Implementing change series: Plant a seed

When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a college English professor, who was discussing a book club meeting he was at. One of the other members stated a belief about the text, that was factually incorrect.

This conversation happened years ago, but here’s my best recollection of what happened next:

Me: Did you let them know that’s false?

Him: Nope

Me: Why not?

Him: I could tell they hold that belief very strongly. They weren’t ready to hear the fact about it. If I’d countered with that fact, they would have shut down. So I just asked them for support what they said, which they couldn’t provide, but got them thinking. My job isn’t to change their mind fully, I couldn’t do that with such a strongly held belief, my job is to plant a seed toward new information and understanding and hope that it grows.

Planting Seeds

This conversation really changed my perspective on change management. When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

I recently read a Washington Post article about Derek Black renouncing his family’s white supremacist stance. This is a great example of seeds being planted, it wasn’t just one dinner, or one conversation, that moved Derek Black, it was a number of encounters and conversations that moved him to where he is now.

In my work consulting schools on encouraging faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER), I’ve witnessed this many times with faculty. and administrators. There are some faculty who are ready to make the leap right away, and I coach institutions to focus on helping those faculty adopt, but I also consider the work we’re doing on their campuses now as planting seeds for those in the late majority or laggards part of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve.

Similarly, there are also faculty who I’ve now worked with for three years to adopt. They email me every six months or so, ask a question, and disappear again. Each conversation is a seed that brings them closer, and it’s very exciting when one of these faculty do decide transition to OER.

As I’ve written about before when discussing advertising ROI, most major purchase decisions also aren’t made from a single communication or a single source of communication. It’s usually a series of seeds, an ad they see, a conversation with a friend, an experience they’ve had, that move someone to purchase.

What does this mean for OER and other change initiatives?

  1. Still track faculty or consumers who say “yes” now. This gives you an idea what parts of your initiative are working.
  2. Keep track of who interacted with you, but didn’t say yes. You planted a seed with these folks and you have a good chance these folks will say yes in the future.
  3. Make note of other ways you can tell a seed was planted. If for nothing else, to remind you that you are making progress. But,  #1 on this list should always your main focus with any of your actions, followed by #2. This one is just gravy on top. See Combine Active and Passive Strategies for High Impact Results for a more detailed outline of these three.

What does this mean in personal conversations?

What I learned from my friend, is, when someone states a strongly held belief that you think is untrue, don’t counter directly. Take a deep breath and plant a seed by asking for more information. But, you also have to open to maybe having them plant a seed in you during this process as well.

Plan and budget for specific target market advertising design

I often read free magazines targeted to specific sub-groups or demographics, specifically those that I don’t belong to myself. I find that it helps me understand different perspectives (even if I do get weird looks reading them at coffee shops), but it’s also very interesting from an advertising and marketing perspective to see the advertisements targeted to these groups.

One thing I’ve noticed is, especially with these magazines, it’s very easy to tell who created an ad specifically for the target market and who used one of their regular ads.

Examples:

  • Realtor ads in magazines targeted towards the LGBTQ community that show a happy heterosexual couple.
  • Restaurant ads in magazines targeting Hispanics showing a group of non-Hispanics dining at the restaurant.

Especially when next to ads that are very targeted to the target market, the generic ads seem like a half-hearted attempt to connect to the target audience or that you don’t understand the target audience, which means it very likely will cause more harm than good.

An older male, a male, and a female on a couch, all three holding one triplet baby
While this photo may be great for an ad for a real estate company advertising in a family magazine, “Need more space? Call us!” this photo wouldn’t work well for magazines target toward singles, urbanites, etc. and would most likely communicate that you don’t “get” your audience.
Photo: “Family Multiplicity” by Edward Webb, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Plan and budget advertising design for specific target markets

If your company plans to advertise in spaces for specific sub-groups or demographics, be sure to include in your budget and project management plans the necessary time and resources to develop specific ads that speak to the target audience. It may sometimes be as simple as changing a photo, but if you want to be truly effective, you need to start the development process from scratch and develop something that specifically speaks to the target audience.

Where is the “break” in your campaign or initiative?

A chain with a link that is broken
“Las cadenas se cortan por el eslabón mas débil / Chains break by the weakest link” by Hernán Piñera, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Previously, I discussed measuring marketing/initiative success based on outcomes, not actions. So what if your campaign isn’t successful? How do you find the “break”?

The best way is to compare to previous data and industry standards.

Previous data

Previous data is your data from previous campaigns.

Examples:

  • During your last three sales events, percent of people who walked into your dealership purchased a car.
  • Percent of people who click on your web ad who then come in to purchase a car.
  • Percent of the faculty you invite to a workshop who attend the workshop.
  • Percent of the faculty who attended a webinar and then adopted an OER textbook.
  • Last year, you upped your gym time to x hours per week and lost x inches within x months.

Industry standards

Most industries, especially trade organizations, publish industry standards and research studies that show data comparison points.

