Category: Experience

19
Sep

Are You Using an A.C.E. Moderator?

Over the course of my 20+ year marketing career, first as a client, then as an agency planner, I have participated in hundreds of focus groups, brainstorms and interviews from both sides of the glass. Throughout these years, I have learned that you can train someone to be a good moderator, but that the skills required to become an A.C.E. moderator are innate … they are hard-wired into who the person is at their very core.

ace

Selecting the right moderator is the first, and most important, step in truly understanding what customers think and feel. A great moderator is the foundation of a great strategy.

—————————————————————————————–

Authentic. Curious. Empathetic.
Three words used to describe Sue Northey’s moderating style.

sue_northey-sepia

Sue has spent over 20 years uncovering unexpected insights which inspire communications and build brand affinity. She is a skilled communicator, having moderated over 750 interviews, focus groups and workshops in order to brainstorm new ideas, understand consumer motivations, evaluate new products, assess brand equity and evaluate communications. One of Sue’s specialties is leading branding workshops with multidisciplinary teams, working collaboratively to understand and reposition brands.

Sue has spearheaded efforts for well over 100 consumer, business-to-business and nonprofit brands. Her work experience encompasses the client, agency, academic and entrepreneurial sides of business. Her previous leadership roles at a major CPG company, a notable advertising agency and a D1 university all prepared her to launch her own consulting firm, Branding Breakthroughs, in 2015.

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19
Aug

7 Life Lessons Learned While Fishing in Alaska

A great deal of research has been conducted in the past few decades on the restorative powers of nature. It has been demonstrated that nature can make us more productive, help us focus, prevent depression and reduce stress.  So, I shouldn’t be terribly surprised that my 10-day fishing trip in the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska resulted in such an epiphany of sorts. Not only did I have the adventure of my life, but I achieved mental clarity on so many things that had been on my mind. Perhaps you can take this trip with me vicariously and benefit from some of the powerful lessons I learned.

1. Embrace Risk

Seaplane Condensed

Of the four of us who traveled to Alaska, I was the most inexperienced fisherman … by far. Well, let’s be honest, I had only fished once in my life and that was 30 years ago. I’m not going to lie – I was a bit nervous. Could I fish side-by-side with these more experienced individuals without making a fool of myself? Would I get seasick as we darted along the ocean waves? Would the seaplane be safe? Would I have the wherewithal to pop out of bed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our 3am wake-up calls? While those questions may have made me a bit hesitant, they certainly didn’t stop me from going on this adventure. Truthfully, the inherent risk was a little bit intoxicating. So, I found myself tugging on chest high waders, climbing on sea planes, wading into rivers and sailing over the choppy Pacific waters with a sense of gusto. Everything I was experiencing was so raw and new. The air felt crisper. Nature was more vibrant. People were more interesting. I saw colorful jelly fish floating in the ocean, a bear sticking its paw in the river, salmon swimming against the strong current, glaciers lining the landscape as far as the eye could see and so much spectacular beauty that I felt small in comparison. As the above articles so eloquently illustrated, my mind was refreshed and energized … and so was my spirit.

2. Trust Your Guides

Dick - condense

I had the fortune of traveling with some very knowledgeable and patient guides. They knew where to go to find the fish and where to avoid stumbling on less-than-friendly grizzlies. They knew when to move up our fly-out time to capitalize on the fish population and when to cut the trip short because we were just wasting our time. They knew how to encourage, instruct, demonstrate and cajole. They taught me how to cast, set the hook and let the salmon think they were winning the battle. I learned to listen and trust the lessons they imparted.

3. Collect Experiences, Not Possessions

Ocean condensed

In preparation for this adventure, I found myself in the business of buying lots of things. Clothing: a wind-resistant jacket, a rain suit and breathable shirts. Fishing: chest high waders, wool socks and an Alaskan fishing license. Travel: hotel, fishing lodge, flight, car and excursions. Accessories: a water bottle that wouldn’t leak and a waterproof camera case. Collecting things for the trip was an adventure unto itself. It involved two trips to Cabela’s, a trip to Gander Mountain and numerous dinners and nights out with our best friends to plan the details of the trip. It was part of the overall experience and it was fun, helping to build our anticipation for the trip that lie ahead. But all that paled in comparison to the experiences we collected in Alaska. Adventures like this fuel stories for years to come. Honestly, the stories had begun before the first day was complete. We talked among ourselves, shared fish stories with others at the lodge, posted on social media and sent texts to our families. The storytelling had begun.

