Marketing 2020: Shifting the balance between consumers & brands

Earlier this week I attended AMA Atlanta’s Signature Luncheon, where a panel of experts discussed the chapter’s white paper on the future of marketing: 20/20 in 2020: Toward a New Vision in Marketing. Moderated by Dr. Ken Bernhardt from Georgia State University, the panel included marketing pros from Chick-fil-a, The Coca-Cola Company, Cox Communications, Engauge and Google. You can read the full white paper here, summaries from AMA Atlanta President Jo Ann Herold here and Dr. Bernhardt here. I’ll give you a few highlights of what the panel covered.

Personalize it! There is a power shift happening from marketers to consumers. Consumers want personalized messages and want brands to make it easier for them to participate with the brand. They also want to have the same experience in social marketing as they do in person, say in a retail or foodservice environment. This requires faster engagement at all touch points. For example, if a customer has a negative experience and reaches out to the company via social media, the brand needs to respond in minutes or hours, not in days. A fast, authentic response can help salvage a bad experience.

It was noted that while it’s important to listen to your consumers to direct your marketing messages, it’s even more important to know your brand and align messaging accordingly. In other words, don’t let a few consumers re-define your brand to the extent that you stray too far from what your brand represents to the masses.

Be flexible. The future will require that marketers are flexible and can learn and adapt quickly. While 2020 is just a short eight years away, look at the last eight years and how rapidly brand marketing has changed. The emergence of social media, as well as technology (most notably mobile applications), has caused this shift. The 2020 consumers with spending power will have grown up with this technology, literally in hand.

The panelists commented that marketing has long been about research and planning. Looking at mounds of consumer data, then creating a five or 10-year strategic plan is becoming the way of the past for smart brands. Of course marketers will continue to crunch data and plan accordingly, only in the future it will be on a shorter timeframe. Often that data will come directly from consumers’ engagement with the brand, not necessarily from traditional market research. The panelist from Google noted they don’t typically plan more than 18 months out, because the marketplace is shifting that quickly. If you plan too far out in advance, what will you miss because you aren’t in position to shift gears? Know that along the way, missteps are bound to happen, but what’s important is how quickly you can recover and change direction.

Hit the target. Permission-based marketing continues to evolve. Consumers will continue to be more in control of the messages they get from brands, and they seem to be willing to give up some privacy in order to interact with a brand – for example by checking in with location-based applications, or using brand loyalty programs, to have a more targeted experience. Therefore those messages need to be more relevant. The challenge is to be able to maintain successful mass-marketing programs within that desire for a one-to-one relationship with your brand.

Get the skills. New skill sets will be required for marketers. One panelist noted that it will be vital to not just know marketing, but to know the technology behind it. Some brands will create their own platforms for engaging customers. Others will rely on those common resources that emerge in the marketplace, such as Facebook and Twitter today. In either case, marketers will need a grasp of what makes those applications most effective for customer engagement, not simply the messaging the brand pushes out. The panelists also agreed that the field of marketing is changing so rapidly it’s a challenge to predict what a brand marketer will look like in 2020. Looks like those still in the field then will be those who were able to adapt their own skills while keeping their brands on pace with the changes customers will demand.

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Avoid sticky situations that could damage your brand.

This week I attended the BlogWell Atlanta conference, put on by SocialMedia.org. The conference had a great format, quick-hit case studies from Atlanta-centric corporations on their social media efforts. My favorite was from The Home Depot, describing an online community they built with employee bloggers who are true subject matter experts. Next time I have a DIY project to take on, I’m going to pose a question to the experts and await their reply.

What struck me about The Home Depot’s effort was first, the authentic voice that comes across when you empower employees to share what they do in the stores with an online community. These aren’t PR and marketing people writing for the site, they are seasoned associates with specific expertise, who still work in the stores, and are in the online community to engage customers in another format. The second takeaway, for me, was the trust the company puts in these experts. They are free to direct the subject matter and there aren’t layers of approvals required that could slow down response time or take away the unique voice of each expert.

The conference also included a general session about ethics. The speaker emphasized that social media ethics is a matter of law, not opinion. The FTC has dictated certain guidelines, including:
• Require disclosure and truthfulness in social media outreach.
• Monitor conversations and attempt to correct misstatements.
• Create social media policies and employee training programs.

