Monday, December 7, 2009

Meet Our New Associate!

It takes a special breed to work at Pale Hose Communications. Advertising is a dog-eat-dog business and therefore, dogged determination to succeed is paramount. It takes someone who can take a bite out of a workload, get on the stick, and run with it. It also helps if, when the fur flies, that person's bark is worse than their bite and they can handle conflict, move on, and let sleeping dogs lie later on. Even when the work has them chasing their tail, we look for a smart associate who can chew right through the fat and get to the meat of the project. But really, the most important quality we value here at Pale Hose Communications is we simply ask that you be housebroken.

So, on that note, I'm proud to introduce Pale Hose Communcations' newest Associate, Opie, whose official title right now is Office Dog in Charge of Document Shredding and Chewing (though after a year or so, he'll be up for promotion to Collections!).

And, if you feel like your advertising is barking up the wrong tree, or you just have something you need chewed to bits then please, give Opie or one of our other Associates a call!

btw, we found Opie through

If you have a home for a really great dog, and want to help out a wonderful cause, please check them out!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Spin A Website That Will Catch Customers!

For reasons both personal and professional, I see a lot of websites. Additionally, as I look around, I see more web designers than ever before. However, for every really impressive website I see, I see three that make me pull my hair out for reasons that are all easily avoidable. Think about've probably seen some of these too:

• The triumph of form over function
This seems to be the one I see the most often. A website design that is simply awesome at first glance but, after that incredible intro page (that often takes far too long to load for even the fastest computer and web connection) there's no follow through, leaving one having to look too hard for what one came to the site to find. In the Internet age, a user's attention span can often equal that of a four year old and, if a website frustrates a user right off the bat, chances are pretty good he or she will move on pretty quickly.

• Information Overload
Though it could be lumped into the category above, the website creating information overload does just that; there are so many links (be they vaguely titled or simply lacking what the link title promises) and sub menus that a visitor can't quickly find what they're looking for. Just because you have the bandwidth available doesn't mean you have to use all of it sharing every little detail about your company, product, or service.

• The "Coming Soon" That Never Comes
With all the web designers out there these days, it's not hard to put up a website. However putting up a website that says "Under Construction" or "Coming Soon" and leaving it up for more than 10 days is just a waste of both your time and the potential website visitor's time. What's true in life is true on the web: You only get once chance to make a good first impression. If your website remains nothing but a "Coming Soon" sign for too long, don't expect visitors to keep coming back.

So, how do you avoid being lumped into one of the above categories? Consider that a good website should be like a sign in a retail store, in that it should inform, direct, and/or promote. In this day and age, your website may often be the first contact you have with your customers, so make sure it provides pertinent information in an easily accessible format. Remember that a snazzy web design won't tell your customers a thing about your business, other than the fact that you hired a good designer. If they take the time to visit your site, make it easy to find the answers to the questions they might have. If you're not sure what to provide, consider answering the questions you hear most in the office and/or on the phone.

All that good information can go to waste, however, if your customers can't find it once they get to your website. Hence, make sure your website also offers a flow directing visitors to what they're looking. I can't tell you how many times I've landed on a website following a link or banner ad, only to discover the hook that drew me in is nowhere in sight, leaving me to search around to find what brought me there in the first place. Just as a brick and mortar retailer will put his sale items at the front of the store, a good website puts its' main attraction(s) front and center.

Finally, make sure your website actively promotes your business. Simply putting up a website with photos of your business and About Us and Contact Us links won't cut it. Remember that your web copy needs to sell your business, goods, or services. And though the person who designs your website may be an HTML wizard, it doesn't mean he or she is capable of writing effective promotional copy. If you or someone on your staff can write it, great! If not, find a professional copywriter who can, because what doesn't effectively promote your business is a waste of your bandwidth and your customers' time.

With all that said, remember that there are plenty of websites out there that are both eye-catching and effective. Now, consider your own website. Does it offer your information to visitors in an easily accessible format? Does it make it easy for visitors to find what they're looking for? Finally, does it tell your story and promote your business?

