Sunday, November 25, 2012


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is the key to making everything better.

At least, it certainly seems that way.  Every time some expert gives "X Tips for Better [Anything]," one of the tips that comes up the most is, "keep things simple."

In marketing, it's often seen alongside classics such as, "do your research," and "test everything."

It's not just a marketing tip either.  You hear that same piece of advice in almost any discipline.  Martial artists will tell you that simple moves and tactics are often more effective than big, showy techniques(which is why MMA matches look nothing like Jet Li movies).  The same goes for sports.  And have you ever seen Kitchen Nightmares?  Gordon Ramsay talks about "simple recipes" so much you could make a drinking game of it(and some people have).

Keeping things simple makes it hard to get them wrong.  Simple messages are easy to understand, and simple executions are hard to screw up.

This is important in marketing because people are constantly trying to avoid you.  Marketing is intrusive, it gets in the way of what people really want.  It's an interruption of their favorite TV show, an extra page to turn to get to that article they want to read, or a sponsored post that they have to scroll past to see what their friends are up to.

But a simple message becomes almost impossible to ignore.  As soon as you see it, you understand it.  A simple execution makes things even better because the whole process is over as quick as possible.  There is a minimum amount of intrusion on the consumer's time, so they are much less irritated by the interruption.

This is not to say that complexity has no place.  Anyone who was into video games around 2004 might remember the I Love Bees campaign to promote Halo 2.  People were required to stand by pay phones waiting for them to ring, share information with others from around the world, and crack codes, often with no idea what those codes were for.

Thousands of people from around the world participated, the website was viewed by over 3 million visitor in three months, and the campaign won several awards.

If you want another great example of complicated promotions, look at almost anything Red Bull is doing these days.  Their extreme-sports powered Rube Goldberg device(dubbed The Athlete Machine) is probably more complicated and daring than anything that would ever be dreamt of by other marketers.

Because of the complexity of these campaigns, a casual consumer cannot simply glance at it, get the message, and then move on.  It acts as a filter so only the more dedicated consumers will bother with the content.

With this smaller, more dedicated audience comes an incredible level of engagement.  Unlike the intrusive ads that people try to avoid, these campaigns will be sought out and shared by the consumers.

As I already said, though, simple makes things easy.  Making another campaign like I Love Bees requires experienced professionals who know how to pull that sort of thing off, as well as a sizable budget.  It's not something a small business with just an intern would want to attempt.

In Marketing-and martial arts, and cooking, and life-complexity can have its place, but you can't go wrong with keeping things simple.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Time to Ditch Demographic Profiling

Right now the marketing industry is being weighed down by a tool that has outlived its usefulness: demographic profiles - the idea that you can group people by age or income level and most people in those groups will be pretty similar.

Now, I know I'm not the first person to rail against the age-old use of demographics - a lot of people before me have said that they need to go(usually while promoting the rise of psychographics) - but the thing is, people are still using them!

You hear marketers talk all the time about how their campaign did really well among the 18-24 demographic, or how they're planning on targeting women age 30-49, and every time I hear that I roll my eyes a little.

Why are we still using this outdated tool?  I know why we started.

Once Upon a Time...

Demographic profiles used to be a pretty good way to figure out who your consumers were and how to target them.  When I say "used to be," I mean in the 50s and 60s, when people's roles in society were much stricter.  You could split society into groups, and those groups were pretty homogenized.

A white, middle-class man either went into the military or college(or maybe went straight to the work force), got a job, got married, had kids, and then worked until they retired.  If a woman wasn't the one that the man married and had kids with, she was either a secretary, nurse, or a teacher.  And if you weren't white, you probably went into the service industry.

Society didn't really like people who were different.  If you were different, you probably bought a lot of the same things anyway just to fit in.

But then society started to change.  Women started to get jobs - jobs that weren't teacher, nurse, or secretary.  White collars started to be worn by people who weren't white.  Some people began to put off going to college or starting their career.  People became more tolerant of those who were different.

