Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Make ONE New Year's Resolution: A Blog

I have never been big on making New Year's resolutions, either personally or for a business. But I am going to make an exception for 2010 and urge you to get going on a blog. Here's why:

1. It's easy. While it is best to host a blog on your company's web site (see below) you can always get started with a free blog hosting service like Blogger.com or Wordpress.com. It takes very little time to set up a basic blog. You can customize the look and format later, if you want.

2. It helps SEO. "SEO" is search engine optimization, and it is the best way to grow traffic to your web site organically, without spending money advertising the site. Updating your blog (if it is hosted on your web site) on a regular basis tells the search engines that something is new and worth viewing, thus incrementally increasing search engine visibility and placement.

3. It's a great marketing tool. Sharing knowledge with your customers and prospects has always been a terrific way to brand a business and build trust. In the past we have used newsletters, white papers and published articles to accomplish this. But a blog is faster, more immediate, less expensive and is rapidly becoming an accepted - if not preferred - way of receiving communications.

If you have not already done so, make 2010 the year you enter the blogosphere. While a blog is not the path to instant riches and success, it is an increasingly important tool in communicating in the business world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Getting Started with "Social Media"

You've heard the terms "social media, "new media" or "inbound marketing." But the flurry of options has you confused. Twitter. Facebook. LinkedIn. Blogs. Ning. Where to begin? Here is some fast advice, in order of importance:

1. Web site. Make sure you have one, and make sure it is up to date. That means attractive, engaging and interactive. No more "electronic brochure."

2. Blog. Remember the rule, "If you want people to be interested, be interesting." A blog let's you share your knowledge with customers and prospects so that they begin to see you as the expert and thought leader in your field of expertise. It does not hurt that a blog can also help raise the visibility of your web presence.

3. LinkedIn. This business-oriented network is becoming increasingly popular and is a great way to make B2B contacts. But you have to work at it a little bit. Keep your profile up to day, join appropriate LinkedIn groups, and make sure your blog posts are sent to your LinkedIn profile to keep things interesting (there's that word again!).

4. Twitter. Don't "tweet" like a teenager seeking attention and approval. Use Twitter as a notification device when you have something worthwhile to convey. Like a new blog post, new product, update to your web site, etc. Include a link back for more information.

5. Facebook. The new business-oriented Facebook can become a gathering place for customers ("fans") and a way for prospects to check out your company. Set up a page for your business, or even several pages for different divisions or departments. Urge your customers to become fans and contribute their thoughts and comments. You may even want to set up an employee Facebook page for distribution of company information and feedback from employees.

6. Ning. Although not as well known, Ning may eventually grow into a more powerful community-building tool than Facebook. You can take the lead on a topic or idea by creating a Ning community and becoming a "connector" for those who have a shared interest.

7. Google AdWords. For certain products and services, a Google AdWords campaign can drive leads and prospects to your web site. Don't treat them like regular visitors! Set up a distinct and separate landing page in order to capture interest and information right away. And be ready to respond quickly. An internet lead has a short shelf life.

This is a very quick overview of ways to use some of the new media tools available. The key is to be consistent in deliver good, usable content so that you will be found, considered and contacted.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dear Tiger Woods, Here is Some Free PR Advice

Dear Tiger Woods:

First, I am glad that you were not seriously injured in your early morning car crash. At least not PHYSICALLY injured. I am afraid that the damage done to your reputation may be much more serious. And whoever is providing you with advice on how to handle this crisis should be sued for malpractice.

Here is what you need to do: 'fess up.

If there was a domestic problem that caused you to race out of your driveway (slowly, of course) in the wee hours of the morning, say so. No details are necessary, just a brief, "Elin and I had a disagreement and I went for a ride to cool off." Such an admission will help to humanize you in the eyes of the public and generate a lot of sympathy from your core audience, us guys.

If there was not a problem on the home front, step up to the microphone and say so. Go directly to the public yourself and tell them that nothing happened, end of story.

All this hiding behind your lawyers makes you look bad. Guilty. Wimpy, even.

Your golf game has always been bold and honest. Now is not the time to take a different direction with a very public part of your personal life.

And fire the PR guy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Social Media is Not New.

I attended an excellent seminar recently on social media (blogs, Twitter, on-line communities, etc., etc.). The event was sponsored by the Publicity Club of New England and presented by Lois Kelly of Beeline Labs. Lois gave the most coherent overview of a fragmented and sometimes confusing world of new technology, shifting responsibilities and frighteningly fleeting opportunities.

But what I came away with was a sense of deja vu. For, despite the amazing technology that gives us the ability to connect with so many people, the success of social media still comes down to a statement Lois made late in her presentation:

"If you want people to be interested, be interesting."

It still comes down to the story. It has always been about the story. If you don't have something worthwhile to say that provides value, and say it clearly and compellingly, it does not matter how you deliver the message - it won't be effective.

Social media is merely new channels. Capturing attention and motivating action are still the same. Having a strong story and tell it convincingly is still the core of successful marketing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is Your Web Site Evolving?

The World Wide Web is almost 20 years old now, and many businesses (especially the "early adopters") are working on the third, fourth or fifth version of their corporate web site. Just as the web has evolved, so must your place in it change and grow.

