Monthly Archives: February 2011

Just Be Yourself

by Dan Woychick

Nothing is so commonplace as to wish to be remarkable. – Oliver Wendell Holmes

We hear it all the time when it comes to marketing: Be authentic. Savvy consumers have high expectations of the brands they’ll reward with patronage and loyalty. They can spot a pretender from miles away.

If you conduct an internet search for “how to succeed in marketing,” among the 20 million results you’ll find useless statistics on social networks, implausible promises that there’s one true way to achieve success, and pithy advice like this: You have to be awesome.

So, how awesome is your organization?

  • Are you recognized for being an innovative leader?
  • Are you a trendsetter known for regularly taking calculated risks?
  • Are you doing things none of your competitors can match?

Ever noticed there’s a lot less “awesome” in the middle of the bell curve? We simply can’t all be above average. Or, as Judge Smails suggests to Danny, a brown-nosing law school hopeful in the classic film comedy Caddyshack: “The world needs ditch diggers too.”

Hopeful copycats
Many organizations, rather than risk being truly authentic (e.g., We’re understaffed and our customer service suffers for it!) or delivering meaningful differences in their products or services, spend a lot of effort chasing others’ trendy tactics. We need a website, a Facebook page, an iPhone app!

Faced with a moving target of so-called best practices, tactics-focused marketers are perpetually behind – a guaranteed path to the vast undifferentiated middle ground.

Redirect your efforts
A better approach is to invest budget, time and staff resources in identifying ways to deliver a remarkable experience. Marketing driven by a strategic goal is not a quick fix, but a much more valuable one.

In the children’s book, Three Questions, based on story by Leo Tolstoy, a wise old turtle helps a boy discover answers to the following questions:

  1. When is the best time to do things?
  2. Who is the most important one?
  3. What is the right thing to do?

Answers: 1. Now  2. The one you are with  3. Do good for the one you are with

Being authentic in your marketing requires adherence to similar principles. If you know your target audience, and can consistently deliver what they need most when they need it, you’ll develop a truly remarkable reputation.

Related Content:

Online Personas Rarely Match Real-life Behavior
Authenticity Is King Because Branding Bores Everyone

The Right Tool For The Job

by Dan Woychick

Last weekend, I agreed to help a friend install his new home theater. First, we needed to remove the baseboard so we could keep all the new wires hidden from view. Lacking a crowbar, my friend grabbed the nearest screwdriver and proceeded to gouge the wooden baseboard and scratch the painted wall. As any do-it-yourselfer knows, using the wrong tool can make a small project a lot bigger.

Smart communications professionals recognize the importance of gathering consumer insights. Unfortunately, sometimes, they also reach for the wrong tool.

Lack of focus
When seeking audience opinion, the tried-and-true focus group is often the research tool of choice. Get a moderator, some pizza or doughnuts, and 8-10 people in a room, then watch the insights fly. But qualitative research from a group of strangers gathered around a table may not yield the insights you need.

Focus groups are best used when you have little knowledge about how your product, service or organization is perceived. They can give you a good starting point for further, targeted research. More often, you need specific information.

Simulating behavior
If, like me, you’re lacking a degree in cultural anthropology, interviewing a representative sample of your users about their needs is the next best thing. Interacting with and observing individuals one-to-one often reveals truths that remain hidden in a group setting.

It’s common practice to conduct this kind of research when embarking on a website redesign. Individual test subjects answer questions and complete a series of tasks, giving designers insight into how the site can be made more functional.

A similar approach can be useful whenever “navigation” is involved, such as with magazines, forms, and environmental signage. With as few as 4–5 people, we’ve gathered useful feedback simply by watching and asking a few questions. For example:

  • How often do you currently read (or use) this [publication, form, building]?
  • What is your overall impression?
  • Do you find this valuable, relevant, informative, etc.?
  • Is it easy to find the information you’re looking for?
  • Are there other sources you rely on to get similar information? Where?
  • How does this make you feel about the organization?

By keeping things simple, it’s easier to commit to an iterative process, conducting tests early and often.

Quality, not quantity
Quantitative research is useful when an organization wants to benchmark results over time. Many people place their trust in cold, hard data – the more of it the better. Seeking statistically valid numbers, however, presents two big hurdles – time and budget.

Depending on what is being measured – and for what reason – the importance of sample size is often overestimated. If I’ve interviewed five people who have difficulty navigating your website, surveying 500 or 5,000 more provides very little benefit. There are diminishing returns with each additional data point.

Watch, listen and refine
Many decisions are better served by more frequent questioning of fewer people, refining as you go. Making a habit of interviewing your customers will make your organization more responsive and serve as a tool for continual improvement.

Related Content:
Don’t Make Me Think
To Focus Group, Or Not To Focus Group
Conducting a Needs Analysis