Tag Archives: market research

January 2012 Thoughts

The January 2012 Thoughts That Count from NextLevel Thinking: Can’t Miss Marketing Approach “In marketing, I’ve seen only one strategy that can’t miss…and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last.” {John Romero}

September 2011 Thoughts

The September 2011 Thoughts That Count from NextLevel Thinking: Let Them Know What You Are Doing “For a business not to market and advertise is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing but no one else does.” {Stuart H. Britt, US Advertising Consultant}

The Future of Marketing Communications

The science and art of marketing communications has long been misunderstood. When times get tough, this is typically the budget that is reduced or eliminated. However, countless studies show that this approach is usually a mistake. In fact, those same studies point out that a down economy is usually the best time to gain market share from your competitors. The reason that this is one of the first budgets to get cut is unclear. However, most executives, especially those from non-marketing disciplines, view marketing as a “soft” expense. If done correctly, marketing is anything but soft. In fact, marketing is just as important as any of the other disciplines in your business such as accounting, finance, sales, etc.

I would even argue that marketing is the most important discipline in your business because it deals with the motivations that drive your customers and potential customers to purchase your product or service. Most market driven organizations use this information to not only design their marketing communications, but also to influence the entire customer experience. The sales discipline is a close second for obvious reasons. However, a well thought out and well-executed marketing communications program will certainly build name recognition, which will effectively open doors for your sales team.

So, what is a well thought out and well executed marketing communications program? I decided to find this out by doing some homework on the industry. I first conducted a thorough secondary research study of the trends, shifts, and new developments to understand the current and developing market dynamics. I then reviewed the landscape, consisting of advertising agencies, general consulting/strategy firms, think tanks, branding firms, interactive agencies, direct marketing firms, innovation firms, sales motivation/enablement/consulting firms, design firms, marketing consulting/strategy firms, CRM software firms, and database marketing firms, to find out what each type of firm was saying about themselves.

The exercise was fascinating and the results were very instructive. After countless hours searching, reading, surfing and discussing, I was able to boil down the findings into what I call “the pillars of success” in the marketing communications industry. These pillars of success are not driven by what marketing communication firms want to offer, but by what businesses need to make them successful. The three pillars of success are: the customer, measurability and business perspective.

The focus on marketing in the future is going to be one-on-one customer relationships instead of a one-to-many mass-market approach. Many predict that creative people in marketing and advertising will spend less time trying to appeal to a mass audience and more on niche groups. In fact, the term brand will describe a more holistic way of looking at the customer. The brand of tomorrow will represent the company. The brand will reflect the company’s attributes and the personal relationships it enjoys with each customer. Therefore, your organization must look at all of its’ touch points to really improve the customer experience. Focusing on good products and services should come first and a solid brand will follow. All of the trends point to the fact that maintaining a running dialogue with your customers is the wave of the future. It will take a mix of direct marketing concepts and 360 degree marketing to make this happen.

As the focus moves to the customer, the ability to not only measure, but also generate positive returns on your invested marketing dollar will be a key factor in future marketing programs. The fact that much of this work will be based on direct marketing concepts will make this easier to measure. Executives within organizations are insisting on measurability. If they are going to invest money in the business, they want to know what type of return they are going to get for that investment. They argue that marketing should not be any different than the other business disciplines. The fact that this has not traditionally been done very well in marketing gives some a reason to be concerned. Others will take advantage of this fact and marketing will be viewed as a strategic discipline within their business instead of the traditional cost center.

The ability of an organization to view marketing from a business perspective will be very important to that organization’s success in the future. In the past, the typical marketing organization didn’t always link their programs to business objectives. At best, they were talked about but never really tied together. As mentioned earlier in the article, the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider product redesign, overhauling the supply chain, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other business focused variables.

When a company is looking for an outside firm to assist with their marketing challenges, it has been suggested that the way forward lies with “virtual” lead agencies, who advise at a strategic marketing level, and then bring in, as required, excellence in the marketing communication disciplines such as advertising, public relations, direct response etc. During the next decade, marketing firms/advertising agencies will break into three types of companies: ideation firms, realization firms, and media companies. Realization firms would carry out the concepts of ideation firms. To some extent, this has already begun to happen. Because of the commission system, many advertising agencies are uncomfortable pitching for work that doesn’t have an advertising outcome. Many executives are aware of this fact. Therefore, because of the necessary business focus discussed above, traditional management consultants are now making many of the important high-end strategic marketing decisions. In fact, a recent survey of top marketing executives found that 60% of respondents believe that management consultants are a significant threat. This is not necessarily great news. Management consultants have traditionally excelled at data processing and organizational change, while not being highly rated for the creativity of their solutions. These consultancies often focus on stripping out costs rather than adding value. The shift to creative, value adding, profit driven solutions is a big one.

In summary, marketing communication firms of all origins will be trying to reinvent themselves in the future. The enviable position will be ideation firms that provide customer driven, business focused ideas that will help a company grow. The key for realization firms is twofold: To be successfully linked with an ideation firm or firms that can feed them business, and to focus on their core competency in becoming the best realization firm in their category.

