Marketing Practices

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The Enrollment Challenge

Retirement readiness decisions are a daunting task for most employees. According to a 2012 Participant Engagement Study conducted by Lincoln Financial:

  • 41 percent of employees are only somewhat engaged or fully disengaged from any retirement plan
  •  7 percent of employees only are fully engaged and interact with their retirement plan on a regular basis.

Plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to better understand their employee benefits and make better enrollment decisions to achieve better outcomes.

Communication Is Key

The U.S. Employee Benefits Security Administration’s ERISA Advisory Council published a key report in 2010 on how plan communication practices and design options impact participation and contribution rates. They researched strategies for tailoring communications to different subgroups of employees through direct communication, and their effectiveness in influencing participants of diverse demographic market segments, including segments categorized by income level, household status, generation, gender, and ethnicity.

The report then provided recommendations of best practices for enrollment that are statistically proven to be effective, including education to plan sponsors on specific proven techniques and communication practices. In evaluating what communication methods are most effective in encouraging participants to save for retirement, the following considerations were made:

  • Cost: an effort was made to balance the need for comprehensive plan communications against cost.
  • Delivery: A variety of methods were explored including the use of current and emerging social media.
  • Plan Design: The study reviewed how plan designs relate to increasing participant enrollment and savings. In particular, the Council studied the use of automatic features. Automatic enrollment plans automatically choose the employees’ contribution percentage and enroll the participant in an investment vehicle. This raises participation rates to close to 90 percent. However employees enrolled at low contribution rates of 3% or less tend not to deeply consider or increase their contributions.


9 Recommendations and Best Practices

The Council found that effective plan communication and education can provide people with the financial knowledge needed to understand their employee benefits, make better financial decisions, and achieve better outcomes.

Given that the most successful plan communications make use of many channels from print to external websites, online tools, social media, and creative marketing, the Council highlighted best practices that balance personalized, targeted content to help employees evaluate benefit offerings with cost efficiency. They highlighted specific techniques and communication practices that have been statistically proven to be effective in increasing the involvement of employees in saving for retirement. The following are 9 recommendations:

  1. Communications tailored to particular segments drive results
  2. One-on-one or small group meetings increase participation
  3. Immediate “on the spot” communication is most effective
  4. Short, simple and focused communication drives participant response
  5. Multiple “touches” with various creative formats increase participation
  6. Increased technology use is effective and cost efficient
  7. Behavioral economics and “social norming” can increase participant involvement and savings
  8. Incentives given by sponsors and “gamification” help trigger participant involvement
  9. Responsive marketing principles may assist plan sponsors in improving communications

Here is a brief synopsis of these 9 practical recommendations and some best practices:

1. Communications Tailored to Particular Segments 

tailored-skill-development-imageThe Council found that communications that target participants based on their interests, background, and/or economic status were more successful than the “one size fits all” approach.

Understanding the culture and background of the workforce being targeted is key. For instance, since Hispanics will soon constitute one-third of the US population, Council member Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial Group stated that in her experience education materials typically are translated from English to Spanish, whereas she recommended that sponsors design the material using the reverse approach, developing  materials first in Spanish to address specific cultural needs and language differences.

Human Resource professionals also have found that allowing employees to map out an action plan rooted in realistic scenarios is an extremely effective tool. Some plan sponsors have successfully used a “three-pronged” approach to reach out to their participants by combining simple income replacement projections, behavioral finance strategies and a personalized message. For example, JP Morgan developed 36 different personas based on three age groups (younger than age 30, age 30-50 and older than 50). The firm also targeted participants based upon their regional median income (e.g., Kansas’ median income is $30,000 while in New York City it is $70,000). The basis for this approach was to enable these groups to compare themselves against their peers and take the appropriate action toward saving for retirement.

By narrowly tailoring their target audience on behalf of the plan sponsors that retained them, JP Morgan subsequently monitored whether employees opened their email communications and took action toward saving for retirement. If the individual took action, that person was considered “active,” while someone who opened the email but did not take action was considered “interested.” Based upon the action taken by the individual, the participant received specifically targeted information. This technique resulted in three to four times the response rate of participants who were not targeted.

However, some witnesses advised that there is a general concern regarding the use of targeted communications because complex data collection may provide gender or ethnic identification. Thus, there is concern over whether specific segments identified based upon race or gender could raise discrimination or deferential treatment issues. The Council heard testimony from Donna MacFarland of Lincoln Financial and Thomas Ryan of Fidelity that the use of particularly sensitive demographic information causes concern among plan sponsors. There are also practical concerns about housing information technology. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion received during testimony was that targeted communications work.

Branding helps targeting through the use of communications that include a unique positive image that is the group can relate to.

