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I saw a news article this week which made me think about branding vs. audience engagement.

More specifically, it made me wonder how big the gap might be between marketing investments that primarily strive for brand awareness, and marketing that focuses on creating true business-building customer engagement.

Maybe you saw the article, too. Monday’s AdvertisingAge e-newsletter reported on Aflac’s search for a new “spokes-quacker.” The insurer recently cut loose comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the voice behind its brand mascot, the now famous Aflac duck.

Gottfried had tweeted a reference to the tsunami in Japan, using it as the basis for a wisecrack about the current state of his love life. With 70 percent of Aflac’s revenue coming from Japan, the tweet prompted Aflac marketers to send Gottfried packing.

The article went on to report:

  •  Aflac’s Gottfried-voiced duck campaign, which debuted in 2000, is largely credited with driving the company’s brand awareness from 11 percent to 95 percent as far back as 2006.
  • Since 1999, Aflac’s market share in the accident and health insurance category has grown from 7.88 percent to 9.04 percent, making Aflac in 2010 the category’s No. 1 brand.
  • Aflac spent $81 million on “measured media” last year.
  • While the insurer has cut ties with its spokesperson, the spokes fowl will continue to feather Aflac’s nest. “The duck is here to stay,” was the quote from an Aflac marketer. 

 

Branding vs. Customer Engagement
I don’t have the real data on this, but let’s assume Aflac has spent at half its 2010 pace on duck-driven advertising over the past decade. If so, it’s probably invested more than $400 million to make an impression on the market through the voice and playful antics of a duck.

In return, the company saw brand awareness skyrocket by more than 80 percentage points. At the same time, the company’s business as gauged by market share (not a true measure of revenue and ROI, but let’s call it a proxy) grew just over one percentage point.

Accident and health insurance is presumably a multi-billion insurance category, so a gain of one point in market share certainly represents a boatload of additional revenue.

Still, the story made me wonder what might have happened to share and revenue if Aflac had spent an equal amount of money on content marketing. Maybe not even an equal amount. Let’s say a fraction of that amount.

Dunno the answer. Not sure there is a definitive answer. In fact, I’m not even sure this is a criticism of Aflac’s marketing strategy. The question just came to mind.

What’s your take?

It’s no longer 1999. It’s 2011. If you had the option to spend $80 million this year to have an animal squalk at your audience, in hopes of growing awareness for your brand, or spend $8 million on content, looking to attract customers into engagement with your brand, which would you choose?

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carlin_dvd_frontThe late, great George Carlin was one of my favorite comedians. Carlin died last year at age 71. At least for me, no comic before or since has combined intelligence, facility with language and offbeat insight into humanity’s flaws and foibles with quite his flair.

According to Wikipedia, Carlin was a five-time Grammy winner, the first person to host Saturday Night Live, and is ranked second, behind Richard Pryor, on Comedy Central’s list of all-time list comic greats.

So what does Carlin have to do with creating and delivering communications to support your sales force?

Seven words.

 

Words to the Wise
Noteworthy in Carlin’s legacy is a routine he crafted around “Seven Dirty Words.” The routine became central to a U.S. Supreme Court case in which, by the slimmest of margins, the court upheld government’s right to regulate “indecent” material broadcast over public airwaves.

Now, to be clear, I don’t plan to restate Carlin’s seven words here. And using rough language routinely is not likely to get your sales force far.

But it strikes me there’s a string of seven words that, if able to be stated by more sales reps, would unlock fresh opportunities to be nimble and strategic in how they approach and communicate with customers.

These same seven words would allow marketing communicators to be more immediate, efficient and versatile in how they deliver content to sales — and ultimately to buyers and specifiers.

And, unlike Carlin’s seven, which you could argue are in fairly common use, these seven are considerably underutilized in day-to-day selling.

So, what are these seven magical sales-support words?

 

Let me show you on the Internet.

 
Acceptable variants would be  “Let me show you what I mean,” or “Let me show you how it works,” with the Web as an eventual destination implied.

If the conversation were happening by phone, the seven words might be, “Have you got Internet access right now?” If a rep bumped into someone in a hallway or lobby, the seven words might be: “Can we go back to your desk?”

So it’s not really about seven specific words, but more to the underlying point:

The Web, surprisingly, is still a relatively untapped resource in how most organizations deliver sales support.  


The Net-Net of Effective Sales Support

Think about how much time, effort and resources go into getting reps equipped to deliver an effective, consistent message and presentation. The printed brochures, sell sheets and collateral systems. The PowerPoints. The lugging along of projectors, samples, flip charts and display boards.

Now ask yourself how much more empowering it would be if a rep, after an initial conversation, could simply go to any Internet-connected computer and explore — in a way tailored to the particular client — a treasure trove of customer-facing content. Information. Case studies. Research. Visualization tools. Calculators. And more.

Is this an argument for keeping your corporate Web site in a perpetual state of brochureware?

No. It’s about making relevant, value-adding, even inspirational content readily accessible online — either within a special section of your Web site, or on a separate, dedicated microsite.

Do that, with the right content, and no joke: You’ll notice customers and prospects smiling. And you’ll see more sales reps, more often, laughing all the way to the bank.

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