Archive for the ‘Concept’ Category

Why You Should Read Your Wife’s Facebook Page

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Just so I don’t waste anyone’s time, this is a digital-marketing-related post. I know the title might seem racy–especially coming from a tool such as Twitter, where article titles spread quickly. But it’s a good one, so please read on….

Last week I had an onboarding with a new Marketing Director on one of our long-time businesses at Bridge Worldwide. As agency folks know, these can sometimes be tense affairs. We worry about what the new leader will think about our historic work, and pay close attention to how he or she might shift gears on everything we’ve been doing to date. And for a digital agency like ours, we also closely pay attention to how much the new client is engaged in this new media. Sometimes you find that a new client is ready to leap three steps forward on the digital playing field, but it’s just as likely that the new guy or gal will wonder why we’re not spending more on TV commercials instead.

In this particular meeting, it didn’t take long for our new client leader to start sharing his beliefs–mainly because we cleverly put an agenda item early on in the meeting titled something like: “Mr. Client Shares His Beliefs.”  Like many traditional marketers, this particular client admitted that he is still learning about how the digital space is evolving, but certainly wants to crack the code quickly.  Then he said something that I had never heard before; it went a little something like this:

One of the things I do to learn how our consumers are using digital and social media is to read my wife’s Facebook page. When I do this, I see the kinds of things that she and her friends are talking about–and it’s usually not brands or marketing. My wife and her friends talk about their children, plans for the weekend, hobbies, and reactions to what’s in the news. So if we want her to talk about our brand, then we need to do something that connects our brand in some meaningful way to what really interests her.

There are a few things that made this comment remarkable in my mind. First, it is an example of a marketer who understands that the answers don’t come from expensive research reports and fancy insight graphics–they come from paying attention to what people are doing and saying, even in your own home.

The second lesson here is the admission that many of the brands we work on are usually not chat-worthy on their own. Despite our desire to “join the conversation” and put up Facebook profiles for our brands, the reality is that we are competing for attention against topics that are much more engaging than whether our new product formula is 20% better. We have to admit this reality and talk about it openly.

And, finally, I love his point that we have to “do something” (i.e., not just talk) that connects our brand in some meaningful way (i.e., ties to higher-level needs).  This is exactly what I’ve been preaching here for two and a half years.

There is nothing better than working for a client who is strategically smart, is wise enough to admit he needs to learn, and commits to working with agency partners to crack the code.  This story is an important lesson for any marketer who is struggling to figure out the future of marketing, and shows how in small ways you can inspire agency partners to help you lead the way.

Meaning and Purpose Hit Prime Time at the ANA

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

At least four people so far have asked me if we somehow infiltrated the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) meeting last week. In case you don’t know, the ANA hosts an annual get-together for some of the largest marketers in the world.  The mic is taken by CMOs and CEOs who direct billions of dollars in annual advertising spending. And this year the consistent topic was Brand Purpose and Marketing with Meaning.

A record-breaking 1,600 attendees saw industry leaders such as P&G’s Marc Pritchard, Dell’s Erin Nelson, and Coca-Cola’s Joe Tripodi talk about how they are transforming their organizations. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to attend this meeting, but I could not be happier to see the message we have been spreading for years finally take root with these industry giants. It was consistent with The Burning Question seminar that Jim Stengel and I hosted in Cannes this June, when another group of seven CMOs shared their stories, struggles, and early successes in shifting the marketing paradigm.

While the big corporate keynotes were great, my favorite speaker from the event was Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, who summarized this new marketing paradigm pretty succinctly: “Make Stuff.”  Take a peek here.

IfWeRanTheWorld is a fascinating concept of crowd-sourcing solutions to major problems. Its simple idea is to break down big cause problems and opportunities into smaller, doable chunks. And the lesson here for big brands is that it doesn’t take millions of dollars and expensive agencies to start experimenting with meaningful marketing. It really just requires marketers to recognize the need for change, and the courage to fulfill their brand purpose through advertising itself.

A few folks remarked that the recent amount of press behind brand purpose and meaningful marketing will lead to this being considered just a passing fad. Well, I think we’re still far behind on the level of press that should be focused here. And how could we get tired of hearing about how brands are trying to do something positive, aside from just making better products or services?  I am encouraged by the progress toward our goal and proof of success in events such as the ANA meeting, and I do believe that this new marketing paradigm is within our grasp.

