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If you’ve studied marketing and advertising, you’ve very familiar with the analysis of potential and current customers.

When analyzing our target market, we ask:

– Who are they?

– What products are they most likely to buy?

– What messages are they most likely to respond to?

– What motivates their purchases?

– What causes them not to purchase?

Using this same framework, you can analyze your own spending habits and find what motivates you, what messages work on you, and how you might be able to change your spending habits to save money.

Two ways to get started:

Analyze your Amazon suggestions/purchase history

Amazon (or any other major online retailer) spends significant resources to understand your spending habits and predict what you are most likely to buy next. Why not use this to your advantage?

For example, a quick skim of Amazon’s suggestions for me indicates that I’m most likely to buy beauty products and kitchen gadgets from them. This makes sense, as I’m very particular about wanting a specific beauty/kitchen product and unwilling to go to 10 stores to find it. At the same time, beauty products can be more expensive on Amazon than in retail. I could save a significant amount of money by going to a brand’s website and finding the products locally in a store. Or, I could save money by being less particular with my purchases.

Analyze your debit/credit card statements

Take look at your debit and credit card statements from a third-party perspective, as if you were analyzing someone in a focus group for your product or service.

What are you spending your money on and where? What’s the repetition of your spending habits? Where are the patterns? What percent of your money is going toward various purchases or categories of purchases?

For example, after I gifted him The Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey, a friend of mine analyzed his own budget from a third-party perspective and what he found was shocking: “The family” (aka him and his wife) were spending $1,400 per month on eating out!

So dedicate some time this week or weekend to taking a look at yourself as a target market and see where you spend your money and how you might change that for the better. 

A man listening on the phone

“Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

In my first marketing directorship at a community college, one of my responsibilities was to oversee the switchboard for the college. When the original member of my team who filled this crucial role announced her resignation due to a family move, I asked to spend a few days doing her tasks with her so I would understand the role and know more about the personality and skills we needed to fill that role.

And that’s when I noticed it, several times per day, we would get phone calls that replicated this script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22

Caller: Ok (long pause) Thank you.

Me: You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Was I providing good customer service?

In actuality, no. What I quickly realized was, these same people were calling back a few hours or days later and asking questions about how to enroll, how to register, etc. They weren’t really asking when the semester started; they were asking what they needed to do to be ready to start school then. And I wasn’t giving them the information or assistance they really needed.

So I changed the script:

Me: (greeting)

Caller: When does the fall semester start?

Me: August 22. Would you like me to connect you to someone who can work with you to get you set-up to start then?

Caller: Yes! Thank you, that’d be great.

Me: You’re welcome. Hold on one moment while I transfer you (transfer to Admissions)

After a few days of this, the Director of Admissions called. They had noticed the significant increase in calls and noticed that the calls were all potential students. They were curious what had happened.

This led to the Director of Admissions and I working together to identify other areas in the our communications and processes where we weren’t answering the question behind the question.

I’ll admit that it’s a continual process, it’s just too easy to slip back into being busy and not thinking-through to the actual, or next question, so I have to remind myself of this often.

When a potential or current customer contacts your organization, are you answering the question behind the question? Are you answering the question that they will call with next? Do you provide them with the information they need to move along in the sales process?

Photo: “Customer Service Assistant on the Phone” by CWCS Managed Hosting, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Do we disagree on the problem? Or the solution to the problem?

It’s easy to confuse the two. And, during contentious discussions, it’s easy to transition to thinking the disagreement is the problem, when it’s actually the solution.

The trick is to correctly identify and keep focus on which is the disagreement.

If you disagree on the solution, remind each other that you do have common ground on the problem and then explore each story.

If you disagree on the problem, explore each story as to how each of you came to the conclusion about what the problem is.

 

 

I originally picked-up Brian Wansink’s book, Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, to learn more about ways I could positively impact my personal diet. But, in reading the book, I found it was also a very helpful guide to many of the food marketing tactics that we see used today. I’ve provided some examples below.

He discusses anchoring in terms of calories:

If you ask people if there are more or less than 50 calories in an apple, most will say more. When you ask them how many, the average person will say, “66.” If you had instead asked if there were more or less than 150 calories in an apple, most would say less. When you ask them how many, the average person would say, “114.” People unknowingly anchor or focus on the number they first hear and let that bias them. Kindle location 329

How packaging impacts our choices:

The bottom line: We all consume more from big packages, whatever the product. Kindle location 810

…they could cut the size of their meat and cheese in half, and as long as they added enough garden greens to make the hamburger look just as big, they’d feel as full as if they’d eaten the real deal. Kindle location 614

The power of timing:

At one point in the 1980s, Campbell’s developed a series of commercials for radio stations called “storm spots.”25 These radio ads referred to the rain and pointed out that soup is a cozy, warm, comfort food; that it goes so well with sandwiches that are easy to make; and that—not coincidently—the listener probably happens to have a number of cans of Campbell’s soup in the cupboard right at this minute. Radio stations were instructed that if it were raining or storming between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 1:00 P.M., they should play these radio ads. The expectation was that people would dutifully eat their soup and buy more the next time they went to the store. Kindle location 1499

The power of smell:

