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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Turning Marketing Research into Results

There are many ways to conduct market research on consumer or trade behavior. 

All of them are highly flawed but most of them can be very valuable tools. I’d like to share a few ideas on how to use the different formats and to give you some examples of what you can do to use the insights to grow your business and influence perception. 

Research falls into two broad buckets: qualitative and quantitative. And it goes without saying that you must work with reputable firms with impeccable integrity who are willing to push back and challenge you every step of the way. You want the research to stand up to third-party scrutiny so pick a partner who comes with great references. 

Qualitative research is often more focused on interviews with very limited numbers of people. They can take the form of one on one interview, one on three, small groups or focus group settings. The purpose is to try and find directional insights and ideas that lead you to want to explore beyond the anecdote

One of the most beneficial aspects of this type of work is watching the expressions and intensity of opinion and emotion. Yes, you can often get a dominant person who can derail the conversation. But a great moderator who knows what she is doing can manage the personalities and help extract several key ideas. 

I have spent more than a million dollars on qualitative and quantitative research over my 30 year career. And, I usually start with just a few hypothesis I want to test.  For example, do these consumer carry a certain belief or not. Do they show any level of passion about the topic or is it just something to talk about and they really don’t care.  I think of this as measuring their temperature on issues and I just want to see if the topic exhibits a fever. You do need to be mindful that some introverts may not exhibits a strong opinion with their voice, but often you can observe opinions in body language. 

I also love to observe the time when the moderator leaves the room and you get to hear the participants speak to one another more openly about the subject. Often the best learning occurs at this time when they appear to be more candid as the ‘teacher’ is out of the classroom. I plan for this to occur a few times during the sessions so I can hear and observe what can be a more honest opinion.

Being mindful of what we will do with research, I almost always like to interview some of the participants after the event on one specific questions so that I can get one more chance to ask them my essential question of the day. I get to study their responses where they are free to speak just to me and the camera without others present. Many times I‘ll use clips from that discussion to make a key point that can be used online or in customer visits. This can be a useful way to help share the results of the research with other colleagues at your company. Check out this example below where we wanted consumers, in their own words, to describe their experience using our product versus a competitors. (Note, the sample in hand which helped remind them of the product). 

After getting some insight into how the target audience views my hypothesis, I then like to do some quantitative research. Today it is so much less expensive to do this because of the Internet. Years ago we would spend buckets of money and months to get results from 25 question surveys. Today it is much less money and so easy to execute. You still need to make sure you are asking the right questions to the right audience. But now, you can take your hypothesis that evolved from 12 people or 24 people in a room to 500 people nationally.

Surveys of larger groups allow you to see patterns and attitudes that help validate your own insights and observations from the smaller qualitative sessions. From the final research report, it can be useful to turn the material into short summaries that your sales team can use to help tell a story. Or you can weave together a piece of research, some video clips and some statistics into one comprehensive animated video.

The key to all of this is that in B2B settings, the trade will often be skeptical of any research done by you. So, if you can make your point through using the results from your competitor or third part studies, that helps enormously. In our case, one of our competitor did some research that supported our main thesis and we shared some of that in our marketing materials. 

As always, an example can be helpful. I’m not revealing any secrets in sharing some work done during the last few years at the wine closure company I work for because it is all public and on our website.

My hypothesis was that I doubted that the consumer really cared much about what type of cork was in a wine bottle. I thought they wanted to get to the wine. My belief was that unaided, they would say this too. Unaided means that you ask an open question like, “How do you decide what wine to buy?”  You don’t ask them to pick from a list of reasons why consumers buy wine. Unaided responses is a way NOT to lead the witness.  

We did this research in many countries and the answers kept coming back. Consumers buy wine based on price, color, geography, brand, and occasion and on and on.  The type of closure or cork didn’t really drive their decision. We did focus groups in the U.S, France, Brazil and elsewhere.  

We did quantitative studies in other markets too. All the data showed our main point – the consumer didn’t understand the role of the closure UNLESS it broke in the bottle, crumbled while being removed or affected the flavor or taste of the wine such as having cork taint.