Don’t Fear the “Splintered Web”

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Apple-iPad-001

It didn’t take long for Apple’s iPad announcement to be co-opted by industries that worry about how the iPad will upend their legacy businesses. You might assume this to be the book publishers, who might fear lower margins on e-books, or newspapers, who are struggling to figure out how to profit from companies that make it easier to enjoy their content at no cost. But actually the biggest voice against the iPad so far is my very own industry: Digital Advertising.

Late last week two of the leading voices of digital marketing emerged with very public warnings for the advertising world if “walled gardens” continue to proliferate. In his blog, Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, claimed that the iPad is a “threat to advertising.” And Forrester’s Josh Bernoff, the co-author of Groundswell, wrote in Advertising Age and his blog about how this new technology and others “means the end of the Web’s golden age.” When these two people quickly jump to pull the fire alarm, we all should probably listen.

Their overall argument is that the rise of new devices with proprietary software such as the iPad, Kindle, Android, iPhone, Facebook, and TiVo is ushering in an era of a “closed” Web. Bernoff calls this “The Splinternet” to suggest that we are splintering off into many sub-Webs with their own rules and access privileges. Rothenberg calls these “attempts to semi-privatize the Internet.” What both men fear is that this will make the jobs of marketers and advertisers much, much more difficult because of the additional work needed to adapt advertising to multiple relationships, creative units, and measurement standards—among other limits to “scale.”

From the leader of the biggest representative of the digital advertising industry, Rothenberg’s words carry a lot of weight. He is fearful of how this proliferation of semi-private Web devices will significantly weaken his members’ businesses:

“Put simply, a company’s opportunity to create, sell and use advertising effectively and profitably will depend on its ability to deliver it seamlessly across multiple devices…. …The creative agencies on the IAB Agency Advisory Board have said categorically that their single greatest obstacle to advertising effectiveness and growth is their inability to deliver the same rich-media ads to tens of millions of households across multiple sites because, as they put it, ‘the rich media toolkit differs too much from site to site.’”

As a former client-side digital marketer and current leader of a digital advertising agency, I certainly appreciate Rothenberg’s representation and passionate focus on protecting and improving our industry. However, I humbly disagree that this “splintering” of the Web will kill digital advertising. It might kill mass, interruptive banner advertising, but it is already ushering in incredible new forms of meaningful marketing.

First, the reality of economics is that you often have to get some level of privatization for market economics to take hold. Apple has created a great deal of privatization in the music industry through the iPod. This has led to a real, thriving marketplace in which Apple has an incentive and ability to continually improve the user experience. The better it makes iTunes, the more music it sells. Further, consumers like that Apple is protecting them from porn and malware. Many real, thriving businesses and happy consumers have been spawned by Apple’s efforts so far. The old music industry (like the old advertising industry) did not like how this market opened up, but it was their own fault for not accepting the change and figuring out how to win.

Google has also privatized the Web in a way, too. It has a search engine that sets rules about the content that it crawls and ranks, filtering out the “open” Internet into a closed ranking system that it alone fully controls. Its algorithm treats some content better than others, and the company even decides which countries’ laws it does and doesn’t want to obey. The result: A fairly well-organized tool that has made consumers’ lives much better, and created billions in value for both shareholders and advertisers. Again, this has taken money away from old advertising players such as traditional agencies and the Yellow Pages. Sorry, guys.

At the end of the day, marketers were not put in their jobs to ensure that the mass banner-ad market keeps running well. Marketers want to sell their products and services. Interruptive advertising spread across many digital properties at once is but only one of many ways to achieve this goal. In fact, it is a marketing strategy that is looking worse and worse—both in the online and offline world—whether standardization exists or not. People pay decreasing attention and trust to the growing number of interruptive ads that we experience in our lives each day.

On the other hand, tools such as Google and the iPhone are allowing marketers to find and forge meaningful connections with their customers and add value to their lives. Tools such as Nike+ or Kraft’s iFood app are not “easy” for marketers to execute with the push of a single ad unit. But they are taking marketing to a much higher level both in terms of the impact on customers’ lives and the company’s bottom lines. Standardized banner ads are the absolute least interesting way to win in this exciting digital world. I think leaders such as Rothenberg and Bernoff can take the bar much higher by helping us adjust to where the marketplace—and society—wants us to go.

