Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Let's Bring Creative Back

When I was in college, I took an advertising class that delved into the history and evolution of advertising. The professor reviewed advertising creative - copy and design - through the decades. His theory was that every other decade, advertising and marketing experienced a highly strategic and creative burst of energy followed by a decade with less creative focus.

Take a trip through the decades with me...

My professor started with the 50s, when advertising began to take on new meaning in post war prosperity. Advertising in the 50s was basic and informative. In many cases, consumers didn't have many choices, so ads weren't much on competitiveness or differentiation.

The 60s began an era of the brand and creating a differentiating theme and message. Think of the Volkswagen Beetle print ads of the 60s. A simple image married to a poignant headline and personable text. They were humble and honest. And they got attention.

The 70s were sex. Advertisers delivered on the theory that "sex sells!" I'm not sure if it did, but it was an underlying theme that was experimented with during this decade.

Then came the 80s and another era of creative consciousness. Advertisers were driven by increased competition and the need to make statements that separated them from the competition. Anyone growing up in the 80s remembers the "Where's the Beef?" lady for Wendy's, Heinz and its slow pouring ketchup, the Energizer Bunny (yes, he's been going that long), and the Apple 1984 ad.

Next comes the 90s, and it's all about the development of the brand. It's not particularly creative, and message are quick. Consumers are being bombarded by advertising at every turn. Marketing messages are straightforward and conservative.

Okay, we're in the 2000s. Following the every other decade is creative theory, this is the decade when creative comes back full force, right? I'm not so sure. Maybe I'm just getting older, but I have been seeing a lot more raunchy, vulgar marketing efforts that get my attention, but may be portraying a less than stellar image. And there are commercials on TV right now that I just flat out don't understand. What will stand out in this decade? Is there great creative that you think will define the 2000s? I would love to hear from you.

I say let's bring the creative back. It's time for great offers and insightful creative developed from sound strategic planning and real benefits.

As direct marketers, here's what we need to do:

Clear strategy
I know this seems obvious, but I feel like clear, simple messaging has been lost. It's all glitz, glamor, and complicated concepts. If someone looks at your print ad, email, website, or direct mail package and says "I don't get it." then you need to simplify. For instance, Geico has a very clear positioning right now - you'll save money with Geico.

Focus on one thing
This ties in with the point above. What is the one thing that makes you different? What is the one thing you want people to associate with your product or service? It is difficult, if not impossible, to be all things to all people. Heinz Ketchup was "thick." It stayed where you put it. And this theme was conveyed with funny ads showing people waiting for their ketchup to pour. Today, Heinz Ketchup is "The World's Favorite Ketchup." Hmmm...

Be consistent
Just as important as focusing on one thing is sticking with it. If you have your one thing that makes you or your product or service unique, but then you change your messaging across different media, it defeats the purpose. Or, our agency has clients who get tired of the message or theme and just want to try something different. If it's working, don't fix it! The Energizer Bunny has been reminding consumers for 20 years that their batteries are long lasting. And it works!

Try honest and humble
Now is the time to build up consumers' trust and confidence in your company and your products or services. Be honest about features and benefits. Now more than ever consumers are skeptical. Make them feel good about your company. And be humble and straightforward in your messaging. Avoid flamboyance, extreme claims, and superiority. It's time to get back to basics and provide quality products and services that meet the needs and wants of hardworking consumers.

It's okay to be different. It's okay to set yourself apart from the competition with a clear strategy, consistent theme, and compelling message. Let's get back to creating good, simple direct marketing programs with clear strategy and that one thing that sets you apart. We have one year left in this decade. Let's make it memorable.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Analysis: Timeshares and Sound Direct Marketing Principles

A friend recently asked me if an "affordable vacation getaway" that included a 90-minute timeshare presentation was a scam. Some timeshare marketers have used deceptive practices, such as incorporating misleading contests, relentless sales presentations, and unclear contracts. However, for the most part, discounted vacation packages for timeshare properties are legitimate offers.

I started thinking about timeshare marketers and realized that not only do they use many good direct marketing principles, they are also very adaptable to changes in their environment. In the early days, developers would invite tourists at their vacation properties to spend two hours looking at a "real estate investment" or "vacation idea." It all seemed great until it came down to closing the sale and developers resorted to high pressure tactics. As a result, they earned a reputation of being ruthless and the last thing travelers wanted to do was attend a timeshare presentation. However, during this time, people were also buying timeshares and loving them.

