Monday, April 25, 2011

Don't be the 'dead fish'

The handshake can make or break your first impression.

When meeting someone for the first time, more often than not your first interaction with them is a handshake.  It may seem like a small, perhaps insignificant, detail but your handshake can be the difference between a positive first impression and a negative one.  We’ve all had good and bad handshakes: the firm handshake with eye contact versus the ‘dead-fish’.  The cliché isn’t wrong: first impressions cast a mold that once set, is difficult to change.

In marketing, there are few exceptions to this rule.

Let’s look at one of the most basic and simple marketing models we’ve all learned: AIDA.  Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.  On the face of it, it’s a simple model that helps to guide marketers through the stages of consumer interest.  Traditionally, and correctly I might add, marketers have spent the 50 years trying to carve out their 4-P’s in order to grab attention, drive interest, create desire and encourage action.  It’s part of the way marketers do their job, but I feel that things are starting to change.  The change isn’t a revolution, but rather a small modification to the existing model. 

In today’s marketing world, you need to control more than your 4-P’s, you need to control your C’s.
-          It’s not about Place, it’s about Convenience.
-          It’s not about your Price, it’s about the Cost.
-          It’s not about designing your Product, it’s about meeting Customer Needs
-          It’s not about Promotion, it’s about Communication
-          And finally, you need to have all these things and then create a Connection.

Creating and controlling a brand hinges on being able to control your consumer’s brand experience.  This involves all of these C’s: how is the product designed to meet customer needs?  How is it more conveniently designed or available?  Where is it found?  But increasingly, brand experiences are being built in the consumer’s mind even before they have ever touched or tangibly interacted with your product or service.  Consumers are having their first impressions of your brand even before they cross the threshold of your store, and this is why two elements, communication and connection, are fast becoming the most important tools for branding in particular.  With technology becoming faster, more available and its use more prevalent, consumers are looking to the internet and the social networks for their information.  This means that the seed of experience is being sown without it coming from the marketer directly.

I want to expand the AIDA model, more specifically the Attention/Awareness part.  Within Attention, I feel we can create a flow of stages: Awareness -> Experience -> Response.  Based on this first impression with the brand, the consumer will become aware of the brand’s existence, experience and soak in brand information and perceptions and then have a response to those stimuli.  These stages happen almost simultaneously, as these initial perceptions are quickly processed and rebuilt into emotional and rational responses, all before the consumer ever enters the Interest stage of the AIDA model.  A positive response will result from a positive first impression: a relationship is created with the consumer and it is more likely to initiate the movement towards interest.  A negative response will result from a negative first impression: no relationship is created, your brand and your communications will be seen as noise, tuned out and the consumer is more likely to move on.

Once the seeds have been sown, the interest a consumer has in your brand (a product of the relationship created by the brand’s first impression) can be influenced.  However, if there was no relationship created by that impression, you’re going to have to work ten times as hard for any given shift and turn your branding into buying.

Does this mean that marketers are losing control of their brand’s first experience in the mind of the consumer?  Absolutely not, controlling your brand experience is still possible and even more important than ever before.  There are two pieces to the puzzle: 1) you need to ensure your first brand experience is available to the consumer by putting your brand where the consumers are and 2) you need to nurture those relationships.   Forums, consumer reviews, corporate websites and social media have become among the most important tools for creating and enriching brand experiences and as marketers, we need to focus on controlling and monitoring these sources.   Having a presence on the internet is crucial, but being on the internet and having social media doesn’t mean having a mouthpiece for spewing information.  It’s about putting yourself out there, but just as importantly seeing what others are saying about you and responding to consumer questions and concerns.  The beauty of social media is that it encourages two-way communication and allows marketers to speak directly with consumers and engage  them in a conversation.  It’s no longer ‘word of mouth’, it’s ‘word of click’.  You need to monitor the internet for how consumers feel about your product and what kind of experiences they’re having to better craft your brand messaging and respond to any negative impressions.  Respond to the negative just as much (if not more!) than the positive: make sure your best foot is forward and that you’re communicating the information you want to put out there and if you’re not, keep your ear to the ground, listen and respond.

There is a caveat to all of this, but it is a caveat that applies to any decision making process a marketer needs to follow: what does success look like?  Social media is a tool in the tool belt, not a magical elixir.  Simply being on the internet does not mean you are improving your brand experience.  Having a Twitter account does not mean anything unless you know where it fits in your overall strategy for supporting your brand.  As with making any decision, before you go anywhere, you need to ask yourself:

1)      What does success look like?  - What is it exactly that I am trying to accomplish?  Where am I trying to take our brand?  Where do we want to be and when do we need to get there?
2)      How will I know when I am there? – How can you measure your success?  Number of likes on Facebook?  Twitter followers?  These are not good metrics.  Better metrics include an increase in sales due to consumer involvement, or the conversion from prospective to owners from brand involvement.  How many people did you bring into your car dealership through your brand experience?  How many of your consumers are interacting with your brand online?  How many people are becoming brand advocates for your brand?  How much of an influence are these brand advocates having on the neutral consumer?  What pieces of data can you collect to know if you were successful or not?  Are your results going to be measurable?  This is often the most difficult part of the decision process.
3)      What resources do I have at my disposal? – How much time, how many people and how much money are available to support this goal?  Be realistic: it takes a lot of people a lot of time to keep a finger on the pulse of the market, to react and respond and consistently support the brand.

With more consumers interacting with your brand for the first time electronically, you need to make sure you make the right impression.  Get practicing your handshake.

*** Author’s Note:  Happy Easter!  I had an excellent weekend home with family, and that is always time well spent.  I’ve finally managed to get all of these ideas to paper, after many flights of scribbling, diagramming and polishing.  It’s amazing how many ideas can hit you at thirty thousand feet!  Thanks to another great marketer Kayla Kneisel for her keen eyes and help.  I hope everyone had a great weekend and I apologize for the delay!***