4. Be Prepared to Fall

Bird condensed

While I generally understood the mechanics of casting, my casts were falling short. Short enough that I wasn’t going to catch any fish unless I figured out how to improve my technique. One of our guides told me to ‘put a little more oomph’ into my casts. So, I decided to take a giant step off the sandbar into the water so I could put my whole body into it. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, my left foot found the one and only drop-off so close to shore. Within a matter of a few short seconds, I went from casting to swimming. Once I realized I wasn’t in danger, I have to admit I felt a bit like Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality after falling in the Miss United States pageant.

“I mean, I know we all secretly hope the other one will trip and fall on her face, and – wait a minute, I’ve already done that!”

A little known fact about me is that I am not the most graceful creature on the planet. I have had a few face plants in my day. So, truth be known, I had a sneaking suspicion that I would be taking a swim at some point during our 10 days exploring the Last Frontier. So, in a way, getting it over with was a bit of a relief. Sometimes planning for the inevitable – or the not-so-inevitable – takes the pressure off and makes a tough thing not so tough.

5. Believe in Yourself

Sue condensed

You already know I’m a novice, so perhaps you won’t be surprised that I had two unsuccessful days on the river. When I say unsuccessful, I mean wildly unsuccessful … not one single fish caught. I had an internal battle with myself on the second day that went something like this:

It’s okay. Really. Look at how beautiful this place is. Soak it all in. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t catching any fish. Just keep practicing. It will pay off eventually; if not today, tomorrow.

This mostly worked, although I had an emotional dip for a few hours. But, then I realized, I am in Alaska and not on some comfy cruise boat, but I’m actually in the wilds of Alaska! How many people have the courage or the resources to make something like this a reality? So, I turned my attention to the ripples in the water, the way the sun reflected through the trees, the snow-topped glaciers in all their splendor and – yes – to the salmon my husband and friends were pulling in. I savored every last minute on the river and figured the next day would be a fresh start. And I was right. As time went on, I figured out how to cast and set the hook without overthinking it. The next time we traveled to the Kenai River, I caught the largest silver salmon on our boat and actually had to throw fish back so I wouldn’t go over my daily limit. Keeping a positive attitude and not giving up paid off.

6. A Kind Word Goes A Long Way

Sunlight condensed

We spent a week at the Gone Fishin Lodge filled to capacity with die-hard fishermen. Now, one might think that these river-hardened gentlemen might be uncomfortable around the likes of inexperienced women attempting to fish the wilds of Alaska, but it is amazing what a smile and a kind word can do … even at 3:30 in the morning. A bright, ‘Good Morning!’ followed by, ‘How was your fishing yesterday?’ brought smiles to everyone’s faces. While we came from all over the United States, we quickly formed a bond. We shared stories (it turned out I wasn’t the only one that went swimming!), talked about our families back home and discussed tasty ways to prepare salmon and halibut. We went on daily adventures with some of our new friends, crossed paths at local restaurants and sat on the deck in the evenings sharing a few drinks after a long day of successful fishing. We truly enjoyed each others company.

7. Respect Nature

Bear Condensed (2)

I had an overwhelming desire to see a bear while in the Alaskan wilds. I saw them as the cute, cuddly, sweet-faced bears I gazed upon at my local zoo. The guides had warned us that we were in bear territory and that we were guests in their land. We needed to respect them and their sense of territoriality. While I took heed, I still wanted to see a bear. And then it happened. We were fishing from a sandbar when he appeared across the river. … just a little more distance than a cast away. He paced back and forth, obviously hungry and on the lookout for dinner. He must have liked what he saw in the river because he toyed with the idea of fishing. As he took a few tentative steps into the river, our guide hurriedly put all the salmon we had caught into an air-tight container, while coaching us to get ready to jump into the boat for a quick getaway. That was when the adorable grizzly turned into a menacing predator. Lucky for us, he stayed on the other side of the river, but it taught me a valuable lesson.


