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This is where smart people and breakthrough ideas come together. Our thought leaders share insights, trends, perspectives and much more about what’s happening in our industry.

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Are you measuring your way to success?

From birth, the lifelong journey with measurement begins.

Seconds after you’re born, doctors perform an APGAR test using a 10-point scale that measures five basic criteria to evaluate your health. In just a few minutes they’re able to make that critical call and determine whether extra care is needed. The steps are simple: measure, evaluate, make adjustments, and repeat. Without being time-consuming or costly, this measurement helps doctors make important decisions about what to do next.

Just like the APGAR test, you can quickly assess the health of your marketing tactics, provided you have a scale in place for the right measurements. The benefit? You’ll be able to nimbly respond to opportunities while keeping budgets lean.

Measurement often sounds like time and money. This doesn’t have to be the case. It’s a misconception to think that measuring every tactic is time-consuming and expensive. 

In reality, measurement can be quite simple. 

Prior to any new campaign or tactic, make your own version of the APGAR test by challenging your team to answer two basic questions: 

  1. What does success look like?
  2. How do we measure it? 

Identifying what success looks like and determining key performance indicators doesn’t take long, and it pays dividends. Simply identifying those indicators ensures you have the right measurements in place prior to launch. It also helps to manage expectations and build consensus with your team. With this approach, you’ll avoid a situation where you can’t gauge success because the means to measure a campaign or tactic were never put in place. And if you aren’t able to measure a particular campaign or tactic, could you even justify doing it again? 

The benefits are clear: Measurement provides a historical record, sets an internal benchmark and puts you on the road toward constant improvement. All key performance

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Hedge your bets with real-time marketing

Credit: Adrian Sampson

If you’re anything like two-thirds of CMOs, digital probably accounts for 50 percent of your marketing budget (at least according to Accenture).

That means your program likely hinges on the performance of your digital strategies. Already, 41 percent of you digital marketers are upping your odds of success by including real-time marketing components in your plans (per Evergage).

Real-time marketing empowers programs with more agility and speed, which can drive more-educated decision-making from a marketer’s perspective and a more impactful experience for users. It capitalizes on factors that are happening in the moment and uses algorithms to determine the marketing response.

The best part? If you’re tracking Web metrics with Google Analytics, you’re already equipped with a robust real-time dashboard with which you can monitor traffic and activities as they happen on your site or app. Activity is reported seconds after it occurs to compare content and goal performance by campaign traffic source, location, device and more.

This approach is ripe with potential, and marketers are finding new ways to capitalize on the ability of real-time marketing to fuel meaningful interactions with data.

Here is some inspiration to elevate your program with a real-time component:

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The four-letter word you should use more often

Here’s the situation: You have a fixed marketing budget and an unrealistic time frame.

You need to launch a new product line that requires a precision communications plan. It needs to deliver the results the sales teams and CEO expect while making you look like a rock star.

Then someone on your marketing team mentions the four-letter word “test.” Does dead silence fall over the strategic planning session while the word hangs in the air? Won’t someone reach up to grab it and turn its negative aura into a positive opportunity (which it is!) for the team?

To a successful marketer, the word test means two things: 1) time; and 2) money. Too often you have neither.

But testing is all about getting the right answers. And when you get it right, it can propel your career and validate your marketing methodology. You may think there’s no time or money, but odds are there are enough of both. If you can think of creative ways to incorporate at least one test into your next campaign, it will help optimize your future communications.

Here’s a quick multiple choice question for you:
What can you test to get some worthwhile results that won’t slow down the process or cost much more?

A) Audience segment
B) Frequency of communication
C) Content/copy edits
D) All of the above

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Motivate your most valuable audience to work for you

Icons designed by FreePik 

Technically, you’ve already secured them: your company’s most valuable advocates and influencers.

Who are they? Hint: They’ve signed an employment contract.

Now, how do you get them to really work for you?

Start by enabling your employees to work with you. We’ll help you with this in a moment. But first, here’s why:

You’re outnumbered (or will be soon)
Statistics about generational shifts in the workforce have been touted for years. But now companies are experiencing the impact and looking for solutions. Millennials make up roughly a third of today’s workforce; baby boomers make up another third. Millennials are growing in numbers and will make up nearly half of the workforce in the next six years. And while boomers are holding true to their hard-charging work ethic and have shown a reluctance to retire (for many reasons), their impending workforce exodus will leave knowledge gaps. Effective communication with each generation and among generations in your workforce will be critical in achieving knowledge transfer, tenure and succession planning, among other things.

