly visible risk and things are going to go wrong. When they do, marketing needs to learn how to dance. Handling these situations will define how marketing is viewed. Keep best and worse case scenarios in mind when briefing the executive team. Truth is, if marketing isn’t making a few strategic and tactical mistakes, it’s not moving fast enough. As a former IBM client told me, “If you fail, and you will, fail fast.”
  4. Isolation. A favorite question from sales: What have you done for me lately? And the product team can be equally demanding. However, marketing has to build, nurture, and maintain strong relationships with these groups. For Sales, it is helpful to establish an integrated sales pipeline and hold weekly pipeline meetings; this will build rapport and create a common sense of purpose. It’s also an opportunity to put marketing metrics in a sales context. The key to a successful relationship with sales is about communication and performance. For the product group, marketing needs to clearly define points of integration for research, content, and value proposition development. The key to a successful relationship with the product team is about process and integration.
  5. Where to invest – or cut – an incremental dollar. This question is posed by the CFO at the end of the quarter when numbers are off, and by the CEO who wants to redirect budget.  It’s also used as a test. As a holder of discretionary dollars, marketing has to be prepared to answer “where” and “why” along with stating the business impact.  In talking about CMOs, 72% of CEOs say, “[marketers] are always asking for more money, but can rarely explain how much incremental business this money will generate.”

To call out the sense of irony, most of these issues are communication related. The same rigor brought to external communication needs to be applied internally:

  • Know the audience
  • Understand their needs
  • Communicate to them in their language.

While the Fournaise study states that executives think in terms of “revenue, sales, and EBITA,” most make judgments based on their emotions. Marketers are advised to use their creativity in delivering the message.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it: “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

How the 2012 Election is Driving Mobile Marketing Innovation

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The 2012 Presidential election will be the most expensive in history.  According to the New York Times the candidates will raise and spend over $1 billion dollars seeking office.  For marketers, this election will yield a windfall of new ideas.  Political campaigns are to marketing innovation what big defense budgets are to technology innovation.

2012 Campaign Spend

As the result of massive advertising budgets, high adoption rates of social media and penetration of smartphones, expect to see groundbreaking innovation in mobile advertising.

Areas to watch:

  • Hyper-local targeting – the Obama campaign team has developed an app that links a Google map to the neighborhood volunteers are working.  The map contains blue flags at homes to be knocked, including scripts for approaching individual voters.

  • Mobile geo targeting – during a concert in Grant Park in Chicago the Romney team placed display ads on smartphones of those concertgoers and others in the vicinity.  In TIME magazine recent The Wireless Edition, Patrick Ruffani, the Republican digital consultant said; “We weren’t paying for the entire city.”
  • Mobile payments – the Obama team developed a new program called “Quick Donate.”  Supporters can contribute repeat donations by sending the number of dollars they want to donate via a text message.
  • Social Sharing – Romney’s With Mitt app allows supports to choose from a number of “With Mitt” templates to upload a photo from their phones and quickly share it on Twitter or Facebook.
  • Real time data – both camps have apps to enable volunteers to report real time activities and interactions with voters.  Vote Builder, the democratic voter database, ensures that no two people are sent to the same address.  If a volunteer wants to canvass an area, they can click to download a list of households in their general radius.  Phones prompt volunteers to report back their results so that future campaign communications, like DM, can be targeted.
  • Engagement - Romney’s campaign team captured valuable information from supporters who downloaded the Mitt’s VP app.  The app promised to inform supporters “first” about the vice president pick.  Unfortunately, the news media beat them to it, but it will allow Romney’s team to push notifications throughout the campaign to supporter’s smartphones.

With less than 10 weeks remaining in a tightly contested election expect more innovations to come.  With over 160 million Americans on Facebook and 53% of mobile phone owners having smartphones today, mobile digital campaigning is changing the way political strategists are engaging audiences and investing advertising dollars.

For marketers, it’s mobile marketing R&D that we could never afford, and will bear fruit for new ideas and campaigns for years to come.  Regardless of who wins the election, the real winners from this year’s campaign will be the folks without the billion dollar-marketing budget.