You Have a Website. Great! But, Can Anyone Find It?

By now, most businesses and organizations understand the importance of having a website. Many spend thousands of dollars to design a beautiful site with professional photography, state-of-the-art graphics and Flash animation. They complete the design, launch the site, breathe a sigh of relief and check that off the “To-Do” list.

Not so fast. Just because a company has a website, doesn’t mean anyone knows about it or can even find it for that matter. Before we dig deeper into what makes a website effective, let’s think about who we’d like to visit our site and what route they are traveling through cyberspace to land there.

Most people who visit a website have reached that destination in one of two ways:

#1 – They were directly driven to the site by typing in the URL address, provided to them through some marketing piece like a link in an email blast, a business card or a brochure. Most likely, these people are existing clients, contacts already in your database or direct referrals. In other words, you already have access to these people in one way or another.

#2 – Other people, the ones who could potentially be the most valuable visitors to your website, find you by searching keywords or phrases that are relevant to your business/organization on Google and other search engines. I say these folks could be the most valuable because they are the coveted “new leads,” those potential clients that you didn’t have access to before.

Websites are a great resource for new business, but only if web surfers can easily find your site through search engines. That means your site should ideally come up in the first 10 search listings on search engine results pages.

That’s where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes into play. You can easily test your site’s “searchability” by plugging in relevant keywords in Google to see how you rank. Always remember to ask yourself what words or phrases the average person might search if looking for information about your type of business.

For example, if you own a brake repair shop in Spokane, Washington, you could assume someone might search the phrase “Spokane brake repair.” If you test out a few key phrases and find that your business doesn’t show up on the first page (or any page) of the major search engines, then you know you need to do a little SEO tweaking on your website.

SEO can get pretty complicated and, depending on your level of knowledge, interest and available time, you can try to educate yourself and tackle it personally or employ a consultant to help you.

Whether you do it yourself or get help, you should understand how search engines work. In a nutshell, search engines send out bits of computer code called spiders that crawl around the web looking for information on web pages. The spiders read the information and then store it in a giant database for the future benefit of searchers. This is called “indexing.” Sophisticated algorithmic functions determine the most relevant results to deliver based on the search term.

There are two major factors that impact your search engine rankings: On Page and Off Page elements.

On Page elements are things you can actually see on your website, like the page title or Title Tag (which is visible in the area above the URL window), the headlines and the copy. All of these On Page elements should contain keywords, those key phrases used by the “Average Joe” on Google. The more you use keywords (appropriately) on your site, the more likely your site will show up in the search engines.

While On Page elements are important and a more tangible concept to grasp; Off Page factors now have the greatest impact on search engine ranking. Once people got wise to the magic of keywords, some unethical webmasters started “stuffing” their sites with these phrases – even when it didn’t make sense. Google caught on and modified its algorithm for determining search relevance. Now, instead of ranking based solely on the copy on your site, Google places a heavier emphasis on how others promote your site as a resource. That’s what Off Page SEO refers to. It’s looking at the general trust and authority of a domain based on the quality of incoming links and the sheer number of links to a specific page from other sites. It’s also looking at the Anchor Text, which are the words used in the clickable portion of a link that appears on another website.

You can increase your Off Page SEO by encouraging other businesses in your industry to link to your site as a resource. This could be accomplished by a link building email blast campaign. Be sure to send the complete link you want displayed on their page, along with Anchor Text. Publishing a blog is another effective way to get people to visit your site. It also helps position you as an expert in your industry, as long as your postings are worthwhile.

There’s much more involved in increasing a site’s search engine ranking and it takes time; but the results are measurable. Just be sure to take note of your ranking when you get started so you can document your progress. In addition to ranking, you should also track the number of visitors to your site each month, using a tool like Google Analytics.

Increasing your web traffic means nothing if you don’t capture the contact information of your visitors so you can convert surfers to customers. Add a “subscribe to our blog or newsletter” feature so you can add their email addresses to your database for ongoing communication and cultivation.

By optimizing your website, you’ve transformed it into an active marketing tool that is constantly attracting and adding new business leads to your arsenal. If you keep your content fresh and compelling and you continue to monitor your ranking and traffic, your site could do more for you than a team of high-paid sales people.

About the Author

Mary Walter-Brown is the owner of Brown Ideas, a strategic marketing firm specializing in multi-media marketing solutions, and a strategic marketing consultant for NextLevel Thinking. Mary has a diverse background with more than 17 years of experience in television news, corporate video production, public relations and marketing.

Envisioning Your Brand

Determining your brand is not only a complex undertaking, it is also very personal when done properly.

Much like dieting (because I can relate everything to dieting!), building your brand is very much a lifestyle change. It is much more than the right graphics. A one-time project it is not. Your brand should be comprised of the company’s personality, vision, core competencies and mission. The impressions that you make, as well as the words people will use to describe your company to others, are the basic framework of your brand.

