Tag Archives: marketing

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 The alarm clock has been replaced by a cell phone playing Pandora.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 https://ams.aaaa.org/eweb/upload/faqs/adexposures.pdf), today it is estimated that consumers are exposed to anywhere from 600 (see https://ams.aaaa.org/eweb/upload/faqs/adexposures.pdf) to 5,000 (see http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cutting-through-advertising-clutter/) 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 (http://youtu.be/hjGQuneTWMY ). 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.

Marketing’s Role in the C-Suite

An Interesting Problem

Recently, we met with a client to discuss marketing strategy. This client has a long history of doing business in Utah and is one of the largest private companies in the state. However, when we met with them we met with a marketing committee composed of a public information director, graphic designer, corporate strategist, and the corporate pilot. No marketing director and no CMO.

Needless to say, this company has not devoted a lot of resources to strategic marketing. Just in case you missed it before- the corporate pilot is on the marketing committee. In the pilot’s defense, he is a perfectly intelligent person—he was just being allocated in an odd way.

After the meeting it became clear that this committee wanted to have a seat in the board room with the rest of the senior management team. Functions represented on this team were finance, operations, safety, and HR. All of these functions provide inputs that help the executive team make profitable decisions for the entire organization. Marketing was occasionally called upon to talk about the company website or the design of a tradeshow booth, but had no say in the strategic direction of the company’s marketing efforts. Why? It is because no one on the committee knew how to give the senior management team useful information or input. Continue reading

AT&T’s New Stance After iPhone Exclusivity

For over 3  ½ years AT&T was the sole mobile phone network to carry the most iconic phone in the history of mobile phones, the iPhone.

All of that has now changed as Verizon executives have officially announced that they will begin carrying the iPhone 4 on their CDMA network. A quick visit to Verizon’s website revealed a huge banner featuring the iPhone 4 with the copy reading “iPhone 4. Verizon. It begins.” Sales start 2.10.11.

The move has been rumored for months and AT&T has spent millions of dollars during this time to beef up its network and tout other smart phones like the Blackberry Torch from mobile phone manufacturer RIM, as well as other phones based on Android and Windows mobile operating systems. In addition, AT&T pushed early upgrades in an effort to lock those craving an iPhone 4 into 2-year contracts. Smart, but short-term. Continue reading

36.4B Reasons to Like eCommerce

According to an article by Ann Zimmerman of WSJ.com, 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