QR Codes and Other Marketing Myths

Does anyone think QR codes are the answer to our marketing problems? Of course not. Anyway, let's hope not. But they are symptomatic of a bigger problem.

A recent article about the generally poor consumer adoption of QR codes got me thinking about all of the reasons that might be true. Then it hit me, probably because the article said it very clearly:

QR codes are pushed by brands, not people. This isn't the path to mass adoption.

That's absolutely right. We live in a world where people are in charge. People decide that Friendster, or MySpace, or Facebook, or Twitter is going to be the next big thing. Then brands race to catch up.

The other way around doesn't work. Kids today don't give a damn about what the brands are into. (Sorry, I just like saying "kids today." Makes me feel old.) But brands better know and care about what the kids are into.

I think it's funny that Rebel gets branded as an out of the box thinker. We don't sit around and come up with wild ideas. Instead, we go out into the world, and on the web, and make sure we know all about what consumers want, and what they're already doing.

Our best ideas come from identifying things that consumers already like to do, and then thinking about all of the ways a client make those things better. We think about how brands can give back to culture, and then how to use that to create business results.

This is the future of marketing, and the present. If you aren't thinking about how to make people's lives better, what are you thinking about?

Know the Ledge...

So you think you understand how to market to Gen Y. Perhaps you've run some focus groups and and subscribed to one of those great trend reports. If so, you may be privy to eye-opening information such as: their favorite brand is Apple, they don't trust advertising, and they really like brands who do something positive for the environment. Profound.

Well, as this New York Times article illustrates, there's a strong possibility that you don't know sh!t. Here's a little sample, just an example…

The 20s are a black box, and there is a lot of churning in there. One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

"Why does this matter?" you ask. Because if you're going to sell to them, you need to understand them as people.

On a basic level, your demographics are skewed. Income levels have different meanings if someone lives at home. And if they're not saving for a wedding, they have opportunities to do different things with their money.

But it goes so much deeper than that. These people live differently than you, which means they think differently than you, or than what you're used to. They have different ideals, priorities, values. And the things that motivate them to spend with you are probably not immediately apparent. You might think that the cool Facebook app is enough to be down with the kids, but lasting success depends on developing an intimate understanding of who your customers really are.

How to do that is a topic for another post. If you're serious about, we can help you. For now, let's just say it may mean getting out from behind your desk and doing a little real work out in the field. Are you ready?

We the People...

There's so much evidence that in this World 2.0, it's power to the people. It's not just agency websites telling us this. The mainstream news to major universities all say the same thing: WE are in charge. Hell, it's been almost four years since Time named us Person of the Year. But this is so hard for most people. It's the opposite of the paradigm we've all grown up with. So companies, by which I mean people who make things, keep doing what they know how to do: Make whatever they make and tell people about it.

My latest example: This week I've been reviewing online project management systems, all software as a service (SAAS). If that bit of technical jargon made your head hurt, don't fret. Let's just say I was looking at websites of people who wanted to sell me something.

I probably looked at 30 websites. Most offered lengthy, in-depth photo and video tutorials of their systems. One wanted me to watch a 7 minute movie right after watching a 3 minute movie. And there were another 5+ movies I could watch after that. How long did they expect me to spend on their site?

One had video of a guy writing on a whiteboard to explain the features. In real-time, you had to wait for him to put down in chicken-scratch what he had just told you. Are you kidding?

Most did good jobs telling me what they made and how they work, often in excruciating detail. Do I need a tutorial on how to customize the colors before I've even signed up? Do I?

Some offer free trials, which is table stakes in that game. But when time is as precious as money, the free trial really isn't free. Read my previous post on free trials.

And a few don't offer free trials. They make you fill out a form for a demo or more information. What?! Assuming I didn't already hate them, this instantly fixed that. If I like you, I want to do business with you NOW. Got my credit card in my hand, ready to pull the trigger. But not you, you're too good for money, you require me to fill out an application to pay you. Thanks.

Are you ready? Here's what you need to do: Stop telling us how your product works and listen to what We want from you. Learn about us, our needs and wants. Then make it easy for us to get those things from you. You'll get our money, I promise.

iPad: Maybe So, Maybe No

apple ipadIf you're like me, you're among the many who were disappointed with yesterday's reveal of the Apple iPad, and possibly even more disappointed by the name. But the public reaction is even more interesting than the product itself, and it speaks to the incredible power Apple has built in its brand.

I had two client meetings yesterday. The first one was right around 10am — the time of Steve Jobs' keynote — and was repeatedly interrupted by various people in the room reporting real-time announcements they got from their smartphones. Ironically, none of these people were using iPhones, and they described themselves as "non-Apple people." But they were glued to the news just like the rest of us, illustrating the extent to which Apple has ingrained itself into the fabric of American culture.

In the second meeting, the guy went on for about a minute listing all of the things wrong with the iPad: No camera, no Flash, no phone, etc. Then, almost on cue, he stops and says, "don't get me wrong, I'm buying one."

Me? I don't love it, but truth be told, I'll probably end up buying iPad 2, or should I say iPad Super.

Tell us what you think. Are you going to buy it? And what can we learn from Apple about branding?

3 Things I Learned At The LA Auto Show

The LA Auto Show kicked off last week. After spending two days there for the press conferences, including the reveal of the 2011 Mazda2, I went back on Sunday to see what the consumer show looked like. Here's what I noticed:

Attendance looked really light. A casual guess would be about half of what I expected on a weekend day. But I could be wrong about that. I wonder if the pricetag scared people off (although tickets were only $12, once you add in parking and refreshments, it's a $50+ outing. Kind of a lot to go window-shopping). More importantly, Gen Y and Latino and black audiences were especially under-represented. Overall, the show skewed white, Asian, and Boomer/Gen X.

Aside from a couple well-designed booths (Audi comes first to mind), most of the exhibits were pretty boring. Like a parking lot with carpet. Mazda and Scion both made interesting use of augmented reality technology, but that was about it.

What does this mean?

1. Auto shows may not be as important as they used to be. If you're selling to young people or multi-cultural buyers, you may not be reaching enough of them at these shows.

2. Auto companies still don't fully get experiential marketing. Why not program the experience a bit and increase your chances of engagement?

If I were CMO at an automaker, I'd make it mandatory for employees to attend the auto shows. In fact, I'd probably have our full-time employees staff the shows, instead of or along with the usual promo models. You need your people to be interacting with consumers face to face, learning what the market is about and what people want. Get them out there pressing the flesh.