I believe it will be impossible for the advertising tail to wag the device/technology dog. One might argue that profit incentives will press device manufacturers such as Apple and Amazon to embrace standardized ad units. But frankly there is probably not enough incentive for them to do so. First, why adjust everything to make $.01 per viewer (or less) in ad revenue when the same viewer will pay $.99 (or more) for apps? The economic pressure is to dump the ad sales force and hire more software designers to keep upgrading the devices. Second, by embracing standardized units these companies are selling out their superior user experiences to the lowest-common CPM. Making all media and devices equal devalues the difference of an iPad.

As a digital advertising industry, we need to force ourselves to stop trying to dumb down our work to standardized banners and counting impressions. We must become more focused on making digital marketing work—especially in a way that has a positive impact on people’s lives. Instead of holding up a sword against the horde of change, our industry needs leaders who will help marketers understand the reality of societal change and start building what works next.

As I wrote in a guest post on the 1to1 Media blog recently, mass, interruptive scale might die—but meaningful, personal connections between marketers and their customers will rise.

Linking Happiness and Meaning at Work and Home

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

happiness

For me, the start of a new year is a time to recharge the batteries with a few weeks off, and rethink about my personal work and home life. I usually try to unplug completely, and preferably take a few long-distance drives to see relatives to clear my mind. This gives me clarity to work through the past year and begin to think about what I want to work on in the year ahead. Over the holidays I had the good fortune to run across an article that aided my annual processing. In the December 21 edition of BusinessWeek, Marshall and Kelly Goldsmith share results of a study about happiness and meaning at work and at home, and they come away with some very interesting conclusions.

In a study that is at the heart of the appropriately titled forthcoming book, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It, the Goldsmiths interviewed more than 3,000 professionals about what gives those people short-term satisfaction (happiness) and long-term benefit (meaning). The biggest finding from their survey is that there is a very high correlation between people’s happiness and meaning at work and home—”in other words, those who experience happiness and meaning at work tend also to experience them outside of work. Those who are miserable on the job are usually miserable at home.”

Because full-time workers spend the majority of their waking hours on the job, we might as well admit that happiness and meaning at work is the key to both in life overall. I have always felt this to be the case for myself, but I am surprised that so many others feel the same way. This idea lies in the epilogue of my book, where I describe how Marketing with Meaning not only helps improve sales and customers’ lives, but by doing the latter, we enjoy our work much more.

Another key insight in this study is that “since work and home are very different environments, our experience of happiness and meaning in life appears to have more to do with who we are than where we are.” In other words, we are responsible for our own happiness and meaning—not passive beneficiaries or victims of our work or home environments. If we are unhappy, we must take control and make changes to get to a better place.

These two lessons are what I work to practice and improve upon every year. I accept that my work has a huge impact on my home and family life, and I work to shape my career to better tap into what makes me happy and what makes life meaningful. In 2009 I had the chance to progress very well on this in seeing my book published, in watching our company grow revenue and staff at a double-digit rate, and in providing opportunities for our employees to succeed with new clients and challenges.

On the other hand, there are a few other goals that I hoped to accomplish but fell short on. After reading this article I sat down to commit to some goals that will make me happier, accomplish more meaningful results, and help our company continue to grow and succeed. One big one is to see the “Marketing with Meaning” concept take on a life of its own beyond me. For me to accomplish my goals, the concept cannot just be a “Bob thing” or even a “Bridge Worldwide thing.” I can only succeed if you make the concept your own, and, as a result find happiness and meaning in your work/home life by creating marketing that people choose to engage with, and advertising that itself adds value.

Thank you for stopping by to read this blog or the book, and let me know how I can help myself succeed by helping you create more meaningful marketing.

