Archive for the 'Marketing research' Category

24
Aug
09

Ask for advice then go with your gut

Research or Gamble?

Research or Gamble?

How many times have you reached out to friends and business partners to get advice about a marketing or branding concept? And how many times have you received fifty different opinions leaving you more confused than you were when you started? Over my two decades of marketing consulting, I’ve seen this situation play out over and over. In fact, I’ve fallen into this trap myself.

It’s a good idea to vet ideas, concepts and designs with people who fit your target profile. Their advice and input can in invaluable. But you need to look at it as research – not as a substitute for making a decision. In other words, there are things to be learned during this process – things that you may not have considered before you asked. However, ultimately you need to make your own decision as to which direction to go. Only you have enough information to make these decisions and only you will bear the consequences if you get it wrong.

The problem with vetting marketing and creative decisions with a group of “outsiders” (people who are not trained in marketing) is that they will not understand the criteria used to develop the concept or approach. They will simply make a knee-jerk comment or reaction (which has some value) but keep in mind that most people feel that they must “critique” the effort – finding something wrong with it is part of their perceived responsibility. It is almost impossible to put your approach in context for them.

Another issue that skews this sort of advice is that people generally prefer concepts and approaches that are safe, familiar and predictable. They will invariably suggest you remove any aspects that create tension, that are interesting or provocative. This is death for effective marketing. “Safe”, “Familiar”, and “Predictable” equals weak “me-too” marketing.

On the other hand, if everybody simply loves your approach this is a clue that you haven’t pushed it far enough to be compelling. Effective marketing takes measured risks. If you are slightly uncomfortable about your approach,you are probably on the right track.

Now, I’m not saying you should go nuts and be offensive. The key is to find enough edge to be interesting and stand out of the clutter. Marketing by committee is well known to kill good strategies. Bouncing ideas off of your peers is not a bad idea. However you need to be careful not to base your ultimate decisions on this input alone. It is a great way to bring additional data into your process. But at the end of the day, your gut will tell you if it’s right. I don’t know about you but my gut is almost always right.

If you need some objective input on your marketing approach, message or brand, I’m happy to help. Contact me at http://www.claritymarketingsupport.com and I’ll give you my opinion as a professional marketer. Just take it with a grain of salt.

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16
May
09

Just Say Nay

Don’t let the naysayers get to you. Have faith. Do what you know is right.

02
Jan
09

The State of the Central Texas Economy

Optimism and Confidence Prevail Among B2B Leaders
by Pete Monfre

Discussion: Comment below with your thoughts and analysis.

survey-report-cover

Click to download a copy of the survey report

If you’ve turned on your television or radio over the last six months or so, you’ve been the recipient of an almost unprecedented drumbeat of economic doom and gloom. It is no wonder that business owners and executives are concerned over the performance of the economy and its impact on the bottom line. From the time we wake up to the time we go to bed, we are bombarded with stories about rising unemployment, Wall Street histrionics and the credit and housing crisis.  However, it is difficult to glean any useful information from a medium where “if it bleeds, it leads” while presenting information about complex subjects in sound bites. Adding to the difficulty, the media is even less reliable during an election cycle.

There is little doubt that perception can become reality.  Most business owners acknowledge that their business is still growing but still have concerns whether this growth will continue – citing mostly media reports as the source of this concern. The reality is that, in Central Texas, businesses have experienced strong growth over the past few years so any slow down might be perceived as more dramatic, even though we are still doing better than the rest of the country.

In October of 2008, Clarity Marketing Support , SomersetGuild and Business District Publishing, set out to find out what is really happening on the street in Central Texas. We surveyed 239 business owners, leaders and executives to get a statistically accurate picture of how businesses are performing in our local area and gauge their outlook and confidence in the coming year.

The grass really is greener in Central Texas
Most people feel that Central Texas is somewhat insulated from the rest of the country. Indeed, Austin has seen amazing growth in terms of people moving to the city as well as business startups. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate as of April 2008 fell to 4.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent during the same time period in 2007. The unemployment rate in Texas remains far below the U.S. rate of 5.0 percent. Business in Texas continues to expand with an annual job growth rate of 2.5 percent.

86% of respondents thought the Central Texas economy was either average or above average. However, there was little expectation that the local economy would improve over the next six months with only 4% indicating they expected improvement. Only 24% expected the economy to turn substantially worse. 44% had a great deal of confidence in the local economy.