Unfortunately, too many business "leaders" still consider their web site to be nothing more than an electronic brochure. Or, worse, a nuisance that costs too much money to build and maintain for very little payback. Chances are they are correct, as it is unlikely they have developed a well thought out web strategy as an integral part of their overall corporate planning.

But other companies have embraced the web as an exciting and all-encompassing communications tool, with all the opportunities that entails. Some have converted their entire business model to be web based, while others are using the web as a powerful marketing engine to drive leads and sales.

How about you? Is your web site something you can point to as a valuable part of your organization? Does it actively, engagingly and effectively communication your company's message? Most importantly, does your web site contribute to the profitability of your business?

If not, it is time to reevaluate your commitment. The web and the world are moving on around you. You can either get on board or get left behind.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tyranny in Massachusetts

So the Democrats in the Massachusetts House of Representatives have decided that having the Governor appoint an interim U.S. Senator to replace the late Ted Kennedy is a good idea after all. No doubt their colleagues in the state Senate will follow suit, thus bringing Massachusetts full circle: from the state that first rebelled against tyranny to the state where tyranny rules.

In case you missed it, the Democrat-dominated legislature was quick to yank the long-standing privilege of appointing interim U.S. Senator away from then-Governor Mitt Romney (a Republican) when it appeared that John Kerry might win the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. They cried "foul" when faced with the prospect of Romney appointing a fellow Republican if the seat became vacant. Better to wait for a special election, the Dems said.

But now, with a Democrat back in the Governor's office, things suddenly look different. Why wait for a special election when you are virtually guaranteed that a Democrat will replace Kennedy? This is what happens when one party is so dominant that they feel no need to actually represent the people who elect them.

How bad is it? The House of Representatives actually considered passing a law that would require Governor Deval Patrick to appoint a Democrat with his newly restored power. It was narrowly defeated.

What arrogance! But what can you expect from a group that is so secure in its position and so self-centered that it simply ignored an overwhelming statewide referendum calling for a rollback of a "temporary" tax hike enacted several years ago.

The Democrats in Massachusetts (and, indeed, across the country) feel that they know what is good for us better than we know ourselves. And they are willing to ram it down our throats. Tyranny, thy name is Massachusetts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recession's over? Now what?

In case you have not heard, the recession is over and economic activity is on the rebound. What? Your business is not booming again? Customers are still hard to come by?

Join the club. While Wall Street may be on an upswing, it will be several months before any semblance of "normal" returns to Main Street.

But that does not mean you should sit back and wait. Just the opposite, in fact. Now is the time to launch a preemptive marketing strike aimed at recapturing lost customers and conquering new ones.

The mood of the country is definitely shifting, and tightened purse strings will surely loosen somewhat. But painful memories of the recession will linger and cause consumers (including business-to-business customers) to be more prudent and cautious. All the more reason to be aggressive with your marketing.

Putting your name, products and services in front of potential customers now will better position your company for the time when customers do start spending again. In fact, acting now will leave you a less crowded field, as timid competitors try to tiptoe through the next few months without making any impact on the market.

Be bold and loud and consistent today and you'll be the one buyers choose when they start writing checks again.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A (New) Word About Travel

Taking a detour from marketing and advertising, I would like to pass along two observations about travel. More specifically, travelers.

I recently returned from a short trip to Colorado to visit my son. Part of the fun of travel is observing the people around you. Many are out of their element and on their best behavior while traveling. For others, travel brings out the worst. Here are two examples of the latter.

While waiting for a flight in Denver, my wife an I treated ourselves to ice cream. At the table next to ours was a middle aged woman, cautiously guarding her "carry on" luggage, the likes of which exceeded the baggage train of a small army. But what made this woman stand out was her advanced communications skills.

Talking into a cell phone crammed between shoulder and ear, she whined endlessly (at least for the ten minutes we sat there) about how horrible it was to fly, how late her flights were, etc., etc. At the same time, she was texting furiously on a BlackBerry. Doubtless she was enthralling some other poor slob with the same complaints in text form.

In fact, I invented a new word for what that miserable woman was doing: KVEXTING. It is a combination of kvetching and texting. Try it sometime when you have too many friends and want to drop one from your list of favorites.

The second fellow traveler who got my attention (and raised my blood pressure) was also at the Denver airport. This "queen of all air travelers," also a middle aged woman, arrived at the boarding gate in a wheelchair, being pushed by one of the airport skycaps. She painfully and slowly eased herself from the wheelchair to a seat in the waiting area, as the skycap unloaded her trunk-size duffle bag.

Initially, my heart went out to the woman. It must have been very difficult and challenging to travel when she was obviously in such pain, with limited mobility.

My opinion changed pretty dramatically when, once the skycap was out of sight, the woman hopped up and ran lightly over to the ticket counter, leaping over a couple of bags on the way. She was a faker! The woman continued to stroll around the waiting area, talking loudly on her cell phone, while waiting for the flight.

Just prior to boarding, a new skycap arrived with another wheelchair. The "queen" had summoned her chariot! Suddenly the pain and laborious movement returned. She even went so far as to tell the skycap that she could not lift her carry on bag, "Because I have a disability."

When was the last time you heard anyone with a genuine disability say, out loud, "I have a disability."??? My blood was starting to boil.