You’ve got to change how you communicate
It’s not just business anymore. It’s personal. Relationship attributes such as trust, admiration, respect, likeability and inclusion are more important in determining whether millennials in particular will advocate for your company, influence others and stay.

To have this kind of relationship, companies (and leaders especially) need to be more human. More accessible. More in tune. More empathetic. More transparent. Delivering an experience that fits this bill is a tall order for many companies — one requiring top-down change management and a new communications strategy for support.

Your reputation is on the line
Employees’ voices carry weight. They help shape your corporate reputation. The public trusts them (yes, even more so than your CEO). And today, your employees are accessible, social and transparent themselves. Interestingly — but perhaps not surprisingly — being seen as a “good company to work for” became one of the top drivers defining “great” companies in the 2013 Harris Interactive Reputation Quotient survey.

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Has programmatic buying revolutionized your media spend? Here’s why it should.

Credit: Richard Matthews

In the media technology world, brands are seeing digital media return on investment grow sixfold with this new approach.

That’s according to Forbes editor Brandon Gutman, who reported on the programmatic buying efforts of Kellogg Co. If you haven’t heard of programmatic buying or are only somewhat familiar with it, here’s why it matters: With the right plan, it offers a better return on your media dollars and is a better way to reach your target audience.

Simply put, programmatic buying means using software technology to buy and sell ad impressions. It’s called programmatic because that’s how the online campaigns are booked, flighted, analyzed and optimized via demand-side software and algorithms.

International Data Corp predicts spending on real-time bid display advertising will increase by nearly 60 percent year over year through 2016. If programmatic buying lives up to expectations, it will be the fastest-growing segment of digital advertising for the next two years.

Most major online publishers in the United States now sell at least some of their ad space by using automated programmatic technology, according to research by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Winterberry Group.

Targeted; efficient; fewer wasted media dollars
With a programmatic approach, ads are bought and sold through an auction-based pricing model (commonly referred to as real-time bidding). You’ll pay whatever price the ad impression is worth at that moment, and the automation handles negotiations and ordering. You won’t need buyers to send out RFPs, negotiate buys and send insertion orders, which makes the process more efficient overall.

Your ads only appear on a website if the person viewing the site fits your established criteria. The goal is to target your audience and let the algorithms optimize the rest.

Get the pros and cons of traditional and programmatic approaches with this chart.

Only spend on what’s working
Programmatic buying gives you instantaneous access to key metrics, so you can make changes at any time during a campaign. This means you can monitor buys against key

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Three ways to dominate with digital display advertising

Credit: Hiromitsu Morimoto

If you’re thinking of digital display advertising as a branding vehicle that simply delivers impressions, you’re overlooking its real power.

As we become more digitally connected, the varied forms of digital advertising rival any nondigital forms as the direct marketing channel of choice. With an almost ubiquitous reach and ability to deliver an immense amount of data about the always-connected audience, it’s one of your most powerful tools.

Here are three ways to make sure you’re fully wielding the power of your digital display program:

Connect at opportune times
If you’re still relying on demographic, firmagraphic or psychographic targeting, you’ve got an opportunity to up your game. Use behavioral targeting technologies to connect with an audience at the most opportune times in their buyer’s journey through whichever device they’re using.

This approach tracks specific, measurable audience actions (such as a page view, ad hover, click or lack of any action) and lets you time the message delivery or control the frequency based on individual interest, as demonstrated through user online activity. 

Retargeting is one of the most popular forms of behaviorally targeted communications. You can now retarget from an email, search, display ad or traditional site visit. The retargeted ad unit can be served across social media, desktop websites, mobile sites and mobile apps, not to mention integrated into your email or direct mail campaigns.

Plus, the expansion into social and mobile has opened up new behavioral data streams and channels to serve the ads. As you see below, in this eMarketer summary, U.S. mobile marketers see multiple targeting possibilities.

Deliver a relevant ad experience
Want to increase your display ad lift by 471 percent?

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Leave your marketing baggage at the door

Credit: Kristen Taylor

A colleague of mine at Bader Rutter once told me that he and his family have a “shelf” in their garage where everyone, kids included, must leave the day’s emotional baggage before going inside the house.