Examples:

  • Health experts say that if you cut x calories every day, you will lose x pounds in a year.
  • A national statistic shows that x% of faculty who attend an Open Educational Resource workshop and write a public review of a book will adopt the book they reviewed.
  • Auto industry statistics say that x% of people who walk in the door will purchase a vehicle on that day.
  • Email campaigns have an average of a x% click-through rate.

Comparing data to find the “break”

Examples:

  • Previous car sale weekends drew in x number of people and industry standard is a closure rate of x%.
    • The number of people coming in was higher than previous data.
    • The close rate was lower than industry standard.
    • So the break is your closure rate.
  • In the past, x faculty have attended your Open Educational Resource conference, and x% of faculty who attended adopted OER.
    • The number of faculty who attended was down this year from previous years.
    • The percentage of faculty adopting was the same as previous years.
    • So the break is the number of faculty attending.
  • You’ve increased your workouts, which has worked in the past, and you’ve cut back your calorie count as industry statistics have suggested.
    • The break could be either your diet or your workouts, or something else.

A word of caution

Just because you find where your “break” is, doesn’t mean the reason for the break is easy to identify. You need to do a lot of research to find why the break happened.

For more information on this, read Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI.

From the above examples:

  • If more people walked into the door for your car sale event but less people bought, there are a number of potential reasons:
    • Your advertising campaign attracted the wrong type of people, such as non-buyers.
    • The economy is uncertain, so the industry standard closure rate isn’t accurate currently.
    • Your sales team is new and not at the normal closure rate yet.
    • The computer system to check people’s credit scores went down, which significantly slowed the sales process.
  • If you have fewer people coming to your Open Educational Resource workshop, but the rate of adoptions amongst those that do show is still good, there are a number of potential reasons:
    • The workshop was on a day with competing events going on.
    • The way you marketed the workshop didn’t work.
    • Bad time of year for the workshop.
    • Another initiative (and meetings surrounding it) are the priority right now.
  • If you increased your workouts and cut your calories but are still not seeing a reduction in your waist, some potential reasons are:
    • Not enough variance in your workouts (only doing cardio, doing the same thing every day).
    • There’s “hidden” calories, such as in sauces, that you aren’t factoring into your daily caloric count.
    • Your calories are down, but they are mostly from processed foods (high sodium, sugar, etc.).

Stop putting your building in ads! Features vs. benefits in marketing

A while ago, I watched a local business give a presentation to the local chamber of commerce about their law firm. And they talked about…their building.  Apparently they had just finished a remodel of their offices and wanted to show them off. Slide after slide after slide was photos of the inside and outside of their building. It was beautiful, but a complete waste of the audience’s time and a complete missed marketing opportunity for the business.

Features vs. benefits

Because businesses are empowered by computer programs that allow them to design their own fliers, brochures, and webpages (although I recommend against this), it’s important to remember features vs. benefits.

Features describe something. Usually they describe something about your business or your product.

Benefits are how those features benefit the customer.  Basically, they describe why the customer cares.

An easy way to tell the difference between your company or product’s features vs. benefits can be done with a simple sentence:

  1. Start by naming something about your business or product.
  2. Now, pretend that you are talking to your potential customer and finish the sentence by saying “so you can…” and adding an ending.

Examples (remember you are talking directly to your customer):

  • Our coffee is only made with the freshest beans (feature), so you can be sure that every cup of coffee will be a great sensory experience (benefit).
  • The homes we build are made to withstand hurricane winds (feature) so you can be free of worry because your family will be protected when the next storm comes (benefit).
  • Our lawn tractors last twice as long as any of our competitor’s lawn tractors (feature) so you can save money in the long-term by purchasing one of our lawn tractors even though it is more expensive (benefit).
  • Every plumber that works for us is certified and has a minimum of 10 years of experience (feature) so you can be sure that the problem will be fixed the first time and you won’t have to worry about it again or take another day off work to fix it (benefits).
A photo of Frank Lloyd Wright's famous waterfall house, Fallingwater
“Fallingwater (Frank Lloyd Wright)” by brian donovan, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Features vs. Benefits in Marketing

Your final marketing message doesn’t have to be in that format. It can be delivered in a wide variety of ways, which is where the beauty of good advertising comes in. But, the point that is absolutely critical is that your marketing should focus on them (benefits) and not focus on you (features).

With the constantly increasing number of advertising messages that your potential customers are exposed to every day, in order to stand out, you must speak directly to your customers in a way that resonates with them. You must explain or show them that your product or service benefits them in some way that will motivate them to act.

It’s Not About Your Building!

Going back to our law firm example, this is the biggest features vs. benefits mistake I see a lot of businesses make is to focus on their building (although poor facilities can affect your marketing effectiveness).

If I were advising the law firm, considering that their audience was primarily small business owners at that meeting, I would have recommended that they focused their talk on how their services benefit small business owners by saving them money, protecting their business, etc.  By doing so, they would be focusing on how they can benefit the people in the room and they would have had a much better chance of walking out with some new leads.