ChangeThis Manifesto: Meaningful Digital Strategy

Friday, November 20th, 2009

changethis - bob g

Way back in 2004 or 2005, I first recall coming across the concept of the ChangeThis Manifesto. It’s a concept that was first envisioned by Seth Godin as a way for passionate change agents to share their beliefs in a simple, straightforward medium. Seth and his original team created ChangeThis, a collector and distributor of killer ideas. I cannot recall which manifesto I read first, but I do remember printing off about a dozen and reusing and spreading many of the concepts that I came across. And I was immediately convinced that I had to write my own ChangeThis Manifesto someday. However the folks who run the organization are very selective, and only publish four to five manifestos per month. I decided to try to submit one around the concept of my book, while taking it in a different direction. Well, I’m proud to say that last week I achieved this goal!

For my manifesto, I chose to focus on the topic of “Meaningful Digital Strategy.” My book, The Next Evolution of Marketing, is very manifesto-like, of course, but it is a concept that includes all marketing, from digital to out-of-home to events. But I felt the need to use this soapbox as a way to focus specifically on digital. There are a few reasons for this: First, it’s what I focus on almost daily as the strategy leader at digital agency Bridge Worldwide.

But there is a second, bigger reason that I focused the manifesto on digital marketing. Frankly, I believe digital marketing is at a fork in the road, and we in the business must choose which direction we’re going to go. On one hand, there are those in the industry who believe we must adapt to the traditional, interruptive, eyeball-counting ways of the current marketing and media paradigm. They believe we can win by siphoning off TV dollars with more banners and video pre-roll.

On the other hand, a handful of us want to use the consumer/media revolution as a chance to elevate digital into something more meaningful. We want to make advertising something that people choose to engage with, and marketing that itself improves people’s lives. We love the chance to use this deeply engaging medium to help people make important decisions, have fun with friends, and maybe even change the world for the better.

So I present my ChangeThis Manifesto: Meaningful Digital Strategy, in handy 12-page quick-read form. Let me know what you think and if you like what you read and want more, check out the full book version. And if you are looking for more great ChangeThis Manifestos, I highly recommend:

Digital Agencies “Do” Think Differently

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

digital agency difference

Across the world of Twitter, Power 150 blogs, and advertising trade magazines, the marketing industry is increasingly obsessed with the question of what’s next for digital agencies. Just last week, Jacques-Herve Roubert wrote the latest salvo in Advertising Age that we digital agencies are, in fact, ready to lead. And today, the same publication asked whether or not the industry needs big digital agencies anymore. The lesser-known story is that this debate is perhaps more active in the halls of some of the biggest companies in the world. Although clients are getting that digital is important, they’re unsure who should be holding the digital reigns.

In fact, one of our big clients recently posed a question in an annual review; this is the $500 billion question, and one that clients are wrestling with intently as they try to decide whether to trust their longtime, traditional agencies with the future, or throw their lot in with the younger upstarts with less gray hair and less gray flannel. A few days ago, my fellow executive leaders at Bridge Worldwide gathered to do some thinking on the state of traditional versus digital agencies in an effort to answer our clients’ questions and examine our own place in the ad world. This post represents what we came out with: At minimum, digital agencies have a unique perspective that is worth mixing into the brand strategy process—and taken to the logical evolution of meaningful marketing, we have the only mindset that will survive.

The History of Digital Agencies

Looking back only a few years, digital agencies’ point of difference was that we could get stuff done. We brought technology know-how that allowed us to swoop in and execute in ways that the traditional agencies with only a handful of digital folks couldn’t achieve. The large AORs often screwed up important details such as Flash and SEO, and even creative hot-houses such as Crispin Porter were forced to hire The Barbarian Group to develop Subservient Chicken. This skill in “making it happen” ensured that we were kept around and had at least a partial seat at the table. Over time, we took the opportunities to move up on the food chain and help come up with big ideas at the start of the process, informing strategy versus just finishing the last mile.

But this strength in getting it done is starting to erode. Traditional agencies are getting better at getting digital “good enough” so that their clients don’t notice the little things. Clients are also getting tired of paying for multiple people at the planning table, and some of them turn a blind eye to their historic, traditional AORs’ lack of capability. Meanwhile, we’ve seen the rise of low-cost programmers based in developing nations who offer up execution at $25/hour—again, not as good as a one-stop digital shop, but good enough for a brand manager who doesn’t want to know the details. So digital agencies are under new pressure just when they should be high-fiving.

