Rikki writes.

Marketing, business, media, and their intersections



5 Organizations that Will Rebrand in 2016

brandingMost of us haven’t even started to think about the New Years Resolutions we’ll set and them promptly abandon in early 2016. But brands are deep into media and marketing planning season, thinking about the moves they’ll make in 2016. And many of them will decide that they need the marketing equivalent of a full-body cleanse: a rebrand.

Here are my predictions for the organizations that will rebrand next year (and how they’ll do it):

Continue reading “5 Organizations that Will Rebrand in 2016”

What to Make of “Female Empowerment” Marketing


You can’t miss the recent surge of ad campaigns with messages of female empowerment. It seems like a contemporary phenomenon, but Dove pioneered this movement ten years ago, launching its “Campaign for Real Beauty” in 2004. In its first pass at “real beauty” messaging, Dove deployed ads featuring women with bodies of all shapes and sizes in understated undergarments and minimal makeup, drastically different from the usual lingerie-clad, made-up model. After much acclaim (and press coverage), Dove continued its “real beauty” campaign, partnering with Annie Liebowitz to celebrate the beauty of aging women and eventually zeroing in on the need to help younger women and girls, and society at large, embrace more realistic standards of beauty. In 2010, Dove established “The Dove Movement For Self-Esteem,” which, according to the campaign’s website, “delivers self-esteem education to young people (primarily girls) aged 8-17 years through lessons in schools, workshops for youth groups, and online resources for parents.”

It’s not surprising that other brands have begun to incorporate pro-women messages into their ads, especially in our post-Lean In world. As conversations about “having it all” continue to trend in major publications, and large, pop-culture heavyweights like Google, Twitter, and Facebook publicly commit to diversifying their workforces, brands are trying to tap into the viral potential of female-empowering messages. In fact, many brands have drastically altered their messaging and established philanthropic, educational platforms to back up their efforts. CoverGirl, for example, launched its #GirlsCan ad, which featured celebrity spokeswomen discussing (and rejecting) the limitations that were placed on them as young girls. CoverGirl accompanied this effort with a pledge to donate $5 million over five years to nonprofits that help women “break barriers and blaze trails.”

Continue reading on Women’s Media Center.

Feature in Women’s Media Center

I’m thrilled about my new piece on Women’s Media Center, “Meet Your Brand’s New Spokesperson: Funny, Female, and Fully Clothed.”

Check it out here.


3 Ways to Freshen Up Your Messaging Before the End of the Year

It’s conference season, and the holidays are right around the corner, so marketing professionals everywhere are feverishly creating conference presentations and are eyeball-deep in holiday collateral. During this busy time of year, it’s easy to get bogged down in your benefits statements. You may even get tired of writing the same phrases, no matter how beautifully crafted they are.

Now’s the time to freshen up your messaging. By injecting new ideas into your cache, you’ll energize your sales and marketing teams and attract new customers. Here’s what I do when I need some inspiration:

1. Browse through AngelList. The startups using AngelList to attract and connect with investors are trying to sell themselves with pithy headlines and succinct profiles. Their messaging is as fresh as it gets, since these companies are typically under 3 or 4 years old. Browse through their profiles and think — how would I pitch my product to investors if I were in a fundraising round? Although the messaging you come up with might not be ideal for your current campaigns, it will jumpstart your brainstorm session and lead to new ideas.

2. Shadow a sales rep. Marketing writes the sheet music and salespeople sing the song. How are your clients responding to the lyrics? How are sales reps adding in their own melodies? Are they loving the song and making it even better with their special touch, or are they signing in a completely different key? You’ll never know unless you spend some time with your sales team and hear how clients actually respond to the messaging.

3. Describe my product or campaign to my grandma. We spend a lot of time, and rightly so, identifying and researching our target demographic. We find out what they like, what they understand, and what they know about our products, and then those findings turn into assumptions. It’s important to periodically revisit those assumptions, and describing the benefits of your product to someone who knows nothing about it — ie, your grandma — will do the trick. Assuming you’re not selling record players or Lincoln Town Cars, you’ll have to pare back your core capabilities back to their simplest terms and completely rethink their value.