Naturally, this poor, disabled woman was allowed to board ahead of everybody else. And the flight crew, no doubt, had to help her load her carry on "trunk" into the overhead storage bin. After all, the woman had "a disability!"

There is no doubt in my mind that this woman was pretending to be disabled simply to gain an advantage over other travelers. Was she lazy? Cunning? Or simply so fabulously egotistical that she thought it was OK to use up valuable services that should have been going to those truly in need of the help?

The good news is that 99% of the people we spent our travel time with were friendly, engaging, patient and understanding. It is a shame that a few bad apples can have such a deleterious effect on the rest.

But I still like the idea of "kvexting."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Is Twitter for Twits?

Do you Twitter? Should you Twitter?

The debate rages on about whether Twitter is a legitimate communications tool with staying power, or simply a passing fad that lets the ADD generation think they are having meaningful conversations with the world. The "Pet Rock" for the new millennium.

We won't know about the lasting value of Twitter for quite some time yet. But that does not mean you can afford to ignore it. Anything that exhibits such extraordinary growth (475,000 users to 19 million users in less than a year!) must have something to offer.

And, be honest, if you are 45 or older you thought this e-mail thing was just a passing fancy, too.

I believe that Twitter can be effective when used in concert with other communications tools, such as Facebook, blogs and web sites.

For example, I am big fan of blogging, as it fulfills the role once played by newsletters, only with more frequency and timeliness. (Not to mention less paper and ink and postage.) Whenever I post a new entry to the blog you are reading (www.agoodmind.blogspot.com), I alert my "followers" with a "tweet" and link to the new missive.

Similarly, every new blog entry gets posted to my Facebook page. I want as many people as possible to have access to the information I am sharing.

So Twitter is not necessarily limited to inane, voyeuristic, nihilistic updates about every waking moment in a tweeter's life. Used properly, Twitter can serve as another channel for distributing information and ideas, quickly and efficiently.

Tweet that!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Tasty Option

I am constantly finding new and interesting ways to use the web. OK, so maybe I am late to the party on many of them. But I still think there are some simple things that the web does so much better than anything else.

Map directions, for one. Looking up zip codes. And now, making restaurant reservations.

I recently stumbled across OpenTable, a really cool site that let's you find a restaurant and make a reservation without having to look up a phone number, get put on hold for ten minutes, then speak to a bored host or hostess who will probably get your name wrong and write down the wrong time or date.

Give OpenTable a try next time you are planning a dinner out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Succeeding in the Long Run

I am training for a marathon (again). I have run several marathons in the past, but each one is a new challenge. This one is the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, at the end of October.

Why am I writing about it now? Because I am about to begin a 16 week training program that includes progressively longer runs and additional workouts to build my strength and endurance. It starts with a simple, easy 4 mile run and concludes with the 26.2 mile marathon.

Notice that I will not start out by running 20 miles right away. That would be foolish, as I am unprepared at this time to handle such a long run. Instead, I will gradually build up to longer distances and faster paces over 16 weeks.

There is a marketing lesson here. Do you find yourself thinking (or even saying out loud), "We need a huge sale right now." Or, "We'd better sign a big new client this month or else!"

While it is great to have lofty goals and big objectives, you can't knock them down right out of the box. Marketing is like marathon running. You need to take the smaller steps first so that you will be able to tackle the big run at the right time.

Just as my series of shorter runs performed consistently over several months will prepare me for 26.2 miles in October, your marketing effort must consist of interim objectives and smaller successes on the road to "the big one."

Strangely enough, you might find that all the "little wins" add up quickly and can even be more satisfying than completing one big sale or capturing a single large client.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Giving Away the Store

For many years I have encouraged my clients to "share your knowledge" as an effective form of marketing. Tell people what you know - demonstrate your expertise - and they will be more likely to remember you when they need your services or products.

That approach to marketing is more prevalent and more effective than ever, thanks in large part to the explosion of more direct channels of distribution. Years ago the "sharing" was done on a limited basis, through articles that we managed to get published, white papers and newsletters. Now my clients share what they know through blogs, on Facebook, with self-published e-books, via e-mail blasts - there are ten times as many options today.

Still, some are still reluctant to "give away the store" by providing too much information for free. They are afraid that, by anticipating and answering questions and offering problem-solving solutions, they will obviate the need for a prospective client to hire them.

Nonsense! Sharing what you know is simply proof of expertise in advance. It allows a potential customer a glimpse into how you think, and what your area (or areas) of expertise might be. Consider this "show and tell" as an audition that could lead to a starring role.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Drug Wars Come to the Supermarket

I was stunned over the weekend to see a television commercial promoting the giveaway of free antibiotics (with a prescription). Was this a government sponsored program for the underprivileged? A community health center reaching out to the uninsured?

Nope. Just Stop & Shop, the region's largest supermarket chain trying to build store traffic by using pharmaceuticals as a loss leader.

Oh what a slippery slope this is going to be. It starts with free antibiotics, a good deed done in hopes of a financial gain. But when all the other supermarkets are tossing out free penicillin, how far will the new "drug war" escalate? How soon will we see giveaways of pain killers, anti-depressant medication and narcotics? (Free Viagra is a given!)

This is a dangerous precedent being set. If supermarkets and pharmacies are allowed to give away drugs (even "mild" ones), there is nothing to stop them from ratcheting up the hype to include other, less savory items. How soon will we see a free quart of Jack Daniels with every $100 grocery purchase?

