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Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Tipping Point and Media Planning

It seems hard to believe that Malcolm Gladwell’s THE TIPPING POINT--How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference was published back in 2000, over thirteen years ago. The term has invaded our vocabulary in a big way ever since.

Gladwell did not invent the term--its roots go back to the 1950’s and was coined by Morton Grodzins, an American political scientist. Gladwell called it “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” I always saw it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Webster defined it as “the point at which a series of small changes or incidents became significant enough to cause a larger, more important change.”

Many high brow people do not like Gladwell as they say he, a marvelous storyteller, tries to explain things a bit too glibly when scientific or statistical data is needed to back up some of his conclusions. I have found that he makes you think which is a very good thing.

Thoughts of The TIPPING POINT came rushing back to me this week. There are a number of young media planners across the country who read this blog. Several write to me regularly and I make sure that I offer them constant encouragement.

A young man more than a 1000 miles from New York labors in a small to medium sized ad agency. He is absolutely on fire about media. Part of a tiny department he writes most of the plans in his shop and sometimes negotiates TV, radio, and local cable in adjoining markets. He gets little praise from the shop’s owner who, he claims, does not understand media well and tries to ignore many of the changes going on today. So, he labors alone although his clients seem to like him.

Recently, he sent me a draft of a media plan for a multi-market retailer that he handles. As I read it, I made some quick notes on a piece of scrap paper and was getting ready to send him an e-mail with a few comments. At the end of the plan, he outlined a list of tactics by market which he was going to handle personally. I was stunned. It was, quite simply, pretty damned wonderful. He had taken a perfectly acceptable media plan and made it really good. The “tipping point” in the plan was the inclusion of customized tactics that he had worked out across six Nielsen DMA’s. As Malcolm Gladwell has told us, “Little things can make a big difference.”

His client is being well served. Had a mega-shop or media buying service been executing the media strategy they never would have had his attention to detail or spent the time to create a unique effort in each DMA. They might have negotiated a slightly lower rate here or there (none of the markets were large) but they would have set it and forgotten it and moved on to the next group of buys.

I asked my young friend if he would like to work in New York, Chicago, Dallas, or Austin where he could learn a lot from peers and meet many like minded people. He said that even though he arrives first in his shop and usually stays an hour late each day he only lives five minutes from the office. He has lived in his small city for several years and has a nice social network and a great girlfriend. Life is good despite being lonely at the office.

How many other young people are out their like this outstanding young man? He needs more stimulation and exposure to new ideas and colleagues as the digital train has long left the station and is changing everything. For the moment, he is doing a remarkable job. Yet, when the “tipping point” hits and means the end of conventional media as we know it, this marvelous young talent may be left behind.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Thursday, September 19, 2013

TV and The Product Lifecycle

We all know that most new products and new businesses fail. Once a product or brand survives the early days it invariably has a lifecycle. A friend and I talked about this recently and followed up with some lively e-mails for quite a while. Essentially, he said that TV was in the “decline” phase according to classic marketing measures and its days as an ad medium were definitely numbered. I saw his point but thought that TV’s life as an ad medium was longer than he predicted.

Let’s back up for a moment and define lifecycle phases. Remember that many products or services have their own unique, idiosyncratic lifecycles but, in general, they shape up as follows:

The Launch--here is where most products fail. To marketers, consumer acceptance is far more important than profit. So, money is spent and lost short term on advertising and promotion to build awareness. If the market is very competitive, you may come in low with penetration pricing to encourage consumer trial. Distribution is often spotty at this point.
Growth--as demand for your product increases, you can maintain pricing integrity. Also, distribution gets filled in and you spend more on promotion of all kinds to cover a wider audience than you did during the launch phase.
Maturity--you competition has sharpened their teeth or you have new entries in your space forcing you to often engage in a price war.
Decline--the whole category starts to decline because of technological innovation or changing tastes of the consumer. There are additional price cuts and advertising is often slashed to reduce costs. Sooner or later, the brand is sold or even discontinued.

I can see why my friend would say that TV is now in Stage #4--Decline. Average ratings for TV have been declining for years as the space is becoming more crowded with new choices be it cable channels, Netflix, Hulu, You Tube and all sorts of new alternatives on the horizon. And, increasingly, with people using their phones, laptops, or tablets to view,  video usage is increasing as TV viewing is declining.

TV, however, is not dead yet. While virtually all of you reading this in the US have Netlfix and most have HBO, most people do not. The landscape has certainly changed  and when it comes to brand building, TV can no longer carry most of the burden alone. Yet, TV still delivers a mass audience faster than anything else. And, let’s face it, the medium still has the ability to move product in most categories.

Perhaps most of all, TV still has a lot of the content! There is no question that it is not the advertising powerhouse that it once was. As I have said before in this blog, it was a great business and now it is a good business. May I suggest that you be careful when someone says that TV is ready to dry up and blow away? It may indeed be in Stage #4, Decline, but that decline is likely to be slower than many pundits forecast.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Secret Sauce of Social Media

A long time ago in Southern New England, when I was four years old, we were hit by a ferocious snowstorm. When the snow finally stopped, all school and work was halted. I remember my much older siblings helping me in to a snowsuit and I went out and played for what seemed like hours.

