The 2007 Marketing Arena: Take Your Best Shot

By Oct 12, 2006

During Roger Federer’s stunning victory at this year’s U.S. Open, the camera panned frequently to Tiger Woods, who was there as Roger’s guest. There they were, two of the best athletes in the world, possibly the best ever in their respective sports, sharing a cross-border, cross-sport, cross-race moment of mutual admiration.

How quaint, right? Or perhaps this was actually a brilliant product placement scheme by Phil Knight, ensuring that the Nike brand was front and center the entire match.

As we look ahead to the 2007 marketing arena–and below are my picks for the 10 trends most worth watching–we should do so with both wonder and cynicism, cheering greatness and booing duplicity.

1) Instant replay. Just as the new instant replay system at this year’s U.S. Open kept the line judges honest, bloggers are bringing a new level of scrutiny to corporations and their marketing activities. Marketers must assume tat they live in glass houses and that consumers are armed with some pretty large stones. Spy on other members of your board of directors and you will be exposed by a blogger. Pretend to be a “lonely girl” and you’ll be outted by a blogger as the scripted actress you really are. Deliver subpar service and the world will know about it faster than you can say “go to Dell.” Try to pass off a YouTube video as consumer-generated content and you will be exposed faster than you can rap “Smirnoff Raw Tea.”

Directness and honesty will not only help you win a lot of points, but they will also allow you to recover from some bad shots. This is exactly what the folks at Facebook discovered when their recent “upgrade” caused an uproar among their stalwarts who decried a loss of privacy. Bombarded with negative emails and postings, Facebook management was quick to respond, first with a “don’t panic, we hear you” posting followed later by a “you’re right, we fixed it” note to all of its loyal users.

2) Service returns. In a world of glass houses, the winners will be those companies that focus first and foremost on customer satisfaction. Expect more companies to redouble their efforts to improve customer satisfaction in 2007 at every point of contact. Contact center response times will be heavily scrutinized with the goal of reducing “hold time” to seconds instead of minutes. More companies will offer the “push zero” feature providing valuable customers relief from endlessly annoying phone trees. Online customer support will also improve radically as more companies offer “live” support along with improved search functionality enabling customers to find what they seek in a click or two.

3) Net Promoter scores big. As customer satisfaction moves to the forefront of business strategies, expect more companies to use new metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) to assess progress and reward performance. Net Promoter Score was developed by former Bain consultant Fred Reichheld and measures the relative strength of brand promoters vs.brand detractors. His research found that companies with a high NPS consistently outperformed those with a lower customer satisfaction rating. The beauty of NPS is that it only requires asking one question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend brand X to a friend?” Enlightened companies such as General Electric have already made NPS ratings an integral part of their business, basing 20% of compensation on NPS scores.

4) Defend your end with blog monitors. One of the most remarkable parts of Roger Federer’s game is his ability to hit cross-court winners even when seemingly out of the point. In 2007 marketers will enhance their ability to defend against potentially ruinous blog attacks by dedicating resources to blog monitoring and blog response. “Blog monitor” will finally become a full-time position in the communications department as opposed to the occasional activity of a lone blognut. In addition to tracking blog noise, the blog monitor will actively engage other bloggers, correcting mistruths and responding to issues as they arise. Corporate blogs will also be an important defensive weapon, assuming that the authors are empowered to tell the truth, even if that means admitting a product shortcoming (as Dell ultimately did with its exploding battery crisis).

5) Hit the corners. In the 2006 U.S. Open finals, Federer out-aced the more powerful Andy Roddick 17-7, trading speed for increased accuracy. Similarly, foresighted marketers will seek out the corners, mining new niches with increasing accuracy and reward.

Case in point: Unilever created All Small & Mighty detergent, packing a lot of cleaning punch into a small container. Targeting city dwellers who hate lugging heavy containers to the laundromat, Small & Mighty has found a sweet spot and is cleaning up.

Another example: Panasonic recently introduced a dazzling 103-inch plasma TV that retails for just shy of $75,000–including, of course, custom installation. Clearly this is not a product for the masses, but in addition to providing bragging rights for producing the world’s largest plasma, no self-respecting billionaire will want to be left of the waiting list for this “must have” jaw -dropper.