There are a lot of websites out there that can really dance. But if your website isn't dancing and singing, then it may time to look for a producer for your company's web show.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How Disney's Marketing Made A Mark On Me

As I've made my career in advertising, I often ignore advertising altogether. When I do view or listen to an ad, I often do so as a critic rather than consumer and, as such, I often miss the intended marketing message altogether. However, as jaded and as hardened as I may be, every now and again I do get caught up in an ad campaign that does make me want to act.

The most prominent example has come recently with the release of Disney's A Christmas Carol. Let me add that I'm not one who enjoys going to the theater to see movies and enjoy them more on DVD or cable, in the comfort of my own home. But A Christmas Carol is different for me.

This version of A Christmas Carol is a 3D, animated feature with Jim Carrey, Colin Firth and others. Their voices were used for the characters and their made-up features were used for the animation. And, if you didn't see it in Oklahoma City or wherever you live, through the spring, summer, and fall, Disney outfitted a special train which traveled across the country, featuring engines and five or six cars, all vinyl wrapped to highlight and promote the movie. Inside, one could see models created of Victorian era London that were made for the animation, actual costumes, Charles Dickens' mementos such as his desk and ink pen, and maquettes (a hand crafted wax model) of each character. In another car, you could digitally morph your face onto a character from the movie and, in the last car (which was decorated for Christmas including fireplace and yuletide scent), visitors were serenaded by Christmas carolers in Victorian period costumes. After you exited the train, you were invited to view a 10 minute, 3D, making-of preview in the portable, air conditioned theater near the train.

About a month ago, when TV spots for the movie first started running, I found myself stopping what I was doing and watching them (which I rarely do). I watched for the scenes I saw in the preview and for the effects I'd seen made behind the curtain. And I actually thought I might want to go to the theater to see the movie.

So how did that happen? Because, by allowing me that behind the scenes look that not everyone got, Disney and it's Christmas Carol train made a personal connection with me. And via that connection, I took "ownership" of the movie and became an ambassador for it. I told everyone I knew about the train, its' contents, and the preview. And, like someone who discovers a new restaurant or "first adopter" discovering a new product, I'm excited to see the movie and to tell more people about it. I'm not naive enough to think I'm the only one who felt this way, but consider that if everyone who visited the train did what I did and told all their friends about it, then the word of mouth advertising alone likely paid for the expense of the train ten-fold.

Now think about your marketing, advertising, product, and service. What do you do, say, or sell that makes a connection with your customer? If you can't answer that question, then maybe it's time to look behind the scenes at your marketing and advertising strategy. And remember, you can't go wrong with a train that tours the country!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Making The Most Of Minimum Marketing

Recently, while enjoying a beer or two with some other beer-loving friends, we began discussing the popularity of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. We all agreed that it was cheap but, considering there had been no marketing anyone could think of, we also figured there was something else at play.

If you've been in any bar in America catering to 20- to 30-something hipsters lately, you've likely seen cans, bottles and and glasses full of Pabst Blue Ribbon flying off the bar. In fact, PBR is so popular that it actually posted a 25% sales volume gain last year, while increasing their case price by $1.50, during a recession! It was even recommended in The Hipster Handbook. However, what you may not have noticed, is that all this popularity came from a 134 year old brand that has done almost zero marketing.

Though essentially a dead brand, PBR did have somewhat of a kitschy, retro appeal, and if you're looking for it, you'll see PBR show up occasionally in movies (Dennis Hopper's famous endorsement in Blue Velvet, Will Ferrell's character sporting a PBR t-shirt in Old School). That said, its' classic logo was far more popular than the beer itself and the PBR demographic was males 40-63, which is to say from a beer marketer's perspective, your Dad's and Grandad's beer...

So how to explain the sudden success of PBR, especially considering that, before 2002, the brand had seen declining sales for 23 straight years? It can certainly be attributed to marketing, but not in the traditional sense. That 25% sales gain last year came with no measured media. which is to say no TV, radio, newspaper, or outdoor. Instead of over-the-top, the company went underground.