The Future of Marketing

All this pressure from the AORs and programmers happens most with the “traditional digital” work that is the first step of many brands. Basic banners, emails, and websites are all handled pretty easily by these players. Some marketers are kicking their heels up on their desks figuring that they’ve mastered the new world of digital just because they are playing their TV commercials on Hulu. This allows them to keep hitting the same old sales message to eyeballs in a new place. This might seem like a solution, but it is but a small step to where marketing is really going. Already, banner spending is declining in 2009, and there is not enough online video ad viewership to make up for people turning off their network TV stations.

In the future, interruption will get harder and be less effective. Consumer control will increase. The design of sales messages and taglines—the staple of traditional agencies for eons—will slip in significance. Instead, we are already seeing the rise of Marketing with Meaning as an entirely new way of engaging with customers. Instead of tell-and-sell messages designed in 30-second ads or 5-second banner rotations, winning brands will move to create marketing that people choose to engage with—and advertising that itself adds value to their lives.

The Difference Between Traditional and Digital Agencies

I am a firm believer that companies have a natural bias in strategy and approach to challenge and change. They continually go in the direction of their company founders and leaders. This holds true in how agencies approach their work every single day, and there is a big difference between how Traditional and Digital agencies approach the market.

Traditional agencies have always been about Declaring what a brand stands for. They are focused on the positioning of the brand, and hone in on an insight about how the consumer thinks about the category or product. They figure out this one core message, turn it into a simplified ad and tagline, and hammer it home over and over again. This is a real, legitimate skill—and in the world of three TV networks, regional (versus global) markets, and less-sophisticated consumers, it works very, very well. But the problem is that this is increasingly a less and less valuable experience for the consumer who receives this perfectly crafted sound bite. And low consumer value corresponds to low brand value. These ads just don’t have much impact on people’s lives.

Some agencies have learned to Demonstrate what a brand can do and create experiences around products. These are the event marketers and activation agencies that find ways to bring brands to life in a very real, tangible way. One of my favorite examples of this kind of agency is the folks at the agency Gigunda, who were behind the Charmin Times Square bathrooms. You have to agree that these positive, engaging brand experiences are more valuable to the consumers who interact with them; and research continually shows that more engaged, interested consumers translate to higher sales.

Finally we come to Digital agencies, which have always lived in the world of Doing. We digital geeks got into this business because we saw the possibilities of software early on. When we first logged onto AOL or programmed in PERL we realized that we could do things for consumers by creating tools and services. We realized early on that we couldn’t force people to subscribe to our emails or visit our websites; instead, we had to attract them by doing something positive. Our focus has been on figuring out how to invent a “thing” that brings the brand to life and personally adds value to consumers’ lives. I believe the “Do” offers the highest consumer value, and thus greatest return on marketing investment.

Where Digital Agencies Are Leading

If you take in this model and begin to apply it across some of the biggest agencies and most talked-about work in the marketing world, I think it starts to make a lot of sense. For example, only a digital doer such as R/GA would have been able to conceive what became Nike+. Only a digital agency such as AKQA would have thought you could launch Halo 3 by creating a future military museum. Only my team at Bridge Worldwide could have launched a new Healthy Choice product by creating a live, lunchtime improv show. Or take Razorfish, which had the lead on Best Buy’s launch of a musical instrument business. Its Chairman, Clark Kokich, said, “They could have just run ads telling people that Best Buy now sells instruments… [but] we wanted to become a partner in helping people rediscover their love for music.”

It’s also little wonder that the agencies that are leading the dialogue around Marketing with Meaning all come from this “digital doing” perspective. Aside from us at Bridge Worldwide, there’s The Barbarian Group, who came up with the idea of “Branded Utility,” and Renegade, which coined the term “Marketing as Service.” Let me also say that we digital agencies are already leading in new realms such as social media, without having to “prove” that we now “get it.” I find it interesting that PR agencies are trying to recast themselves as those who “deserve” this important new work, even though they have ignored digital tools for years and are used to pushing a single, simplified message on reporters.

It’s also not hard to pick out the brands that have cast their lot with the big, tell-and-sell, “Declare” model of traditional agencies. There’s the Gatorade “Got G” campaign that I’ve picked apart multiple times for trying to coin a catchphrase that no one bothered to waste time on. Sadly, once innovative companies such as eBay (“eBay it!“) and Yahoo! (“It’s Y!ou“) have turned the advertising keys over to big, sexy campaigns that offer nothing more than a tagline. And in one interesting battle between the past and future, Visa has gone to a celebrity laden, single-word declaration of “Go,” while MasterCard is now advertising a free, value-added iPhone app that helps people discover priceless places.