We put together a booklet summarizing what we learned and turned it into a press release.  We shared some video clips from focus groups and we developed a nice animation that brought in research from our competitors. We told a simple story that helped to shape a narrative that reflects what the research indicated. 

There is more to this story but you can see that it all begins with testing a few hypotheses and then sharing data and personal stories to communicate the main point. Most importantly, we developed tools to help our customers gain some knowledge from the studies we conducted. We did work with a few market research firms but one that I particularly liked is based in California called Merrill Research. 

How are you using market research to help you tell your story and to test your hypotheses?

Jeffrey Slater


Need help sorting through some market research projects? Connect with me through Clarity and I'll be happy to coach you to help you find insights or to test hypotheses about your market.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Only We

What happens when your brand or product has a distinct point of view that could only come from one person? You.

Marketing has always been about being noticed and separating yourself from the competition. In a uber-crowded world, how can you find how to be different and to do it in a way that your customers care about your distinctive approach?

Entrepreneurs, brand managers and those in charge of developing businesses often have a default button that say, “my competitor is successful. I’ll do what she is doing”.  This is not the path to success and glory. Many start up brands get thwarted when they realized they can’t be Red Bull or Haagen Dazs or In and Out Burger. 

But when a brand can find their special voice and bring their own personality, flair and world view to their work, they can stand out from the crowd. 

Start Here: Ask you this remarkably simple question:

What can our brand do that ONLY WE can do?

Read it again.

What can our brand do that ONLY WE can do?

Only we is a powerful phrase. Right?

Force yourself to ask this difficult question that requires you to draw on the special view you have of your world. How do you add your touch, your flair and your belief on your brand or product that reflects an impossible to imitate approach? Maybe it is how you sell, or where you sell or what you sell. The key is in finding your, "only we".  The inspiration often comes from within some a person not some committee. 

Ben & Jerry did ice cream like only they could do it. Not formally trained in ice cream making, branding, marketing or business. They just liked to eat ice cream that had stuffed mixed into it. 

During a wine marketing event that I hosted in the Napa area, I sat next to a woman who used to work for Ben & Jerry’s. She told me some wonderful stories about working for them that were both funny and touching. Our conversation reminded of my wonderfully serendipitous connection to Ben & Jerry last week.

In 1980, out of the blue, I picked up the phone and called Ben Cohen. 

At the time, I was 26 and didn’t realize that you couldn’t call someone who was so well-known. My wife and I had our bakery business, Rachel’s Brownies, and we were always looking for ways that we could sell more brownies (stay focused) and find new channels of distribution. I wondered, could we sell our brownies that Ben & Jerry could mix into an ice cream like they did with their chocolate chunks and big pieces of fruit. 

I thought that it could be an "only we" moment. Only we (Rachel's Brownies) could make a brownie ice cream with Ben & Jerry. 

Jerry & Ben 
The story of meeting with Ben & Jerry is told in detail in this post when we met them for sushi in NYC. The point of mentioning this is that it occurred to me that IF we could work with Ben & Jerry’s, only we (Rachel’s Brownies) could be the brand of brownies, mixed into an ice cream flavor sold by the leading brand of super premium ice cream. And, our customers, would have a new way of experiencing our brand that would be different and meaningful to them.

We were successful and for many years they sold a Rachel’s Brownies Ice Cream that helped establish our brand and point of difference.

The marketing lesson in this story is that you can’t look to your competitors or others in your category to find your “only we”.  It has to come from you, from your world view and how you think you can add your special touch to the brand.  Think Steve Jobs. Think Elon Musk. Think Jeff Bezos. There is no reason why you can't have your own, "only we" approach with your brand too. 

For our modest bakery, our values and brand promised aligned with Ben & Jerry’s. In the 1970's, 80's and 90's, there were dozens of companies selling brownies to the same channels that we sold. Only we partnered with Ben & Jerry's to make a Rachel's Brownies Ice Cream.

But this special partnership gave us prominence through association. We shared in and borrowed a little ‘hippie energy’ from our new found friends in this venture. To Ben & Jerry, our partnership was minor and small but to our brownie brand, it was an important part of our story that we told over and over again. 

