Thank you to my foundations of marketing students for a great Fall 2019 semester. I’m still a new(ish) marketing professor and every class I learn so much more. Last semester was no exception. I’ve been able to finish all the grading, file away my (your) papers and really reflected on how to improve my classes for next semester.
Next semester, I’m teaching Foundations of Marketing again and, for the first time, Consumer Behavior. Both classes are really exciting for me. The Foundations of Marketing is exciting because this will be the third time I’m teaching the course. Each time, I feel a little more grounded in what material I want to cover and what exercises are meaningful. Consumer Behavior is very exciting to me because I am a huge fan of understanding the consumer. I personally feel that understanding the consumer is the most important aspect of successful marketing.
Now my appeal for help from the community. I’m looking for in-class exercises for both foundations of marketing and consumer behavior. I have a business that I think would be great exercise for them to evaluate and come up with suggestions. In addition, the Consumer Behavior class will do a purchase journal. Basically, I’ll ask them to track their purchases for a month and classify the type of purchase, the need it fulfills, etc. What else? Can anyone recommend other exercises, case studies, etc. that would be useful for a marketing class? Did you have any good experiences that I can borrow from?
I read a fair deal. Well, that is when I have time. When I don’t have time I listen to book on tape on my commute. I might be a little old school but I haven’t switched over to podcasts yet. I’ve found navigation on podcasts apps to just be off putting. I try to make things easier by downloading the podcast but then when I’m done with it, there isn’t (at least there isn’t that I’ve found) an easy way to delete the one I’ve just finished and download the next one in order
Anyway, enough whining about the podcast app and onto my book review: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. Nudge was written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, published back in 2008. I’ve listened to it on audio a couple of times. I don’t like book reviews that don’t get to the point, so here’s mine: If you are any way responsible for influencing other peoples’ decisions, then this book is definitely worth the read.
In short, Nudge is a strategy for helping people make better choices. The tricky bit is who gets to decide what “better” means. Many of us are what the authors call “choice architects.” A choice architect is anyone who is orchestrating a situation where another person has to make a decision. This can be official and complex like a human resource person setting up a benefits package selection or very simple and personal, for example offering up options for selection which restaurant to meet in. It turns out that how and in which order you layout options dramatically influence the final choice.
The authors Paternal Libertarian. That is, they believe the institutions have the right and responsibility to influence choices but defend the right of the individual to override the institutional choice. Sort of a maximum choice but we think this is the right one for you sort of situation.
The book reviews a number of biases that humans use in their decision-making process. A couple of the most important ones are “status quo bias” and “herd mentality.” A status quo bias simply means the tendency for people to continue doing what they have been doing, regardless of the situation has changed. Sort of a mental inertia. A great example…..at least for us older people….is the old record club. Sure, you do get 11 albums…long play even….for a penny as long as you agree to the monthly delivery. Enough of the people who sign up for that initial amazing deal forget to cancel their payment each month to make it profitable for the companies to continue to offer this huge loss leader. Herd mentality is where people tend to take the most popular choice….the same as everyone else…..regardless of their personal opinion. In a Nudge situation, this could be offering two choices: A and B. Then putting the words “Most popular” behind the choice you wish the decider to make.
The book is a little overly long in my opinion but definitely worth the read.
“No one wants a 1/4″ drill bit. They want a 1/4″ hole.” – Harvard Business School – Theodore Levitt.
Professor Levitt’s very profound statement is a whole semester’s worth of wisdom for marketing students. Too many marketers…….and I’ve been part of this team too many times to count as well……dive right in with solutions without really understanding the problem. Of course, most of us in business have one big problem, that is grow sales. But as marketers, we need to realize that our problem isn’t our customer’s problem. They have their own needs and our job as marketers is to understand their needs even better than they do.