Where We Go from Here

Agencies will be what agencies will be. Those who are good at Declaring will continue to do so, while we who have grown up in the business of Doing will keep marching down that road. The choice is up to you Brand Marketers out there. You must decide whether to cast your lot in one direction or the other, or keep both on hand and do the hard work of balancing their perspectives (and egos). If you think the world will continue to be ruled by clever interruption and one-word taglines, then please don’t waste your time and money dealing with leading digital agencies. But if you believe that the future is about creating true connections with your customers by adding value to their lives, then go ahead and give any one of us a call. We’re standing by and ready to help Lead and Do.

How Brands Can Partner to Add More Value

Monday, October 26th, 2009

entrepreneur article 2

Today I want to share the second of two articles that I was asked to write for Entrepreneur magazine. In the first article from a few weeks ago, I explained the Marketing with Meaning concept to the small-business audience.

In this piece, I write about how two brands or businesses can partner up to do more meaningful marketing for their combined audiences. Joint marketing between brands can also reduce costs for both sides, allow for brands to gain the direct attention of new customers, and increase the chance to stand out in a very crowded marketplace.

Although I am writing for the small-business audience in this article, it’s a concept that any business can benefit from today. This is a topic that I also blow out more in my book, and you can check out the article here.

Free Chapter Download from ‘The Next Evolution of Marketing’

Friday, September 4th, 2009

chapter 2 image

It’s just a little less than one month to go before the official release of my book, The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning. You might have noticed the new website, here, which matches the design of the book and brings in a lot of new content and tools that I’ll be introducing in future posts. Today I want to share the release of a free chapter of the book, in hopes that you will enjoy the sample, place a pre-order, and share it with friends and colleagues. You can find it on our Media Kit page or simply click here to open a PDF.

It was actually an easy decision to pick this chapter as the free download. Aside from its very compelling first paragraph, above (c’mon, who can resist that!), I selected Chapter 2 because it is where I first fully introduce the concept of Marketing with Meaning. It begins by suggesting we are at the verge of a next evolution of marketing, following in the footsteps of Direct Marketing and Permission Marketing. I then take the reader through four stories of brands that have made a fundamental shift away from interruption and toward meaning, each in a way that fits perfectly with its brand equity and target customers’ needs. Those four brands are Dove, Nike, Burger King, and The Partnership for a Drug-Free America. The chapter ends with an introduction of the Hierarchy of Meaningful Marketing, a tool that I further explore in the following three chapters.

Of course, I can’t finish this blog post without calling out the fact that this free chapter is an example of practicing the Marketing with Meaning that I preach. Free samples of any kind give the prospective buyer a chance to check out the product or service with no risk. And I actually spend a couple of pages describing diverse examples and benefits of free samples in my book. My hope is that people come away from this chapter with an overview of the concept and a hunger to see what else I have to say. On the other hand, I also hope that people who read and dislike this chapter are able to save their money (and not spread negative word of mouth!). I would like to thank my team at McGraw-Hill for understanding the importance of a free chapter and for making it happen quickly.

I will be introducing other examples of meaningful marketing around this book as the next few weeks roll by. Thanks so much for your support, feedback, and sharing.

Book Review: ‘Free’ by Chris Anderson

Monday, August 10th, 2009

I was expecting—maybe even hoping—to hate Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. As a digital marketer I have seen far too many poor business models pop up, become addicted to annoying advertising, and slowly fade away (e.g., the Bloglines RSS reader is killing me). I felt that Anderson was launching his book at the worst time, just as the economy hit new lows and businesses were burned by failing to act responsibly. I even started putting together notes for a thought-piece on why “free” is wrong and why the “99-cent economy” with iTunes songs and iPhone apps is the real answer. But after reading Free, I have to admit that Anderson is right, and I must thank him for providing yet another pillar of proof that the world must shift to Marketing with Meaning.

