Mindscape Communications New Answers for New Times™


It's 2016. Now what? Let's think about it.

Now that we've survived the holiday rush of advertising and related purchasing frenzy and put up a new calendar telling us that it's 2016, we can look to what lies ahead.

The biggest thing on the horizon, at least for those of us in the U.S., is the Presidential election in November. Of course, we've already been watching debates and hearing candidates tout why they are right for America and why their opponents are so obviously wrong. Toss in the punditry from both the right and the left — is there any middle any longer, by the way? — and the three-ring circus is fully underway.

Residents of caucus and early primary states are already getting their fill. The rest of us who watch the news unfortunately have to listen to reports of those poor souls in the other states. Some love it and live for it. Others…not so much.

It's the American way. Some say it's a broken process, exacerbated by a Supreme Court decision known as
Citizens United. Others say it's just free speech and anyone should be able to spend whatever they want to help get someone elected. Whatever one's view on this hot button issue, one thing is certain: the flood of money into political coffers will make this the most expensive Presidential campaign ever. Oh, and all of us will at some point be inundated by political ads, especially after the two parties' national conventions nominate their official candidates this summer. If there was integrity to the messages, statesmanship, a lifting up of the nation instead of the putting down of the opponent and those with differing views…boy, wouldn't that be different?

Unfortunately, as long as people respond to the tactics of fear and division in campaign messages political consultants and the candidates they are working for will continue to employ those tactics. Every marketer and communications professional will tell you that these ploys work at an emotional level rather than a cognitive level. When push comes to shove, emotion generally wins.

It doesn't always result in the best outcomes, however, as history has shown time and time again. But that's a
rational statement., which is easy to set aside as long as the candidates and their messages are able to keep fear and division first and foremost in the public's mind.

Making an individual, a group, a gender, a race, a nation…whatever…making anything else
"The Other" has been a winning formula for bigots, despots and politicians of the blowhard variety for ages. Until we are able to lift ourselves individually and collectively above that level of discourse, we'll just get more of the same. Brings to mind that old adage about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting to get different results.

It's sad, really, if you think about it. Which is the exact opposite of what most candidates and their communications campaigns want us to do.

So, as we kick off this election year of 2016, perhaps IBM's famous slogan, "
Think," should be a mantra for voters. Not thinking can have serious consequences for the nation and the world.

We've seen that storyline play out far too often…that is, if you think about it.

Mad Men? It's Like This...

I have to admit to indulging in a Mad Men viewing marathon via Netflix recently, trying to catch up through all the prior seasons with the current final one of this great AMC TV show. Like Breaking Bad, it's a series I came to late but find thoroughly engaging on a number of levels…not the least of which is the subject around which the series and characters are based: advertising and marketing.

As those of you familiar with the show are aware, "Mad Men" refers to the self-description Madison Avenue advertising agencies gave to themselves back in the late 1950s - early 1960s (and, yes, it was primarily a male-dominated industry, as the show reflects in not-so-subtle ways). While the label obviously referred to the location of most of the big agencies in New York City, it also certainly applied as a descriptor to the behaviors of some of those engaged in this craft, at least as portrayed in the show.

While I wasn't part of that ad scene in terms of either time or place, my career began later in another "Mad" place: Madison, Wisconsin…also sometimes referred to by its fans as MadTown. So, in at least one respect, I guess I was a Mad Man, too.

As a novice copywriter at a small agency in a small market such as Madison, I was getting paid to do something that was my natural gift… write…imagine that! And to ultimately see one's concepts and words executed in print, on radio and TV, outdoor, direct mail and so on…that was icing on the cake. Still is, to be frank. I can so very much relate to Peggy and the other young copywriters on Mad Men in that regard. There was — and still is — a passion for "t
he big idea." (One of the agencies I worked with in Chicago had a neon sign in its reception area that read "Hot Ideas Served Daily." I wanted to work there as soon as I saw that.)

