It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new … errrr

This year I didn’t resolve to post more. I figured that I’d already done that twice and it didn’t seem to work, so I’ll just go along without planning. If I post, then I’ll stick to my philosophy of it being worth reading (so I’ll write long-ish posts, as before). If I don’t, I refuse to feel guilty about it.

But the truth is, I feel a little guilty. I was one of the first people to blog in Romania. I was THE first to blog about communication. I still love writing. So not blogging is just a failure of discipline that I DID resolve to eliminate in 2014.

And I also feel silly. Take a look at this:

This is Forbes 30 under 30 top for 2014. The overwhelming majority of nominees in marketing and advertising are involved in tech or social media. A large number deal with consumer insight. All of them are busy, inspirational achievers.

It’s a new digital life, and I want it back.

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To watch in 2013

Last year, I predicted that in 2012 we will experience a new frugality (store brands), a retro revival (letter-writing, vintage style), and a boom in alternative spirituality. The latter did not happen, but I was (sort of) right about the first two. On store brands alone, as the leading economic publications attest, the growth and increase in significance was marked (;

As 2013 is well on its way, there are other trends and buzzwords. JWT, the leading trend-spotter, has listed its usual 100. Business magazines, websites, fashion editors and many more have come up with their own.

This year, my top trends include Infographics, crowd-sourcing everything (translations, funding, design) and fair travel, by which I understand socially conscious travel (whether travel with a social component, avoiding excessive luxury or accommodation and travel that contrasts heavily with local conditions, supporting local tourism ventures over big-brand establishment, etc.)

I am only going into detail regarding infographics, as they are the most relevant to my profession.

Say it with infographics

Charts and drawings have been around for decades, but as the world swung between the power of the written word, and “a picture is worth a thousand words” illustrations were a communication sidebar. However, as of last year, they are an increasing presence in our communication “protocols” and will continue to gather importance in 2013. Simply put, infographics are visual representations of bulk data or processes. They attempt to break down the data into manageable chunks, highlight the important aspect and clearly display relationships. Designed to be synthetic, short and memorable, infographics are also eminently shareable on a variety of platforms, from Facebook to image based Pinterest, which increases the likelihood of adopting the medium. Interestingly, research is also beginning to prove that infographics may be particularly suited to delivering “counter-attitudinal information” (i.e., facts that directly contradict one’s beliefs on a subject). At the basis lies the very nature of infographics: since they are data-based, there is a psychological bias to believing them more objective. Infographics have the added benefit of bringing marketers, analysts and designers together to discuss the best way to share information. I would therefore venture to say that, barring a major upheaval in social media platforms, infographics are the top 2013 global business communication trend, and will become a marketing buzzword.


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Service karma

A pizza chain recently made a splash on the news after it went above and beyond the requirements of customer service to help a deployed soldier surprise his wife.

The story is published here, and by the time I saw it, it had been tweeted over 600 times, and commented upon approximately 6000 times. The cost to the company: two pizzas, a bouquet of flowers, a couple of hours of working time for two employees, and a 50$ gift certificate. Roughly 150 dollars. That’s a 0.025 cent cost, if you count as contacts only the people who actually engaged with this one article about the event.

Google averages 0.001 in cost per impression, based on my calculations, and bidding in cost per click starts at 0.01. So, from a purely financial perspective, the gesture is clearly advantageous, even if this rough and tumble ad equivalency suffers from all the faults of any ad equivalency (you can’t equate the credibility of news exposure, even on flaky yahoo, with the targeted precision of segmented ads, which are nevertheless inherently suspicious etc.). Furthermore, we have actual engagement of potential customers with the story about the brand, and potential for positive word of mouth, as evinced in the 600 tweets that will get read, responded to and retweeted.

In brief, you simply can’t buy that kind of advertising. Not for 150 dollars, anyway. And that’s why I’ve been hammering the point about customer service in the past few posts.


