Friday, December 30, 2011

Dropping The Ball On Another Year...2011 In Non-Poetry

Like most folks, I always take a little time at the end of the year to look back at the preceding 365 days. And, as I thought back over some of the advice, rants, and lack of poetry I've spewed out over the last year, I was genuinely humbled by the number of people who took the time to read He's Not A Poet. I was also puzzled by some of the search terms that brought people in and by the popularity of some posts versus others. So, with that in mind, here are some of the posts that many folks liked and one or two you might have missed.

In February, the excitement over this year's winners of the Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic (or SBAAFTNP if you're into the whole brevity thing) made the 2011 edition the most popular Award post to date (of the two I've published).

In May, the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton transfixed the world and highlighted something everyone should consider in their advertising.

We also went back to the 70's, focusing on what The Godfather can teach you about social media and Evel Knievel and his brand of Daredevil Marketing.

A personal highlight for me in 2011 was seeing my beloved Boston Bruins win their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1972. One of their victory parties saw them ring up an alcohol tab over $150,000 and provided a priceless lesson in capitalizing on public relations opportunities. However, 2011 also had it's low moments and, in my opinion, Sonic sank the lowest.

Finally, my thoughts on buzz actually managed to generate some buzz, a screaming kid spotlighted the importance of monitoring your brand on the web and, after his passing, we looked at how Steve Jobs made a marketing connection with consumers.

Thank you again for dropping by, for considering Ph Communications for your advertising (and non-poetry) needs, and may 2012 bring you all health, happiness, and prosperity!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Make The Leap To Daredevil Marketing

In the 1970's, there was no bigger superstar than Evel Knievel. And, like so many red-blooded American children of the era, I wanted to be just like him. Problem was, bicycle ramps weren't readily available then and I frequently had to settle for launching my bike off a strip of sloped curb along a neighbor's driveway. That provided me with approximately a three inch ramp and thus, very little room to actually jump over anything larger than my Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars.

My idolatry wasn't limited to just wanting to perform stunts like Evel Knievel with my little bicycle. I desperately wanted an Evel Knievel action figure and all the accompanying accessories so I could create my own daredevil stunts (My G.I. Joes just weren't made for reckless stunts. That they were better armed and, with their Kung Fu Grip, could kill an Evel Knievel figure with their bare hands was of little consolation to me). And I just knew, if I had that Evel Knievel bicycle, I'd be able to soar across the sky over 15 busses even if I didn't have a proper ramp. Finally, I spent countless Saturday afternoons glued to ABC's Wide World of Sports (which was pretty much one's prime source for sports in the era of only three TV networks), breathlessly waiting for those few minutes featuring Knievel's jumps which, of course, always came at the end of the show.

All this nostalgia came rushing back to me recently when I read Leigh Montville's riveting biography of Evel Knievel, entitled Evel: The High-Flying Life of Evel Knievel: American Showman, Daredevil, and Legend. In it, Montville argues that Evel Knievel was America's first reality TV star, offering real live blood, guts, life, death, and human frailty, served up in dens across the country, in living color. His skill as a carnival huckster on the grand stage only added to the Knievel legend and gave birth to what I call "Daredevil Marketing."

When he rose to fame, Evel Knievel was doing the same thing hundreds of guys had been doing for years at carnivals and state fairs across the country. The difference was, Knievel thought bigger. Rather than jump a pool of water, Knievel would jump boxes of snakes or a cage full of tigers (it wasn't until later in his career, and well before it entered pop culture vernacular for another reason, but Knievel also jumped the sharks!). When he started jumping over cars, his audience and popularity rose with each vehicle he added to the line. When he finally hit the big time, hustling a jump over the fountains at Ceasar's Palace and selling the rights to televise it to ABC, his leap came up short and he was almost killed. The failure made him a superstar.

Another element of Knievel's marketing success was that he positioned himself as an outsider. In his televised spiels, he would often say "They told me I couldn't do it" or "I'm gonna prove them wrong." That pitch and attitude of doing what "they" said couldn't be done connected with the anti-establishment vibe of the 1970's and turned Knievel into the rebel all of America could root for.

Finally, Knievel gave people what they wanted by legitimizing America's bloodlust. By both embracing and selling the fact that he might crash, Knievel touched a nerve with anyone and everyone who secretly watched auto racing just for the crashes. And whether they admitted it or not, the fact that they might see him crash was what people were "buying" from Evel Knievel. That his next jump could be his last only added more urgency to his marketing message.

Fortunately, you don't have to perform a death-defying stunt to put Daredevil Marketing to work for your business. Instead, focus on these three steps:

• Don't be afraid to think big and make a splash. Get your name and product out there, via whatever means necessary. Advertise via TV, radio, print, direct mail, and/or web, Twitter or Facebook. Just as no one would have known how fearless Evel Knievel was had he not told them, no one will know about your business or product if you just open your doors and expect traffic to roll in.

• Know what your customers want. Whether they admitted it or not, Evel Knievel knew America wanted to buy blood and guts from a larger than life, rebellious, heroic character. Listen to your customers. Track your response to your advertising. Use social media as your focus group. Watch your website analytics to see what's selling and what's not. Then, focus your marketing more directly on what your customers want, whether it's what you sell or how you're selling it to them.

• Sell what makes you different. Every business or product has a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). What made Evel Knievel stand out was his willingness to try jumping farther or risk more danger. Know what differentiates you from your competition and make sure you stress that USP when ever you market your business.

Sucessful marketing doesn't require you to jump over busses or even wear snazzy leather outfits with capes. But making the leap with the simple tenets of Daredevil Marketing can certainly help your business soar over the competition.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Ultimate Marketing Trick From Steve Jobs

The death of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs earlier this month elicited a wave of grief and sorrow that was on display across the digital spectrum. And, while I too was certainly sad to see a vibrant man in his mid-50s lose a battle to cancer, leaving three young children without a Father and a wife without her partner and soulmate, the outpouring of grief and posthumous gratitude made me curious. Why were so many people affected by the passing of a man they never knew, never met, and likely only occasionally saw in magazines, TV, and the web?