And only we could claim it. 

Making Scents
One more example from some recent consulting work I did with a young woman who wants to start a yoga practice. She told me that she is trying to find a hook, something unique to herself that only she could bring into the world. We talked through several ideas and she described how she uses essential oils in the class with each pose to help connect an emotional feeling to the pose. I said to her, that's your "only we". 

Think of merging the word Yoga and the word Aroma. YogAroma. Find a way to have this be your signature approach to yoga so that your clients will be able to do the marketing for you. They will tell their friends that they took this wonderful yoga class and the instructor combined these amazing essential oils during the class to make this an experience like no other. Smells like a great idea to me. 

So go ahead. Find your ‘only we’. Namaste. 

Would you jump for joy if you could find your 'only we'? Maybe an hour of marketing coaching could help you find a path forward. Contact me through this link on Clarity where you can learn more about marketing coaching by the moment. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When Strategy and Tactics Fight

How well do you understand the difference between strategy and tactics? Do you find them fighting each other for bragging rights? 

At some companies, these two activities collide all the time. Managers want to jump in and solve problems when there isn't consensus about what problem you are trying to solve.

It took me many years to fully understand the difference and to learn to think strategically. By not jumping right into the tactics, I have gained a clearer understand of the problem before figuring out how to solve the problem. The following are 3 ideas to help you be a more strategic thinker as a marketing professional.

ASK THE QUESTION, WHAT PROBLEM ARE WE SOLVING? This is such a great question to ask to help insure that you understand and have an agreement about the real issue at hand. If your team is trying to decide among creating a video, printing a brochure or putting up billboards, you have jumped into the world of tactics. 

A strategic conversation might say: “Our customers see us as not adding real value. How can we change the mind of our customer?”  How you change their mind, plunges you into tactics of how to solve this problem. A simple way to think about this is that your strategy defines the goal that moves you in the direction that you want the company to go. A tactic helps you leverage the resources and tools at hand to get the job done.

RECOGNIZE THAT STRATEGIES LAST LONGER THAN TACTICS:  A strategy is usually a longer-term proposition than a tactic. In some companies, strategies are set for a year or multi-year period.  Tactics tend to be much more short-lived and immediate. So a strategy might be, “we want to influence several key department heads at our customer who influence a purchase”.  A tactic might be an email communication, a mailer or an event tailored to help you connect with one of those people in Q4. 

STRATEGIES ARE GUIDED BY INTELLECT, TACTICS REQUIRE MUSCLE.  A strategy can be based on research, market insights or competitive analysis. It usually comes from understanding market structure using SWOT analysis or other similar tools. It may blend gut instinct with some specific market data. 

"Taking the river is a strategy. The boat is a tactic."

A strategic idea might be that our company’s products are only used by the very high end of the market because we are perceived as expensive. A tactical approach to solving this problem is to take what we understand from the research and find ways to dispel this myth. 

For example, a tactic might be to put together on our website a dozen testimonials of modest, small-mid size companies who use our product as they tell their story why they think our products are reasonably priced.

Breathe and Ask a Question
It is so easy to be part of meetings where you jump into solving problems with a stream of consciousness of ideas. My recommendation is take a deep breath and ask everyone to write down what problem you are all trying to solve. You may find that not everyone is trying to solve the same strategic problem and your team is just throwing ideas at the wind. 

Until you get agreement and have a clearly defined problem, you are wasting time on a laundry list of tactics. Learn to think strategically before you start throwing tactical punches. 

Cartoon by Rich Goildel


Need help sorting the wheat from the chaff? Contact me through this link on Clarity where you can learn more about marketing coaching by the moment. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

All things MARKeting

This past week, I got to host Nomacorc’s 5th Wine Marketing Exchange event. We developed this series, held twice per year in California to bring interesting marketing speakers, insights and ideas to the wine marketing community. Our theme this time was “Storytelling: How to stay top of mind and close to heart". 
Photos courtesy of Paul Mabray
I gave the opening introduction to frame the day. Since being close to heart was part of the theme, I told the story of my younger daughter Fanny and her path from cooking with me in our kitchen when she was a little girl to winning the Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook Competition last May. I shared an emotional story filled with rich and vivid memories. My purpose was to show an example of how a beloved brand can be created. 

