Microsoft Kinects with Audience…Finally

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Original post date 11/29/11

With the Christmas shopping season fully upon us, Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing game device is expected to be at the top of the gift list for many consumers. Last year, Microsoft sold 1 million Kinect devices for its Xbox 360 in 10 days, and in a recent poll it was at the top of the wish list for children 13 and older. But what you might not expect is that some of those orders are going to be coming from businesses.

Early this month, Microsoft launched Kinect for Windows SDK with a brilliant, new ad called “Kinect Effect.

The Kinect Effect TV Ad

Microsoft is pushing Kinect hardware for Windows SDK for business applications.  As staff writer Jason Kennedy from PCWorld states: “SDK will make it possible for programmers and dreamers from the world over to tinker with the system and make it do things Microsoft hadn’t thought of, and push the development of NUI [natural user interfaces] to the next level.”

What is noteworthy about the Kinect Effect ad is what it took for Microsoft to make it. Six years ago, in an interview with CMO magazine, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer confessed to a problem long known by many consumers of Microsoft products:

During Microsoft’s climb to the top of the software industry, rapid-fire product cycles often happened without much front-end input from the folks in marketing. Engineers would develop new software, pack it with bells and whistles, decide on an acceptable number of bugs and toss it over to marketing for a press release and a launch event.”

At the time, Microsoft had set out to change that course through an expansive and expensive relationship marketing initiative. Internally, it aligned marketing with product groups, created a “mea culpa” marketing campaign to reach out to past customers, and targeted loyalists hoping to turn them into advocates.

But because of its past transgressions, and a perception that many of its products were “necessaries” with little to pique the desire of consumers, Microsoft struggled with finding an ignition point, or something to connect customers with the brand and ignite their passions.

Well, those days appear to be over. With the Kinect Effect, the tech titan proves that it can be relevant, even desirable, with a campaign that is expansive, inspiring and incredibly human. The campaign asks audiences to dream about how they might use Kinect by inspiring them with images of people playing air instruments, a doctor flipping through X-rays, and a student deconstructing DNA with only hand motions.

The expansiveness of the idea allows Microsoft to reach, and hopefully inspire, all three of its targeted audiences, including consumers/users, businesses and developers.  Any one group can have the dream, but all three are needed for it to become reality.

Perhaps the most significant point of the ad is that it’s proof that the relationship marketing effort was a success, Microsoft now understands the strategic importance of the “front end” as Ballmer calls it.  Five years ago the message of the commercial would of been about the “bells and whistles” of the Kinect device.  This ad is an elegant and visually stimulating vision of what Kinect can enable, the virtually unlimited imagination of dreamers.

If Microsoft can continue to build this connection with the customer while retail store openings roll-out into 2012, it could transition itself from the company that makes the “have to have” product to the company that is the “want to have” brand.

CIO’s Are More Than Just IT Buyers

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Original Post Date 9/22/11

Even if you believe in love at first sight, the likelihood of a marriage proposal on the first date is highly unlikely. Committing yourself to someone without getting to know him or her first is a ridiculous idea. Yet far too often companies are asking audiences to “commit” at the hint of an interaction despite knowing little about each other.

Why?

In the tech industry and according to author Tom Grant, Ph.D, companies desire early commitment, due to the industry’s “voracious appetite for leads.” As Grant explains in his report, Tech Marketers Pursue Antiquated Marketing Strategies, the “high-speed innovation” rate drives a hyperfocus on product marketing and lead generation compared to other industries.

In fact, only 22 percent of marketers in the technology industry said that customer relationship management was one of the two most important priorities. Contrast that with 52 percent of marketers in non-tech companies. The focus is obviously on producing a measurable outcome that drives the product P&L: leads.

Developing a relationship with an audience takes time and resources, and it can be perceived as a distraction to the task of finding “ready to marry” prospects. This inward-out view of marketing ignores audience needs and assumes that all audiences are the same, and that all searches must indicate intent.

However, the key to driving demand and lead generation in today’s economy is not being more aggressive and pushing harder, but rather, taking time to develop and nurture relationships. Audiences, like dates, can sense desperation.  Perhaps the way to go faster is to slow down and shift the focal point from the conversion to the conversation.

We have long known that relevancy drives conversion and that conversion drives revenue. Getting to relevancy requires us to engage with the audience to understand their unique needs and motivations. As a result, our role changes from dictating to facilitating and understanding that it’s now on the buyer’s time frame, not ours.

New technologies such as Bizo enable us to know who the audience is at the first interaction. We also know where they’ve been for 30 days (who they’ve been dating, so to speak) before the conversion point, via Google Analytics’ new Multichannel Funnels.

We can serve up custom content through retargeting based on audience profiles, adapt for whatever device they are using, and deepen engagement by providing specific product or brand messages that align with their journey.