Certainly, whether he liked it or not, Jobs was a public figure, though he went to great lengths to maintain his privacy and shroud his personal life in secrecy. While his desire for privacy created an aura of mystery, it was his public appearances that gave birth to the Jobs legend. His keynote appearances (which became known as "Stevenotes") to introduce the company's newest offering became hotly anticipated events to the devoted Apple fanbase and, over time, a predictable pattern emerged. Jobs would appear last (always sporting the same signature look), hype Apple's product lines and sales figures, and then issue some general concluding remarks before feigning his stage exit, which he would always stop with the phrase, "But there's one more thing." And from there, Jobs would introduce the next piece of Apple magic that was both beautifully designed and simple to operate. It was also during these appearances where the toll of Jobs' cancer slowly showed its' effects.

While he was known as a hands-on executive who wanted his marketing to be every bit as well designed as his products, it was his role as the face of Apple that was Jobs' master stroke. To the devoted Apple user (and plenty of stockholders), Steve Jobs and Apple were one and the same and, as the "face" of the company, people grew to know him from his Stevenote appearances, or at least feel they knew him. Hence, Steve Jobs performed a virtually impossible marketing trick: he made a personal connection with his customers.

I've written about the importance of a personal connection before, but Jobs' role with Apple created the perfect combination of product and personality. The product part came from the loyal devotion of Apple users. Perhaps its the cool factor the design of Apple's products offer or the snob appeal that comes from owning a more expensive gadget that everybody wants. Or maybe it's their integration into several areas of a user's daily existence or simply their ease of use and ability to simplify one's life. Whatever the reason, Apple consumers seem to develop a stronger attachment to their Mac desktop or laptop computer, iPhones, iPods, and iPads.

As the face of Apple, Steve Jobs' became the person Apple customer connected with. Regardless of whether he came up with the idea for their desktops, laptops, iPods, iPads, iPhones, or the App store, or even had a hand in every level of their design and development, that he was the one who introduced them and showed off all their features with the same quirky routine helped customers make a personal connection to Steve Jobs and, by extension strengthened their bond to the Apple brand.

So why is that personal connection between brand and consumer important? Because, when your customers connect with you or your business on a personal level, they take ownership of what you sell and, by doing that, become ambassadors for you and your brand. They tell their friends where they got it, how it works, and how it's made their life better. They tweet about it on Twitter or mention it on Facebook if a friend or acquaintance asks for a recommendation. They post their positive experiences on user review sites on the web. In other words, when you make a personal connection, you build customer loyalty and empower an army of people marketing your goods and services for free!

So how does your marketing, advertising, or goods and services make a connection with your customer? It can be as easy remembering names on a micro level or actively engaging your customers on Facebook and Twitter on a larger scale, but the key is to find a way for your customers to take ownership of what you sell. You may never be as big as Apple but, if you can find a way to make a personal connection with your customers, you can take a big slice of your market's pie...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What The Godfather Can Teach You About Social Media

In the movie The Godfather, there's a scene where the Corleone family is arguing over how to best avenge the assassination attempt on their Father, Don Vito Corleone. The hotheaded Underboss of the family, Sonny, argues for violent, widespread retribution. His brother and Consigliere, Tom Hagen (Sonny found him on the street when they were kids, the family took him in, and he's been with them ever since. He's not Sicilian, but he's a good lawyer. He's not a wartime Consigliere, but...) urges a more peaceful approach, pointing out that "This is business, not personal!"

If you're blogging, and/or using Facebook and Twitter to promote your business, you should always remember those words, "This is business, not personal," before you post anything that reflects on you or company. Though blogging is an excellent way to increase visits to your website and to enhance interest in your business, and social media is a wonderful opportunity to engage customers, using business accounts to air your personal, political, or religious views, your dirty laundry, or even your rooting interest in a particular team, is a surefire way to poison your marketing efforts.

I've talked about creating your own bad PR previously, but was reminded of it again when I saw this Facebook update from the music hall owner I referenced in that post, who uses his Facebook account for both business and personal purposes:

Boom! Twenty words and one hotlink was all it took to alienate or tick off at least half his audience. (Also, I shouldn't have to say it, but it's probably not good form to tell your audience/customers to "shut up!") Given the current Red State/Blue State political climate in the US, it was no surprise that this reponse came quickly from a friend:

As so often happens, the political debate/argument raged in the comments section with typical "my side is right, your side is wrong" vitriol. Regardless of who's right or wrong, the person who made the comment above also made the most correct statement of all, at least as it applies to my point:

He's right and, as this example shows, it's just plain bad business to use your business forum, be it blog, Twitter, Facebook, or email newsletter to express your personal thoughts. Your views or beliefs as they apply to your business or industry are perfectly fine but, remember, your customers have their own thoughts and opinions and, in this day and age, they may differ widely from your own. Hence, it's a lot easier to tick someone off and, hence, lose customers.

Fortunately, if you are compelled to share your personal thoughts or dirty laundry on the web, there's an easy fix. Just set up a personal account in whatever medium you choose and air your thoughts, rants, grievances, bad experiences, and/or chili recipes there, with people who know and understand you. Then, keep your business thoughts in the business account where your customers and potential customers can grow to view you as a trusted, reliable information source. Save your personal views for your personal forum populated by friends and family.