But getting to spend time with Mark Schaefer and his wonderful wife Rebecca was the real treat. Mark is a marketing professional whose work has inspired, challenged and excited me. He writes one of the leading blogs on marketing called Grow, teaches marketing at Rutgers and is a marketing consultant in demand. He is also the author of several fine books on marketing and along with Tom Webster, has a witty and spontaneous twice-monthly podcast called the Marketing Companion.

Mark W. Schaefer and Jeffrey Slater at Nomacorc's Wine Marketing Conference
We spent several hours talking at dinner and I think we recognized in each other a real common worldview of marketing.  
Most important of all is that we both are proud of and love the marketing profession. 
We think this is an absolutely wonderful time to do what we both do every day.  I believe Mark’s comment was that we appear to be from the same marketing pod. Cerebral and intellectual yet passionate about making the worse pun possible and finding humanity in every moment. We both celebrate ideas, insights and a fresh new way of seeing a marketing challenge. And we believe deeply in the idea of being more human in our work. Mark's website identifies three pillars: Marketing, Social Media and Humanity. 

Marketing with Mark
Mark spoke to our audience of senior marketing professionals for about 45 minutes and took questions from the audience.  He shared his views on content shock which we are all experiencing in the tsunami of information flowing toward us through social media and other channels of communication. As he discussed the next levels of advanced technology coming at us, the little clicker to advance the slides kept moving too fast and skipped ahead. It was a wonderfully ironic and human moment that Mark laughed at as he kept telling stories and sharing ideas on our theme.

Mark shared the story of the wine client he worked with in Provence who use video to tell his story. As the 601st winery licensed to make rose in Provence, Steven Cronk had a real challenge with his Mirabeau brand. Using social media as to differentiate his brand, a video went viral about opening a wine with his shoe. This video has over 8 millions views. To read the full story visit Mark's blog post about Mirabeau  or go to the Youtube video

Mark closed with a reference to one of his favorite teachers and thought-leaders Dr. Robert Cialdini, who when asked how you scale the work Mark proposes in larger corporations, the advice was BE MORE HUMANI couldn't agree more.

If you aren't familiar with Mark’s work, please check out all things Marketing at grow. Get it? All things Marketing. 

Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun. 


Looking for some marketing coaching? Check out this link on Clarity where you can learn more. People say I look much younger than my age but I am dressed for success.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Customer Disservice

On a recent trip back from New Jersey, I ended up at the Charlotte Airport. Having consumed a liter of water, I needed to find the bathroom once I got off the plane. Little did I know that I was walking into a public bathroom with an attendant who proudly proclaimed:
“Welcome to my very clean bathroom.  I keep it nice and clean for you. How can I help you”

He said it seven times during the course of my visit. Over and over and over and over and over and over again. Truth be told, I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. 

With a tip jar on the counter surrounded by free hits of Listerine and some hard candies, I understand that this gentleman was trying to encourage people to tip him for keeping the bathroom clean and handing me a paper towel to dry my hands.

But I feel like this was taking customer service a bit too far. It felt odd and inappropriate to be hear his announcement repeated several times as I used the restroom. 

I don’t begrudge the man.  What I do question is why the airport feels the need to have a person in that room for hours on end in what felt like panhandling.  Why not pay him a better wage. 

Does the Charlotte Airport believe this is where I want an improved customer experienced? 

Yes, I want a clean bathroom. No, I don’t need someone telling me this seven times during my visit to the urinal. And his insistence on repeating the same message over and over was annoying not welcoming. Others in the room all looked around as if to ask, are we on Candid Camera? 

