Category Archives: Measure

Lies, Inundation and Being Sold Part 2: Ads Ads Everywhere

This is the second in a series of posts discussing several challenges that marketers face in reaching their customers and how to overcome those challenges. This iteration deals with the inability of consumers to trust advertising. Part one dealt with dishonesty in marketing. Part three will break down the problem with “being sold.”  Future posts will provide solutions to these problems.


You used to wake up with an alarm clock playing your preferred radio station (or at least one you hated so much that you had to get out of bed to turn it off). The alarm clock has been replaced by a cell phone playing Pandora. On your drive to work, you notice that the billboard on the side of the freeway that used to change every few months has been upgraded to a digital iteration that swaps ads every few seconds. When you get to your office and check the news, you see a column of ads, this time customized to one of your preferences or previous searches.

The number of ads to which consumers are exposed is on the rise. Where 40 years ago, consumers were exposed to approximately 200 ads per day (see, today it is estimated that consumers are exposed to anywhere from 600 (see to 5,000 (see ads in a day. This is caused in part by the proliferation of new media that exponentially segments what were once reliable consumers of a specific medium.

Although this proliferation of both ads and media provide some unprecedented opportunities for marketings, including the ability to reach niche audiences that were nearly impossible to reach before, it also creates some significant challenges (see the Marketer’s Milieu Infographic).  Not only does it make for more media for the marketer to scour, but it also presents a real difficulty in getting the targeted consumer to give any heed to your ad when there is so much to compete with.

Put yourself in the place of the consumer.  If you were to stand amidst the advertisement behemoth that is Times Square (see image above) does any one ad or message stand out? If so, what is it and why? Or, is the cache´of Times Square simply attributed to the overall experience of the overwhelming nature of all of the ads?

As consumers, we’ve become very adroit at tuning out what we perceive to be visual or audio noise. Yes, ads help us know which plumber to call in the event that my sewer line breaks, but we also know how to avoid it. Half of the reason for owning a DVR is the ability to skip the content you don’t care about. When the ads come on the channel/station is changed or the Pandora station is switched.

There are times when there are innovations that make us stop to actually consume the ad, such as in 2009 when CBS and Pepsi teamed up to deliver the first ever video ad in a print magazine ( ). As no one had ever done that before, if you thumbed through the magazine, you had to stop and watch it as it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Although I could care less about CBS’ 2009 fall line up, I had to click the buttons to watch the videos simply because it was so innovative. However, such innovations in advertising are few and far between. If you don’t have millions to spend on the development of innovative advertising media, you’re forced to sift through the ever-expanding media while confronting an even larger challenge of getting your audience to not only notice your ad, but to remember it and accept whatever it is you’re trying to communicate.

This is not to say that marketers should not advertise. It is to say, however, that we as marketers must use the media at our disposal to communicate more effectively with consumers. We need to find ways to break through the clutter to make sure that they take note of the important things we have to say.

How to do that will be the focus of the next several posts.

The Tao of Virtual Focus Groups

Focus groups have been a mainstay of market research for a few decades now. In practice they are qualitative rather than quantitative events. This means that the conclusions you might draw from a small group of eight to ten people might be stunning, insightful, and impressive. But the results are not necessarily representative of your target market at large.

Why then would anyone want to consider insights from people who might not be representative of your market? Because there is something compelling about having a dialogue with real consumers. Focus groups facilitate a degree of feedback that is simply not possible with standard surveys. And while the results may not be representative of the thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs of the market at large, it’s possible that your focus group can be right on the money. How can you increase the chances of your focus group being right on the money?

Make it a Virtual Focus Group.

Having managed and moderated over 800 Virtual Focus Groups in the last six years, let me 1) outline the process, and 2) highlight the value of our unique approach. The Tao of Virtual Focus Groups, if you will.

