Marketing Sense

A discussion of marketing tools and tactics with a common sense attitude

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6 steps: Creating outdoor billboards with IMPACT

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on February 7, 2011

Outdoor billboard advertising continues to be popular, especially during an economic downturn. They can have steady, continuous impact compared to broadcast messages for example, because the boards are always “on.” Impact that is, IF the message and design have been created effectively.

Look around and you’ll see many advertisers treating outdoor as an oversized print advertisement or expanded business card. BIG MISTAKE. Like all forms of communication, you have to develop your message and design to fit the media – not the other way around. Here are some tips that every advertiser should follow in order to get the most impact out of their outdoor media investment:

1)      Keep it simple. Your audience is on the move, so your message must be brief and eye-catching. You only have FOUR SECONDS to capture attention and have your audience understand the message.

2)      Tell them the most important information ONLY. A billboard is not meant to give great detail. Extra copy takes too long to read, clutters the sign, and can’t be understood in only 4 seconds.

3)      Billboards should be visible and understandable at least 500 feet away.

4)      White space is good. Don’t try to fill it.

5)      Avoid metaphors. Comparisons can be clever but should be immediately obvious.

6)      Be creative. Attracting attention is important – just be sure not to compromise your message.

Here is an example of a poorly designed billboard:

The board calls your attention with TAKE A CLOSER LOOK, but after that there is no message. The graphic provides no hint of the board’s purpose, the logos are too small to decipher who is sharing the message and the URL is much too long to recall with a 4 second glance. Simply designed, but no impact.

Another example:

The board calls your attention with the company name but after that the message is lost. Too many elements and too much information to process. Give yourself 4 seconds to look at this example. What do you remember? What is the key message? In this case white space would be very helpful.

Now here’s an example of a strong billboard:

Message is crystal clear, product is obvious and the company logo is easily identifiable. Clear message, obvious impact.

And one final example:

Clear, understandable, and done CREATIVELY enough to capture your attention.

Don’t get hung up on the fact that the last two boards are done by large corporations. It’s the message and delivery that’s strong. Any advertiser can create a board with impact – just follow the six steps. Get rid of the clutter and tell the world what you have to say. Your customers will appreciate you for it.

I see about 1 great billboard to every 9 cluttered, aimless ones. Which group is your company among? It’s time we change this ratio for good!



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Brand Promise – Are You Keeping Pace with your Customers?

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on November 26, 2010

When a customer makes a decision to purchase from you, it’s usually based on some belief that your product will meet their needs. It could be your presentation, delivery, reputation, marketing materials or the product itself, but there will be something that causes them to choose you over someone else. They now have a set expectation and you need to deliver.

Every day companies just like yours make a “promise” to their customers in some means or another, and over time customers grow to count on certain things when they interact with your business. Whether you intended to or not, your customers have formulated a “brand promise” about your business.

A little example… I’m a big fan of McDonalds hamburgers. You know, $.89 with ketchup, pickles and onions. I love ‘em. And over time I have grown to expect that hamburger to taste the same way whether I buy one in Anniston, Alabama or Spokane, Washington. To ME it is part of McDonalds’ brand promise of consistently delivering the product, regardless of location. I’ve grown to expect that consistency.

So here is the issue that you face as a leader in a growing business; can you deliver what your customer expects on a consistent basis?

Over the years I’ve witnessed numerous businesses that have grown on the shoulders of strong product quality and innovation, attracting new customers and business along the way. And as these companies got busier they made changes in their successful processes to keep pace with the growing demand – different people, different inputs, different control measures, etc. The risk? Changes in those successful processes lead to decreased quality and chance of failing to deliver on the brand promise… the same promise that brought them success in the first place.

Too many companies have grown aggressively while losing sight of the success factors that brought them there. As your customers formulate their own beliefs in what your brand promise is and the front door starts to swing open more often, keep close watch on quality. The fastest way to destroy your pristine brand promise is by failing to meet customer expectations.

Stay focused on your brand promise, grow carefully and maintain quality and your customers will believe in your business for many years to come.

