I Can't See You...!

“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.”   Richard Branson, Founder and Chairman of Virgin

I have worked almost exclusively for supervisors and organizations that believe to their very core, if they cannot see me working 8 hours a day, if they cannot watch me at my computer working all day long, that I couldn't possibly be working at all. If the organization cannot see me, I must be goofing off, taking a 2-hour lunch, trolling on Facebook, building a Pinterest page, making dinner reservations, or living an underground life on the company's payroll. The implication is that the ONLY reason why I do the job I was hired to do is because I am dutifully being watched.

Snow days? Considered just an excuse not to spend 4 hours in traffic because I am not tough enough. Four hours in traffic truly inspires me to get down to work in a focused and energetic manner. For sure.

Doctor's Appointment? Considered code for a job interview. Anyone truly strong doesn't get sick and doesn't have real doctor's appointments. Okay.

Sick children? Considered either a failure to hire a good back-up nanny or a "Mom thing" that takes me out of serious consideration for getting promoted after being watched for 8 hours a day. Yipee.

YOU sick? This is just the most inexcusable reason to work from home. You should be brave enough to come into the office and infect the rest of the team with your plague because that will make us all so much more productive. Of course.

I have always let my team work from "wherever" they needed to work. As a leader of a digital marketing team, having a laptop and VPN will give you what you need to work from anywhere. And I have never had a problem managing this process.

Let's take a look at what not having a "work from home" policy implies about YOU and your company:

#1: You hire people you do not trust to do the job. They do not have any self-initiative and are ready to go off the rails without constant monitoring and surveillance.

#2. Your 8-hour surveillance guarantees that the work is getting done because no one on their computer is looking at twitter or Facebook while sitting at their desks.

#3. Stealing from Richard Branson, you must have a team of individuals without the drive or expertise to perform excellently without you watching them.

Wow. Why did you hire these folks? I think your problems are much bigger than the location of where this mediocre team works. You are quite simply hiring the wrong people. I also wonder why you like babysitting adults. Do you have time to do your job?

There are absolute benefits for teams to work together and be together:

#1: Building trust with your team that does take actual face-to-face contact.

#2: Some project tasks are better suited for "an everyone in the room" event and speed can be achieved in a shorter amount of time if the team is physically together.

#3. It can actually be fun to brainstorm and creatively work with other colleagues to solve problems and execute tasks. Positive energy is created and new ideas developed.

Is your resistance to supporting working from home because you know YOU would slack off and not work? Is your resistance to supporting working from home because your business style is command and control? And you need that control?

I know I am always looking to build the type of teams that Richard Branson so clearly articulates, teams that have the "drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they are at their desk or in their kitchen". Besides, I have my own job to do and surveillance is not one of them! I don't need to watch you do your job. Let go...

Do I Really Need Everything In 20 Minutes??

As I listen and learn and continue to be highly involved in the world of commerce, both E-commerce and otherwise, I am bombarded with the following concepts:

Frictionless delivery. Frictionless buying.  What the “world of online purchasing” is quickly evolving into is to cater to my every need. As a consumer, I should not have to think or research or inquire or actually extend any effort in buying something. The decision process and purchasing process should happen almost magically, without any apparent effort! Frictionless means,achieved with or involving little difficulty; effortless”.  (Oxford Dictionary) Effortless purchasing…..

Amazon has stated (somewhat tongue in cheek, but not THAT much) that they want to get to the place where they are shipping me my product BEFORE I actually order it, because they will really know what I need BEFORE I need it.  Huh? Seriously? What??

What… on earth…. are we creating?

We are willingly- and even eagerly - creating a society (definitely American) where everyone is catered to all of the time and never has to wait for anything. Every vendor is willing to ship everything online as quickly as possible. Because THIS is the differentiator. This is what is going to make me, as a merchant, as a business owner, successful. SPEED. The new marketing concept. SPEED. Not unique product, value, fair price or service. SPEED.

I “get” needing the birthday flowers or anniversary gift basket to arrive on the right day at the right time with everything perfect. I have lived that market space myself.