  1. A quick definition: a Virtual Focus Group (or VFG) is a two-hour event in which participants sit at a “virtual table.” All they need is a telephone and internet connection to participate. There are two clear advantages to a VFG over a live focus group. First, for what a live focus group will typically cost, you can conduct two and sometimes three VFGs. This means that you are hearing from 16 – 24 people in your target market rather than eight; this can significantly increase your confidence level in the conclusions you derive from this activity. Second, a live focus group limits you to a specific geographic area–not always a bad thing–but a VFG allows you to bring people from across several time zones and zip codes together.
  2. Our VFGs are “high touch” events. Typically we interact with the participants 8 – 12 times before and after the event. This is notable because in today’s socially networked world many of your VFG participants can actually become vocal champions for your product or service. Most people are pleased to be part of something BIG. If you manage the relationship properly not only do you get valuable insights from your participants, but you also create advocates and stakeholders.
  3. Every VFG begins with a qualifying screener. Think of this as a mini survey. Our goal is to find the most qualified participants from a larger population within your target market. We’ve learned that a properly designed screener can serve a dual function: 1) It helps you identify qualified participants, and 2) It produces valuable quantitative feedback from your market. Indeed, if you screen a few hundred people, why not construct the screening tool so that you capture actionable market intelligence as well.
  4. Many VFGs include a “pre-event activity.” This is an online activity that typically takes 15 – 30 minutes. We ask VFG participants to complete such an activity prior to the scheduled VFG. On one hand, it allows us to confirm their real interest and commitment to participate in the VFG, and on the other hand it allows us to present information or content that we want them to experience before the VFG. This can range from completing an actual product review to previewing a new concept. Important to note here is that we can present visuals, audio, video in the pre-event activity. It’s an effective way to gather additional insights from the participant as we get to know them better as people.
  5. Every VFG is professionally moderated and driven by a Discussion Guide (DG) that is carefully developed around the needs of each client. The DG is an interactive tool that presents a topic to be discussed, but it requires each participant to grade, rate or quantify something before we engage in discussion.This means that each participant sees a question on their computer screen, and they respond online before anyone vocalizes their thoughts. This approach has two advantages. First, it greatly reduces the possibility that one member of the VFG can influence the response of others because everyone has to “lock in” a response before we discuss the topic. Keep in mind that human beings can be influenced by others. It might be an especially articulate participant who sounds smart; others at the table might be inclined to agree with this person because they want to come across as smart as well. It happens. Likewise, we’ve seen situations where a participant is inclined to disagree with another participant because of factors such as geography, surname, or  the tonal quality of one’s voice. If you had a really bad dating experience in college with a guy from Boston whose baritone voice still lingers in your long-term memory bank, you might have a subconscious reaction to someone at the VFG table who reminds you of that person. It happens. The DG we develop for the VFG mitigates this possibility. The second advantage is that by having VFG participants provide ratings to certain questions we move the event more toward a quantitative activity. It’s really the best of both worlds. We measure reactions and then we discuss.
  6. The format of the VFG allows us to present a live demo of something–anything from software to a walkthrough of a website. We can also present video, audio or visuals. This means our clients can do everything from introducing a new concept for a product or service to presenting potential advertising and promotional approaches they’d like to get reactions to before launching to a wider audience.
  7. VFGs are recorded and we give you the option of having transcripts of the entire session.
  8. Most of our VFGs include a brief follow-up activity with the participants. This might be a brief survey with a few follow-up questions. It could be a brief interview in an effort to further build a relationship with the participant.
  9. All VFGs include a “Snap-Shot Report” produced by one of our analysts who has carefully reviewed the audio recording, transcript, and responses to the Discussion Guide. This is, in essence, an Executive Summary that details the conclusions we can draw from the VFG (or series of VFGs). It also provides a “Next Steps” overview that suggests potential strategies for the client to consider, including a plan for staying connected to those VFG participants who are most likely to be viral promoters of your product or service.
  10. With the Snap-Shot report in hand, we like to engage our clients in a brief 60-minute review of the results. Often times this meeting includes several stakeholders from our client company. It’s almost like having an internal Virtual Focus Group about the Virtual Focus Group. Often this meeting yields additional insights that become a key part of the client’s overall business strategy.


There you have it, our ten-point Tao of Virtual Focus Groups. Yet another way that research and relationships combine to produce meaningful results.


Why are CMOs being fired twice as fast as any other C-suiter? Why are major corporations like Old Navy, Taco Bell and Miller Lite letting their marketing executives go? A recent article by Jonathan Salem Baskin questions why there is so much turnover in the marketing C-suite.
Is marketing changing? Sure. Is the marketing landscape beginning to flatten with the use of social media? Possibly. Maybe it’s as Jonathan suggests, maybe they deserved to be fired.
Lack of Accountability
Serfwerks believes that in many companies marketing is the last function to reject all accountability. Is there a change coming? Could this be why companies are moving on without their top marketing executives? Are we finally seeing the day where there are no more bottomless marketing budgets used to explore “creative” ideas? Are CEOs finally requiring CMOs to measure their marketing ROI? We sure hope so.
The Case for Accountability
A recent study by CMG Partners and Chadwick Martin Bailey found the following:
– 75% of companies are highly interested in marketing measurement
– Less than 25% of companies are excelling at measuring & improving their marketing performance.
– 98% of those excelling at measuring and improving marketing performance say it is having a significant impact on their business.
– 55% of those excelling at measuring marketing performance are gaining market share.
If only 25% of companies are measuring their marketing performance it must be difficult to do. On the contrary. It’s rather simple. If you can look at past performance, define you key performance indicators and outline your sales cycle. You can measure your marketing with a 95% accuracy.
Are you measuring your marketing performance? Now is the time to do it. Don’t be the next marketing department casualty. Start being accountable today.