The next morning I woke with a terrible case of chapped lips. I tried to finish my cocoa at breakfast but I was very uncomfortable. My father, being treated to a day off, said, “come with me, little man.” I vividly remember him carrying me out to his car, a huge Oldsmobile 98. The snow was way too high for me to navigate around the car so he gently tossed me into the passenger seat (no seatbelts in 1954! ). Driving carefully through the snow encrusted roads, we made it to the little village with its battery of shops. We walked in to the drugstore and he asked Mr. Erickson, the druggist, for a Chapstick. I think it cost 15 cents!

Once back in the car, he opened it and applied it to my lips. “You will be just fine in a few minutes. Keep this Don and don’t lose it.” Belying my years, I put the Chapstick in my coat’s inner pocket and pulled the zipper. Instantly, I became a believer in the brand and nearly 60 years later I have rarely been without a Chapstick for more than a day. So, I am a loyal customer but my loyalty has been passive and unknown to the world unless you are a member of my immediate family.

The value of loyal customers is significant for any brand. Auto companies love them--if they can get someone in their early 20’s and hold them, that may be worth a million to a million and a half dollars over the course of his or her lifetime. Also detergents, fast food, liquor brands, even Chapstick find loyal customers to be of great value over a customer’s lifetime.

All of us in advertising and marketing have pushed the concept of the lifetime value of a loyal customer hard--you don’t have to spend much to keep them and they instantly go to you even if new brands come along that may be a better value. I used to explain the loyalty phenomenon as a ladder--on the bottom rung was awareness and that is what initial advertising exposures could do for you. Then you moved on to consideration if the advertising was effective and you were in the market or friends or relatives were happy with the brand. After you tried it, the next rung up the ladder was preference. Finally, after a pleasant and successful history with the brand, you hit the top of the ladder and got to loyalty.

Until now, millions of us, as I have been with Chapstick, are quiet loyalists. As a teenager, I used it often but in private as I did not want classmates riding me. So, my loyalty to the humble brand was solid but it was completely passive.

In recent years, social media has invaded the advertising scene in a big way. I struggled with it as people were giving somewhat breathless reports of how wonderful that it could be for all brands. Early on measurement was not the greatest and people probably wasted way too much money on it.

Now, I am seeing, how, if done right it can be wonderful and cost efficient form of exposure. What it centers around is that people are active advocates for a brand when they do things such as go to a company’s Facebook page. Because people are active or engaged, an interaction on Facebook is increasingly worth more than an exposure opportunity (ad impression) in TV or other conventional media where commercial avoidance continues to grow at an alarming rate. These social media interactions pack a powerful authenticity punch that a passive TV impression just cannot match.

This is how social media works. Remember a “liker” on Facebook has truly sought your brand out directly. That enthusiasm or positivity is what, in my opinion, makes social media click.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

Sunday, September 8, 2013

No Logo Revisited

Back in 2000, I purchased and read a then hot book entitled NO LOGO written by Canadian journalist and activist Naomi Klein. I tried to get a few friends and colleagues to read it but no one took me up on it. They all asked why I would read a bestseller that attacked advertising and marketing so vehemently.

Well, I have always found it instructive to read views strongly opposite to my own. Sometimes they manage to soften my position on certain issues and, in other cases,  they only reinforce what I felt initially. So, this past week, 13 years later, I decided to re-read NO LOGO and see how I reacted to it. I got 10 times more than I bargained for in the revisit.

The book, even though, called NO LOGO, struck me as a clarion call against globalization. Ms. Klein posited that the way that the new world was emerging was one in which companies, via their strong brands, were more powerful than many countries and the brands were becoming even stronger due to liberalized trade, outsourcing of work (particularly manufacturing in low cost countries with sweatshop labor) and deregulation across the globe.

Ms. Klein stated that businesses were cocooning consumers into a “Brandscape.” She acidly commented that companies were marketing aspirations to consumers and creating a “Barbie world for adults.”

Obviously, advertising came under a lot of heat in her rant. Yet, she made suggestions about marketing brands that were fascinating more than a decade after I first read them.
Number one, she constantly, talks about the need for brands to be authentic. Also, tactics such as guerilla marketing and culture jamming make sense. Well, do the brand gurus talk about today? I was laughing out loud when I reread some of her passages. Everyone talks about how the brand is everything and you must protect the brand at all costs. And, most importantly, you must be AUTHENTIC in all things that you do.

Couple that with a decline but not elimination of offshore plants with underage or underpaid workers, major US firms taking strong green initiatives and one could argue that Ms. Klein has won her battle. Seeing her most recent work and watching interviews on You Tube, she does not strike me as wanting reform as much as an overhaul of the entire financial system.

What had me laughing? It seems that some of the major brands have virtually used NO LOGO as part of their marketing playbook in recent years. They have beat the drum for authenticity and product integrity loudly and often. So despite the blip in 2000, it appears that behemoth brands have pre-empted much of Ms. Klein’s complaints. Even a casual observer of the marketing scene knows that brands, especially in apparel, are stronger than ever.

I saw Ms. Klein being interviewed about the Occupy Wall Street movement and felt sympathy with her and the protesters. She is also a gifted writer who is easy to read. But, while she may have won round one with the publication of NO LOGO the marketers have definitely won the battle as brands are more solidly entrenched in many categories than they were more than a decade ago.

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com,