Old Spice? Same old problem. Agencies Need to Learn Business Planning Skills

A few years ago I heard an author speak about his new advertising book. His primary claim was that clients turn down great creative because they are ignorant. Challenging thought. And wrong.

In my experience, creative is approved more often and more easily when agencies have the business skills needed to explain work’s impact in business terms. But a vast number of agencies, lacking these skills, seek to avoid having campaigns measured for business impact.

And so, let’s consider the recent discussions of the Old Spice campaign. Interpretation of results from this campaign are in a bit of flux. Last week, we were informed the campaign had become a social phenomenon – spreading like wildfire on the web and on social media. Millions of clicks and multiple fan sites made it a social “happening”. Of course, clicks are pretty meaningless. So we were also informed that the TV campaign had delivered astounding sales – leading social media “experts” to crown the campaign with glory.

Then there was the weekend. Now AdAge has found that what we were told may be entirely false. They found that Old Spice had a good quarter at retail – just like their competitors. Old Spice retail numbers were primarily driven by coupon efforts – just like their competitors. And all the percentages of growth are remarkably similar to their competitors with similar coupon efforts. In other words, it looks like the much touted campaign had little to no impact (Note: AdWeek erred by analyzing the campaign in a vacuum – without the competitive context.)

Whoever was analyzing the campaign before AdAge got hold of it lacked the business foundation necessary for the analysis. Of course, I don’t know who hoisted the “Mission Accomplished” banner. But in the cases I’ve been close to, it’s typically the agency who takes this step.

Agencies Need to Add Skills to Focus on Business Impact

Clients should be angry that the advertising business accepts stories like this one about Old Spice at face value. And they should demand that agencies take substantive action to merge their planning with business realities.

Merely discussing obscure (and highly clever) brand theories is not the same as discussing a business result. Business results must be closely tied to market share or the P&L. Based on our success at Atomic Direct, I’d start with four key changes.

1. Agencies need to choose to care about business results. Agency culture honors awards and new business wins far above client business results. So hiring new skills won’t make a difference unless the culture changes with a long-term effort that focuses every agency activity with expectations for client business results.

2. Agencies need to hire new skill sets – people with the ability to plan and analyze business results from advertising. These people are most needed in strategy, planning & client services. Then they are needed to influence every part of agency work. After all, great creatives aren’t often good at business. And that’s okay when, as we’ve done at my agency, they work closely with people who are skilled at leveraging advertising creativity for business impact.

3. Agencies need to stop using “long term brand impact” as the catch-all excuse to justify ineffective campaigns. I expect that next week we’ll hear that Old Spice’s intense social media interest will deliver improved brand value over 1 to 3 years. It might. But clients shouldn’t trust this logic at face value. Future payout is a business result and that means there should be ways to reasonably estimate the size of that impact.

4. Agencies need to develop a robust language for different types of business impact. Advertising isn’t a one note theme where immediate cash register sales are only possible business result. But today even the best textbooks lack the sophistication to help avid students define business goals and measure results.

Weak Planning for Clients Leads to Weak Agency Relationships

Old Spice is an old story – mass awareness and cultural buzz without business impact. Agencies used to get away with stories like this. But clients are taking a more serious look at the impact of their advertising.

In part, the arrival of new media has given them new opportunity to investigate relative effectiveness. With agencies eager to play in this new sandbox, clients have switched spending from old media to new – seeking higher returns from a response measured medium.

From what I can see, they have only rarely found that new media creates higher returns (and I think we’ll only find Old Spice results become fewer and fewer now that they’ve fully embraced social media). But clients have also seen something more troubling. Too often their business results haven’t suffered when they shift money from traditional campaigns to new media. Social media advocates want to claim this reflects social media strength. I disagree. The measured social media impacts I’ve seen for mass market products are really bad.

Instead, what these clients have found reflects the fact that lacking good business planning, none of their campaigns (traditional or new media) are delivering good business results.

And so, clients should demand business results from all advertising – old media OR new. But agencies shouldn’t fear this change. Agencies who develop these skills will return to a stronger position – as a partner to their clients.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

The Unspoken Costs of TV Over the Internet…

The following article in the NY Times suggests that so-called “free” internet services are anything but free (click here). Why? Because there’s always a cost. And on the internet, what we get for “free” often costs significant time and frustration. And this is what the author finds as he views all his TV shows online.

In fact, this is a great area to sit and think. Because so many activities on the web consume time. How many hours does it take to schedule business trips online? A lot. Would I be better off paying an agent to just make the reservations? Not necessarily. I travel so much that I am quite picky about flights. But it’s worth remembering that a $25 or $35 fee to an agent is small compared with my losing an hour or more finding flights. And I have generally found that agents have access to some very low cost alternatives that I don’t have. (Of course, I continue to make my own reservations.)

There is another hidden cost that affects online consumers – opportunity cost. That time we spend wading laboriously through online services also costs us lost opportunity. We could be using that time for more productive things – perhaps even thinking about how to better spend our time.

I also think this idea helps clarify one important marketing area. Consider the technology chasm that kills so many products (that jump between the narrow market of early enthusiasts and the first wave of mass purchasers). Time, frustration, and lost opportunity can be perceived as insignificant by the early enthusiasts. But those same costs quickly overwhelm the mass market consumer – leading them to pine (in the case of internet TV) for the simpler days of cable TV’s instant and easy access.

