Wednesday, August 16, 2006

New Blog Location

Hi Everyone,
Just wanted to let everyone know that I've relocated my homepage. This blog, my friends, is now inactive.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Thanks, Safeway!

Safeway brings us yet another marketing lesson.

Mercifully, they’ve dropped the “Ingredients for Life” campaign. In its place we have a benefits-oriented campaign focusing, at least in part, on produce. The new tagline: “Our fruit is not just picked, it’s chosen.”

That's great! Now that's a good reason to choose Safeway. I mean, that is, it's a good reason if they actually do have a better selection process. But wait, if this were true, if Safeway was truly superior in this respect, why are they so vague about it? From what I've seen they're about as good as the other guys.

So what's the marketing lesson? The lesson is this: Vague claims are weak because someone who is even slightly cynical about marketing messages (almost everyone) will instinctively discount the claim to match the impression they already had.

Firm claims, toothy claims, on the other hand, can change opinions and behavior. Why? Because they limit how much someone can discount them.

Consider what would motivate you more:

1. "We're lightning fast!"
2. "We deliver within 24 hours or it's free."

As Word Mercenary, Chris Haddad, is fond of saying, "marketing is the art of making a promise and keeping it." He's right. So if your claim is true, turn it into a promise and put some teeth into it. If it's not true -- if it's just hype -- then you're going to be ignored, and well.. you probably deserve it.

Pavlovian Marketing

For those of you who never took Psych 101, Pavlov was this researcher who rang a bell every time he gave his dog some food. The dog, upon seeing the food would start salivating. Eventually, much to the canine's chagrin, the good doctor would ring the bell, present no food, and the dog would salivate anyways.

This principle, I believe, is the foundation of much of traditional marketing. Take a typical beer ad. By relentlessly pairing the logo with bubbly, bikini-clad blonds, the targeted 21-35 year-old male will eventually salivate upon seeing just the logo.

Devilishly clever! And it would have worked too...if we had the cognitive capacity of a dog!

Blogging with the Whales

Here's a great example of the power of a business blog --Blogging with the Whales.

For more reasons to start your own blog, read my post, Why You Need a Blog.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

If you're on the web, read this...

Here's article about an eye-tracking study that reveals how people actually look at websites.

Survey offers a 'sneak peek' into Net surfers' brains

Some highlights are:
--When there is less on a page, users read more.
--People are extremely good at screening out things and focusing in on a small number of salient page elements.
--Consumers are blind to banner ads and elements that seem like they might be ads.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Egg-regiously out of touch

As if 3000 commercial messages a day wasn't enough, some clever folks came up with a way to pack in even more. Come September CBS will begin egg advertising. That's right, eggs with ads.

What's most fascinating is not the desperation it signifies. It's how gleefully out of touch CBS is about the whole thing.

George Schweitzer, president of the CBS Marketing Group said of the campaign, "It's one of the ways we can be intrusive and inclusive. It's right in your face. You can't avoid it."

It's intrusive. It's in your face. You can't avoid it. And somehow, combined with unbearably witty puns such as, "CBS Mondays -- Leave the Yolks to Us," we will be lured to CBS' s new lineup?

TVviewershipp is in a rapid decline -- July saw the least-watched week in TV history. All the while, authentic user-generated media such as YouTube are rapidly growing.

Maybe, just maybe, the TV industry's one-sided, in-your-face philosophy is the problem, not the solution.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

3000 every day!

Researchers say we're exposed to 3000 commercial messages every day.
Pretty impressive considering that we're only awake for 960 minutes a day (16 hours x 60 minutes). That averages out to a whopping 3.125 per minute!

At some point you reach saturation and people start tuning it out. And if you ask me, I'd say we passed that point long ago. I mean, does it really matter if it's 3000 or 300,000? It's all just noise.

The thing is, we all want to find the next product we love. But we're not looking to marketers to show it to us. We're looking to other people, both online and off, for honest and credible recommendations. One recent study found that people talk about products and services in about 25% of their conversations.