While people toss around terms like “recession” and “economic meltdown”, the reality in Central Texas is that there won’t be any soup lines in the near future. Business leaders here seem to understand economies are cyclical.  Any steep decline in economic activity will likely be offset by future surges in the economy’s growth. In the long term, the highs and lows average out to form the trend, or average, economic growth rate. This trend growth rate is subject to change, but it has remained relatively steady in the past, indicating the general rate of growth that we can expect to see in the future.

Since the late 1940s the United States has suffered 10 recessions. On average, they’ve lasted 10 months. The worst recessions of 1973-75 and 1981-82 lasted 16 months with peak unemployment reaching 9.0 percent and 10.8 percent respectively. With the current national unemployment rate at about 6.5%, this indicator would have to rise dramatically to match post World War II levels. The duration of recessions has steadily decreased over the years – a testament to the ever increasing strength of the American economy. In fact, Austin has experienced a decline in unemployment dropping from 3.8% to 3.6% in recent months.


The most serious issues facing Central Texas businesses

When asked to think about their own organizations, respondents said the most pressing issue facing their company concerned some aspect of the economy with 20% mentioning availability of credit and 10% citing some aspect of consumer confidence. Outside of the economy the issue that received the most frequent mention was finding and keeping talented, trained employees (6%).  A common theme throughout the survey was anger at the negative tone with which the economic crisis had been covered by the news media.

It is interesting to note that the issues cited by leaders are not particularly new issues. Growing businesses struggle with obtaining adequate credit, the whims of customer confidence and the difficulty of recruiting and retainment as a matter of course. While these issues may seem more acute in the short term most of the concern is about the future – not focused on what is happening today.

“There’s a bombardment of negative news about the economy…people here are feeling scared and withdrawn even though their lives have not been affected directly as of yet.” says Dena Roberts, an Austin-based psychotherapist. “We seem to lose distinction as to what’s happening in the local market as opposed to the national market – What do I see actually happening around me as opposed to what I’m afraid might happen to me. ”

When it comes to financial performance compared to expectations, about a third of respondents indicated that their company was performing better than expected with 34% responding that performance was about what they expected and about a third stating they were not meeting expectations. There was some concern about possible future reductions in customer spending.

Job Growth Evens Out
The majority of respondents indicated that they will remain at their current levels of staffing with only 21% planning to add staff. The last figures available (July 2008) from the Texas Workforce commission,  show an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent in Texas overall, a figure much lower than the national rate of 6.5 percent. A rate of 4.5 percent is considered “full employment” by the U.S. government. This jump in unemployment shows that Texas is beginning to feel the effects of the national economic slowdown and our survey, while optimistic, confirms this.

Texas has always shown a healthy propensity for job creation. In fact, Texas accounted for 60% of all job growth over the past year according to a new report from Toronto-Dominion Bank. The rest of the nation has experienced six consecutive months of job losses.

“If there is any reason that we are more insulated from the rest of the country, it’s probably because we have more companies that aren’t revenue driven, they are driven by investors.” says Peter Strople, CEO of Zero2 Holdings. “And now we are starting to evolve, we’re starting seeing bigger businesses, were starting to see later stage early businesses that are becoming successful. And those things are being affected by the market. As Austin grows and we  get less investment and more revenue, we’ll probably be more effected by the national economy.”

How are Central Texas Businesses adapting?
When asked how respondents were adapting to changing market conditions, the majority (44%) anticipated no change in marketing budgets or plans. However, a surprising number (34%) were planning on increasing budget and activity. This is an interesting finding given the level of concern expressed about possible reductions in client spending. Not surprisingly, when asked to evaluate their organizations marketing efforts, the numbers break down similarly with 44% indicating their marketing efforts were better than average and about a 25% indicating efforts were below average.

There is little doubt that improving customer acquisition processes and programs can help offset changes in demand. Even when rating efforts as “better than average” most business leaders feel that there is always room for improvement.

In terms of business development, about half of respondents felt that their efforts were above average. When asked about sales performance, answers were equally optimistic, with 48% giving a rating of above average and only 19% rating sales activities as below average.

According to Will Guild, principal of SomersetGuild Research, “It is important to note that (when it comes to rating respondent’s own marketing and sales abilities) these are very optimistic answers statistically. In some respect, this data might reflect a tendency for people to overestimate their own position and ability. Only about 25% thought their marketing efforts were poor.   That says that the majority believe they are above average. It just can’t be true.”

Matching a national trend, about a third of companies were shifting marketing resources toward social media to a substantial degree including more emphasis on the web, blogs, on-line communities and other tools. Another 24% indicated they had shifted in this direction to a moderate degree.