Here are some best practices of participant-centric communication methods:

  • Best Practice 1 – The Power of Example: Trustees of the Elevator Constructors 401(k) Plan used materials featuring the story of three employees who made different savings decisions during their careers. The narrative of the three employees was used throughout one-on-one sessions with printed materials to demonstrate how a 401(k) contribution would benefit participants in a variety of circumstances including temporary layoffs, hardships and early retirement. As a result, plan participation rates increased from 26.56 percent to 29.82 percent in 2011. The plan also experienced an 85 percent increase in plan activity from meeting attendees.
  • Best Practice 2 – Employer/Employee-Centric Content: M.A. Mortenson Company, an international construction firm, employed construction-related themes in its financial education to engage participants and foster pride in the company. Financial education was made mandatory and workshops were divided by career stage, age, and gender. The plan sponsor focused on participants’ preferences by surveying them after the workshop and making recommendations based on their feedback to yield desired results.
  • Best Practice 3 – Bilingual: Consolidated Citrus Limited Partners wanted to 1) increase attendance at plan educational meetings, 2) increase plan participation, 3) increase deferral rates and 4 encourage participants to maximize their match. Ninety percent of the workers spoke only Spanish, and the majority of their day was spent in the orange groves. An in-language campaign was initiated. The company’s Spanish speaking leaders met with small groups in the orange groves. Straightforward collateral in both Spanish and English Collateral were available on site, including announcement posters. By bringing the meetings to the employees, 95 percent of the targeted group attended the meetings. Plan participation increased from 40 percent to 75 percent and deferrals expanded from 4 percent to 8 percent.
  • Best Practice 4 – Branding: The Animation Guild 401(k) Plan was implemented for artists working at Southern California animation studios. The sponsors worked with the Guild’s representatives to obtain insights and develop a branded communication urging participants to remember to enroll. The response rate increased over eight percent from the previous year, with 135 new enrollees. Another employer cited in the research increased participation by 30 percent by keeping the message fun, simple and “cool” to target younger workers.
  • Best Practice 5 – Multicultural: The Four Seasons 401(k) Plan needed to convey an important plan change to an employer profit sharing employer matching contribution. The sponsor obtained feedback from bilingual meeting presenters in designing the campaign, and provided materials tailored to Hispanics and presentations also were created in Spanish designed to be culturally and linguistically accurate. As a result, the average deferral rate of the targeted group rose from 2.9 percent to 5 percent, and significantly increased beneficiary designations.

2. One-on-One or Small Group Meetings 

OneonOneAfter a study by Lincoln Financial found that 66% of participants prefer one-on-one guidance, Lincoln made it a component of its financial education model. They found that the need for individualized information is particularly acute for groups with low participation rates, including women and minorities.  Various studies have shown good enrollment and contribution results when employees request in-person group workshops facilitated by financial experts.

  • Best Practice for One-on-One Meetings:In 2012, MassMutual representatives spoke with 150,000 employees in face-to-face meetings. Forty-six percent of these individuals took action to improve their retirement readiness and, in one-on-one meetings, 75 percent of employees took action.
  • Best Practice for Small Group Meetings: Costs and timing may prevent plan sponsors from providing one-on-one meetings, but small group meetings and audience segmentation have also been successful. The FINRA funded Nurses Investor Education Project had small group meetings for well-educated nurses interested in taking action toward their retirement. They found that generally, the nurses’ lack of basic knowledge, or their perception that they did not know enough to attend these sessions, prevented them from attending their plan sponsor’s meetings. As a result of using small group meetings as a forum, the nurses perceptions changed and attendance at their employer’s retirement plan sessions improved.

3. Immediate “on the spot” Communication 

onthespotThe ability for participants to take action at the time they are thinking about retirement savings is more effective in increasing enrollment. For example, having computers in the room at the time employees are learning about the plan would allow them to sign up and take immediate action.

  • Best Practice: A US Army mandatory financial management course found that providing the enrollment forms for the Thrift Savings Plan during the financial management course resulted in a sizeable increase in participation, with soldiers signing up for the Plan before leaving the classroom.

4. Short, Simple, Focused Communication 

focusedBehavioral studies show that the most effective communications use simple, straightforward language specific to a participant’s personal situation.

  • Best Practice: Time constraints mean that any impediments to action should be identified and mitigated. For example, on a website, any extra step, such as the need to retrieve a PIN, may prevent employees from taking action. Solutions include sending the PIN directly to their email account or a mobile number, or mailing a postcard with the website’s uniform resource locator (URL).

5. Multiple Touches With Various Creative Formats 

profileConsistent, continuous and on-going meaningful communication can be achieved by repeatedly sending out simplified mailings. Social media can help alleviate the cost of additional touch points, and yet, few companies use social media channels for retirement information.

  • Best Practice: The Council’s Professor Madrian cites a company in which the third mailing of a simplified reply form requiring the checking of a box to enroll doubled enrollment from 22 percent to 45 percent of non-participating employees.

6. Cost Effective Technology 

advancement-of-technologyEvery demographic group is now using the Internet as a preferred source of information, via home computer or mobile devices. In addition, electronic media provides the ability to track responses, which is unavailable when the communication is sent through printed materials and regular mail. Another cost effective technological advance is Dynamic Page Publishing,  reviewed at the conclusion of this article.

A Deloitte study in 2012 that found:

  • 93 percent of Americans place Internet access as the most valued household subscription;
  • 54 percent of Americans own smartphones, and the rate is increasing 29 percent annually.
  • One of three Americans over age 50 has downloaded an application to a smartphone, and 28 percent access their bank accounts via smartphone.

Engaging Millennials: Electronic media is the most effective method of communication to engage younger generations in retirement planning, including Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979).  In order to combat inertia caused by competing financial priorities, such as student loan debt, it is important for this group to be engaged through “YouTube” videos, Facebook forums, Twitter, email and mobile delivery, including providing “one click” transactions and incorporating elements of “gamification.”   Millennials also demand simple, personalized, and action-oriented communications, and prefer human contact for complex tasks.