Yes, the free antibiotics is a great marketing coup. But somebody needs to bring some common sense and decency into the decision making process before our society falls further toward the "bread & circus" mentality that marked the end of the Roman empire.

Come to think of it, "Bread & Circus" was the name of a grocery chain that was absorbed by another, larger competitor. Perhaps if they offered free gladiator bouts in the produce aisle they may have been able to stay afloat.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Buy a Ford

My car is just over a year old, so I am not currently in the market for a new one. But when I am, I will buy a Ford. You should, too.

Why? Because Ford deserves to be recognized and rewarded for rejecting federal bailout money and getting through its financial crisis on its own. For embracing capitalism and rejecting socialism at a time when it would have been much easier to simply take the cash.

Now Ford has announced plans to spend more than half a billion dollars to modernize production facilities in Michigan. Who spends half a billion dollars when sales are down 30 percent? A company that is looking to the future and doing something positive to make sure they get there.

Show your appreciation and admiration for an organization that gets it right. Buy a Ford.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The 40/40/20 Rule of Advertising

Getting your message out to potential customers consists of three basic steps, each of which contributes toward the success of the effort. Over the years, marketing experts have been able to quantify the importance of each of the steps:

• Medium (40%): This is the channel you use to deliver the message. It may be a mailing list, media buy, e-mail list or choosing the right highway billboards. The choice of the medium (or multiple delivery methods) can count for 40% of the success of the campaign.

• Message (40%): Even if you have a foolproof method of reaching prospects, you must have a compelling message in order to generate a response. The message must resonate with what the customer wants to hear, not what you want to say. Here is where you make your case, whether it is with a special offer, sale price, or simply proof that your product or service is superior. Again, the message is important enough to account for 40% of the effort.

• Format (20%): A great delivery channel and strong message can both be wasted if the recipient ignores the attempt. That is why it is critical that your message be developed in a way that is attractive, compelling and attention-getting. If not, you are wasting your time and money on marketing that nobody will notice.

As you can see, it is the combination of all three elements that creates a cohesive, action-inducing marketing campaign. Make sure you allot sufficient resources to each of these portions of the effort in order to reap the full benefits.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tell Your Story

When people ask me what I do I often reply, "I am a storyteller." That is essentially what I do for my clients: tell their story.

You should tell your story, too. No matter what product or service you are selling, no matter what cause you are promoting, you have a story to tell about it. If you don't, then how will people know what to think about you?

Too often marketing people focus on the way they deliver their story. They anguish over how big an ad should be, which radio station to use, whether direct mail makes sense, or how to improve the search engine placement of their web site. But all of this is moot unless you have a compelling message to back it up.

Advertising legend David Ogilvy stressed the necessity of finding the "USP" (unique selling proposition) in every product, for every client. He felt it was the one thing that set a company apart from the competition, made it memorable and desirable.

What is your USP? Do you have a singular feature or service that can't be duplicated by others? Don't tell me you offer "great customer service"! That is only the starting point. You need to be able to strip down your message so that it offers an unmistakable advantage for potential customers. Then build your story around this solid core.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Blog, Blog, Blog?

I was born skeptical and have perfected the art of doubt over the years. So I was naturally leery about "blogging" as a marketing tool. At first, I saw a blog as merely a narcissistic, on-line version of a private diary. And why, oh why would the world want to read that?

But I pried my mind open enough to dig deeper into blogging. And discovered that a blog holds great promise as a communications tool. But only if you use it correctly.

First rule: Keep the personal "diary" materials out. If you must share your innermost thoughts with the world, do it in a separate blog. Or self-publish your memoirs.

Second rule: Don't try to sell anything. If you are pushing a product or service, you are advertising, not blogging, and any audience you may attract will quickly disappear.

Big rule: Make sure what you blog about is interesting, helpful, curiosity arousing, insightful and worth reading. Controversial is OK, too. Think about the newspaper columnists you read on a regular basis and try to emulate them. There is almost always something in their regular column that makes you glad you took the time to read it.

Other big rule: Invite response. Feedback on your ideas makes them better. And it shows that somebody, somewhere is reading. The term is "interactivity" and it is the new face of marketing.

Now, go blog.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why You Are Disappointed in Your Advertising

You spend too much money on advertising. That's a pretty broad statement, but I'll bet 99.99% of the business people in America would agree with it (with the exception, of course, of those in the advertising and media fields).

The fact is that very most companies are disappointed with the return on investment they're receiving from advertising. "The ads aren't working," "I can't afford to keep pouring money into advertising," and "Nobody even pays attention to my ads" are just some of the statements tossed across the corporate lunch table when the subject of advertising is raised. Why such dissatisfaction with a vital part of the marketing mix?

Here are seven reasons why your advertising might not be working as hard as it should.

1. Overly ambitious expectations.
Contrary to what the good folks on Madison Avenue (and other high rent districts across the country) would have you believe, advertising will not solve the problems of the world. Too many hopeful businesses put all their faith and hopes in advertising, while ignoring basic questions such as the quality of their products and services.

Advertising can help position a product and will go a long way toward creating a desired corporate image. But advertising is not alchemy, capable of turning pig iron into gold. Set your advertising objectives reasonably. Even Sir Edmund Hilary didn't expect to reach the summit of Everest on his first attempt.

