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Sprout Social released a survey that found two-thirds of consumers say its important for brands to take a stand on social or political issues. Edelman echoed that sentiment with a 2017 study that found 51% of respondents believe brands have more power to solve social issues than the government. And they reported that 57% of consumers are more likely to buy or boycott a brand because of its stand on social or political issues.

Taking a stand is increasingly part of marketing planning. And yet social stands that are only campaign-deep invariably come across as only campaign-deep. Last year’s Pepsi ad misfire with Kendall Jenner joining a social protest is a cautionary tale.

“A lot of brands jump on the bandwagon as a shortcut to weigh in on what’s going on and resonate with customers, and Pepsi did exactly that. But people have high BS detectors,” said Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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Last year, Patagonia changed its entire home page to a provocative banner reading “The President Stole Your Land” after an executive order reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah by two million acres. Patagonia is a belief-brand with a long history of taking a stand, and this particularly stand fit squarely in Patagonia’s turf. It wasn’t a one-off. That type of stand is not right for every brand.

I like how Max Lenderman, CEO of School, put it:

“Most brands have knee-jerk reactions to trends and seek to hijack them. But you can’t use cause or purpose as a tactic; otherwise you’re bound to fail.”

Here are a couple related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

Mission Statement” January 2011

Brand Laddering” June 2012

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Gartner L2 recently reported that 70% of brands across industries worked with influencers on Instagram in 2017. Influencer marketing is projected to become a $5 to $10 billion market in the next 5 years.

These reports came before the Facebook algorithm change and the impending GDPR deadline threw many marketers’ social plans into disarray, which suggest even more brand investment with influencers as a way to engage audiences.

And yet the explosion in influencers is creating what one PR firm calls an “authenticity crisis”. Splendid Communications reported the results of a UK survey that 43% think influencers are “often inauthentic” and work with brands “they don’t believe in.” A further 52% assume that if an influencer promotes a product, they have been paid to do so, even if they haven’t. 61% admit to unfollowing an influencer who worked with “inappropriate” brands or who “endorsed too many products.”

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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Only 5% of this survey said that influencers are “genuine” and “only promote brands and products they truly believe in.”

I’ve been trying (without success) to find a chart I saw presented at a conference a few months ago. It ranked average numbers of brand partnerships per influencer per month. My memory may be off, but I recall the higher end was something like 35 different brand endorsements in a month, so more than one per day. I’d love to see the source if anyone has that.

The authenticity crisis is one reason there’s a shift from one-off celebrity endorsements to micro-influencers involving longer, deeper campaigns.

But as the marketing world invests even further in influencers of all stripes, I think it will be a challenge to overcome the inevitable influencer fatigue that comes with oversaturation.

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years.

Social Media Stars” December 2014

Facebook News Feed” January 2018

Influencer Marketing” March 2018

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New ideas inherently carry risk. And there’s often friction between the risk profiles of our ideas and the risk tolerances of our organization. How we navigate and manage that friction impacts what, if anything, makes it through the gauntlet of the innovation process.

Risk tolerance can vary across different parts of the business. Ultimately we need all of these different points of view to sense-check ideas as we collectively bring them to life. All of those different perspectives can make an idea stronger. But silo-thinking often gets in the way.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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Years ago, I saw innovation legend Doug Hall lead a workshop on managing risks. He had a few words of advice that stuck with me:

“Meaningfully unique ideas spark fear. Fear causes shut down. The secret to reducing fear is to make the unknown known. We need to turn killer issues into manageable threats”

Here are a few related ideas that I’ve drawn over the years.

Compromise with Legal” June 2011

Safe is Risky” July 2014

Lifecycle of Innovation” November 2002

(Thanks to my old colleague Jon Overlie who first inspired a glass half full cartoon idea years ago).

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“Hey Ms. Consumer, you get email, search, maps, friendship interaction and voice-activated homes for free! How good is that? Just don’t look at the pipe at the back of your house pumping terabytes of data back to Northern California.”

This quote was from a fascinating Mark Ritson editorial a few weeks ago in MarketingWeek. Mark wrote about the recent data privacy awakening as “the biggest question our [marketing] discipline has faced in decades.”