Don Corleone said it best when he told Sonny, "Never tell anyone outside the Family what you're thinking." And if you want to keep your business from sleeping with the fishes, then keep your personal views to your family of friends and aquantainces and make sure any and every statement you make that reflects on your company is strictly business, not personal!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Go Ahead, Create A Monster

Recently, I spent some time observing the child of one of my cousins. This kid (who'll we'll call Johnny for the purposes of protecting the identity of the not so innocent) learned as an infant that a well timed scream or fit would immediately garner his doting parents' attention and get him what he wanted. Not surprisingly, now that he's a toddler Johnny is, shall we say, having a hard time learning that whole discipline thing. Hence, thanks to the lifetime of appeasement, catering, and spoiling he's enjoyed, I got to witness a fair amount of direct disobedience, screaming, and tantrums. Needless to say, on our way home, I looked at the missus and said, "That kid is a monster!" (Please note that I'm inherently qualified to pass judgement on other people's parenting, as the missus and I have been the perfect parents and our child is as close to an angel as you will find!)

If you're running a business that emphasizes customer service, however, your goal should be to create a monster! That means responding immediately to every scream or squeak from your customers as fast as you can. But remember, in the digital age, the definition of "speedy" has changed significantly.

You may have a telephone and a "Contact Us" link on your website but, for many people, Twitter and Facebook have become the fastest means of communicating with a business. However, if you don't monitor those venues, and respond promptly, your customers can be just as quick to post their dissatisfaction on the web for all to see!

Want to see how fast a complaint can travel when things go wrong? Just look here (read from the bottom up and note that all these messages were posted within 15 minutes of each other):

While the complaint was one thing, that the restaurant in question never reached out the original poster (whose contact info was readily available) or offered a public or private explanation or apology earns them a major failing grade!

On the other hand, for an example of how it can be done right, check out this article from Oklahoma City journalist Dave Rhea. While Dave spells out his good experience, you'll also note the vendor he commends took the time to monitor his company's presence on the web and to post his own thank you in the comments.

Fortunately, creating your own monitoring monster to quickly react to every squeak from your customers is easy. Just take the time to monitor yourself and your business on the web (or pay a minimal amount to have a service do it) and respond quickly if trouble pops up. It can be in the form of a Facebook message, direct message, response tweet, email, or even a phone call. The key, like those overindulgent parents, is to jump when your customers reach out to you with a problem or go public with their dissatisfaction. And if you're saying "I don't have the time," then remember that, like in the example above, one negative Facebook post or dissatisfied Tweet can go viral on the web in the time it takes you to put down the phone.

Anybody can create a social media monster that garners plenty of likes and retweets, but feeding that monster when it gets hungry takes a little more time and effort. Instantly appeasing your infant child to keep him happy may help him grow into a bratty, screaming monster but, to keep your customers happy, you need to be ready to jump the instant they reach out. So go ahead and create a social media monster. Just remember, if you want it to grow your marketing, you still have to feed it...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Advertising Isn't Rocket Science...

...And you don't even need to be a poet, but really, it's not that hard, is it?

What should have been a three word headline with a total of seven letters and we can't even get it right? Outdoor advertising should be pretty simple but, apparently it's more difficult for some than others...

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Warning: The following post contains "soul-baring" content. Note that I usually don't post that kind of stuff because:
a) I'm a guy

b) I've worked in advertising for 25 years and have become cynical and jaded (though, in all honesty, how much of that can truly be blamed on my chosen profession is up for debate)

c) I'm pretty sure I sold the last remaining pieces of my soul to the devil the first time I had to write for the National Rifle Association account

d) Erika Napoletano bares her soul with more gusto (and more profanity) on her blog than anyone I've ever seen and I'm afraid she'll come stab me if I venture onto her turf too often.

As you might have noticed, I spend a lot of time on bicycles and, as such, I spend a lot of time worrying about bike tires. I have a love-hate relationship with bike tires in that, I love the feel of a fully inflated bike tire as it grips the road as I lean into a sharp turn at speed and the feel that I can roll forever with just a few pedal strokes. However, I hate the fact that bike tires are so expensive (you can spend more than the price of an automobile tire), considering their size (a cross section of a 700c x 23 road bike tire measures around 3", with about .9" of that in contact with the road) and lifespan (1,000 miles on average if you're lucky).

Given all that, many of my phone conversations with my brother and fellow cyclist Ray (pictured above) revolved around finding deals on good bike tires. One of his favorites was the Fortezza Tri-Comp tire made by Vredestein. My bro liked that tire because, "you can gas 'em up to 145 and go!" For the non-cyclist that means you can inflate them to 145 psi, which make them rock hard and reduces rolling resistance. Ray also liked the fact you could often find these tires on sale for about $25 apiece which made them, in his parlance, "practically free!"

Though he swore by these tires for several years, it was only last summer that I had occasion to try a set, after picking up a pair on sale during a visit to Colorado to see Ray. Not surprisingly, as soon as I put them on and gassed 'em up, I was blown away by their performance. I felt like I could fly on them during sprints and slice through turns on sharpened ice skates...

Sadly, my brother Ray passed away last September, just four months after he was diagnosed with two inoperable brain tumors. And, though I carry many wonderful memories of him, it's when I'm riding my bike, watching my wheels spinning, and doing anything and everything I can to not think about the 100° heat that I think of Ray and his words, "Gas 'em up and go!" While he often said that to describe his enthusiasm for a silly set of bike tires, I've realized it can apply not only to cycling, but in life and advertising as well.

Getting the benefits from nice bike tires you can gas up to 145psi takes a bit of work since, once you decide to spend the money, you still have to install them on the rims, slide in the tube, gas em up and, most importantly, pedal the bike. Coincidentally, advertising your business requires time and effort too and, like a bike tire, it can be costly and seemingly not last very long. But once you get an ad plan ready to roll, be it an email campaign, direct mail piece, social media strategy, public relations, print, TV or radio (and/or some combination of all of the above) you still need to push down on the pedals to get the campaign rolling and keep it rolling. And just as the bike ride you take today will aid your fitness on down the line, the ads you run today will pay off in the future when your customer is ready to buy.