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Customer Service: A Note About Being Present

Years ago, after a successful “cheese experience” (yes, I am a certified trainer in the “Who Moved My Cheese” method), my organization decided to further use pop psychology and management books to inspire an attitude change in our geographically disparate staff, who’d been through many organizational changes and paradigm shifts, and was adapting unevenly (as is natural). The sequel to our cheesy (couldn’t resist the pun) workshop was a fishy (another obvious pun) one, based on another popular book, Fish! Philosophy.

The book refers to an experience in organizational change inspired by the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle, where the fishmongers transformed their dreary and smelly workplace into a locus of fun, by following what the author identified as four basic principles:

1. Choose your attitude, meaning that while one cannot change the content of their work, one can choose how to approach it: as a burden or chore that you go through grudgingly, or as an opportunity to learn, perfect skills (no matter how basic), meet people, engage colleagues, etc.

Think about the lady behind a public service counter. She chooses to be grumpy, and unhelpful because some real and some imagined wrongs of her workplace. But she could equally choose to be nice and courteous, earning herself if not more money at least some goodwill. She could say I don’t know, or after the question popped up, she could choose to inform herself so that she would know the next time. It sounds naive, but is surprisingly efficient, and it is a matter that rests solely with the individual.

2. Play. Play is a bit harder, because it means finding a fun element in your work. Some jobs seem to have no fun at all. But the fishmongers were able to transform unloading fish into a contest of skill, peppered with jokes, so the lesson is that anything can become fun, if approached playfully and with an intent to discover its creative elements (while keeping within the bounds of respect).

3. Make their day means making a deliberate effort to engage the customer and leave them with a positive feeling. Whether this is a nice compliment, or a smile, or a context appropriate joke, make their day refers to focusing on the customers well being in a non-sales way. For example, a massage therapist will make the customer feel good, but that’s a paid service. Make their day is above that, it’s the nice tip and demonstration on how to self massage the soles of your feet for relief after a day in heels, the compliment about your necklace, or something small, but centered on you, the customer.

4. Be present is probably the easiest and the hardest. It means to be in the moment, to service the customer with your attention upon the service and upon what the customer is saying, not upon your aunt’s bunions, or the cat food that you have to buy upon leaving work. A classic example of NOT being present is when the customer that walks up to the fast-food counter and asks for 3 orders of large fries and mayo, and the server replies “Do you want fries with that?”. Uh, no.

Why am I writing this?

Because I’ve been struggling with placing an online order worth approximately 900 euros and my card payment just doesn’t go through. I’ve talked to the card company and the bank, and the problem is not with the card. So I wrote to the online trader explaining the difficulty, quoting the bank and Mastercard’s response and asking whether a) he can check and fix the issue or 2) he can provide a non-card payment option.

The answer was “We accept payments made with the following credit cards: VISA, MasterCard, AMEX, VISA Debit, VISA Delta, Maestro, and Electron. Our books are priced in Sterling, Euros, US Dollars, Australian Dollars, New Zealand Dollars, Singapore Dollars and Canadian Dollars – there is a select currency dropdown menu at the top right of the homepage to change the currency display into the one most appropriate for you. We charge in the currency selected.”

Well, that really helped.

This is the type of canned response that indicates to the customer that the company doesn’t even bother to read my message, let alone investigate the issue. And it’s preventing me from making a rather large purchase of 30 different items, and attempting future purchases.

Simply put, if an employee is not present, not attentive to the customer’s concerns, the company suffers. It doesn’t take much to be present, just the will to do so. Companies should explain the principle to their employees, train them in its use, and monitor its application. Being present is a personal choice. Employing people who are not present is an organizational one.

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Marketing, insight and negative advertising!

In the past few days an unfortunate local marketing campaign has gone viral. In it, Secom,  the distributor of an OTC health supplement markets their product under slogans such as “Hate your boy! Hate his autism”. “Hate your father! Hate his Alzheimer!” I believe I saw a later iteration that said “Don’t hate you father! Hate his Alzheimer”.

Either way, the campaign has sparked the expected controversy as families, medical professionals and the marketing community have criticized it on various levels.

Far be it from me to jump on the bandwagon. There has been a lot said about the campaign’s lack of ethics, its profound ambiguity, its needless shock value. There has been a lot of outrage. I would want to take a more academic tone.

