Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Context Rules Marketing, Too

Direct marketing is a three-legged stool: Audience, Offer, and Content. But context still matters, maybe more than any of the other three.

In a previous post, I mentioned an old gig I had at Cornerstone Brands, a direct marketing company/retailer. Their flagship brand is Frontgate, which offers high-quality functional items for affluent homeowners. The tagline for Frontgate is Outfitting America’s Finest Homes.

During my six-year tenure there, we used several tactics for customer acquisition outside of the bread-and-butter list exchanges. One example provides an illustration of the power of context over content.

Occasionally we would find a remnant advertising opportunity. Remnant advertising essentially means that somebody had backed out of a contract or a publication had more editorial for a specific edition than they had sold ad space to support. You could buy this space at extreme discounts if you were able to provide art (and a check) on short notice.

We used this tactic off and on throughout my tour of duty there and one rule was never broken: PR outperformed advertising on an ROI basis every single time.


Public Relations professionals might say that the third-party credibility of an editorial mention always out performs an ad. That’s valid, but we’re not talking multipliers, here. I’m talking orders of magnitude.

We’d run an ad for, say … a pool float. We’d get a sweet, sweet deal on some remnant space in, for example, the A section of the Wall Street Journal. We’re on a high-traffic, right-hand-read spread.


Meanwhile, on the same day we get a mediocre review of the same product in the D section: WSJ Weekend. Suddenly, inventory planners hated me because we couldn’t keep pool floats in stock.



Same audience. Same offer. Less compelling and even slightly negative content.

More sales.

Sure, good ol’ third-party cred plays a role. But the bigger factor is context.

1. No matter how qualified somebody is as a consumer, when they’re reading the A section of the Wall Street Journal, they’re thinking about their money.

2. No matter what kind of a week they’ve had in the market, when they’re reading the Weekend section of the Wall Street Journal, they’re thinking about their home. Or their second home. Or their third home.

They’re In Context.

Image Cred

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Tyson Foods Proves Value of Focus in Cause Branding

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don't mean shit.
Mitch: But, what is the "one thing?"
Curly: [smiles] That's what *you* have to find out.

-- Source


Ed Nicholson draws a bright line between cause marketing and what he calls cause branding. As director of community and public relations at Tyson Foods, responsibility for the company’s social media efforts fell to Nicholson. His presentation at lasts week’s #BlogWell Cincinnati was a case study in the evolution of a brand, a company and of a public relations career.

Two Big Lessons:

1. Brands that focus – not only in the creative brief but in their community involvement – define themselves more clearly and make it easier for their audiences to understand and relate to essential brand traits.

His formal presentation detailed how Tyson uses its social media presence – on both public and proprietary platforms – to build a community around the issue of hunger. This focus not only mobilizes the energy and action of customers, partners and 107,000 US employees, it creates a unified identity for the Tyson brand. By focusing on a single issue, he and his team are able to set the context – establish the Dominant Narrative – for Tyson in way that is both true and beneficial to company goals.

This is, of course, easier said than done. Marketers at organizations large and small wrestle with narrowing the playing field as they’re trained to look for opportunities everywhere. I asked Ed if he got any resistance from general management to sticking so closely to a single issue. Surprisingly, he reports very little push-back, perhaps in part due to the results of his efforts. He even credits the ambient awareness cooked up by Tyson’s SocMed engagement to increases in traditional media coverage of the brand and of its philanthropic efforts.

An early mentor of mine explained the importance of focus using a fairly morbid analogy I have since updated periodically:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 440,000 deaths in the United States each year related to smoking. And yet, there is a surprisingly small organized movement to outlaw smoking except as it impacts the health and comfort of non-smokers. Because these deaths are dispersed and happen gradually, they register in the public consciousness as, well, a shame … but not a call to arms.

If, on the other hand, you picked up your morning newspaper (remember those?) to learn that overnight the use of tobacco products had claimed the lives of every man, woman and child in Omaha, Neb. Things might play out differently.

Focus, likewise, is a key to branding. Read the creative brief. What does your brand stand for? All the follows or friends in the world don’t advance the cause if your efforts aren’t consistent with the strategy.

That’s why some big companies become houses of brands instead of branded houses. We all know (at least in this business) that General Mills makes Go Lean. We also know they make Trix. But our relationship is not with General Mills, it’s with the individual brands.

Of course there are exceptions to the whole focus thing. It a rule, not a law n’ stuff. Jeez.

But if your strategy is to take credit for doing some good in the world … focus. Do you think you’d get more attention for sending one kid in each state to college or for sending the entire graduating class of Millard Fillmore High in Maysville?

2. Stay on Message

On the surface, hunger sounds like a pretty non-controversial issue. But Tyson’s mileage has at times varied. Nicholson’s advice: Don’t engage the haters. You waste your time and resources debating people who aren’t interested in having a relationship. You also just rile them and attract more to their cause. Face it: some people just will not be persuaded.

Tyson has some natural allies and some natural opponents. By engaging both, Ed manages to keep the conversation lively without getting into flame wars. Meanwhile, Nicholson reports some wins in this area such as Tweets from former opponents saying things like [paraphrasing]: “I’m a vegan and I don’t use your product but I appreciate what you’re doing.”

That’s full of win.

More here and here

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Content May Be King but Context Rules

Easter is the highest of holy days in Christendom. Nobody does Easter like the Catholics (we Catholics actually, in the interest of disclosure). Easter is so important that the Feast itself actually lasts eight days and the season 50 days. And no Mass is more important than the Easter Vigil, which happens between darkness and sunrise on Holy Saturday. It’s the full-on bells-and-smells, bonfires and candles, baptism of converts, two- to three-hour infomercial with testimonials for the Lord.

It’s a ritual beautiful beyond description and an exhausting experience.

But it’s also the Church’s greatest annual opportunity to demonstrate what the whole Catholic and (in Canon) Christian brand is about.

So imagine you’re the brand manager for the Roman Catholic Church and you see this headline:

This humble off-ramp on the Information Superhighway got its name from an example I used in a lunchroom conversation in 2002. My companion that day, a fellow marketer from another company, seemed to like it so I put it into the repertoire. Later, when I heard it from another colleague who thought her source had invented it, I decided to claim at least some credit in the form of a free URL.


My point even going back to that (exquisite in those days, if you must know) lunch at Cornerstone Brands, was that what your audience believes they know about your brand or your client shapes their perception of every single piece of new information. You can try all your life to tell them what they think – what they know – isn’t true, but unless and until you replace that Dominant Narrative with a new truth, you’re screwed.

And right now, if B16 – an 82 year-old man, btw – saved a baby from a burning bus, the headline in the mainstream press likely would be Holy Father Saves Baby Amid Lingering Abuse Questions.

Live with it.