By saying that people don’t want the drill bit, they want the hole, Professor Levitt is trying to get us to reach a little further into the customer’s need states before we push forward trying to provide them solutions. Perhaps there are other ways, better ways, to deliver a 1/4″ hole than the drill bit. Perhaps when the customer is asking for a 1/4″ drill bit, they are using it to do something different than make a hole……I don’t know what that might be…..but it is possible.
Professor Levitt didn’t quite go far enough though. Why does the customer want a 1/4″ hole? I argue that they don’t. The customer really wants whatever project the 1/4″ is going to help build. Maybe hanging a painting or laying a wood floor. When you understand that, it can help you be sure that your tool and marketing are tuned into what the customer needs. For example, and admittedly, I am not a woodworker, someone hanging pictures may want a laser leveler built right into the drill. Maybe laying floor would be easier if there was a stop built into the drill bit so the carpenter doesn’t drill too deeply. Yes, feel free to correct my poor knowledge of wood working in the comment section.
But are we done yet? I say no. One key to understanding the customer is to realize that people don’t make purely intellectual decisions. We make decisions based on emotional triggers. Intellect can be used to inform our emotions and judgements but it is not the final deciding factor. Therefore, why does the woodworker want the project finished? A person who simply has a passion for working with wood may have different needs than a person who is earning a living that requires 1/4″ holes.
The deeper you drill, ok pun intended, into the customer’s needs, the better you can serve them. The better you can serve the customer, the easier it is to grow your sales.
The tasks of marketing, whether we are talking about traditional marketing, product marketing or new (digital) marketing, really aren’t that hard. At least, they shouldn’t be. Marketing can be broken down into a handful of tasks; find out what your customers want, work internally to ensure you can produce it at a profit, get it placed in distribution and then promote (communicate) it out. Not that difficult. Right?
My Foundations of Marketing class starts tomorrow night. As it stands, I have 36 students and only 9 of them are marketing majors. Believe me, the other students aren’t there because of my reputation as an amazing teacher (despite what the students trying to get into my class off the wait list tell me). The other 27 students are required to be there. The majority of them are finance and accounting majors. I remember many many years ago being a finance major being required to take a marketing class. Yuck, naïve me thought. Marketing is so easy. Hardly worth my time to pay attention. My goal tonight it to convince them that markets isn’t so easy after all. I have three reasons why……if you have more, please share them in the comments section.
1.) The putz on the other side of the board. Probably the most powerful reason that marketing is difficult isn’t because the tasks are so hard, it is because you are actually competing with dozens if not millions of competitors…..and that is only direct competitors. I just googled “how many soda producers are there” and according to the internet (so you know it must be correct) there are ten soda producers in North America. Those are the national producers anyway. So if you are Coke, you have nine other national producers you have do compete against.
But that’s not the end of the competition. Coke also has to compete with hundreds of local soda manufacturers. For example, my original list didn’t show Moxie Soda from Lowell Massachusetts. If I’m in Massachusetts……and close to Lowell, I might chose to satisfy my thirst with the local Moxie over Coke.
But WAIT! That’s not the end of the competition. As a thirst consumer, maybe I’ll quench my thirst with tea, coffee or water. Any of those would serve my thirsty needs as well as Coke and potentially be healthier. As Coke, I have to take into consideration, not just those products I’m competing against but all of their marketers as well. Especially being number one, everyone is out to replace Coke as the drink of choice, at least, for their highly segmented target market.
But WAIT! That’s not the end of the competition……A thirsty consumer might just decide to postpone drinking. This could be because of specific rules, no drinking in class. It could also be because of price, access to funds, inconvenience or a number of other reasons. The final competitor that Coke must deal with is the consumer themselves.
In class, I’m going to try to press this fact by showing a 90 second video that does a really decent job teaching the game of chess. That’s pretty easy. If you can learn it in 90 seconds, chess can’t be that hard. Then I’m going to introduce the class to Tania Sachdev. Tania is an amazing chess player. She grew up in India. I believe her mom taught her chess at age six. She was winning championship before she was twelve and she would wipe the floor with each and every person in my classroom (myself included) in chess……probably simultaneously.