When designing your own marketing plan, consider what would influence you more -- being "exposed" to 100 ads for Brand X, or one friend saying, "Brand Y is great. You'll love it."

Sure, designing a plan to get the second result is a little more complicated, but at least it works.

Monday, July 10, 2006

It's not about you...

If you keep up with the marketing gurus of the day you've heard it over and over again: "It's not about you. It's about THEM." It's good advice. Great advice, even. Nobody cares about you. They just care about what you can do for them.

Though all this sounds obvious, few people seem to really understand what it means. It's more than just saying, "Product X will make YOU happy." It means seeing the situation from the customers' perspective and constructing your product and your marketing to be meaningful and valuable within that context.

To see through the customers' eyes, big companies use focus groups, surveys, demographics, market trends and countless other tools that add up to more than the GDP of Djibouti.

For us little guys, that kind of research is not an option. That's just fine. As little guys we have a profound advantage: We're closer to our markets and that means we can know them with greater depth than any research could ever achieve.

For the scrappy little company, seeing through the customers' eyes can be a simple process. Start with the goal of creating something that would excite the target market -- something they could buzz about. Then design it as best you can on your own. And the deceptively simple coup de grace.... ask them what they think!

I've done this countless times and it works beautifully. With your big plan at the ready, call up someone in your target market (chances are you know them already) and ask them out to lunch to brainstorm with you about how to make your plan even better. Ask them about features they might want, what the competition is doing, how they look for a product/service like yours... anything you can think of that could make you more relevant, credible and valuable.

Don't stop with just one brainstorming session, though. Keep going until you're confident that you're actually seeing it through their eyes and giving them what they want.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The First Expenditure

When a customer encounters your business, what is their first expenditure?

Easy, right? You deposited it in the bank. You even know the date and time.

Nope. The first expenditure -- that is, the first time they gave you something of value -- was the first time they paid attention to you. I know this sounds a little corny, but it's more than just a (not so) clever play on words.

With the enormous demands on our attention -- from friends, work, family and, of course, marketers -- it's a valuable commodity.

Most marketing doesn't seem to recognize this. Attention is often treated as though we all have a surplus and all you have to do is ask for it (or take it).

A rule to live by is that if you're asking for attention you have to give something back. And the more attention you need, the more you have to give.

From a strategic standpoint that means that everything you do needs to demand as little attention as possible. That means more than just simplifying your website or streamlining the buying process. It means understanding your potential customer's thought process and anticipating their needs.

Then, when you've made every step as easy and clear as possible, you have to reward your potential customers every step of the way. I've said it before but it bears repeating. The reward doesn't need to be (and usually shouldn't be) monetary. It just needs to be valuable. Good information is valuable. Fun is valuable. Catering at your event is valuable. Making new friends is valuable.

If at any point the costs outweigh the perceived benefit, the chain is broken and you're going to lose customers. So be thorough. Keep it simple and clear. Ask for a little. And give a lot.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Does Viral Marketing Work?

Intuitively, viral marketing makes sense. It's free exposure. People like it. They tell their friends. It gets covered in USA Today. With thousands of people aware of your business, how can it not turn into clients?

How indeed.

The problem with this thinking is the same problem with traditional marketing. It's the belief that awareness is somehow valuable in and of itself.

But it's not.

My question is, how do you know it's not doing more harm than good.

Take Burger King's Subservient Chicken. It got a lot of attention, but did it increase sales? According to an AdWeek case study it might have, but the results are so vague that you can't rule out the possiblity that it had the opposite effect.

Or look at Career Builder's Monk-E-Mail. It's great! I love making monkeys talk. And my toddler, Eli, went into a fit of awe and laughter (and for that, I thank them). I even sent it to my friends. Now they're "aware" of Career Builder too.

But in either of these cases, where exactly is the point of influence? How do they amplify other components of a larger strategy? Or, are they just unstrategic, unmeasurable "awareness" campaigns that may or may not help the company?