  • Best Practice – Email: Thomas Ryan of Fidelity Investments testified to the Council that Fidelity makes all channels of communication accessible, and finds that email communications have generated higher response rates than direct mail.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Fidelity: Fidelity has studied the preferences of Generation Y, or “Millennials”  for using electronic communication, and found that this group tends to rely heavily on the Internet to interact with representatives from Fidelity, although they appear to be the least engaged when it comes to the frequency of contact. Millennials serviced by Fidelity have the lowest 401(k) participation rate, at 58 percent, compared to 67 percent for all other populations. Design changes made to simplify online interaction with Millennials resulted in a 40 percent increase in web utilization by this group.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – Putnam: Lori Lucas of Callan Associates discussed Putnam’s roll out of a plan primarily for Millennials that encouraged participants to bring their tablets to an nteractive meeting to log on to the benefits website. As a result, 40 percent of attendees increased their deferrals within 90 days after attending the meeting.
  • Best Practices for Engaging Millennials – MassMutual:: Offering enrollment and savings increases using iPod Touch devices in group meetings resulted in action rates of 85 – 90 percent among those attending. The use of targeted and tested mail and email campaigns resulted in $150 million in new deposits over three years and a 3.9 percent increase in action rates.

7. Behavioral Economics and “Social Norming” 

choiceThe way certain information is presented can have a resounding impact, including the way choices are presented to the participant, a method referred to as “anchoring”

Presenting options in a different order or with a higher default percentage has increased deferral rates. While communications traditionally list contribution percentages in ascending order from one to five percent, studies have shown that reversing this order so that the first option shown is five percent markedly increases enrollment in the five percent option. This method is referred to as “placement.”

 “Social Norming” reflects the fact that people tend to benchmark themselves against their peers. Statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that participants tacitly compete against peers in similar socioeconomic conditions.

8. Incentives and “Gamification” 

carrotThe use of games (gamification) is an effective tool in reaching  individuals who may not be easily engaged in retirement decisions (“non-savers”). Gamification can be used to reward people if they engage in the correct behaviors. Plan sponsors may also use incentives to provide rewards to participants with who exceed a certain benchmark contribution amount. Other techniques include raffles.

  • Best Practice 1: The NFL’s “Play 60” campaign  incorporates the use of the NFL brand to incentivize children to play a game for at least 60 minutes a day.
  • Best Practice 2: A rug manufacturer in northern Georgia had a series of meetings for people working multiple shifts, giving away lottery tickets to encourage attendance, and experienced standing room only for the meetings.

9. Six Marketing Principles Improve Communications

Communications that are uninspiring and difficult to undmarketing-300x200erstand leave employees confused, bored and unmotivated. The communicator’s “curse of knowledge” is a bias in which the communicator’s knowledgeability makes it difficult to demonstrate it from the perspective of lesser-informed people. The Council highlighted six principles of communication that plan sponsors should consider when drafting documents or presenting to their participants that will inspire action:

1. Show Empathy

empathyTo  determine the relevance of a message to an audience, it is necessary to engage them and ask questions that the content of the presentation or the communication should then be tailored to answer. For example, an energy company developed a program to help consumers understand and lower their energy bills, using this computerized question:

Can I help you with your bill?

  1. Yes, help me understand my bill.
  2. Help me save money.
  3. Both of the Above.
  4. I’m Here for Something Else.

By showing empathy to what the consumer cared about and giving information and tips to help them feel more in control, these questions presented helped raise consumer satisfaction.

2. Use Metaphors and Analogies

analogCommunications also reference a metaphor or visual picture to help the recipient relate to the message. For example, when Ridley Scott presented the screenplay for Alien to his producers he used the popular movie Jaws as a reference, and the metaphor “it’s like Jaws in space,” to frame a concept that the producers easily understood

3. Use Storytelling

icon-storytellingPeople tend to forget facts that are presented but usually remember a story. Stories are easy to absorb when people are overwhelmed with information. They also eliminate extraneous facts to capture the recipient’s interest and relate to him on an emotional level.

4. Use a Conversational Voice

conversationalUsing overly technical information, compliance or legal jargon can loose an audience. For example, it is difficult to convey the benefit of voluntary life insurance individual and spouse buy-up options in which election of coverage for a spouse can equal up to half an individual’s buy-up,  depending on the desired level of coverage. An effective way of communicating this is as follows:

“The company is going to buy life insurance for you. If you want, you can buy extra life insurance. Whatever extra life insurance you buy for yourself, you can also buy up to half that amount for your spouse. Now, depending on how much additional insurance you’d like, one or both of you may need to answer some questions about your health to see if you qualify for it.”

5. Surprise the Recipient

boxing-glove-surpriseUnexpected methods of engaging the recipient get the individual’s attention when a subject is ordinarily challenging and abstract. The use of humor, as shown below, can be considered an example.

6. Use Humor

humorUsing a little humor in the message will keep the audience engaged and make the message easier for audiences to relate to.


Plan Design Considerationsicon-design

Automatic Enrollment

A study by Brigitte Madrian and Dennis Shea shows that automatic enrollment increases average participation rates from 65 percent to 85 percent. It is particularly helpful for low-income workers with annual wages under $20,000, where participation increased from 27 percent to 82 percent. Average participation for employees under age 30 doubled from 41 percent to 82 percent, and the best improvements have been among the segments that had the lowest participation rates.  This was corroborated in as presented in the testimony of Lori Lucas.

Mandatory Contributions and Automatic Escalation

Defaults that are too low can  impact workers who would otherwise have contributed more. Since studies have shown higher default contribution rates have not increased opt-out rates, employers should consider recommending higher default contribution rates.

