Monthly Archives January 2011

Certified Organic Marketing

Organic farmers and handlers work tirelessly to obtain and maintain the esteemed USDA organic seal. This process involves a multi-year commitment that begins at least three years before any goods earn the coveted mark. It’s loads of hard work, without convenient chemical shortcuts, and research. Then there’s the certification process and, you guessed it, fees. So while they’re doing all this work to comply with rigorous standards, does it all go to waste the second they step foot in a marketing or advertising agency? Should this really be the case? Or is the world in need of a marcom revolution, a shift to a truly “organic” agency and a new discipline within marketing?

We’re all guilty. Think about the stacks and stacks of paper thrown away—not recycled— each day at our offices. Consider the electricity old devices and poorly engineered technologies waste every second of every day. For proof, just take a walk by your agency’s servers and feel the heat emitting from these massive machines. It’s all a senseless waste of valuable resources that ultimately contradicts the essence of what any product that bears the organic seal is trying to promote. Yet, all these products need to be marketed don’t they? But doesn’t it, in fact, taint the very essence if the agency doesn’t adhere to strict eco-conscious protocol for its own business operations? It’s worth pondering—deeply.

So we’re in a bit of a pickle, but there is a solution. In the wake of global resource depletion and looming environmental hazards, now is definitely the right time to stop talking and start implementing. Organic brands should start demanding more from their agencies.  How about this: If agencies want to be eligible to market organic products, they too, must uphold similar regulations to the USDA organic seal:

  • Ongoing agency-wide recycling program for 3 years before application
  • Purchase and use of only energy-efficient technologies for 3 years before application
  • Purchase and use of only recycled paper, eco-friendly printing inks & office supplies for 3 years before application
  • Undergo annual eco-audits of business operations & maintain “organic-grade” levels of sustainability
  • Fifty percent of charitable contributions must benefit environmental causes for 3 years before application

Only the last one is radical, and it would only apply to those agencies that make significant charitable contributions. The other steps to becoming an “organic” agency seem only logical and fair, considering the steadfast commitment that organic producers make to their business operations. If this was a government program, there could be tax benefits (I know, I said the “t” word) to sweeten the deal.  Fiscal incentives tend to be the most motivating.

Indulge the happy-hippie daydream just a little more. Imagine the competitive landscape of top agencies charging forward with eco-conservation initiatives just to beat one another to a pitch.  It sounds amazing, wonderful, and full of that raw human energy that positively propels the world forward, generation by generation.  Meeting organic brands on the same level of environmental commitment certainly gives an agency perspective into its target consumer group. But the compelling thing, in this case, is the collective energy gathered to sustain the one, shared resource most valuable to all of us: Earth. It’s a cool, new way to do business.

The Power of Message

After a week when President Obama challenged our country to a heightened sense of purpose, it seems like a good time to breathe in what he so eloquently brought to bear. We’ve all heard about the tenor and tone of polarizing “political discourse” on society. Most everyone has an opinion on the influencing power of assaultive language on public opinion.

Clearly we don’t need another post about the contributing factors of why unstable people do unspeakable things.  But (and it’s a BIG but!), given that we’re marketing people putting out a marketing blog, I thought I’d share my perspective on marketing communication: It’s about the power of influence.

Money still equals power, the ability to get your message and influence blasted to the masses. Based on a projection by one research firm, the overall 2011 U.S. marketing media spend will be over a quarter trillion dollars. That’s a lot of power and influence. And that’s the simple point of this post: With this power to reach people comes an opportunity, maybe even a responsibility.

Even though it’s our job to sell pet microchip enrollment or soda or cars, we have the opportunity to elevate our message. Brands can be the financier of a positive, compelling message that isn’t at odds with the need to sell more stuff, but is totally aligned with it. People are looking for emotional leadership, and the companies that get that will get business.

There is “real world” carryover from emotionally-centered commercial campaigns. In today’s digital and social media landscape, we’re bombarded by messaging more than ever, and become hourly messengers ourselves. Positive, feel-good communication, even if originated with commercial purpose, can still exert influence.

From “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” to Cisco’s new “Together” campaign, marketing has the power to create a “one world,” all-in-it together landscape. Sentiments of empathy, optimism, compassion, or tolerance can and do come from anywhere.

Make it more human. Corporations can be more personal, be a part of the new message. Let’s keep it positive. For all the right reasons.

iPhone App Upgrades and Evolving Perspectives

Does the world need really another app?  That’s like saying does the world need another year of new car models.  Hybrids and electric models, yes. All those others, probably not. And if it were left solely up to me, we may still be living in caves, drawing wooly mammoth silhouettes on rock walls and commuting with our v1.0 legs and feet.  It’s not that I’m anti-progress, it’s just that I fall on the necessary side of purposeful innovation.  But new functions and features keep the game exciting and interesting.  And “purpose” can really be as simple as improved design that connects people on a deeper emotional level. These ideas give me a new frame of reference, and this week’s work of brainstorming and planning an upgraded iPhone app has forced me to rapidly evolve my perspective.

The learning curve has been more of a slippery spiral, and what I bring to the table is insight into customer feedback, particularly how the consumers feel about the current application. Valuable, yes. Technologically relevant, not so much. I’ve spent the majority of meetings jotting down tech-jargon to look up on my own, so as not to slow progress. In between, I’ve tried to address my knowledge gap with various industry articles, including the especially helpful App Development 101 for Marketers. But I get hung up on all those little moving parts, features and functions, and the endless possibilities for the end product. It takes all I have to repress a childlike curiosity that wants to stop and ask—can we make it spin and sparkle, too?

Integration adds another level of complexity, too, because you can’t just develop an iPhone app. That’s boring and totally misses the point. Consumers  are highly evolved and now expect constant engagement. Everything needs to be connected: desktop site, social media, and other mobile sites and apps.  Keep everything cyclical, allow for seamless integration, and you have something consumers will actually use and enjoy. Segment your offerings and risk looking like a digital throwback.

A clear blue horizon appears when the big decisions are made.  Once the foundational requirements are set for functionality and integration, possibilities narrow, and logic shines down to illuminate a path through second and third-tier requirements.  With this release and relief comes loss, and you have to say goodbye to some of the spin and sparkle—farewell to the geo-targeted pet-dating feature that syncs with Facebook. Soon, you have a plan for fully formed upgrade that’s shiny, new, and ready to be pitched.  I’ll admit that most of the technology is still magical to me, but I know where I contributed and how/why that shaped the features proposed for the upgrade.

This type of work is challenging and exciting. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you learn so much about the problems your colleagues are trying to solve and how your work fits into the big picture. You also walk away with a better understanding of the medium, and in my case, an evolved outlook on purpose within the development cycle.  Having a better grasp of the possibilities and limitations proves to be immensely valuable when writing for apps and the mobile web.