In this year's Tour de France as marketing metaphor post, I wrote, "If you stop pedaling a bicycle, ultimately the bike stops rolling. And if you stop peddling your business, sales stop rolling in." However, just as a bike won't roll very well if there's no air in the tires, your sales won't roll without the right vehicle or vehicles to keep your numbers pumped up. Knowing that you need to advertise is one thing. Actually doing it, and doing it right, is what can make or break your company's success. It may take time but, once you find the advertising venues that are right for your business, don't forget to gas 'em up and go!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How To Make A Sonic Bust

During my non-poetic college years, one of the electives I took in my copywriting studies was Radio/TV Copywriting. The instructor was a local advertising pro, and I really enjoyed the course because we spent class time actually practicing and learning to write radio and TV scripts. Plus, our homework was to simply write scripts, we didn't spend a lot of time plowing through a text book, and it met only one night a week for three hours, which gave me more time to pursue my other studies. For whatever reasons, I remember our assignment one week was to pick some national brand and write two 60 second radio scripts to be sung to the tune of a current or fairly recent pop song. I also clearly recall I chose Weight Watchers(?) and wrote my scripts to the tune of Greg Kihn's Jeopardy (keenly changing "My love's in jeopardy" to "My weight's in jeopardy") and Eddie Murphy's Party All The Time (where I non-poetically turned "My girl wants to party all the time" into "You don't have to diet all the time").

The night the assignment was due, we read all the spots in class and, aside from the girl who wrote her spots to tunes by contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patty(?), everyone else's were about as hokey as mine, which is pretty much what one would expect when adapting someone else's song into an ad jingle. Granted, there are certain songs that just beg to be used in ads, but most don't lend themselves to jingles, especially if they gained any airplay.

With all that said, I usually try to keep my criticism of other ads to a minimum (aside from my annual Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non-Poetic. Oh, and here...) and I mentioned my first jingle forays because I recently saw a new TV spot for Sonic that featured a jingle that was apparently written as a college TV writing assignment and somehow got produced and aired:

So, where to start? First off, if you're unfamiliar with it, the jingle in that spot is sung to the tune of You Can Do Magic, which charted for the band America in 1982. As such, it's not a song that many of Sonic's target audience was alive to hear when it was a hit and thus, any connection is likely lost.  Further, the agency couldn't come up with their own original jingle? Yea, I get the subliminal "magic" reference but apparently Heart, The Cars, The Police, Genesis, Lovin' Spoonful, Steppenwolf, ELO, Olivia Newton John, and many more didn't feel like whoring out their songs with "magic" in the title to schlep fast food. (Note, don't blame America (the band, not the country), as You Can Do Magic was written by English singer-songwriter Russ Ballard.)

Then we have the actual line, "This is how you Sonic!" As a tagline, it's nothing special, bordering on lame. Apart from a weak attempt to turn "Sonic" into a verb (which is, no doubt, an attempt to enter it into America's everyday vernacular), this almost feels like the agency already had the rights to the song and literally jammed Sonic's tagline (with an extra word!) into it. And again, this was the best they could do? We had to turn to a 30 year old song because we couldn't come up with anything more original?

Next, there's the takeaway, "You can have everything your heart desires!" There are plenty of ways to say that, and it's pretty simple and easy to work into some form of an original script, right? But no, this feels like the song was purchased specifically to use that phrase and every other square peg was jammed into a the round hole. And, if the message they want to convey is, "Come to Sonic and get your food, your way," the best way they could say that was to buy and modify a song with the lyrics "anything your heart desires"? To me, that says "We shot our wad on the tagline and we're so unoriginal that we'll just buy a song that says your heart desires and write around it." And don't forget that Burger King basically said the same thing, and said it better, in the 70's...

By now, you're probably saying, "That's great, but can you do it any better, non-poet boy?" Well, Sonic has already beaten us to the punch, as you can go to and make your own Sonic TV trailer and win prizes! They don't let you do your own jingle, but I guarantee any one of us could do better than what they've got now!

With all that said, the design and production of the spot is sharp and eye-catching (though to my eye, the daydream sequence is somewhat derivative of the NSFW dream sequence in The Big Lebowski, though that may just be me...), but it's overshadowed by the bad jingle that should have never gotten past the brainstorm stage. Instead, we're left with a forced tagline, a bland, unoriginal takeaway line that, though it offers "everything your heart desires," actually leaves a lot to be desired.

The moral to this story is, you can be creative but not be original. However, if you're not gonna be original and force your concept into someone else's original idea, you certainly need to be creative. Put it all together and Sonic's This Is How You Sonic spot makes me want to show the world This is How You Vomit!

(Oh, and just so the folks at Sonic and their agency won't feel singled out, here's another violation of America (in this case the country, not the band) from Old Navy. Like Sonic's spot, this one should have been shot down long before it got to the launch pad... And yea, you heard that right! There's no better way to celebrate America's independence than singing "Old Navy tis of thee...")

Monday, July 18, 2011

It's A Race To The Finish

As this year's edition of the Tour de France is entering its final week, it's time for my annual non-poetic rambling on the Tour as marketing metaphor (though I know most of you have them committed to memory and posted on your refrigerator, if you want to catch up on my previous entries, you can see them here and here).

Probably the number one thing I find myself explaining to the non-fan is that, though the Tour de France is indeed a three week race around France concluding in Paris, it is also a series of 20 or 21 individual races called stages. And the ultimate winner of the Tour isn't the rider who wins the most stages, but rather the cyclist who completes all the stages in the shortest elapsed time.

As it meanders around France, each Tour also features three distinct stage types: flat stages, mountain stages, and time trials. Flat stages generally go from point A to point B, allow the cyclists to stay together as a pack, and most often favor the rider who excels as a sprinter (one who has explosive power and the ability to go really, really fast to blow ahead of everyone else at the finish). Mountain stages, obviously, take place in the Pyrenees and the Alps, and favor the cyclist who's proficient at climbing and, secondarily, descending those same steep hills. Finally, time trials feature riders racing alone against the clock and are often won by the cyclist who can generate the most consistent speed and aerodynamic position for the duration of the stage. In addition, there are races within each stage, awarding points or time bonuses for the first rider to reach a certain point or plateau on the course.