The bottom line is that companies, and individual bloggers, must be authentic in their voice and transparent about anything that might be seen as un-ethical. For example, if you are paid to review a product, you should disclose it. If you are a company and are recruiting, and paying, people to speak on your behalf, you should expose it. If you see false information about your company online, you should attempt to clarify it to the best extent possible. Of course, not every company will see every mention, but at the very least in company-sponsored sites or where the company has fuller engagement, the conversation should be monitored. The minimum standard on social media messaging should be: Is it apparent to the average reader that a message is marketing, not an authentic customer commentary?

The other element to social media ethics is communicating to employees about the rules. The biggest risk is that employees don’t know that what they’re doing might be wrong. This thinking also applies to any agencies a company may hire to implement a communications plan. There are increasingly more examples of social media gone wrong. Sometimes it’s because a campaign came across as offensive, sometimes it’s because an individual posts an inappropriate message that goes viral and damages a company’s reputation.

SocialMedia.org has a handy toolkit online that can be helpful to companies trying to establish, or clarify, social media policies and employee training.

The speaker concluded with this message: If you have to ask if something is wrong, don’t do it. I had a grad school professor at UGA who often said: the four most important words a public relations professional can say are: “Hey, wait a minute!” That advice, learned more than 20 years ago, is just as relevant today.

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A 10-day Cruise in 300 Words or Less

Oceania's Nautica anchored off Portofino, Italy

We quickly got into vacation mode on our recent Mediterranean cruise on Oceania’s Nautica, so the blog suffered from a bit of neglect. And now, how to boil down a fabulous 10 days in just a few words & pictures? Nearly impossible.

While I do plan to re-create some of the memories in future posts, here are a few highlights:

Palma de Mallorca Cathedral at sunrise

Valledemossa

We had a private tour of Mallorca with two other couples that we ‘met’ online via the web forum Cruise Critic. This was our shortest day in a port but one of our favorite days of the whole trip.

Our guide, Miguel, took us to the Bellver Castle, to a lovely village in the hills called Valledemossa, and to the magnificent Palma de Mallorca Cathedral. Comparing notes with other travelers we definitely saw much more than others were able to see in the short time in port.

The Casino in Monte Carlo, we didn't test our luck.

St. Tropez and Monaco were stunning, as we expected. Definitely fun to dream about what it might be like to live a carefree life on the French Riviera!

Not too surprising, this yacht entering the Monaco harbor is named "My Trust Fund."

But along with those dare-to-dream spots, we also visited charming places like Portofino and Sorrento where it’s more realistic to see yourself and your life there…someday.

Our cruise ended in Rome where we had a whirlwind tour of the major sites one day, followed by a visit to the Vatican Museums & St. Peter’s Basilica our last day. We were definitely tired out and toured out by then. Jeff called it the trip of a lifetime. I said I’m not ready to commit to that, as I know we’ll have another adventure just as fabulous before too long!

Portofino, Italy, I could see myself living here...someday.

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Welcome Aboard!

Welcome Aboard!

Our cruise launched yesterday from Barcelona and so far so good! When we were first considering a cruise, my friend Reva, who is a cruise veteran, wisely suggested we start with a ‘smaller’ ship. (If 600 people, not thousands, makes this a smaller ship, that is.) The size of the ship is very manageable, and while it may not have features that other ships boast, like a rock wall, we’re not rock wall people. It seems like a good fit for us.

During the first day’s mandatory muster drill, I overheard a man talking to another couple of cruise rookies about why he loves traveling by cruise so much. “You get to see a new city every day, and somebody else does all the driving & cooking,” he said. His wife quickly chimed in, “and you only unpack once!” All good points, and the latter was definitely a selling point for us.

Thanks to a generous interline (travel industry) discount, we justified upgrading to a suite. While this is the size of your average hotel room, in cruise terms it’s quite roomy from all we’ve heard. Lots of people say you don’t need to splurge on a bigger stateroom on because you’ll have so much to do you’ll never be in there. I would tell those folks, if you had this cabin maybe you’d hang out there more. This is a 10-day cruise, in a new port every day, so we’re pacing ourselves and yes, enjoying our suite & its balcony during some down time. We left the balcony doors open last night & were lulled to sleep by the sound of the water & the cool ocean air.