I love this idea. And it’s very applicable to marketers when we start a new planning cycle. Think of it as the clean slate rule.  Before entering the meeting room, everyone on the team has to shelve any preconceived notions that could kill ideas. 

Exercises like this may seem somewhat cheesy, but they work. Embrace the cheesiness. Even laugh a little when you instruct your team to leave the room to put their “baggage” on that fictional shelf. The simple physical act of getting up and doing this will set the right tone for your planning meeting and encourage fresh ideas.

Another way to make sure you approach planning with a fresh perspective is to outlaw certain words or phrases in meetings. We’ve all heard of buzzword bingo. Create your own buzzword bingo board with things unique to your organization that are known to shut people down. And instead of encouraging your team to use enough of these phrases to yell out, “Bingo,” challenge them to not get one single square. 

Click to enlarge (and print!)

One phrase I like to outlaw is “We’ve already tried that.” You might think that phrase is fitting, and you might even encourage it when your goal is fresh thinking. But in my experience, that phrase shuts people down. That’s especially true for new team members who weren’t around the last time that idea surfaced. Additionally, someone new who brings it to the table perhaps had a different — most likely successful — experience with the concept. Hear them out. Chances are the idea was never bad; maybe it was just poorly executed.   

What words or phrases tend to keep your team from letting new ideas flow? Get your own buzzword bingo template here and personalize it for your next brainstorming meeting.

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Audience prioritization is effective, not exclusionary

You know your buying process.

You know the nuances, the potential challenges and the key players involved. And based on where they are in the journey, you know what those players need to hear. Most important, you know you can meet their needs.

Now, chances are, multiple decision-makers and influencers weigh in when a customer opts to purchase your product or service. If you could, you would choose to develop communications highly targeted to each of those decision-makers. You’d work to start conversations that would take them through the buyer’s journey, no matter where they start. You’d have messages tailored to their influencers, helping them guide your decision-makers along the path you propose.

In reality, that’s just not practical. We as marketers rarely have the luxury of effectively communicating all things to all audiences. That’s especially true if we find there are decision-makers with different needs involved in different phases of the buying process who need to hear unique messages.

So how do you choose where to focus your communications efforts? And does zeroing in on one audience mean you have to allow others to fall to the wayside if you want to stay disciplined in executing your strategy?

Those are the questions Butler Manufacturing™, a buildings solutions provider, faced as it explored its communications strategy options during planning for its Be A Maker campaign. Three very influential but different audiences play a role in the decision-making process when constructing a building. Butler™ needed to change its way of thinking without being all things to all audiences.

The answer: Prioritize but don’t exclude.

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Is your merger costing you cultural capital?

At the end of a brand integration workshop I recently led for a client in Milan, the team considered what we had learned.

“The company cares enough to do this the right way,” offered one participant.

What a brilliant observation, I thought. He verbalized one of those unintended brand messages companies send when integrating an acquisition.

What unintended messages are you sending employees?

So often it’s all about the financials. And yet, we know 70 percent of acquisitions fail to deliver on projected shareholder value. In a recent study conducted by a merger and acquisitions (M&A) law firm, 48 percent of executives said they believe integration planning is the most important strategy for mitigating risk in M&A transactions.

Here’s the challenge. Companies are so focused on the accounting and management of an acquisition — the financial due diligence, the regulatory issues, the operational logistics — they often overlook the human and cultural nuances of integration. 

Back to my astute workshop participant (whose comment revealed he had been through a number of mergers). I asked him what the client had done to make such a positive brand impression in his mind.

“Well, they brought in an expert to lead this planning session. And we did it together. All of us worked together to make the migration plan.” In other words, the company values expertise and collaboration — two more powerful brand associations.

Managing a brand integration may be one of the most challenging initiatives you’ll ever face as a marketer, in part because mergers are inherently fraught with uncertainty and emotion. But when managed correctly, integration planning can leave an indelible, positive brand impression on all your employees.

Help ensure the health of your brand integration strategy. View our recommended cures for common ailments brands face after mergers and acquisitions.


Get your players in the right positions 

Strategically managing brand portfolios is vital to successful businesses.

There are many triggers that demand such attention, such as optimizing marcom budgets and resources and controlling/reducing costs. However, it is particularly crucial when mergers and acquisitions (M&As) come into play as part of a business growth and expansion effort.