It's not unusual to see a sprinter win several stages, yet be nowhere near the podium (first, second, or third place) at the end of the race. Converesly, it can often happen that the rider who wears yellow on the Champs Élysées (the yellow jersey indicating the leader of the race) does so without ever winning a stage. Hence, the sprinter who wins today's stage by five milliseconds or the climber who wins by five minutes may win the day but, at the end of the race, they're forgotten behind the Tour de France champion, the cyclist who can both climb and time trial to ultimately reach Paris in the least elapsed time.

I bring all this up, because over the years, I've encountered an untold number of clients I could call "sprinters." And, given that their primary objection goes something like, "We spent big bucks to advertise on the radio for three weeks and it didn't do anything. Why should we advertise more?" the comparison to the sprinter or climber who might win a stage or two but not contend for the overall title is fairly apropos.

When it comes to advertising, anyone can "win a stage," in that you can spend money on a radio flight, newspaper ad, direct mail piece, or email blast, and make one big splash. But when your customer reaches the finish line and decides to act on his or her need, will your business still be in the race? Will that message you sent out six months ago still resonate in his buying decision? If you've only advertised, in any form, once, then the answer is likely "no!"

As a general guideline, remember the Rule of Seven, which says that you need to make at least seven impressions on a potential customer before they act on your message and buy your goods or service. When you consider the noise most consumers "hear" these days, from email, banner ads, mobile app ads, TV, radio, direct mail, and more, as well as the fact that most prospects likely aren't sitting around waiting for your ad, following the Rule of Seven is even more important.

Another crucial factor in following the Rule of Seven is to remember that, like the Tour-winning bicyclist who excels in every discipline, you need to advertise in more than just one medium. An email blast may work in the short term, but too many of the same messages may get tuned out, or filtered to spam, by your potential customers (especially if you buy an email list!). Instead, vary your message by adding another tool or two to your marketing tool box, be it radio, TV, direct mail, email, or even social media like blogs (information marketing), Twitter, Facebook, and now, Google+.

Finally, remember that successful marketing is a race to the finish that's won by a well executed, 12 month plan. Advertising only "when you have the time" means your customers may not have your business top of mind when it's time for them to buy. Yes, it takes time but, a consistent marketing plan will build a solid base of impressions (and trust) with your customers and prospective customers. And that can keep your business rolling all year.

Just as you need to be a well rounded cyclist in every stage to win the Tour de France, it takes a diversified, year long marketing plan to crank out your message to your customers through every stage of the year. If you stop pedaling a bicycle, ultimately the bike stops rolling. And if you stop peddling your business, sales stop rolling in. Hence, think of your marketing and advertising as a race that's always running. Anything else will just leave you spinning your wheels.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How To Get A Lot Of Bang Out Of One Bottle Of Beer

In addition to my obsessions over beer and bicycling, I'm also an avid follower of the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins and when the Bs won their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years last month, I was a real happy boy!

Needless to say, after their Cup win, the Bruins and the entire city of Boston were pretty happy too. And, to celebrate, the team had a victory party at a nearby casino. Nothing too surprising there, other than the fact that the party ran up an alcohol bill of over $156,000 (at right)!

Three things emerged from that receipt. First, there was amazement that any group of people could drink $156,000 worth of alcohol and still remain standing. However, when you take out the $100,000 bottle of champagne (that was comped by the casino) and the service charges and taxes totaling over $31,000, the final alcohol bill was actually in the neighborhood of $25k. That's still a lot of money for anyone, but peanuts for a professional sports team that just won their first championship in almost 40 years.

The latter two products of that bar tab were pure public relations genius. Whether they had anything to do with it getting out or not, Foxwoods Casino reaped well over $100,000 (the casino price of that bottle of champagne) worth of free publicity in the weeks after the receipt went viral on the web and on the airwaves, as well as the implied endorsement of "Visit Foxwoods Casino, where the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins come to party!" You can buy that kind of publicity, but it will cost waaaayyyy more than $100,000!

Finally, plenty of credit must be given to the folks at Amstel Light, who saw (based on the receipt) that only one bottle of their beer was consumed by someone at the party. Though lone bottles of Corona and Heineken Light were also consumed, it was Amstel Light who ran with the opportunity, making public their desire to know which Bruin ordered that Amstel Light and offering to supply free beer to said Bruin's Independence Day celebration and day with the Stanley Cup (for you non-hockey fan readers, each member of the winning team gets to spend a day with Cup and most usually take it to their hometown and turn it into a city-wide party). Between the speculation and the offer, Amstel Light got thousands, if not millions of dollars worth of free publicity and enhanced visibility, all from a single bottle of beer and a single press release.

The lesson here is, you don't need to win a Stanley Cup to generate free publicity for your business. It's as easy as distributing a press release and making the most out of an event that's newsworthy, like a new product, company anniversary, award, or charity sponsorship. It doesn't take big bucks (or a big bar tab). Simply take advantage of the promotional opportunities that become available and you can give your business a whole lot of bang, for less than the price of a beer.

(And if you need help with your PR strategy, give us a call. We'd be happy to get together and map out a plan...and the first beer is on us! Even an Amstel Light...)

Postscript: The person who ordered the Amstel Light turned out to not be a member of the Bruins at all, but rather a socialite party girl who attended the event at the behest of Foxwoods' publicists. She too took advantage of the opportunity to grab some free publicity...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What You Can Learn From A Bottle Opener

When I was but a wee non-poet, my Mom would take me along to visit her Aunt Jo (my Great Aunt). Though it seems like we went over there all the time, it was probably once a week at best and, since my older brothers were busy doing whatever they were doing, I usually had to go with my Mom. While spending time with a widow in her 70's wasn't my idea of fun when I was a golf-obsessed kid, Aunt Jo had a cool backyard with lots of things to keep me occupied and, every now and again, I'd stumble onto something golf-related in the house or garage that belonged to her late husband, my Great Uncle Ray. When she passed away, I remember going to her house with my Mom to help one of Aunt Jo's daughters clear out her things, and it was then I came upon the bottle opener pictured above.