So when Incept decided to get laser-focused on the blood bank industry, it became very clear that our existing brand – which, at the time, had taken somewhat of a “be everything to everyone” approach – was not going to get us where we wanted to go. After much deliberation on the right approach, we decided to enlist the help of NextLevel Thinking. NextLevel Thinking is a strategic marketing firm that has extensive experience in the blood bank industry, so our decision to partner with them was, well, strategic!

I sat down with NextLevel Thinking’s managing partner, Eric Poerschke, to ask him some questions about defining the Incept brand…

Billie: “What were the steps taken to begin the process of brand identification for Incept?”

Eric: “Incept has a great reputation and relationship with their blood center clients, so we started there. We asked their clients what they liked most/least; we asked about strengths and weaknesses, etc. All in all, we spent a considerable amount of time with each client to learn that the one thing Incept does best is care more about the client’s goals and objectives, in many cases, than the clients do themselves.”

Billie: “And how does information that strong develop into a brand?”

Eric: “It became clear to us when talking to Incept’s clients that they had a unique ability to converse with blood donors in a way that made the donor feel good about what they were going to do. This is where the term “conversational marketing” at Incept was born.

Another strength that we uncovered was Incept’s ability to understand their client’s needs. In fact, we feel like Incept puts their clients and their client’s customers at the center of ALL they do.”

Billie: “What are the key elements being used today to deliver this information?”

Eric: “The most significant elements are the Incept Listen and Incept Lead philosophies. Incept Listen is an in-depth analysis of a blood center’s goals, objectives and best practices. This is a great way for Incept and their clients to get to know each other in a way that ultimately ends up being mutually beneficial.

The result is Incept Lead, a formal, comprehensive, written road map that clearly defines the blood center’s successes and challenges, and ultimately offers recommendations for the future to ensure goals and objectives are met.

What’s powerful about these processes are that they take place on an ongoing basis which ensures that strategies stay current and new objectives are always considered.”

Billie: “If you could tell our readers one thing about Incept, what would that be?”

Eric: “Incept is a company where relationships matter more than anything else. As a result, they really do care about their client’s results. Incept’s clients knew this all along. Our job was to develop the message that told the rest of the world.”

Thanks go out to Eric for taking the time to talk with me.

I’d love to hear from all of you about your brand. How did you develop it? What does it mean to you?

Talk to me. I’m listening…

About the Author

Billie Johnson is the Vice President of New Client Results at Incept. Incept is a conversational marketing firm that specializes in developing and strengthening relationships with your current and potential clients, on your behalf.

Billie has over 16 years of experience in developing strategic campaigns that engage audiences in productive and meaningful conversations on behalf of client organizations. For over 11 years, Billie and the team at Incept have focused their efforts on having conversations that educate and inspire donors across the nation to help save lives.

NextLevel Thinking Wins Prestigious Marketing Award

HOUSTON, TX (May 25, 2004) — NextLevel Thinking, one of Houston’s premier strategic marketing firms, announced today that it received a Crystal Award from the Houston American Marketing Association (AMA) for Campaign of the Year.

Crystal Awards recognize various categories of marketing projects that have used creativity to achieve exceptional business results in a best of class manner. The award presented at the 18th Annual AMA Crystal Award banquet was for Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center’s Commit for Life campaign.

“Winning a Crystal is a big honor for us and more importantly for The Blood Center,” says Eric Poerschke, managing partner of NextLevel Thinking. “The panel of judges comprised of former AMA chapter presidents represents some of the best marketing minds in the country and we are proud of this achievement.”

The objective of the television campaign is to redefine what it means to be a regular blood donor. It turns the dreaded needle into the face of a loved one. It focuses on life. It pulls at the heartstrings of those that do donate and those that would donate.

The simple spots are very specific in their message, but the emotion and the appeal to donate blood once a quarter is very compelling. The pictures are of actual donors and recipients from our region and they are the focus of this campaign. In simple terms, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center is getting out of the blood business and into the life business.

NextLevel Thinking Receives Life Giver Award

HOUSTON, TX (March 2004) – The Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center highlighted the success of its growing Group Program with “A Celebration of Life” luncheon and awards ceremony. Blood drive groups that chose to Commit for Life by hosting at least one blood drive per quarter and collecting at least 100 donations in 2003 were each honored with a “Path for Success” Award.

The main event was the presentation of special category awards for groups and chairpersons that have gone above and beyond to achieve outstanding results. A special Life Giver award was given to Eric Poerschke and Kirk Loudon, partners in NextLevel Thinking, in appreciation of their efforts and commitment!

“NextLevel Thinking is extremely honored and thankful to have the opportunity to work with such a first class organization,” said Eric Poerschke. “This award is the result of the great partnership that our firm has with Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.”

The Blood Center partnered with Houston-based strategic marketing firm NextLevel Thinking to develop and implement the Commit for Life brand, which also includes programs designed to increase participation from groups that host blood drives, blood drive volunteers and high schools.