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Marketing Planning – The Customer Speaks First

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on October 29, 2010

I’ve had the good fortune of collaborating with the folks from Street Smart Strategic Planning recently. It’s provided a refreshing perspective on the value and raw power of the customer’s voice in marketing planning.

Many companies barge into their marketing efforts believing they know what the customer wants to hear and how s/he wants to reached. Business people often LIVE in their industry category and know the business inside and out but overlook the fact they are not the customer (although they might try to tell you they are).

Most businesses tend to zero in on tangible differentiation – features and benefits, as a means to try and convince customers to buy. But “bigger, better, faster and more” can only carry a business so far – it becomes too easy for competitors to match features or price. The challenge is to uncover a truer differentiation that will resonate more closely with the customer’s desires. And this is where the voice of the customer comes to life and demonstrates its power in marketing planning.

By undertaking the right kind of customer investigation, businesses can begin to discover more emotional routes to the customer. Look at how customers view themselves when they use the product: What image do they project or portray? Do they like what they see? Discovering what appeals to the customer beyond basic product specifications provides tremendous insight.

Another area to explore is a customer’s perceived utility or benefit of using a product. Too often marketers get so wrapped up in describing the product itself that customer benefit is overlooked. One basic means to begin discovery is to simply ask the customer: “What would your life be like if you no longer had access to product X?” Now we can begin to explore the deeper benefit to the customer.

The folks at Street Smart approach these three areas as MIND, HEART and SOUL. In general terms MIND refers to product attributes, HEART to emotional appeal, and SOUL to product use and utility. Many marketers forge ahead with their planning completely aiming at the rational MIND and wonder why campaigns fall flat in a short period of time. In order to find deeper success marketers must tap into the power of the customer’s voice, listen, and begin to understand what motivates purchase behavior. Only by listening to the customer first will a marketer begin to successfully integrate messages that appeal to the MIND, HEART and SOUL.

Ask the customer what’s important instead of guessing what you think they want to hear. What you discover will return huge benefits to your marketing planning process.

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When A Social Media Campaign Goes Bad

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on August 25, 2010

An interesting case study has recently emerged in New Zealand that underscores the power of social media… and how it must be wielded CAREFULLY.

National Business Review (NBR) chose to leverage social media to promote its 40th Birthday via a competition of sorts. Entrants were asked to submit a brief story on how they would celebrate winning their own weight in Veuve Clicquot Champagne. The entry implied a popular vote process, and entrants jumped on board via their social networks to solicit support for their entry. A brilliant move by NBR and by Veuve Clicquot – to  motivate its audience to leverage their social networks to promote the 40th Birthday. Cheers from here for the idea!

But the story does not end so well for National Business Review (or Veuve Clicquot). After one particular entrant appeared to run away with the popular vote, NBR indicated it would take the top ten voted entries and have a judging panel choose a winner. Fair enough except… NBR did not make this clear to the entrants in advance.

What is one of the most important elements of a social media strategy? TRANSPARENCY. And this is where NBR failed.

The fallout is beginning to reach a fevered pitch in New Zealand as bloggers and mainstream media are now berating NBR for its lack of transparency. True to the nature of social media, the court of public opinion is speaking out and it’s not pretty. A few comments from blogging community:

My message to the National Business Review is that you have lost something infinitely more valuable than my subscription. You have lost both my respect and my trust. That is hard to do, and even harder to undo.”

“I cannot put up with a tawdry run competition which had the entire blogging and related Facebook communities, engaging and participating. The amping up of the competition to boost their online stats for advertisers. Then the invoking of the most pitiful of terms and conditions…”

“Quite sim­ply NBR and Veuve Clic­quot can no longer be trusted as either a source for news or as a decent lux­ury brand when they bla­tantly make up rules as they go along…”

“Who can trust the National Business Review? …it seemed that while the NBR were happy enough to lead people on with it, they were only doing so to milk as much attention and traffic to their website as possible.”

The postings continue and now a dedicated Facebook page has been created as a result of the situation, with further comments propogating throughout.

Do you suppose this was the result that NBR anticipated when it launched the campaign? NO. Could this have been avoided? YES.