M&As prompt even more portfolio due diligence.
Expect the growth of M&As to continue because of globalization and intense pressure for companies to perform, amid escalating costs and market volatility. Companies, financial advisers and investment bankers must consider complex factors and realize that the brands involved are also important to manage in the process. Experts agree that brand portfolio strategies have an impact on the M&A process success.

During that process, many portfolio management challenges can arise, such as merging corporate brands and dealing with multiple master brands in many forms: companies, products, services, business units, segments or channels, and umbrella brands. There are plenty of challenges amid the implicit M&A opportunities. We know the challenges and opportunities firsthand because of our early and integrated portfolio strategy work with many clients over the years.

How can a team win with players out of position?
With brand portfolios, a time-proven technique is to explain them using metaphors. A rather ubiquitous metaphor is the traditional family structure of parents and children. This well-known aspirational hierarchy can serve its purpose, but is perhaps outdated.

One of my favorites is that of a team on the field of play. In this example, it is a football pitch. Now, some may view it as a soccer field. But after living and working in the United Kingdom for three years, I am assured by my “mates across the pond” that it is indeed a football pitch.

The first illustration shows the ideal situation with all players in place. This is akin to the tidy organizational charts drawn to explain a company’s brand portfolio. But the reality is often different.


Unfortunately, this second illustration is more indicative of real-world portfolios for many. Players are out of position — some key players might not even be on the pitch. How can a team win with players out of position? You know the answer. You get the metaphor. Simple, but it makes the point.

So, what does it mean to win?

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Elevate your brand by getting the most out of discovery

In this era of big data and accessibility, you have all the tools of discovery at your fingertips.

There’s so much available, you’d think it would be easy to find the inputs you need.

The truth is it’s hard to distill the right information. You’ll have hundreds of pieces of information thrown at you from several directions. As a result, you have the daunting task of discerning what’s important and what will help you start developing that compelling brand story.

Discovery is finding and analyzing all the accessible information necessary to gain insights that will help you support development of a clear brand strategy. It’s called discovery for a reason, because you don’t always know what you’re going to find. It’s problem-solving in its truest sense.

Credit: Dave Bleasdale

The discovery phase within brand strategy is more complex than ever before. In my experience, I’ve noticed there are certain things you can do to make this process run a little more smoothly. Here are three things to keep in mind when starting your next round of discovery work:

  1. Remember the three factors that influence what information you’re seeking. A successful brand hinges on recognizing a customer need, fulfilling a promise to that need and doing it in a way that’s different in the marketplace. If you keep these factors at the root of your exploration, you’ll help yourself filter through information with greater purpose, while recognizing what information or research is still needed. If you can walk away from the discovery phase with a succinct and validated answer to each of these three factors, you’ll have a strong foundation for your brand strategy work.

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Earn loyalty with authenticity and emotion

I have a good bet on where my 4-year-old son will shop if he becomes a DIYer: the national home improvement store with a logo he could identify around age 2.

He wanders the aisles of this store with his dad, asking questions about what’s on the shelves. He gets free popcorn (so there’s no begging dad). He makes projects with wood, nails, paint and stickers featuring the hottest children’s movie characters, during hands-on workshops.

Those extra touches are making trips to this store memorable for my son, and they are authentically establishing an emotional connection with this brand he’ll carry as he grows. As a result, it’s very likely he’ll be a future loyal shopper.

Click to enlarge

Connecting emotionally to establish loyalty is nothing new. What’s different is that B2B brands are getting in on this favorite B2C marketing strategy. Here are six key elements to get started:

Understand your audience — Know what triggers emotions and how your audience wants to feel. Then deliver content that resonates and prompts actions. Pull the heartstrings of people who want to be empowered to help others. Bring a sense of calm to a stressed professional. There is a place for both these emotions in B2B communications.

Quality products — Yes, it should be par for the course that products and services deliver as promised. But quality control issues arise, and your response can have strong implications on customers’ loyalties. It’s essential to be well-positioned and have an issues management plan to quickly acknowledge the situation and take effective action.

Transparency — As more people demand to know what’s in products and how they’re made, be open. Sharing information builds trust; withholding it raises suspicions. Showcasing ethical business practices also will help your customers reaffirm they’ve made the right choice when opting for your offerings.

