Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Taxonomy Is Destiny

Three years of global recession followed by a tepid recovery for most marketers has reduced our willingness to see beyond the immediate or the obvious. Those of us lucky enough to be buyers have been inundated with ideas, people, products and services all seeking to meet our expressed need.

Yet in sorting through the options a huge number of us have been unwilling to consider an idea, person, product or service that doesn’t exactly meet our specifications. Widespread availability has reduced our willingness to “do the math” or to think beyond simple sorting. If we need a red square and you are a red square you get a serious look. If you are a square that isn’t red, or isn’t red yet or who can be red and other colors too … forget it.

Too many of us know about the right idea, the right person, the right product or the right service that was ignored or was sorted out of consideration by a marketer looking for the easy way out. And many of us know of circumstances where the chosen solution fit the specifications exactly and performed miserably. In a world of infinite possibilities and limitless information, it’s unsettling to witness or be party to rote or default decision-making.

This uneasy state of affairs has increased the ever-present burden of definition and positioning which is now and always has been squarely on the shoulders of sales and marketing people pushing brands and/or pushing themselves. We have always had to define and introduce ourselves, our features and benefits, our competitive advantages and our points of distinction and differentiation. We were always taught to define ourselves before the market or our competitors did so for us. Today we have to define and differentiate ourselves more often, more nimbly and more emphatically to avoid being quickly and carelessly sorted by default.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Process Management Comes to Marketing

Business Process Management (BPM), the effort to identify, document, quantify and replicate best practices is coming to marketing. CEOs and CFOs want to know what’s behind the curtain, how much it costs, how much it yields and how much faster and cheaper it can be done. .

The move to manage marketing processes is rooted in material changes and significant savings in time, efficiency and cash gained from process re-engineering in finance, accounting, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain. It is based on the premise that every successful business is an aggregation of discrete processes. If you get the processes right, you win the game. These are the processes that will be first under the microscope:

There is a finite, definable universe of buyers, influencers, advisers and spoilers for every b2b product and service. Names and titles turnover as much as 40% each year, very few companies have put standardized processes in place to regularly update lists and databases. Data cleansing and updating should be a program running quietly in the background of every marketing organization.

Organizational Alignment.
It’s not uncommon for sales and marketing to have different agendas, timelines, targets, program preferences and budget priorities. But even the most Machiavellian CEO has figured out that competition and conflict between sales and marketing yields wasted time and resources. The lessons of process engineering will force chief marketers to become much more involved in sales processes, pricing and productivity issues.

Demand Generation.
The search for qualified leads that turn into bona fide sales opportunities is and always has been numbers game. There are a finite number of ways in which individuals are contacted, messaged and engaged. “Best practices” can be identified, quantified, replicated and probably automated. The emphasis shifts from making new creative to a mining and refining model where getting to the right person with the right frequency at the right time rings the bell.

In every industry and for every product there are prospects who are interested but not yet ready to buy. Managing C or D leads should be an automated process driven by assumptions about when to mail, when to ping with an e-mail newsletter, when to invite to events and when to contact live by phone or in-person. Well-timed contacts can yield maximum return on minimal investment.

Tracking customer information and behavior ought to yield competitive advantage, facilitate up-sell and cross-sell and build stronger customer loyalty. A reasonable, immediate payoff should be better reporting and insightful analysis from the data collected. Expect management “dashboards” to become as popular as Blueberries.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Its All About the List ... Stupid!

Plantronics makes telephone headsets. For all I know they make the best telephone headsets on the planet.

What I do know is that they are sending me a series of expensive dimensional direct mail pieces filled with expensive premiums and I am in no position to buy or influence the purchase of their products. They are wasting beaucoup bucks on a phantom prospect. So far I've pocketed the goodies and not responded. Perhaps at some point they'll come looking for me -- or not.

It's a classic direct marketing mistake. Plantronics put their money into high end printing, dye cuts, great premiuims, shrink-wrapping and postage. Its an impressive effort. The pieces are well executed. They generate interest and excitement when they arrive. And each one gets opened and carefully examined. But its great form without business function.