Chess is easy…..unless you are competing against someone like Tania. Similarly, the functions of marketing aren’t that hard. You just have to do them better than your competition.
2.) Consumers lie! Consumers will occasionally lie to market researches. Consumers will frequently lie to themselves. Ok, that was a little dramatic but still true. You can ask customers what they want or why they did something. They will tell you but what they say may not be true. Mainly it isn’t an intentional lie.
Some of the issues is that the consumer really doesn’t care. Am I really going to let the restaurant know when they did a fairly reasonable job with my meal but it really could have used a little more sauce? Not likely. They were competent. I’m not motivated to tell them their little failures (a.k.a. opportunities for improvement). I just might go eat somewhere else, the place that gives a lot of sauce, the next time.
Another issue with consumers is that the ones who are willing to talk to you might not be representative of the feelings all of your customers. You may be working to change your entire system because a small percentage weren’t happy. Worst yet, what those customers are complaining about might be what the majority of your customers love.
Consumers lie to themselves all the time as well. Think of the middle aged guy who suddenly buys a sportscar. Ask him. He’ll tell you all about horsepower, torque (whatever that is) and the zero to sixty in a tenth of a second. Do you really think any of those features are why he bought the hard? It is more likely that his forehead and belt are both growing. The love of his life has heard all of his funniest anecdotes. He needs to feel young and powerful and wanted again. I’m waiting for a sportscar to give a truly honest commercial. “We aren’t the little but we can get you to a pharmacy two towns over faster than a Corolla!”
Sometimes consumers will try to solve a need…….that just aren’t that good at it. A friend who was an engineer for high risk respiratory product. You know when they wear the full body suits with a air supply hose dragging behind them in scary movies? That. One customer complained that when they had to crawl around small spaces, they could kneel on the hose………yeah, no air. So they asked him to design a hose with a metal spring in it, so it couldn’t be crushed. Can you imagine dragging around a fifteen foot spring connected to your face? Sounds awful. Their problem was the air supply getting cut off. My friend designed a solution, which I won’t get into, that was lighter and more flexible than the spring and, more importantly, didn’t kill the worker.
There are all kinds of biases, both from the consumer and from the research, which I’ll get into in another post. The point here is that you, the marketer, has to interpret the consumer better than the competitors’ marketers.
3.) Conflicting priorities – The marketer frequently has limitations put on them by Finance, Accounting, Sourcing, Demand Planning, Legal and Executive Team. I know a lot of marketers call these departments the “sales prevention team,” which I don’t think is fair at all. They have a role to play in making the company profitable as well. The marketer does well to understand their internal team’s goals, so that you can work with them, instead of trying to fight against them.
Keep in mind the wisdom a former boss told me, “People do what they are paid to do.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a marketer or even an executive say, “I’m just going to tell supply chain to increase inventory.” If supply chain’s bonuses are based on keeping inventory low, you can tell them all you want. They may even say, “sure.” They may even add inventory on that one product you are asking about…..and lower inventory on all the other products in their portfolio.
Sales is going to push the marketer to have as much inventory as possible. Keep in mind that your cost of inventory is going to be somewhere in the 10 to 20 percent range (cost of money, insurance, warehousing, etc). So taking your inventory up from a two month supply to a three month of supply is going to lower your margin by 2%……..are you going to eat that or are you going to increase your price. When sales asked me to increase inventory levels and I said, “sure but I’ll need to raise the retail price by $10 to pay for it,” they quickly backed off of their request.
Let’s do one more department. Demand Planning is given bonuses for giving accurate forecasts. Sales think an accurate forecast is a forecast that is less than what they actually sold. I’ve had a great person and salesman tell me that he was a fantastic forecaster because out of the last 36 forecasts, his actuals only came in below his forecasts once……..In marketing, we call that a sandbagger. How much excess and obsolete inventory would have been created if the company produced to his forecasts? The Demand Planner aims to be over forecast 50% of the time and under forecast 50% of the time……you never hit the forecast. That just doesn’t happen.