Smell is big business. There are companies that exist solely because they can infuse (the word they oddly use is “impregnate”) odors into plastics. This is because odor can’t reliably be infused into food. Sometimes it doesn’t last; at other times it changes the shelf stability of the food itself. But if you infuse the odor into packaging, it’s a different story. Some day you might heat up your frozen microwavable apple pie and smell the rich apple pie aroma. Even if it’s the container that you’re smelling, you’re primed to enjoy that apple pie even before you put your fork in. Kindle location 1440

Expectation Assimilation and Confirmation Bias:

Psychologists call this “expectation assimilation” and “confirmation bias.” In the case of food, it means that our taste buds are biased by our imagination. Basically, if you expect a food to taste good, it will. At the very least, it will taste better than if you had thought it would only be so-so. Kindle location 1567

Consider two pieces of day-old chocolate cake. If one is named “chocolate cake,” and the other is named “Belgian Black Forest Double Chocolate Cake,” people will buy the second. That’s no surprise. What’s more interesting is that after trying it, people will rate it as tasting better than an identical piece of “plain old cake.” It doesn’t even matter that the Black Forest is not in Belgium. Kindle location 1604

…foods with descriptive names sold 27 percent more. And even though they were priced exactly the same, the customers who ate them consistently rated them as a better value than did the people who ate the same dishes with the boring old names. Kindle location 1636

And much, much more. If you are interested in learning about food marketing and research as well as learning about realistic ways to control your weight and eat healthy, I highly recommend this book.

Over the years, I’ve been asked by a variety of people in leadership positions as to what I would recommending terms of essential readings on marketing.

My response is always the same: if you read just one marketing article, read Theodore Levitt’s Marketing Myopia. Written in 1960, it may seem dated in today’s world, and some of the examples needed refinement (he has published updates over the years), but the fundamental points of the article and the strategies remain, in my opinion, the most solid, best marketing strategic advice you can read.

What would be the one article you’d recommend?

Different colors of chalk ends with the logos of the main social media sites (facebook, twitter, etc.) on the ends

“The Art of Social Media” by mkhmarketing, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 4.0

“If you create good branded content, they will come,” sums up the philosophy that was championed during my masters degree courses on social media marketing. At the time, that was the prominent thought, and still continues to be in most organizations.

The reality, however, is much different. Brands have spent billions to create content and haven’t garnered the massive loyal following they thought it would.

But Douglas Holt will tell you that crowdcultures are better at producing content, and for a lot less money and time, that resonates on social media. He demonstrates by highlighting brands who have spent billions to create amazing content on sites such as YouTube, Instagram, etc. are getting trounced in the rankings, by individuals with limited production ability.

Instead, he’ll tell you not to focus on the crowdculture. In the March 2016 edition of Harvard Business Review (Branding in the age of social media), Crowdcultures, according to Holt, are digital crows that serve “as very effective and prolific innovators of culture.”

As examples, he highlights:

  • Pre-industrial food culture: Those individuals who are concerned about, and challenging, our industrial methods of producing food.
  • Lad culture: A tongue-in-cheek form of sexism stemmed from frustrations of over-sensitivity by feminists
  • Body-positive culture: Those frustrated with the unrealistic ideals in media, especially of women

Conventional marketing would tell you to find your target market along demographic and benefit lines and promote to them, or to highlight your organization’s core values that best along with the largest segment of the market. Following the crowdculture philosophy, instead you’d identify a specific crowdculture that is a good fit for your organization and focus on them.

So back to the crowdculture examples to see how this alignment works:

  • Pre-industrial food revival: Chipotle’s branding around local and non-industrial food sourcing
  • Lad culture: Axe body spray’s over-the-top ads of bikini-clad “ideal” women chasing after men
  • Body-positive culture: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign focused on emphasizing that women are beautiful in their natural form (and, for fun, Dove has the same parent company as Axe)

There’s a lot more to identifying, aligning and maintaining this type of marketing strategy and Holt goes into some details in the article along with having a book on the subject, How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding.

Is this the correct strategy moving forward? That’s yet to be seen. What is clear is, the “If you create good branded content, they will come,” strategy isn’t working.

Quick quiz: Which answer would you prefer if you were the one asking the question?

 

Did you get your grades up?

a) I studied more and spent more time at school.

b) Yes, my grades now all B’s or better, up from C’s and D’s.

 

Did you sell more of our company’s chocolate?

a) We spent $100,000 in advertising and had sales reps pitch over 100 grocery store chains a special chocolate package.

b) Our sales of chocolate are 50% higher this year than last year, increasing our profits by $500,000.

 

Have you impacted our school’s students with free textbooks?

a) We formed a committee that meets regularly. We also held a workshop and a webinar.

b) Compared to last year of 600 students using free textbooks, we now have 3,000 students using free textbooks, saving them approximately $300,000 this year. Our class drop rate has declined by 10%, and our students are doing as well or better in the courses with free textbooks.

 

Did you increase our employee retention?

a) We conducted a survey and found out why our employees are unhappy. We plan to have a forum to share the results. Then we will decide next steps.

b) Currently we’re losing 10% of our workforce each year. We conducted a survey and used those results to create the following next steps. Our goal in the next 12 months is to use these steps (including a forum) to reduce our employee turnover to 5% from the current 10%.

 

Actions (all a’s above) are important steps to results and they can be powerful goals on the way to results, but they aren’t results. To be truly successful in your initiative, decide what result (all b’s) you want to see, and measure your success by that.