They should have put their money into buying a better list or into telemarketing and/or modeling the one they bought. They should have known that I'm a schelper not a decision-maker before they spent the big bucks to reach out to me.

It will be interesting to see what happens. In a sense what they do next will give me greater insight into the go-to-market strategy of Plantronics. In some ways I'll learn more about them from this campaign than they'll learn about me. I wonder how it will shake out?

In some companies the marketers earn their points just by getting a campaign out the door. In this case, I'm on the third touch of a highly produced campaign which probably required the coordination of many moving parts. Getting a sequence of mailings like this one out is no mean feat.

In other companies, they judge marketers on the number and quality of responses they generate. Somebody who actually runs a call center or who actually needs this stuff probably did respond. With luck, the response rate will hit the industry norm and/or the agency's forecast. So my silence can be comfortably written off as being within the standard margin of error. Mailing me is just part of the cost of doing business in a 2% response world.

In hard core companies, marketers live or die on the number of qualified leads they create that turn into genuine sales opportunities and on measurable ROI that can be traced to marketing spending. Here too, I'm probably invisible because some of the responders probably will mix it up with Plantronics' sales guys. And in the end some will buy. And while I represent avoidable waste, when they divide the costs into the new revenue generated, I'll probably get lost in the shuffle.

But just imagine how much more Plantronics might sell if they hadn't wasted time on me and 10-20% of the other names on the list just like me.

RSS ... In Search of a Reason to Be

RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is a tool in search of a market. This tricky piece of technology serves up a news-like tickeron your computer screen. Behind the scenes it lobs a message onto your screen without a click. In theory it can finesse the SPAM problem and assure a marketer that the message gets seen regardless of the attitude of the end user.

The problem is that very few of us need a constantly updated flow of information about anything. Those of us who do need instantaneous information updates have Bloomberg machines or tickers or GPS devices or beepers and we don't need another desktop tool.

If you doubt me, download the weather "bug" from Initially you think it would be great to constantly know the temperature and the forecast. After a few days you discover how annoying and frankly, how useless it is to know this data, especially when you are chained to your PC and never go outside.

Imagine how annoying this could be if everytime a website on your "Favorites" list added something they pinged you. Or even worse, imagine how annoying it would be if everytime a blogger posted, they pinged you. RSS has the potential to ruin your favorite things.

In the meantime, it will be hyped as the new technology flavor of the week.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Advice to Karen Hughes

Karen ...

Selling America isn't as easy as selling W. Allow me to offer a few pointers from the perspective of a relationship marketer.

Americans believe that information – massaged, spun, branded, amplified and put to music – can solve almost everything. Information is our currency. We believe the more we know, the more we can fix things from the economy to the social order to who runs the country.

We also assume that to know us is to love us. But this is self delusion. Our friends, our allies and even our enemies already know us. What we think, how we look, what we want and how we act are on display every minute of every day for the entire planet to see.

Our story doesn't delight everyone. Knowing us provokes fear, envy and disgust among traditional societies. If anything our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for men and women and W's fervor for "democracy" is a threatening and destabilizing concept to the leaders of fundamentalist cultures.

The people we seek to persuade think very differently that we do about time and constructive support. Americans believe in quick fixes. It's a given that with the right attitude, the right resources and the right brain power anything can be fixed, solved or changed quickly. We are a culture of 30-second gratification. Our audiences are not. In fact, they have the patience to wait centuries and to endure countless humiliations in search of desired results. Don’t expect too many quick wins.

Our friends, allies and enemies know the richness of our people, our spirit, our land and our resources. And they know how we have wielded these assets as sticks and carrots. They want to share in our prosperity. They want to benefit from our largesse. They have seen how quickly and generously we can mobilize in the case of the recent tsunami. But they also know that when it comes to Uncle Sam, there’s no free lunch. Our outreach effort has to incorporate the needs, hopes and practical politics of our target audiences. It probably wouldn't hurt if we didn't lie to them as often or held the same POV for more than six months at a time.