One solution is a stretch match (increasing the maximum amount of pay that can be matched and decreasing the percent matched, to keep the employer’s costs flat.

Another way to increase savings is automatic escalation in which sponsors automatically increase a worker’s contribution rate by one to two percent  of salary at each pay anniversary until a cap, such as 12 percent of pay.

Best Practice – TIAA-CREF: David Richardson of TIAA-CREF found that 403(b) plans typically have much higher contribution rates, ranging from 10 percent to 15 percent of pay compared to 5 percent to 7percent for all 401(k) plans, due to mandatory contributions from both employers and employees as a requirement of employment.  The 403(b) plans TIAA-CREF administers experience much higher annuitization rates — 40 percent compared to 4 percent for all 401(k) plans.

 Conclusions and Implications

red pencilThe Council found that continuous, simplified, personalized communication using multiple channels, connected with humor and empathy, are effective ways to communicate with plan participants to encourage participant engagement.

Benefit Program Marketers seeking to increase employee plan participation need to be more flexible, customizable and responsive than ever to introduce, present, promote and clarify the particular offerings and choices the employer has agreed to sponsor. Dynamic Publishing platforms are becoming a key tool in executing this strategy DPP is a way of designing publications in which layout templates are created which can contain different content in different publications. In cases where the same content is being used in multiple layouts, the same layout is being used for several different sets of content, or both, dynamic page publishing can offer significant advantages of efficiency over a traditional system of page-by-page design. Future articles will explore Dynamic Publishing in greater depth.

Related Blog Article:

By guest blogger, Mark Weishaar
Today’s smart, marketing-focused organizations realize the value of communicating with their customers using the channel of their customers’ preference. More and more, that preference is mobile.

It’s commonly reported that over 87% of Americans (90% of Canadians) own a cell phone, and most of them won’t leave home without it. For many, checking their mobile device is the last thing they do at night and the first thing they do in the morning. Almost 80% of smartphone owners use their device more frequently today for mobile email and texting than to actually make phone calls. Mobile marketing is dominating the media landscape, and mobile users are lapping it up.

  • 82% agree it’s a good way to learn about new products and brands;
  • 80% believe it can influence them to investigate a product or service;
  • 71% accept that it can change the way they think about a product or service; and
  • 65% report that it has the power to influence them to BUY a product or service.

Given this proliferation and mainstream acceptance of technology solutions, one would think that insurance companies and financial services organizations would be among the first to provide their customers and prospects with cutting-edge, lightning-fast applications. But one would be quite wrong. The fact is, only about one-third of marketers report having a defined strategy for mobile marketing! And the insurance industry, in particular, is lagging at the back of the pack when it comes to offering engaging mobile experiences. This sector must explore mobile websites, mobile applications and SMS text messaging campaigns to effectively respond to emerging consumer behavior.

Maximize the efficiency of your Customer Service efforts

One of the easiest and highest-ROI considerations should be your company’s website. Google reports that a good 50% of mobile users become frustrated when they encounter a site that is not mobile-friendly. It seems unnecessary to say that annoying your clients, especially those who may be experiencing an emergency, is not very smart. A mobile application is essentially a tool to make it easy for your customers to connect with you. It can be fun and useful, informative and interactive; it can be a short-cut to service. A Customer Service-specific mobile app might feature

  • Talking to a live agent
  • Dealing with an accident on the spot
  • Requesting a live call-back
  • Filing and managing a claim

Implementing these mobile options can help reduce support costs and call center overhead, reduce customer churn and even increase customer lifetime value. An app can enhance brand advocacy and promote upsells and cross-sells. What’s best, all of these benefits are entirely measurable in terms of ROI.

Building a Useful Database

The success of a mobile marketing strategy is going to depend on the power of your database. No program is complete without an Acquisition Model to cost-effectively harvest and manipulate prospect information. An advertising plan combining online, SMS and traditional channels is vital to drive traffic and promote downloads of a mobile app, with a clearly defined conversion funnel from prospect to customer.

Growing Pains specific to Mobile Payments for Insurance and Banking

Although Juniper Research reports that mobile payments are expected to reach $630 BILLION by 2014, remittances such as insurance premiums are not included. The issue does not lie with the technology of the Mobile Application, but rather with the capabilities and guidelines of mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, among others.

Bill-to-Carrier US Obstacles

  1. Each carrier must approve each program based on their own guidelines. They demand a 2-3 week beta test, during which they review an online-hosted version of each app for flow, usability, bugs, and terms of use acceptance.Your customers choose from among many Carriers, so you need to be compliant with all of them. The degree of speed, complexity and cooperation varies from one Operator to the next; they are however consistent in requiring 20-30% of each purchase amount.
  2. Operators are strict and favor big brands; legitimacy is important given the number of bill-to-carrier scams. As a alternative, they look for a guaranteed minimum of $50,000 in monthly bill-to-carrier revenue, proof that is often first generated in Canada or Europe.
  3. US Carriers prefer micropayments to the tune of $2. They are reluctant to approve monthly fees of $15 or $20 due to the higher risk of complaints or accidental enrollment by children.

Their preference for lower price points, non-recurring fees and virtual goods over outside services can all be hurdles for monthly insurance premium billing.

In addition to carrier complexities, success can depend on the various device operating systems. Currently, only Android supports bill-to-carrier within a native application. iOS will only use its IAP API (In-app purchase) using iTunes to make a purchase.