Anderson wrote the book with his biggest detractors and doubters well in mind. The result is a book that is well-researched with bulletproof logic and hundreds of examples. As an economics major myself, I appreciated that he went down into the details of this dismal science in order to make his case. He also blends in psychological studies to teach us how we think and react to free versus paid offers. For example, one study suggests that, “Most transactions have an upside and a downside, but when something is FREE! we forget the downside.”

Free aspires to be a general business book and approaches the simple, compelling work of Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers). However, I believe we marketers will get the most out of the Free manifesto. Anderson describes how one of our traditional tools, free samples, is powering new business models in industries as diverse as music, retail, and bike rental. But his thinking for us is much deeper…

One of Anderson’s fundamental points is that while the cost of information (and many real-world products) nears zero, the amount of attention people can give to something has remained unchanged. Unless we figure out how to avoid sleep or sprout additional heads, we’re pretty much limited here. This means that consumer engagement—the doorway to selling them stuff—is becoming harder and harder to open. As a result, if you’re a musician hoping to break through, or a game developer hoping to attract players, you are better off giving something away in order to earn this engagement. Once we have their attention, there is a chance to sell them something.

This is actually very much the thinking behind Marketing with Meaning. Because consumers are less willing or able to give their increasingly valuable attention to interruptive advertising, we must try new methods to get their attention. Through free samples or free services—meaningful marketingwe can break through the clutter and begin a dialogue that can effectively lead to sales.

For example, by creating a tool that lets people create their own Simpsons characters, the franchise wins viewers for its programs and movies. By providing live lunchtime entertainment, Healthy Choice has a chance to share information about its new line of Fresh Mixers. And by providing free education for you, dear readers, through this educational blog for more than a year, I have earned the chance to tell you about my upcoming book.

Imagine if the $500 billion in annual global advertising spending was completely diverted away from unwanted, interruptive advertising and toward marketing that adds value to people’s lives. It’s not a utopian dream; rather, it’s the simple economics of a world where the most scarce resource for business is consumer attention. If you’re not giving them something valuable through your marketing itself, then you have little chance to win them over. But win their attention through meaningful marketing, and you have the chance to achieve short-term sales and loyalty for life.

Adding Marketing to the Value Equation

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Every business in the world right now is talking about how to better communicate value to its customers. Our agency, along with many others, is briefing clients on value case studies and preparing projects that aim to convince consumers that top brands are relevant and worth the price premium over store brands and lesser competitors. There is a lot of talk about what “value” really means. Elements include product performance, of course, and even some mentions of terms such as ”brand trust.” But what has been missing from far too many calculations is consideration of how brand marketing itself can add value.

At his m-cause blog last week, Ryan Jones writes about the idea of a value equation, beginning with a great quote from Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera Bread: Value is about the totality of the experience. This got me rethinking about common value equations from the marketing textbooks. The common formula for customer value is (Product Benefit + Brand Equity)/Cost.

But this formula fails to consider one large source of value that should be added to the numerator of this equation: the added value of the marketing itself, where applicable. I’m talking about Marketing with Meaning, of course. By creating marketing that people choose to engage with, marketing that itself improves people’s lives. Of course the textbooks and company trainings don’t include this (yet), because they are used to a world in which advertising is a cost of delivering eyeballs to a product offer and brand equity. It has always been a necessary expense, rather than a valuable investment. It’s time to evolve the value equation.

Panera Bread’s offer of free Wi-Fi service in its restaurants is clearly an example of added value marketing. When Pringles allows buyers to create their own decorative labels, or Doritos creates a mystery flavor and invites buyers to create a name for it, people get more enjoyment for their $.99. When Vicks offers cold and flu alerts, or Similac provides a pregnancy guide, people receive valuable information that store brands fail to offer. When Home Depot teaches people how to install plumbing, or ConAgra Foods helps people make more balanced life choices, the brands are actually delivering value far beyond the products that either sells.

And so, here we have yet another reason to shift your business model to the method of Marketing with Meaning. In this space, I have shared how meaningful marketing grows short-term sales, builds long-term equity, and allows for more efficient cost savings. Now add “improving the customer value equation” to the list.

My dream is that marketers in conference rooms around the world begin asking themselves: “How is our marketing plan improving the value equation?” Suddenly that annoying TV ad or useless sports sponsorship looks a lot more “costly” than ever, and meaningful marketing becomes the most logical direction to turn.