Timeshares began using telemarketing efforts to bring in potential buyers. These programs are what most of us are familiar with today. Enjoy a 3-day stay in Las Vegas with dinner and a show for two for just $49. This approach worked great until the creation of the Federal Do Not Call Registry drastically cut down the list of consumers available to call.

Once again, the timeshare companies adapted by developing "response leads." A response lead is a person who, by a variety of different means and channels, requested information about the product or service offered. By using direct mail lead generation with a "request information" offer, timeshare marketers are able to contact these leads.

Now, timeshare developers are also incorporating the Internet into their marketing mix. Email is used to promote quality vacations at a discounted price and urges prospects to visit the timeshare's website. The website shows the beauty, luxury, and attractiveness of vacation opportunities and helps create interest in the actual vacation property. Leads can also be gathered from web visitors.

Timeshare companies have sharpened their skills to a level envied by other direct marketers. And they know how to adjust to whatever the marketplace throws out there. Here are some tried and true techniques we can learn from timeshare developers:

Reach out to the right list
Timeshare marketers know how to work a list. They are reaching out to known travelers. They contact people within regions that are near prime timeshare properties. They are developing good leads through direct marketing efforts that encourage prospects to request more information. Make sure your list is working hard for you.

Adapt to marketplace changes
With the unpredictability of today's economy and consumer buying activity, it may be time to think about trying different approaches to connect with your customers and prospects. As marketing obstacles have sprung up, timeshare marketing programs have adapted to continue reaching the right people with the right offer.

Make a great offer
Timeshare marketers make an offer that is sometimes hard to believe and often even harder to resist. I was recently offered a trip for a family of four, for 3 days and 2 nights, in a lovely, relaxing vacation spot relatively near my home for $99. That's a great offer! Yes, I knew I would be hit up to buy a timeshare and would be required to attend a presentation. But, if I were really interested in going to this resort, it would be a great deal. Offer something your target audience will think is too good to pass up!

Think return on investment
My friend asked how the timeshare offer could be legit. How could they offer such an affordable vacation package and make money? Timeshare marketers are using response rates and return on investment (ROI) to create a successful program. Let's say they contacted 10,000 prospects including my friend. If they had 200 people take them up on the offer, that's a 2% response rate. Since the timeshare owns the property, and it has vacant rooms, the cost to house prospects is minimal. Plus, they are bringing in $99 per prospect, which more than pays for the marketing costs. Let's say that 5 of the 200 prospects who attend the presentation sign up for a timeshare - this could easily mean the program is profitable.

I often come across marketers who are afraid to spend a higher amount to bring in a prospect. For harder to reach prospects with the opportunity for a large sale, it can be worth spending more on the direct marketing effort. For instance, you can send a $10 high impact dimensional package if it will help you close a $100,000 deal. See my blog "When Should You Go Dimensional?" to determine if a dimensional mailing could help you close the sale.

Take advantage of the Internet
Timeshare developers have realized that the Internet can add another dimension to their marketing programs. A website can give a visual tour of timeshare properties. Email can drive to the website and encourage requests for more information and create qualified leads. Timeshare marketers are creating integrated direct marketing programs with direct mail, telemarketing, email, and Web. For more details about integrated marketing programs, check out my blog, "Creating an Integrated Marketing Message."

I think the most important thing we can learn from timeshare marketers is adaptability. When outside forces interfere with marketing effectiveness, think outside of the box and find a new way to reach your prospects. And make an amazing offer!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Do You Have Too Many "Cars" In Your Product Line?

Can you guess how many car and truck models are sold by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler? According to a recent New York Times article, there are 112 models spread out among 15 brands in the United States.

On the other hand, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan - the top three import automakers - have about half as many options with 58 models and only seven brands.

When the vehicle market was thriving, the automaker's strategy was to create a car for every price range and every purpose. This glut of product options is one of the main reasons American car companies are losing so much money. Vehicle sales have slumped to their lowest point in 15 years.

Now, with high gas prices and an economic recession, the car makers are suffering. Two things they should have proactively done a long time ago: 1) Work toward creating more energy efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. 2) Weed out the redundant models with low sales and concentrate on the strong models.