Retention and Loyalty – in a Mobile Environment

It is possible to truly integrate mobile into your existing strategy and better measure increased retention and loyalty from your customers. It’s all about convenience and real-time communication. Give them instant fingertip access to source and share critical data:

  • Review the latest product and service offerings
  • Manage personal “MyAccount” files on the go
  • Provide 24/7 emergency access to processes and forms on a handheld device
  • Enable immediate accident claims reporting and supporting photo uploads

These are just a few of the exciting, dynamic Mobile solutions that will propel your further differentiation from the competition – with measurable results.

Yet there are many complexities surrounding the development of mobile apps and mobile websites for insurance premium payment processing and lead generation. Any such strategy requires an in-depth understanding of the various Carriers, government regulations, operating systems, user demographics and data availability. This calls for the experienced insights of seasoned experts.

Today’s technology does not allow “catch-up” time. But it’s never too late to adjust your marketing focus onto those channels that are proven to build connections with your customers. They will reward you with interest, participation and brand loyalty.

Mark Weishaar is VP, Business Development with Direct Access Marketing, based in Burlington, Ontario, Canada and Philadelphia, PA.



What Stands in the Way of Compelling Content?

Nasheen Liu, VP of marketing at The  IT Media Group,  discusses hindrances marketers face in creating compelling marketing content and and recommends three strategies to overcome them.  Two key problems she identifies are:

  1. Lack of control over the subject-matter.
  2. Feeling too removed from their audience.

She shares some approaches for overcoming those  challenges that allows markerters to more effectively create and repurpose compelling content.

Three Strategies

Strategy 1: Be an avid journalist to your internal  audience

In brief, there is no substitute for interaction with your field organization and customers.  Your notes from these interactions should include insights  from customers that can be summarized in a report and communicated to  your stakeholders.

Liu’s recommendation is to repurpose these valuable insights as “Industry Newsflashes,”  “Customer Insights,” and “Opportunity Analysis” for your internal audiences.  Why is this important?

Marketers often fail to realize that their most important audience is the  internal one. To market anything successfully, one must first and foremost  create as much visibility as possible internally. Every employee is your message  carrier. You will not become a rock star marketer if you don’t have the support  of your internal stakeholders.

Strategy 2: Insource your content, but control the  output

To get a good handle on your subject matter, it’s important to identify the domain experts  – at least one person in each cross-functional area who can serve as your go-to resource. This will give you a ready supply of content.

Getting subject experts to be responsive is a key challenge. You’ll need to schedule some time interviewing them in person. The conversation should be targeted to extracting content from them in 30 minutes or less.  One way to set this process in motion is to create an editiorial calendar.

If you promote your experts and give them visibility, you can gain you loyal sponsors and  support for your endeavors.

Strategy 3: Outsource your topics to industry  experts

One of the most common failures that I see marketers make in trying to promote themselves as thought leaders or impress audiences with their products and services is the mistake of “singing your own praises.”  To gain the attention and trust of the customer, it’s much better to get someone else to do the praising in an indirect way.

In the technology space, I engage industry experts, media personalities, and  well-known bloggers. The kind of perception you are trying to create is this:  “Wow, these guys are associated with her? Impressive.”

To build on this,  you can build  an onging campaign in which your expert can help you in various activities. Some ideas:

An initial article can turn into a moderated customer forum. The  findings from the forum become a whitepaper. The whitepaper can be used to  develop a video case study. And so on. Such linkages can continue to develop and  mature over the life of the catmpaign.

As Liu points out, “content is the bread and butter of what we do in the world of marketing.” Yet it often seems to get lost in the flurry of planning and execution, and becomes an afterthought. A successful marketing organization exists as part of a larger context of consistent messaging accross all touch points, internal and external. Nothing promotes an organization’s brand value more effectvely than shared messaging.


Outstanding FB Page

Proving that Marketing isn’t about creating messages, but embodying them, Sivana (meaning Oasis of Enlightenment) is based in the yoga beach culture of Encinitas Ca., rooted in Eastern spirituality, and providing support for yoga and higher living. Their products include such goods as Yoga Clothing, Active Wear, Yoga Equipment and Accessories, Bags, Incense, Statues, and Malas.  They have an amazing Facebook page.

HubSpot’s Inbound Internet Marketing Blog’s 30 Amazing Marketing Tools, Tips & Tricks We’re Thankful For, by  Amanda Sibley lists some of the tools, tricks, and tips that marketers say help them do their jobs better. Here are a few:

Social Media Tools

Facebook Global Pages – This newly developed tool tool allows marketers to create one central maintenance location with better targeting options instead of having to choose between a single Facebook page for an entire global audience, or multiple pages to target specific audiences.

Audience Targeting in Facebook Advertisements – Facebook’s ad platform audience targeting allows marketers to create ads for a specific target audience. This makes your ads more relevant and allows you to target custom audiences from email addresses in your database

Content Creation Tools

Evernote – Note-taking apps are helpful for writing or brainstorming content on the go.

Factbrowser  helps you find compelling stats or data points as you create content. It breaks down data by topic, source, format, region, and/or demographic.

CreativeCommons – This gives you another option for finding images for your marketing content. Instead of using stock photography or creating the images yourself, you can use CreativeCommons to search for free photos that are that are allowed to be used commercially, provided you give credit to the artist.

PowerPoint for Design – Marketers can create professional looking calls-to-action, ebooks, and infographics without hiring the services of a designer by using PowerPoint as a design tool.