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Awareness" doesn't count for much

Most businesses and marketers have an almost dogmatic faith in the power of "Awareness." It's one of those self-evident truths that if lots of people know about you, you'll get lots of business.

Unfortunately, that's not how it works.

Awareness is just the critical first step. But on its own it counts for nothing. In a previous post I talked about how marketing is like dating. In this case it would be like walking into a bar and shouting "I'm up to 40% more interesting. Call me at 1-800-GREAT-GUY." (And you're yelling over 100 other people who are "Your Dating Solution.")

I guarantee, if you do it long enough you'll get a few calls... but only from the few unlucky souls who haven't realized that there are billions of other ways to meet people online and off.

Awareness used to count for something, but today consumers demand more. You have to go beyond stealing a moment of attention. You have to give them a reason to keep listening. And most importantly, you have to offer something worth having.

Why You Need a Blog

I've been thinking a lot about blogs lately. At first I was skeptical about their use as a marketing tool. But then I did my own informal research and now I'm convinced... you need a blog.

Ok, not everybody needs a blog. Just the ones who have something worth talking about. But if you don't have something worth talking about, you're in trouble and you need to seek professional help.

For an example of how to do it right, read the blog for my favorite cafe, Victrola Coffee, and consider how it shapes your opinion of the place.

It doesn't even matter if people come back to it regularly -- though that's a great goal. The most important impact happens on the first skim. Sure, Victrola could just tell you about their passion for coffee. But the blog shows that passion. And that's the fundamental difference. Blogs do not just TELL you about a company, they SHOW you.

A good blog makes it almost effortless for potential clients to sell themselves on working with you. When comparing businesses, most people will presume that web content is probably just paid-for puffery. A blog, on the other hand, has an air of authenticity and can show your credibility, dedication, expertise and personality better than almost any other medium.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Never Mimic the Competition

Today I read some marketing advice that made me cringe. This "traditional" marketing firm (which shall remain nameless) recommended that when entering a market you study the most successful of your competitors so you can become just like them. The presumption was that if they're successful they're doing something right, so what they're doing is the right thing to do.

It makes so much sense in theory but has nothing to do with reality.

Mimicking the competition is a strategy for failure. If you're just like everybody else, you're offering no compelling reason for anyone to choose you over them. And without a compelling reason your only recourse is to outspend them on advertising. But that's a strategy for failure too because advertising rarely returns more than it costs.

I say, find a niche that nobody else is serving very well, and design your business around them. If you do it right you'll create that compelling reason that makes people want to go to you and only you.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I hate creativity

The marketing world has an unhealthy fixation with creativity. Billions of dollars and countless hours are spent to develop and disseminate witty words and fancy graphics. They labor and they spend as if it actually worked; as if their creative genius somehow subverts our will and compels us to buy.

Look at the "Priceless" campaign. Brilliant and heartwarming. That one credit card company (uh, which one was it?) must be making a killing.

Or the ad for the new Honda Civic. Beautiful CGI graphics topped off with tagline: "It will reverse your thinking." Wow! That must be a NICE car! Or, at least about as good as the other Civics I've seen.

And that's the point. No matter how fancy and witty you are, we're just going to discount your puffery to match our actual experience of your product.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Marketing is like dating, only more complicated

The marketing world is struggling to understand the new marketing landscape. The old ways are crumbling as a new marketing order emerges.

Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of the venerable Publicis Groupe, summed it up nicely:
"The way the consumer is changing is something that has never been seen before. It's not just a change in media, but a change in society. Power has shifted to consumers in a way that has never happened."

Though this consumer revolution has a long way to go before it's finished, one thing is clear. The one-sided, talking-at-them approach is dead. And good riddance.

It's been suggested that marketing is now like dating. Those words are far from encouraging for the 99% of us who are no good at dating. But it gets worse.

Unlike ordinary dating, the person you're interested in is propositioned thousands of times a day by rude suitors filled with fanciful promises, narcissistic banter and unctuous puffery. And though your object of desire would love to find Mr/Ms Right, they presume you're just like the others and they'll ignore you accordingly.