95% of prospects on your website are not yet ready to talk with a sales rep.” Source: 2011 MECLABS research

We no longer have to interrupt a buyer’s journey to gauge the interest level.   We no longer have to call a prospect to qualify him or her.  When a company offers something of value (i.e., relevant and personal), buyers are more likely to share their interests, desires and needs, but only if we listen, nurture and respect the relationship. According to Forrester, this intimate information is critical to creating real opportunity (leads) for the sales force.

In the Technology Buyer Insight Study, Forrester found that although tech has done a good job of equipping its sales force to discuss company products, it had failed to provide reps with insight into the buyer’s roles and responsibilities. Only 29 percent of CIOs said that sales reps could “relate to their role”; less than a quarter (24 percent) of business leaders said that reps were “knowledgeable about their business.”

Still too touchy-feely for you? Consider Harte Hanks’ report, Mapping the Technology Buyer’s Journey, which states that the relationship with the vendor is still a top five consideration driver. The first and second most important drivers are what you’d expect: (1) Meets all needs and (2) cost.

Competitors can match your price, but they can’t necessarily match your understanding of the buyer’s need or the relationship developed through that journey.

Lessons from the World’s Most Famous Press Release

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Original post date July 2, 2011

It was written 235 years ago. Between 200-300 copies were printed for towns up and down the east coast, and a few made their way to Europe.

Contrary to popular belief, the original copy contained no signatures and what it promoted was completely unique, new and…flawed.

The Declaration of Independence may very well be the world’s most famous press release. That’s according the curator at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where it was written and approved in its final form (unsigned) on July 4th, 1776.

The signed copy we are familiar with was created later for ceremonial purposes.

I found it interesting to hear one of the world’s most famous and important documents being referred to as a press release during a class field trip with my son.  The curator used the analogy because he said that there is confusion regarding the purpose of the Declaration:

… the goal of the document was to only articulate “What” and “Why,” not “How … ”

This history lesson is an important best practice from the Founding Fathers.

Lesson: Focus on effectively communicating ONLY “what “and “why.”

How many times have you written and/or read a press release that tried to say too much, or that lacked clarity on its objective?

Another interesting point from our visit was the struggle to form a new federal government (the “How”). Under the Articles of Confederation, the new federal government had no revenue source (taxation), and no real authority over the states.  The states were sovereign, operating essentially as their own countries making decisions on their own currency, religion, and diplomacy with other countries.

Again the marketer in me saw the similarity to the power struggle between corporate marketing and other sales/marketing organizations (Product, Field, Region, etc.).  Would history provide another lesson for marketers?

Know Your Customer

Congress struggled with governing under the Articles.  Instead of revising the existing document, the Federal Convention decided to draft an entirely new frame of government. According to that curator, three key issues hung up the approval of the framework:

  • Religion
  • Slavery
  • The power of the federal government (which many saw coming at the expense of the states.)

Addressing the religious issue was easy; they left it out of the Constitution.  It was later covered under the Bill of Rights.  On slavery, they reached a compromise by outlawing slave trade in 1808, twenty years in the future.  But the single most important change was the shift from states to the individual in granting the federal government its power.

We the people of the United States … do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States.”

The federal government now answered to citizens, not the states.  State representatives and congressmen now represented the views and best interests of the people within their districts.  By putting citizens first, the founding fathers established a focal point that transcended state interests.

Lesson: With the rise in social media adoption, marketers now can better gauge the direct needs and desires of their customers.  Customers for their part are showing a willingness to engage like never before.  Marketers are presented with an opportunity to shift focus from solely addressing and satisfying internal “state” needs to anticipating, engaging, and serving the needs of “citizens” … customers.

Is it time for a marketing revolution?

Although I’m a proud Virginian, I’m no Patrick Henry but I say marketers, it’s time for our own declaration … marketing by the people, for the people!

Happy Birthday America.

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.”

The Missing Social Platform

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Original post date February 17, 2011

On the flight to LA the other day I read an article about Evan Williams, founder of Twitter and Blogger.com.  In the article, Williams was asked what the difference was between Twitter and Facebook.  He said, “Twitter has information about what’s going on in the world that you care about and that’s different from Facebook’s value proposition, which is a way to stay in touch with people you know.”  Coincidently, The Social Network was the in-flight movie.

As I thought about those comments, and the movie, it exposed an area of our lives that seems to be missing from social platforms. If Facebook connects us with our friends and family, and Twitter to “the world we care about,” what connects us in our daily lives?  I’m talking about our local area, city and neighborhood, our offline community, the world in which we live everyday.

The more I thought about the need the more it seems like it’s not as much a social platform as it is a functional tool or in other words, an enabler; how can a platform make our lives easier by linking our social network with practical and time saving tools.

For example, my wife is a “room mother” at one of our child’s schools.  Her role is to plan, organization and host class events…and chase other parents to contribute time, money, food or all of the above.  She uses old Web 1.0 tools like email, a group mailing list, and the phone to accomplish her tasks.