We’re in an interesting stage where data-driven technology is increasingly ubiquitous and accepted. In one example, a recent Jupiter report predicted voice-enabled smart speakers to reach 55% of US households by 2022. And yet there’s heightened attention into how all of that data is used. We’re just a month away from the May 25th deadline of The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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There has been a steady marketing drumbeat toward personalized, targeted advertising and yet 55% of adults in a recent UK study from YouGov hate the idea of personalized, targeted advertising.

It will be interesting to see how marketing teams navigate the tension between wanting to deliver the right message to the right audience at the right time, and the growing sensitivities around the data used to make that happen.

Here are a couple related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

The Future of Advertising” November 2017

Marketing with Virtual Assistants” January 2017

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“You go to the drug store now, you buy one or two things, you get a receipt that’s like a Miss America sash,” Jimmy Kimmel joked a couple years ago.

E-receipts may be on the rise, but many retailers are still cranking out massive paper receipts at the till.

AdAge performed an experiment with eight national retailers in the US. They bought a pack of Trident spearmint gum and measured the length of the paper receipt. The winner was Kmart with a receipt clocking in at two feet. That included a rewards membership pitch, a pitch to take a survey, a sweepstakes, product offers, physical coupons, and everything also printed in Spanish.

CVS once had receipts stretching to four feet, but trimmed them after consumers started posting selfies standing next to their receipts or wrapping them multiple times around their waists.

This is an example of what I think of as “marketing funnel vision”. We as marketers spend a lot of time thinking through tactics along a theoretical marketing funnel, helping nudge consumers from awareness to trial to repeat to loyalty. But it’s easy to lose sight of what the actual experience is like for the end consumer.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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In my first brand management role at General Mills, our CMO used to ask marketers the last time we hung out at a supermarket, watching how consumers actually shopped for our products. He said that we needed to spend less time with Excel, Nielsen, and PowerPoint and more time in front of the shelves, seeing how little time people spent reading our carefully worded package copy or if they even noticed our shelf talkers or other promotional tactics.

Even with the shift to digital receipts, marketers still risk “marketing funnel vision”. One hotel I visited recently would only give me the WiFi code by email — to make sure that I had given them a “real” email address at registration. They then used that email address to bombard me with high frequency of marketing messages, mostly tied to a city I visited just that once in 5 years. There’s a certain logic to that policy from a “marketing funnel” perspective, and yet it totally ignores the actual customer experience.

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

Marketing Funnel” January 2015

Loyalty Programs” August 2013

Shopper Data” July 2014

Customer Journey Mapping” April 2016

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In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to Apple and increasingly grew frustrated by all of the product complexity he saw at review meetings. He famously shouted “Stop! This is crazy” and drew a two-by-two grid on the whiteboard. At the top of the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Professional” and to the left of the two rows he wrote “Desktop” and “Portable”. He told his team to focus on those 4 product areas only (iMac, PowerMac G3, iBook, PowerBook G3) and to cancel everything else.

His product matrix became one of the most cited corporate stories of a company trying to tame the beast of product proliferation. As Steve Jobs put it,

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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I thought of this story after upgrading to a new MacBook Pro and then needing to shop for dongles to get it to work with anything (scanner, USB drive, external monitor, projector, SD, even Apple’s own iPhone, etc). Apple had replaced all of the traditional ports with just one – USB-C.

In one sense, this reduction was a move toward simplicity. But as I plunked down $69.95 for my second different Apple dongle, wondering how quickly I would be back when I inevitably misplaced it, I learned that Apple now literally sells 17 different types of dongles.

One journalist claimed that “Apple is now officially a dongle company that happens to make smartphones and computers.” I think it’s telling when the latest iPhone requires buying a dongle to connect with the latest Mac.

The path of least resistance is for companies to progressively make product offerings more complex. I think that Apple’s own journey with product complexity illustrates just how pervasive a challenge this is.

I like the sentiment of “focus and simplicity” as a “mantra”. Because it needs to be continuously repeated.

Here are a couple related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

New-Featuritis” June 2010

Flanker Madness” May 2003

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A few years ago, a security expert named Mikko Hyppönen set up free WiFi hotspots in the center of London. As part of the “terms of service,” Mikko put in a “Herod clause”. In exchange for WiFi, “the recipient agreed to assign their first born child to us for the duration of eternity”. Several people signed up.