2. Misdirected creativity.
There are two ways to go wrong here. In the first, the advertiser buys into the concept that “creativity sells” and accepts a wildly off—the—wall (and wildly expensive) ad that is sure to win an award for the art director, but will bomb with the ultimate judge—the consumer.

In the second case, the advertiser retains too much control over the ads content. You can tell one of these ads from a mile away—they contain a picture of the company's president and/or factory or a boastful headline of the advertiser's size/quality/years in business.

What neither of these ad styles even consider is the person who is reading, viewing or listening to their message. Its not what you want to say that matters, but what the customer wants to hear. In order to elicit the desired response, you must know your audience and their concerns. Push the right buttons and your advertising will cut through the clutter.

3. Unimaginative media selection.
Its all too easy to fall into a media rut. Running your ads on the same network—affiliate television stations, the same top—40 radio stations, the same daily newspapers and the same trade journals merely serves to “desensitize” your target audience to your message. Your advertising media plan must be as creative and on target as your ads.

Not selling cars through your ads in the classified section? Move your message to the editorial pages, or train station posters, or highway billboards. Depositors ignoring your bank's CD ads in the newspaper? Try a regional business magazine, cable television or spot radio. The whole idea is to use the media available to “attack” your target from as many angles as possible.

4. Underfinancing - Part A.
The biggest chunk of advertising expense is invariably the media. Advertisers spends thousands—even millions!—of dollars to buy space or time. Then they turn around and nickel and dime the production of the ad that will be running. If you're going to spend all that money to deliver a message, make sure the message is worth it. Budget enough for your print ad, television commercial or radio spot so that it stands out for its quality—not for poor typesetting, shabby artwork or out—of—focus photography.

5. Underfinancing - Part B.
On the other hand, the most creative, on target, professionally produced ad in the world is useless if nobody sees it. Make sure your media budget is healthy enough to make an impact. “I ran an ad once and it didn't work” is not an acceptable excuse. Buy media with enough reach, budget an ad size that will be noticed and plan for plenty of frequency.

6. Impatience.
Rome wasn't built in a day. Unless you're giving something valuable away free, don't expect customers to line up with cash in hand an hour after your television spot ran. Good advertising has a cumulative effect. (So does bad advertising, but that's a subject for another article.) Your customers might not be ready to buy today, or tomorrow for that matter. But if you keep your name in front of them consistently, you'll be in the game when they do decide to make a purchase.

7. No support.
Advertising cannot shoulder the marketing burden all by itself. It should be a part of a more complete marketing mix, encompassing complementary public relations, promotion and sales efforts. The reward will be a whole greater than the sum of its parts—a total marketing impact that will produce the results you're now expecting from advertising alone.

The money you spend on advertising in an investment. Make sure it is money well spent. Pay attention to the details, make the financial and mental commitment necessary to advertise effectively and give it a chance to work. You're sure to see results that will turn your disappointment into delight.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Paul Harvey, RIP

I was saddened to learn of the death over the weekend, at age 90, of radio legend Paul Harvey. Here was a man who lived his life the right way, and took us all along for the ride.

I was first introduced to Paul Harvey when my boss at a college co-op job forced us all to listen to his broadcasts during the lunch hour. At first I thought Paul was pretty corny, and that his enthusiasm was faked and affected. But the more I listened the more I came to understand that Paul Harvey truly enjoyed sharing his optimistic view of the world with anybody who would listen. And he was not ashamed to let us all know how much he cared. For a cynical young man, it was a revelation.

Years later, it was my turn to force my unwilling children to listen to Paul's "Rest of the Story" broadcasts. Like me, they were initially bored. But it did not take long for Paul to captivate them as he did me.

They don't make them like Paul Harvey anymore. Today's acid-tongued talk show hosts think they must be constantly on the attack in order to earn their keep. But Paul Harvey knew the secret to winning an audience was to tell a good story.

And "that's the rest of the story."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Four "I's" of Advertising

The task of your company's marketing program is to create opportunities for you to sell your products and service. A vital part of this marketing effort is an advertising component that not only supports your sales force, but actually precedes the sales effort.

An effective ad campaign produces four "I's" for your company: Interest, Image, Information and Inquiries.

1. Interest
The first job of any advertisement is to grab the attention of the audience. If an ad does not have "stopping power," it is a waste of space or time. Potential customers must have a reason to become interested before they will read or listen to your ad.

Bold graphics, intriguing headlines, informative photographs or illustrations and attractive layouts are all ways to make readers stop, look and pay attention. Ads that are thrown together with little regard to these important elements deserve the fate they receive-fading away into the background. To be sold, you must be bold.

2. Image
Your advertising is the public face of your company. Potential customers may never meet you, may never visit your gleaming offices, may not even see your delivery truck!

But, like it or not, they will form an opinion of your company through the only means available-your advertising. Obviously, the version of your company presented in your ads should be the one most likely to elicit a positive response from the audience.

Look at your advertising with a customer's eye. Is your ad sloppily produced? Crammed with copy? Run on a spotty and irregular schedule? Readers (or listeners) will notice these details. They will equate "sloppy and irregular" with your company.

