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.