In my research, I found conflicting stories about the resurgence of PBR, but however it happened, it apparently all started in Portland, OR and spread from there among the 20-somethings. Maybe it was the bar owner who started selling it at $1 a can and thence it spread to the young urban hipsters, bike messengers, and ski-boarders who wanted cheap beer. Or it may have been the PBR brand manager who, faced with a meager promotion budget, fed the above fire for PBR though subtle sponsorships such as monetary and product donations to events, bars, and other vendors (including a barber shop that had a PBR neon in the window and gave a free pint of PBR with every hair cut!). What didn't he do? There were no banners at any of the events, no girls in tight tees in bars handing out logo key chains, and no gladhanding reps. Just lots of cheap PBR. In fact, that Pabst Blue Ribbon didn't follow the traditional beer marketing handbook has allowed the brand to keep its' cool factor with the hipsters who originally championed it as an underground, retro chic beer.

Now, PBR trails only Coors Light, Budweiser, Bud Light, and Corona in supermarket sales. And they've done it with a microfraction of the marketing budget of any of their competition...

So what's the moral to the story? Basically, as Pabst Blue Ribbon has shown, you don't need to have a big marketing budget to achieve success in your market. But, do you know who's using your products or service and why? Do you know what they expect from you? Figure that out and, even with a minimal budget, you can maximize your marketing spending and make more money!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What's Your Story?

Several years ago, I paid a visit to some friends at a small ad agency with whom I'd once shared office space. On this particular day, I walked in to see a graphic artist friend using a digital camera to photograph their new client's product: a device that would train your cat to use the toilet. Needless to say, not being a cat guy and naively secure in the knowledge that my clients would always be A-list megabrands, I quickly made fun of that crazy kitty contraption. In this pre-You-Tube era, my friend shared my dismay for the product and we spent a few minutes laughing over the potential market for such a device.

While I left happy that I didn't have to write for a kitty commode trainer, by the time my car had left the parking lot, my mind had started wandering. Though the client had tied my friends' hands creatively, insisting on a mundane, straight ahead approach, I immediately brainstormed a load of creative ideas to sell that feline flush facilitator. Some of them good, most of them bad, but all capable of doing a better job of marketing it than just playing it straight. In other words, adding some spice to tell the story of the product and the company.

This was all brought to mind recently when another client contacted me to help with their company blog. As they're a business that does many things and provides many services, they've found it hard to aptly explain what they do. Thus, they want to use their blog to both tell their story and increase their web traffic (did you know a blog will increase return visits to your website by 51%?).

So, my challenge to you is, what's your story? Who's telling your story and how is the world hearing about your company, product, or service? And finally, are you happy with your marketing results? If the answer is no, then maybe you need a new storyteller!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's In A Name?

I'm sure this has been said by many people and many ways but...

There are goods and services in this world that can actually sell themselves. Everything else needs an ad agency...

I'm a beer snob and, thanks to my brother, whose brother-in-law owns Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City (they're married to sisters), I've had occasional inside access to what's become one of the largest microbreweries in the midwest. In addition to enjoying some of their beers before they hit the market from time to time, I've also had the opportunity to chat about their advertising and marketing strategies over the years. While of most of their efforts have been pitch perfect, one recent incident illustrates the importance of product naming, marketing, and market education.

First off, let me state that the "Boulevard" brand is now almost synonymous with "beer" in Kansas City. Their model has been to introduce a beer and let it ride until the market discovered it. Though their product was beer, their larger marketing effort was emphasizing the brand. With that, theirs was not an overnight success and it took a while for the beer, and the brand, to take hold. Now that it has taken hold, their sales have exploded.