But do I really need EVERYTHING I want in 20 minutes?

Do I need the chair for my living room in 20 minutes?

Do I need the Halloween decorations, ordered in August, delivered in 20 minutes?

Do I need Christmas products ordered in July in a fit of organization, delivered in 20 minutes?

I am reminded of a concept I was taught as a child growing up in the Midwest, that of a trait of successful (yet conservative) people. That concept is called “deferred gratification”.

I NEVER hear anyone mention this concept anymore as a character trait to strive for, acquire and leverage. So what exactly is deferred gratification?

Deferred (or delayed) gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. Generally, delayed gratification is associated with resisting a smaller but more immediate reward in order to receive a larger or more enduring reward later. A growing body of literature has linked  the ability to delay gratification to a host of other positive outcomes, including academic success, physical health, psychological health and social competence.

40 years of Stanford University Research found that people with this one quality are more likely to succeed.

When I was a little girl, growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, there was a cadence to our family purchases. We were NOT a family that struggled financially. My father was a research scientist with a company called Upjohn in the day. BUT, if I wanted something….clothes, toys, gadgets…there had to be a reason. My birthday is in June, Christmas is in December and going back to school is in September in Michigan. So…that was the timing of our purchases. If I wanted a toy in August, that was going to be a Christmas request from Santa. If I wanted clothes in July, that was going to be an August back-to-school request. 20 minutes to ANYTHING was not in the equation.

But as sellers, retailers, and merchants, we are aggressively creating a commerce culture that will only respond to IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION. Is it what our customer’s are demanding or is it what we as sellers are creating?

You may say, hey, these are the new table stakes for competing. Stop complaining.

And I may say, hey, well, I am becoming more and more reluctant to endorse a microwave existence that is encouraging the removal of conscious deliberation IN ANYTHING.

I originally got into marketing because I thought it was fascinating to prove the unique value proposition of a specific product or service. I had to work at uncovering what the benefits were for the customer to buy what I was selling.  I had to create a compelling case for a purchase.

Now… as long as I have my product in a warehouse where it can be shipped immediately, I in.

Now…as long as I don’t make the customer THINK about anything in the purchasing process, I win.

Supply chain has become the new marketing strategy. I miss the days when I actually had to articulate a reason to buy a product… other than an “in stock position and available to ship immediately.”

All of this while 65.3 million refugees look for a home. Not products shipped instantly. Just a safe place just to live. Hmm…makes me think about what being a “marketer” means in 2016. What I am creating? What are WE as business people creating?  Just…..saying……

Bye Buy Brand.....

One of my best brand marketing moments occurred when I was working at OfficeMax. We were in the process of changing the name of our company, Boise Office Solutions, to OfficeMax, a company we had just purchased. We filmed an energetic customer leaving our store and asked her where she had just made her purchase. And she confidently stated, "Office Depot." Yup.

I started my career at Procter and Gamble, so even thinking about brand erosion is a bit of a radical idea. But as I analyze my own retail habits these days and those of the Millennials, I think it is something everyone selling stuff needs to consider.

I just bought a great toy truck for my nephew for his birthday. He loved it. I do not remember the brand. I bought it on Amazon. It was quick and easy and simple. Chalk up another great retail experience with AMAZON. I remember AMAZON.

My 23 year-old daughter got married in June. She found amazingly creative, unique, well-made items for her wedding on ETSY - stuff she would never find in a bricks and mortar store. However, if you asked her where she got her cake-topper, or place-cards or shoes - she would say, "ETSY."

Does it matter? Digital shopping has opened up a whole new world of unique, creative,  products that are not branded or even associated with their original "seller." The "brand" is now the distribution platform for Amazon, Etsy, and Zappos. When I go on Pinerest, I am looking at the products and pictures. The brand, if there is one, is very secondary in my consideration of clicking through the photo to purchase.

If you create a new product, you can sell it even if it is NOT carried by Walmart. I think that is very exciting. Certainly for consumers. And inventors.

