Category Archives: market research

Twas the Night Before Deadline

Santa sleigh over blue forest with snow falling at night

 

Twas the night before deadline, when all through the office
Everybody was stirring, so nervous and cautious.
The layouts were hung on display in the hall,
In hopes that the boss would soon make a call.

Designers were huddled around glowing Macs,
Writers were bleary buoyed by coffee and snacks.
To reach their objectives, they toiled and strained,
But uncertainty dogged them and questions remained.
When down by the front desk there arose such a clatter,
They sprang from their cubes to see what was the matter.

Arms full of trinkets brought home for his friends,
Out tumbled coffee mugs, tote bags, and pens;
The boss had returned from an industry conference.
He tossed out new jargon that seemed to be nonsense.

More rapid than FedEx his big ideas came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Curation of content, engagement will spiral,
“Go leverage our channels, make sure it goes viral!
“On Facebook! On Pinterest! On Tumblr and Twitter!
“Optimize! ROI! There’s a lot to consider.”

His minions were puzzled. Was this a direction?
Should they blindly take action or risk insurrection?
Chasing marketing trends, they’d seen this before,
Yet the lack of success was hard to ignore.

And then, in the back, sitting calmly without blinking,
The web guy asked softly what all had been thinking:
“What’s our primary objective? What are we doing?
“What do we know about the audience we’re pursuing?”
We all turned to face him, intrigued by his candor.
Would we find clarity and wisdom, or enrage our commander?

“By the skin of our teeth, by the seat of our pants,
“It’s no way to work. We leave everything to chance.
“Employing random tactics does not count as strategy.
“It’s not ‘integrated.’ It’s a marketing tragedy.”

The boss smiled wanly, his confidence waning,
He wasn’t used to his colleagues complaining.
Then he straightened his tie and tapped on his phone,
“He’s tweeting!” an intern exclaimed with a groan.
Next seen by his followers, the privileged few?
“We can’t all be leaders #sotrue”

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon filled us with that familiar dread.
The launch date was nigh; it was business as usual:
Adrift, yet hopeful, almost inexcusable.

We sprung back to work, just like Santa’s elves.
We laughed at our fate in spite of ourselves.
This lack of a plan would be quite ironic,
If industry-wide it wasn’t so chronic.

Then we heard in the distance, could it be so?
The sound of sleigh bells o’er the fresh-fallen snow.
Would our wishes be granted? We were good girls and boys.
A research-based plan would be better than toys.
Santa laughed as he rode through the cold winter night:
May your customers be merry and your strategy bright!

by Dan Woychick

Print in a Digital Age

by Dan Woychick

Since the widespread adoption and evolution of the internet, the vast majority of non-profit organizations have been scrambling to keep up. This extends to marketing and communications offices, with budgets under pressure, trying to adapt print conventions to the online world – or trying to eliminate print altogether.

Channel surfing
Whether holding a TV remote, a mouse, a smartphone, or a magazine in hand, customers have a glut of options for consuming information and entertainment. And marketers, often with no idea which channel will be most attractive, hedge their bets and churn out content – everywhere.

Thirty years ago, the investment firm EF Hutton used a long-running ad campaign to tout the value of its advice: When EF Hutton talks, people listen.

Nowadays, if EF Hutton was talking, it would be competing with every other bank, broker, and insurance company to be heard. Everyone is talking – including customers – at the same time. It’s much more difficult to listen than it used to be.

Nevertheless, every project, no matter the goal, should start with listening to gain a deep understanding and appreciation for the audience it serves. For your communications to be successful, you must be able to answer your audience’s two fundamental questions:

  • Why should I spend my time with you?
  • What can I get from this [magazine, brochure, website, app] that I can’t get anywhere else?

Old school thinking
While nonprofits may be hampered by a lack of resources, just as debilitating they often remain true to outdated models of gathering and presenting information. Subsequently, many projects suffer from:

  • Poor design
  • A lack of dynamic content
  • Poorly-defined audience and purpose
  • Ineffective storytelling
  • Not embracing the social nature of the web
  • Remaining stuck in the 20th Century

After defining the audience, one must then ask: What is the purpose of this project? It should:

  • Connect with audiences through storytelling, delivery and presentation
  • Shape perceptions of the brand by reinforcing key messages
  • Support organizational goals

To remain relevant you need to take calculated risks, look at things with a fresh eye, absorb and adapt ideas from unexpected sources and, above all, challenge the assumptions of the assignment.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.  – Shunryu Suzuki

Peaceful coexistence
Marketing has become like the gluttonous diner at the all-you-can-eat buffet: I’ll have one of everything! The never-ending churn of producing content on every channel is self-defeating. We’ve got to know our audience well enough to make smarter choices.