Snipping Tool – This Windows tool lets you easily take screen captures. Hubspot provides an  overview.

Hubspot’s free template to help you easily create infographics.

SEO Tools

Free Site Crawl Tools – Free tools like Xenu and Screaming Frog crawl your entire site, and provide you a spreadsheet of all the pages, URLs, and broken links on your site.

Analytics Tools

VLOOKUP – You can use VLOOKUP in Excel to search for and identify particular sets of data, allowing you to analyze data quickly.

Statistical Significance Calculator – When you’re running tests in your marketing, statistical significance calculators can tell you when your test’s results are actually meaningful.

Collaboration & Planning Tools

Google Drive (Google Docs) – This tool helps everyone on a team to see and update information in real time.

Sales & Nurturing Tools

Landing Page Creation Tool – It can take a long time to get landing pages created working with IT.  to get landing pages created. Easy landing page creation tools like HubSpot allow you to create a landing page in minutes, making it easier to launch offers and lead generation.

Marketing Models That No Longer Work

 of provides a list of 10 Marketing Principles That Aren’t True Anymore. His core observation is that mass marketing models no longer optimally address the new attitudes and behaviors of the socially connected consumer.  For instance, while TV drives awareness, it is increasingly the Internet that drives conversion.
Of the 10 marketing principles that Rich finds increasingly irrelevant, I will highlight those that I consider to be the top 3.  It is important to consider these consideration points in the context of your own product and marketing environment because principles that work best for one type of product marketing environment may not work as well in others.

3 Marketing Principles To Rethink

1. Mass Segmentation Models – The old mass segmentation models are giving way to micro-segmentation.  Here’s why:  because people have more in common with those they follow on social media than their demographic peers, and because everything happens in real time online. Consequently:

…it’s more a relevant message to a relevant audience at a relevant time.

Customer segmentation is the practice of dividing customers into groups relevant to a particular line of business in order to decide how to relate to customers in each segment. The goal is to maximize the value of each customer to the business.

Micro-segmentation groups small numbers of customers into more precise segments, based on factors, including behavioral predictions in order to direct specific marketing actions to each micro-segment. The goal is to maximize the effectiveness of every contact with each customer.

The Process: For example, customers of an online gaming company might be segmented into Lifestyle Stage Groups, such as: 1) fun; 2) new; 3) active; 3) star; 4) churn; and 5) reengaged. Deeper dives into each Lifestyle Stage Group can be made by segmenting these customers into Segmentation Layers, using cluster analysis on sets of attributes that share a common context, including behavioral and demographic. By associating each customer with a string of different clusters, customers are then grouped together as micro-segments.

Intended Results: Micro-segments, which typically contain very few customers each, allows for highly personalized predictive analysis and marketing action optimization.   Tracking and analyzing how different marketing actions affect the spending behavior of different micro-segments makes it possible to predict the effectiveness levels of different marketing actions on different segments. As a result, marketers can better determine which marketing approaches will have greater impact on each group of customers. Further, since the micro-segments are dynamic, and there is movement through the Lifestyle Stages, dynamism of the customer path can be factored into the analysis. As explained by micro-segmentation company, Micromove:

Most companies  view segmentation as a method of clustering similar customers together at a given point in time, but they completely disregard the path or route that each customer has taken to reach his or her present segment. By analyzing customers based on their movement among segments over time, [micro-segmentation] achieves far more accurate segmentation than any other known method.

Focus on Customer Lifetime Value in segmentation allows for better targeted marketing based on more precise predictive customer behavior models.

2. The Purchase Funnel (Reach and Frequency)

For products where the purchase process is more complex, building awareness through reach and frequency is only a first step. In line with the Consumer Decision Journey as defined by McKinsey, to improve conversion, you need to rethink the “purchase funnel” in favor of a more complex consumer decision model.

My article, The Customer Decision Journey: Research Overturns the Marketing Funnel shows that the old consideration funnel has given way to a decision loop (“the consumer decision journey”) that takes place in a less linear and more complicated purchase environment where there are numerous touch points and key buying factors resulting from the explosion of product choices and digital channels, coupled with the emergence of an increasingly discerning, well-informed consumer. 

consumer decision journey

McKinsey’s David Court has a presentation showing what this means for marketers. He explains:

You have a trigger of some sort, where people start across the decision journey — they are now going to move towards purchase. The first stage is initial consideration. In many industries, people actually start in their initial consideration of a brand with a relatively narrow list, we believe because of the busy lives and bombardment of media — it’s just very difficult to get through all this clutter in this consumers initial consideration set. However, once the consumer decides they are going to buy a product, they move into a stage that we call active evaluation. It is here that the number of brands they are considering increases. Which is exactly the opposite of the premise of the funnel, going from broad to narrow. This is the stage when the consumer is intent on purchasing and they are actively researching the product.

3. Acquisition Only

Your business model will naturally continue to depend on new customer acquisition goals, but not exclusively. Marketing models based on new customer acquisition alone that do not also have strategies for retention and engagement break down over time, and the reason that pyramid schemes ultimately collapse is that there are a limited number of new customers to be sold.

Brand loyalty is important because brand enthusiasts will reengage and repurchase, and influence others to whom (s)he is socially connected to purchase and engage. So it’s vitally important today to keep the customers you have happy by delivering on all brand touch points, and creating a social context for them to become brand ambassadors.

Apple is the oft-cited example of a company whose brand loyalty-oriented model has been extremely successful. While not the PC market share leader, Apple has leapfrogged other PC makers in profitability because their customers are willing to pay more for a better brand experience. 

