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...