In early 2008, the company introduced the Smokestack Series, a series of lesser known beer styles that had often been brewed in small batches and sold only from the brewery. The line consisted of Double Wide Pale Ale, Long Strange Tripel, Sixth Glass, and Saison. Now, look again at those titles and tell me which one doesn't fit. If you said "Saison" you're right, and the market agreed because, of the four, Saison was the worst seller.
("Saison" is the French word for "season" and saison beer was originally brewed in French speaking southern Belgium during the cool winter months for consumption during the warm working season on the farm. )

Undaunted, Boulevard then produced a short run of a variation called Saison Brett (Brett being short for Brettanomyces, a strain of yeast generally considered bad for wine and beer, but used for some Belgian style beers, such as Saison, to provide a gentle bitterness). This one, again while popular with beer snobs, didn't catch on with the general public.

When Boulevard decided to add still a third saison variation, they contacted their ad agency for research and marketing advice. What they found out was, though saison may be a familiar term and beer style to beer snobs, it's not so accessible to the average, midwestern beer drinker accustomed to being able to order a wheat beer or pale ale. In fact, Boulevard's market research showed part of the problem was no one knew how to even properly pronounce saison and hence, not many bothered to buy it.

So, with the help of their ad agency, Boulevard simply gave their third saison (though technically it's not a saison due to the way it's brewed, but that's another story) version a new, more accessible name, graphic theme and marketing campaign. The new variation became "Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale" and suddenly, it's one of their faster selling beers.

What have we learned (aside from some useless beer minutiae)? Well:
1) Name does matter

2) Lack of market education can easily lead to market confusion and/or indifference

3) Even the best product, service, and company can use the services of an advertising/marketing agency

Finally, my challenge to you is to look at the name and message of your company, product, or service. Does it help you sell? Is it memorable? Does it promote to and/or educate your market?

If you answered "no" to any of those questions, then take a lesson from Boulevard Brewing and remember that a customer can't name their poison if they can't say or even remember the name...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When The Best Intentions Create Bad Public Relations

Public Relations: Communication by a person or an organization with the purpose of creating a favorable public image

We've all heard that "friends don't let friends drive drunk." But should friends (who work in advertising and PR) let friends do their own public relations? Perhaps I'm not objective here but, two examples of bad PR of some friends' own making have me wondering....

We have some friends who own a specialty shop (their true product is being left vague to protect the innocent). They began their business renting their product out to parties, receptions, etc. When they first opened their retail shop, they admitted they did so as an experiment. Though immediately successful they closed up shop after nine months to move to a larger, more visible location with no notice and no explanation and didn't get open in the new space until three months later. This, of course, killed all their momentum, and left a good number of customers thinking they had closed. A bad PR move that meant they effectively had to start their marketing efforts from scratch when they reopened and requiring the dilution of their marketing message to win back those customers who had forgotten about them, thinking they'd closed.

More recently, an article appeared in the local newspaper's business section noting how my friends' were planning to open a location in Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district. However the article was more about how the owners had stopped communicating with the writer and thus cast my friends and their business in a poor light. (That said, the article was pointless other than to say "these people stopped calling me back" and imply something's fishy since they aren't talking. Perhaps the writer's ego was bruised, but his article presented nothing of value other than to say that one local business stopped talking to him about a move they were considering.) When I asked one of my friends about her lack of response, she said they were still working out a lease and didn't want say or do anything publicly that would affect their negotiations nor did she want to say anything about a new store that wasn't a done deal. So instead, by saying nothing and apparently getting a local business writer in a snit, she let her message get out of her control and that created the business section story that cast their business and their motives in a bad light. The whole thing could have been headed off had she just spoken to the writer and told him what she told me.

I have another friend who owns a small, local performance hall and brings in some decent acts. To help promote his venue, he sends an email to people who have signed up on his list. This is a great way to market on the web, in that you're marketing to a receptive audience who is seeking your information while you control your message and how it is disseminated. The problem here? This friend also uses his email to point out poorly attended shows, air his political views, and to occasionally rail against his competition and even city zoning and code enforcement officials.

That is all well and good, except for the fact that, in this age of red state/blue state politics, airing your views and railing against those who don't share them is a sure-fire way to alienate at least half of your audience (especially in Oklahoma!). In addition, pointing out that a given show was poorly attended won't compel someone to come to another show, but will only validate their decision to not attend in the first place. ("An enthusiastic crowd saw a great show" paints a much brighter picture than "The 20 or so people who bothered to show up saw a great show.")