Over time, one generally has other opportunities presented to them, both within one's initial place of employment and beyond. In my case, it was client contact and account management. Watching the account execs on Mad Men brings back memories of lunches, meetings and travel that sometimes worked out well, and sometimes didn't. I added market research skills to the mix, including both quantitative and qualitative research including focus group moderation.
Mad Men shows agencies in the early stages of using such techniques to refine their message; I enjoyed seeing that in the show as it brought some additional realism to the series for me.

Changes of cities also brought new challenges and opportunities including, eventually, lecturing about marketing and sales at the college level. A few students told me at the time that they became marketing majors because of my classes. That was one of the things of which I was most proud during my time in academe.

One of the most challenging — and fun! — projects over the years involved facilitating nine focus groups in four days — including travel time and a middle-of-the-night fire alarm hotel evacuation — working eastward from Los Angeles to Iowa to New York. Whew! We also had participants complete surveys and
brain dominance profiles which, along with the focus group findings, were used to develop highly targeted — and ultimately, highly effective — marketing communications for the client. This "do whatever it takes for the client and the business" working mantra from Mad Men was also one which I learned early on from my mentors. Actually, I probably learned it from my parents and teachers, in different forms, long before I sat behind the office typewriter (yep, had one of those) for the first time trying to come up with creative ad copy.

That's another thing
Mad Men reminded me of: "It's not creative unless it sells." That's not the axiom used in the show, just that there is a real concern and recognition expressed that there's some bottom-line implications to advertising strategy and creative work. Writers, illustrators and graphic artists can occasionally get wrapped up in their own creative brilliance if not given proper direction and a sense of accountability for moving the target audience to action.

I also had the opportunity to experience the frustration that lead character Don Draper of
Mad Men and his associates had on occasion: being part of a small agency competing with a large one for a client's business. Despite having, at least in our view, superior creative and strategic capabilities in some regards, it was and still is often the case that many clients seem to like the supposed safety of body count, i.e., the more people available to them at an agency the better the service. Well, not necessarily. I was part of a team on more than one occasion where Fortune 500 companies brought us in to do things their "big" agency couldn't do…despite the fact that the big agency had much larger staffs than did we. We had no delusions about getting their entire account. But we were able to carve out a niche that was mutually beneficial to the client and our agency.

Along these same lines, I've had the great opportunity to work with some insightful clients who actually preferred dealing with a smaller firm because they knew they weren't paying for staff or big offices that have nothing to do with their account. Performance, of course, is still the key to making that trust work for both parties.

Mad Men accurately show what things were like in New York City during that period of time covered by the show? In some respects, without actually being there, I'd say probably so, at least in part. Is there also a great deal of creative license within the show itself? Of course. The actual inner workings of the ad business would generally be far too mundane to engage viewers for long. Was there or is there personal drama? Of course. Was or is there bad or questionable behavior and choices? Naturally. We're talking human beings in a highly competitive and highly accountable work environment; things can happen.

My career now covers more than 40 years in advertising and marketing, As someone who has seen the good and the bad parts of many aspects of this industry, albeit from a Midwestern perspective, for a long, long time, I'm thankful that the producers and writers of Mad Men have created such a show. It reminds me of things I still enjoy…as well as reminds me of those aspects of the business I thankfully haven't had to deal with in a long time. As the captain of my own ship for more than 25 years, I've generally been able to work with clients who share my sense of business ethics and avoid those that don't.

Best of all, I've met and worked with some incredible people during my career. Above and beyond anything,
that's been the best part of it all. If that makes me a Mad Man, I couldn't be more pleased.

"If We Build it…" Well, not quite...

In my last post (which has been awhile, granted), I took up the subject of marketing research. I briefly outlined its importance to every business and organization. I described the different types of research, and alluded to the benefits of approaching research strategically, i.e., planning. Please refer to that prior blog entry if you care to catch up on my overview.

Today, I want to offer you an example of what can happen if marketing research isn't integrated into the product or service planning process early on. This is a true story with which I have firsthand experience.

This particular company had likely invested hundreds of millions of dollars designing and manufacturing the latest equipment for its market. It had produced hundreds of these expensive units, thinking that the company's likely customers would be clamoring for all the latest bells and whistles it had incorporated into this state-of-the-art equipment. Yet, all these units were sitting on the factory lot not selling. Executives were getting nervous. They had staked much of the company's capital -- and perhaps their own careers -- on this new equipment.