On the other hand, an ad that is clever, clean and attractive will serve to show the world that you take pride in your work and your company's image. Now, which ad will "turn off" a potential customer, and which will make them sit up and take notice?

3. Information
Now that you have their attention and good will, what will you say to your potential customers? Tell them what they want to hear.

"How can your product or service save me time or money? How can it solve my problems? Why will I be better off if I buy from you? Don't sell me on features, sell me on benefits."

The key is to ignore what you see as features and concentrate on what the customer needs in the way of benefits. Deodorant makers don't sell dry underarms-they sell social acceptance. Family restaurants don't sell good tasting food-they sell convenient fun for all. Automobile manufacturers don't sell transportation-they sell excitement and status. You do not sell oil-you provide comfort, convenience and safety.

4. Inquiries
A good salesperson always "asks for the sale," a function too often overlooked in advertising. While you can seldom close the deal in the newspaper, every ad should attempt to make a connection between your company and the audience.

Ask the reader to call or write to order or to get more information. Offer free literature. Invite the customer to visit your office. Use a toll-free telephone number or postage-paid reply card to make it as easy as possible for the customer to connect with you. Get that name, address and phone number!

This is called a qualified lead. Here is someone who has taken the time and effort to express an interest in your product or service. This is a bona fide opportunity to sell. By creating an atmosphere in which a potential customer makes the first move, your chances of actually selling to this person are four time greater than if you had approached them via a "cold call."

Now follow up as if your business depended on it. Return the call, send the brochure, make the appointment. Advertising's "Four I's" have put you in an enviable position.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You Are Not a Writer

"I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let's start with typewriters." -- Solomon Short

I wish that I could write like Thomas Paine. His words, distributed through pamphlets and newspaper editorials, inflamed and inspired an entire colony to create a nation. The words still resonate today.

But I am not Thomas Paine. My writing is geared toward purposes that are more “commonplace” than “Common Sense.” Still, in my own small way, my writing is effective. I am proud to say that I am an advertising copywriter. And you are not.

Please don’t think I am tooting my own horn, or trying to drum up more business. I just want to point out that writing good copy for your company’s ads, brochures, newsletters, web site or fliers is HARD WORK.

It takes years of experience to understand the nuances of crafting a headline that attracts attention. Thousands of hours of practice to create a compelling tale about your product or service that tells the whole story in just a few short sentences or paragraphs. Intimate knowledge of language and psychology to write a “call to action” that gets people to act.

Yet every day, company owners and managers who attended business school, or came up through the accounting department, or who recently climbed down off a ladder or out of a truck cab; think they can sit down and dash off a winning composition that will sell millions of their widgets to an eager public.

Do yourself a favor. By all means write down your thoughts, identify the key selling points of your product, record the reasons you think people are buying from you now. Then hand your notes over to a professional who can take these rough components and craft them into a masterpiece of brevity and persuasive language.

You may not start a revolution. But you just might see a better return on your marketing dollar.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Points of Contact, Points of Influence

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”

This is especially true when it comes to marketing your business. Making a good impression is the first step in promoting your company to prospects and customers alike. Letters, telephone calls, postcards, newsletters, client meetings, social events, the way your receptionist greets visitors—these and many other occasions are valuable “points of contact.”

These points of contact are also “points of influence.” Each offers an opportunity to affect the perception of your company—either positively or negatively. How your company is represented at each and every one of these points of contact plays a key role in influencing how others think of your business.

Try to make every point of contact a point of positive influence. The first step is to make sure every employee in your company understands that they represent the business at all times. That includes those parts of the day and week when they are “off the clock.” Foolish behavior and loose talk can be just as devastating to your company’s image in a social setting as in a boardroom.

Next, establish standards. A part of every job description should include standards of dress and behavior that are expected. Start with key areas that are part of every business day, such as telephone etiquette, correspondence, fax procedures and customer hospitality. These are areas where “little things” mean a lot.

Standards must also be applied to all printed materials, from business cards and letterhead, to brochures and newsletters. The printed materials that leave your office serve as silent envoys for your company. Make sure they represent you favorably. Don’t settle for “good enough.” Put your best face forward in all of your marketing and business paperwork.

Every day, you and your employees make contact with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of customers and potential customers. Making the right impact every time requires discipline, training and practice at all levels of the company. Make each opportunity count. Turn these points of contact into points of positive influence.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Ready for the Recovery?

Good news! Congress has finally agreed on an outrageously expensive economic stimulus package (on top of the $800 billion of our money they have already thrown down the banking rabbit hole).

This is a sure sign that the recession is almost over and the recovery is on the way. Why? Historically, Congress has only acted after a crisis has passed. That way our political "leaders" are assured that they won't be held accountable for their actions.

So, even though credit is still tight and many companies continue to struggle, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And, if you are smart, you'll start right now to prepare your business for the better days ahead. Here are four steps to take now to position your company for the recovery:

1. Branding - Branding is not just for corporate giants anymore. If the recession has taught consumers anything it is the need to be more selective in how they spend their money. Your company had better be on the list of "good" suppliers who deliver quality and value, even before the need for your products or services arises.

2. Accessibility - I am still amazed at how many businesses make it difficult for customers to find them or get in contact. You should work to lower every hurdle between your customers and your company. If you can possibly sell on-line or take orders through your web site, do it. Pony up for that toll-free telephone number. Make sure everybody has your e-mail address and respond to questions within 24 hours.