Mikko’s point: “The biggest lie on the internet is ‘I have read and agree to the terms and conditions.’”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon found that it would take 76 work days to actually read all of the privacy policies an average person agrees to in a year.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
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Those privacy policies and terms of service are under the spotlight right now. Between the Cambridge Analytica revelations and the May 25th GDPR deadline, we’re in an interesting period of soul searching on how marketers work with personal data. The default position of consumers is increasingly skepticism.

Here are a a few related cartoons I’ve draw over the years:

Marketing with Personal Data” (May 2014)

Internet of Things” (January 2014)

GDPR Compliance” (October 2017)

Brand Reputation” (October 2015)

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“Our customers are loyal to us right up until the second somebody offers them a better service,” Jeff Bezos said in a Fast Company interview about Amazon last year.

Similarly, Google published a 2015 study on mobile strategy that found that “people are more loyal to their need in the moment than to any particular brand.”

Google calls these needs in the moment “micro-moments” which they point to as the new battle ground for brands. Many brands are starting to map elaborate customer journeys to better understand the myriad “micro-moments” that lead to customers considering one product or service over another.

When walking the customer journey in our customer’s shoes (vicariously through customer journey maps), marketers often discover unintentional pain points — areas of friction that make it harder for customers to do business with our brands. Brands sometimes treat actual customer experience as an afterthought, in favor of paid media acquisition tactics.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
Order Now

The last time our family had to buy a dishwasher, our previous dishwasher had stopped working in a funny way. I came home to find water all over the kitchen floor and the letters “F.U.” flashing on the display. I later learned that “F.U.” stands for “Failed Unit”.

It struck me as a metaphor than brands sometimes unintentionally say “F.U.” to customers through customer experience. “F.U.” became an apt description for the apathetic attitude that particular brand took as we tried to troubleshoot what had happened with our old dishwasher and start the process of buying a new one. We ultimately went with a different brand, despite all of the retargeting ads our original dishwasher brand served us.

I’m struck by this insight from Google SVP Sridhar Ramaswamy:

“We’re heading toward an age of assistance where, for marketers, friction will mean failure, and mass messages will increasingly mean ‘move on.’”

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years.

Customer Journey Mapping” April 2016

The Customer Journey” September 2016

We Appreciate your Business” August 2012

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There’s an influencer marketing land grab underway. Influencer posts on Instagram alone nearly doubled between 2016 and 2017. That spike was even before January’s Facebook news feed announcement.

And influencer marketing is getting far more granular. Brands are increasingly focused on marketing with pools of “micro-influencers” who claim fewer than 10,000 followers and “nano-influencers” who claim fewer than 1,000 followers. Individually, they lack the heft of better-known names, but collectively, they can theoretically achieve a similar reach with a lower price tag.

New platforms are emerging to make it more efficient to organize pools of influencers without having to negotiate separately with each one.

"If marketing kept a diary, this would be it."
- Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs
Order Now

One of the selling points for brands to work with “micro-influencers” or “nano-influencers” is “authenticity.” And yet, when literally anyone can be an influencer, I wonder just how “authentic” this type of influence will continue to seem?

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

Social Media Stars, December 2014

Influencer Marketing, July 2015

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It’s a tricky time to be a food marketer — navigating the Wild West of consumer expectations and unregulated food claims like “natural.”

According to the most recent Consumer Reports Survey, 73 percent of consumers seek out foods labeled as “natural”. But, “natural” is not a legal or regulated term. The FDA signaled a few years ago that it would eventually provide some clarity, but marketers are currently operating in a grey area.

There’s been a push the last few years toward “clean labeling” in traditional processed foods. Brands are revamping their ingredient decks toward simplicity.

At the same time, “natural” is sometimes used for its “health halo.” But “natural” does not necessarily equate to “healthy”. Chipotle is the poster brand for this. The brand’s all-natural positioning can overshadow the actual health profile of the products. The typical order at Chipotle has about 1,070 calories, more than half the calories that adults are supposed to eat in an entire day.

In the meantime, lawsuits have surged, challenging how brands use the claim “natural.” Last week, The New York Times profiled over 300 class-action lawsuits filed in the last couple years around the “natural” claim, mostly in food, but increasingly in other categories.

At the Natural Products Expo West, a lawyer started her panel on natural labeling by asking the audience, “Who’s here to not get sued?”

One commentator opined, “words like ‘natural’ create expectations that the realities of commercial food production cannot justify.”

Here are a couple related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years.

Health Food Marketing” (May 2015)

The Art of Greenwashing” (July 2007)

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