Mom, can I have five bucks for lunch?

Mom, can I have five bucks for lunch?

Imagine that you want to get $5 from your mom so you can run down to the nearest joint and grab a burger. How would you go about it? What would you say to her? Pretty simple proposition, you know your mom really well. You know what makes her laugh, her favorite movies, where she stands on taxes and you’ve argued with her, eaten a few meals together, garnished untold fortunes from her, made her furious with your sister, gotten her to do you laundry for 20 years, and she loves you. You know what to say and do – you’ll have that $5 inside of a minute, it just depends on how far she has to go to grab her purse.

Now imagine that you want 20,000 women aged 35-54 to give you $4.95 to buy their kids a value meal at your chain of fast-food establishments. Is this a tougher proposition? Absolutely. Should you go about it differently? Absolutely not. The only reason it’s a harder proposition is that you don’t know what to say and do to make it happen. And more often than not it’s because you are thinking of how to get 20,000 women aged 35-54 to give you $4.95 to buy their kid a value meal at your chain of fast-food establishments. But, what if you knew that these 20,000 women shared a lot in common with your mom, and you thought of “them” as “her.” Now everything changes because you know what makes your mom laugh, feel good, spend money and you know what she wants from a meal, why she would buy you a burger and where and when is the best time to talk to her.

Effective campaigns simply come from thinking of a single, ideal person within your target audience(s), regardless of who the group is or if you know someone in that group. Plan and work hard to know your audience as a collection of real individuals, and you’ll quickly see how new and authentic ideas, tactics and messages spring forth from this personalized understanding.

(And by the way, thanks for everything, mom.)


Success can be measured. And it can’t.

Success can be measured. And it can’t.

There are a lot of bad ideas masquerading as breakthrough marketing concepts in these days of obsessively measuring clicks, traffic counts and phone calls. One of the ugliest imposters: “If you can’t measure it or track it to sales, you shouldn’t do it.”

Why are we calling this out? Because it’s insulting to the most important people to your business: Your target, your customers, your lifeblood. It says that these people and their thought processes are no more complex than a Pavlovian dog. And that marketing, advertising and communications is no harder than ringing a bell. It also neglects the idea that your objectives might be more thoughtful and long-term than today’s sales.

To be clear, every communication should elicit a form of action. Whether it is a change in perception, an understanding of a benefit or an actual purchase, each communication needs to affect your target in some manner. Measure where you can, but know that some of these actions are difficult to measure. You must understand that most sales processes are based on a long series of multiple communications. Where you don’t want to limit yourself when considering tactics is in requiring a physical, measurable result. There is a place for this, but requiring sales metrics for every message eliminates any long-term strategies and tactics, which are often much more effective over time. The truth is that there are valuable communications that do a great deal of work toward your final goals, and move your target toward the ultimate objective, but cannot be measured because the action takes place in a person’s mind, not at a cash register.

You should always define your objectives and have the ways and means of measuring the indicators of your success. (We often measure “indicators” of success such as changes in perception or understanding when we cannot measure a physical action such as a purchase.) But requiring transaction metrics for each message can lead to the circle of “next week” marketing that some businesses find themselves trapped within – endlessly dropping prices, loading up promotions with non-benefit “benefits,” or racing to the meaningless middle of their categories with “me, too” marketing messages.

So, if a Pavlov disciple tells you that every message must elicit a measurable action, for any business, and always... ring the bell and walk away. They probably don’t understand how to accomplish your objectives, are fuzzy on the fundamentals of the sales process and they certainly don’t understand people.


Keeping social media, social.

Keeping social media, social.

Social media and its applications for business are on everybody’s minds these days. In fact, the speculation, over-promise of return and unnecessary aura of it can be exhausting. Its application is no magic bullet for success, nor lack of its application a precursor to failure. It is simply a new mechanism to communicate, allowing businesses to interact personally (and openly) with their customers. And just like other mechanisms of communication, it is used poorly by many and quite successfully by few. Just for fun, here are a few basic tips to keep in mind.

If you want to do it, do it.

What we often communicate to clients is that if they are curious, just jump in and do it. (With one caveat: it can take over your life if you let it.) You won’t break anything and in order to be successful, you need to wade in, understand it and determine how you want it to live within your overall communications. And the best way to make it happen, is just to make it happen.

Be true to your brand.

