Assumptions in Your Marketing

Good decisions are no trick!
Good decisions are no trick!

Some time back, I attended the SCORE/OPEN sessions at the SBA office in lower Manhattan. This is one of several seminars sponsored by SCORE and OPEN from American Express held across the United States. These sessions allow small business owners free one on one counseling with retire executives, walking away with strategic useful advice for their business.  To learn more, check with your local SBA and SCORE office to find out the schedule of the nearest one to you — or visit their website at SCORE.

For my session, Andy Cohen, a former advertising executive and adjunct professor at New York University, addressed the audience in definitely one of the best 45 minute presentations I have ever seen.  Using magic tricks to help illustrate his points, Cohen spoke about how our assumptions affect our decisions “because we treat our assumptions as truths, and misdirect ourselves as a result.” Because of competition, social media, and  the increased pressure to “do more with less”, we use our assumptions as a truth behind a decision which can be wrong.  He raises the Coke/New Coke fiasco from the 1980s as an example, in which leaders assumed that the preference for taste was more important than the brand. This assumption, says Cohen, led to the change in formula (corrected with the return of old Coke when the public protested).

Andy’s comments connected with me and woke up my marketing buddha! I have long considered the elements of his message, but never in the consistent and coherent manner that he presented. And it was cool to see magic (His trick using an audience member and a cellphone call to said member’s sister was a nice touch).  He certainly read the book Made To Stick (by Chip and Dan Heath) because the presentation was indeed unexpected and had stickiness!

Andy has a great book out called Follow The Other Hand.  You can learn more about Andy at his website.

Bookmark and Share

When Facebook is Not A Marketer’s Friend

Honda Accord Crosstour
Introducing a new product, such as the Honda Crosstour, can be frought with customer reaction that can jade social media critics into cancelling a campaign. But read below to learn how to be manage complaints.

In September, 2009, Honda unveiled a variant on the Honda Accord. Called the Crosstour, the vehicle is a large 5-door hatchback, designed to appeal to SUV owners who want versatility but in a more sedan-like form. The hybrid design has become the latest rage in the industry, starting with BMW’s X6 and continuing with Acura’s ZDX, also being introduced with the Crosstour (Acura is Honda’s luxury division. According to Honda few components are shared between the ZDX and Crosstour).

But Honda ran into a marketing storm when it unveiled the Crosstour on a Facebook fan page. Fans immediately panned the vehicle’s appearance. Worse, Honda responded to specific posts with very general comments, which prompted more negative fan comments. Honda has since released more reveals of the Crosstour in more colors and interior pics, but the damage to initial buzz was done.

Companies need to understand how to position a brand extension with online communities. Accord is a very popular vehicle, but its popularity is among family car owners looking for reliable and affordable transportation. A FB fan is a fan in a true sense — they’re enthusiastic for the product be it Jack Daniels or Beyonce Knowles.

Also fans will want to share the experience. A vehicle reveal exposing the Crosstour to the FB crowd may have not be the best audience. Accord does not carry the same FB-like enthusiasm like a Ford Mustang or Nissan 370Z. An extension to a entry model like the Civic would potentially have been a potentially better choice for this channel, given its image with young buyers and tuner car heritage (Honda recently embraced the tuner image with a CivicNation ad campaign).

To Honda’s credit, Facebook has seen an increase in adults, in segments that would be a potential audience for the Crosstour (The average age on FB is 35 years old, with more women than men). But this potential audience is recent relative to this campaign timing, so the “usual crowd”, vocal and responsive, may have been the first to see the Crosstour reveal and comment.

Automobiles can be difficult to market. Vehicles contain definitive physical features that can be an elephant in the room when it comes to consumer impact. And these features can not be easily changed without a substantial engineering budget, very difficult in a competitive market with slim margins on some vehicle lines.

For example, Ford had a great handling vehicle in a compact sedan called the Contour, but had a negative in the rear leg room layout. The European-developed sedan needed more room, and the issue was highlighted in various car magazines. This is a feature or product quality that is not changed easily. For Ford it took developing a different offering, the Fusion. While not a direct replacement, the Fusion is larger than the Contour, carries more room, and developed on platform targeted for American roads.

Exposure online means immediate feedback, so buzz on a product like an automobile is extremely vulnerable to negative response. A grille change or trim change may not cover up a general sentiment that a overall shape is ugly or that a vehicle has poor function of its major features. GM made trim changes to the Pontiac Aztek, but the vehicle was (and still is among critics and consumers) considered an ugly vehicle that should have been re-imagined before production. These examples are why I still pay attention to automotive marketing even though I am now 8 years out of the game (I worked at Ford and interned at GM, as well as having lifelong car enthusiasm).

Small businesses can learn how to market extension of services by monitoring launches of extension products from large businesses, then learn to apply albeit on a small and quicker scale (fail fast, learn & apply quickly). Owners can search for blog posts or follow Twitter feeds to see what worked, what didn’t, and reflect on how the suggestions and tone can best be used in their own services and products.

Engage your fans, but be cautious of egging on negative statements from the community if you can not really address fan concerns with specific actions or solutions.

Check out the Crosstour fanpage to see the comments. If you think I am alone in my thoughts, check out the comments at Autoblog.

Another Top 10 at Autoblog

Ragtop memories
Ragtop memories

Wow, someone is following Casey Kasem’s footsteps! After the Top 10 Forgotten Hatchbacks list (see my post), Autoblog has created a Top 10 Forgotten Convertibles list. Just in time for Memorial Day, too!

What’s your favorite car memory? Was there any marketing effort with your fav? If so, was the commercial/ad affect your interest in the vehicle?

Enjoy the list!

Bookmark and Share

Chrysler Poll — Does Bankruptcy Affect Marketing? (2009 post)

A fleet of Jeep Grand Cherokees awaiting a new home
A fleet of Jeep Grand Cherokees awaiting a new home

Ad Week is conducting a poll on Chrysler’s  advertising in Linked In. The Adweek poll at Linked In centers on if a bankruptcy will affect the message and tone of the effort.   Ad Week also has a related article on messaging value during a downturn.  Take look and see what you think.

One challenge about sending a marketing message during a downturn or a company-wide distress is that associated independent channels have to be coordinated with the message to overcome negative response.  With the recent announcement of closing 1 out of 4 dealerships, plus GM’s choice to eliminate 1100 dealers, public reception for any Chrysler promotion will only focus on Chrysler financial condition and not on the value of the product.  Thus the remaining dealers will have to break through these concerns to gain any traction in sales, even more-so after Chrysler exits bankruptcy and begins to execute a marketing strategy.

Small businesses can learn from the Chrysler bankruptcy by making sure its sales channels and partners are constantly aware of the business status.  If there are negative concerns, such as slowing sales, small businesses should keep its advisors and partners aware of its plan to address the downturn and give progress reports, be it formal report or simple blog post with Twitter announcements. The key is to maintain a coherent message, good or bad.