Mountains Trees Condensed

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05
Jun

Are You A Drive-By Social Media Marketer?

According to Pew Research Center, 74% of internet users are on social networking sites. With numbers that high, it’s not surprising that 80% of Fortune 500 companies have a presence on social media (Source: Simply Measured).

74

But, just because companies and individuals have a Facebook or Twitter account doesn’t necessarily mean they are actively engaged. In fact, most social media marketers would likely agree that there is a whole lot of one-way communication going on in the social sphere.

  • You see a great article, you post it.
  • You hear some breaking news, you share it.
  • You see a great recipe, you pin it.

But, how often do you actually carry on a conversation with someone on social media? (Other than on your personal Facebook account, of course.)

Chances are … not very often.

So, why do 74% of internet users the world over even bother? Perhaps, for many, the answer is because ‘everyone’s doing it.’

This reminds me of a question my mom used to ask me when I was a kid. I would insist I needed a certain brand of jeans or specific style of shoes because – everyone sing along – “Everyone has them, Mom” to which she would promptly ask,

“If everyone else walked off a cliff, would you follow them?”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am a huge proponent of social media. I believe it is a great channel to learn about new developments, to share your expertise with others and to nurture relationships with your customers.

But, here’s the rub.

Too many companies are on social media because ‘everyone’s doing it’ rather than because they have made a premeditated decision to meet their target in that space and to engage with them.

A study conducted by Convince & Convert revealed that 70% of consumer complaints on Twitter are actually ignored.

70%

I don’t know about you, but I find that statistic alarming.

In their article, “The Value of Complaints,” the author shares,

“96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back.”

When you think about the ease of tweeting at a brand or the ability to easily vent frustrations on Facebook, social media instantly becomes an extremely important customer service channel. Perhaps, that 96% of non-complainers will begin to shrink as people turn to social media for quick solutions to their brand problems. To then be ignored, well, I think you know the ending to that story.

What is the moral to this story?

“If you are a drive-by social media marketer, you could be doing a greater disservice to your brand than if you were not on social media at all.”

Your mere presence on a site indicates a willingness to engage with customers. If you ignore their comments, you are not only missing a golden opportunity to connect with them, but also fueling a potentially volatile situation.

So, let me ask you … are you willing to walk off a cliff just because everyone is doing it?

If your answer is yes, perhaps you need to rethink your strategy.

 

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22
May

Is The ‘Tupperware’ Home Party Business Model Dead?

Lia Sophia Announces Plans To Close

On Thursday, I received a letter from Lia Sophia (direct sellers of women’s quality costume jewelry), informing me that:

“Due to the challenges of our business model, we sadly and reluctantly decided to cease operations…”

At first, their declaration to close shop gave me pause; after all, they have been in business for over 40 years and thousands of women across the country proudly wear Lia Sophia necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings.

But, after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized their decision really didn’t surprise me at all.

Tupperware Pioneers Direct Selling

Back in 1946, when Tupperware first pioneered direct selling, it was heralded as a novel way to reach women with a personalized brand message. An independent sales rep asked interested women to invite family, friends and neighbors to their homes. Amidst a backdrop of food, wine and conversation, the rep passionately connected with the women, telling them stories about her products, sharing tips among friends and answering their questions one-on-one. The women loved hearing the stories behind the products and enjoyed seeing which products their friends chose to buy.

It was a three-way deal that benefited all.

  1. The sales rep earned commission on the products sold.
  2. The hostess earned free products based on the total dollar sales of her party and the number of parties her friends booked.
  3. Her friends had a valid excuse to get together for an evening of fun, food and wine, plus they could buy new products, play games, win prices and take advantage of special deals.

This was word-of-mouth marketing at its best.

Direct Selling Explodes

As women warmed to the idea of buying products in the comfort of a home setting, the business model exploded. Joining Tupperware were a multitude of new products, ranging from makeup (Avon and Mary Kay) to food (Herbalife) to cookware (The Pampered Chef) to fragrances (Scentsy) to baskets (Longaberger) and everything in between. Invites to home parties doubled, tripled, quadrupled … especially if you were popular in your social circles.