6) Eco-everything. Although the U.S. Open repainted its courts from green to blue, smart marketers will bake in eco-friendly “green” strategies across the board in 2007. Remarkably, Wal-Mart appears to be leading the way in this arena with its new “Embrace the Earth” mission that pushes “sustainability” on its vendors the way it used to push price slashing. Suddenly Wal-Mart is the world’s largest buyer of organic cotton, “fair trade” coffee, and energy-efficient light bulbs.

While Wal-Mart bashers will argue that these efforts are simply window-dressing to spruce up a tarnished image, the ripple effect will be enormous. Thousands of other companies will be forced to examine the “greenness” of their manufacturing and distribution processes.

In addition to the environmental impact, the sales impact could be enormous. Just imagine how different Ford’s current situation would be had Bill Ford actually lived up to his self-proclaimed status as an environmentalist in 2000. Rather than being dragged down by old-school, gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, Ford could be going head to head with Toyota with hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars of the future.

Ah yes, hindsight is always 20-20. But for the rest of you marketers, the match has just begun, and may the most eco-friendly win.

7) Even more user-generated content. Just as Roger Federer dominated the tennis world, user-generated content (UGC) seemed to be all the rage in 2006. Everyone from Doritos to MasterCard offered UGC programs. And not without good reason: Consumers really responded.

The UGC program that we at Renegade Marketing Group created for Panasonic (see www.ShareTheAir.net) has been great for truly engaging the action sports community. Mentos’s effort to ride the wave of consumer interest in watching Coke bottle geysers has created a corresponding explosion in sales (up 17% year-over-year, which is really strong for a modestly supported and otherwise blah candy brand).

Looking ahead, however, marketers will need to raise the ante if they hope to get consumers involved in such campaigns. One way will be to offer cash (or other incentives), not just for the winners as Doritos is doing but for the producers of all UGC that other consumers end up watching. This “pay for play” approach is certainly gaining traction with the emergence of Current TV (which is paying for ads) and Revver.com (which is paying for content). Creative consumers will undoubtedly take the Willie Sutton approach and follow the money.

8) No more lines. For years, marketers have been dividing their communication budgets into “above the line” and “below the line” buckets. More recently they have focused on offline vs.online activity. Hopefully, 2007 will be the year that marketers say “forget the lines” and look at their communications as one continuous conversation that seamlessly weaves across media, turning prospects into customers and ultimately into brand advocates. To achieve this, marketers will need a new approach to strategy development and product management, creating briefs that embrace multichannel ideation and managers who seek ideas, not tactics. Unilever is a leader in this area, and its results have been extraordinary, setting the standard with programs such as Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and the Axe Effect campaign.

9) Digital daring. Roger Federer’s performance in 2007 is likely to settle the debate over whether or not he deserves the title “best ever.” Similarly, 2007 will be the proving ground for a number of emerging digital media weapons from mash-ups to RSS to virtual worlds. Google led the way with map-based mash-ups like the one it executed for the second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (www.discoverpirateisland.com/). Zillow.com created quite a stir with its mash-up of real estate sales data and mapping software, providing instant value estimates for just about every address in America. With RSS feeds just about everywhere, consumers can control how they access content. For example, on Expedia you can get personalized travel deals delivered wherever and whenever you want them. And virtual worlds like Second Life coming on strong, attracting hundreds of thousands of players and forward-thinking marketers such as American Apparel and Wells Fargo, both of which set up virtual stores for virtual commerce. While none of these new media approaches are likely to conquer the world by themselves, for the right companies each could play a fruitful role in next year’s marketing mix.

10) Innovation triumphs. Part of the genius of both Woods and Federer is that they successfully execute shots that their competitors can’t even imagine attempting. A similar kind of innovation will propel select marketers and select agencies to new heights in 2007.

On the client side, companies can’t afford to keep pushing the same products while competitors rush to market with less expensive knock-offs. Apple continues to be the poster child for innovation, bringing out new iPods and Macs that are faster, cheaper, smaller, and cooler before competitors can even respond to previous iterations. Agencies have an opportunity to use their considerable skills in understanding consumers and culture and in producing remarkable ideas to help organizations change the way they operate.

To innovate, companies of all kinds will need to extend their core competencies to new arenas. Take 37signals, a Web design shop that built a successful project management product. Or Thread, a New York agency that introduced a bottled water called Fred. The opportunities for innovation abound; the only impediment is the will to go for it.

Drew Neisser is president/CEO of Renegade Marketing Group (www.renegade.com), a New York-based promotion and interactive agency.