If you do get a chance to speak it will be on their terms, not yours. And when you do get that chance, you'd better have the whole courtship planned out or they'll dump you as soon as it gets even slightly cumbersome.

In this context it's still true that relationships take work, but you're doing all of it.

Let's just hope dating never becomes like marketing.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How to think about marketing

Here's an exercise to give you clarity on your business and how you market it.

Start by creating a vision of the kind of client you want. Write down a profile, complete with a name, a background, likes, dislikes, lifestyle, etc.

Then, write a storyline about how they would come to find out about you. If it's through a web search, what other pages did they look at? Are they at work? Are they feeling impatient, at ease, looking for a distraction?

What would their immediate first impression need to be to keep them from hitting the Back button? What steps would make them WANT to take each step from no interest to mild interest to initial contact to hesitant trial then to full client?

It's best to approach this with the presumption that the potential customer is looking for a reason to eliminate you. Your job is to provide the tools and incentives for them to convince themselves to keep going.

This is what I call the Decision Chain (more on this in a later post). And it really is a chain. All it takes is one weak link and the entire chain becomes pretty much useless. BUT if all the links are strong you can keep building on it to take them from full client to buzz generator.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The small goal paradox

Here's another one I see every day. I call it the Small Goal Paradox.

The small goals are the easiest, right?

Dead wrong.

Big, really big goals are actually the easiest. Why's that? Because big goals excite people. They're something people want to be a part of, to support, to talk about. In short, they make people want to be on your team.

Here's an example.

An article in toay's Advertising Age,
Couple Signs Advertisers to Sponsor Wedding Day (subscription required), told the story of a couple that is getting married in a baseball stadium after a game. The idea is so big that sponsors are lining up to pay for it. For their $200,00 ceremony, they're paying just $10,000. And one of the sponsors is an event management company, so the happy couple doesn't even have to deal with the headaches of pulling it off.

Is there any reason you can't do something like this?

Right now you're probably focused on getting a few more clients. But imagine for a moment a plan to thoroughly take over an entire target market. To redefine an industry. What would it take? Who would you want on your side to combine networks with and share costs?

Even if you only accomplish 50% of your goal, you're still doing pretty well.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Are you serious? (Safeway)

Seriously now. "Ingredients for Life"

Safeway! What were you thinking? Or more precisely, how could you let your ad agency get away with that?

Imagine that breakthrough meeting. The "creatives" struggling deep into the night. Wringing their brains over Chineese food and Red Bull. In the absence any "Big Idea", it comes in a flash: "Safeway has ingredients for sandwiches, or a barbecue, or a tasty pie... all things you use in your LIFE!"

Exactly what part of that would sway a person's opinion?

"Honey, make sure to stop by Safeway. We're all out of ingredients for life."

And, by the way, why does the design look almost identical to a Life Cereal box?

Saturday, June 10, 2006


For a business, targeting is the absolute most important thing you can do.

There was a time, in the halcyon days of marketing, when targeting was simple. All you had to do was pick the demographic characteristics you wanted then push your ads in front of them through the media they pay attention to.

The old ways worked because the consumer's options for where they allocate their attention and dollars were pretty limited. In those days the game was all about exposure.

Then came the internet.

Today we live in a billion-channel world. Competition for attention and dollars has never been more fierce. As a result, the balance of power has finally shifted from businesses to the consumer.

With the consumer in control, even the most massive, carpet-bombing ad campaign could be rendered powerless. Sure, it will generate "top of mind awareness" and lots of web traffic. But what good is that when it's almost effortless to find the company that's actually better -- even if they are a no-name. It's conceivable that your carpet-bombing campaign would generate more business for the other guy than it does for you.

Exposure is great, but it's nothing without relevance. Without relevance, your expensive ad campaign will be dismissed with a mumbled "so what?" Like the new State Farm ads.

Relevance is what makes you stand out from the marketing noise. It's what boosts your Google-rank. It's what captivates people and gets them buzzing.