A marketer must not only understand the consumer but must be able to work within the constraints of their company and their conflicting goals.
For the first thirty days of August, I did a blogging challenge where I was going to aim for 1000 unique visitors by blogging two to three times a week plus using as many blog traffic generating ideas as I could. In the three areas of evaluation (sorry, I’m writing my class and the marketing professor side of me is very close to the surface) how did I do; namely results, effort and learning.
How did I do in terms of results? My intended results was generating enough blog traffic to raise my normal 30 to 50 unique visitors to 1000 visitors. I missed by goal. I did hit 745. That is an increase of around 20 times. I’m pretty pleased with a 2000% increase in one month. According to my Google Adwords dashboard, 600 of those visitors were from SEM (Search Engine Marketing) that I started about half way through. Because cents per click is so low in India and there are so many English speaking people in India, the majority of my SEM visitors came from India. In fact, 70% of my total traffic came from India.
I don’t know if many of my new Indian friends will become repeat readers. I hope they do. If anyone from India is reading this, leave a comment. I’d love to make a connection. I’m concerned that a lot of that traffic was one and done though. I say this because I also picked up around 30 followers over the month. In WordPress, I’m able to see who followed me and who liked my posts…….at least, I can see WordPress people who have done either of those. I did go visit their sites if they had one. Based on their names, pictures and content, I don’t think the fellow bloggers who followed my site were from India. There is one new follower from Ghana, which is great.
I think I may have recently been reevaluated by the spiders (programs that “crawl” around the internet, evaluating websites). I’ve read that it takes up to a month for a spider to visit or revisit your site. A week ago, I had one visitor that the WordPress stats said came from Search Engines. I’ve had 20 visitors from search engines today alone and 64 this week. Definitely something has changed. Assuming I’m correct, that will pay blog traffic dividends for a long time. As long as I don’t slack off with my posting again, I should be able to maintain a better page rank in SERP (Search Engine Page Rank).
I did earn 3 cents for my efforts. I had never turned on advertising on my blog. The blog really wasn’t about making money. About a week ago, I set up paypal, turned on advertising and boy the copper came rolling in…….three times. I did set up affiliate marketing for my blog as well and even posted once about a WordPress 20% off offer. It’s over now I think. Setting up both advertising and affiliate marketing (at least, setting up WordPress affiliate marketing within WordPress) was very easy. I made no efforts to work either of them. I was just evaluating the process.
How did I do in terms of effort? My goal was 15 posts and I hit 14 during my 30 days. This post will make it 15……..that’s kind of cheating a little bit but I’m ok with it. Overall, the amount of effort to write a blog post every other day is not something sustainable for me……I think. There is something very therapeutic about writing, even though I’m not writing about anything personal. It does feel really good to get words on a “page” though, especially now that more people are actually reading those words.
I also spent time nearly every day trying to engage with other bloggers. I commented on their blogs. I liked their posts. I even tried sharing some of their posts. I definitely have something wrong with my set up of WordPress. When I tried sharing another person’s blog posts directly, it came up blank in my blog. Going forward, I can work around that simply by writing a very short post and encouraging people to go visit the other blog. Not a terrible work around and probably a little more intellectually honest. That effort isn’t sustainable for me. I do enjoy reading other blogs and I have learned a lot from them but, for me, continuing to engage with other bloggers will have to be more on a “as the content demands” basis. That is, I won’t go surfing for the sake of surfing. When I’m interested in learning about something, I’ll go find someone who’s been there already and has something to say.