Both of my friends' examples violate rule number one of public relations: accentuate the positive!

So consider the messages your business sends out. Does your business have a positive public image? If not, remember that you have the power to change that. But, as the above stories have shown and to roughly paraphrase so many mothers and grandmothers, if you don't have anything positive to say, don't say anything at all.

Or, in other words, if you're going to relate publicly, remember to relate positively!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New Client

I took on a new client today. But they won't be paying me, they won't have final approval, I won't be producing anything for them, and they'll likely never even know I'm working for them. That's because I'll be providing them the most powerful marketing tool known to man; word of mouth advertising.

As background, know that I'm a bicyclist, and as such, I use "
clipless" pedals that allow cleats on the bottoms of my shoes to lock in (it helps make the pedal stroke more efficient). I bought my first set of this type of pedals in 1990 and converted the shoes I'd purchased two years earlier to work with them. And in the last 20 years, I've never been able to get the cleats aligned right on any other pair of shoes and, hence, I'm still wearing 20 year old shoes!

You should know too that I've patronized the same bicycle shop (store A) for over 20 years and they've taken extremely good care of me. However, even though I bought a couple pairs of shoes from them over the years, they never once offered to adjust the cleats to match my existing shoes.

Enter my new "client," a bike store (store B) nowhere near my house but close to my favorite coffee haunt. When I mentioned my shoe dilemma to an employee of store B, without a second of hesitation, he suggested I bring in my old shoes for them to measure using digital calipers and they would mount the new cleats on my new shoes, even though I hadn't purchased the shoes from them.

Though the salesman I talked to wasn't there when I returned, another guy who had heard my sad story was and he not only remembered my problem, he remembered my name. I checked back in a few hours later and, for the first time in 20 years, walked out with a pair of new shoes with properly aligned cleats. For this service, they charged me the outrageous fee of $4.00!

On the surface, this wasn't really a big deal. Yes, store B ended 20 years of frustration which for me, was huge. But where they scored more points was 1) offering to work on shoes they hadn't sold, 2) having an employee who wasn't even dealing with me remember my face, my name, and my problem, and 3) solving my problem quickly, happily, and enthusiastically while at the same time never trying to sell me another pair of shoes or anything else in the store. In other words,
exceptional customer service that I will happily tell the world about.

I'll still patronize store A, but I'll likely visit store B more as well. In my eyes, they rank #1 and #1A. And I'll certainly tell more people about my extremely positive experience at store B. And the word of mouth advertising I provide will have a greater impact than any newspaper ad, radio spot, direct mail, banner ad, or online review. And it didn't cost them a dime!

The moral? You, your staff, your product, and/or your service can produce the best possible advertising for any business, absolutely free.

(Oh, and for all the other advertising that isn't free, like print, direct mail, radio, TV, and web, drop me a line!~)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

15 Years Ago

August 17th, 1994. It's a day that I remember fondly for two reasons. First was the severe storm that raked portions of northwest Oklahoma from late morning into the early evening, featuring winds over 110 mph, which was blowing hail to the size of softballs (and, in at least one case, the size of a football) horizontally. As a weather wonk, a storm like this in the middle of August is a surprise bonus in the middle of the long, hot summer. While I don't root for damage or seeing people hurt, the ferocity of such a storm is always a thrill.

The storm lost intensity as the worst of it missed Oklahoma City and basically dumped a lot of rain on rush hour. What this meant for me was a washed out bike ride and an opportunity to instead meet my friends Steve, Lacy, and Penny for drinks at VZD's.

While Steve and Penny were printers and Lacy and I were ad types, we were all friends who shared the same sense of humor and twisted world view. Instead of getting together to bitch about our jobs or our clients, as so often happened with industry people, we were friends who generally shared the same occupation who just enjoyed each other's company (and sense of humor and twisted world view). Though we'd all gotten together separately for lunch or drinks, this was the first time we all managed to get out together.