A Marketer’s Nightmare: Commission-Based Furniture Sales

My husband and I are getting ready to move, and so we’ve been spending quite a bit of time shopping for furniture, appliances, and housewares, visiting retailers both large and small, independently owned and big-box. Of course, as a marketer and as someone who works closely with sales pros, I’m constantly critiquing these stores’ messaging and sales strategies.

For example, today I was at a large store we’ll call Tom’s Furnishing Superstore (but it was really Bob’s Discount Furniture). As expected, a swarm of salivating salespeople immediately began spouting off the discounts and incentives du jour as soon as my husband and I walked through the doors. This type of behavior is the reason I hate going to furniture stores. Aggressive, hovering salespeople make me uncomfortable, and their selling style is incredibly ineffective — your pitch shouldn’t precede any understanding of your buyer’s needs. Nevertheless, Tom’s redeemed itself with one clever in-store tactic: they had a cafe with tables, huge jars of complimentary candy and carafes of coffee, lemonade, and tea for shoppers waiting on paperwork or bored children. Their prices were competitive, but their selling techniques have ensured that I’ll be making my purchase online.

After our trip to Tom’s, we headed to an appliance and electronic store that I’ll call JJ Craig (but it was really HH Gregg). We were mercifully greeted by just a single salesperson, who got off on the right foot by asking us a few questions before delving into the weekend’s sales. But things went downhill when we requested more details on the products. It became clear that he wasn’t familiar with the appliances he was trying to sell us. He was flipping through manuals for basic capabilities. He couldn’t tell us if the microwave/hood had a matching oven and refrigerator (It did. We found them.) So, although he was appropriately eager, he couldn’t really sell because he didn’t understand what he was selling.

Now, listen, I understand that a commission-based retail job is no walk in the park. These two salesmen are not in charge of their company’s marketing, pricing, and likely did not receive a great deal of training. However, you don’t need to be at the corporate level to implement these basic sales and marketing strategies:

1. Know your product. Use it. Talk to people who use it. You can’t market what you don’t understand.

2. Know your customer. The sales guys I met this weekend were obviously motivated to make a sale. But they weren’t interested in what I wanted to buy. Neither of them spent much time finding out what I was looking for. Instead, they focused on the pre-packaged incentives designed to make me spend a ton of money, and when my needs didn’t fit into this package, they fumbled.

2. Don’t treat your customer like a target. Because of their aggressive commission structure, sales pros tail you through aisles of appliances and stand awkwardly close to you in crowded living room displays. They repeat their name to you over and over, shoving piles of business cards into your hands, not because they want you to call them by name but because they don’t want you to forget to mention their name at check out. Instead of putting so much effort into tracking the customer like a hunter, focus on offering expertise and service, and loyalty will naturally follow.

Is Your Story Relevant to Your Brand?

Think of your favorite commercial.

Is it the one where the kid says “Tape a cheetah to her back”?

How about the one where the guy accidentally hits “reply-all” and then runs around smacking smartphones out of people’s hands?

Now, tell me what companies or products those commercials are advertising. Can you remember? I couldn’t.

This is one of the mistakes many advertisers are making these days. We’re so obsessed with delivering interesting, funny content that we’re failing to connect that content to our brand. A compelling story is important, but if your audience doesn’t associate that story with the product you’re trying to sell, the story has failed you.

Fortunately, we can all learn from example: many companies out there are getting it right: creating funny, memorable ads that tell a story and connect the viewer/reader to the brand without being them over the head.  Here’s how to do the same:

1. Always return to a central message or tagline. For example, Geico continues to create an array of story lines with the Geico gecko and the “How happy are folks who save hundreds of dollars switching to Geico?” series (including the Hump Day commercial you’re probably sick of , but they consistently tie their stories — however varied and off-beat they may be — back to their tagline “15 minutes can save you 15% or more.”