1. On Insight

With the risk of sounding cynical, this campaign reminds me of a clip from “What Women Want”. Possessed overnight with an ability to hear women’s thoughts, Mel Gibson strides confidently into an advertising brainstorming session, and pitches an idea about Advil based on a thought he’d overheard from a female coworker, who was using the pill when she needed to fake a headache to fend off sexual advances. The idea flopped and the coworker who originated the thought vehemently denied she’s ever done such a thing.

The point of the anecdote is that capturing what somebody thinks at a given moment is not an automatic insight into how they will behave. Why?

First of all, because consumers can hold many contradictory thoughts simultaneously. Second, because when a thought is socially unacceptable, or morally wrong, consumers will often feel guilty or ashamed, and will not act upon that thought, or recognize that they held it . In fact, they will swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and combat it, and dislike the product or marketing that stirred their shame.

I am sure that a massive media expenditure, such as the Secom campaign described above, had some basis in research. I am sure that much as we are loath to admit it, we have at some point hated the relative who was making our lives more difficult with his illness. I know that my grandfather has Alzheimer, and when he was in my mother’s care, I sometimes hated him for what he was putting her through. We are none of us angels. But these thoughts are fleeting, and their memory painful for any decent human being. And herein lies the difference between information (knowing what people think) and insight (understanding how they will act, given their thoughts). The campaign missed the mark on insight, however accurate or not the base information was.

2. On negative messages

Social marketing and health related marketing has thrived on the negative message. Don’t do this, because you will end up dead, cancerous, impotent, fat and so on. It works, because it plays on information, and our fears. It works, because embedded in the negative message is a positive one: stopping the harmful behavior will let you lead a good life. Sometimes that message is even explicit.

In the Secom campaign however, there is no positive message. There is no corollary to “Hate Alzheimer”, no right outcome, no step to take to fix things. Presumably, this is a teaser campaign, and the gist of the message will come later. Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

The trouble with negative messages is that now, more than ever, what sells the product is the perceived benefit. Negative messages may shock, they may differentiate, but they seldom convey a benefit. In the case of negative messages in health and social campaigns the benefit is an implicit and widely held value (health, social acceptance), and negative messages are only used in parallel with awareness raising initiatives based on science and information, or when the awareness exists but additional motivation for behavior change is needed. What is the benefit of “Hate Alzheimer”? Will it cure my grandfather? Ease his embarrassment when he remembers what he’s done? What is the action that I am supposed to take, and what end? Hate? It is easy to hate. The disconnect is how that hate will help you sell a product.

And the simple answer is: it won’t.

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What’s in a name?

This post about product naming has been brewing for a while, but time constraints made it harder to write than anticipated. However, a Facebook link to an online shopping site reminded me that it’s long overdue, and very needed. The above mentioned female oriented site had several dresses, one of which was named “Rueda de Casino”. That irked me so much that I simply had to put, pen to paper fingers to the keyboard, and write this post.

Naming products is a difficult part of marketing. There are all sorts of subliminal clues that the name conveys. One of my earlier posts referred to the quandary of naming technology product series, and how names can suggest a steeper learning curve versus a functional improvement. In this case, it’s more of a question of names creating a personality for the product.

One one such Romanian site, the dresses were called Anelia, Daniela, Elena, Flory, and so on. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a dress called Flory, a pretentious way of spelling a common enough name. Flory is bleach blonde, pink lipped, and heavy-bosomed. Why would I want to associate with her? Joking aside, my comment above reveals the problem with such names. The brand / site, does not build the personality of the product they are trying to sell. Instead, that personality gets created inside the customer’s mind, using the subjective imagery that he or she associated with the name. Someone may have a friendly, pleasant Flory in their circle of friends, but for someone else she may be the highschool bitch, and the purchase, already iffy because you can’t really try on or even touch the product, ends up not happening. It is much better to use a descriptive: Knee length off shoulder satin dress. It also indexes better than Flory, should I want to find such a dress via websearch. I am not against naming products with people’s names, but there needs to be a reason behind the naming (is it a mascot, an embodiment of the brand persona, a virtual person?) A case in point is Siri, whose name is brilliantly discussed here.