Brands will never entirely go away. But I do watch my daughter "assume" that quality is a given and has no hesitation in buying something from a seller and company that she has never heard of. A brand name used to ensure quality. A brand name used to ensure value. Quality and value are givens for anyone selling anything now. Private label used to be seen as "second rate". Not now.

As digital shopping continues to change the actual WAY we shop, we need to stay tuned to the customer experience and needs more than ever. And then, if you're Apple.....you just need to build it..... and they will come!!


Remember Customer SERVICE?

I recently cancelled my cable TV service that was provided by a nationally recognized carrier. I did it gleefully. I did it with joy. It was really fun. It made my whole day. Yay, I was free!

While my "TV" watching needs are now being met by Netflix and a digital signal converter box, the reason I was SO happy to cancel my cable service was because their service SUCKED - in all ways, shapes and forms. I dreaded whenever I had to deal with them directly. Everyone dreads when they have to deal with them directly. This cable company is the worst part of moving. Seriously. I would rather unpack 10 boxes than talk to them, wait on hold and wait for them to appear in an oh, so convenient 8-hour "window."

I wish I could say that this was the only company with tragic customer service. When I was in the catalog business, customer service was one of our highest priorities. The customer service agent was the face of our company. We invested in training, coaching, monitoring and rewarding our agents. All employees, regardless of function, were encouraged to listen in on phone calls. Our goal was to make everything as easy as possible for the customer.

While the digital world has made buying some products easier, it often does not provide a superior customer service experience. Live chat is OK, but not perfect. Sending an email and waiting for a response is frustrating. And I DARE you to find a phone number. 

If you want to opt out of an email, you need to go on an archaeological dig to the bottom of the email and squint really hard to read the 4 point type and clink on the link that is highlighted in a light gray on a white background. No problem.

In the middle of this "hands free" customer service environment, great customer service stops me in my tracks. I was recently at a laundromat trying to figure out the machines, tokens, and best washer to tackle a big pile of clothes. The manager running the facility saw my confusion, came over and walked me through everything, got my tokens, pointed me to the right size of dryers and just generally made my day. I wanted to hug her. Someone actually helped me! Someone actually made my experience easier!

As we create our marketing messaging and customer experiences, let's not forget that it will NEVER cost us to make it easy and simple for the customer to engage with us. We need to leave the cable company customer service mentality behind us and make someone's day easier. Really. Try it!

And yes, I was still really happy when I turned over all 4 of my converter boxes and pulled the plug on "you know who."

Size Does Matter!

"Our customers only like to receive emails, they would never open a direct mail piece, our customers do not respond to communications unless there is at least a 20% discount and our customers will only open emails on Wednesday."

A very concise and straightforward description of customer behavior.  The problem? The sample size is only 10 people and half of this is anecdotal and not based on survey data. In our very well-intentioned desire to understand our customers, it is easy to take a little bit of intelligence and make sweeping generalizations that become ingrained in organizational thinking. I have watched, sometimes in horror, as teams institutionalize what is really a good guess or an opinion of who the customer is and what they need and want.

The challenge is to gauge how big a sample size is big enough to ground the data in reality? It certainly depends on the overall size of your customer base. I have worked with very small data sets of customer segments and needed to make generalizations from a small amount of data. The smaller the data set, the more you need to monitor, dig, re-survey and not assume that there are not variances that can change your thinking over time. Include the context around the data you are analyzing. "This is 10% of our customer file, this is 50% of our most recent purchase segment." 

When analyzing and presenting customer data, always indicate when the data is directional and not absolute. Trends are important, but need to be looked at with a certain amount of skepticism. Let's try and keep OPINION out of our customer definitions. Let's try and keep GUESSES out of our customer definitions. I have found it to be tremendously difficult to change the team thinking on the customer once it has been established. Tread carefully in defining what you see happening with your customers. And if all else fails, you can always survey the customers directly and ask them who they are and what they want! And if you can, please make it more than 10 people!


