Spring '13 Brand

February 3-6, 2013 | Amelia Island, Florida

Understanding the new "moments of truth"

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Bob Thacker, former CMO of OfficeMax, Target, and Sears, provides unique insights into reaching consumers at the right time with the right message.

As the former CMO of OfficeMax, Target, and Sears, Bob Thacker knows a thing or two about the various "moments of truth" throughout the marketing funnel. In his roles, Thacker generated highly successful, highly efficient marketing campaigns, including standout campaigns such as "The World's Largest Rubberband Ball" and "ElfYourself," a viral marketing phenomenon that remains a holiday tradition six years later, eagerly anticipated by hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide and now available in the app store.

Media has been a huge part of Thacker's career. Having overseen billion dollar media budgets, he has an interesting perspective on consumer engagement and how departments and teams should work together to reach the right consumer at the right time with the right message.

I had a chance to sit down with Thacker, host of the iMedia Brand Summit, and ask him a few questions.

The theme of the iMedia Brand Summit that you're hosting is "Moments of Truth." What does this mean to you?

Bob Thacker: I love the idea. That's what our lives are about every day. As marketers, we are constantly in the "cross hairs" making decisions that shape the destinies of products and brands. I think the key is to keep cool and not think too much about the consequences.

Google's Jim Lecinski says, "Whether we're shopping for corn flakes, concert tickets, or a honeymoon in Paris, the internet has changed how we decide what to buy." Most people wouldn't disagree. How much importance should marketers put on this online decision-making moment, or the "Zero Moment of Truth" -- or simply ZMOT.

Thacker: ZMOT? Isn't that a little Swiss town at the base of the Matterhorn? Oh wait, that's Zermat! I think it's really important for marketers to take into account this critical point in the decision-making process. It's like we've moved all of marketing into full disclosure. Reports, reviews, comments from consumers -- it's all there. The good. The bad. The ugly. If we can't manage this part of the process, it will definitely manage us.

The first moment of truth is "the time it takes shoppers to make up their mind about a product," according to The Wall Street Journal. It's a tight window at three to seven seconds, so P&G considers it the most important marketing opportunity for a brand. Do you agree or disagree?

Thacker: I agree completely with P&G. That's why so much rides on the last three feet and the last three seconds. We're seeing more and more online retailers truly focus on what the whole experience is. It isn't enough to just put stuff on a page. We're actually seeing savvy online retailers use true visual merchandising more and more. Look at Fab.com or Uniqlo or Bludot. They are making it all work beautifully.

How have smartphones changed the consumer decision journey, and should marketers invest more than they have so far?

Thacker: Smartphones have and will continue to change everything we do. Knowledge is power. Smartphones put knowledge literally right in the hands of the consumer right at the point of sale. Companies who aren't investing in this area are missing out on opportunity.

What about the moment of truth when brands cut through the clutter and consumers actually pay attention to your brand message -- the "upper funnel" moment of truth? How do you engage consumers with so much market saturation?

Thacker: One of the great tragedies of the past years of the recession is that many brands went on hiatus. Brand messaging was considered to be an expendable luxury. Those who completely abandoned brand messaging have suffered as things have improved. The companies that kept the brand message alive along with promotional marketing are much better poised for success as things continue to improve.

How did you -- and do you now -- use consumer segmentation and data to reach consumers at their moments of truth?

Thacker: Consumer segmentation and data are absolutely essential in today's marketplace. In my role at SHC Direct, I'm continually amazed at the information that retailers are getting about their customers. It's exciting to see what retailers can do with information and insight.

How does a brand adapt and stay ahead of emerging technologies?

Thacker: I don't think it's possible for a brand to "stay ahead" of emerging technologies. It's all happening so fast! I think it's a full time job for a brand to be responsive to new technologies as they emerge.

What marketing buzzword would you like to see go away?

Thacker: ROI or return on investment. It's more than a marketing buzzword. It's become the nemesis of creativity. I've said that ROI should stand for really outrageous impatience. Because that's what usually happens. "How fast will we reap rewards?" "What's the payback?" Not all brilliant ideas pay out immediately -- especially in the area of branding. Building successful brands takes time. 

What is your best piece of advice for building an engaging and profitable brand experience online and offline?

Thacker: It's actually the same both places. Remember that brands are like people. The most revered brands have beloved human qualities. That said, think of your brand as if it could come to life. What would its personality be? Warm? Cool? Friendly? Aspirational? Caring? Inspiring? Funny? Irreverent? Is that the personality you want your brand to have? If not, what do you need to do to make your brand reflect the personality it deserves? So much marketing and advertising doesn't respect the customer. It's loud, or confusing, or rude, or disrespectful of intelligence. The best loved brands (Apple, Target, Ikea, Zappos, Starbucks) all understand that to be loved you have to be loveable. 

Katharine Panessidi is content director at iMedia Communications Inc.

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