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Manage your reputation before someone else does

Think back to some of the giant brands of yesteryear.
Kodak. Ford. Sears.

How did they earn their prominence? They offered something new to customers. Kodak made cameras a household item. Ford brought the auto to the masses. Sears gave shoppers a more expansive selection of products than they could get elsewhere. Innovation fueled prosperity for these brands, giving them strongholds.

Back then, innovation gave brands credibility, respectability and value. Today, that’s simply just not enough. The data shows it.

The definitive voice in corporate reputation measurement, Harris Interactive, finds that brand reputation increasingly hinges on intangibles, such as how consumers feel about the company and corporate social responsibility. Beyond that, 44 percent of those surveyed (and the plurality of respondents) have negative perceptions of corporate America.

For companies that have put their PR programs on the back burner, it’s wake-up time. The most successful brands of tomorrow will have the strongest relationships with their audiences. Even today, the most valuable brands are also top performers in terms of reputation. Corporations must prioritize customer sentiment to achieve their fullest potential.

The rules are changing

A new age of transparency has dawned, thanks in large part to social media and other technology advancements. The corporate communications department is no longer the sole voice of a brand. This alone should be a huge motivator in strengthening and protecting reputation.

Think about it this way: If the way in which consumers feel about a company strongly influences its reputation, then voices outside of a company are helping to define it. Companies need a steady hand on efforts to boost corporate reputation.

Now think about what happens during an issues management situation or a crisis. With social media and mobile, news can spread like wildfire. A scenario that could have been contained 10 years ago has the potential to go viral today. Not only are more people aware of a corporation’s negative perceptions, but more people can spread those perceptions, regardless of accuracy in their reporting.

Of course, this is damaging to any company’s reputation. But those that don’t have a strong, positive image ahead of a crisis will feel the burn much more deeply than those that do.

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Great customer experiences transcend digital

It’s an amazing time in marketing to focus on the customer experience.

Like never before, technology allows us to easily interact with the customer. More often, it’s these interactions that make the difference because there’s little differentiating products and services from competing brands. The experience is the differentiator.

It’s not hard to understand why, in client meetings, I’m seeing the conversation turn to experience more and more. This is happening mainly because marketing’s new mission is to create memorable and useful experiences during the buyer’s journey. Advertising is one small touch point. And while it’s great for generating awareness, it doesn’t really contribute much to a meaningful brand interaction. Marketing is more and more about what we do, not what we say.

Anyone who has ever created an experience map for a brand knows there are many significant brand touch points that need to harmonize into an experience. For 10 years, we’ve mostly focused on the digital touch points because most marketers weren’t maximizing the new and promising technology. There has been blind enthusiasm for the notion that if the digital experience improves, it compensates for other inferior offline experiences.

We know now that your brand needs to be useful, usable and pleasant everywhere. No single app, mobile site or social media presence will make up for an average analog brand experience. In my study of considered purchases, some of the most meaningful experiences are offline, and they have traditionally been beyond the command of the marketer. Customer service, sales calls and dealership experiences are still much more important than we digital marketers anticipate. The marketing focus has now turned to providing great digital tools that improve the in-person experiences with usefulness and usability.

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Sorry, brainstorming: It’s empathy that drives innovation and creativity

There’s a big misconception that “innovation” means brainstorming a bunch of big (and preferably really cool) ideas.

Much of this thinking comes from watching widely admired companies kick out groundbreaking products and services, from the iPhone® to OXO® Good Grips. It’s understandable that we might picture these companies’ best and brightest in ideation sessions, furiously working to get their brilliant ideas out of their heads and onto a whiteboard.

But great ideas don’t usually materialize this way. Putting aside the growing chorus of those questioning brainstorming’s effectiveness, this simply isn’t the way innovation works. In fact, if you’re waiting for geniuses to drive innovation in your company, you’re doing it wrong. 

Innovation is about solving problems for people in ways that fit their lives. And you can’t do that without deeply understanding those people, and their unmet needs and desires. But how do you uncover those unmet needs and desires? We already know it’s not by asking people what they want. It’s through empathy.

Here’s why empathy works so well at driving innovation and creativity:

Empathy offers a fresh perspective: Seeing the world with new eyes is the best pathway to fresh ideas. It increases your ideas exponentially.

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