I seem to recall it was just going to be a drink or two but, very quickly it was obvious that we were going to have too much fun to stop so early. Blue Sapphire martinis were the order of the day and the evening turned into a wonderful confluence of four sharp witted people sharing all their wildest observations, their best jokes and, occasionally, something that didn't elicit laughter (rare though it might have been). Ultimately, it was one of those nights that you don't recall much of the next morning, but remember forever. Four people, in rare form, doing nothing but spending a few hours together, enjoying cocktails, enjoying each other's company, and making each other laugh (hysterically).

Finally, the evening had to end and I remember we all checked each other in the parking lot to insure everyone was safe to drive home. Yes, this was the equivalent of the inmates running the asylum, but it worked for us that night, and we all got home safe, as the follow up calls to each other the next morning confirmed. I seem to remember heading to the Varsity for one or two more afterwards, but it was a sad follow-up to where I'd just been.

It was such a wonderful night that we all made a pledge to do it again. We all met individually for lunch or drinks, but the four of us never again got together. It was probably a good thing anyway, as nothing would have ever compared to the indescribable magic of that night.

A few years later, Penny decided to cast her lot in San Francisco, so the old gang of mine was never able to get back together. Sadly, it became an impossibility when Penny passed away in July 2007 after a long, valiant battle with breast cancer.

Till my dying day, that night will be the fondest memory I carry of Penny, hazy though it may be. In retrospect, it was her magnetism that brought us all together and it was her anything-goes, love of life that we all fed off of that night. August 17th, 1994 was 15 years ago and Penny's been gone for two years. And I remember Penny, and that night, like it was yesterday.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cycling and Advertising...There Actually Is A Connection!

With Lance Armstrong's return to the Tour de France this year, cycling returned to the American consciousness once again. And with that increased visibility, I again fielded more questions about pro cycling, how it works, the intricacies of team tactics, and more. And it dawned me as I explained a cycling concept to a friend how many parallels exist between an ad agency and a pro cycling team.

First off, they're both filled with dopers!

OK, that's not true, as cycling now tests relentlessly and, in spite of some the ads I see that leave me asking, "What were they on?", performance enhancing drugs don't really enhance advertising creativity.

Seriously, the Tour de France in its' broadest sense is all about advertising. The race was introduced in 1903 to sell more of the sponsor's newspapers and the iconic yellow leader's jersey was tinted to match the color of said newspaper. Today, the Tour de France sells official sponsorship opportunities for almost everything, a caravan precedes each day's stage with a rolling Mardi Gras of advertisers handing out promotional items and samples to spectators along the way, and each team has a corporate sponsor who wants to use pro cycling and its' vast (and mostly European) audience to promote their goods or services. Just like a Nascar vehicle, the rider's uniforms themselves are emblazoned with sponsor's logos designed to be seen as often as possible, including the primary sponsor's name across the back of a rider's butt, so it will appear prominently when I rider is shown from behind. In fact, so conscious are cyclists of getting the sponsor's name out, you'll often see a rider who's broken away from the pack for a stage win, sit up on his bike ato zip up and straighten his jersey, allowing the sponsor's name to be clearly legible in video and photos as he crosses the finish line.

On a smaller scale, each team is built like an ad agency. The team sponsor is the client and each rider is assigned a specific role to help the team win the race or even an individual stage and garner the most publicity and goodwill for the sponsor. Just as there are copywriters, designers, photographers, producers, and account execs at an agency, a cycling team is composed of time trial specialists, mountain climbers, sprinters, and domestiques, whose job is to support the riders on their team who excel in all those areas with the ability win the race overall.

So, given the parallels between a cycling team and an advertising effort, my challenge to you is this: Just as a pro cycling team would never count on a mountain climber to help win a time trial stage, do you have an IT expert designing your ads? Is a Sales Manager writing your ad copy? Getting an advertising message over the top of the mountain and winning the race requires the combined efforts of a team of specialists. Who's filling the important support roles on your team?