What Went Wrong at Blockbuster?

When my family first started renting movies back in the 80’s we went to a small mom-and-pop establishment called Carmen Video in Camarillo, CA. It was decked out like a movie theatre complete with a popcorn machine – something modern movie rental establishments look nothing like.

Sometime in the mid-80’s the first Blockbuster video opened up in town and within 18 months Carmen Video closed its doors forever. Between you and me- I think the only reason it stayed in business as long as it did is due to a selection of adult videos that they kept locked up in an adults only section (more like a cellar) of the store, which I never went into.

Blockbuster put Carmen Video out of business, and dominated the home movie rental business for years, because it had the lots of copies of the latest movies. They also had a huge selection of video games.

In September 2010 Blockbuster filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In early 2011 they approached their creditors for more money- more debt, which is bad when you are already bankrupt.

What happened? Karma? Poor management? Bad investments? Antiquated business model? Competition? A combination of all these things? Continue reading

36.4B Reasons to Like eCommerce

According to an article by Ann Zimmerman of, people bought $36.4B of stuff from online retailers this holiday season (between October 31and December 23).

This represents an increase of 15.4% over the same period last year. Online retail sales now account for about 10% of all retail sales – excluding gas and automobile purchases. 1 in 10 dollars made in retail this holiday season was made over the internet via ecommerce enabled websites.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is that the sector that experienced the largest growth was specialty clothing retailers –up 25% over last year. This is interesting because most of us like to try stuff out – especially things we need to wear.

What does this say about our perceptions of the buying experience? Continue reading

5 Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

People like to use January 1st as the starting line for new goals or resolutions. What better time of the year to resolve to do a better job at marketing your own business, your employer, or yourself.

Here is a list of Marketing Resolutions we think that every small business owner or marketing professional should at least consider and possibly adopt:

1. I’m going start understanding how things really work

In our experience, lots of smart business people do a poor job at tracking key performance metrics. This is not only poor business, it is poor marketing. This is because your key performance metrics, like sales revenue, gross profit margin, asset turnover ratio, etc, can be your friends in marketing your business. They help you understand how things really work. By identifying significantly high or low periods of time, your key performance metrics can tell you how well your marketing is or isn’t doing.

By resolving to understand how things really work you resolve to identify your key performance metrics. You then resolve to evaluate those metrics to see how well your marketing is working. Continue reading

Make it Personal, Make it Profitable

If your business is like most businesses, you enjoy making a profit. One idea for making your business more profitable is by creating a more personal experience for your customers.

This is actually more than just a novel idea. There are several research projects that back  it up. A study by Garrity and Degelman, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, indicated that restaurant servers who introduced themselves by name and then personalized the experience for their patrons received an average tip of 23% compared to 15% for those that made no effort at all. That’s a difference of 53%.

You may not own a restaurant, but the concept of personalizing the customer’s experience still applies and can make your business more profitable. Here are a few suggestions on how you can better personalize things for your customers: Continue reading

The Genesis of Strategic Marketing—Tier II Marketing (Part II)

Tier II marketing, data- and research-driven marketing

In a previous article about the genesis of strategic marketing, I explored the first several components of Tier II marketing, what we call the genesis of strategic marketing and the departure from Tier I or tactically driven marketing. Again the foundation of Tier II marketing is data-driven marketing where all media (e.g. brochures, web sites, advertisements, etc.) are integrated or are characterized by similar graphics and messaging. Where the previous article explored key performance indicators, market research, customer segmentation, and positioning, this article describes the remaining characteristics of the organization engaging in Tier II marketing. The remaining characteristics include:

  • Marketing strategy drives tools
  • Touch Point Integration
  • Performance measurement
  • Marketing mapped to sales process

Continue reading

Marketing Tools v. Marketing Strategy—Tier I Marketing

When it comes to the marketing function, many of business owners, executives, and yes, even those of us who are marketing professionals tend to be very diminutive in our thinking. Marketing is about tools and how to use them rather than a concise game plan that drives marketing decisions. When tools take precedence to strategy, the marketing function becomes no more than the process of developing content to fill brochures, ads, web sites and tweets rather than a deliberate and planned process where the strategy not only determines which tools to use, but how to use them as well as how to deliver a concise, integrated message.

Continue reading