What CMO’s Can Learn From the Obama Campaign — Part 1

May 28, 2009

Can politics teach Marketers anything ?  David Plouffe, the architect of President Obama’s election campaign, recently spoke at the M50 CMO Summit I attended. Sitting at the intersection of Marketing and politics, Plouffe had some interesting thoughts about the Presidential campaign that are highly relevant for Marketers.

Much has already been written about the Obama campaigns innovative usage of social media, and what business can learn from it. It’s true that they led with new media (e.g. Twitter, MyBarackObama.com, etc.) and used the various tools to great advantage. But listening to Plouffe, it’s clear there are other important lessons as well.

Brand Obama: A Consistent Message Across Media Channels

Brand Obama: A Consistent Message Across Media Channels

Plouffe described the two pillars of Obama’s campaign as “message” and “strategy.” Message was what Obama stood for–his “brand,” including his policy positions on health care, the environment, economy, etc.  Strategy was about where to play and how to win choices–e.g. contest the swing states,  leverage the web, how and where to communicate the message, etc.

The Message

Plouffe talked at length about how Obama’s message was non-negotiable. Obama defined the message based on his beliefs and policy positions, and then it was communicated clearly and consistently throughout the entire campaign organization. Everyone in the campaign–from the candidate himself down to the ground-level volunteers knocking on doors, had the same basic understanding of the message and what Obama stood for. There was one and only one message.

The Media

The campaign “media” strategy was to be where the voters were. Every meaningful media channel was used if it could help communicate the message to target voters: community events, e-mail, door-to-door, candidate interviews, etc. And importantly, the message was coordinated across media channels on a daily basis. If the message of the day was about health care, everyone from top to bottom knew the daily health care message and exactly what they were supposed to communicate.

What Marketers Can Learn

The Obama campaign approach above illustrates good basic Marketing principles. Define your value proposition and communicate it effectively. For me, though, what really stands out about their plans are two things:

First, was their consistent and disciplined message communication. The Obama campaign had a clear message, and they stayed with it. They even had a key brand visual. No significant changes or deviations. McCain, by contrast, careened from message to message. The lesson: brand message consistency and focus are important. Decide what you want your brand to stand for and stick with it. Otherwise, you’ll stand for not much of anything. For more on this topic, the Branding Strategy Insider had an excellent recent post on the importance of brand consistency.

Second, the campaign drove the same message across multiple media on a daily basis.  This magnified and multiplied the impact of the message as it reverberated across the media channels. Voters heard the same message from multiple sources via different channels on a daily basis: Obama’s speech, a David Axelrod interview, a voter registration effort, TV ads–they all carried the same message at the same time.

The Obama campaign was a model of strategic focus and message management coordination. Marketers could learn from the campaign by sticking with a focused brand message and leveraging the message throughout their marketing mix.

10,000 Hours to Marketing Success

May 26, 2009

In his recent book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell posits that success is a function of timing, culture and hard work. He defines hard work to reach genius level competence as 10,000 hours of practice. What do the Beatles, Bill Gates and other geniuses have in common ? Apparently they all practiced their craft at least 10,000 hours.

Should your Marketing team also have 10,000 hours of practice ? That’s almost 6 years of Marketing experience. It raises an interesting question: why is it that some organizations don’t consider Marketing a real craft ? Why is Marketing often seen as the function that anyone can do, and hence, doesn’t require specialist knowledge ? Or, as the Branding Strategy Insider blog put it: 

It has been my experience that “marketers” are quite varied in their ability – from “clueless” to “brilliant.” The problem is that many people can’t tell the difference between these two extreme ends of the continuum.

Well, Marketing skills do matter. Did you know that companies with higher demonstrated Marketing skill levels perform better financially than companies with lower Marketing skill levels ? This has been proven empirically, as covered in “Market Orientation, Corporate Culture and Business Performance,” by S. Singh.

Improving Marketing Skills Leads to Better Business Results

Improving Marketing Skills Leads to Better Business Results

According to the Marketing Excellence Survey, a Marketing skill benchmarking service which has surveyed over 45,000 employees, improving people’s marketing knowledge leads to changes in their beliefs about what marketing can contribute to the business. This, in turn, causes changes in behavior, improved use of marketing metrics, and finally, better business results.

The intuitive, but often overlooked finding that higher skills equals better results over time, means that Marketing skill development should be a focus of every organization. No set of Marketing strategies are complete without a strategic plank focused on this important area.