One thing I did not do was to try to get other bloggers to backlink to me. Backlinking is simply having another blogger or website link to something on your blog or website. There are a number of tools out there that will help you evaluate another website’s authority and traffic. Your page rank goes up when higher authority sites link to you, driving more blog traffic through search engines. I don’t know. It felt kind of off to me for this project. I do plan on continuing with the blog now but I wasn’t sure about it even two weeks ago. If you are looking at your blog as an ongoing concern and want to truly drive traffic, do seek out backlinks. The process is pretty simple. Search for other websites, blogs in your area by simply searching your key words. Those that are near the top of SERP are the ones you want. Reach out the blogger or website administer, telling them how much you enjoyed their content and how your content is relevant to theirs. Ask for them to link to something specific on your site……..and repeat.
How did I do in terms of learning? Here I can say that this challenge was an unqualified success. I learned a lot of very useful SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics that are easy to use. For example, the way I think is to start with the category and then clarify with more detail. Therefore, my blog posts were in the form of “30 Day Blogging Challenge – Three Things I Learned About SEM”. That format doesn’t do anything for most readers or for the internet spiders. Now, my blog post titles are in the form of “Three Things I Learned About SEM – 30 Day Blogging Challenge.” Both human and bot prefer that layout.
I also have modified my writing a bit. It is very natural for me to speak in a little bit of a short hand. For example, when once I state in the blog post that this post is about generating blog traffic, I then simply say “traffic” for most of the rest of the post. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well for SEO. Now, I work very hard to cut out a lot of pronouns and to be more precise in my writing. If I am talking about generating blog traffic, I’m going to say generating blog traffic……not just traffic or even generating traffic. It is a good idea to mix up those terms a bit, so I can say generating traffic for a blog or blogging to generate traffic, but you want to use all the key words as frequently as you can without making it a boring read.
I’m still torn about length of posts. I think my natural writing and reading style prefers posts under a 1000 words. 90% of what I read suggests that word counts over 2000 words is more friendly for SEO. I’m trying. I think we are at around 1300 words right now. We’ll hit, maybe, 1500 words before I’m done. My issue is that if I have to hit 2000 to 3000 words every post, I’m likely to post less. I’m concerned that maintaining a higher frequency is also important. Therefore, I make an effort to expand my posts without making them annoying to write or unpleasant to read. Hey, if you are still reading 1300 words in, leave a comment. Let me know.
The point of this entire challenge wasn’t to generate blog traffic……that was just a numerical goal to aim towards. The point was to understand if this was a good assignment for my students. I think it is……just not over 30 days. As an assignment over the course of a semester, I think it would be a good learning exercise. I can work in a lot of traditional marketing topics as well as digital marketing. I’m not going to assign it for this fall though. Maybe in the spring.
I started this blog challenge with the stated goal of generating blog traffic of 1000 unique visitors in 30 days. That would be a 30 fold increase over the several months prior. The real goal, however, was to try out blogging as a valid homework assignment for my upcoming class of Foundation of Marketing…..as a semester long project. It doesn’t look like I’m going to hit the thousand unique visitor goal but I this has been an incredible experiment. I didn’t hit the numerical goal but I definitely hit the learning goal.
Let’s talk numbers first. My blog had been averaging 30 or so unique visitors a month……which is actually impressive since I only posted once this year. Right now, August’s traffic is at 666 unique visitors…….yeah really but with your visit, I’m at least up to 667. I went from 1 blog post in the prior seven months to 13 in August. Honestly, I don’t think that is a rate that I can maintain. Good for a scrum activity to build content but I simply don’t have that much to say. Going forward, I think I’ll maintain a one to two post a week cadence.
Where did all of these visitors come from? Well the majority came from search engine marketing, also known as SEM, also known (in this case) as Google Adwords. There are a lot of ways to do SEM, Google Adwords is probably one of the easiest for a newbie blogger. Many blog hosting platforms are already set up to work seamlessly with Google Adwords. Several even offer credit for your first ad. WordPress, my platform for example, offered $125 free advertising with a minimum spend of $25. That beats a BOGO offer……by a lot. I wasn’t expecting much out of SEM, to be honest. My experience has been that you pay around $2 a click…..$150 total spend (my money plus Googles) at $2 a click…..I figured SEM would generate around 75 visitors to the blog. Oh man, was I wrong? I didn’t realize that the cost per click in India was so low…..around $0.07 a click. As of last night, SEM generated blog traffic just below 600 visitors in about a week with a spend of only $40. Most of my visitors are from India but they are engaging in the blog as well as visitors from other sources and countries….at least as measured in page visits per visitor. The visitors from India don’t seem to be too willing to click like or hit share or even comment. Hey, if you are from India, you are welcome to break the trend and leave a comment. Let me know you’ve been here.