Demographics persisted because, despite their growing inaccuracy, they were still the most efficient option.  Getting detailed information on a person's buying habits and cross-referencing that with other people's buying habits to form new groups was a daunting task.

Until the internet.

Now - thanks largely to Facebook and Google - marketers have easy access to all kinds of information about their consumers.  So much access, in fact, that an entire industry has risen up around gathering and organizing that data.

Marketers are left with no excuse.  There is no reason to target "males age 18-25" to sell kayaks to when they can target "people who go kayaking."

In this age of big data, old-school demographic profiles have reached a new height of obsolescence.  They are, at best, grossly ineffective.  At worst, they are downright harmful to society.

Useless and Dangerous

Think about it: what is the "average 25-year-old white female" like?  Did she just graduate from college and is focusing on her career, or did she settle down early and start a family?  Does she like to go out dancing, or stay in and watch sitcoms and reality TV?  Or would she rather play Call of Duty, or read Lord of the Rings?

Assuming that any of those activities are "normal" would be insulting to every woman who didn't enjoy them, and assuming they aren't "normal" would be insulting to every woman who did.

That's not to mention the danger of what Seth Godin recently called the "false proxy trap."

Let's say that a research group discovers that a certain subset of middle-class women in their early 30s have focused on getting a good education and having a successful career, but are now taking some time to relax, meet new people, and have fun.  So the research group determines that middle-class women in their early 30s would be a good group to target for a dance class.

An ad agency, using "middle-class women age 30-35" as a false proxy for that subset, decides to place an ad during The Price Is Right, because a lot of women in that demographic watch that show.

Except the women watching The Price Is Right are stay-at-home moms who don't have time to go out dancing.  The entire ad budget is wasted.

Demographic profiling may have been the best tool of its time, but that time has passed.  Now, like any other tool that's past its prime, it is ineffective when it does work, and dangerous when it doesn't.  Marketers have so many shiny new tools at their disposal, it's time to put those to work and leave the old rusted demographics behind.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Socia Media Is the New Television

There are few guarantees in this world - death, taxes, night following day - but one of the greatest and surest guarantees, encompassing all others, is change.  No matter how huge, how powerful, how entrenched something seems, things will change.  Nothing will last forever.

This might sound depressing to some, but I think it's incredibly exciting.  To think that no matter how important and integral to society something may seem, one day things will be completely different.

Technologies will emerge, fads will disappear, and society will move on.

The perfect example of this is television.  At the end of the twentieth century, TV was fairly ubiquitous.  True, not every home had one, but those were the outliers, the oddballs.  If you met anyone, regardless of their social status, if they had a home and electricity, you could assume they had a TV.  And you would probably be right.

It was like a super-weapon for marketers.  A spot in primetime on the right station could be guaranteed an audience of millions.  Repeat it a few times on a few different stations, and the entire country would know of your product.  Or you could target a more local population using the network affiliates, and certain demographics through specific cable networks and shows.

Then high-speed internet came along, and with it came streaming services like Hulu, as well as less legitimate services like Bit Torrent.  Around the same time, Tivo appeared, and cable companies introduced their own DVRs to compete.  Now people are able to watch what they want whenever they want with little or no commercials.

What's more, there is no centralization.  In addition to Hulu, people can go to the network website, Netflix, or any of several other services to watch a show.  There is no one place where a marketer can put their ad and expect all the fans of a show to see it.

But there is another side to this coin.  With the rise of high-speed internet came social media.  Now there are over 1 billion people on Facebook.  That's 1 out of every 7 people on the planet.  If you're looking at just a first-world country like America, that ratio becomes closer to 1 out of every 2.

And with social media, brands can talk with their fans, know exactly who is buying their products and listening to their messages, and get instant feedback.

With television, the use of demographics was really just very educated guesswork.  If you sold snowboards, your customers would probably be watching the winter X-games, so you would make sure you had a lot of ads during those games.

On social media, you can easily seek out the people near your store who are interested in snowboarding, and not waste your time on people who might be watching, but won't be buying.

Social media has all the reach that television once had, and far more power and flexibility than would have ever been possible with TV.  Our world has changed.  Social media is the new television.