According to a new study by Forrester Research, marketers are likely to decrease spending in traditional media geared to building simple brand awareness. However, direct response advertising is still a strong performer. The study forecasts online direct response vehicles like search and email marketing will gain market share because companies can tie them to sales. Interest in social media continues to grow but businesses struggle with how to measure it.

No one knows for sure what lies ahead for Central Texas businesses in the coming year. But one thing seems clear: Texas is uniquely situated to prosper and grow regardless of national economic trends. With a GDP ranked 12th in the world(higher than India, South Korea and Australia), Texas’ economic engine is resilient. Perhaps this is due to a low cost of  living, effective business incentives and a robust, highly skilled workforce. Or maybe it’s just the hard work ethic and the pro-business Texan attitude that keeps the wheels of commerce turning. While we may not see the levels of growth we’ve become accustomed to, it seems clear that Central Texas will weather this storm just like it has before.

For a copy of the report from this study, visit www.claritymarketingsupport.com.

Pete Monfre is the founder of Clarity Marketing Support and is known for his common sense approach to marketing and sales development. A prolific writer, producer, raconteur and consultant, he draws from two decades of working with B2B companies ranging from start-ups to the Fortune 100.  Contact him at 512-868-8460 or by email: pmonfre@claritymarketingsupport.com.

11
Dec
08

How to choose keywords for SEO

The first step for increasing traffic to your web site is to gain a good understanding of how your customers use the search engines. In other words, the words you use to refer to your products and business are not necessarily the same words your customers use. So how do you find out what words are used most?

A strategic keyword analysis is the answer to this question. Using a variety of tools and techniques, we can find out how many people are searching on certain words, how much competition there is for these words, what companies are paying for keywords and much more. Typically, we find out that the words we thought customers were using are rarely searched and other terms we didn’t think of are killer keywords!

Choosing the right keywords and phrases is critical. If a search engine can’t connect your Web site to the words and phrases people are searching for, you simply wont be part of the search results.

Once you have a long list of words (some companies have thousands of keywords) it’s time to figure out on which ones you can actually compete. For example, if one of your keywords is “insurance” you will find that millions of searches on “insurance” are done every month. It would seem like this is a good keyword to use, right? Wrong – there is also a ton of competition for this word – thousands of companies trying to claim the number one spot for “insurance”. The key is to find words and phrases that have a high incidence of searches and a relatively low level of competition.

One way to compete would be to narrow the focus and geotarget – for example, “auto insurance Austin” – or “home owners insurance Texas” or “insurance brokers Austin”. While there will be competition for these words, it won’t be nearly as competitive for the most obvious words.

Contact me for more information about the Strategic Keyword Analysis.

13
Oct
08

Marketing in a recession. What’s the difference?

Everywhere I turn I see companies attempting to leverage the much hyped “downturn” in the economy. All of a sudden, they are touting special “Recession” services and techniques to overcome impending doom. Marketing and advertising agencies are especially guilty offenders. So, in my inimitable tradition of cutting through the smoke and smashing the mirrors, allow me to deliver some straight talk (McCain and Obama aside).

When it comes to marketing, there is no difference between a recession marketing strategy versus a boom time marketing strategy. There are simply two ends of the marketing strategy continuum. On one end, there exists the Well Planned and Executed Strategy. On the other, the Wild Ass Seat of the Pants Unstrategy. That’s it. All companies are on this continuum somewhere.

If you find yourself on the right side of the continuum, you will experience more pain when the economy gets tight. It’s as simple as that.

The fact is that there are always deals going on. There may be fewer deals but even a 20% downturn means that 80% of business is still being transacted. Companies who have investing in “real” marketing strategies and programs (a customer centered message, a clear position, a consistent marketing communications effort, etc.) will naturally be in a better position to win business in this type of circumstance. Those who don’t have a best practices process in place will be victims of Market Darwinism.

So what makes a “real” strategy? Here’s a few points to help you figure out where you are on the continuum:

  1. Objectivity: If your marketing and sales programs are based purely on internal information or the dictum of a single person, it’s most likely not going to be very effective.
  2. Research: Going hand-in-hand with Objectivity is customer, competitive and industry research. Yes, it’s expensive and not as fun as building a new web site, however, if you really want to get the facts as to how customers buy, how competitors sell and how to leverage industry thought leaders to your advantage, no strategy should skip this important step.
  3. Budget: Two opposing objectives are very common in businesses: Saving Money or Growing the Business. These objectives are mutually exclusive. You can’t save your way to success and making money requires careful, investment.
  4. Commitment: Marketing programs take time to work. Pulling the plug every time the stock market hiccups destroys any momentum and equity your efforts may have created.
  5. Execution: Having a well researched, objective, adequately budgeted plan means nothing if you don’t execute. Build a team and get it done. And keep doing it until it pays off.

