Marketing Profs: Finders Keepers Review

I just got back - well actually I got back Sunday but am just catching up now - from speaking at the Marketing Prof's Finder's Keepers 2006 Executive Retreat I spoke for a little over an hour and a half (all of it was sanctioned time!) on the subject of customer experience. I also provided several real life examples from companies like Best Buy, Jet Blue, Medtronic, Converse and other companies.

Now, Marketing Profs retreats are not like your average conference... First, this one was set in sunny Santa Barbara in an enchanting Bed and Breakfast with very cushy beds and deep soaking tubs. Second, the signature authors who spoke at the conference (Subject: finding prospects; keeping customers) stuck around for the entire two days to mingle with folks like you, giving free advice, listening hard and even learning a thing or two. Third, there were no vendors!!!

All tolled, there was an illuminating mix of companies at the conference, which ranged from large, high tech companies to small and mid-sized businesses. Here are some of the quotes I heard from the attendees:
"This is like the Bill Maher of Marketing Conferences. Lots of crossfire from the experts and great insight."

"I've been to 'em all - Marketing Sherpa, DMA, you name it. I've learned more in the first four hours of this conference than all of them combined."

"Excellent. I was impressed with the high quality speakers. I'd come again next year, for sure."
If you missed out, I hope you'll look through the archives to find great insight from our speakers, like William Arruda (the smiling, world traveler) on Branding, Jonathan Kranz (looks like a kid - wise like an old guy) on copy writing; Jim Lenskold (way smart numbers guy with the skinny on Marketing ROI ), Jill Griffin (a southern belle with great customer loyalty chops) and many others.

It wasn't just the attendees that had a good time. We authors enjoyed meeting the Marketing Profs staff - who are (honestly) all fun, impressive, intelligent people who bring the "A" game, as well as the readers of the Marketing Profs web site. If you missed out, we hope you'll consider attending the next retreat - and I certainly hope to be there again!

Experience Engagement Ring Shopping

For those of you zinging me about a lack of posts, I apologize. I've been a bit distracted lately -- I got engaged last weekend and I think my head is still spinning from it all! The best way to describe the feeling is that of dizzying joy. My current state of mind, however, is a bit "spaced out."

Over the past month... at the instruction of my fiancee, I looked for rings in an attempt to find a setting I liked. We're in the unfortunate position of being in different states which made coordination a challenge. After a few visits to some jewelers, I promised myself I'd write about the experience! Talk about an industry that could use some improvement! Let's use this as a parallel:
Imagine that you are interested in buying a car. You head into a dealership and find that the showroom is filled with a lineup of miniature models that are more economical to produce and save floor space. In the minature show room, you do get to see a 3D version of the car, but you can't sit in one because your butt won't fit in the seat. You can't drive it because some of the features aren't real. The salesman argues that the mini versions still give you the idea of what the car is like, but you don't know really how it fits you and you're left feeling dissatisfied.

While you're kicking the tires, you lift the hood of the car, but instead of an engine, there's either a gaping hole, a picture of an engine, or a cheap, plastic model of an engine in its place. You're asked to imagine the real thing - but you can't start it up and hear it purr yourself.

Say you're still interested in the car - but you want a different available model. In response, they show you a printed catalog with a photo. The dealership then proceeds to tell you that they'd be happy to order it for you at your expense, and if it doesn't work out, you can exchange it for another car. Uhhh. Yah.
If car shopping were like this, how much would it motivate you to purchase?

This is the equivilant of modern-day engagement ring shopping, for me. If you think about the parallel, it's really not too far off - especially considering the cost of the investment one makes when purchasing a ring.

Mini modeling.... Let me be clear: I don't have giganto man hands or chubby fingers. I'm a size 7, which I'm told is quite average. However, after visiting more than seven stores and being forced to cram rings over my throbbing knuckle ... after removing wedged on rings with windex (which actually became my best friend) and listening to every jeweler tell me "Yeah, I don't know why they don't send us larger sizes! People complain about this alot"... I find it ludicrous that the jewelry manufacturers send most sample rings in size six!