Women Look For A Plausible Out

With the rapid influx of party invites showing up in their mailboxes, women increasingly began to think of home parties as annoying. Websites and blog posts exploded with advice on how to sidestep these parties, with titles like, How to say no to a home party held by friends selling stuff and Best way to decline ANOTHER party???? Women started inventing really creative excuses for why they were unavailable the night of the party, just so she wouldn’t hurt her friend’s feelings.

The tide had turned.

Life Is Just Too Busy

Added to the increased home party competition, life had just become exceedingly busier.

  • There were kids to taxi from basketball to school plays to Boy Scouts.
  • There was dinner to quickly put together between activities.
  • There was homework to help with, sometimes late in the evening.
  • There was the stress associated with balancing a family and a job.

Net net, there weren’t many minutes left to get together with the girls … and when those precious times did come around, the last thing anyone wanted to do was look at plastic bowls or yet another scented candle.

Amidst all this chaos, women found the best way to avoid buying products she didn’t need or want was to stay home.

Smartphones Grab Our Attention

Then, technology came knocking.

Women became obsessed with connecting with their friends through electronic means, rather than in person. When they did connect face-to-face, they were so busy snapping selfies and answering messages that their time together just wasn’t the same.

Multitasking had become the new reality.

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article a few years back titled, Just look me in the eye, already, in which the writer laments the loss of eye contact within our society. Today, everyone has their faces buried in their smartphones. Many have lost the fine art of actually connecting with each other.

Just imagine a 1980’s Lia Sophia or Tupperware party in today’s world. Do you think it’s possible that a roomful of women would actually talk to and engage with each other for the duration of a two-hour party rather than <GASP!> reading their Facebook messages and texting their friends?

Not likely.

The Face of Retail Changes

But, people are still buying products and services. So, how are they buying and what do they view as engaging?

Today’s shopping is different in so many ways.

  • Items can be easily purchased through one click on Amazon.
  • Etsy customizes products to match a person’s home or personality.
  • Brands are inviting consumer participation.
  • Consumers are using social media to compliment and criticize.

Today’s Millennials – those born between 1980 and 1999 – are seeking a totally different shopping experience, largely driven by technology and their ability to get anything they want without stepping foot outside their homes. They embrace novelty, self-expression and personalized experiences that invite them to participate in the brand and then provide the means to share their experiences with their friends via Instagram or Snapchat.

Here are a few examples of how shopping has evolved.

Adore Me takes lingerie shopping to a new level. By joining their monthly club, women of all shapes and sizes have access to over 500 styles of lingerie and swimwear delivered right to their doors. A quiz at the beginning of the relationship helps the company determine the types of lingerie a buyer will feel most comfortable in. Members are rewarded with free lingerie after their sixth purchase and never pay shipping fees.

Monthly subscriptions can also be secured with sampling companies like Ipsy who arrange partnerships with beauty companies like Smashbox, Urban Decay and Nicole by OPI. Stylists at Ipsy hand select exciting new products for its members to try each month. The products are sent to members in a collectible bag, at savings up to 70% off retail. Members can also watch tutorials on new products and win free items.

Pushing the experiential limits of body care products is Frank,  a coffee-based body scrub that targets skin conditions. Language used throughout the website is deliberately edgy – “get naked. get dirty. get rough. get clean.” Their blog shares ‘dirty talk’ with its readers, offering suggestions on how to use their products.

Capitalizing on the fresh and local trend are companies like Door To Door Organics which deliver seasonal food from local farmers right to your doorstep. Not going to be at home? No problem. Just leave a cooler. Fresh. Healthy. Local.

The Growler Station takes the authenticity of the beer you drink to a whole new level. Back in the late 1800s, men carried fresh beer from the local pub back to their homes in a small, galvanized pail. Today, patrons fill half-gallon glass bottles with freshly brewed craft beer themselves and take it home, effectively extending the pub experience to the sanctity of their own homes.

Are Any Home Parties Doing Well?