“Rueda de casino”, as a name, is less problematic in terms of personality associations. Its problem is that it is too obscure (and too long). For those that don’t know, rueda de casino is a dance, originating from cuban salsa. It is danced in pairs, as part of the larger group who executes the same moves simultaneously, based on the signals of a leader called a “caller” or “madre”. Imagine a modern version of the reel, without the dosey do (dosado). 🙂 It takes a fairly knowledgeable person to recognize that the product name refers to a dance (other products on the site also have dance names, such as samba or salsa). Admittedly, there is nothing more obscure than  IKEA product names, and those still get bought, however let us not forget the equity of the IKEA umbrella brand, and that fact the products can be seen and tried in real life, not only virtually. Generally, though, a product name that means nothing to the customer adds nothing to the desire to purchase, and in fact can detract from it.

The second issue is that the dress itself has nothing to do with the style evoked by the name.  Certain words carry certain references. Samba is carnival, feathers, bare skin. Flamenco is ruffles, long skirts, bright colors. To name products that have none of those elements with words that evoke them creates a sense of disconnect. The customer is puzzled. Are there flounces that she cannot see in the picture? Or cut outs? All of a sudden, she is not convinced that the product will suit her, and she does not make the purchase.

It’s different when the customer can examine the product, but in online selling, naming and descriptions are paramount. The customer makes a leap of faith, and the goal of the seller is to make it as short as possible, eliminating any ambiguities the buyer might have about the purchase. Improper name creates ambiguities.

So what’s in a name? Sales. Or lack thereof.

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Are the 4Ps part of consumer behavior?

I never would have asked this question, had it not been one of the combinations of keywords that brought people to this blog within the past week. But once asked, the question is too unexpected not to receive an answer.

And that answer is NO.

The 4Ps are, depending on who you ask, a mnemonic device referring to 4 key concerns of marketing (product, price, place, promotion), a model for organizing marketing activity or a tool for influencing sales volume and frequency.

But they are not part of consumer behavior. That is “The process by which individuals, groups or organizations search for, select, purchase, use, and dispose of goods and services”, according to one definition.

Simply put, the 4Ps are stimuli (and they are by no means the only ones). Consumer behavior is the set of responses to these, and other stimuli.

I feel like I’ve done a bit of responding myself 🙂 Hopefully it’ll be of use to whoever wrote the original search string.

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3 Mistakes Managers Should Never Make

DISCLAIMER : I’m speaking from a rather recent and disappointing personal experience, so please overlook (or enjoy?) the occasional raving and sarcasm.

1. Become enamored of their product

We all know that love is blind or, to be accurate, selectively so. It creates a filter through which qualities pass and are even enhanced, while defects are obscured. What’s going to happen if a similar filter is applied to the product? Design flaws, service interruptions, disconnect between the product and its customers can all be ignored by the manager who loves her product too much. Like disapproving family members, colleagues who point out inadequacies will incur animosity. Protective instincts kick in, so instead of taking criticism and working to fix the issues, the enamored manager begins to deflect, expending wits and energy to defend the product. It’s costly for the company, hard on the hapless colleagues, and detrimental for the enamored manager, as it ultimately leads to failure for the product and the manager.

2. Assume that quality is absolute.

In truth, very few things are. Except the ten commandments. Maybe.

But even if it were, even if the product is perfectly written, made with state of the art materials, designed to the highest standard, that inherent, indubitable quality is simply NOT RELEVANT.

In today’s market, the operating paradigm is VALUE, not quality. A perfectly good product that brings nothing that customers value will not be bought, despite the best effort of the crackest sales and marketing team.

Managers who overlook this, who constantly say “I’ve got the best product here, so I don’t understand why you nincompoops can’t flog it ” are in fact demonstrating a deep-seated incompetence. Sure, competent marketers with large budgets might eventually create a market for this quality product. After all, people once bought snake-skin oil, and that wasn’t even good. The effort and money required are, however, considerable. A responsible manager, custodian of the company’s resources, will tweak the product instead to fit with customer needs and expectations. Nowadays marketing is no longer about taking a finite product and arranging the 4Ps to maximize selling. It’s about feeding back customer insight, market info, competitive intelligence, into designing and evolving the product to bring that value to the customer. In a profitable way, of course. Managers who ignore this paradigm do so at the company’s peril.

