Living in an A/B world

It’s a common practice for e-commerce sites to engage in so-called “A/B testing.” A typical A/B test randomly presents a brand’s current website design against an alternative which might improve results (most often conversion rates).

A variant of this approach has been employed by direct mail practitioners for years. To improve campaign response rates a “challenger” mailing is pitted against the current best performing offer (“the champion”). Database analysis is then used to help evolve the marketing strategy.

For years, structured test and control experiments have been narrowly employed and, for the most part, the province of relatively sophisticated marketing organizations.

Yet in a world where the battle for share of attention is fierce, where relevance is increasingly hard to come by and where whoever gets closest to the customer wins, every organization, big and small, needs to embrace a test and learn mentality.

Sure, it’s desirable to have beautifully designed experiments and statistically relevant sample sizes. But don’t estimate the power of continually presenting your customers with a stream of alternatives and seeing how they react.  “Here’s A, here’s B, what do you think?” is sometimes all the protocol you need.

You don’t need Ph.D statisticians. You don’t need complex campaign management software. You don’t need expensive consultants.

What you do need is a willingness to try. And to fail. And to try again.

The official blood thinner of NASCAR, latte salutes and other nonsense

Many conservatives took President Obama to task because he saluted some US troops with a cup of coffee –which somehow became a latte–in his hand. No matter that George W. Bush did his own “disrespectful” version. No matter that non-military personnel don’t typically salute men and women in uniform. No matter that there are, by my quick count, at least seven million more important things going on in the world.

George W. Bush, Barney

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR has an official blood thinner. Really. I guess watching cars go around in circles for a few hours makes your blood thick. I’m not sure, I’m not really a fan.

xarelto

 

 

 

You may have seen the ads by Brookdale, a retirement home operator, wherein they tout “your senior living solution.”  Apparently “place to unload Mom without too much guilt” didn’t test well.

I’m aware that these examples may only seem related to the extent that they are easy to poke fun at. But I think it goes deeper.

In each case, much is revealed about what the proponents value and how they are seen in the world.

Those that obsess over any Obama mis-step don’t care to be fair and balanced. Anything that fits their desired narrative is fair game, no matter how trivial.

NASCAR’s willingness to take on completely random sponsorships and ordain them with “official” status tells us all we need to know about their driving–pun totally intended–motivation.

Brookdale’s euphemism laced marketing strategy  doesn’t connect directly. It’s more important to talk around the heart of the matter than to attempt to engage authentically.

I have no doubt that all three of these strategies are highly effective at some level.

Just know that when objectivity, substance and authenticity take a back seat to other, shall we say less than noble goals, the chances that folks start tuning out goes way, way up.

In the ever more difficult battle for share of attention, that may not be a risk worth taking.

 

 

Valued or a value?

Most executives will tell you that, regardless of the price point of their product or service, their customer considers what they offer a good value.

At one level, that’s obvious. Both the Dollar Store shopper and the Ferrari buyer must believe that the sum total of the benefits they are receiving exceeds the total cost they are incurring–or why else would they each part with their time and money?

While this sort of left brain thinking is important, powerful, enduring brands deliver something more. Brands that offer a deeper, emotional connection are able to transcend the occasional misstep. They are able to drive their business without layering on endless discounts. Their loyalty is earned not bought. Their customers’ testimony is their best advertising.

When a brand is intrinsically valued by the consumer, the entire relationship operates on a different plane.

Alternatively, if the customer fundamentally sees your brand as “a value” you had better have the sharpest price or the most compelling promotion. You also better be the low-cost competitor. Otherwise,  the inevitable race to the bottom is likely to end badly.

Oh, and if you’re having a hard time figuring out which you are, that’s an even bigger problem.

 

 

 

A-Always, B-Be, C-Connecting

Perhaps you know this scene from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross (NSFW).

It’s a classic, not only for Alec Baldwin’s genius performance, but because of what it reveals about our own truth and experience with being sold and marketed to.

By now, we should realize that the pressure tactics revealed in the play and the movie rarely work. And they certainly don’t lead to building trusted long-term relationships.