How can you, as a marketer, learn from what's happening to the auto industry and apply it to your marketing programs? Here are some points to consider:

Focus on your core products and services.
As a marketing professional, decisions about your company's product and service offering may be beyond your control. However, if you do have a say in your product mix, now is the time to evaluate the performance and usefulness of each product or service. Are there less successful products you can eliminate? Do you have products that overlap each other in features and benefits? For instance, GM dropped the Oldsmobile brand because models were so similar to Buick and Pontiac.

Weed out lagging marketing programs.
Along the same lines as cutting the under-performing car models, you may want to think about dropping any lagging marketing programs. Do you have marketing programs that are only breaking even? Or could you eliminate a portion of a program? For example, automakers are finding that credit card rewards programs are not as successful as in past years. Consumers have become less brand loyal and many are keeping vehicles longer before trading. Now is the time to consider other ways to promote brand loyalty.

Narrow your message.
During uncertain economic times, it's more important than ever to make sure you're conveying a focused and compelling message. You need to speak to the concerns and motives of your customers and prospects. Consumers are more interested in making purchases they need and can justify, rather than feeling like they are buying frivolous or excessive items. For instance, in recent years automakers have promoted brands as being status symbols or "having the biggest SUV on the block." A more updated message might focus on "being more environmentally conscious" or "a good value for your family's needs."

Consider your tone.
You may want to consider a more serious, comforting tone. Rather than making extreme, emotional claims, it's time for a rational, sincere approach. While car makers used to make extreme fantasy claims about a racy car or powerful truck transforming the life of the owner, now they're realizing the need to focus on value, safety, gas mileage, and overall performance.

Be proactive and try something new.
Once you weed out the unproductive products or marketing programs, it's time to think about doing something new. Automakers are reactive rather than proactive. They are finally reacting to the fact that Americans no longer want hundreds of mediocre car models and would be happier with fewer, more interesting models. Automakers are also realizing that consumers want more fuel efficient, affordable vehicles. Think about what you can do to offer something new and better for your customers.

As people switch from rampant spending to more considered purchases, you can modify your products, services or messages to meet their needs.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Can You Make Money With Social Media?

In the last 10 minutes, I have edited my Facebook profile, accepted a new invitation on LinkedIn, watched a video a friend emailed me, looked up "almanacs" in Wikipedia, and written in this blog. That's social media at its finest!

But, did any business benefit from that activity? Not directly. My company will build site traffic, recognition, and credibility with this industry-specific blog. Does it make us money? That is the question that I have been pondering...

Can you make money with social media? I'm talking about businesses and corporations. Everyone is raving about social media as the next biggest thing. But is anyone making money? There are entire conferences in NYC about "monetization" of social media. Lots of buzzwords, but I'm not seeing it.

I come from a direct response background. You spend X on a direct marketing campaign, you get Y response, equaling Z return on investment. How do you measure the response from social media? How can you tell if you're making money?

After some comparative research, I'd classify social media as anything that exists primarily as user-generated content. This includes social networks, such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It also includes blogs, forums, videos, and podcasts. Even wikis and knols would count. I read many articles proclaiming the virtues of social media and how it can benefit businesses. There were few examples of how it could actually make money for a business. The examples I found were consumer-related. For instance, a retailer of clothing for teenagers posted pages on MySpace and YouTube with games, contests, or links that drove traffic to their website.

What about marketing life insurance to middle-age adults? Or annuities to seniors? Can social media help you? What about business-to-business? How does my company, Allegro, market its services to other businesses with any measurable results?

I'm not sure. The social media movement is about relationships. Social media exists to foster conversations and connections between people. Participants in social media are looking to engage with others, to extend beyond one-way communication.

I think we can use social media to build relationships. I may need to change my direct response thinking to find new ways to measure the effectiveness of that relationship. While a prospect may not send in a reply card or "respond" in some way, he or she is still interacting with your company.

Here are some "relationship" benefits you may get from social media today:

Find feedback
It's easy to find out what customers are saying about you and your products. Set up your own microsite and ask for comments or opinions. Write a blog or launch a forum and invite feedback.

Conduct research
Use social media as a channel to learn more about your customer's interests, tastes, and preferences. Conduct surveys or polls. Find out where your customers are and see how they are using social media.

Reinforce your brand
Social media can help you build your brand image. Use a blog to discuss topics related to your business. Use videos to show the benefits or unique features of your products or services.