Good times or bad, it pays to bring your marketing programs up to par with the rest of your carefully planned business. Of course there is more to it than can be covered here. But this is a start. Marketing is a business process. The outcome (increased market share, revenue and profit)  is only as good as the process used to get there.

10
Sep
08

Mmmm, sweat sock pie.

Parts is Parts But Pie isn’t Pie.
I’m often asked to consult on very narrow parts of a marketing and advertising program. For example: “Pete we just want to you tell us why our web site isn’t producing the number of leads we think it should.” Or, “Pete, just take a look at this direct mail piece and give us your recommendations as to how we can make it better.”.

The problem is my guesses probably won’t be any better than your guesses. Sure, I can make pretty good guesses because I’ve spent the last two decades solving these types of problems but ultimately we will still be guessing. Guessing is the antithesis of great marketing.

The trouble here is that we would only be looking at a tiny slice of the pie. Figuring out why the pie tastes terrible requires looking at the quality of all of the ingredients, the process of making the pie, checking the oven to ensure it’s working properly, ensuring the pie is the right kind of pie (nobody is going to like a pie made of sweat socks – apple might taste better). The pie is simply the end result of many steps. And let’s not forget the experience and talent of the pie maker.

In my experience, no single tactic (an advertisement, a direct mail piece, a web site, etc.) can be expected to move a B2B suspect to buy. It takes a coordinated series of contacts in multiple media formats to provide maximum performance of a marketing campaign. But even more importantly, these tactics must be based on a holistic view of all the factors that drive the buying decision. These factors typically can include:

  • How customers make buying decisions
  • Competitive offerings and methods
  • Industry trends
  • Perception of the brand
  • Relevancy of the message
  • Targeting
  • Pricing
  • Placement
  • Length of time campaign runs
  • and many more factors.

Once all of the factors are considered, it may be possible to make changes to specific tactics and improve said tactics performance. But if there are systemic problems within the organization or it’s marketing planning process – these issues must first be solved before any marketing program or promotional campaign can be expected to produce a real return on investment.

But making and selling great pie isn’t as simple as it might seem. You must use the best ingredients, measure these ingredients precisely (unless you’re my mother who has an uncanny knack for tossing handfuls of stuff into the pie and it turns out great every time), bake the pie at the right temperature for the right amount of time, display the pie for your customers and receive feedback as to how much they like it. And if the majority of the customers love your sweat sock pie, then you make more sweat sock pie. You don’t have to eat it. You just have to sell it.

08
Aug
08

Hitler’s Moustache

I recently shaved off my goatee due to a terrible shaving accident. I was able to salvage a reasonable “jazz dot” from the remains of my facial manhood. (You may know this type of facial hair as an “imperial”, “royale”, “soul patch” or “nubbin”). So what does this somewhat personal information have to do with marketing? Hang in there while I spin another fascinating and insightful yarn.

My “jazz dot” is my personal homage to my former life as a touring blues musician. It also is a nod to to some of my favorite musicians. What I didn’t know was that this style of facial hair was historically worn by French officers as a badge or adornment of military rank or status (thank you wikipedia).

However, last week a 10 year old kid in my neighborhood looked at my fabulous soul patch and said, “You have Hitler’s moustache but it’s on your chin!”.

This kid had his own unique perception of my look – with none of the understanding behind my intention or my own perception. He simply dealt with what he saw and framed it within his own point of reference.

As marketing people we often generalize or stereotype target audiences, lumping them together into like-minded groups and presenting them with a message that we believe will come though loud and clear to the majority of the constituents within each group. We expect their point of reference and perception to match ours and receive the message we intend.

In reality, there is simply no way to predict how someone will translate and perceive your carefully researched and thought-out concept. You have no idea how each person’s personal experience and points of reference will impact the meaning of your communication.

Until marketing communication can truly be “one to one” this limitation will continue to exist. The good news is that the majority of your audience will “get it”. The others will probably compare you to Hitler.




Who is Pete Monfre

CLICK HERE to visit my web site

I'm a serial entrepreneur, marketing and media guy, raconteur, writer, producer and consultant. I write this little blog to help you unravel the mysteries of marketing and selling, to expose the silliness that masquerades as marketing and help you make better decisions that will grow your business. And I have fun with it. Why not comment? That way we can have a conversation. Or better yet, hop on over to my web site and drop me a line.

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