NBR failed the transparency test when it built the campaign. If there is one thing we learned from the TGI Friday’s “Woody” campaign of 2009, it’s that you must set clear expectations and be able to deliver upon those expectations. It took TGI Friday’s 10 days to fix their redemption mistake, but they made good on EVERY promise… even though it cost them a few extra $$ along the way.

NBR and Veuve Clicquot opened the social media door when they created the campaign. The best move they can make now is to create extra space on the podium, include the popular vote winner and celebrate. Maybe next time they will plan their social media strategy more thoroughly, and make sure that the rule of TRANSPARENCY is heeded.

What failed social media campaigns have you experienced? How did they fail you?

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Brands: Stand up. Stand for something.

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on July 8, 2010

I encountered a billboard posted by a reputable national insurance company that said, “For all your insurance needs.” My immediate thought: “Really, that’s the best you can do?”

The statement, “For all your [insert term here] needs” is overused, ignored, and irrelevant yet multitudes of businesses continue to use it. To prove a point, out of curiosity I ran a Google search for the term, “For all your needs.” 1.15 BILLION results! So by using the term, you essentially are saying you are just like 1.15 BILLION other businesses out there… no big deal.

Think your business is unique enough to get away with it? Think again. You can search for pretty much ANYTHING with the, “For all your needs” statement and find millions of results and other businesses just like yours using it to generalize their services… and scoring no points with customers along the way.

How about, For all your fertilizer needs (10.4 million results). Or, For all your filtration needs (7.8 million). Or Logistics (19.8 million), or Catering (10.5 million), or Zoology (7.5 million), or Votive candles (What are votive candles anyway? Seriously, 1.3 million results for all your votive candle needs!).

I once worked with an esteemed copywriter who would bristle whenever he saw or heard the term, “For all your needs.” He would flat out refuse to include it in anything he wrote. He would say, “How do they know what I need? It’s impossible for them to have everything I need!” He had a book where he kept examples of ads that used the term and as you would turn page-after-page the statement would become more and more irrelevant. A wasted opportunity to share a meaningful message with a customer.

Every business is built on some point of differentiation, be it price or quality, service or product line, convenience or style. Every brand stands for something, so let your communications be about your differentiation. In most cases you have likely invested significant time and money to cultivate a point of differentation for your business, so let it show. Communicate it clearly in everything you do. In your service, your marketing, your direct communications and your advertising.

Make your message meaningful and memorable. Your customers will appreciate knowing what makes you unique.

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Beyond an audience of ONE.

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on April 13, 2010

When developing marketing communications plans and materials there is always the crucial “approval” phase where the decision is made to proceed. One significant challenge at this point is managing the personal subjectivity that tends creep in. Time and time again, great communications concepts and ideas are tossed aside based on personal choices, at times undermining the potential impact of a tactic helping achieve a communications objective. Some of these may sound familiar:

  • I talked to a few people around the office and some didn’t like it.
  • I had my spouse look at it and s/he didn’t like this part of it.
  • I showed my Dad/Mom/Grandparent and they don’t understand it.
  • “I” just don’t like it.

The issue with placing credence in the above objections is often times your “audience of one” is not a true representative sample of the target audience the communications is seeking to reach. Many factors are considered in plan, campaign and tactic development including demographics, interests, product use patterns and more. In order to get the best possible evaluation on your marketing communications concepts and ideas you’ll want feedback from a solid segment of your target audience.

Focus on your audience first. Here are some points to help guide you:

  • Don’t assume that your target audience uses communications tools the same way you do. For example, you may not use RSS feeds and feel the need to crush a concept using RSS, but your audience may find great value in it.

  • Sit on the other side of the table when evaluating. Try not to think of the concepts and ideas from a company standpoint. Think of the concepts from your audience member standpoint. Remember, in most cases you are not the target audience.

  • Stay away from people’s opinions other than your target audience. Unless your co-worker, parent, spouse or friend is solidly a part of your target audience, don’t seek their opinion as you will simply get a subjective, reactive response.