The Channel Is Not The Strategy

Brian Lauterbach, Founder of DonorPath, a consulting agency that is focused on supporting the non-profit world, gave an amazing seminar on non-profit fundraising 2 weeks ago. On one single slide,  at the beginning of many wonderfully clear and concise slides, was his statement, "The Channel Is Not The Strategy."

I wanted to jump up and yell and clap when I saw this. Wow. Such a powerful thought and one that I have struggled with many CEO's over since the late 90's.  

When I started my marketing career in the catalog world, we had ONE way to sell our stuff and go to market - we mailed customers a catalog. We didn't do TV, or radio, or postcards or any other fancy thing. We mailed a catalog. We called ourselves "catalogers". We were a "catalog company." 

If you weren't a cataloger, you were a retailer, with a brick and mortar store. Retailers did use other means to drive sales into their stores - TV, radio, catalogs and newspaper flyers and ads. Retailers did use more than one channel to acquire customers. But they were  "store retailers". 

When I launched my first website in 1995, I was still a "cataloger" with a website. I was not an e-commerce retailer. And we had no idea on how we were going to blend these two channels together. The word " canabalization" was born.

We have migrated to the point now that the dreadful word "Omni-Channel" has been adopted and everyone is focused on making sure that they are marketing and selling in "ALL" channels. And possibly, scarily even, walking away from some traditional channels that could be very successfully delivering sales.

But, as Brian so clearly and simply stated, selling, messaging and marketing in a channel is NOT your strategy. Having a website, having a Facebook page, sending out a catalog, Tweeting an offer - these are delivery pathways for your strategy. 

The challenge is to understand your customers and where they interact with you. Do not dismiss engaging in channels that are considered "old-fashioned." Be careful about adding or deleting channels. Check your channel arrogance at the door.

Start with your customer. Understand your customer. Create your strategy to support and grow your customer base and acquire new customers. Whether you do that through a robust website or through a field sales force making face-to-face calls, leverage the channels where you can find your customers and do not assume "sending out an email" is a strategy. We all need to remember that the channel is the spoke and not the wheel. And I apologize to those out there whose titles are "Vice President of Omni-Channel Marketing."



Perfect The Basics

We confront so many different options for contacting customers, messaging prospects and getting the word out about our brands and products. I was in a seminar yesterday about non-profit fundraising and the moderator said something that I thought was brilliant....

Perfect The Basics.

Worrying about your next tweet when you don't have a solid direct mail contact strategy and email messaging strategy is time mis-spent. Before you start creating a multi-channel marketing plan, make sure that you have the basics covered. Perfectly.

#1. Do you have good data? Is your data segmented in ways that help you run your business? Do you really understand who your customers are? Spending money on acquiring customers when you do not have the basics of capturing and analyzing good data is a waste of time and money.

#2. Does everyone in the organization agree and understand the top 1-3 objectives of the year? Marketing plans are drivers TO the objectives. Creating a plan merely based on what happened in the past will not move you ahead.

#3. Are you really good in executing in the channels that got you where you are today? If you are a retailer that uses direct mail to drive people to the store, have you perfected those tactics? Do you know your metrics and your ROI? Social media and leveraging newer channels is important, but again, not if you are not doing the basics well.

I have myself have been so caught up in playing in all of the channels that I have lost sight of the foundation. And if and when you venture out beyond the basics, understand what you are trying to achieve to support your main channels and plan. As marketers, we are always under pressure to try 'the next new thing" so that our senior management feels like the organization is not falling behind or out of step. We need to be the gatekeepers of SMART decisions to achieve our organizational goals.

Nancy Bullock




There Is No Magic Bullet

At lunch yesterday, my colleagues and I were talking about how so many companies we know of want MAGIC to happen with no money and no investment. "Just build a website and they will come."

You might think in this day and age of digital maturity that companies would understand it doesn't work like that - anymore than it worked like that when they built their retail store or catalog business. Creating a channel does not insure customer traffic - creating a channel allows you to BEGIN the customer dialogue to bring in customer traffic.