I was interested in how the ring felt on: Was it to chunky? Would it roll? Did it sit nicely on my finger... etc. You can't tell this when it's on your pinky finger. All tolled, the size of the ring had a decided impact on my comfort level with a setting. This is especially true when one considers that changing the size of a ring can also change look of the setting entirely, and may require stone size adjustments.

While the jewelers offered to order a display ring in my size - or any other ring in their print catalogs, their assumption was that my fiancee would pay for the special order. They explained that if we were dissatisfied with the setting, we could simply exchange the ring for another one. Frankly, that seemed like a ludicrous thing to ask, and I didn't want to be exchanging a ring my love had generously gotten for me!

As for the gaping hole and picture of the engine... Trying on a setting with no diamond in it just doesn't work, folks. Even if the jewler "tweezes" a stone and holds it over the setting for you. How can you possibly know if you like a ring unless all the stones are set and you look at it from multiple angles. Sticking a CZ or two in the ring is better than nothing - although it's not quite the same to the discering eye. In the end, it would seem to me that showing the rings with very good quality diamonds would be the place to start for selling the merchandise, but I suppose I'm being an idealist.

Departing from the car parallel, one other thing that irked me about the process- and that was the almost total disconnect between the web sites of these major (and minor) jewelers and the in-store experience. It would seem intuitive that the future bride would be able to select settings and have the jeweler email an "info sheet" (or link to a web page with pricing and options) to the future groom. It would seem intuitive that the jewelers would help facilitate the transaction in some way. But nooo. Half the rings that were displayed in the store weren't on the web site -- and vice versa. Some jewelers weren't willing to give me stock numbers and manufacturer information of the rings. EGAD!

Now, I'm sure there's some economics that go into these dynamics. For example, the practice of sending smaller samples into the stores. Obviously, the smaller the ring, the less metal there is - and the bigger the diamonds look. However, the economics at play may well be costing some jewelers very good sales, today.

The national and regional jewelers we visited lost my ever diligent and extremely patient fiancee's business because they made us jump through WAY too many hurdles. They showed us too many rings, overwhelmed us with a lot of detail, made us use our imagination to the point where our heads hurt, and made us want to go away - not stay and make a choice.

In the end, the jeweler we liked best was a small, family-owned high end jeweler that had about four cases full of beautiful, carefully selected rings. Every ring was displayed with stones - all of them were lovely. The staff was laid back and extremely friendly, and they were great about outlining pricing to my fiancee in a discrete manner. They didn't preach at us, but educated us when we asked about the rings and stones. They helped make us aware of many considerations of the purchase and gave us managable options that made us want to do business with them.

In the end, I picked my setting, he picked the stones and we got a lovely ring that he put on my finger the day before easter on a bridge over the Big Sioux river. I must say, as bad as engagement ring shopping can be, there's simply NOTHING that could rob me of the joy of doing this with soon-to-be husband. After all, I got the REAL prize when I met him... and that's kind of the point of it all. :-)

I just thought the experience of the ring shopping was worth mentioning. Maybe some smart jewelers will change things up a bit and see if store conversions rise as a result! As we plan our wedding, I'm sure there will be more fun stories emerging. But heck, maybe I'll avoid some of those pitfalls and just get married on a beach somewhere! Stay tuned!

Would you pay premium for commercial free TV?

iTunes offers downloads of popular television shows for $1.99. I love them because they're easy to skip through and free of annoying commercials. I can watch them any time I want on the laptop, which comes in handy during three hour layovers in places like Chicago. ABC's popular hit show "Lost" is my personal favorite... it's almost always in the iTunes top download category.

ABC recently announced that it will offer free downloads of select programming, including "Lost". The catch? Non-skippable commercials.

And so I ask... How much are you willing to pay for commercial-free television programming? I dunno … To me, the buck ninety nine to forego them seems worth it.

So, you don't download? Perhaps maybe you think this doesn't apply to you? Well, as the lines between our computer networks and TV become blurred, the model may well apply to you in the future!