Technology marketers need to become aware of when their early success happens despite these hidden costs. Because early adopters put up with hassle that early majority consumers simply won’t stand. I don’t see many companies who “get” this truth.

Incidentally, this thinking may be important when considering smart phones. Millions and millions sold. But, it’s a lurking long term problem that in another interesting recent NYTimes story we find that the large majority of SmartPhone users aren’t, well, using it much as a Smartphone. Is it possible they don’t get enough benefit in return for the hassle or complication of trying to learn to use them as Smartphones?

In our love for our own advanced technology, it is always wise to take some time to sit back and think more deeply about the unintended results of our work. Because there’s a cost to everything. Its just that not all costs are monetary. But it’s those other costs that may draw the line between market success and failure.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

Marketing Tech Like Consumer Goods: Move Beyond Cool.

Apple is proving that the future requires treating technology like a consumer good. But to get there, we have to start changing our communication And that starts by getting a grip on our use of “cool”.

Today’s tech advertising rarely goes deeper than “cool”. As I walked the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last January, I found meaningless cool everywhere. The most obvious was the video version that cluttered the show and might best be called “video wallpaper”. Action, color, and hype… And nothing more.

Many communication suppliers (agencies and production companies) love “cool” because it’s a low risk approach to keeping clients happy while making loads of money. Unfortunately, it’s also the lazy man’s approach and must become secondary as computers move into consumer goods quality products.

For years, we’ve probably gotten away with it since the craziest of early adopters respond to the mere implication that they’re missing something without that new technology. Interestingly, with the iPad Apple seems to have skipped over this group and succeeded by going directly to people who are already across the chasm.

To achieve this success not only requires more mature products but more mature communication. Because the only way across the chasm is with communication that delivers meaningful value. (In research we’re even learning that tech companies have burned consumers so often that cool often implies “gimmick” – positioning the latest advanced technology right next to the Snuggie in the consumer mind.)

“But what about Apple? They’re cool.” They are. But their brand became cool because they deliver highly unique and valuable products with high levels of consumer refinement. Continuing to deliver that value is the primary driver of sales. This doesn’t mean being cool is unimportant for Apple. But my guess is that “cool” plays a minor role – perhaps bringing a 5% to 10% added value.

So here are some thoughts to help guide us through the maze of cool options…

…Tech “cool” has been trained into an entire culture of marketers and executives. And it is the default for every communication team. But cool has a problem because it’s so common that it has become dull and uninteresting. (Just think about this while you walk your next trade show.)

…Cool changes depending on the age of your consumer. If you are marketing tech to adults over 60, cool can raise concerns and dramatically reduce sales. And for “youth” products, there are many flavors of cool so choose yours carefully. Too often mid life art directors deliver work to recapture their own youth and leave out the meaning young markets demand. (Remember that the young consumer is savvy. While they want a flavor of “cool”, they also want value.)

…There are great tech products where “cool” isn’t their school. The Netpliance iOpener press tour bombed when it pitched “cool”. Too bad. The iOpener was a great product that delivered significant benefit. But, it’s technology wasn’t new – it didn’t deliver cool. Editors never saw the value of the product and they panned it. How many tech products have failed because they assumed that “coolness” was their ticket?

…Coolness is just one of many attributes. Where does it fit for your product mix? The CES show was a great place to look around and realize that “cool” companies are a dime a dozen. The truly successful emerging companies have messages that are meaningful. (Sadly, the big boys like Intel and Microsoft too often get away with carpet bombing cool in their booths. But don’t be mis-led. This plays only a small role in their success.)

Truth is, VC’s seem to demand cool because it continues to be important for investors considering a buy-out or an IPO. So be it. Figure out where “cool” delivers meaning with your product and create a strategy for using that “cool”.

Then realize that consumers need a lot more. Deliver the thing that will generate the profit you really need: meaningful advertising that drives sales of a meaningful product.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

Why Do Consumers Avoid Websites for Brands?

Just discovered this story at Brandweek about consumer interaction with company sponsored websites, Facebook pages, and more.

They found consumers nearly twice as likely to visit a company’s website than to seek them out on Facebook. But looking deeper, they found more consumers saw Facebook as their first approach to customer service issues. This makes tremendous sense. Facebook is a pathetic environment for delivering information, but a great world for posting complaints or reading about other customer’s problems.

The really scary truth comes when we add up their numbers. The majority of people are not seeking ANY company sponsored content on the web (accounting for multiple answers).

Ipsos needs to extend their questioning to discover truths to get at this very critical issue:

1. What leads to consumer dissatisfaction about brand websites? How useful do consumers find the information they get from company website? How often are they satisfied with what they learn from a company website? We have only ourselves to blame – the website strengths or weaknesses we create are training consumers in these habits.

2. What elements lead to satisfaction with brand websites? We can guess. But I’d bet that most marketers and advertisers would be surprised by the real consumer answers.

3. When going to the web for product issues, what are the things they really want & how often do they want each? There’s lots of options. Confidence? Facts? Demonstrations? The fine guarantee/warranty print? Comments from neutral consumers who own or use the product or service? Authoritative reviews from third parties? Speeches by the CEO? Purchase locations? Price shopping?

Maybe a future study can dig a little deeper and help us deliver better value to consumers a little faster.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett