Sunday, January 14, 2018

Low Friction Marketing

Ice skater in orange and black quickly moving right with the text "low friction marketing" on black letters on the rightWhat does marketing mean to your organization? Is marketing an operational expense or a profit center? The difference is not academic. It can mean leaving thousands or millions of dollars in profits on the table. In fact, marketing should be a leveraged asset to your company; it should transform a small operational investment into a much larger bottom-line improvement, today and overtime.
Exceptional marketing transcends the sum of marketing activities. This is a case where the 'whole' is much larger than the parts. Two companies can easily invest the same time  and money into equivalent marketing activities and still achieve completely different results.
Female Millennial Marketing Guru taking a selfie with extreme body languageSo how to know the difference? Let's start from the beginning. You hire a marketing expert. She looks the part; from fashionable dressing, to accentuated body language, to chic enunciation. All her descriptions rely on colorful images that seem to float in midair. Her marketing strategy is loaded with the latest trends in social media. Needless to say, it's hard to argue against any of it.
But how effective is all that? A little over 12 Years ago, marketing gurus exulted the value of Flash coding. Flash promised to be a fantastic way to make your website stand out over the crowd while making it much more interesting and entertaining. Thankfully, time proved that your online consumers don't have the attention characteristics of a two-year-old. After every website in the planet attempted to maximize the use of Flash, the hyperactive graphics slowed downloading and made them all look commonly noisy and annoying. Rather than standing over the crowd, they all became the crowd.
Today, we have worked our way back into the time-tested method of simplicity. The almost pale looking websites of today are easier to read and navigate. There's a lot to be said about simple and effective messaging.
Composite image in black and white of made up add for AMC Pacer with the text "New AMC Pacer. The first wide small car".
Yes, time proved that Flash gurus were wrong. This is because time is a ruthless judge. Almost all the must-have marketing trends of yesterday have reverted over time. Even AMC's Pacer was revered by the gurus after its launch. Disgusting indeed. I anticipate that the same reversion to the mean awaits the must-have trends of today. Regression from these extremes is normal.
But how is it possible? Aren't we a society that constantly demands progress? Don't we need marketing to evolves at the same pace as technology? Well, the answer is no. As for the reason, it's a simple one. Humans don't evolve at the same rate as technology. Our bodies have hardly changed for the last million years. While our mental processing has increased, we're doing it with the same old hardware.
Meanwhile, our environment is as noisy as ever. The number of things clamoring for our attention have certainly increased. As a result, it's simple and clear messages that gain our attention.
Composite image over white background of a pile of remotes on the left and an iPod on the right.
Think of the fact that tens of thousands of the most brilliant engineers and marketers continue to design ever more complex remote controllers for the many electronics around us. Every extra button promises to open a gate to a new feature. Moreover, consumer electronic manufacturers argued that a dependency on specifications made innovative technology intrinsically male. In other words, a larger number of buttons meant a higher degree of masculinity. Not surprisingly, they were very wrong. Remote control users, male and female, continued to ignore most of such buttons. Average users relied on a few familiar buttons for their operational needs. This meant that, to most people, most evolutionary changes in technology remained unnecessary.
And then something brilliant took place. Apple introduced the iPod. A little electronic gizmo smaller than most remotes. Remarkably, the iPod needed only two buttons to give access to a plethora of features and functions. The rest, as they say, is history. A revolution in consumer acceptance took place. Apple's products, lacking technological superiority over their competitors, became incredibly successful thanks to their simplicity. Contrast this with the fact that NOKIA phones where once the most advanced cell phones in the pre-smartphone era. Still, NOKIA sales in the biggest market in the world, the US, failed against all metrics. Apple's experience demonstrated that a holistic approach to marketing is paramount. It's essential to understand users and their nature. Humans gravitate towards simplicity.
In engineering terms, we're talking about low friction interfaces between the technology and the user. Any engineer will easily understand the idea that low friction is essential when designing a mechanical device. An engine with too many rods, exchangers, transformers and connections will result in excessive friction and a subsequent loss of energy. Aside from being deficient, the engine will inevitably self-destruct.
Generally, low friction is achieved through minimalist designs. In the same way, the conversion from technology to user experience goes through different interfaces that can result in predicted losses and perhaps catastrophic failure. This is what happens when your products and services are rejected by consumers regardless of innovation value.
BOSE makes some of the lowest quality consumer electronics products in the world. Have you ever heard professionals in the industry say "no highs, no lows, must be BOSE?" Still, these guys are masters of low friction selling, marketing and use. As a result, their consumers love BOSE widgets so much that they're willing to certify their affinity by paying the highest price premiums in the industry. Yes, BOSE like Apple know the bottom line value of low friction marketing.
But isn't marketing only about advertising and using social media? Again, no. Opening an Apple device is such an experience that hundreds of people document the process and share it over YouTube for anyone to see. Look it up. This means that properly designed packaging can give so much satisfaction as to create a viral wave. Talk about marketing effectiveness. Two companies create packaging at the same expense. One goes unnoticed while the other increases sales by transforming packaging into a profit center.
The American Marketing Association defines marketing as "creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." They have clearly adopted the holistic view. Notice that their definition is not limited to just creating demand for a product or service. It is also worth considering the fact that they're not saying anything about social media which is today's buzzword everywhere.
composite image of "fired"sign on the left and steve jobs at the right, all over white background.Look at any marketing job description today and you will find that every one of them demands search engine optimization (SEO) and social media excellence. Under such conditions, Steve Jobs would never land a marketing job. Both SEO and social media reflect expertise on database and algorithm design. Neither have anything to do with understanding human nature; something that separated Steve Jobs from the rest.
Before our ubiquitous use of smart phones and tablets as personal assistants, Apple had a product called Newton that require a stylus. There's no doubt that the Newton deployed the latest and technology at that time. Still, Steve Jobs discontinued the product because the need for a stylus meant that consumers couldn't use their fingers to operate it. The stylus was an unwelcomed additional step in the user's experience. Steve Jobs waited until touchscreen technology made the iPad and iPhone possible. To create incredible success, Steve Jobs focused on human nature rather than technology.
composite image of social media names and logos in the background and two black and white people covering their ears in front of itBut can all job listings demanding SEO and social media expertise be wrong? Is it possible that social media is useless? Unfortunately the answer isn't so simple. Yes, most human resource departments are blinded by the social media fad. The noise is deafening in this zero-sum game.
Yet, social media use doesn't have to be a waste of time. Consider one of the most expensive kitchen utensils available in the market: a Bledtech blender. Yes, even something as basic as the time-tested kitchen blender can become exciting enough to go viral. But simply going viral isn't valuable enough. Real value resides in the tens of thousands of consumers who happily opened their wallets to pay a five-times premium for one of these machines. Blendtec created a series of YouTube videos that highlighted the durable nature of their blenders. Through a simply-produced series of videos, viewers can indulge all their destructive desires as anything from cubic zirconia to iPhone's are pulverized by a Blentec blender. Everything becomes liquefied; literally. Even Costco couldn't ignore the videos'effectiveness. In a world of highly commoditized products with perpetually lower profits, Blendtec found a path to extreme profits and a much wider distribution network than would normally be the case for such a niche product. Throughout, Blendtec's advertising costs remain very low by all marketing standards.
And then there's those who spend just to spend. It's said that Coca-Cola knows that 50% of their marketing budget is wasteful. Their problem is that they don't know which 50%. Don't make the same mistake. Many companies treat marketing expenses as pacifiers. Their leaders are emotionally satisfied only after continuing to spend on the same untested marketing efforts. Department managers are giving their marketing budgets with the expectation that they will spend all the funds. This is detrimental to your bottom line and produces no value to society. Everybody loses.
image of farmer following a herd of sheep.In a nutshell, understand your users, consumers, partners, distributors, buyers, sponsors and even your own salespeople. Focus on their fundamental nature. Make products and services that they all can resonate with. Communicate such resonating values to all of them in a simple and succinct fashion. Reduce all interface frictions. Measure all performance and don't waste your money. Finally, don't follow the herd and deploy low friction marketing. To be remarkable and effective, it's essential that your marketing stays clear of all trend noise and lands precisely over the fundamental human nature.

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