3. Think that just because they know how to build a product they also know how to market it

Many managers believe that knowing the product is tantamount to being able to sell it. They have, of course, moved beyond the mere exposition of product features, and understand the concept of benefits, but actually articulating a benefit, understanding how a product or service, be it a ball, a magazine or a tire storage facility, fits into a customer’s life, and how to find that benefit to which most customers will respond, is a matter of an art and a science called marketing. Knowing how to put together a publication, store tires, or make sure that a ball is inflated gives you command over the product, but not over how people relate to it. As per point 2, rapport exists independently of the product itself and it takes skill and experience to connect people and products. Some people know how to build both product, and connections. Most don’t. And that’s ok, as long as they don’t try to lord it over those who do.

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Strategy, Shmategy

There are two modes of thinking about strategy.

One is to view it as the sine qua non of all business, the other is to scoff and say it’s no longer a valid approach in today’s rapidly changing world (for obvious reasons, I am ignoring those who couldn’t tell strategy from grandma’s dentures if their life depended on it.)

Which camp am I siding with?

The first.


Simply because in my book, crisis or fast changing environments are not game changers. As one of my former teachers recently said (in a presentation I am urging you not to miss), “Crisis is an accelerator of time”, and when time is compressed a quick path to action is mighty handy.

Part of the reluctance to acknowledge the role of strategy lies in misunderstanding the term.

In its simplest incarnation, strategy is just the way a company chooses to approach its environment. It’s a HOW.

We usually relate strategy to a purpose, namely WHY the company exists and deals with that particular environment, and to a goal, that is WHAT the company is trying to accomplish.

There are many components of strategy, from the business model to, if marketing strategy is under scrutiny, positioning. 

But none of these components is a timeline, chart or diagram. Strategy is not, as many mistakenly believe, a series of interconnected actions, steps and tasks or the resources allocated to them. Those constitute a plan, and are just tools. A strategy process will most often produce not just the strategy, but also such a plan, and it indeed can lack flexibility and become obsolete with rapid change. But the plan’s demise does not invalidate the strategy. I would argue that crisis and change make strategy all the more important. In the absence of certainty, all businesses can rely on is principles on which to base their response. And that’s strategy: a framework and fundament for behavior.

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Tweet, Tweet…

Back in April, a Twitter monitoring service informed me that I’d been on Twitter for 5 years. I checked, it’s true, and I think it makes me one of the early adopters of the platform. And yet, in 5+ years, I’ve never wondered whether I am doing Twitter right. My excuse is that most of my twittering was on my account, sharing thoughts and posts and resources that struck me as interesting. But I did use it for corporate purposes as well, under other handles, and while careful to post convincing, clear, well written, engaging tweets, I didn’t really consider when it is best to post.

Social media marketing firm Buddy Media did.

And they released a report on the matter. True, as most reports on social media tend to do, it looks mostly at the US market, but some insights are transferable to the Romanian market, or so my instinct tells me.

Brace yourselves for the first: While Twitter is about engagement, it is NOT about conversation. Less than 22% of users reply to brand messages, but they will frequently retweet, and therefore amplify the brand message.

Engagement levels vary by the days of the week, with different industries driving more engagement on different days. My current industry, publishing, would do well to tweet on Saturdays, the report says, and so would fashion and shopping, whose key interval is the weekend.

Tweets are better received when users are busy. This makes (common) sense, as quick bites of info are more suitable for office hours than leisurely posts, while people desire more substance when they have more time to consume it (and therefore would find tweets rather scarce in information or entertainment value).

Links = more retweets. ‘Nuff said.

#hashtags are underused (by only 24% of brands), which is a pity cause they deliver twice as much engagement.

A picture is worth… many more retweets.

Ask, and ye shall receive. Retweets, that is. And I am thinking that if retweets would also be rewarded somehow (while being wary of an outright bribe), the ask would be more successful.

Now let me go tweet this.

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