Let’s not pretend that snappy ads, exotic billboards or famous spokespeople will breakthrough to the imams, the mullahs and the tribal chieftains we seek to influence. Those we need to persuade are very sophisticated media users with highly tuned filters to cope with state-controlled media, countless broken promises and over-the-top global consumer claims.

We who preach the gospel of a consumer driven market, must let the consumers drive our messaging and marketing strategy. We have to listen and respond rather than preach and teach. We need to understand how America is perceived from the outside looking in then craft strategies to use that perspective to engage the ambivalent and the hostile.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

When is a Shopping Cart Not a Shopping Cart?

Ken Leonard of ScanAlert crunched a lot of numbers from the 2004 online holiday shopping season and made a remarkable discovery – people use shopping carts to compare the fully loaded prices. They load up carts on multiple sites, compare the prices and either window shop or take their own sweet time to pick the best one.

Therefore our concerns about shopping cart abandonment are as much about how, where and when we display cost elements, the limits of comparative shopping functionality and the inability to compare apples-to-apples as they are about the merchandise, the pricing or the number of clicks necessary to check out.

Published in the March issue of Internet Retailer (, Ken tracks the lag time between loading a cart and checking out by product set. Lag times between clicking and checking out range from 19 to 61 hours. 14% of those who put items in the cart took more than a week to close the deal.

This documents customers caution and their need for comparative research. It should set the agenda for online merchants to create comparative shopping strategies before Froogle (, MySimon ( or others do it for them.

Why You Should Care About Blogs

Blogs are dicing and slicing the media world in ways that aren’t yet predictable. Their impact is already changing the way marketers, brand stewards and advertisers think about media. But there is much more to it that being the media flavor of the week.

Consider this recent data compiled by Technorati ( BlogAds (, PubSub and the Pew Foundation internet research people.

A. There are 7 million blogs being written. 40,000 new ones begin each day
B. 32 million Americans , 7% of those online read blogs
C. 12% of blog readers post comments, 1200 per minute
D. 5% have blog updates delivered to them using RSS (Real Simple Syndication)
E. More than half of blog readers are 30 or older and earn north of $45K USD
F. Two out of three readers shop online and have clicked on a blog ad
G. Leading reasons for reading blogs are:
1. Faster news
2. Latest Trends
3. Obvious biases
4. Better perspective
5. More personality

Americans are rejecting corporate-processed, homogenized, duplicative, plain vanilla mass media in favor of the opinions of their global neighbors. Blogs have an allure because they offer the option to observe, participate or both.

Much like talk radio and internet porn, blogs have become digital party lines that allow anyone to be in on things and to determine their own level of access, intensity and input to a zillion different conversations, often in real-time and usually in quick response to breaking news, world events or the peculiar, idiosyncratic stuff individuals’ care about.

In no time networks of blogs on niche subjects (e.g. organic food, diabetes, gadgets, tantric sex) will be selling ads, touting products, sharing best and worst lists and calling out companies who suck. The sweet irony is that evolving digital technology does not much more than enable “high touch” communications. As the world and the words move faster and faster and the gadgets have more and more functions, we default to talking to each other and to reaching out to others who live beyond the horizon and experience the world and the words from a different perspective.

Is it any wonder that somebody formed at Word of Mouth Marketing Association
( to capitalize on this phenomenon? Isn’t it crazy that we are so unused to actually talking to each other that somebody needs to aggregate and popularize best practices in talking to each other and become an advocate for word of mouth media as a paid advertising medium?

The potential for brands to be ground floor participants in these conversations is great assuming they are open, forthright and willing to engage people on their own terms. The “spin” in blogs looks a lot like “no spin” in other media environments. There is no more toleration for PR guys posing as blog posters and shilling for products or services. There is less than zero tolerance for corporate speak, the party line or no-answer answers. And pity the firm that pisses off a customer or seriously commits an act against the common good because the aggrieved (the one who usually just tells 10 others about how you suck) now has a global audience.