Is a quick fix mentality? Is it not totally understanding how some of the new channels of engagement work? If I hire a Sale Manager, I do not automatically assume I will have a sale or  new client without some effort, strategy and time. The microwave mentality of the ecommerce/digital world leads our senior executives to believe that these new channels will behave differently than the old channels.  And they don't.

As I have mentioned before, I hope we can all get beyond the thinking that "one brand/product impression = one sale." When I started my marketing career, there was an unspoken understanding that acquiring new customers took time, effort and investment. It still does. AND, it's harder than ever before.

I believe that we need to focus even more intently on our objectives - are we interested in selling products and services we create and manufacture or are we trying to build a brand and retail presence with the customer? BOTH are worthy objectives, but may not be able to co-exist so peacefully in this market place. If I manufacture products and Amazon and Walmart sell most of my products, I need to be realistic about what "my own website" is going to contribute to the equation. And what the objective is of selling against my best channels of distribution.

Changing our thinking is not only crucial to our business models - but to our employees. We cannot have expectations that are not realistic and expect our brightest employees to hang around for the craziness. It just won't happen.

As marketers, we need to continually educate our teams and management about what is really possible in our strategy efforts. There never was any magic bullet and there still is no magic bullet. Same equation - effort+ messaging+ investment,+engagement+ time = sales.

Nancy Bullock

Digital Market Solutions, Inc.






Is It Time to Loosen the ROI Noose?

When I started my marketing career in the catalog world, we lived by metrics. We knew how many catalogs we mailed out, we knew who we mailed them to, we knew who placed an order and we knew what their order size was and also how long they had been a customer. We "talked" metrics all day long, and suffered underneath the title of "junk mail" while everyone else was creating sexy and entertaining TV commercials and radio spots and while being anointed  the kings and queens of marketing and advertising.

Flash forward to 2015. Marketing and ROI have come full circle - to the point where no one will pull the trigger on any marketing plan or campaign unless there is a justifiable ROI. 

While this is probably a better strategic path than random and incalubable marketing spend, it is not the Holy Grail. We STILL need  to spend marketing dollars in channels that do not have demonstrable ROI's to build our brands, our products and our sales.

I feel that social media is the "TV" of the 1970's. You NEED to be in it, you need to leverage it, but you will be very hard pressed to have a direct ROI in the following channels:

Facebook                                                                                                                                                          Twitter                                                                                                                                                     Instagram                                                                                                                                                        YouTube

If you follow a strict ROI model, you will never be able to justify spending money or time or messaging in any of these channels.....at your own risk.

While it is great that we have all concluded that marketing needs to offer a return, let us also remember how so many of the GREAT brands were built on impressions, fun, catch phrases, music, impressions and more impressions. Our 2015 ROI models assume that one impression equals one sale. History can tell us, that just doesn't ring true.






Customers...You Have Them, But Do You Know Them?

Do You Know Your Customers?

May 26, 2015

As I talk to clients and companies of all shapes and sizes, I am  continually amazed by their lack of knowledge about their customers. About 10 years ago, all I heard about was “CRM”, customer insights, lifetime value models and one-to-one marketing. Everything was about the customer and I think that is absolutely the best way to think about your products and messaging. Who are you talking to? Who are you creating new products for?

I think we have become too dazzled by all of the delivery channel options we can use at this point and have lost sight of the customer. Everyone is obsessed with social media and Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and YouTube – all great ways to reach and talk to customers. But again, who are you talking to?

Most of us have the data we just don’t take the time to look at it or make sense of it. And I have to admit, in this day and age, it can be somewhat depressing. What is your customer retention rate? Do you know by channel acquired? Do you know the characteristics of your best customers? Do your customers only make a second purchase when they are given a deal? Do your customers even know who YOU are? Have you given up on trying to have a relationship with your customers?

It’s time to go back to basics. There will always be new marketing and selling channels that are perhaps more interesting to focus on than our somewhat fickle customer base. But the companies that will thrive going forward will be the ones that are not constantly chasing down the next new customer because they have a solid existing customer base that desires to make more than one fleeting purchase from them.  And they WILL know who they are.

Nancy Bullock


Digital Market Solutions, Inc.