Yet, many sales people, particularly those on commission, engage in this sort of hunt and kill mentality all the time.

Yet, non-profits relentlessly pitch donations way before we’ve gotten to understand the cause, the work and the lasting impact.

Yet, brand marketers bludgeon us with mass price promotions with little regard to understanding the unique needs and wants of their audiences.

Most people think it’s crazy to talk about getting married on the first date. But many of us engage in similar behavior through our jobs all the time.

Brands, whether they are focused on changing the world or maximizing shareholder value, become powerful when they establish and grow trust through mutually beneficial interactions over time.

If your focus is on closing, it’s easy to erode or destroy any trust that might have been established. If your focus is on engaging, learning, connecting, the opportunity to build something relevant,remarkable and powerful begins to emerge.

Always. Be. Connecting.

 

The end of scarcity

For a long, long time, scarcity propped up and protected a lot of brands.

Scarcity of information. If I wanted to learn about your product or service I had to go to your store, meet with your salesperson or see what a neighbor or friend had to say. Other sources simply didn’t exist or required an unreasonable amount of time and effort on my part.

Scarcity of trust agents. If I needed objective data on product performance, customer service or whether your price was fair, there was Consumer Reports–which came out in print monthly–and not a whole lot more.

Scarcity of access. With consumer brands, the product was either carried in a store near me or it wasn’t. When it came to retail options, there was either a store convenient to me or not. And one could only buy things during “regular business hours.” Mail order catalogs mitigated some of this, but were never large factors in most categories.

Scarcity of competition for attention. Marketing messages were delivered mostly through a fairly limited set of broadcast media, print and direct marketing channels. And the brand got to control the composition, breadth and frequency of communication. The signal to noise ratio was favorable.

Scarcity of substitutes. Launching and growing a new product typically meant investing in large marketing budgets along with huge cash commitments to inventory and to build out physical locations. Few competitors could afford to play this game.

And so on.

Today, the sources for product and pricing information are nearly endless.

Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of digital sites provide virtually real-time data on brand performance and the best pricing.

Today, e-commerce has enabled an explosion of choice and, often,  the ability to access products around the world, 24/7. Products and services that can be delivered digitally have made physical access and store hours completely irrelevant.

Today, there is an overwhelming amount of competition for our time and attention. Share of attention is becoming the scarce commodity.

Today, many brands can be launched with minimal investment in marketing and/or physical capital, which has led to many flavors and varieties of alternative choices for consumers to choose from.

As scarcity has ebbed, the vulnerabilities of many brands have been exposed. And for some it has already ended badly.

When the scarcity that protected your brand goes away, you can no longer get away with selling average products for average people.

The only sensible choice is to build something truly relevant and remarkable.

I’d hurry if I were you.

 

Reasons to hurry

We dodge in and out of  traffic, roll through stops signs and pass aggressively on the right, all just to arrive at our destination a few seconds earlier.

We reflexively respond to a text, even while driving, despite the obvious dangers and the virtual certainty that the message is neither urgent nor important.

We sit in lines for days to be among the first to get a new iPhone.

We pack our schedules with mind-numbing activity, only to move from one meeting or event to the next, in a Tasmanian Devil like frenzy.

We eat most of our meals as if we were in some sort of qualifying heat.

We’re quick to interrupt.

And even faster to judge.

Just what exactly does all this rushing about and false urgency get any of us? An ego boost? A rush of adrenaline to make us feel more alive? A sense of importance?

There are, of course, plenty of good reasons to hurry.

There are urgent and sometimes desperate situations which demand our attention right now. There are meaningful problems we all can help solve.

It may be as simple as calling that friend who needs to hear a compassionate voice.

It may be embracing forgiveness, rather than living in resentment and condemnation.

It may be tutoring an under-privileged child who needs help reading.

Perhaps it’s donating money to provide a safe place for victims of domestic violence to escape from their abuser.

The list of good and valuable reasons to hurry goes on and on.

And it doesn’t include cutting people off (literally and figuratively) or compulsively rushing to purchase some new gadget in the vain hope that it will truly make us happy.

But perhaps I’m too quick to judge?