Yet imagine the benefit to brands of a having on-going conversations that yield real time intelligence about their markets, suggestions for products and services, reviews of competitors, peer-to-peer counseling and a laser-like focus on a single topic. Potentially a network of blogs is a ready-made channel for instantaneous research among customers or prospects and an early warning radar tuned to the frequency of a specific marketplace. Even better is the fact that bloggers and readers self select, so you have the potential to create a daisy chain of key opinion leaders, KOLs in pharma-speak, who you can contact, query and engage at will.

Stay tuned this is just the beginning. Though if you are itching for a mnemonic device:






Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Saving E-Mail From E-Mailers

Marketers are killing e-mail, the only tool we have with the potential to create individual conversations and dialogues with customers and prospects. Obsessed with its low cost and speed, they bombard the 78% of online customers who actually opt-in with tons of forgettable annoying ads.

Retailers are the worst culprits. They have transferred their deep and enduring love for circulars to the digital domain. Now they can hammer us with crap for pennies every day or every week or every fortnight.

It’s no surprise that frequency was a big topic at The BigFoot Interactive E-Mail Summit. The reigning wisdom is to “hit the list hard and often” and “continuously add new names” Unfortunately these tactics will burn out the audience and destroy the credibility and general acceptance of the medium before we get really good or really sophisticated at using it.

E-mail will have legs if we don’t kill it first. The medium has the potential to be a true 1:1 medium with nuance, tone and great personality. One way to save the medium is to take a longitudinal view and to conceptualize e-mail in campaigns and message sequences driven either by individual information or by predictable events. That way we can test and learn before we crash and burn.

Most of the e-mails I get are one-offs. I haven’t experienced sequential campaigns of several messages. And I’ve never been conscious of being on the receiving end of e-mails delivered in a multi-channel context where postal mail, e-mail, catalos, phone calls or live interactions are orchestrated to engage and motivate customers.

I’m eager to learn if a two, three or four part sequence, which works well as postcards, works as well as e-mails. I’m dying to be romanced (or blitzed) by a retailer who will hit me high with a catalog, hit me low with an e-mail, sneak up on me with a bill stuffer offer and hit me straight on with a phone call all within a 48 hour window with offers of stuff they know I like, I want and I can afford. And these are just ideas off the top of my head. There is a whole world of experimentation and learning at risk.

The current ham-handed approach assumes that the sender has to know the unknown. Retailers bang away at me either with a single offer, not linked to my purchase history or my expressed preferences or with a newsletter smorgasbord of offers hoping something will catch my attention.

Why not just ask me what I want, how I want it and when I want it and then do what I ask? It requires a bit more technology, but it pays out 100 percent better. There is considerable evidence that consumers aren't bashful. They will gladly tell you what they want and how they want it. And there is growing evidence that consumers disproportionately reward retailers who listen and respond to those who take them seriously and deliver on expressed preferences.

Consider this tailored e-mail scenario:

I buy 4 towels on your site. This event triggers a follow-up e-mail within 72 hours of delivery asking if I liked them and offering me matching wash cloths or hand towels. In my marketing utopia, this offer mirrors the one-sheet or the personal letter you slipped into my shipping box.

It might even be worth asking me if I want a few more, assuming I liked the first bunch. Imagine if I was a high value customer? You might wait 36 hours after e-mail transmission and call me to reiterate the e-mail offer. A skilled telerep might up-sell me better goods or cross-sell me a matching bathrobe, expensive bath oils and unguents or a color-coordinated soap dish.

If I don’t bite, wait. Send me an e-mail within 30 days. Offer me a reduced or clearance price. Better yet, use my purchase as a qualifying event and reach back into earlier purchases to tell me “because you bought the towels, you get first dibs on the polo shirts that you haven’t bought in two years”

E-mail can follow me and mirror merchandise orpricing cycles. E-mail can create a back-and-forth flow of information and loyalty. E-mail can do things we haven’t really figured out yet. Let’s try not kill it before we master the tone, the texture or the tactics of the medium.

The "So What?" of Social Networking

My dad used to tell me "Its not what you know but who you know." The online social networking phenomenon threatens to use technology not only to facilitate digital schmoozing but potentially to leverage my friends contacts' and connections and their friends' networks as well.
Though frankly my friends are hardly that generous.