When it comes to home parties, one direct seller seems to be riding out the storm – sex toy parties. Although the concept has been around since the 1970s, its popularity didn’t really take off until a few decades later.

Direct sellers, like Pure Romance, take a previously frowned upon topic and encourage women to get comfortable with their sexuality.  Purely based on having fun, over the top and just a little bit naughty, these parties take talk of sex to an experiential level. It’s a modern day slumber party where girls can uninhibitedly talk about their needs in the bedroom without blushing or feeling shy.

These slumber parties may not be anything like those we saw back in 1978 on the movie, Grease, but perhaps that’s what makes them so special.

The Death of Direct Selling

Lia Sophia’s decision to close up shop may be a sign of things to come.

Or perhaps the in-home party just needs to be livened up a bit, similar to what companies like Pure Romance, Passion Parties and Intimate Expressions have created … an experiential event that invites social media chatter.

Only time will tell.

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07
Apr

The Passion Play: What Is Your Brand’s Kryptonite?

Do you have any passion brands in your life?

By passion brands, I mean those brands you cannot imagine living without. Brands that would leave you brokenhearted if they were to disappear tomorrow.

As I think of this question in my own life, I can only think of three: 1) Excedrin Migraine (absolutely nothing works as well on a killer headache); 2) iPhone (my life is tethered to so many apps that I would have a hard time functioning without it); 3) Long Tall Sally (they offer fashionable clothing that actually fits my long limbs). When you think of the hundreds of brands I interface with every week, it’s hard to believe that only three have achieved this status in my life. But, I bet you don’t have a whole lot more in your quiver either.

Why is that?

As a marketer, your driving goal should be to catapult your brand to passion status for as many of the individuals in your target market as humanly possible. An irreplaceable brand creates a shortcut to consumer decision-making. This is a real advantage to time-starved consumers. It also means there is no wiggle room for another brand to sneak into your target’s hearts and minds. That’s an advantage to your bottom line.

But, while becoming a passion brand is an aspirational goal for all marketers, it is far easier to wax poetic about its benefits than it is to accomplish. So, just how do you go about making your brand a passion brand?

I am sorry to burst your bubble. There is no secret black box or magical crystal ball that can circumvent knowledge, investment and hard work. Your brand must intercept the target at numerous points along the decision process, earning their attention, teaching them what makes you special, encouraging them to consider you and ultimately buy you and then creating such an incredible brand experience that they must tell others about you. That is the magic behind The Passion Play.

The_Passion_Play

First, of course, is to get people to notice you … to become aware you even exist. As you well know, the old adage of “if you build it, they will come” never really works nor does tweeting a few posts or announcing a new product on your website. The most important way to get noticed is to figure out who your bull’s eye target is, where they live, work and play, what matters to them most and what emotional benefits they are seeking from your brand. Only then, can you connect with them in a meaningful way.

Once you are noticed, you have to help your target grasp who you are at your very core. They need to develop a crystal clear appreciation for your point of differentiation versus your competitors. This phase answers the question: What is my kryptonite … my secret substance that no one else has? Despite some not-so-complimentary opinion pieces on how flawed qualitative and quantitative research is, designed properly there is no substitute for getting close to your target and understanding what makes them tick.

Once you have earned your target’s attention and demonstrated your value as a brand, the end-game is to entice them to consider purchasing you. Consideration is a precursor to trial. Now, you may think coupons are the answer because you consistently hear women in focus groups say, “If you give me a coupon, I’ll try it.” But recent research shows that coupons generally reward current users of your brand. According to Hub Magazine, “Traditional promotions work well to reward current users for their loyalty, rather than to drive consideration or trial.” So, what about sampling? Well, sampling is great if you have a demonstrably superior product and a fat marketing budget, but for many brands, sampling is just not feasible. Viral marketing? Despite what many marketing companies may promise, there are no guarantees that a cool new product or a catchy little video will go viral or that Public Relations will place that awesome story on the cover of Fortune magazine. So, here is the cold, hard truth:

“You must know who you are,

what differentiates you from competitors

and who you are targeting

in order to develop a simple, powerful message

that inspires your target to take action.”