Don’t give responsibility for social communications to the summer intern. Someone who knows, understands and can speak the language of your brand needs to be responsible. Posting photos of the Lady Gaga concert may not be true to the brand identity you’ve crafted since your business began. This is not to say it shouldn’t be fun. It should be as open and fun as the personality of your product/brand.

Keep it simple.

Don’t make people work to understand and enjoy your presence. Twitter recognized very early that in order for its social platform to work, it has to be simple. So, they make you keep it simple, and you should apply this across any of the networks you participate in.

Make it about them, not you.

Nobody “likes” a person or a business that talks only about themselves. Post and be proud of accomplishments, but make sure that you are projecting a steady stream of what is interesting to your target audiences. What will be interesting and entertaining to those who have chosen to like and follow you? If the content you create is boring and/or only interesting to you, be prepared to have a lonely existence in social media land.

Social media means audience participation.

If people are interacting with your social media presence, that’s a good thing. It’s inherently a conversation, not just a stage – and it’s a conversation that others will overhear. If you take criticism for your product or service, be prepared to respond in a meaningful, transparent way.

Commit to it and keep it updated.

Nothing in the realm of social media can survive it if is not changing. When someone links to your Facebook page and sees that your last post was six months ago, it communicates that you are not involved in this communication (and/or savvy enough to appreciate it). If you do it, keep doing it. Like anything, it takes time to build success and a community, but it will happen if you apply even a little commitment.

There is no magic to social media, nor is there a need to communicate in a different way than who you are. Just be your brand self and have fun.


When the economy gets weird, get back to basics.

When the economy gets weird, get back to basics.

(Note: This is an entry we wrote in 2008, but it's still relevant today.)

Often when communications firms are asked by clients and media, “what should businesses do when the economy takes a bad turn?,” the standard answer is, “don’t cut back your marketing and advertising.” Unfortunately, this answer is not only biased, but may not be good advice at all. A far better reply is “get back to basics.” And nothing is more basic than evaluating those 4 Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place, Promotion.

Product: Are you providing the right benefit?

Is your product affected positively or negatively when your customers are feeling a financial pinch? If your product is a luxury item, the answer might not be a comfortable one. However, if you have a product that people tend to buy less of during difficult times, you need to look at the product, and more specifically its benefits to your consumer. Consider how you might position your product to make it a more advantageous one during a rough economy: Does it provide more benefits than simply luxury? You may want to adjust your positioning to reflect those benefits that, prior to a negative economy, may have been secondary.

Price: Is it right?

Okay, here comes a tough one. If you are sitting in a warehouse full of products that are no longer moving, you may want to consider adjusting your price, changing the framework of the purchase, or reducing your production costs. This may be a simple proposition – lower the price. Or maybe you can find a way to enable people to purchase your product over time or with additional incentives. Another thought: Is there a way to lower your production costs without compromising quality? Break out your old supply-demand curve and make sure you know where your price needs to be. You may have to narrow your profit/sale in the short term, but keep on top of it and you can weather the storm with a solid price strategy.

Place: Are people finding you in the right spaces?

If you have a traditional product distribution model, now might be the time to change where consumers can access your product. As an example, many businesses continue to rely on pushing their products through traditional placement with retailers, while more and more people go to the Internet to find deals and value in their purchases. If you haven’t fully flushed out this distribution model, now is the time to ramp it up. But whether you’re changing where people find your products/services or getting away from “tradition,” make sure you think about how and when people will be happy to find and purchase your product. Then work to put your product in their way.

Promotion: Which tactics are working hardest?

Finally, we come to the questions we hear most often as an advertising agency. Should ad (promotions) spending be cut? The answer is, “it depends.” When sales are going well, we tend to keep adding to our mix of promotional tactics (direct sales, print, radio, interactive, etc.) without always scrutinizing the value they are providing. There is no better time to review our tactics. The kicker is that it is difficult to measure the value each tactic is providing. Most promotional efforts do not provide specific, measurable returns in the short run, and they all work hand-in-hand together. (The reason ad budgets usually get cut first is that it is difficult to provide crystal-clear ROI, which makes it easy for an accountant to break out the red marker.) We suggest making a list of all your efforts and putting them in the order you feel they are working. You’ll want to consider how the tactics complement each other as well as bang for the buck (cost) in this list. Which tactics could be dropped in order to save short-term expense, without compromising your sales, market share and top-of-mind awareness? If you need to save some expense in order to keep people employed, pay the rent, etc., by all means cut back on the tactics that are at the bottom of your list.