Here are 4 simple steps for developing your Marketing organizations skills:

  1. Make It A Priority— The CMO has to make this a priority. It’s too easy for skill development to be deprioritized when workloads heat up. Take a longer term view. Don’t try to accomplish everything in a year, but do strive for consistency. Engage employees from top to bottom in the development of the program.
  2. Benchmark Marketing Skills — There are a number of firms such as Marketing Excellence Survey (MES), which specialize in measuring marketing skill levels. Benchmark skills within your industry and relative to others. In addition, assess which skills are most important given the business model and marketing strategies. This, combined with benchmarking, will help you focus the organizations limited resources.
  3. Train the Organization — Implement targeted training programs to address the most important skill gap areas. You can create programs in-house or pull program content from organizations like the CMO Council or Corporate Executive Board or others. Whichever approach you choose, it’s important to match the content to the identified skill gaps and involve the most senior marketing leaders in the training.
  4. Measure Progress — Measure the quality of the trainer and content for each training module. Learn and improve with each training session. Periodically re-run the original benchmarking study to see where you’ve progressed and where you haven’t, and adjust accordingly.

If you’re still not convinced, how about this:  a focus on Marketing skill development provides a clear signal to the Marketing organization that senior management cares about them and their development. It motivates employees and reinforces their importance to the firm.

CMO’s are challenged to get results and get them fast. There’s a need to exploit every possible tool in the Marketing toolkit to get better results. It’s obvious that increased marketing competency should lead to better results. With the research to prove it, there’s really no excuse left — whether it takes 10,000 hours or not.

What Do CEO’s Really Want From Marketing ?

May 21, 2009

CMO turnover continues to be too high. In the lastest Spencer-Stuart survey, the average CMO tenure rose slightly to 28 months–a positive trend, but still a very short lifecycle by any measure. Given that most CMO’s report to CEO’s, it’s a fair question to ask: “What do CEO’s really want from Marketing?” Lou Gerstner, ex CEO of IBM and American Express has an answer. I attended the M50 CMO Summit last week, and Gerstner talked about what he expects from the Marketing organization.

Lou Gerstner's Marketing Mandate: Customer Experience and Brand Building

Lou Gerstner's Marketing Mandate: Customer Experience and Brand Building

Ensure Excellent Customer Service

His first CMO mandate is customer service. Marketing’s job is to ensure the organization is delivering great customer service,  particularly during tough times. Taking care of the customer, always the right thing to do, is even more important during challenging economic times, because competitors often cut back. And customers notice. Customers have long memories and remember how they were treated–in good times and bad.

A good question to ask yourself is the following: are my CEO and I aligned on the customer experience and what is expected of Marketing ?  Defining and measuring customer satisfaction is only the first step. How and what kind of role Marketing plays in influencing other important functions in the company — Customer Service, R&D, etc., in delivering an excellent customer experience is equally important. Marketing plays a lead role in defining and quantifying the most important factors driving customer satisfaction and how these can be improved, as well as the relationship between customer satisfaction metrics and improved top and bottom line business results.

Build The Brand

His second expectation is that the CMO is building the brand. Gerstner acknowledged that during downturns, you may not be able to spend as much money driving the brand as you’d like. But the CMO’s job is to be the brand steward and to ensure that the company is always investing something in brand building activities and that every part of the organization is living the brand values day in and day out.

Brand building means defining your brands key equities, and continuously working to better communicate and deliver those equities to your customer. This requires that everyone in the organization is crystal clear on what the brand should stand for, and that there is consistent focus and application over time across all functions–and not brand “drift” which tends to occur in many organizations.

Time and again, Gerstner came back to the point that everything starts with the customer.  To reinforce this point, he focused his IBM team on just two metrics: customer satisfaction and market share–two outcomes which are directly linked to delivering great customer service and building the brand.

That’s it. Two simple expectations. Deliver great customer service. Build the brand. If Marketing did these two things extraordinarily well, chances are that the 28 month CMO tenure would increase and begin to approach that of CEO’s at 54 months. Because they would be focusing on what every CEO and CMO should care most about: the customer.