2. Rely on a main character. It’s no coincidence that ultra-popular series of fiction often follow a central character or group of characters  (think Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, 50 Shades, etc). Audiences fall in love with characters and want to watch them grow. You can recreate this with your brand storytelling. Focusing on a recurring character allows you to present a variety of value statements and target disparate audiences while continuing to connect your message with a central character, representing  the heart of your brand. Allstate does a great job of this by focusing on two recurring characters, “Mayhem” and their spokesperson, Dennis Haysbert. By employing both of these characters, they’re able to produce two very different types of ads (and, thus, appeal to two very different types of audiences) without coming across as inconsistent.

3. Stick with a specific theme or format. If you unify your stories with a specific theme, technique, color scheme, or “look and feel,” that theme will become synonymous with brand and your stories will fall into place. Think of Google’s commercials, which implement the same montage theme punctuated by shots of search boxes. At the beginning of these commercials, the viewer is already primed to recognize these stories as Google’s.

How are you ensuring that your audience remembers your brand as much as they remember your story? Tweet me @rikki_rogers.

[Don’t] Come and Knock on our Door

Earlier this year I began working from home as manager of marketing for a software start-up. Working from home is immensely beneficial for me — I don’t have to deal with the DC traffic (which guarantees an hour commute, no matter where you’re going). I can easily take care of parental responsibilities that must happen during business hours, and — this one might be the best — I don’t spend 45 minutes every day grooming myself into something appropriate for public view.

But since I’ve been working at home, I’m surprised by how many solicitors, salespeople, and grass-roots volunteers knock on my door every day. It’s constant. As someone who works closely with sales pros, I understand that these folks are just doing their jobs. And plenty of salespeople have told me that door-to-door work helps sales help build the tough skin they’ll need down the road.

But as a marketer, I question the strategy. As people become less sensitive to maintaining online privacy, they become more sensitive to maintaining physical privacy. I’m definitely in this camp. I find door-to-door sales and flyer-dropping aggressive and invasive. If I wanted to replace my roof or switch cable providers, I’d be online reading reviews and researching prices, not waiting for a stranger to give me an awkward pitch and try to politely ignore the fact that I’m in my bathrobe.

There’s no faster way to turn me off to your brand or flag your company as out-of-touch than to send a uniformed man to my door in the middle of the day, or, worse, dinner, or, worser, cocktail hour. Make a smart marketing decision and reinvest those dollars online. Your reputation and your ROI will thank you.

Am I wrong? I haven’t found a reputable recent study that shows a worthwhile ROI on door-to-door, but let me know if you’ve seen otherwise. I’m always on Twitter, @rikki_rogers.

Content is King, and We’re Ruining His Rep

The modern buyer is connected, social, and able to learn about you and what you’re selling on her own. This is true whether you’re in the B2B or B2C world. When your buyer researches your product, she isn’t looking for a pitch, she’s looking for credibility. Content — beautifully written blog posts, hilarious videos, ironic memes, or even simple, easy-to-follow instructions — provides the credibility and likability your buyer wants to see.

And what marketer wouldn’t produce content when, according to Hubspot (a prolific content producer itself), companies that post more than 15 blogs each month get 5 times as much website traffic?

This deck shares some of the most compelling stats about content marketing, but the main point is this: There’s a lot of content out there. Nine out of ten companies market with content. There are 27 million pieces of content shared each day. 86% of B2C marketers and 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing. And, this stat is one I discovered on my own, 100% of people don’t have time to digest all this crap.

As a marketer actively engaged in content marketing, I am overwhelmed by the amount of content in my Twitter feed. Some brands are getting it right, creating content that I genuinely want to read, watch, and share. (Examples from my current space: Salesforce, Econsultancy, CEB), while others are getting it wrong, publishing repetitive fluff that masquerades as substantive content. The fluff, though, detracts from the good stuff, and gives all of content marketing a bad reputation. Buyers are tired of sifting through blog posts listing the same 3 things the most successful people do every morning. They’ve read all the must-read tips. Their calendars are full of redundant webinars, and their inboxes overflow with vague whitepapers.