As a marketer the proliferation of social networking sites like Zero Borders, Spoke, Friendster and Linked In or the addressbook sites, like Plaxo and Ringo, who have the 1-click ability to quickly sweep your contact list into the maelstrom, might be very credible word-of-mouth communication channels both for personal and brand messages. I guess the value of the channel will be determined by what you want to do with it.

So far without all these guys (by simple batch e-mail) I'm able to convince a bunch of my contacts to sponsor my sorry ass in the annual AIDS WALK. I'm not sure if its the cause, the modest request of $25 bucks or the perverse pleasure of imagining me and my dog actually walking 10k that persuades them. I doubt the media vehicle -- e-mail -- counts much in their decision to help or not. I doubt my yield would double if I asked my friends to ask their friends.

I signed up on all these sites. I guess I'm not much of a connection. So far, I've been asked to make 1 job introduction for my friend's b-school buddy from Texas, updated my address a dozen times and had 2 headhunters track me down. I'm not giving out much and getting nothing in return, probably par for the course in relationship land.

Jim Dickie of CSO Insights tells a different story in DestinationCRM magazine. He says that on Linked In his 54 contacts knew 500 sales VPs. He selected 30 and asked them to make an intro for him. 29 complied and of those 23 actually made the connection from which 18 participated in his questionaire. Jim is scoring it as a 60% response rate, which even if you quibble, is significantly better than if he'd had cold called the target group.

That's the potential. People sign up knowing they might be contacted. They trade who they know for who you know in the hope that somebody knows somebody who will open a door, make a connection, take your call or give you a break. I'd like to give it a whirl.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Basics Are Still ... The Basics

Did you see the recent survey data from Vertis, a Baltimore-based direct mail house?

They discovered that 1 in 4 of 2000 adults surveyed who received a direct mail solicitation from a retailer actually visited the store within 90 days of receipt.

For 2/3rds the size, shape, color and external copy influenced the decision to open the package. And for another 51% a special offer or a discount motivated them to pay attention. The older you get the more likely you are to be affected by direct mail, since older and younger Baby Boomers embraced direct mail slightly more than their Generation X and Y siblings.

In order of responsiveness, coupons, buy one-get one free offers, single discounted items and percent off offers work best. Though each of these tactics worked to provoke a response from more than 50% of survey respondents.

In a world of real-time, fragmented, 1-to-1, 24/7 media there is something very comforting in these results. It suggests that the medium, the speed and even the frequency of messaging is secondary to the basic appeal of a deal delivered directly to you by name.

Measurement Mania

Now that CMOs must justify spending more often and in more detail they have found the religion of metrics. But like many converts in a rush to offer louder and louder hosannahs, they miss the nuances of the measurement game.

The biggest single error is to measure anything they can measure rather than measure things that impact on the performance of a business. Usually the earnest metrics novice latches on to whatever data is available. In no time we know the cost per service call, the the number of web inquiries divided by the cost of website hosting or the cost per unit of postcards multiplied by the number of names targeted. Soon high minded KPIs follow.

And while amusing, most of these numbers don't really tell us anything useful either in terms of the happiness of customers, the glide path for acquiring or retaining customers or the profitability of the deals we are doing. Too often we measure activity rather than productivity. And productivity requires context in terms of organizational objectives and goals.

The object of measuring is

1. to set and measure progress against definable objectives

2. to understand the factors influencing productivity and profitability

3. to find inflection points to maximize yield from resources.

Metrics ought to be organized to acheive these basic objectives. Anything less is just trivia.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Agency Bills Under Scrutiny

The Shona Seifert conviction raises to broad consciousness the billing practices of ad agencies which have been notoriously opague for as long as anyone remembers.

Agencies lag behind law firms, accountants and other professional service organizastions in making investments in sophisticated billing technology. And as Shona Seifert said in her testimony filling out timesheets accurately and on time is counter intuitive in most agencies.
Anyone who has ever worked in an agency knows how difficult it is just to get the time sheets filled out and collected, much less assess accuracy and/or forecast revenue yield.