3. Manage Your Leads - When you do get a phone call, e-mail or web inquiry, make sure you have a system in place to respond. A sales lead had a very short lifespan. Immediate acknowledgment is a must, followed up with consistent communication. It is also essential to have an internal accountability system so that leads do not fall through the cracks. Opportunities to make sales are too precious to let slide.

4. Reexamine Your Marketing - Are you still spending a ton of money in the Yellow Pages? Is your local newspaper eating up the bulk of your advertising budget? Have you ignored web-based advertising because you simply do not understand it? Conduct a full audit of how you are marketing your business and be prepared to make drastic changes. Don't continue to do something just because "we've always done that." Figure out how your customers are getting their information and make sure you are there.

The recovery is coming. It is never too soon to get ready and put yourself in a position to emerge from the recession as a stronger, more marketing-driven company. Get started today.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Understanding PR

I was recently floored by an otherwise intelligent (or so I thought) business person who told me that, with the economy in its current state, his company simply cannot afford PR.

This is a person who does not understand what public relations is, or what it can do for his business. He probably thinks PR is just a way to get "free advertising." It is not.

Here is what PR is:

- Public relations is not a luxury, it is a strategy that is key to the success of your business.

- Public relations is the way to manage key messages about your company, both good and bad.

- Public relations supplies credibility for your business by connecting with important audiences through channels that are not seen as paid advertising or promotion.

- Public relations is a two-way street, providing feedback from customers, prospects and the wider market that can help you further refine products and services - IF you take the time to listen.

- Public relations is a dialogue established between your organization and the world.

So, if "free advertising" is all you are after, PR is not for you. But if you want to help manage how your company is viewed by customers, prospects and other key audiences, take PR off the "luxury" list and put it where it belongs - under "essentials."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Going On the Attack

Just as “a rising tide lifts all boats,” the extended period of economic growth over the past decade has given almost all businesses a free ride toward profitability. Now, however, the tide is ebbing and many companies are struggling to remain afloat.

Unfortunately, with customers and cash pouring in so easily for so long, many business owners have forgotten how to be competitive. After all, there was plenty of business to go around – let’s all share in the good times!

Well THAT party is over. It is time now to sharpen your competitive edge and ramp up your marketing in order to capture your share of the business that is out there. Let me correct that last statement: You need to capture your share plus a healthy chunk of your competition’s share in order to survive. And that means getting lean and mean and going on the attack.

What is the first thing weak competitors do when times get tough? They cut their prices. That is the first step on the road to insolvency. Recent reports confirm that retailers and automobile manufacturers who rushed to offer steep discounts earlier this year in order to attract shoppers are now paying an even steeper price in lost profits. Plus they have now conditioned customers to expect a sale, and reinforced their behavior by rewarding customers for waiting to make a purchase. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

The right way to approach the market is by differentiating your company, its products and services. When you convince customers that what you offer is different and better than anything else, you can rise above “commodity pricing” and stand a better chance of maintaining your profit margins.

But differentiation takes an investment in marketing. You must tell customers – both old and new – how good you are and how smart it is to do business with your company. Pull no punches, and don’t worry about hurting the feelings of your competitors. Keep hammering home the benefits of choosing your company in order to attract the attention – and money – of a wider range of customers.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Shifting Sands of PR

What if you held a press conference and nobody came? Or sent out a press release that nobody read? Or wrote an article, but there was nobody left to publish it?

These three staples of "traditional" public relations are in danger of becoming extinct. As more and more people choose to get their news and information on line, newspaper and magazine circulation continues to fall. Combine this with the economic pressures that are squashing advertising revenues and the result is a newsroom that is half empty, fewer reporters and less space to publish anything but the most essential news.

What does this mean to your organization's efforts to distribute news and information? New channels must be found or developed. And the best place to look is to the very source that is leading the charge away from traditional news media: the internet.

Instead of trying to use a third party distribution point (the media), we can now take our message direct to those whom we wish to reach. It is easy to see the potential benefits: clear communication of information without interference or interpretation, and the opportunity for immediate feedback or action.

The downside is, getting information out through the internet is hard work. In the past, if you could convince and editor to run your story, it would be seen by a wide audience. This "shotgun" distribution must now be replaced by a more narrowly targeted approach. The acquisition of e-mail addresses from clients and business contacts becomes essential, as does the requirement to provide good, solid and helpful information.

Content is king. If you have good information to share, using new media such as electronic newsletters, social media groups and blogs is an excellent way to keep in touch with customers and prospects directly. But know that people are quick to spot (and reject) an obvious sales pitch. Marketing must once again become a more subtle, long term process.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Recovery Begins Right Here

If you are following the ups and downs of the stock market in order to gauge the condition of the economy, you may be looking in the wrong place. Let me tell you why.

I recently asked a client, "How's business?" "Good," was his tentative reply. But then he amended it to, "surprisingly good." It seems January has been a productive month for his company. And, while he admitted the orders were not flying in like a few years ago, he was pleased with the way things were going. Maybe even a little optimistic.

Thus, the recovery begins. Not on Wall Street, but on Main Street. If you are hoping that the infusion of billions of dollars of our money into the financial system will eventually trickle down to help you out of the doldrums, don't hold your breath. Look where the first $350 billion went - nobody knows. (Although my guess is that most of it is now in private accounts in the Cayman Islands.)