Commercial skipping and freedom of choice were a big reason why I bought a TIVO six years ago - that, as well as the ability to watch what I want, when I want. It's the way things should be!

There will always be a market for on-demand, full choice programming. It's what the majority of people really want. Sony/TIVO gets this, and as an emerging media company, Apple also recognizes and responds to this. The networks and the advertisers, on the other hand hate what's going on and seem to be fighting it using the methods below to deal with next-generation advertising:

1. The industry is working on technologies that will limit our ability to skip commercial advertisements for DVRs and the web. While this is likely to make the advertisers very happy, it will inevitably alienate the people who have invested in choice enabling technology. In the end, this approach is not likely to work out very well for anyone.

2. They're becoming more intelligent about careful advertising sponsorships. Today, it's almost expected to see Oprah or Dr. Phil giving away everything but the kitchen sink. ABC partners with Sears give away new homes stocked with high end appliances to people in need on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." It not only works for the advertisers - it works for the people watching, who feel better by association. It's a win-win.

3. They're getting more aggressive about embedded and interactive advertising. This is the new frontier in advertising really, although the principal has been around for years. E.g. How often do you see that Coke can sitting on the table in popular TV shows and movies? They may as well shape the stage of "American Idol" with a coke bottle... Embedded advertising is beginning to morph into a less subtle form. We're beginning to see the networks using non-skippable embedded ads that comprise all or part of the lower 1/5th of a screen. I saw one for "Swiffer" the other day. It was an annoying animated ad that appeared during live programming and was incredibly distracting. It certainly failed to contribute to positive brand association for me. Interruptive advertising isn't likely to enhance the television experience in the long run - and it's archaic compared to the possibilities offered by new technologies that can make embedded ads and sponsorships even better - and maybe more effective.

For example, if you've got a DVR, you're likely to find embedded advertisements and programming in various menu areas. It's also becoming more common to find interactive icons that display during commercials which invite you to "learn more". If your DVR is connected to your network, you'll have even more options. Individuals can download and participate in games, contests, promotions right from the TV. So far, the execution in these areas isn't real compelling. Heck - Nielsen just added DVR viewership to its rankings, so that's not surprising. So, there's still a lot of work to be done in this arena of advertising. The big challenge for advertisers addressing the new paradigms will be making embedded advertisements and promotions visible and compelling --> yet less interruptive and annoying.

It will be interesting to see this all shake out... just how much people are willing to pay - just how far they're willing to go - for commercial free programming remains to be seen.

What's the lesson for those in the biz? The customer rules! TIVO and Apple have gained a tremendous fan base by acknowledging the consumer's need for choice and flexibility. The networks often work against this dynamic and fail to leverage new technologies effectively to create really compelling "packages" for consumers. As a result, they simply have viewers.

In reality, many of us have been paying for commercial free programming for years - on pay channels like HBO, Cinemax and others. The times they are a changing, however. Watch HBO today and you're likely to see plenty of commercials between movies - from network promotions, ads for upcoming programming and "making of" film trailers and coming soon promotions for new films (on the network or in the theater). Furthermore, getting movies is now so cheap and easy, many viewers simply don't need those channels as much (unless you're addicted to HBO programming like "The Sopranos"). We can pretty much watch movies any time we want with on-demand programming, our own home DVD collections, Blockbuster or Netflix.

As things change, what's most important as the media companies pioneer the advertising and sponsorship models that drive modern day television programming is customer centricity. Sears and ABC understand that people want to feel good - and they leveraged the heck out of it (along with other advertisers) to create Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. But they still haven't figured it out entirely. On the other hand, ABC has a pretty sophisticated advertising model on all their sites - which makes advertisements extremely overt. While this works for the advertisers, it's also exceedingly annoying for the consumer, as ads are displayed on or before almost every page of the site. Contrast ABC's advertising model with say, VH1.com to note the real difference!

My thought on commercials, television and choice: Find a way to give the people what they want, and do it with style and creativity better than the competition. Putting people first will yield a fan base that allows you to charge your advertisers (and, if they're willing to pay, your customers) a premium price that will push you ahead of the pack. :-)

Meet & Greet at the Marketing Profs Spring Retreat!