Why weren't these things selling, they wanted to know? The attitude was pretty much that these should be selling themselves…the "If we build it they will come" syndrome. It was a fairly quick assessment on our part: they didn't really have a good picture of who the primary market for this type of equipment was. A general idea, yes. Specifically? No. The general picture of their market had served them pretty well over the years. But that led to complacency, as did a budget that could obscure real issues. As a result, the company bet a bundle on that general picture of its market, coupled it with individual and corporate hubris…and lost.

Prior to designing and manufacturing this equipment, crafting a solid marketing research plan -- with clearly-defined goals -- and conducting a bit of secondary research would have discovered that the primary market for these products was essentially restricted to a very small segment of the overall market that was overwhelmingly located in one geographical area of North America. By knowing the size and location of that market, the company could have saved millions of dollars on manufacturing and carrying costs, lost opportunity costs, marketing expenses, and more. Couple that with some primary research to learn about acceptable price points, delivery options, preferred features and more, and you can imagine how much more successful this company could have been with this product launch.

Yes, they may have had the best piece of equipment out there. But they overbuilt for the actual market potential and ultimately struggled in their product launch. Ouch. Big-time ouch.

Further, there was really little we could offer them at this point other than the information we uncovered. That was information they needed at the start, not at the end. Things could have unfolded so much differently if only they had thought strategically and valued the role that marketing research can play in the product planning and development process, not just in the post-production sales phase.

This is a scenario I've seen repeated over and over during my career: manufacture "X" -- or create a new program or service -- and then figure out who to sell it to and how. It doesn't matter the size of the company or organization, or their line of business; it's a common problem. Doing things backwards, however, is not a very cost-effective approach, whatever one's line of business.

When you're ready to see what strategic marketing research -- and strategic marketing -- can do for you, give us a call. But please, do us both a favor: communicate early in the process…not after the die is already cast.

-- GSM


Research? Who Needs Research?

Interesting question: who needs market research? If you think about it, that question in itself is research, isn't it? Who does need research? The answer is: pretty much every business and organization that wants to survive…and thrive.

How can you know how to best serve your particular market or customer base if you don't know who they are, what they want, how much they are willing to pay, the best means for communicating with them, and so on?

It's easy to get scared off when the subject of market research comes up, particularly if there is no one within your company or organization who is tasked with that responsibility or who has some level of experience with what it entails. It needn't be overwhelming, though.

For starters, the Internet brings so much information to us today that what you are looking for, or at least some semblance of what you are looking for, is probably already out there. Somewhere. The trick becomes finding it. Or, if you aren't able to find exactly what you want, finding something close and extrapolating from it. This is known as secondary research. And, yes, sometimes those of us who are perhaps a bit more skilled at searches can expedite the process and find information for you faster than those who don't spend all their time studying search engine optimization, search phrases and expressions, etc. Yes,
Mindscape, is well-versed in conducting secondary research.

Sometimes, however, you can't find exactly what you need merely by searching for what others have already done. Sometimes you need to do your own research based upon your own information-gathering goals. That's when primary research is called for.

If you don't have an in-house research department, you may wish to consult with an organization such as
Mindscape to help you define the information you need, develop your information-gathering goals, and create the research plan and methodology…as well as then conduct the research itself through focus groups, surveys, personal interviews, etc. There are many tools and techniques available for primary research. It will benefit you in the long run to use a qualified researcher to help you get the information you need. A relatively small investment up front can often save you a lot of expense later on. Consider the costs of a failed product or service launch, or misdirected advertising messages, for example. You can ensure that those larger investments have a better chance of paying off by making a smaller and targeted research investment at the start of things.

There's certainly more that can be said on this subject, and perhaps I'll take it up again. But this hopefully is a sufficient overview to get you thinking. Do you need research as part of your ongoing marketing and communications efforts? When you have your answer -- and you need the expertise of an outside consultant to help you -- give us a call.

-- GSM