Lessons For Marketers In The Age of Socially Driven Conversion

Strategy: Traditional messaging is geared toward trying to get into the consumer’s initial consideration stet. However, rather than continue to push ads and promotions out to broad groups of consumers, marketers need to be sure that their marketing activities are aligned against how their consumers research and buy products.

Consider the likely results if the customer reaches out during the active evaluation stage but is not provided the facts and testimonials that (s)he is looking for to make the purchase decision. The budget spent on gaining recognition and getting into a customer’s initial considerations set will not only fail to result in conversion, but will effectively deliver the client to a competitor who delivers on the customer’s pre-purchase expectations.

In essence, this means that the customer has moved past a brand’s promise to a brand’s value in the consideration phase.  So marketers have to bridge the gap between consideration and conversion sooner by developing ways for people to talk about your product, and making word of mouth work in the age of socially driven conversion.

Social engagement doesn’t mean that, as Rich Meyer puts it, consumers necessarily “want to have a relationship with their salad dressing or butter…You also need to think more about your brand as media than just providing sales information online.”

In other words, since the joy of the purchase itself is often more than that derived from the product itself, what value are you delivering in the customer’s purchase experience? You need to emotionally connect to your customers and give them an emotional reason to select your brand.  The choices consumers make are not rational ones.

Tactics: Tactics include being represented on independent internet sites where people go and research and buy products. If you don’t have enough presence on those types of consumer driven approaches, when the consumer is reaching out during active evaluation, you’re not there for them to find.

Rich Meyer summarizes the customer-centric approach in the age of socially-driven conversion extremely well:

I believe the greatest strength any marketer can have is his, or her, ability to understand the dynamics of their brand/product from a consumers POV.  This means understanding what are the key drivers to conversion and where and when consumers want to interact with the brand.  I love Oreo cookies but I don’t want to friend them on Facebook.   Organizations that prepare for change and implement new marketing thinking will be ready to leverage new business and customers.

Ready, Fire, Aim?

Build it and they will come? If that were true, Marketers would be out of a job, wouldn’t they?
Rob Adams, senior lecturer at the business school at The University of Texas at Austin, and director of Texas Venture Labs, agrees. He should know. He is a leading voice on market validation who authored a book titled If You Build It, Will They Come? Three Steps to Test and Validate Any Market Opportunity.  A former software executive, entrepreneur and fund manager, he has founded or financed more than 40 companies that have launched more than 100 products with transactions exceeding one billion dollars of capital. The book is a quick read with insights and best practices gleaned from his own experiences. His core proposition:
Companies can improve their performance by moving from the common Ready, Fire Aim approach to a Ready, Aim, Fire approach.

Ready, Aim, Fire

To give yourself a better chance of avoiding the 90 percent failure rate of most new product startups, move “aim” – market validation, that is, – up to the front. Rob’s recommendation?
Invest 10% of your product development budget up front to make sure the remaining money is spent right.

Case Study: Using a formula given in the book, Rob Adams provides an example that he has implemented to launch a startup marketing campaign. For the sake of simplification, the figures have been rounded.

  • $1 million: Initial budget.
  • $500,000: Allocated to product development.
  • $500,000: Allocated to launch, sales and marketing.
  • $50,000: (10% percent of $500K) Spent over an intense 60 days of market validation before product design even begins.

Why: The Case for Investing in Up Front Validation

What is the rationale for such a large expenditure on validation?

I would rather have my name on a $25,000 hole in the ground than a $1 million hole in the ground.

1. Wasted Resources: In an article in Inc., Rob points out that more than 65% of new products fail, for a total loss of $260 billion a year in the U.S. alone. With start-ups, the failure rate jumps to 90% – numbers that have been constant over thirty years.

2. The Customer is the Key to Your Success: Products usually fail to generate enough revenue because they don’t sell well enough, and can’t generate enough revenue to cover their expenses. That means that customers either feel they’re not compelling enough, or not worth the value for the price. Startups typically can’t survive the failure of a company’s first product.  The failure of a new product in an established business can risk the company’s stability, depending on:

  • the strength of other revenue streams.
  • How many resources were lost on the failed product.

And Rob is quick to point out that, while investors or a parent company might cover shortfalls for a while, the offering must eventually generate returns that justify the capital and the risk that went into creating, marketing, and selling it, or the company will tend to fail.

3. Leapfrogging the Competition Puts You At the Leading Edge: Another important reason for Market Validation is to leapfrog the competition. Innovation tends to follow a fixed path, with one big idea begetting another, and so on. That linear approach to innovation doesn’t always get companies ahead of competitors, especially in the digital age. Consumers often learn that as soon as they buy the latest technology, the next big thing quickly emerges, making their purchase obsolete. Businesses often learn the same difficult lesson as they bring products and services to market, only to be trumped by companies with more sophisticated offers and deeper pockets. Companies have to continually innovate in an unending, linear cycle just to keep up. Companies that leapfrog the competition have an opportunity to change the game.