Sometimes a little pressure provides the best reason to make sure your marketing, and your 4 Ps, are lining up with your vision and adding to your overall business. Refining the basics can keep you heading forward in an economy that’s moving backward.


Is your advertising as smart as your customers?

Is your advertising as smart as your customers?

One of the most dangerous phrases in marketing is, “people won’t understand.” It is based on the assumption that as mass marketers, we should always speak to the lowest common denominator of intelligence. This way of thinking has three fundamental flaws:

It breaks the “one on one” law. (Okay, it’s not a law, but we live by it at 3.)

The irony of mass communication is that a message can’t feel like it was created for a mass of people. You are speaking, in each and every message you create, to a single person. Even though millions of people may see your message, only one person at a time is interacting with the message. There is no collective watching, only many people having individual experiences. If you lose sight of this, every message you create could become meaningless on a personal level.

When people are engaged, they are damn smart.

You’ve done your homework and know your target. You’ve created a message that not only speaks to your target on an individual level, it will also speak to them based on their knowledge and understanding. This person is going to be engaged because you are solving a problem and/or offering them a benefit that speaks to their current situation. And once you are speaking to someone on their terms, whether they have a doctorate from Harvard or dropped out of eighth grade, you can bet that they are more likely to tune in and be receptive to your message.

Nobody likes being talked down to.

We’ve all seen the surveys that indicate most people believe themselves to be above average intelligence. Only 49% of them are right. If you want to turn someone off in a hurry, speak down to them and pretend you know more. Watch how quickly they dismiss you (and your product).

Respect people in your communications, and they will respect your brand. While it is true that the person you are speaking to is bombarded with advertising and messaging, it is equally true that they will be engaged by intelligent, thoughtful communications.


The death of a thousand demographic cuts.

The death of a thousand demographic cuts.

As a whole, marketers love determining how people are different. And ad researchers are often pushing to find how people are different. Some clients want us to tell them how their prospective customers are different. And the media outlets work diligently to explain how their audience is different than all the rest. It’s possible to get lost in finding differences and segmenting people to better communicate with them.

But beware that you don’t complexify yourself into a meaningless campaign.

It happens like this: We have 14 target audiences we need to reach. Men over 35 with a shoe size smaller than 9 tend to like our product because it makes them feel younger, teenagers with more than two siblings purchase our product because it makes them feel older, and millenials taller than 5’ 6” tend to choose us because they like the way it makes them look in the morning, and on and on. So, you put together a great media plan, create semi-custom campaigns for each of your audiences and a year later you sit back and wonder, “How come the men over 35 numbers went down? And teenagers just stopped using our product all together? Well, thankfully, sales held firm for our millenials.”

What went wrong? You have a binder that is 5” thick that proves you did your homework. Unfortunately, what you don’t have is a well-defined brand. (A quick refresher: A brand lives in people’s heads, not in your binder. If it is not well-defined, it simply means there is no common positioning and emotional feeling about you among your audience.) Why? Because you tried to give your brand unique meaning across many diverse people, based on their diversity. What you need to do is give your brand unique meaning across many diverse people, based on their sameness.

People do not make purchase decisions based on their demographics. They make decisions on a much more personal level. So, when you get into your planning, sometimes it helps to cut across your demographic segments and figure out, “how are these people the same?” “What values do they share?”

“Is there a common factor that is driving a decision to be made?”

You might be surprised at how the sameness of your segments may be the key to your campaign’s success.


Great lemonade only comes from great lemons.

Great lemonade only comes from great lemons.

Here’s a thought that’s so obvious, it’s easy to overlook: Before you focus on making your advertising effective, make your product or service effective. Don’t think for a minute that the success of Apple, Nike, Target or any other famous brand is based exclusively on their marketing savvy. They have great lemons. So their lemonade – the advertising and marketing efforts – seems so much sweeter.

How many times has a friend who has recently seen a movie told you, “All the good parts were in the trailer.” Inevitably they are referring to an over-hyped movie with a large promotions budget that ultimately fails at the box office. So why does it fail? It has great marketing. Maybe even a big opening weekend. But it fails because the experience leaves the promise unfulfilled.