A bottle opener with a golf ball for a handle! I thought that was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, and so did all my friends. However, after the newness wore off, I found at that age, I didn't have many bottles that needed opening and so, into a drawer it went. Every now and again, it would make occasional forays out of the drawer when I'd stumble upon it while looking for something else, though I would usually just twirl it around my finger or enjoy the way it felt in my hand. That is, until I got old enough to drink beer (which I didn't start until I was of legal drinking age and aware of what drinking responsibly meant, oh yes I did! And no Dad, I did not get into your vodka while you were and Mom were out! It's 3/4 full, just like it was last night, see?…Well, how should I know why it tastes watery? Maybe there was condensation or maybe you just used too much ice! Oh yeah? Well you can't ground me cause I'm 46!). Suddenly I could use my golf ball bottle opener for its' intended purpose and, compared to all my friends, I had a cool and unique bottle opener that no one else had.

To this day, I still have that bottle opener, meaning it's something I've owned and carried around with me for coming on 40 years. I like the way it feels in my hand (I freely admit that, when it comes to the tactile sense for me, form often triumphs over function) and I consider it my little piece of family history. That it belonged to my Great Uncle Ray, who helped my Dad secure the job where he would work for 46 years until his retirement and who also taught my oldest brother Ray (his namesake) to play golf, only strengthens my attachment to this little piece of steel and rubber.

So, what does my odd emotional attachment with a bottle opener have to do with your marketing and advertising? The answer is, making an connection, like I have with my beloved bottle opener, is what you should strive for with your marketing efforts.

If you're unsure if your advertising is connecting, ask yourself these questions: What do you think will resonate more with a consumer: an ad spewing features or a message they can connect and identify with? Is your goal to sell or to connect? Do your Twitter and Facebook posts create interaction with your customers, or are you simply using them as another outlet to send out a sales message? Do your marketing messages show the solutions you offer or just sell your product?

Fortunately, marketing that makes a connection isn't that difficult. Talk to your customers. Use your marketing and advertising as a means to show solutions, not push product. Interact and build relationships through your social media. Post blog entries that pull the curtain back on your business. Remember that one ad may not make a connection with your target audience, but a balanced marketing program that makes multiple impressions with your customers, will.

Once you engage your consumers, your marketing job becomes that much easier. And, remember, if your marketing and advertising isn't making a connection with your customers and your sales aren't flowing, maybe you just need a new bottle opener...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What The Royal Wedding Can Teach You About Your Marketing

Last month, 23 million Americans and perhaps billions more around the world tuned in to watch the wedding of Prince William and "commoner" Kate Middleton. If the population of the United KIngdom is around 62 million, how does one account for all the other millions of people who put their lives on hold to watch someone else's wedding on TV?

Certainly everyone had their reasons. Anglophiles were a big part of the audience, as were the fashionistas, who were dying to get an answer to the most insipid question of our time, "Who are you wearing?" I'm sure there were also the folks who just tuned in to see the hats, but most likely, the bulk of the audience was the people who just love weddings and this one, on the grand stage (in a special, commemorative issue of People sort of way), was the ultimate. These are the people who take joy in the romance of seeing love bloom as the handsome prince whisks the commoner away from her dreary existence via a horse drawn carriage to a storybook wedding. These are the people that watched the royal wedding to see the fairy tale happen in real time.

So how is any of this relevant to marketing and advertising? Simple: Every element of your marketing and advertising should be selling the fairy tale. You may be selling goods or services but, to market it properly, you have to overcome your customers objections and show them you offer the solution to their problem. Whether it's a new TV, carpet cleaning, or article of clothing, your marketing needs to connect with your customers so they'll be convinced that new TV will enhance their viewing experience like no other, their carpets will turn their home into a castle, and that new shirt will make them look just like Brad Pitt (or some other handsome prince).

For an example in its basest from, just look at anything that's been done to sell the Axe line of men's body sprays and grooming products. If you can't stand to watch it, the gist of the campaign directed toward young males is that, if you use this crap, you'll be irresistible to women. The takeaway is simple I know, but it certainly appeals to the post-pubescent male.

So how can you do it? Easy! While you should sell the benefits and USP (universal selling point) of your goods or services, you should also make sure your marketing and advertising shows how you provide the solution your target audience is searching for. Yes, "breathable, 100% cotton" will help sell a shirt but, if the shirt isn't going to enhance the wearer's appearance (that subliminal, "make me look like Brad Pitt" thing), then you're wasting your time and money talking about its' composition. Ultimately, your goal should be to establish your brand such that your consumers will buy your product based on reputation alone (i.e. "Brad Pitt wears that brand of clothing so, if I buy it, I'll look like he does by association.").

In the end, it comes down to this: Don't just sell your product. Instead show how your product or service will change, improve, or complete your customers' lives. Whether its cat food or carpet cleaner, there's a fairy tale to be told. And if you're having trouble finding the storybook ending in your marketing and advertising, maybe you need a new story teller...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beware! Buzz Can Bite!

Awhile back, a client looked me in the eye and said, "I don't need to advertise. I'm on Facebook and Twitter and I can create a buzz any time I want." I walked out and spent the rest of the day laughing because, (a) This client made the bulk of their profit selling franchises, starting at $200,000, and most people need more than a few Facebook likes and re-tweets to part with that kind of dough, (b) Social media works best when used to connect and build relationships and thus build trust with consumers, and this client's Facebook and Twitter feeds were nothing but cut and paste promos of sales at their franchise locations, and finally and most importantly, (c) He overlooked the fact that it's the customer who generates the buzz, not the advertiser. (Also, (d) when I was in college, I had a completely different definition of buzz and I'm moronic enough to still be amused by the juxtaposition.)