  • Find means to engage your audience in the approval process. Focus groups, panels, test markets and other means are available to find out the true response of your audience to certain concepts. And new digital tools are making this easier and faster than ever before.

Bottom-line: You may be close to the work and close to the market, but don’t assume that you will react the same way as your target audience. They are often more astute, connected and discriminatory than you might give them credit for. Make the most of your marketing communications by reaching out to your customers for involvement and approval early. The impact at launch time will be well worth the effort.

Have you ever been surprised by a customer unexpectedly liking something you didn’t?

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How to get MORE customers by giving them LESS.

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on March 22, 2010

In the ever competitive world of business, companies are constantly seeking bigger, better, faster, more. Trouble is, many companies lose focus while trying to attract more business and more customers. You can see the evidence bleeding from marketing materials every day.

While clamoring for more customers, some marketers make the grave mistake of trying to appeal to a wider audience by broadening their marketing message rather than zeroing in on what truly differentiates their business from the competition – all the while diluting their message and brand perception along the way.

You’ve seen and heard it before, “For all your [so and so] needs,” or the exhaustive list of specifications or services. What do you suppose sticks in the mind of the consumer when they are exposed to such generalizations? Absolutely nothing.

So what do you need to do to get your marketing message to stick? Find the “one thing” that sets you apart from the competition, zero in on it and make it the absolute focus of every aspect of your business. If you are a low-cost supplier selling low price, completely own the “low price” category in everything you do. If you believe your service differentiates your company, let “service” prove itself by being at the center of everything you do. Own the category so hard that no one else can duplicate what you do.

The key here is brand differentiation. Do one thing and do it well. Take Bobcat Company for example. Focused on providing the toughest, most reliable compact equipment and tools, everything they communicate is “tough and agile.” You will never see Bobcat market a BIG piece of equipment. Or how about Disney theme parks? Completely focused on “family fun” (When was the last time you saw Disney LIST all their theme park rides vs. Six Flags? You won’t!) And there are local examples all around you – the furniture company that has touted “best selection” for the past 20 years, the restaurant that serves “open pit steaks,” the broadcast station that is the “region’s new source.”

As a marketer, if you want to truly grow your business, broaden your appeal by differentiating your brand CLEARLY in the marketplace. Choose what sets you apart, then live, breathe and communicate it through everything you do. Don’t muddy your marketing materials with a mix of messages. Say ONE thing, say it loud and clear and say it often. By giving customers fewer things to process you’ll be giving them more information than ever before.

What local brands can you point to as great examples of clear brand differentiation? Or others that you think might be failing at differentiation? It’s always great to learn by observing others.

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Don’t Let Your Marketing Fall Down… in the Last Four Feet

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on February 17, 2010

Marketing communications, in simplest terms, helps put a customer or prospect in the right frame of mind to buy. It can educate, inform, advise, recommend, encourage, scare and influence a prospect, but it cannot make them buy. At some point someone or something (e-commerce for example) has to close the sale. A recent presentation by Datacore Marketing describes this as “The Last Four Feet.”

The Last Four Feet represents the final steps that a customer takes as they approach the sales counter (or online checkout). Without question this is the most important part of the process. Can you close the sale?

Marketers place great emphasis on campaigns to the end-user or customer. Significant, sometimes huge budgets are invested to help put the target audience in the right frame of mind to buy. But too often, after marketing communications has done its job with the customer, the process falls down at the sales counter.

Picture a customer who receives direct communications on your product, investigates online, reads the reviews, talks to their friends and decides “I want to buy.” They enter the “store” to purchase, approach the checkout, and the salesperson (or process) says, “Have you seen the features on alternative product #2 over here?” At that point, in the last four feet, all of your marketing communications efforts are shot down by one missed communication.

So how do you avoid losing your customer at the sales counter? Here are four sure-fire steps that will help with “the last four feet.”

1)      Educate your sales channel first – before any external customer communications begin. Be sure products and processes are easily understood (this applies to e-commerce too).

2)      Let the channel in on the process early, ask for feedback and implement suggestions that will strengthen the relationship with the channel. If using e-commerce, be sure to test the checkout process to make sure it is intuitive and without distraction.