As a result it is not unusual to get a convoluted bill. And it's almost impossible to measure cost versus value received. Perhaps the revelations of the way-less-than best practices at Ogilvy will inspire agencies to improve their billing performance and to make financial issues more transparent to clients. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Integrating the Internet for Maximum Marketing Impact

Can you believe it? We are still trying to understand the role the Internet plays as part of integrated marketing processes and systems. In spite of significant experimentation and investment, we haven’t yet truly internalized the power we hold in our hands. But we do have a number of hypotheses to consider.

1. User experience ruthlessly drives perception, acceptance, adoption,commerce and usage. If it isn’t easy to use or requires too many stepscustomers bail out. Traffic is a gift that must be cherished, nurturedand converted. What people do and see on your site is the most important thing.

2. E-commerce is a multi-dimensional, multi-channel game. Buildingsustainable retail businesses is about coordinating messages,merchandising and technology at many points along the awareness-consideration-purchase spectrum. Winners leverage the best capabilities of each channel (ads, web, phone, mail, store) into acoherent, sequential strategy.

3. Simple intuitive navigation and shopping requires sophisticatedbackend technology and sophisticated metrics and analytics to optimize activity, nimbly adjust to your customers and maximize conversion. The measurement investment is equally as important as the technology.

4. Measured business objectives must drive technology deployment. If the new toys don’t drive traffic, close sales or eliminate costs, they are simply extra costs. Just because you can cook it up, doesn’tmean anyone wants it or can use it profitably. Beware of software salesman.

5. The Internet has not changed customer psychology or intuitive andingrained behavior. The web fits into existing patterns of behavior, habits and expectations. Java and gifs don’t change how people think about, talk about, anticipate or undertake shopping. As a result the new ideas and new technology must serve consumer patterns. The mountain will not come to Mohammed.

6. Change is very hard to sell. Most consumers and businesses are anxious about technology. The burden of translating the vision for those locked into convention thinking lies with visionaries and marketers. If in doubt, assume that your target audience cannot or will not do the math for you. Assume that they won’t get it unless it is very simple, plain to follow, written at an 8th grade level and in their faces.

7. Multichannel brand integration is critical. The Web facilitates 24/7/265 availability for a brand and a platform to align brand values and brand voices on a global, immediate and dynamic basis. Many firms have successfully integrated the look, feel, tone and manner of their brands across advertising, POS, the web, mail, phones, stores and sales force.Many have presented consistent merchandise, product catalogs, and return or credit policies across platforms and geographies to serve customers better and optimize investments. The web offers us the next, best chance for brands to speak with one voice across markets and across the globe. But getting there, especially in large matrixed organizations can be a nightmare.

8. Data aggregation is a necessity. he Web is clearly a competitive tool for aggregating data from multiple sources and for extracting data from legacy systems to optimize business decision-making. The web expedites a firm’s ability to economically organize, filter and display data in ways that yield real-time competitive advantages.

9. Integrated marketing and communications are basic table stakes.The Web facilitates message management, targeting, tracking, automation and measurement. Integrating channels allows you to leverage investments in sight, sound, imagery, photography and copy. Synchronizing messages and allocating budgets to target distinct segments using specific media yield improved ROI and reduce the cost of contact, sale, acquisition and usage stimulation.

10. The Web is a sales platform. The Web is a transactional tool with the ability to store transactional histories and serve up appropriate repeat, replenishment, up sell or cross-sell offers. The next challenge is to understand the dynamics between online and offline commerce and leverage strategy and technology to maximize returns and conversion. The best players are experimenting with mix-and-match combinations of media and messages to identify the number and the channel of customer contacts necessary to yield cost efficient conversions.

Picking Perfect Partners

Finding the right partner is a central human dilemma. Some of us get it right, usually after a couple of tries. Finding the right marketing partner can mean the difference between success and failure.

Alliances and partnerships are key components in the search for efficiency and innovation, but few marketers choose their allies in a systematic way. Too many firms are still doing the equivalent of "eenie-meanie-miney-mo" when it comes to sorting out who can best help you succeed.