And THAT'S why you need to target. Targeting makes it possible to be deeply relevant. Demographic targeting won't help you though. You can't be relevant to 25-35 year-old white females living in Seattle. They don't share any particular set of wants, needs, interests, problems or ambitions.

What works is what I call Lifestyle Targeting. With Lifestyle Targeting you're looking for a group of people who share common life themes and a way to fit into their lives better than anyone else.

My favorite example is one I'm working on for a real estate group. We're targeting Norwegian fishermen. Why? Because, as it turns out, this group is increasingly buying up Seattle real estate. And we can put together a plan that would be more exciting to them than any of the other 9,000 real estate agents in the region. We could offer information in Norwegian. Relocation services. Immigration services. Online services they can use in Norway or on a boat in the Arctic. And whatever else bridges the gap between their lives and our business.

And with that kind of relevance, promoting it becomes easy. We could do it with an email campaign, PR aimed at company newsletters, crosspromotion with others targeting them, and so much more.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Referral Paradox

The Referral Paradox results from the belief that happy clients should logically lead to lots of referrals.

But the reality is that happy clients rarely lead to referrals.

And to make matters worse, the typical response to this is to offer the happy client a referral bonus. And that doesn't work either!

Perplexing, yes?

Actually, no.

Here's what's going on: To understand the situation, look at it purely in terms of incentives. A Happy Client (HC), by their very nature, has an incentive to talk about what's making them happy. If your clients are happy, they ARE talking. Guaranteed.

Moving down the incentive chain, we come to the friend. HC talks you up all the time. By now the Friend thinks you sound great. They're excited and they've made a mental note, "Gotta try X-Co."

But, even with that mental note they're still unlikely to act. Think of all the disincentives to action. Your number might not be in front of them at the right time. Calling you involves leaving the comfort zone. Trying you requires money and effort. And most important of all, it involves changing the routine.

Here's what you do about it: Recognize that HC wants to recruit their friends. Your job is to give them the tools they need to do that. What's that tool? The tool is an incentive they can give to the Friend. Give HC a freebie to give as a GIFT to the Friend. Then make it easy, clear and comfortable for the Friend to take the next steps.

Paradox solved.

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Big "Why"

Why would a person choose your business over the competition? Is there something that makes you really stand out? Something that makes people say, "Yes, that's for me"?

If not, you're not alone. In fact, you're running right with the pack. And that's a problem.

It's a problem because today, finding someone better for the job is pretty much effortless. And those who are better will quickly rise to the top, leaving you even farther behind.

So, what do you do? It's simple: BE BETTER. Better yet: BE THE BEST.

You don't have to be the best to everyone, just the people who matter -- your target market. Find out what they want. What would excite them? What would make their lives easier, more fun, more convenient? What would make them want to rave about you to the world?

You're looking for the ideal. Go nuts with it. At this point it doesn't matter if it's practical, feasible or attainable. You're looking for what it WOULD take to get where you want to be.

Next, work backwards. Map out the steps from the ideal to the present.

If you need to partner/crosspromote with another company, do it.
If you need to become an expert on something, do it.
If you need to re-envision your business, do it.
If you need to change the rules of the game, do it.
If you're stumped, learn more about your target market.
And if you're really stumped, find someone in your target market and get them to brainstorm with you.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Are you Serious? (State Farm)

They're everywhere. Leering insurance agents... who can save you "up to 40%."

State Farm Insurance put them there -- on busses, on billboards. Creepy looking insurance agents, complete with their phone numbers.

This is a case study in irrelevant advertising.

First of all, is anyone impressed by the "up to 40%"? That just means, "You could do worse than us!"

Second. Why would ANYONE call those creepy agents? Are you going to pull over to write down their number? If they looked like Brad and Angelina, their mugs might be a selling point. But they're not.

What is the potential customer to take from this?
1. It's possible to find insurance that's more expensive than State Farm
2. State Farm agents are people too (albeit, creepy looking people)

None of which establishes even a hint of relevance.