To make sure your marketing strategy lands in the substantive camp:

1. Use a real writer. If you’re planning on producing written content, you must fully board the content marketing train by hiring a creative, articulate writer (or finding one within your company) who’s familiar with your industry and your target market. Don’t assume that anyone with a Twitter account and some WordPress experience can do this for you. Look for writers who can help you develop an approachable, trustworthy tone and are familiar with writing for the web.

2. Don’t copy, just link. Too many content producers surf the twittersphere for what’s trending and then write a not-quite-plagiarized version of someone else’s content. There’s nothing wrong, though, with simply asking permission to re-blog someone else’s content and give them credit. The original author will usually gladly accept, you’ll get just as many reads (or more, since the original content is probably better than your paraphrased version), and you’ve created grounds for a potential partnership.

3. Collaborate. People like to hear from the experts, and inviting them to share their knowledge through your content channel is a great way to build credibility. Ask clients, partners, and executives (or other internal leaders) to guest author blogs, co-write ebooks, or star in a video.

4. And speaking of video, use it wisely. It’s true that, in our “crazy busy” world, buyers are more likely to watch a video than read an article. But videos still need a writer to develop a storyline, align it with existing messaging, and draft a script that lends itself to natural delivery.

How are you ensuring that your content breaks through the clutter? Tweet me @rikki_rogers.

Marketing Lessons from a New Mom

I’ve recently had a major life event — I’ve changed demographics. That’s right, I’m no longer a married woman 25-34. I’m now a married mother 25-34, children 2 and under. The boxes I tick off are totally different now. It’s been life-altering.

I wrote a few months ago about how I was marketed to as a mother-to-be and some of the opportunities I thought marketers were missing. As a new mom, I’m still a prime target for a slew of products. But just as I did during my pregnancy, I see major marketers missing opportunities and, frankly, making some mistakes when targeting women like me.

First, companies need to be completely transparent with new parents about how they’ve collected their contact information. One of the many lovely results of post-partum hormonal changes is a heightened, almost animal compulsion to protect your baby at all costs, and it’s quite alarming when baby products show up at your doorstep that you haven’t ordered.  The biggest perpetrator here are the formula companies, Enfamil and Similac, who sent whole cases of formula with congratulatory notes addressed to me by first and last name. I also received personalized offers from Huggies, Pampers, and Disney Movies, among others. How did they get my name and address? How did they know exactly when my child would be arriving? Chances are they purchased my information from another company I actually signed up to do business with, like BabyCenter or, which ask for your name and due date when you set up your account. The last thing marketers should want to do is turn off new moms — in their already paranoid state — by making them think about the public nature of their whereabouts. These companies should broadcast their affiliations in bright bold letters, not bury it in fine print.

Marketers should also consider the timing of their advertising. Case and point: less than eight hours after I gave birth to my son, a photographer walked into my hospital room and asked if I wanted to schedule and purchase newborn photos. I had been awake for 36 hours and was trying to nurse my baby for the third time in my life, so, needless to say, I was not in the mood to be sold. When I declined, she tried to get my email address so they could send me follow-up offers.  I was not amused. Fast forward five weeks, and I’m dying to spend money, most likely because going to Target is one of the only activities I can successfully manage with my baby. If I were to receive some offers in the mail now for, say, nursing-friendly dresses or large bags of ground coffee, I would head to the store in a heartbeat.

Finally, product marketers need to ensure that their product or service is easy to use. And by easy, I mean that I can use it one-handed. I’m not just referring to physical objects here (like Medela’s hands-free breast pump — genius), but also to services like websites and apps. For example, I was able to create my birth announcements on Shutterfly with one hand while simultaneously breastfeeding. It took four minutes. And you can bet that a year from now, when I’m choosing Christmas cards or birthday invitations, that I’ll return to their site. By contrast, if your product requires two hands or is in any way difficult or frustrating, I’m bailing. I downloaded a breastfeeding tracker app that took about 30 seconds to open on my iphone. That 30 seconds is the difference between my son patiently waiting in my arms and screaming bloody murder, so the app-maker promptly lost me as a user.

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