Gartner predicts that more than 40 percent of technology companies will commit significant corporate assets to partnerships over the coming year. If you look yourself honestly in the mirror, you realize that there is nothing philanthropic about partnerships. Partners are chosen and deals are designed to extract benefits, sometimes mutually, for the parties.

Generally the benefits come in one of three flavors ...
1. To establish or borrow credibility and access. You are nobody. They are somebody. By hooking up you gain credibility, reputation by association and access to their client base.
2. To pre-empt investment of time, people, money or power. You pick an ally to gain access to a partner’s learning curve, technology, workforce or competitive advantage. In theory, your savings and the acceleration of your business that results nets benefits to your partner. Using the skills, people, insights, connections, technology or tactics of a partner can be a springboard to success.
3. To road test a potential merger. Some partnerships are preludes to acquisitions, mergers or takeovers. During the partnership period the successor firm gets to understand the key assets, the critical players and the not-so-obvious nuances of a business, which positions them to gobble up the partner efficiently.

Given the significance of partnership as a business tool its logical tothink that the selection process has to be a matter of strategy. Consider a two-step process to screen potential allies. Step one, the business equivalent of a chemistry check, will eliminate obvious mismatches and level the playing field for negotiation.

As a firststep, ask the following:

Is there a brand fit?
Does the prospective partner align with your brand and your customers?
Do they have a reputation on a par with yours?
Will an association with their brand raise the perception of yours?
Do they offer a product or service that your customers know or care about?
Could a customer easily or intuitively figure out the link between your brand and theirs?
Is there a common approach? Does the partner think like you do?
Do they approach customers with the same perspective on product quality, urgency or service? Are they driven by similar financial concerns?
Do they use similar metrics to measure performance or to steer their boat?
Does a family, a despot, a committee or an unseen investor run them?
Who will be your liaison person?
Are they the same size?
Will you eat the bear or will the bear eat you?
Who needs whom and by how much?
Will the level of need change over time or as a result of market activity?

While a win-win is the best entry posture, understand and articulate clearly what you expect to gain andwhy. Then have a “plan B” in case things don’t work out.Too many businesses have signed up all kinds of partners and build all kinds of channels in a mad rush to seem real and to issue press releases implying “forward momentum.” Many of these partnerships aren’t worth the paper they are touted on.

Undoubtedly this sounds like the advice you’d give a seventh grader with a crush. But many marketers haven’t remembered their junior high mating rituals or overcome the embarrassment of being the last one picked in a schoolyard game when aligning their businesses with others.

Once a prospective partner meets these initial criteria, it’s time toget granular and dig for data or surrogate information. Due diligence is more than picking up a dinner tab. So get out a yellow pad and write down the answers to these questions:

A. What is the partner’s annual sales revenue and rank in their category?This establishes who has the leverage and gives you a baseline for reckoning likely expenditures for non-public companies. Also understanding transaction averages, frequency and cycles will give you an understanding of how and when the partner needs help, thereby defining some of your value and most of the inflection points for negotiating.

B. What is their geographic profile and how does it overlap or compliment yours? This asks you to look at distribution, employment and tax patterns. It inventories the boundaries of any deal.

C. Who are their customers, their best customers and how do they overlap or compliment yours? This tells you how high is up and gives you a perspective on how much poaching is likely. It is also useful to know the distribution and concentration of customers or product orders to see whom has who by the tail and to understand the operative dynamics of the business.

D. What stage of growth is your partner in? This is a surrogate measure for understanding how aggressive a partner might be and how much they might need or value the deal.

E. What legal or regulatory issues will come to bear? This gives you a feel for how hard it will be to get a deal done and what parameters might pre-exist in the negotiation.

F. Who will eat your partner’s lunch? Diplomats operate on the principal that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Understanding how a partner aligns himself and who is gunning for him, is critical in weighing any decision on your part.

G. How will you measure performance? It’s not enough to glance longingly at the eye-candy attached to your arm. A partnership needs to have definitive goals which can be measured and counted by both sides.Without a goal and a way to measure, you’ll never know if its worth it.