Marketing in the Brave New Media World

May 18, 2009
What’s the worst job in Marketing ? Media planning has long been a backwater:  unglamorous, driven by arcane algorithms, and frequently relegated to afterthought status. The Marketing team spends weeks debating and gaining agreement to the annual marketing plan goals, key initiatives, advertising, etc. And then, whoops–almost forgot–we need a media plan! But, media planning is at the edge of a virtual revolution. The media visual below, created by Brian Solis, illustrates this new, more complex landscape:
New Media Channels Are Exploding

New Media Channels Are Exploding

The media changes build on existing trends to more performance based Advertising Agency compensation models by Procter & Gamble, Coke and others. Reach, frequency and gross rating points are now giving way to a world where program and ad impact have as much currency as impressions. GRP’s as we’ve known them are becoming relics. Here are three reasons why media planning will become a central part of your marketing planning in the future:


It’s obvious but needs restating: the marketing world is moving from a TV centric model to a web centric model. The brand web site is an increasingly important platform for engaging prospects and customers. Social media and other web-based options contine to grow and evolve at an accelerating pace:  forums, webcasts, podcasts, blogs, Twitter, webinars, etc. And more digital means more measurable. Click thru, site visits and conversion rates are only the beginning as marketers become increasingly sophisticated with digital measurement. All this means that future media plans will be more creative, complex and measurable. A good guide to help cut through the hype and clutter in this area is “The Online Advertising Playbook: Proven Strategies and Tested Tactics From the ARF.”

Program and Ad Impact

Advertisers have long done pre-market ad testing.  But with the advent of very large web-based consumer panels like Nielsen IAG, companies have the ability to measure consumer engagement with individual programs. No longer do basic demographics define the media buy. Two programs with the same demographics could have vastly different consumer engagement. Are consumers more engaged with “The Office” or “Lost” ? Now we know. And this means that the same ad performs better in some programs than others, based on program fit and viewer engagement. Is your ad more effective in “The Biggest Loser” or “American Idol”? It’s now measurable.

Mike Kleha, Director of Media & Metrics at Merck and Co. says:  “IAG’s data allows us to go beyond the rating point, and gives us a deeper insight into the mind of the consumer. This allows us to do a better job of targeting our messages to where they will be more effective and provide the most consumer value.”  Simple demographic driven media plans will no longer suffice. CMO’s will demand media plans that take into account both quantity and quality.

Creative & Media Integration

Big advertisers like Unilever are increasingly going directly to media companies even before creative development with a set of objectives and asking them to create an integrated plan which helps deliver the brand objectives. This “reverse upfront” media planning process is designed to keep costs low and better integrate creative and media buying. Media companies will increasingly develop a media plan concept that matches the brands objective, and this in turn will drive both creative and usage of the full gamut of TV, digital, mobile, interactive, in-program placement, etc.

This new media landscape demands new constructs and skills, as CMO’s say they are nowhere close to realizing the opportunity in new media.  GRP’s and TRP’s will need to evolve to measures which incorporate both quantity and quality–something like  ERP’s:  Effective Ratings Points. Marketing organizations will need new capabilities to negotiate this increasingly complex world. Welcome to Marketing in the brave new media world–a place with great opportunity but also one where you ignore the heightened role of media planning at your peril.

Turn Down the Volume To Improve Your Advertising

May 12, 2009

What’s the one thing you can do to improve your advertising ? If you’re in TV, try this simple test: turn down the volume and watch your commercial. Then ask yourself the following question: did I see my brand’s benefit  ? Was it visualized ? Even better, was the visualization persuasive ? Or even provocative ?

This points to one of the simplest, easiest things you can do to immediately improve your advertising–visualize your benefit. A sample viewing of advertising on any given day or week will almost always show that much of it’s guilty of not dramatically and persuasively visualizing the brands strategic benefit. Of course, this assumes you’ve done your homework and have defined a clear and meaningful benefit for your product or service.

Here’s a great example from Geico. I’ve always liked the idea of the Geico Gecko, but don’t think they’ve ever used it as effectively as they could. What’s the benefit and where is it ?

Geico Gecko -- Where's the Benefit ?

Geico Gecko -- Where's the Benefit ?

Now let’s contrast this with their newer, very simple, but benefit focused, current campaign “It’s the money you could be saving with Geico.” Yes, I know it’s simple, and even a bit gimmicky, but who could miss the benefit:
The Money You Could Be Saving -- A Clear Benefit Visual

The Money You Could Be Saving -- A Clear Benefit Visual

In working with your agency, here are a few things to watch out for:

The Problem— The advertising is all about the “problem.” The ad focuses exclusively on the problem to the exclusion of the brand benefit. Why?  Let’s be honest; it’s often funny and entertaining to show people unable to do or be something that your brand’s benefit will address. The problem is, creatives often get so carried away with the “problem” joke that the advertising focuses almost exclusively on the problem, and not where it should–the benefit your product or service provides to consumers.