Going forward, we need to acknowledge that digital media and print each have strengths, and should be considered and developed concurrently and selectively – not sequentially. When it comes to telling stories:

  • Print can’t compete with digital media for timeliness.
  • Digital media can be social, easily shared and searched.
  • Each relies on design to aid in navigation, legibility and narrative pacing.
  • Print is a less ephemeral artifact – more curated, collectible and savored.

We believe that print remains a vital communications channel worth doing well for two reasons:

  • Some people – myself included – still find print the most pleasurable means of reading for information and entertainment.
  • Print has a lasting visibility and presence – on coffee, bedside, and waiting room tables – that online platforms can’t match.

Working on print and digital content simultaneously and cohesively may be a more fluid process (e.g., developing design concepts from rough drafts or outlines) and can be more work – with the need for video, still photography and web development – but we believe it is the future of nonprofit marketing.

Raising Expectations

by Dan Woychick

One ordinary morning, a memo appears in your in-box.

We are embarking on an organization-wide, resource allocation review. Each department is required to provide benchmarks to evaluate the value and effectiveness of its work.

In other words, please justify your existence.

This is a conversation that I’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s not an unreasonable request. Marketing departments should not be immune from scrutiny, or excused from providing evidence that their work is effective. However, as a colleague in higher ed noted when faced with this assignment: We can track the typical things – media coverage or Google analytics – but most of the indicators that we’re making good use of our financial resources are tied to other offices, like Advancement or Admissions.

Separation anxiety
There seems to be a common misperception among both for-profit and non-profit leaders that departments function independently of one another – that marketing’s impact, for example, can be separated from an organization’s overall goals.

Other than putting together a birthday card for an office colleague, isn’t the success of any marketing assignment inextricably linked to others’ goals? If the advancement office doesn’t raise enough money, then fundraising communications weren’t successful enough. If enrollment targets were missed, then admissions marketing must be improved.

I understand that anxious executives want reassurance and a way to mitigate risks – marketing is a mysterious line item in the annual budget. Unfortunately, it’s also often viewed as an add-on – more style than substance – and subsequently expected to show return on investment without the advantage of being considered an essential organizational function.

Roll up your sleeves
Imagine driving down the road when suddenly your car starts making a funny noise. Next, smoke starts billowing from under the hood. In a panic, you pull in to the nearest repair shop. You tell the mechanic, “I’m kind of in a hurry and I don’t have much money. Can you fix this?” The mechanic walks slowly around your vehicle, deep in thought. Finally, he fills a bucket, grabs a sponge, and washes your car. Did he solve your problem, or just make it look better?

Too often marketing offices are being asked to make the engine run better – to help an organization solve a problem or reach a goal – without ever having the opportunity to look under the hood.

Let me be clear: It’s not management’s fault that marketing is misunderstood. It’s ours. Until we can make a compelling case – using both objective and subjective measures of value and effectiveness – marketing will continue to encounter the resistance of low expectations.

State your case
Marketers are in the business of telling stories, but we don’t write fiction. Successful marketing is reliant on thorough inquiry, diligent training and practice, collaboration, and coordination of resources. None of that happens in a vacuum.

If you’re going to have an ROI discussion, do it within the context of organizational, not departmental, goals. Whether you’re trying to convince people to choose your service, attract donations, or inspire volunteers, the planning, strategy, and measurement take on a different tenor when each element of the enterprise is considered interdependent.

Before the lights dim, before the conductor raises the baton, a discordant blend of strings, percussion, and woodwind instruments squeaks and groans from the orchestra stage. It is only when the musicians begin playing in unison that we can appreciate their talents. That’s what marketing can do. If it’s not in alignment – and deeply involved – with an organization at its core, few measures carry meaning or insight.

What to measure
There’s a lengthy history of valuing scientific, left-brain thinking over the more intuitive right hemisphere of the brain. Increasingly, complex problems require the flexibility to integrate both ways of thinking.

Rather than counting web “hits” or desperately seeking more “likes” on Facebook, here’s one measure that should be tracked:

How much time and money is spent learning about your audience(s) – internal and external – so that whatever marketing materials are produced can be as targeted and relevant as possible?

As those numbers increase, so will the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

How do you demonstrate a return on investment?

Measure Twice

by Dan Woychick

As more marketing happens on laptops, tablets, and smartphones, the demand for and trust in metrics continues to grow. If something can be measured, it will be, as return on investment (ROI) weighs on the minds of executives everywhere.