So, the posts are light right now because I'm traveling again, and will be next week, as well, but here's a little tidbit/reminder for regular readers:

Next week, I'm excited to be presenting at the Marketing Prof's 2006 Annual spring retreat April 20-21 in Santa Barbara. This year's topic is "Finding Prospects & Keeping Customers."

You should know is that the team at Marketing Profs retreats aren't interested in hosting your average meeting. Here's why this Spring retreat is truly unique:

  • You'll find us in a beautiful B&B by the sea in Santa Barbara
  • It's limited to only 50 earnest and interesting marketing professionals
  • You'll hear eight presenters who'll remain available during the retreat to dialog with you!

  • SO --> Two days of stimulating discourse, riveting interaction, hanging out with smart, cool people (I aspire to be cool by association) and the beach! Sure beats your typical conference, right? Also, did I mention there will be no vendors?

    There's a lot of cheap airfare right now! Maybe you should think about coming! Get the details and download the event brochure now to read about the agenda, the speakers, the location, and more. If you're interested in attending, I recommend you hurry! Only a handful of seats are left.

    One more thing - Marketing Profs is offering a gift with registration if you sign up for the retreat by Friday, April 14th. They'll give you a $199 Premium Plus membership - or a whole year of access to ALL of the Premium content that MarketingProfs publishes, including our popular virtual seminars. And that's a lot of know-how for free!

    Hope to see you there!

    MTV Networks and the Power of Multichannel Branding

    Check out this interesting article in Mediaweek, “MTV Networks Coins New Sales Metric For The Upfront.”

    The skinny: MTV Networks has conducted a study which proves multichannel/multiplatform brands have a higher level of “transference” (or positive brand association for advertisers) than brands that are promoted within a single channel.

    Okay, so those of us engaged in customer experience already understand the power of multi channel experience, and it’s clear that MTV Networks understands how to leverage the power of multi channel branding. From VHI to Comedy Central, Nickelodeon to CMT, it has become standard to leverage the web and wireless channels for exclusive content that promises to more closely tie the viewer in with television content.

    Viewers of just about any MTV Network program can click for more content and show stopping interaction: obtain episode guides, view exclusive (and uncensored) footage, preview upcoming shows, read cast member commentary, find out what happened “after the show”, provide feedback, interact with other viewers, play games, enter into contests or sweepstakes, buy merchandise, download ring tones, screen savers and much more. Then there’s the wireless presence… I was amused to find the latest clips from “The Flavor of Love” from VH1’s Celebreality on my Sprint PowerVision test phone. VH1 hosts the “VCast,” a daily, wireless broadcast of new and popular music, sponsored by Verizon.

    In in MTV Network’s case the residual call for advertisers is this: “You can be cool by association!” Why not, if it works? You might even learn a thing or two. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned related to multichannel marketing: Affinity brands understand how to create a seamless experience across channels and across platforms in a manner that builds and reinforces customer loyalty. Whether you’re piggy backing on the success of a television program or network, or configuring your own experience across your own channels, plotting out the cross-channel experience is a necessary skill in this on-demand era.

    ...and we’ve got to be able to better measure the results!

    What’s interesting about the MTV Networks study is that the Mediaweek article cites no link to the study or figures that illustrate how the transference metric is derived. Further, while this intuitively may ring true to folks "in the know", there really are no statistics that show the difference between transference rates for single and multi-channel advertising campaigns. I combed the press releases and MTV Networks site looking for the study and was unable to locate it. It occurs to me that MTV may want to keep this information proprietary. However, if you have managed to get your hot little hands on this study data, please send it my way or leave a comment here.

    All tolled, in a world where the metrics we use are commonly insufficient, it’d be nice to see more true “case studies” that illustrate how leaders are measuring quality, experience, loyalty… and new measures like transference and engagement mentioned in this article.

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    LEIGH DURST

    LEIGH DURST
    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.

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