Focusing on point C above, buzz as it's defined by Web 2.0 (the level of excitement generated by a brand or product) can be a tricky thing. But the most important thing to remember is the fact that you don't control your buzz, you can only hope to generate it. And, thanks to the recent highs and lows of some major names, the pros and cons of buzz have been on graphic display.

For the National Football League, this year's Super Bowl was a high point. As the pinnacle of the NFL season featuring two traditional powers with huge fan bases, the game was watched by more people than ever before. Soon thereafter however, the NFL owners showed themselves to be greedy jackasses when, after asking NFL players to give up $1 billion of their cut of revenue while at the same asking them to play more games, locked the players out and essentially shut down one of the most profitable sports enterprises in the world. Don't feel too bad for the NFL owners though, as they still could split up to $4 billion from the TV networks, even if the NFL doesn't play a down next season. Their PR people are working overtime to create positive messages for the League (hyping draft prospects and highlighting big games in next season's schedule, even though it may not happen) but, overall the NFL's buzz has been less than flattering since the onset of the lockout, and even the positives have been colored with mention of the shutdown.

For Chrysler, the game was also a buzz-worthy moment, with their two minute spot, featuring Eminem and a catchy tagline (Imported From Detroit), garnering plenty of buzz after the game (and scoring a coveted Super Bowl Ad Award for the Non-Poetic, or SBAAFTNP if you're into the whole brevity thing).

Since then, it's been all downhill buzz-wise for Chrylser. It started when an employee of their social media agency accidentally posted an F-bomb via the Chrysler Twitter account instead of his own user name. Then, news broke that the Detroit Free Press had watered down a savage review of the Chrysler 200, (the centerpiece vehicle of their campaign) after a complaint from an advertiser (allegedly a Chrysler dealer). Needless to say, though they've continued the Imported From Detroit campaign, the buzz for these incidents lingered a lot longer than their Super Bowl bump.

Finally, we have Charlie Sheen, he of the tiger's blood, Adonis DNA, erratic behavior, rehab, goddesses, rampant drug use, #winning and a very public firing from a hit TV show. All of that quickly made Sheen the King of Buzz almost overnight, with millions of Twitter followers, appearances on talk shows, and a sold out tour with "shows" across the country. However, all it took was brutal reviews of his very first show and suddenly the buzz went bad for Sheen. While Sheen showed an ability to quickly recover with more outrageous statements and behavior, his buzz will inevitably turn sour because, though America loves a death defying, living on the edge freak show, sooner or later the buzz will move on to the next big thing (I reserve the right to edit the above statement should Charlie Sheen actually resort to shooting up or engaging in a carnal act with one of his "goddesses" on stage.)

So what's the moral to all this buzz bashing? It's simple: Buzz is great and it can be a part of a comprehensive marketing plan. But, remember, you don't control it and buzz alone is not a viable long-term strategy. Instead, find out what your customers want, then base your marketing (and the message you control) on highlighting the solutions you and your company offer to fulfill their needs.

A little bit of tiger's blood may boost your bottom line in the short run. But, if you want to build and maintain a solid customer base, boot the buzz and instead focus your marketing efforts on the basis a solid, long-term advertising and marketing message, that you create and control! Because, as the examples above have shown, if you only depend on buzz, you're very likely to get stung!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Are You Wasting Your Ad Dollars? (And Why I'm Not Going Back To Pizza Hut)

On February 14th, the missus walked in from work and asked, "What are we doing for dinner?" What with it being Valentine's Day and me knowing she'd had a hard day, I thoughtfully responded, "Well, what special Valentines dinner are you gonna cook for me?" No, she didn't throw anything at me, primarily because she was afraid she might aim for me and hit our son. My beloved wife possesses neither a good aim nor an appreciation for my sense of humor...

Since we celebrate Valentine's Day on any night but February 14th, this night was going to be a "grab dinner out" night. Hence, looking for something affordable and fast that everyone in the family would enjoy, we made the decision to call Pizza Hut and get a $10 pizza. (In the name of full disclosure, I've worked on the Pizza Hut account, done radio voiceovers for them, and even appeared in one of their print ads as a hand model in an ironically titled FSI). Placing the order on the phone was easy and I was told my pizza would be ready in 25-30 minutes. That was the first thing they got wrong.

I arrived at the Hut to pick up our dinner 30 minutes later only to be informed it was still in the oven. No timeline on when it would be ready was given. I was then ignored for 30 minutes with no updates, no apologies, nothing. I was joined in my wait by others who had also been informed their dinner would be ready in 25-30 minutes. Together with my new "friends" in pathetic pizza service, we all giggled every time someone else arrived expecting their pizza to be ready. We shook our heads and muttered when we heard Hut employees tell delivery callers their order would take 90 minutes to two hours to arrive. We watched in disbelief as one woman who'd ordered her pizza online arrived only to find there was no record of her order at all.

Finally, an hour and five minutes after I was told my order would be ready in 25 to 30 minutes, I was handed my pizza and bread sticks (with no apology and no explanation, just an autopilot "Thanks!"). I rushed to the car, eager to get dinner home for my son before he had to go to bed. Once I put the pizza down in the car however, I remembered I'd also ordered a bottle of soda. It took another five minutes to get that and, by the time I finally got home with our sumptuous Pizza Hut dinner (I'm five minutes away from my nearest Hut location), it was lukewarm at best.

So aside from a rant and me venting, what's the lesson in all this? The old adage is that a satisfied customer will tell one person about what they enjoyed about a business, but the dissatisfied customer will tell seven about their bad experience (in the Internet age, one could multiply that by at least a factor of 10). That they failed on so many levels in my experience means I won't be subjecting myself to Pizza Hut again, since they obviously can't deliver on what they promise (at least during peak times). Hence, any further ad dollars they spend to reach someone like me will be wasted.