No, the strength of the U.S. economy is not centered in the money shops of New York. It is in the small machine shops, local retail stores, local banks, farms and business offices just down the street from where you are. WE will be the engine that drives the recovery, not the socialization of America.

The client also shared the fact that much of his current business is coming from repeat customers. That is always nice, but never an accident. Such support and loyalty is the result of treating customers fairly and staying in touch with them.

I have always said that the most important marketing you can do is not to prospects, but to existing customers who already know and understand you. But they can easily forget about you unless you make the effort to keep the channels of communication open.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The REAL Miracle on Pennsylvania Avenue

A miracle occurred today on the west steps of the Capitol Building in Washington. But it is not the miracle you may be thinking about, or reading about ad nauseum.

Yes, it is wonderful that an African-American has been elected President of the United States. And I truly wish President Obama well. We need real leadership right now.

But the REAL miracle was evident in the people around President Obama on the dais: ex-Presidents Carter, Bush, Clinton and Bush. The miracle was that, once again, a peaceful transfer of power occurred. No riots. No bloodshed. No revolution. No palace coup.

The fact that four ex-Presidents willingly braved the cold to stand in support of the country's newest leader speaks eloquently of the depth of faith we all have in our nation and in our form of government. In other countries, the ex-President is often jailed or killed in order for the new one to take office.

Good luck, President Obama. We are ALL behind you.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Marketing Advice for Our New President

The fact that Barack Obama will soon be taking the oath of office to become our new President may be proof that he needs no marketing advice from me. After all, he just completed the biggest sale of all, convincing the American public to hand over their votes.

But I urge President Obama not to abandon many of the marketing techniques that served him well during his campaign for office. Once inside The White House, he may be tempted to circle the wagons and work on his agenda in isolation, insulated from the pesky media and their clients, the people who elected him. This is exactly what Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick did, and it has cost him dearly.

Gov. Patrick, the first African-American Governor elected in the Bay State, campaigned on a platform of reform and openness, promising to free the state from the tight grip of career politicians and the corrupt "in crowd" that surrounded them. He was duly elected and sworn in.

Then, for all intents and purposes, Gov. Patrick disappeared. For the first several months of his term he was seldom seen or heard. No doubt he was busy tackling the enormous job of governing the state. But he should have let the rest of us know what he was doing. The political capital of goodwill and optimism he built up during his campaign quickly evaporated, and many people began to suspect he was "just another politician."

To his credit, Gov. Patrick has worked hard to emerge from his self-induced isolation and has been much more open and accessible as he tackles the challenges brought about by the recession. (Some of his proposals even make sense to this conservative scribe.)

President Obama can learn a lesson from this. During his campaign he was very open and available, and even seemed willing to address controversial topics. His campaign was ground breaking in its use of new media and technologies to reach out to voters.

Now that he is in office, the President needs to keep the channels of communications open, and his activities as transparent as is practical. The American people don't need a "White House wizard" pulling levers behind a curtain. Instead, we want a leader who is not afraid to show us the direction in which he is leading us.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Miracle of Good PR

Kudos to US Airways on how they handled themselves during yesterday's airliner crash in New York. First to the pilot and flight crew for their decisions and actions that saved so many lives. But also to the company who showed how a good crisis communications plan works.

What am I talking about?

Look at the clutter of all the politicians (mayor, governor, borough president) pushing each other aside to get in front of the cameras. Yet the only public comment from US Airways was delivered by a spokesman in Phoenix. Nothing from local (New York) US Airways representatives.

And that is how it should be, especially in a time of crisis. US Airways executed its crisis PR plan to perfection, with all communication funneling through a single spokesperson who was well prepared and provided enough information, but not too much. One message, cohesively delivered.

Every company should have a written crisis communications plan in place to help them deal with critical audiences (employees, customers, media, investors, regulators) in the event of a disaster or emergency. Once the goose hits the engine, it is too late to start thinking about who is going to say what, and to whom.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The World Has Not Stopped Turning

So we are in the middle of a recession. (Or perhaps we are at the beginning, or nearing the end. We won't really know until it is long over.) What is clear is that fewer homes are being purchased, fewer automobiles are being sold, fewer appliances are being delivered, fewer dollars are being spent across the board.

Please note one very important word in the preceding paragraph: "fewer."

I did not write that NO houses or cars were being sold, or that NO money was being spent. The economy has certainly slowed, but it has not stopped. Business is still being conducted. But many people are acting as if they must hide in the bomb shelter until the big, bad recession goes away.

That's bull****. It is a weak excuse for not being willing to compete for business. Too many people in business today have grown fat and lazy during the last ten years of prosperity. They think that customers and sales should magically drop into their laps in ever increasing numbers.

New reality, folks. We have returned to a time when you have to earn every dollar you make. When you have to do what it takes to steal market share from your competitors, and to fight for every customer.

Some businesses remain unable or unwilling to go on the offensive. They will fail.

Those that adapt and get aggressive with their marketing and sales efforts will survive, and then REALLY make hay when the economy climbs back up.

"Tightening your belt" has two connotations. You can cinch it up to try to hide your hunger pangs. Or you can gird your loins to do battle.

Which will you choose?