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The Marketer and The Statistician

Joseph Zawadzki
The Marketer and The Statistician Joseph Zawadzki

Over the past weekend, I was involved in a number of conversations that all centered around synergy between different disciplines (what E.O. Wilson calls Consilience) -- the concept that by simultaneously approaching a problem from two divergent points of view, you could create some novel solutions. This led to some intense speculation about online marketing, and eventually, to an idea or two about what might be in store for our industry in the coming years.

One conversation was with my father-in-law, who was in town to tour the facilities of a doctor leading his field in the development of cures for an inherited eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. This particular doctor has made tremendous progress in his research with the Foundation Fighting Blindness by hiring a combination of PhDs in both medicine and electrical engineering. Instead of accepting the status quo and the current state of equipment they use to answer their medical research questions, they leveraged their combined knowledge to rigorously reformulate those questions and then build the specialized machines necessary to answer them.

This conversation, along with one about a hedge fund that put fixed income, debt and equity groups together to force daily interaction, inspired me to think of what might be a similar unlikely or unexpected pairing in the world of online marketing. I believe that the next real period of innovation in our industry will be realized through a "joining-at-the-hip" of marketers and statisticians. As we finally enter the world of branded response, where every touch point with a consumer is understood as a step toward a deeper relationship with the brand, and as increased spend requires increased accountability, we'll see a delightful pas de deux of solid marketing instinct buttressed by rigorous analytics taking hold. A handful of the things we should expect:

Counterintuitive insights

One of the first things that an advertiser must answer is "who is buying," with a special emphasis on those buying off the media plan (via tonnage advertising, search or passive site visits). For example, an apparel retailer discovers that those buying online are not their target upscale urban demo but a decidedly lower-income, more rural audience. Why? Because the higher-end market jumps into an SUV and drives to the store while others purchase directly from the site. The lesson is to beware judging the media as successful in reaching the former based on the purchases of the latter!

This is similar to the classic 7-11 study that found sales of beer increased by placing it next to the diapers ("Honey, pick up some diapers on the way home"), or to the experience of a lingerie retailer who found that their second largest target audience for stockings (after the expected 35- to 55-year-old women) were male owners of Harley-Davidsons who wear them underneath their leather pants to reduce chafing.

These lessons were learned simply through better data analysis free of existing prejudices or assumptions. By sitting a marketer alongside a statistician and asking them "what's unexpected and how can we do this better" we can arrive at some counterintuitive insights that will improve our effectiveness.

Consumers as marketers

Having read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Joseph Jaffe's Life After the 30-Second Spot, I see that a lot of smart people are rethinking the traditional relationship between brands and consumers. Jaffe talks about engagement, interaction and evangelism as some of the new ROIs that need to be considered as consumers are recruited to manage their own relationships with brands and in some cases even help build them. This makes a lot of sense in the age of TiVo, but again, both art and science must work together to craft a strategy through this next phase. Statisticians and marketers must ask questions like:

  • What's important?

  • How do we measure it?

  • What does an extra second of engagement mean?

  • How do we find influencers, and what is their influence worth?

  • What's the net present value of an additional util of "community" (e.g., another entry on a blog or visit to user-generated content)? 

It makes little sense to empower consumers by enlisting them as marketers in our own campaigns unless we know best how to harness their influence and how to measure it. Without this measurement and forethought, we are marketing blind -- rolling the dice and hoping that we do not create a monster in place of a powerful advocate.

Mass customization

"A Car for Every Purse and Purpose" began the trend toward mass customization, where marketers understood the individual needs of each segment of the public and a product was developed specifically to meet that need. It made perfect sense in the 1960s when Sloan unveiled the new slogan for GM, but the success of the strategy has sown the seeds of its own demise. Another current book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, illustrates how the great number of product options presented to consumers today has actually become paralyzing rather than liberating. With hundreds of automotive brands, toothpastes, and HDTV sizes and resolutions, any purchasing decision requires a tremendous amount of research.