If this sounds a bit Machiavellian for you, consider the consequences ofa partnership gone sour; loss of prestige, litigation, significant income loss, employee attrition, etc. Alliances are about bargaining power.And alliances are more like relationships between nations than a marriage. Finding the right balance of power and striking the right tone of diplomacy are the critical success variables.

How Personal Do you Need to Be?

1:1 Marketing is an idea that is intuitive to direct marketers. If you address people by name and tailor messages to what you know about them or to interests they have expressed, they are more likely to respond and purchase. DUH!

Implementing 1:1 is a lot easier said than done. Principally because there is no widespread data or consensus on how much personalization is sufficient or how it pays out. The web, according to a wide array of geeks, seers and pundits, is capable of relatively inexpensive personalization, using database driven, dynamically generated custom-tailored content, which yields the potential for marketers to create, manage and sustain customer relationships. So far, no one I know has confessed to me any relationship with any website.

Anecdotally, Patricia Seybold told the NCDM that, for American Airlines, “Website personalization steadily increased regular logins and bookings . . . showing that personalization increases both loyalty and revenue.” But she didn’t tell us how they get from “Dear Danny” to loyalty and revenues. Marrying each individual to the stuff they most want to know is the promise. This desired intersection of interests and information creates a psychological validation, a feeling that the company speaks to just me, a sensation which we’re all looking for in our lives.

Sounds too good to be true. For me, as for most of us plebs, getting a company to speak just to me about my account, my bill or my concerns is a nightmare. Unless, of course, I owe them money.

1:1 Marketing has become an empty cliché. Why? Because the incremental cost versus the incremental lift in response, sales or customer satisfaction doesn’t automatically pay out. The big question is . . . At what point does customizing messages or content yield added sales and loyalty and at what point does it just yield diminishing returns? If the prospect has already shown interest by calling, mailing or clicking, will the added impact of personalization expedite the sale or just add expense?

To start with, no one is sure if personalization means calling a customer by name or simply providing content as specified by a consumer, explicitly, by filling out a questionnaire or profiler, or implicitly by dynamically serving content based on past site visits or page view sequences. I haven’t seen any data to suggest if either tactic yields greater customer satisfaction or conversion. I do know there are growing numbers of cybernauts who consider the latter technique snooping.

As if these choices weren’t confounding enough, they are further complicated because context and tone affect the perception of personalization. Netflicks talks to me by name. But since I expect only listings, and spend barely a few seconds reading the e-mails, the impact of seeing my name is negligible.

In contrast, sites I rely on for daily stock prices, horoscopes, box scores, and news, never use my name. But because they deliver exactly the stuff I’ve specified, I don’t miss, nor do I expect, a personal greeting. I’ll take the information. Forget my name.

We are all closet egomaniacs. The first thing we look at in any communication is our name. Spell my name wrong and you immediately alert me that you are a stranger, an outlander, an interloper or someone who can’t be trusted with key facts about me.

Super sales coach Jack Carroll starts his e-zine by calling me “Danny.” I almost hear his voice when I click on the e-mail and I hear the text, as if it’s being delivered orally, as a pep talk. Yet when the Passport Wine Club with “Bonjour Daniel,” it provokes an acid flashback to elementary school French class where Mary Ann Pessignelli tortured me for weeks. Peppers and Rodgers call me by name, but their ceaseless self-promotion and self-congratulatory tone (“This week we helped a voracious multi-national ravage the planet . . .”) embarrasses me.

There is some evidence that personalization without live contact falls flat. An NFO Interactive survey found that customers would spend more money if they could talk in real time to a customer service rep while they browsed a website. One in six shoppers, who said they had never actually purchased, claimed they’d become buyers if they had real-time contact.

This sounds right. But it’s far from the low cost solution. In fact, it’s the opposite because you incur the cost of web tech plus the costs of live operators and web-telephony interface. Given the fact that most marketers are directing prospects to the web to promote do-it-yourself buying and to reduce the cost of sale, this survey turns that assumption on its head.

And so we’re left with a series of Talmudic questions …
How much personalization is necessary or enough?
How little is necessary to begin or continue dialog?
How many dollars are worth risking for personalization?
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