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.

"Let's do an ad!" Really? Really???

From time to time over the years, I've heard prospective clients say they want to "do an ad." Today, it's just as likely to be "Let's do a website," or "Let's get on Facebook." OK. Admirable. They want to at least do some kind of marketing communications with their target audience. Or, at least, that's my view as a marketing and advertising consultant. But I know from a great deal of experience that often that's not the same understanding that they may have. Usually, they really mean "Let's do an ad, a website, etc." No more, no less.

This is when I generally make an attempt to gently suggest that they'd be better off saving their money, as a one-time only ad, especially -- without any strategy, plan or understanding of their target market -- is often not worth doing. Some might argue that something is better than nothing. And that's valid, of course. But to think that a single ad -- unless it's running during the Super Bowl, perhaps -- is going to make much of an impact, is wishful thinking. Same goes for a website or social media. They require attention. Regularly.

Good marketing and advertising begins with questions rather than answers: What are your goals and objectives? What does your target market know about your company or business? What do you want them to know? Who
is your target market? Describe them. Why do they want or need your product or service? Why should they purchase from you rather than a competitor? And so on. Questions...questions.

Prospective clients often turn to an outside consultant or agency when they recognize that they don't have the answers or capabilities to communicate effectively about their products or services. An outside view can often be helpful in this regard. But it has to be understood that advertising is both art
and science. Some of the science comes about through marketing research and planning. The art comes about in taking that information as background and constructing a communications campaign that is geared to achieve the goals set forth. That means transforming the data and input into a communications concept (words, pictures, perhaps music and customer interaction, as well) that can be tested. Tested against what? Another version of the message. Find out which works best and then create another test. Always test, measure, and refine.

That's hard to do with a "Let's do an ad, website, etc." view of marketing and advertising. It's also hard to have any long-term business success with such a view.

Are you ready to take a broad view of your marketing and advertising efforts? Then give us a call. We can assist you. Really.

-- GSM

Strategic Planning: Why Bother?

Life goes in cycles, it seems. The weather certainly does…although this winter definitely isn't cycling through fast enough for most people in the country.

Business goes in cycles, too. Certain trends emerge, take hold for a while, only to be replaced by the next big thing.

Something that is always in style, however, is the subject of this post: strategic planning.

I've recently been engaged in an ongoing strategic planning process with a non-profit organization. As part of the process, we designed, implemented, analyzed and interpreted the results of two surveys to various organizational constituencies. The feedback will be used by a newly-formed strategic planning committee to help develop a future-oriented strategic plan, from which a tactical plan or plans will follow. It's important for me, as the consultant, to help guide the process, be an advisor and a sounding board. I may also facilitate a day-long retreat/workshop for committee members to help focus their efforts and make sure everyone is on the same page. But it's also important for the organization that it develop its own internal capacity for strategic planning and its ongoing management. That's part of
my strategy for the organizational development of this particular non-profit. If I do my job well enough, they won't need me anymore.

Based upon my experience in this area, there's not really a right way or wrong way to go about strategic planning; it's whatever will work best for the particular business or organization. Granted, everyone has some operating biases about how to do this or that. I share mine with my clients upfront, and let them know they don't have to agree; it's just how I approach things. There are many books and templates available for how to proceed with strategic planning. Take what works for you and toss out the rest. And stay on top of it. Strategic planning isn't a one-time-and-done event. It's ongoing. Regular evaluations need to be made -- hopefully as part of the tasks of an ongoing strategic planning committee -- and revisions considered, if necessary, in order to achieve the organizational mission and achieve the stated goals. Tactical plans flow from the strategy.

Why bother with strategic planning? If you really have to ask the question...

Are you ready to review your strategic planning needs? Give us a call. We can assist you in a number of ways.

-- GSM

"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