There's a great psychological experiment that observed how people would respond when presented with a table full of jams and jellies in a supermarket along with a discount coupon if one of those products were purchased today. When the table had six products, 30 percent of consumers chose their favorite product and purchased it. When it contained 24 jars of jelly, less than three percent actually made a purchase. As evidenced, mass customization or too much choice has "jammed up" the decision-making works, leaving both buyer and seller worse off. 

The marketer and the statistician, working together, could rightly determine when to offer the Model-T ("any color, as long as it's black") or the full panoply of choice for a given consumer based on data studies like the jelly conundrum. By better understanding the consumer, where they are in the lifecycle of purchasing a product category, and how they view a brand in that context, you can better decide what to market and when (if at all). For the consumer, this means the full range of options is narrowed down to those most likely to fit, reducing confusion and allowing them to experience something they might previously have overlooked. Again, a good quant-driven marketer will be able to learn what cues -- demographic, behavioral, modal, et cetera -- are relevant in a purchasing environment, and what to do in response to those cues to improve the bottomline.

Joseph Zawadzki is founder and president of Poindexter Systems.

1. Make it simple. Albert Einstein once said "make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler." Decades later and industries apart, that statement has never been more important for marketers. Here is why:

  • Simple messages are easier to understand and embed themselves in the psyche faster.

  • Simple messages are easier to remember and can be recalled for longer periods of time. 

  • Simple messages are easier to repeat and pass along, building a brand's buzz.

That means simple messages are more effective than complex messages. You can create a complex message that fits multiple ideas into one statement, but you risk confusing your customer.

You also risk losing the impact of your original message. What do we mean by simple? Go back to expository writing -- the foundation for almost every copywriter's craft -- where every paragraph focuses on just one idea, and every sentence supports that idea with one fact. Have a second idea, or a second product benefit? Write a second paragraph.

Take Winston cigarette's famous catchphrase: "Winston tastes good like a...?"  "Cigarette should." It has one simple idea and one simple message: taste. Yes, it was a simpler time, there were fewer regulations, and there was less ad clutter. But this is a simple message that has not run in the media for more than 40 years, yet has stayed strong in the minds of the consumer. It is also a lesson to learn from: one idea, one product benefit, one tag line, and one memorable brand.

2. Make sure it is true. In today's market if you're lying, you're dying. With so many news sources just itching to break the next big story, all it takes is the faintest wisp of a lie to send a celebrity, a politician, or a product into an abyss that they rarely recover from them. It is too easy for a blogger to turn a half-truth into a full lie, to take a comment out of context and turn a saint into a sinner. It is too easy to turn a network of friends into a movement that turns a small white lie into a glaring black smudge that can bring down a company. Toyota, are you listening?

So if you want to create a message for your product, just do it. But don't take the obvious shortcut and re-use an old ad or message. A newspaper ad is very different from a television commercial. A blog entry is very different from a tweet. Leverage your brand's positioning statement (i.e., Nike's "Just do it") as the basis for a new ad message, but do not re-purpose a bit of old ad copy to do so. It simply will not work for where your customer lives today. 

Keep your message simple and keep it true.  It will have a much better chance of resonating if you do.

If you are not sure how to do this, here are some hints:

  • Go back to the beginning and think about the core brand attribute that motivates your customers to buy your product.

  • Now think about your customer's mindset when they are actively shopping for your product.

  • Overlay the two, and that will indicate your point of differentiation, as well as the nature of your message.

  • Use only one point of differentiation for each message. 

  • If you have more than one point of differentiation, save it for another message; there will be another time and place to get it out.

  • If it is not the absolute truth, do not write it. 

  • If you find yourself hedging, bending, or tweaking your idea to fit what is popular, then it is not the truth.

  • If you find yourself using the word "also" or "et cetera," don't. That is the first step to bending the truth.

  • Do what the legitimate journalists do: Check your facts, then check them again. There is nothing more embarrassing than having to admit an error or omission later on.