Analyze the following proposition. This product deprives you of sleep, makes unpleasant noises at inappropriate moments, is temperamental, requires constant attention, and costs a fortune. Babies. Who in their right mind would sign up for this? What’s the return on that investment?

We like to think we’re rational creatures, and that any situation can be measured, analyzed, and then systematically improved. And while many business metrics can be useful – even vital – they take the place of instinct, experience, and other available means of perception at our peril.

Blind spots
The truth is a lot harder to identify than it would appear at first glance. Individuals, each with their own beliefs and biases, can be relied on only to reveal one version of “reality.” One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

I have fond memories of watching Hogan’s Heroes as a boy and planning “escapes” from the basement with my brothers. I think the show is funny and still apply favorite lines to everyday situations. My wife thinks it’s one of the dumbest TV shows of all time.

In a million different ways we are all “reality challenged” and that’s a good thing – vive la différence! But we can also become blinded by our biases, form premature conclusions, and miss alternative points of view, as in this Awareness Test:

 

Cooking the books
People tend to seek out and believe numbers that support an existing assumption or preferred course of action. In other words, we see what we want to see. Marketers can shape or choose “facts” that feed this tendency.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. – Mark Twain

Television commercials are rife with examples. Four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum. The Ford F-150 offers best-in-class fuel economy. More people find love on Match.com than any other dating site.

The existing bias toward plausibly objective data is widespread and tempting for many organizations. Earlier this year, Claremont McKenna, an exclusive California college, admitted to inflating freshman SAT scores for six years to improve its place in the U.S. News & World Report’s widely-read college rankings.

Blind spots can be dangerous as well. During the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, an independent weapons inspector found no stockpiles of WMD in the country. Since these findings didn’t support its strategic goals, the U.S. government simply used other measures to justify military action.

Buyer beware
The collected wisdom of the general public is subjective and often flawed. This creates opportunities for data wonks to dazzle us with metrics that may or may not illuminate effective decisions.

Many social media consultants will happily rattle off statistics that have the imprimatur of legitimate insight: “We measure influence and engagement and have the pie charts to prove it. ROI? Have we got numbers for you!

We know social media is important. That’s what everybody says, and everyone we know belongs to several social networks. Statistics may simply back up our existing beliefs. But, honestly, are you seeking out opportunities to engage in dialogue or conversation with a company, an institution or a brand? I’m not. Do these numbers reflect actual behavior that supports business objectives, or is it wishful thinking?

In preparation for the National Football League draft, teams put college players through a battery of tests. How many times can you bench press 225 pounds? How far can you jump from a standing start? How fast can you run 40 yards? While all those things can be quantified, in isolation – or even cumulatively – they do not reveal whether the athlete can actually play the game.

A measured response
Some things can and should be measured, but the quest for ROI is often more about minimizing risk than maximizing revenue. We must remain aware of our own biases and blind spots if we hope to transcend the data.

Gaining meaningful insights through research most often requires a balance of art and science – subjective and objective measures – because even though bean counters can tell you how many beans are in a jar, they can’t tell you how good they taste.

Related content:
Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception?
Do You Know Your Blind Spots?

How Did We Do That?

by Dan Woychick

Following up on this summer’s one-question survey of non-profit marketers – What is the single biggest problem you face today? – we recently flipped the question upside down and asked:

When you’ve been successful, what went right?

Our first finding? Significantly fewer people responded to this survey – about 20% as many as the first one! I know that everyone who received the survey has experienced marketing success, so why are success stories harder to come by? Digging for meaning, I wondered:

  • Are painful lessons simply more memorable?
  • Are we predisposed to obsess over and seek solutions for our problems?
  • Does this problem-solving focus blind us to opportunities for success?

Elements of success
It’s safe to say that when we feel successful, it’s because our actions have reshaped a difficult, or less-than-optimal circumstance. We rarely celebrate business-as-usual – hooray for maintenance! We want people to do something.

When it comes to accomplishing a task, we’re of two minds. There’s the part of the assignment that appeals to the rational side of our brain, and the part that appeals to our instinctive or emotional side. The examples of successful marketing cited by our survey respondents touched on both. Common themes included:

Clear direction and planning
There are very few projects that can be handled alone. The more complex the project, the more people involved, the more important it is to clarify individual roles and communication goals. The rational mind likes nothing better than a clear-cut objective, plan and process. People attribute much of their success to being well-prepared.

One potential pitfall to this mindset is “paralysis by analysis” – if you look long enough and hard enough you never leap at all! To counteract this, define the specific initial steps to take, identify the desired outcome (paint a captivating picture of what success looks like), and then get out of the way. It’s foolish and counter-productive to attempt to plan every last detail.

Ample motivation
Have you ever made a big decision using nothing but logic? Face it, when there’s a battle between our hearts and heads, heads lose. Provide too much information and eyes glaze over, but connect to our emotional nature – pain, pleasure, passion – and we respond with feeling.

Whether it’s getting team members on board or provoking an enthusiastic response from your target audience, developing trust and empathy are keys to generating action. One respondent noted a significant increase in her department’s marketing success closely followed a period of relationship building with an internal client. Another said her greatest successes involved “nailing the message so that our target audience takes action.” I guarantee those successful messages touched an emotional chord.

Does your audience have an emotional stake in the outcome?

Supportive environment
Marketing success isn’t easy or inevitable, and virtually impossible without the visible support of an organization’s leaders, but we can improve our chances by making it easier for our target audience (internal or external) to behave as we’d like.

Consider any satisfying experience, especially one that is usually a hassle or even dreaded. It’s as if all hurdles and headaches have magically disappeared. Except it’s not magic. It’s an obsessive attention to making an experience easier (consider Amazon’s one-click ordering or Southwest Airlines’ no baggage fee policy).

When things don’t go as planned, instead of assuming “they’re all idiots” consider the situation. What barriers can you remove? It’s likely you’ll find ways to support the needs of your audience by paving the way to the behavior you seek.

Accentuate the positive
When we focus all of our energy on solving problems – putting out fires – it’s easy to lose sight of what’s working. Eliminating problems, counter-intuitively, may not be as beneficial as finding ways to replicate the successes you’ve already enjoyed.

Ask yourself: What are we doing right and how can we do more of it? Identify situations where the project goal was met and the desired behavior change is happening (e.g., an increase in website visits, a successful event). Celebrate those successes – they’re hard-earned and rare – and share stories with your colleagues. Then, apply the lessons learned to your next assignment.

We seem to know a lot more about what went wrong, than what went right. In your organization, how much time is spent analyzing what IS working?

Related content:
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Favorite Links: July 2011

We’re always in search of fresh thinking on issues that affect nonprofit marketing. Here’s some recent favorites:

Ten Things You Need to Know to Raise Capital for Your Nonprofit
Fast Company

The Case Against Designing Mobile Apps
Imprint

Why Bosses Need to Show Their Soft Side
Daniel Pink, The Telegraph

There Are No Shortcuts

By Dan Woychick

Some problems are so common to the human condition that we’re predictably intrigued with promises of easy solutions. You’re telling me I can eat all the Oreos I want, and still lose 10 pounds in 30 days? Sign me up! Earn up to $5,000 working at home only a few hours per month? Sounds good!

Marketing professionals fall into a similar trap when they fixate on short-term tactics and the latest trends – things that often seem too promising to ignore – at the expense of a well-planned, long-term strategy.

Whether it’s social networks, QR codes, or online publications whose pages magically flip like their paper predecessors, none will ever be a substitute for the more difficult endeavor of creating high-quality, relevant content and delivering great experiences and service.

Maintain a balance
To clarify, this is not an anti-technology rant – everything new is bad – nor an argument in favor of foot-dragging on innovation. Heaven knows, there are more than enough committees perfectly capable of killing good ideas.

It’s just that the initial question often seems to be: How can we use [insert tactic/trend here]? When we should be asking: What are we trying to do? And what are the best ways to achieve those goals?

We need to balance the temptation to hop on the latest bandwagon against forces that delay decision-making or change. As John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, once said, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” In other words, execute without hesitation, but have a plan first.

Know your audience
If you’re driving after dark on an unfamiliar road, you wouldn’t hesitate to use your car’s headlights. It would be crazy – and dangerous – to proceed otherwise. Yet, some  organizations recklessly steer their marketing based primarily on assumptions or scant anecdotal information. It’s always better to shine a little light on the situation, then budget time and resources accordingly.

Be remarkable
There is an oversupply of ordinary in the world. Honestly, what can you do that your competitors can’t or won’t do? What makes you so special? If you can answer that question – better yet if your customers can answer it for you – you’re well on your way.

Spending time only on what’s quantifiable (likes, clicks, followers) is the easy part. Having the vision and leadership to act on what’s important – more likely to be operational issues than your latest tweet – is significantly harder. Hey, if it was easy, everyone would be remarkable!

Earn trust
Staying attuned to your customers and continually rewarding them is a daily grind, not a quick fix. Done well, over time, you’ll earn their trust. And then we can start matching tactics to strategic goals.

Related content:

Death to the QR Code

Is Social Media a Waste of Time?

Flip Books: Weighed, Measured, and Found Wanting