Find new customers
A group or page on a social media site can link readers to your website. If they found you through social media, they should be a targeted visitor and can hopefully be converted into a customer.

I have to be honest. I think social media has yet to be used to its fullest potential in the business marketing realm. We need to think of new, creative ways to make it work for us.

If you have examples of how social media has helped a business achieve measurable results, I'm eager to hear them. If you are skeptical about the business benefits of social media, let me know. Let's begin some two-way communications!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Should You Green Up Your Direct Marketing?

I've been reading about green direct marketing lately. There seem to be two distinct views about the idea of greening up direct mail. One side thinks that "green direct mail" is an oxymoron. The other side says that it's worth taking a look at your direct marketing efforts and finding ways you can improve your green marketing efforts.

I agree that it's worth seeing if you can green up your marketing efforts. It's good for the environment and the future of our planet. It may also be good for your bottom line. Let's be honest. Most companies will support an effort to "go green" is if it is profitable for them.

The most successful green efforts will involve doing things that your customers and prospects will see as beneficial. That may mean actually modifying your products or services to include a green aspect. Here are a few examples.

Office Depot offers an assortment of products with a "green" element, most having to do with using recycled materials. They found that customers liked the new products, but didn't like searching through all products to find the green options. So, Office Depot began publishing and mailing The Green Book. It's a catalog of environmentally friendly products.

It's ironic that Office Depot is using a catalog to market its green products. Yet, it works. They are reaching a niche market that is concerned about purchasing these Earth-friendly alternatives. And, I'm sure they are making a profit from these green products.

SC Johnson, the company that makes brands like Shout, Windex, and Scrubbing Bubbles, also markets Greenlist product labels, which designates products with a special label indicating they contain fewer volatile organic compounds (VOC). The Greenlist process lets the company measure the overall environmental impact of each product, as well as aids its ability to tweak formulas to scale back harmful ingredients.

Why is SC Johnson creating these green products? First, the company believes in doing what's best for the environment and has a long history of exceeding environmental guidelines. Second, they are meeting a demand for cleaning products that contain fewer harmful ingredients and are good for our planet.

Now, you may be thinking that your company isn't really in a business where you can offer green products or services. For instance, if you sell life insurance or long term care insurance, it might be difficult to green it up. So, here are some quick tips to help green your mailings:

Continuously update your mailing list.
Yes, this is something that is obvious to all marketers. But, I mean really get in there and be critical of your lists. Are you sending the right offers to the right prospects? Could you segment your lists to send more relevant messages to each audience rather than mass mailing everyone? By frequently reviewing and updating your mailing list, you can make sure you are only sending materials to your best and relevant prospects. That means less money spent mailing and less paper and resources consumed.

Use recycled materials.
Use more materials made from recycled paper. To help make sure your materials can be recycled by recipients, try using soy or water-based inks, windowless envelopes, and uncoated stock. Also, add a written message or the Recyclable symbol on your marketing materials to encourage recipients to recycle.

Be accurate in your claims.
Make sure you use the proper terminology and logos in your direct marketing materials. Educated consumers will know the difference. Remember that the word "Recycled" or the recycled logo may only be used alone when the product or package contains 100% recycled material. Use the recyclable symbol to identify paper and paperboard products made from fibers that, after use, are suitable for recycling. Ask suppliers to provide documented proof of their environmental claims. If they claim their products are made from recycled materials, ask specifically about the percentage of recycled content.

Consider on-demand direct marketing.
You may be able to reduce the amount of materials you print by sending out materials on-demand. Rather than printing up thousands of pieces to keep in inventory and then possibly throw out when they become outdated, just print what you need when you need it. You will also have more opportunities to customize the materials you mail. This means you may be able to mail less while maintaining or even increasing response rates.

Offer paperless options.
You can create an integrated marketing campaign and invite recipients to respond to your mailings online using a custom landing page. Or, allow customers and prospects to opt to receive their offers through email communications – for those who prefer not to get paper. You can also drive toward more online statements and notifications, if it fits your business. These paperless alternatives can save you money in materials and printing costs, and some of your customers will appreciate having more green options.

It's tricky to do classic direct marketing and be green. Always be honest with your customers and prospects about your green efforts. Think about your products and services to see if there's something you can do to fill a green need. You may find yourself in a great position - establishing good business practices and making a profit!