  • Most important, while I know your loved one majored in English, hire a copy writer. Getting a degree in school is simply not the same as knowing how to craft the English language to say what you want it to say.

And the secret behind making the simple truth work? Be prepared to create more than one ad or post. The days of large campaigns that repeat the same message over and over again are, well, over. To really connect with your customers you need to create different messages that are refined for different points in your customer's lifecycle. 

Target your messages to reach them where they live, no matter where they are. It means refining your message to promote different product benefits at different times. This takes a bit more time and energy, but in the end, it will convert more consumers to customers, and more customers to brand loyalists -- and isn't that what we all want?

Jeff Cannon is president of Think Cannon LLC.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.

Esurance's "#EsuranceSave30"

Millions of dollars were spent on Super Bowl spots this year, yet Esurance scored as one of the most talked about companies of the night by running a savvy social end-around. The campaign encouraged fans to tweet using #EsuranceSave30 all week after the Super Bowl for a chance to win the $1.5 million saved by running its ad after the game instead of during it.

According to Topsy, #EsuranceSave30 has been used more than 3.8 million times.

The takeaway
A bold idea, well packaged and fully committed to, can speak louder than big media bucks.

Newcastle's "If We Made It"

This campaign features great video content that showcases the "mega huge game day ad" Newcastle would have made, you know, if it could afford to.

Newcastle also created short videos showing how the brand would make commercials of competitor brands differently, if they could afford it. The social team live-tweeted these unique video pieces live during the Super Bowl to steal the conversation away from featured commercials and turn it toward the brand's mock ads.

The takeaway
Position your brand as "one of the gang," and you can join in the conversation about other brands.

Red Bull's "Revolution in Sound"

Just a few months back, Red Bull Media hosted the first-ever live concert in all 30 capsules of the London Eye Ferris Wheel. Each capsule featured famous artists and DJs who entertained the partygoers. This once-in-a-lifetime experience had each pod feeling like the world's most exclusive nightclub.

Red Bull teamed up with a YouTube partner to stream the events happening in all 30 pods for users to watch at home. The concert drove massive social buzz and has many still talking about the hottest party of the year.

The takeaway
Whenever possible, celebrate your audience by inviting them into the inner circle. "Velvet rope," RIP.

Wren's "First Kiss"

What happens when you get 20 strangers to kiss each other on camera? Apparently over 60 million YouTube views, which earned media coverage from countless media outlets and a top trending topic on Twitter.

Wren's "First Kiss" video campaign helped the brand gain massive recognition in the digital space simply by filming ten couples kissing each other then sharing the finished video with its editorial partners. Although no official stats on sales have been released, this video certainly had many searching the internet for more information on this brand with the fresh POV.

The takeaway
The authenticity of human emotions playing out in real time generates an irresistible spark. Successfully tapping into fundamentals of the collective human experience is the silver bullet.

Keane's "Personalized Music Video"

In an attempt to re-engage its fan base while promoting its latest album release, the music group Keane released a personalized music video generator app on its Facebook page.

The application pulls in popular photos from your Facebook news feed and shows them in a highly designed video with a popular Keane song playing in the background. Users are able to share the music video with friends across their social networks. Although no numbers have been released, the video generator was great fun regardless of how big a Keane fan you are.

The takeaway
So long as music is a powerful social driver, a personal soundtrack will be narrative gold.


Never doubt that in today's "on the go, phone-in-hand" lives, social is the glue that connects brand initiatives with an audience -- fans and new consumers alike.

Without social prodding the conversation, messages don't spread far or last long. Enthusiasm has proven to have more reach than the dollar; the key is presenting your brand in a fresh light, with a voice that stands out in a crowded world.

And when it comes time to make the call, rest assured that social channels, when properly fueled with strategic content and messaging, can do the heavy lifting usually entrusted to other media.

Andy Robbins is COO and EVP, interactive at bpg advertising.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow bpg advertising at @bpgadvertising.

"Young pretty woman holding social icon balloon" image via Shutterstock.


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