Case Study – Apple: Apple’s reinvention of the computer from a business to personal asset created a game-changing new industry, as did their reinvention of the mobile phone from a telephonic device to a mobile computing platform. More recently, while traditional laptop vendors focused on the technology- adding more speed, more memory, bigger screen size- Apple focused on how people use the technology, and made innovations on adding battery life, ease of use, and quick Web connectivity, and making their machines virtually bullet proof against virus. The result: unless Apple severely stumbles, their customers are committed and wouldn’t consider another vendor. Until other laptop manufacturers can make a compelling case, Apple has the corner on this market. Rather than trying to compete on price or technology, Apple discovered a way to leapfrog competitors on customer focus. The compelling case for Apple isn’t based on either technology or  price – Apple is the most expensive in the market for comparable performance. For Apple’s market, price isn’t the deciding factor. Yet, without Market Validation, opportunities like these may not be recognized.

What: Market Validation: Real-Win-Worth Analysis

Market Validation is performed to probe, test, and validate a market opportunity before you invest  large sums of money into product development. Whether you are designing, building, or selling products, whether you’re in a large corporation or a tiny start-up, whether your business is service- or product-based, Market Validation will significantly increase the likelihood your product will succeed in the market.

Developing a Real-Win-Worth Methodology: Using a Real-Win-Worth strategy of market validation (Is It Real? Can We Win? Is It Worth Doing?) has helped me to launch products to bypass the market share of major competitors. Real-Win-Worth was developed by by George S. Day, a Geoffrey T. Boisi Professor of Marketing and a codirector of the Mack Center for Technological Innovation at Wharton as a strategy tool  for “undertaking a systematic, disciplined review of your innovation portfolios and increasing the number of major innovations at an acceptable level of risk.”

To do this, Day recommends two tools that can increase the proportion of major innovations in your portfolio while carefully managing their risks:

  • risk matrix enables you to estimate each project’s probability of success or failure based on how big a stretch it is for your firm. The less familiar the intended market and the product or technology, the higher the risk.The R-W-W (“real,” “win,” “worth it”) screen helps you evaluate projects’ feasibility. The first step in using this tool–asking “Is it real” questions–helps you determine whether customers want your innovation and, if so, whether you can build it.

6 Questions to Ask Yourself

To evaluate the risks and potential of an individual project, you should be able to answer and score these three fundamental questions about the market opportunity: Is It Real? Can We Win? Is It Worth Doing?  To do so, ask these six fundamental questions:

  1. Is the market real? Explore customers’ needs, their willingness to buy, and the size of the potential market.
  2. Is the product real? Evaluate the feasibility of producing the innovation.
  3. Can the product be competitive? Determine whether the product can compete in the marketplace.
  4. Can our company be competitive? Investigate how well suited the company’s resources and management are to compete in the marketplace with the product.
  5. Will the product be profitable at an acceptable risk? Explore the financial analysis needed to assess an innovation’s commercial viability.
  6. Does launching the product make strategic sense? Determine whether the project fits with company strategy and whether management can support it.

How: Using the Risk Matrix

Assemble a team to assess each innovation project’s potential risk using these criteria:

  • How closely target customers’ behavior will match current customers’
  • How relevant the company’s brand is to the intended market
  • How applicable your capabilities are to the new product

Worst Practice Study: McDonald’s once started offering pizza, assuming that the new product was closely adjacent to existing ones, and targeting its usual customers. The problem is that it violated McDonald’s service-delivery model: employees couldn’t make and serve a pizza within 30 seconds, and the project failed.

How: Using the R-W-W Screen

This tool is used to repeatedly test each project’s viability throughout a product’s development. The R-W-W screen exposes faulty assumptions, knowledge gaps, sources of risk, and problems suggesting termination.  To use it, you need to develop a set of criteria such as the following:

Best Practices Study:
The Background: I served as Director of Marketing for a financial services company that was a major competitor in the Variable Annuity marketplace, which is one marked by keen competition and slim margins. This company was typically a late follower rather than an early entrant, and often found itself in the defensive position of competing on product features and cost, which placed great pressures on product profit margins.
The Opportunity: I identified an unserved niche market – people on the cusp of retirement. The problem is that annuitants who wanted to tap the cash in their contracts were subject to surrender charges (CDSC – Contingent Deferred Sales Charge) for the first 7 contract years or more. While this type of annuity was an excellent tax-deferred savings and accumulation vehicle for those saving for future retirement, there was no product appropriate for consumers in their 60s who were either just about to retire or recently retired and might need more immediate access to their contract funds.
The Organizational Challenge: The challenge was to move the organization from the late follower mentality to first-to-market to develop a new product solution that would place the company in a position of leadership and surpass the competitor’s market share.
The Process:  I needed to change the mindset of the organization through a process people could buy into. To do this, I needed to get buy-in across disciplines by identifying easy wins that would have impacts early on. Using a R-W-W template, I looked at behaviors and needs in the marketplace, and verified the need – a segment that was unserved.
  • Real? I performed product concept testing among mid size financial planners and confirmed that it was a viable concept up front – before asking the company to put resources into development.   I developed a recommendation for a 3-year  contingent deferred sales charge product that would serve people on the cusp of retirement who had until then no product for their needs.
  • Win? Rather than develop individual products to serve segments where Manulife had no channel presence, we confirmed that there was a viable market and perceived need among mid size financial planners for this product.
  • Worth? We determined internally that such a product was actuarially feasible and would be a good fit for the company’s sales model. It would not cannibalize existing products, for example.

Result:  The company, which had not typically been a first-to-market company, was first to market with this product. Sales goals were exceeded profitably, and we usurped the leading competitor’s market share.

The R-W-W methodology enabled us to leapfrog the competition. In this age, companies have to continually innovate in an unending, linear cycle just to keep up. Market Validation can help you  uncover new opportunities to leapfrog the competition into positions of market dominance.

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