In addition, our kids are active in sports, which requires carpooling, registrations, getting directions to games, status updates on field conditions all done via separate web sites or portals.  On top of that our lives – thanks to mobile devices – now mix personal and business hours all throughout the day, and they often collide.

My hope for Web 3.0 is that it will evolve as specific applications of Web 2.0 tools that provide efficiency.  These applications will be developed through the greater understanding of how we live our daily lives.  The paradigm shift is moving from investing time online to maintain our presence (through FB, etc.) to having online tools that enable us to be more present in our offline world.

What might that platform look like?  It’s mobile, and it could include any or all of the following:

  • Reviews become Recommendations – components of Yelp, Tripadvisors, etc. for local restaurants and merchant, but also, reviews, recommendations and contact information for teachers, coaches, babysitters, etc.
  • Groups become Communities – like a Linkedin or Facebook group organized around local groups/clubs you participate in, including church, school, athletic teams, etc.  Communities are built automatically when you register to join.
  • Discounts & Loyalty Programs become Active– a Groupon.com like application for local merchants, GPS and mobile enabled to pop offers in the store and automatically tracks your spend.   Additionally it would allow us to pool and direct our points to local groups (see above).
  • GPS locator becomes an Status Alert  – a mash up of GPS and Foursquare, alerting us to movement and activity of family members (especially teenagers) at any moment.
  • Lists with Automated Fulfillment – this is a big one, a digital list builder that sync’s with Peapod (or other Grocery Store home delivery service), with a shopping cart threshold that will automate trip deliveries and credit coupons.
  • Reminders become Personal Assistants – voice activated and controlled, adds and reads calendars.  Helping us remember school plays, play dates, birthdays and especially anniversaries.

In the movie, Zuckerburg asked Sean Parker (co-founder of Napster) his advice about monetizing the site by selling advertising.   Sean tells him not to because FB has a coolness factor about it and advertising would kill; “like going to a really great party and telling everyone it ends at 11 pm.”

I’m sure that if I spent enough time on Ioogle or looking in various Apps stores, I could configure solution for my need, but that would take time, rather than give it.  What we “35-50 years olds” want is a time machine.   Hell, it could include advertising and it would still be cool.   Now that’s a great party…and we might even have the time now to attend.

Customer Engagement and the MINI-Cooper

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Original post date January 27, 2011

Owners of the MINI-Cooper have long been known to be one of the most fanatical and loyal of all call owners.  They are likely to custom design their cars online, actively participate in local motoring clubs, and are in general, a passionate and faithful community.

A new project took me to the mid-west and I finally got a taste of the MINI-Cooper, courtesy of Budget rental cars.   Initially, I was excited by the opportunity to find out what the buzz was about, but after getting in the little red car with white racing stripes, I quickly found myself totally discombobulated.  It was like the car was designed by aliens, nothing was where it is should of been, and the layout, among other things still remain a mystery to me.

I couldn’t operate the windows the first half of the day, drove around with my blinker on for the other half.  The radio settings were in the speedometer, and the tachometer was where the speedometer should have been.  Even the gas gauge wasn’t a gauge at all, but rather a circle of lights.
The “Coop” had all the same instruments any other car has, but they were in different locations and/or in different forms.  I’m still not convinced if the lay out of the dashboard is better, but one thing is true — I was fully engaged, I had to be.  Even though I’ve been driving for almost 30 years I was a stranger in a strange land.  Suddenly, driving was fun again.
It got me thinking about how we engage customers.  There is a bunch of noise being made about customer engagement; the question for most of us is how to make it happen.  Intuitively it makes sense, but from an execution standpoint, it’s still a bit of a mystery.
We have seen traditional response rates drop, and have begun experimenting with Social Media with little, to no, payoff.  Although the true upside of customer engagement may still yet to be defined, a Gallup research report points to it as a leading indicator for customer attrition.  In some ways we’re searching for the Holy Grail, but maybe new isn’t the answer, maybe we have what we need.
As I sat at a stoplight and stared at the dashboard trying to make sense out of it, it hit me: It was if the MINI engineers intentional redesigned and/or rethought everything, most likely with the intent of keeping the Coop customer base happy and engaged with it’s quirkiness.
It showed me that you could create an engaging experience by leveraging what you already have.  Granted, had I been on a tight schedule, I may not of enjoyed having to “get up to speed.”  I was in a city that I had never visited and driving to see a client I’ve never met.  I had my hands full directing the GPS, a stick shift, and a conference call.
I am not suggesting rearranging mission critical assets for key customers but what I am offering is this…maybe we need to rethink how customers engage and interact with our sales people, customer service reps, and the web.  Like the engineers at MINI, we need apply our creative thinking skills to reordering our assets to provide customers with what they want, but delivered in new and intriguing ways.
At the end of the day the MINI still provides basic transportation – I got from point A to point B, but getting there was uncomfortable, scary, exciting and fun.   Much of what we provide customers is basic “transportation,” and “mixing it up” can be scary, but it also may be the key to getting customers’ attention again.