If you want any kind of long-term success, make your “movie” great. Great marketing and advertising works only when the experience or product lives up to the marketing. And the advertising is merely an extension – a caption – of what the ultimate experience will be. That is why you rarely see infomercials, with their ridiculous overpromises, work for more than a short period.

Your first and most important priority right now (and “right now” means at any moment, in any economy) is making your product, service or offering so beneficial that your advertising simply needs to capture that in the most efficient way. And then communicate it to the right people.

Advertising will provide you no long-term solution without your benefits living up to the promise.

Lemons first. Lemonade second.


Ideas first.

Ideas first.

In marketing and the advertising agency business, there is an ongoing learning curve to understand and implement new tactics. We constantly work to make sure we can effectively incorporate and implement new media and guerrilla options into our clients' campaigns. In the current environment, most of these popular tactics have to do with utilizing social networking sites and creating meaningful content channels via blogs, podcasts, YouTube, etc.

Many times, these new tactics are treated as ideas in and of themselves. For the record, these tactics are not ideas. They are just a new channel for ideas.

Ideas are the stuff that make campaigns successful, memorable and ultimately, famous. And here’s the truth about great ideas: They’re not easy. Creating meaningful, simple ones is downright hard. There is no formula, software or machine that will give you a great idea. It requires understanding of your objectives, personal knowledge of people, intuition, time, an unrelenting desire to “nail it," and honestly, it takes smart people.

Take time. Take care. And you will take your communications to new level with a simple, smart idea.

Once you have it, then get to work on how to marry your idea to the target through your tactics. But always remember that your idea is the foundation of your campaign’s success. Discard tactics that don’t allow your idea to flourish and aggressively seek those channels that do.

Now, if you ever hear someone say, “I have a great idea, let’s utilize social networks in our campaign," you can reply, “that’s not an idea, it’s a tactic. What’s the idea?”


Selling simple.

Selling simple.

If there is one thing a troubled economy does to marketing, it's to create the desire to try and be all things to all people.

The logic goes something like this:

A.) Our sales are slowing,

B.) Therefore, we need to appeal to a broader target,

C.) So, let’s make sure we cover everything in our messaging.

But what seems logical is not practical. New marketers tend to believe that you can present the facts (all of them) and get the desired response. However, there is a counter-intuitive truth in successful marketing. This truth is that the easier you make your message — the more understandable and digestible — the more likely someone will make a decision and/or take action.

So, when things begin to slow, the logic should go something like this:

A.) Our sales are slowing,

B.) Therefore, we need to appeal strongly to our target,

C.) So, let’s make sure we communicate our benefits simply and clearly.

Our job is to make the decision easy, even when people are uneasy about the economy. So, we need to make it simple by taking away all of the noise, all of the issues, all of the uncertainty, and make the decision to choose our product or service an easy one.

It’s sometimes tempting to include everything in a message. But ultimately, making the decision complicated during complicated times, just makes the decision easier to avoid.


When communicating means listening.

When communicating means listening.

Think about the last time you were at a business function (or awkward social gathering of your choosing). Did you enjoy meeting the people who talked incessantly about themselves, or those that wanted to know more about you?

The most interesting people are interested people – those who sincerely want to know you and relate to you based on the person you are. In short, they listen to you – really listen – and not just wait for their turn to talk. The same goes for good agency/client relationships, and even brand communications.

We’ve found that to have a brand “talk” effectively, we first have to listen - to clients’ concerns, perspectives and the inevitable knowledge they have about their company and industry. At the same time, we have to hear what the target audience wants. How do they understand the brand? How do they interact with the client’s products, and how do their wants and needs fit with the benefits we offer? It’s at this intersection between client and target that the real conversation begins.

There is much to learn in consumer anecdotes, the salesforce’s war stories,

a clients’ insider-industry perspectives, in-jokes and even discerning the meaning of what’s not said. These are the areas where you truly learn the insights into a client’s business and the particular forces that make all the pieces fit together, from researching a product or offering and bringing it to

the market, to discerning insights on how a target audience is responding to

an offering.

The obvious insights into a client’s brand or services are easy to talk about, and they make for great starting places. But the most powerful brand insights reveal themselves in the quiet spaces. You just have to listen. (It will make you an unbelievable conversationalist.)