The Wrong Kind of Aid
A few days later, I needed a few things from the drug store. I have two choices, the Rite Aid or the Walgreens.  I avoid the Rite Aid because every time I enter, the cashier calls out, “Welcome to Rite Aid” in the most disingenuous voice possible.  It is as if she is saying, my boss makes me say this. It was not authentic; it was off-putting and worst of all it was not how human beings interact.  
Hey Mr. Rite Aid, don’t tell the cashier what to say. Just make sure she makes people feel welcomed in an honest and sincere fashion.
You are Welcomed
If you run a retail store or an online call center, how do you train your customer service people to be human beings and not automatons? Someone I know who does this for a living says he has  a few simple rules when he hires people for these types of jobs: 
  • Are they already friendly?
  • Are they naturally outgoing and comfortable with strangers?
  • Do they make you feel uncomfortable or weird?
  • Are they overbearingly polite? 

It is hard to train people to become friendly, outgoing and natural in conversation.  But it helps if you can start with someone who understand that their job is the so important because it is the welcome and smiling face that greets you when you begin your engagement with their brand. It is so important yet often the person doing this isn’t well-paid or encouraged to be themselves.

Whole Greetings
One company that has figured this out is Whole Foods. I always feel a significantly different welcome from their cashiers than at Harris Teeter, Food Lion or other traditional grocery chains. They take time to find people who are not identical. They hire people who are genuine and authentic in how they approach customers.  It rarely feels forced. It almost always feels, well – natural.

Acing It! 
Ace Hardware is another company that gets it. When I walk in the door, they have a person greet me and escort me to the aisle where they stock that special thing I need. They are helpful which is really what I care about most. I’m not a curmudgeon but I’m not there to chat. I want help finding what I need and I want to get in and out quickly. I don't like cloying, insincere greetings but I do like helpful hardware men (and women). 

How are you greeting your customers when they engage with your brand? What type of training does everyone at the front lines get and does it live up to the standards you have set?

Cartoon courtesy of Please visit their site for more laughs. 


For the best customer service on the planet, visit my 87 year old Mom Bea who is shown here making whitefish salad for the holidays. (the video on Youtube has the full recipe and is guaranteed to make you smile). 

Looking for some marketing coaching? Check out this link on Clarity where you can learn more. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Unzipping Your Voice

Listen to any podcast on marketing or go to any conference on content creation, and you’ll hear everyone talking about story telling. Storytelling is the oxygen that brands are breathing these days. In fact I am heading out to California to host a conference on this very topic: How story telling can help your brand be top of mind and close to the heart. We are fortunate to have Mark Schaefer, author, educator and successful marketing consultant presenting a keynote. Check out Mark's' work at Grow

But exactly how do you go about telling your story in a compelling way and how can you open up your brand voice to the world? 

Here are six thought starters to help you begin this process:

OBSERVE AND LISTEN: I like to look at the brands I compete with and understand what type of story they are telling? Are they talking about their features (faster, smaller, thinner or low in carbs?). Understand the competitive landscape so you can see how your story might resonate. Keep in mind you don’t just compete within your category but within your high usage occasion. So wine marketers compete with craft beer for that at home consumption or what gets consumed at dinner. And listen to your competitors voice and the stories they are telling. Whose voice is it you hear when they talk? Is it pushy, empathic or unclear? 

BRAND ESSENCE: What is the most essential aspect of your brand that your customer would describe?  If you drew a few concentric circles to represent the structure of your brand - on the outer circle of your brand would be features. But as you get to the center – the essence – what do you stand for? What big promise have you made to your consumers that allow them to trust you? Are you committed to making a sustainable and organic product and to manage your brand that way too?  Often one word (or at most a phrase) should exist in the center.

KNOW YOUR VOICE: When your customers close their eyes, whose voice do you want them to hear? Is it the wisdom of your grandmother who started your brand 75 years ago? Is it the sound of an overworked parent in search of peace and calm through technology? Is it the vibrant voice of a loud and brash tween with streaks running through their hair and tats on their arms?  Who speaks for you? If you created a commercial, whose voice would speak?

KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE: Who are you speaking to? I use a different voice when I talk to my mother than I do when I talk to a teenager. What is your audience looking for from you when you speak? Ideas, enlightenment, entertainment, calm, excitement, etc? Does your audience learn best when things are more formal or relax? Are they more male or female? Are they overworked and have short-attention spans or looking for more elaborate information, or both at different times? When and where does your audience learn about products and brands in your category? 