3)       Involve the channel in the product or campaign  roll out. Give the channel an active stake in the process that encourages their engagement. A kickoff event, an incentive, an interesting (but not burdensome) program.

4)      Reinforce the sales process within your marketing communications. Suggest to the customer in your messaging the easiest route to purchase while reinforcing the same “easy route” to the channel audience.

Marketing communications can put the customer in the right frame of mind, but it can’t ring the till by itself. Include a solid channel strategy to make sure your marketing investment isn’t lost at the sales counter.

Have you ever dropped out of a sale at the counter?

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Departmental Convergence – How Digital is Changing Your Business

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on December 30, 2009

Traditional evolution of business has lead to segmentation by department for many companies. Marketing, sales, customer service, human resources, finance and fulfillment are some of the most common. But digital communications is creating a virtualization and convergence that is dramatically changing the way businesses operate.

How customers engage with companies has changed with the explosion of digital and social networking tools. Customers have wrested power to engage with companies on their own terms and in a fully visible environment. One-to-one conversations have now become open forum, placing greater pressure on companies to be well organized and prompt in response.

Customers can choose to engage on your company website using Google Sidewiki or your own message boards. They can also engage via social media outposts should you have a presence there. And if you don’t have social media outposts, they can still engage your brand in discussion whether you are present or not!

A service question, warranty question, sales question, human resources question, finance question or shipping question or concern can all be directed to the same place in the digital environment. Customers look at your company as one entity, not as a network of departments, and they expect your company to respond as one entity. The lines blur, the departments converge and at the end of the cycle only one thing matters – have you answered the customer’s question?

Your company’s success is based on the brand promise that you communicate to your customers. How well you manage customer expectations through their engagement with your brand, your company, ultimately determines your long-term viability and growth.

Step back and have a look at your organizational structure. Now look at all your customer touch points. Are you prepared to respond to your customers in an efficient, timely manner regardless of question? Do you have a strategy for managing customer interaction in a digital open-forum environment? Are your departments prepared and trained to work cross-functionally?

If not, it is time for digital strategy and social media strategy to integrate with your company’s management and planning process. Your customers are already converging. Are you prepared?

Image courtesy

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The Power of “Listening.” A Case of Timely Response.

Posted by Colin N. Clarke on December 4, 2009

The appropriate starting point in any social media strategy is to establish a managed listening program where a brand or company can monitor what is being said about them. Blogs, message boards, comments sections and the myriad of social networking tools all hold potential for word of mouth harm (and good).

In a recent post I discussed the importance of managing misinformation in the digital realm, and I’ve found a wonderful example of effective “listening” to share.

In the post AOL’s SEO “Strategery,” blogger Frank Reed makes the case for why he feels the new AOL strategy will not succeed. He refers to AOL’s intentions for unique content generation and gaining ground through search engine results. Reed recalls this type of approach as creating “craptent” and cites the company Associated Content as “the master of ‘craptent’ generation for search engine gain.”

This is where the value of a “listening” program comes to bear and a perfect case for effective listening. Associated Content President Luke Beatty reviewed the blog and commented the same day, likely within hours (or minutes?) of the post going live. Beatty’s comment appears within the first 3 comments and provides an effective clarification of the Associated Content model and respectful rebuttal to the ‘craptent’ tag. And as any blogger worth his salt should do, author Frank Reed acknowledges Beatty’s comment with a respectful tip of the hat (Read the blog article and related comments here).

The point is not whether the AOL blog article is right or wrong. This point here is that Associated Content was called out in a blog and they felt was it was a misrepresentation of their brand. Quickly and efficiently, Associated Content made their counter-argument for all the world to see – and it was done in a tactful and respectful manner.

Associated Content perfectly demonstrated the importance and value of an effective listening program and the efficiency of an organized and planned approach for response. A case of social media strategy, implemented and executed perfectly.

So, if faced with a similar situation, could your business respond the same way?

(Image: David Allison, Listening Post at Whitney Museum of Art, 2002)

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