Take a Fresh Look

So I challenge you to take a fresh look at your marketing materials and review tapes of your past presentations, and ask yourself if you are talking about features or benefits.  Are you talking about yourself or are you talking about them? Are you focused on what comes after “so you can…” in your marketing? If not, it’s time to start rewriting.

The advertising diversity conundrum: Balancing diversity, accuracy and sales

Four people holding up eyes and mouths of other races over their own face to mask their race
Photo:”Diversity Mask” by George A. Spiva Center for the Arts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On a recent trip to London, I entertained myself on long tube rides by analyzing their advertisements. What struck me most was the lack of diversity in their ads. Here I was, in one of the top 10 most diverse cities in the world, and about 90% of the people featured in ads where Caucasian. This reminded me of the advertising diversity conundrum that we all face:

Do we utilize people who will sell the most for us and not worry about representing who buys our product?

Adore Me uses A/B testing to decide which models to feature based on sales. The result is great sales and all of the models are very similar in look: olive skin, dark hair.

Do we accurately represent the population where we are advertising?

This stance usually means, if 33% percent of people in the population are one group and 40% another, then 33% of the people in your ads should be of the first group and 40% of the people in your ads should represent the second group.

Do you make sure and represent as many diverse groups as you can in each communication?

An example of this stance in execution: a college recruiting brochure should have one person from each racial group, one person that is a non-traditional age, one person with a disability, etc. Another recruiting brochure should have a similar mix.

Do we do some form of combination of the above? Or something else?

But it gets even more complicated than that. Some particular diversity in advertising conundrum questions I’ve faced in my career:

– Where is the line as to which groups should be represented? By putting one student, who was Native American, in one ad over the course of one year, we were over-representing the number of Native Americans who attended the college I worked at. But if we hadn’t included him, the Native American population would have been underrepresented.

– “Non-traditional” age students don’t respond less to ads with only “traditional age” (18-24) students in them. But traditional age students are less likely to respond to ads of non-traditional students. So, should we still put non-traditional age students in ads?

– I once conducted a focus group at a university where a student complained that, by representing every group in all of the recruiting brochures, the university had falsely given the impression that the campus was incredibly diverse. He was very disappointed when he arrived and found the campus a lot less diverse than he thought based on the brochures. Should the university stop this practice?

– It’s hard enough to get students to show up to photo shoots, how do you responsibly and ethically get a diverse mix of students to show up?

– What about other forms of diversity that are valuable, but hard to see in a five second ad? For example, veterans are an important part of every college campus, but usually don’t go to class wearing their uniform from when they were in the service. How do you accurately represent them in your ads?

These are not easy questions, but they are questions we all grapple with. How do you handle representing diversity in your ads? Which philosophy do you think is best?

Photo:“Diversity Mask” by George A. Spiva Center for the Arts is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Age vs. Generation: Choose the correct metric for marketing and advertising

A young girl staring at an Apple Computer
“…next generation” by zeitfaenger.at, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

AdWeek recently published an article and infographic comparing what Millennials and Generation Z want from brands. In reality, reports like this are a comparison of age groups, not generations, and should be used only to impact decisions right now, not long-term.

As consumers age, their brand preferences, media preferences, privacy concerns, priorities, etc. change. So, to say a 13 year old’s preference for YouTube and a 30 year old’s preference for Amazon is because of what generation they belong to isn’t accurate. More likely, these preferences are based on their age.

Are generational studies useful? Yes! If you are communicating with the generation right now, the AdWeek Infographic and Deep Focus study can be incredibly helpful in developing marketing and advertising campaigns (although I’d like to see a larger sample size).

Generational reports also provide some interesting indicators as to how their preferences will change over time for predictive purposes. But to do this accurately, you’d have to look and see how previous generations have changed over time as they aged for comparisons.

As with all market intel, think about your end goal, and then work backwards from there to find the right intel to use.

Photo: “…next generation” by zeitfaenger.at, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Why fitness trackers and ad metrics rarely work

A wrist with a Samsung Gear Fit on it
Measure your end goal.

“Samsung Gear Fit unboxing” by Vernon Chan is licensed under CC BY 4.0

 

Many people are quick to defend fitness trackers such as FitBit. “It makes me walk more!”, many forum posts conclude. But if you probe these people deeper and ask what their goal is, they will say “To lose weight.” “Are you losing weight?” I inquire. “Well, no.”

 

The problem with this calculation is simple; more steps do not equal lost weight.

 

The actual formula is:

 

More activity + less caloric intake = losing weight

 

So fitness trackers are a part of the picture and can help with more activity, but it’s not the only factor needed to reach a weight loss goal.

 

Similarly, if your goal is sales, judging your marketing campaign by one metric isn’t going to help.

 

  • Awareness doesn’t direct correlate to sales
  • Clicks don’t equal sales

 

The actual formula varies depending on goal and industry, but typically it looks something like this:

 

Quality product/service that people need/desire + effective promotion + correct price point + available when/where the sale could happen = sales

 

Before you decide what you are going to measure, decide your goal and measure backwards from that.

 

Further reading: