Kicking off some monthly co-blogging goodness

I’m doing something a little bit different this week.  Today’s blog entry kicks off a once-a-month co-blogging series with my friend and Brains on Fire word-of-mouth marketing practioner Eric Dodds.  Without any further delay, let’s kick things off.

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Co-bloggin’ goodness: One is a seasoned corporate marketer working for Best Buy. The other is a small-agency young-gun in a constant quest for his spurs. Both are passionate about making positive change in the industry, and they want to share their thoughts with you. Jamie Plesser and Eric Dodds are starting a monthly co-blogging series that will tackle tasty marketing topics from both sides of the line. Meet the crew:

Jamie: I’m a native Kansas Citian but call Minneapolis home. The Twin Cities rock on many levels…except for the length of the winter. Work-wise, my gig is in the consumer marketing space at the corporate HQ for Best Buy. I dig live music. I wish I was better than a novice guitar player. I love Kansas Jayhawk basketball. And I am a Royals fan in hibernation.

Dodds: I was raised in Upstate South Carolina and roped in by a small, big-hearted agency called Brains on Fire. I’ve had my hand in qualitative research, account management, community management, and even a little bit of strategy. You can usually find me hiking outdoors, tinkering with a bicycle, or tackling the next improvement project at my house.

This month’s menu: “How do marketing communication plans kill connection with your customer?”

Eric:

First of all, I think we could do something better than the term “marketing communications plan.” I don’t know anyone who would get excited about those words. Maybe something like “customer inspiration plan” would make the concept a little less clinical-feeling, but I digress.

Being part community manager, part account executive, my experience with marketing communications plans has meant that I help figure out what brands contribute to communities. I’ve heard some people refer to the process with fancy names like ‘content strategy.’

So, as I began to think through this post and my experiences with content strategy, I found myself asking the question, “How much content from brands do I actually consume?” I think it’s a great question, and the answer for me was simple: very little. I’m guessing it’s probably the same for you. Naturally, the next question is, “Why?”

Well, there are a whole lot of answers, and it varies by situation. As a start, though, from the perspective of both a consumer and community manager producing and distributing content, I think part of the reason is that many of the things that companies want to say are less interesting than probably 80% (or more) of the other stuff their customers consume.

Hugh
Hugh MacLeod, as usual, makes the reality of this concept blunt and funny.

 

Hugh’s point is an understandable dilemma, though. At the end of the day, the responsibility of most marketers is to add to the bottom line. Which means they have to communicate messages to people that will compel them to open their wallets. So how does this process ‘go wrong’ so often?

 

Here at Brains on Fire, we have a theory that things often go wrong because companies spend most of their time planning what they want to say to their customers (from the inside), as opposed to actually going out and talking with them to find out what they might be interested in.

 

You could look at it as a direction problem. Where are you starting?

 

I’ve seen a good number of companies form content from the top, letting the communications plan trickle down to all of the various outlets they talk through. “We’re the most durable product in the industry,” might be the new line from the people at the steering wheel. Marketing managers send briefs to their teams, copy points are written and the community manager is told, “September’s the month where we’ll talk about how we have the most durable product in the industry. Send us the calendar of posts when you’re done.” That’s not a good recipe for producing anything great.

 

In my experience, there’s a lot more success to be had when a company determines that it’s truly valuable to talk through a certain outlet, and ask the people on the other end of the line what they actually want. It helps to ask questions like, ‘Will anyone care about anything we say?’ Sometimes just being a large company can make the answer to that question an automatic no. Other times you realize that most of the people are just looking for some sort of discount.

 

But I also know that sometimes when you ask people, ‘How can we provide real value to you?’ they will tell you. That gives you a pretty remarkable platform for molding a communications plan that’s going to have real impact when the messages reach the people at the end of their journey. Those people, after all, are the reason we do business in the first place.

 

Jamie:

 

Marketing isn’t supposed to be difficult to approach, is it?  You’re trying to either acquire customers or retain them.  You do this by competing on price or by differentiating your offering.  And you communicate this by delivering the right message to the right consumer at the right time.  Boom – there you go, Marketing 101. 

Except in practice it’s not that easy.  Often times for companies it is about acquisition and retention.  Brands are competing on price and by trying to differentiate themselves.  Getting the messaging and media strategy right is tougher than ever.  But I think that just because it’s not that easy doesn’t mean that the principles behind what we are trying to do should be tossed aside. 

If you consider marketing communications in particular, it is getting harder for brands to manage this space.  Compared to what it looked like 10-15 years ago, the media landscape has broken apart and fragmentation is here to stay.  We as consumers own communication channels just as much as brands do.  This means that companies can no longer default to push-only communication strategies.  Instead, they have to figure out the appropriate balance between pushing messages, getting involved in conversations and knowing when to steer clear altogether.

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The wrinkle here is that marketing communications plans are often the first time that a brand has to get in front of or interact with a consumer but often times they are the last in line in terms of emphasis.  So how does this play out?  If you work in the marketing space then you’ve likely seen this happen – time lines get squeezed, messaging strategies are cobbled together and the media plan doesn’t connect with the messaging approach.  The right message at the right place at the right time doesn’t come to fruition. 

Lately in my work I’ve been thinking about the theme of “less is more.”  This comes into play in a couple ways relative to how marketing communications can be an enabler rather than a disabler. First, there is an opportunity to be more consistent in messaging.  To me this means that brands have to rein in all the different messages that are put out in the market place.  Consumers are already bombarded by the sheer number of marketing messages that face us every day.  To help cut through that clutter, brands should say a smaller variety of things but say them more consistently. 

Secondly, the types of messages and tone associated with those messages should be appropriate to where they appear.  In my personal life, I don’t expect to have the same kind of conversation take place with my friends in person versus how I interact with them over Twitter versus what our e-mails look like versus how we connect on Facebook.  Why should this be any different for how brands try to communicate with people? 

Getting fine tuned in the planning of marketing communications should not just be seen as something that is nice to have.  Instead, it should be seen an integral to building brand perception.  If you think about it, the initial interactions that brands have with consumers often come from marketing communications and these interactions more often than not take place before companies can even get to their “payoff” – the moment of truth when a consumer actually experiences or makes use of the brand itself.

 

(Photos courtesy of creative commons license: Clappstar and Matthew Miller.)
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