Today we visited Valencia, Spain. As with many cities in Europe, it’s a great blend of old and new world. There are remnants of the Medieval city gates, as well as a futuristic Arts & Sciences complex designed by Valencia-native Santiago Calatrava, who also designed Atlanta’s Symphony Hall that’s only about a mile from our house.

When giving us advice, Reva also said, people either really enjoy cruises or they really don’t, there’s not much in between. With just the first two of 10 days behind us, looks like we’re really going to enjoy this!

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Baby, Let’s Cruise

We’re in Barcelona where we leave tomorrow for our cruise on Oceania’s Nautica. We’re both fairly well traveled, but neither of us have ever been on a cruise. Our itinerary takes us from Barcelona to Rome, with the French Riviera and Amalifi Coast among the highlights along the way.

Today we did a quick tour of some of Barcelona’s best sights & heights, including the Park Guell which offered spectacular views of the city. Despite my fear of heights, we took an elevator to the top of the Barcelona Cathedral & walked around among the scaffolding (repairs are in progress) for more great views.

One funny anecdote from the day. We were on the hop on/hop off tour bus and as we were driving through the port area we passed a huge yacht. The man behind us said “that’s somebody’s boat.” I turned & replied, “it’s ours.” The man said, “if that was your boat, you’d be on a private tour.” “All our money’s tied up in the boat,” Jeff deadpanned.

Here’s a picture of it, pretty sweet!

Our hotel is in the Port Olimpic, just across the street from what was the Olympic village for the 1992 games. We’re looking out at the Mediterranean, which we’ll see a lot of in the next 10 days.

Life is good, indeed.

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Songs are a Marker to History

Apple founder Steve Jobs died last week. Among his many accomplishments, the most significant in my life was the fun that comes from random music. Like many of you, my iPod on shuffle is a veritable smorgasbord of musical dissonance. Want to go from Carolina Beach Music to Hip Hop? Just cue my iPod to shuffle.

I’m not the first to say that a single song is like a marker in history. It might remind me of driving to the beach house (Rock the Boat), of a high school football game (We are the Champions, how cliché!), or of the first dance at our wedding (Van Morrison’s Someone Like You). Or, thanks to my iTunes currently on shuffle on my laptop, a wacky Friday afternoon at the office when we all danced to The Knack’s My Sharona!
I’m also remembering all the playlists I’ve made for special events, or the songs I’ve heard while friends had their own iPods on shuffle that I later downloaded. Unfortunately all of my playlists were lost last time I got a new computer and moved everything over. Just another reason to create some new soundtracks for life’s events.

I recently had an assignment that connected my love of random music to my professional life. I Co-Chaired the Chapter Awards for the GA Chapter of PRSA, where we recognize professionals at all levels of their careers for their accomplishments. I was asked for suggestions on walk-up music for the award winners. It got me thinking about what I would want playing as I walked up to win an award. Hard to say, though it might depend on what pops up on shuffle that day.

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Reveling in Random Knowledge

Just wrapped up my weekly ritual of watching CBS Sunday Morning. Every week, Charles Osgood brings us an in-depth look at current events, celebrities & other artists, and good old random stuff. This week, for example, there were stories about the latest in prosthetics technology, a look at the Occupy Wall Street movement, profiles on Samuel J. Jackson & Ellen DeGeneres and kids playing competitive shuffle board. How random can you get? And more poignantly, there was a moving and detailed feature on how a young fallen soldier’s family was notified of his death, and how the soldier came home and was laid to rest. The “dignified transfer” they call it in the military.

In other words, in a mere 90 minutes, I laughed, I cried, and I learned a thing or two. I am, by nature, rather curious. I love learning new things. That tendency was recently validated by a numerologist. It’s not just me, it’s in my numbers. One of my numbers, a 7, corresponds to processing data. The numerologist said that a typical 7 might be an M.I.T. scientist. That, I am not, but she said it does explain my curiosity. Or, as my friend Reva would say, I like to “study up” on things.

Take some time today to study up on something new. As Yogi Berra said, “you can observe a lot by just watching.”

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