The Words — Benefit communication relies on audio. The ad does talk about the product or service benefit but never actually gets around to visualizing it. It may be true that words can change the world, but in advertising, it’s even more true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Don’t let anyone try and convince you otherwise. Research proves it.

Of course, benefit visualization isn’t the only thing that leads to effective advertising. But it is a key factor in advertising success. It’s much easier to remember something if you see it. Even better, seeing and hearing it simultaneously– “audio/visual sync,” is the best of all.

Agencies will come up with all kinds of reasons why the benefit doesn’t need to be visualized–most of which are false objections. “It will ruin the execution.” “It’s in the audio.” “It’s inherent in the advertising idea.”  “You can’t visualize emotions.” etc.  Don’t fall for it. As a client you have the right to be demanding and this is one thing you should be demanding about.

So, turn down the volume and improve your advertising — by showing your benefit in visuals that are memorable and convincing.


How Marketing Builds Brand Value

May 9, 2009

Brand value rankings are more popular than ever, and are often seen as the equivalent of Marketing value rankings — but are they ?   Milward Brown recently published their annual Brand Z top 100 Most Valuable Brand rankings. Google topped the list, with Microsoft and many other well known brands following on their heels.  In fact, Eileen Campbell, CEO of Milward Brown, says: “It is a fantastic achievement to be one of the most valuable brands in the world… this ranking is a way for marketers to identify the value that their brand is creating for the business.”  But who’s really creating all the value ?

Milward Brown’s brand value calculations are relatively straightforward: Intangible Earnings x Brand Contribution x Brand Multiple. But what, if anything, is this really telling us about Marketing’s value to the organization ? I’d argue: not very much.

Top 10 Brand Values -- But What Did Marketing Contribute ?

Top 10 Brand Values -- But What Did Marketing Contribute ?

Let’s look at a few examples to understand why. American Express, inarguably a great brand, dropped in value -40%. Was Amex marketing last year that bad ? Citi fell -52%. Weak marketing ? Target was down -17%. The fall of “expect more, pay less ?” Interestingly, a recent Nielsen IAG survey showed that consumer brand confidence was higher among those consumers seeing financial services advertising versus those who did not. So, clearly, brand spending reductions during a downturn probably account for some of the decline in brand value.  But,  I don’t think these brand valuation declines are all about marketing effectiveness or even reductions in marketing spending. So, if not, what are they about ?

Brand Value Decliners -- How Much Due To Marketing ?

Brand Value Decliners -- How Much Due To Marketing ?

In the case of Amex, what was the role of poor risk management decisions ? Acceptance of TARP funds ? At Citi, Investment Bankers made mistakes in the sub-prime mortgage market. These mistakes generated write-downs, losses, and reduced consumer confidence and trust. The last time I checked, the people responsible for these activities in Amex and Citi weren’t in Marketing. In Targets case, consumer confidence eroded quickly as the recession deepened. Target’s value proposition became less relevant. Walmart’s became more so–it gained +19% in brand value. Is this bad marketing — or is the culprit poor merchandise mix and selection when consumers are suddenly much more value conscious ?

What the brand valuations tell us is this:  many things impact the brand:  many of which are outside of Marketing. Public relations fiasco’s, poor corporate earnings, mistakes in departments outside of Marketing, bad product experience, etc. — the list goes on and on. Yes, Marketing should “own” the brand and be it’s steward, ensuring that the organization is protecting and building the brand–both inside and outside Marketing.

Marketing needs to influence the entire enterprise and have everyone understand their impact on the brand. It’s Marketing’s mandate to define the brand, the key brand drivers, but most importantly, to then educate, motivate and inspire people throughout the enterprise to execute in ways that build brand value–not destroy it.

So, my take is this: the Milward Brown study is very important for Marketing, but not as a measure of Marketing value. Rather, it’s a clarion call for Marketing to have more influence and more impact on the brand by extending its reach beyond Marketing. After all, the easy part is the marketing communications. The harder, but arguably equally important part, is driving brand value throughout the entire enterprise.

Marketing Impact on Brand Valuation Poll — what’s your point of view ?

May 7, 2009