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Upside of a Down Market

There are companies who are actually doing well amid today's economic turmoil. Do you believe me? Well, it's true.

I know, today's economy is a mess. First, we had the subprime mortgage crisis, which burst the American housing bubble and led to serious loan defaults. Then, the high price of gasoline and increased food costs have encouraged Americans to tighten their collective belts. Now, we have the unstable financial sector with mergers, buyouts, and government bailouts.

But, there are companies who are thriving and growing. I have talked to to them. One company is in the business of converting structured settlements into cash. Ah, light bulb. You can see how this company could do a booming business right now. They can appeal to people who are feeling the crunch and want to access additional money. Makes sense.

Another company helps car dealerships create custom websites. They have found that dealers are cutting back on their traditional marketing efforts, but feel that a custom website is a cost-effective way to provide valuable and relevant information to customers and prospects.

What can we learn from these two companies? Well, several things:

1. Find your niche.
Both of these companies are focused on a highly specific product or service. They have found what they do well, and that's ALL they are doing. I am constantly surprised by the number of companies who try to do everything. I recently read an article about a search engine company that is dabbling in finding new sources of energy. Do those businesses go together?

2. Focus on the positive.
Both companies have found positive ways to help their customers. They could use scare tactics and focus on the negative aspects of the economy. But, they aren't. They have positioned their products and services positively as a good financial decision. People are smart, and they know when they are being treated with respect.

3. Be enthusiastic.
Both companies are very passionate and excited about what they do. And so are their employees. From talking to their sales staff, you can immediately tell that they love what they do, and they believe in their products and services.

4. Provide great service.
Now more than ever, customer service matters. These companies serve their customers and they are happy to do it. They keep their word and deliver what they promise.

5. Evaluate your products and services.
Are you offering something of value to today's customers? If not, it may be time to modify or improve your product offering. If you're a restaurant, you may find that more people are eating at home to save money. Maybe you could offer a special family night, or create a family take-out menu with discounted pricing to encourage customers to come to your restaurant. If you're a jewelry store, customers may be cutting back on luxury purchases. You may need to evaluate your inventory to see if you can offer more cost-effective products. Or, think about added services such as free cleanings and free prong checks to make sure the stones are secure. This can create more store traffic and help with sales.

Think about companies that you know are doing well. What can we learn from them? If you have more examples of companies who are thriving, let me know!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

To blog or to knol: that is the question!

A colleague recently asked me to explain the difference between a blog and a knol. She wondered if it made more sense to use a knol for presenting expert information.

I thought that was a good question. So, here's my answer.

A Knol is a giant blogging site. However, it is more often compared to Wikipedia than a blog. That's because a knol is typically written in an authoritative manner about a single topic. For instance, a knol could be about "Insomnia" or "How to easily fit into Japanese society."

The main differences between a knol and Wikipedia include:

• Wikipedia has one page per topic, while a knol allows multiple authors to write on the same topic in different places.

• On Wikipedia, you are not to create pages for self-promotion. You may use a knol to promote your business or products and services.

• Anyone can edit most Wikipedia pages, while a knol is written by one author. Yet, you can allow different levels of collaboration by others, including wide open editing, moderated editing, and no editing.

Now, back to the original question: what's the difference between a knol and a blog? Well, first of all, here's how they are the same:

• The sign up process is similar to signing up for a blog.
• The interface looks a lot like a blog. You write your content. Add any graphics or titles.
• Knols allow comments just like blogs.
• You can elect to allow ads just like with a blog.
• You create an author profile, the same as a blog.

Now, how is a knol different than a blog?

• A blog can really be about any topic, whatever is top of mind for the writer that day. A knol is about a specific topic.

• A knol is more scholarly or professionally written when compared to many blogs. However, business blogs, like this one, can also have an expert tone.

• A blog is designed for continuous posting of ongoing content. While it's easy and helpful to update the content of a knol and keep it fresh, knols aren't meant for continuous posting.

• Readers can rate a knol, and these ratings will help the best content emerge at the top of search results.

So, here's my recommendation:
If you recently fixed a leaky faucet, and you want to give expert advice on the steps you took, write a knol. If you want to wax on about your life or a particular business topic with ongoing postings (such as direct marketing), then go with a blog.