TONE: A brand voice exists with a certain tone and temperament. Is it upbeat or sedentary? Is it protective or private? Is it strident or laid back? Tone sets the table for how you want the consumer to feel as they absorb your message and listen to you talk with them. Think of the different tones you heard from various teachers in high school or college. Some were brash and other whispered. They all sent different messages to frame how you learned what they had to say. Pay attention to the tone of your voice. 

ASPIRATION:  A brand voice is like a tour guide taking you somewhere. The airline pilot in their soft and calming voice is telling you not just that you are at 30,000 feet but that you are in the hands of a safe protector who will take care of you. The voice of the personal trainer is pushing you along to get you in shape and a better physical body. The yoga instructor has a voice that helps you work toward a place of peace, tranquility and inner awareness. All of these voices help you transcend where you are towards a moment that is approaching. They are leading you somewhere on a journey. And in most cases, brands are moving you toward something you feel and aspire to achieve.

A Room Full of People 
A wise marketing colleague said to me a few years ago, that in searching for your brand voice, think of a room full of people. As each person speaks, they deliver a message in different ways. Some are outgoing and loud. Some are quiet and soft-spoken. A few are exaggerating the truth while others are meek and timid correcting every last detail of what they say. Some voices are deep and sonorous while a few are high and lilting. As you look around the room, whose voice comes closest to what you want to say to your customers.

Finally, another interesting way to help you find your brand’s voice is to think of famous people like celebrities, politicians and those who are well-known to the public. Is there a person who epitomizes the voice of your brand? Is Tom Hanks the voice of trust and friendliness that you want to emulate? Do you want an experienced, cocky rock star like Mick Jagger to be telling your story? Would a funny successful woman like Tina Fey be the voice of your brand if you could afford to sign her up? Or do you want to be seen as an ironic, witty and in your face brand where Sarah Silverman would be the perfect spokesperson.

The purpose of this exercise isn't to sign a million dollar star to be the voice of your brand, but to use that celebrity as a helpful way of identifying how you want your audience to hear your brand. 

In my snack food business days, we hired Macho Man Randy Savage, a well-known professional wrestler to be the voice of our brand. Literally and figuratively.  Like our product Slim Jim, Randy was engaged in a profession that was bold, brash and not-quite real; just like our actual dried smoked meat stick. He captured the pure irreverence of the brand and helped us stand apart from boring, wimpy snacks.  When we closed our eyes, we wanted Randy telling our story.

So if you are in search of how to tell your story, start with the question, who should be the voice and persona who represents our brand. Let your brand story come from understanding how your audience absorbs and learns information and how you want to world to see you. 

Who is speaking for your brand today? I'd love to hear your examples in the comment section below. 

Need a little excitement? Snap into a conversation with me through Clarity, a site that allows you to set up appointments with experts by the minute. I'm happy to coach and advise if I can be of help on marketing and start ups. Last week I helped coach someone who was struggling with issues related to focus of his time and energy to grow a baking business. How can I help you? 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

SurveyMonkey Time for My Readers

It is survey monkey time! 
While listening to Michael Hyatt's wonderful podcast this past Sunday morning, I realized how helpful it would be to ask questions of the readers who subscribe or visit my blog every day. Check out Michael's work at

Since 2009, I have written almost 400 posts and yet never considered how valuable it could be to get input from you who spend a little time each week with my thoughts and ideas. It illustrates how useful a marketing coach can be - even to someone who is a marketing professional. Hat tip to you Michael! 

My goal is to help make my blog even more helpful to the thousands of readers who tend to be involved in marketing. Some are novices and others are very experienced experts but my posts have struck a chord with many who have been willing to come back over and over again to read my work. For that I am truly grateful. 

If you have been a reader since day 1 or this is your first visit, your views and opinions will help me shape this blog. This survey has just 10 questions so it should take only a few minutes to complete. 

If you take the survey, you can get a free copy of my book in PDF form called UNRAVELING THE MYSTERIES OF MARKETING. This is a small gift from me to you to say thank you. There are instructions in the survey on how to get the free eBook. 

Just follow the link to the survey. And thank you Survey Monkey for making this so easy.