If you are available where your target usually shops and you are offered at a price they consider a good value, they will finally commit to trying you. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. This is where the value proposition needs to deliver against customer expectations. If the product underdelivers, you will not earn the privilege of repeat purchases. If the product overdelivers, it is not achieving its full market potential. The optimal scenario is to perfectly match the performance of the product with your target’s expectations. Only then, will you achieve maximum trial and repeat.

In decades gone by, a marketer’s panacea was to achieve brand loyalty, but today the goal is to inspire your target to become a champion for your brand. To create a customer that is so passionate about your brand they must share their brand experience with others. They may do this more publicly, through Twitter, Facebook or their blog, or in the shadows where interactions are not as easily tracked, in face-to-face conversations, texts or emails. These are the most passionate of the passionate, the individuals you can invite to participate in your brand.

Making the progression from awareness to brand champion can be a lengthy and expensive process, made only more arduous if you do not have a sense of the essence of your brand and a clearly defined profile of your bull’s eye target. So, start this journey by doing your homework. Just like in the classroom, if you don’t do the work, your chances of making the grade are slim.

 

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23
Mar

Why Spray-and-Pray Isn’t The Best Messaging Approach

We have all seen it … the brand that is all over the map when it comes to their communications messaging. They rationalize that everything they are saying is true, so why not say it? Aren’t they selling their product short if they don’t communicate all the reasons why their product is the best?

At first blush, it makes sense. Why dilute your message and run the risk of losing prospective clients that might buy because of one of the many things you tell them?

In truth, reality suggests the exact opposite.

Too many messages can and will dilute the equity of your brand. It leaves consumers adrift, wondering who you really are and what you have to offer. In a simple word, it confuses them. When a consumer understands who you are, they understand what they can expect from you … every single time they interact with your brand. In the absence of consistent brand messaging, they don’t know what to expect and, thus, are often disappointed with the brand experience. With no brand consistency, it is far too easy to turn to a brand that offers a clear brand promise.

Let’s look at Jimmy John’s to understand this concept a bit better. I am sure that most of you will agree that one thing the U.S. didn’t need was another sandwich shop back in 1983 when they opened their first restaurant. After all, the local Subway, Cousins or Suburpia was satisfying the hunger pains of residents just fine. So, just how did Jimmy John’s progress from a seemingly unknown to one of the biggest providers of sandwiches in the country?

Let’s think about the Jimmy John’s tagline for a moment.

Freaky fast.

This tagline is brilliant in its simplicity. It clearly and succinctly describes Jimmy John’s point-of-differentiation relative to every other sub shop in town. The word freaky exemplifies its brand personality, while simultaneously describing just how fast they are. Anyone that has listened to a Jimmy John’s commercial, walked into a store or ordered a sub on the phone can tell you there is something about them that is just a bit off center. Rapid-fire speech. Offbeat personalities. Comedic exaggerations. Couple this with their willingness to deliver one lonely sub to your home or office in record-breaking time and the simplistic beauty of the Freaky Fast tagline and positioning takes on a whole new meaning. As a consumer, it’s an understandable and memorable brand promise. Every time you order a Jimmy John’s sub, it will be delivered in record-breaking time, with a healthy dose of brand spunkiness along the way.

Another terrific example is General Electric, who is arguably one of the world’s largest and most diverse conglomerates. The task of creating a single-minded brand positioning for a behemoth company that offers a dizzying array of products and services appears to be an insurmountable task; yet, create a single-minded message they did.

Imagination at work.

Whether selling multimillion dollar MRI machines to hospital administrators, slick stainless steel refrigerators to consumers or energy consulting services to businesses, GE issues a rally cry to its employees the globe over – we will only market those solutions that push the edge of convention. Does this mean they will never sell me-too products? Of course not. However, it does imply they will not spend money promoting products and services that don’t respond to their corporate challenge.

Both of these companies, among countless others, demonstrate that single-minded messages that get all of us nodding our heads in agreement are the ones that viscerally connect with us. They leave us with a clear impression of who the brand is and what they promise to deliver on every single occasion we interact with their brand.

That kind of clarity usually earns our vote in the best possible way … through the dollars we spend.

Brand_Promise_Schematic

 

 

 

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