Now, given Pizza Hut's advertising budget and market footprint, I'm quite aware losing me as customer won't do them a bit of harm. I also understand my local Hut might have been having a bad night. But, as I said above, the total failure on every level tells me that, though their ads may be convincing, they apparently lack the resources to do what they spend millions to say they'll deliver.

Now think about what you advertise and what you promise in your ads and promotional materials. You see and hear plenty of promises in every form of advertising but, what does your message say that makes you stand out from the crowd? Once the customer has acted on your advertising message, look at how you keep the promises you make. Does your product measure up the quality you promise? Do you deliver on your promise (service before, during, and after the sale) with the same level of quality you advertise? Finally can your business afford to not deliver on your promise to any customer?

In my career, I've had several clients state they thought advertising was a waste of money. And, while I've always done my best to show them the value and return-on-investment advertising offers, if you can't deliver on what you promise in your advertising and marketing efforts, you really are wasting your money!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl Ad Awards For The Non Poetic, 2011 Edition

Super Bowl XLV (that's 45 for those of you don't speak Roman) is in the books, Jerry Jones has once again demonstrated he's a greedy jackass, and all the ads have been run, enjoyed, lauded, dissed, and dissected. And, while everyone has their opinions of the best and worst, funniest and failures, award winners and money wasters, noteworthy and not worthy, it's time for me to dish out my own recognition that may stray wildly from the standard Super Bowl advertising award fare. They may not recognize the best, but they'll certainly resonate with the folks who watched the game first, the commercials second, and had a beer or two while actually enjoying the whole spectacle of the day. So, without further non-poetry...

The Water Cooler Winner
Though they may not score the highest marks with critics, this is my award for the ad that's going to be talked about or have the catchphrase repeated at the office water cooler Monday morning. As I write this, the confetti's still flying over the field, so I'm going to declare this one a three-way tie between:

The Teleflora spot with Faith Hill,

The Budweiser Wild West spot,

And the Mini Cooper Cram It In The Boot spot:

The Teleflora and Mini Cooper spots made the cut for their memorable spots featuring lines which, I promise, will quickly enter the vernacular this week ("Your rack is unreal" and "Cram It In The Boot!," respectively, if you missed them.). And Budweiser scored with their Wild West spot, for which they'd run preview spots. The follow up, which featured a bad hombre in an Old West saloon breaking into Elton John's Tiny Dancer after tasting his Bud (and climaxing with the whole place in a singalong) was funny and unexpected enough that it will have people talking today.

Honorable Mention
VW: The Force

On most everyone else's list, the VW Darth Vader spot will hold the top spot and I certainly won't argue. However, that VW released the spot in a :60 second format on the web Friday for press buzz (where it was viewed 13 million times before the game) left the :30 second spot they ran during the game lacking a bit. Thus, the mini-Vader misses out on my Water Cooler award...

A For Execution, But... Award
Chrysler Imported From Detroit

Many advertising pundits loved the two minute spot Chrysler bought in the third quarter (bad timing for a spot that took a bit to grab the viewer) and it was a well made ad with a clever tagline. However, my problem with it was the fact that a pretty two minute spot, showing the beauty and blight of Detroit, isn't going to undo ten years of crappy cars. Nor do I expect the presence of Eminem (who allegedly doesn't do commercials, even though he appeared in two this year) to compel the rap-addled masses to start buying Chryslers. And finally, the shiny spot did nothing to alleviate the fact that the Chrysler 200, which was featured in the ad, still looks a bit like a rounded off Chrysler K-Car. (Thanks to Jason Baffrey for the perfect Chrysler comparison!)

The WTF Award
By giving us a claymation version of the heavily accented, street talking of the Black Eyed Peas extolling the virtues of a website that offers a private, social network for companies (ummm, what?), took the award for the ad that left many people scratching their heads as to what in the world they were offering. I've now watched the ad five times and, at least from what I can tell, offers Black Eyed Peas tour dates and little else. That it ran right before half time and was followed with another equally muddled spot right after half time didn't help matters...

Honorable Mention: Adrien Brody "Crooning" For Stella Artois. Someone tell me again, how does this spot establish an image for or even sell beer? And, with InBev's ad budget, the best they could get was Adrien Brody (who, in doing this commercial, shows has far his star had fallen since his Oscar win)?

Worst Use of Monkeys Award
I've often said that you can't go wrong when you use monkeys in a TV spot, especially on Super Bowl Sunday. So imagine my disappointment when who, I dare say, set the standard for monkeys in a Super Bowl spot, brought back the monkeys and had them do nothing but badly park cars. Ultimately, it didn't do much of a job selling and the opportunity for more monkey magic was wasted...

The Thank God For The Internet Award
Another tie here, this time between the NFL American Family spot and the Hyundai Anachronistic City. Both of these spots really grabbed my eye for their use of the past. In the case of the NFL spot, snippets from TV shows past and present were digitally enhanced to portray the characters getting ready for the game in their NFL gear and, in the Hyundai spot, original technology (i.e. brick cell phones, monochrome Pong games) were shown in a modern context to demonstrate what might have happened had we settled for the earliest version of what we take for granted today. In each case, I found myself watching the spot several times to catch all the references.

And finally...

The Please, For The Love Of God, Go Away! Award

Our first repeat winner and, not surprisingly, this one was the easiest for our judging panel (me and the office dog) to decide and, again, I'm not even gonna dignify it with a link: While I was ready to cut them a break when they set up the tease they'd established in years past but then broke out Joan Rivers as their new spokesmodel in the first half, the Wal-Mart of web hosts ultimately had to revert to form and go back to the cheap, tired, "go online and see the too hot for TV content" gimmick that lost its' appeal about five seconds after they first used it several years ago. Once again, the opportunity to take whatever equity they've established and try to burnish their image as more than just a cheap (and lame) web host was wasted going for frothy web hits...

So, there's my take on the roughly 40 minutes of Super Bowl 45 ads based on my likes, dislikes, and my notable lack of skills as a poet. Now...when does the 2011 football season kick off?