So 90% of the traffic generated was from SEM. That’s great on one level. It well exceeded my expectations and will help my SERP rankings a bit, as long as I keep advertising. I don’t have any expectation that I’ll keep advertising though, since I don’t have any way of making money on my blog other than advertising……which isn’t very lucrative. (I’ve spent $40 in SEM and I earned $0.03 in advertising fees. I do have one affiliate marketing post where I signed up for affiliate marketing for WordPress and put up an offer of 20% off this month. That was the only reference to affiliate marketing BTW and no takers.
Where did the other 60 or so visitors come from? The next three sources of blog traffic were from LinkedIn, WordPress reading area and Facebook. I don’t really use Facebook but I have a lot of connections on LinkedIn. I’m not really a Linked In Open Networker (Lion) but I’m pretty free with gathering links. This blog has also been around so I do have a few followers. I think, though, that the traffic that came in through WordPress was probably more due to the interactions I had with other bloggers. I’ve read more blogs in the last month than I have in the last year…..probably longer. Whenever I read a blog, if I had anything that even remotely contributed to their post, I added it in the comments. Leaving comments behind does leave a link behind but I believe that the biggest lift I got was from the bloggers themselves checking me out. That is not a scalable activity though. Sure, I spent an hour or so a day interacting with other bloggers which got me dozens of visits but there is no way I could have invested the time to turn that dozens into thousands. There is simply not enough hours in the day.
Anyway, my blog’s “day” ends at 9 PM eastern time……..at least it does according to where the traffic stats are assigned……I have no idea why. So just over a full day left and I’m over 300 visitors away. Unless you go on a massive sharing, liking, commenting binge on my blog and blog posts, I’m not making it. I might report in one more time tomorrow but I’ll give a full reporting on Saturday.
Oh, BTW, I’ve decided to NOT assign this to my incoming fall class. I’m going to blog at a weekly rate (or twice a week) over the course of the fall semester. I’m sure I’ll learn a whole lot more over the next four months. Assuming that I’ll teach again in the spring semester, I might assign the blog to them.
My blog traffic has shot through the roof and it is almost all from India. Two days ago, I noticed that I started getting decent (or, at least, generating blog traffic I thought was decent) coming out of Ghana. I don’t know for sure but I felt like the growth in my Ghanaian traffic was linked to starting adwords advertising last week. Looking at where my readers were coming from, geographically speaking, I realized my blog could be interesting to English speaking people anywhere and I expanded my adwords campaign to include more countries with English speakers, including India.
Oh man, I thought I broke something.
Look at my blog traffic for the last three days. The last bar in the chart is today which has a few more hours left in it. 90% of the traffic is from India. I got nervous at first and admittedly second because prior to expanding the ad’s geographic target, I was paying more than a dollar per click. That upward surge looked like it would cost me three to four hundred dollars.
Fortunately, the clicks in India cost mere pennies each instead of the dollar or two clicks in the US and Canada were costing. It made driving blog traffic significantly more affordable.
I checked to see if this new blog traffic had any value by comparing the number of page views per unique visitors. It has remained fairly constant for the last month at around 1.3 page views per unique visitors.
Definitely consider adding India to your ads if you blog is not geographically relevant. You may not get the same number of clicks in India if your blog is all about restaurants in Chicago, for example.
Please give a like and/or share and follow the blog if you’d like to read more in the upcoming weeks. Leave a comment if you are from India. I’d love to hear from you.