Tuesday, February 27, 2007

 

Storytelling and Nonprofits

Had a fascinating discussion today with the Director of Public Relations from the Union Gospel Mission here in Seattle. This non-profit organization provides a wide variety of social services for homeless and less-advantaged citizens of the broader King County area.

In talking to Sharon about the Mission's goals & challenges, it became clear quickly that their challenges are little different from those of us in the for-profit world. They have customers on two sides of the table - one customer group is the homeless, the other customer is the donor base (or potential donor base).

The Mission also faces the challenge of differentiating between themselves and their "competition," which in this case is the myriad other worthy charities around the Seattle area (let alone across the country) that compete for attention in the news, in our email inboxes, and in our postage mail each day.

Most importantly, the Mission (and any nonprofit or charity) also faces the critical need to focus its attention on a core audience, and align its message and storytelling with the worldview of that audience.

For example, the Union Gospel Mission is unique among many other charities in that a core part of its mission is not only to help those in need, but also to bring people to Christ. This focus creates a natural and unique opportunity for the Mission to align its own worldview with the worldview of others - particularly those in the local Christian community.

How can the Mission take advantage of this alignment? Focus its message and its marketing strategies on the faith-based community. Create channels into local churches, congregations, Christian book stores and more. Actively promote Mission volunteer opportunities to local church youth groups, and then market the experience back to the participants' families and home churches. Start a blog chronicling the stories of less-fortunate Mission customers who have found a higher calling thanks to the Mission's work.

In other words, demonstrate through constant and diversified storytelling how the Mission is different, with a specialized audience that is predisposed to be most receptive to that story. This audience will be far smaller than thinking about "all King County residents" as the Mission's possible donor base, but mobilization to give & volunteer will absolutely be higher as a result.


Monday, February 26, 2007

 

Treat your customers like prospects

Kathy Sierra strikes again with a simple but very important point about how most of us differentiate treatment of prospects and customers.

We woo our prospects like crazy with great offers, slick presentations, lots of love. But once they've signed on the dotted line and become customers, we all too often take the relationship for granted.

Kathy uses a marriage metaphor successfully in her post. But a more direct analogy that might help many of us is to simply think of your customers like prospects.

How would you treat them differently if they hadn't yet signed up? How would you treat them if you knew that they were making a renewal decision later today?

How do you "keep the spark alive" in your customer marriages?

 

If you're a good manager...

If you're a good manager, you can go on vacation for an extended period and your business will not miss you.

If you're a good manager, you've prepared and empowered your team with a clear set of priorities, and the ability to make decisions without you. Even when you're out of the office and out of touch, the ball is moving forward.

If you're a good manager, your team is happy to have you back when you return. But you'll find that your inbox isn't filled with urgent decisions you need to make, decisions that have stalled progress while you were gone.

If you're a good manager, catching up from an extended period of time away from the office doesn't take very long at all. You merely catch up on a few emails, read through a couple progress reports, and pick right back up on the clear priorities set well before you even left.

Friday, February 16, 2007

 

Discipline

A new friend emailed me the other day, asking where I find time to blog on a consistent basis, and where I find time to read about and research the stuff I blog about.

I'd have to say the answer comes down to habit and discipline.

Like anything you want to make a priority in your life (from working out, to brushing your teeth, to mowing the lawn on Saturday mornings), you have to establish a habit of doing it to make it part of your regular routine. I'm at the point now where blogging has become a more conscious daily habit, which also helps me identify things I encounter throughout the day that are worth blogging about.

For example, I'm in the habit now of making notes, or leaving myself Jotts, of things I encounter - no matter how small - that are worth cogitating on and possibly blogging about later.

Perhaps most important, however, is discipline. We're all incredibly busy people. The things we need to do in our daily lives - professional and personal - can easily overwhelm us. That's why it's so important to set aside time for the things you find the most valuable, that end up making the rest of what you do more manageable and more successful.

For me, I now set aside at least an hour each day for reading and writing. I take that time to read through my various RSS feeds, flip through a few magazines, and sometimes just randomly browse the Web for things new & interesting. I also take some of that time to write reflections on what I read. Sometimes those reflections end up as nothing more than "FYI" emails to friends & colleagues. Sometimes they end up here.

I occasionally hear from folks who say they're just too busy to do any reading, let alone writing. The email newsletter subscriptions pile up, RSS feeds go unread. I hear this more frequently from folks who are early in their careers.

The feeling of being "too busy" never goes away - no matter how long you've been doing it, how old you are, or what you do for a living. You need to consciously make time for the things that are important to you.

For me, that includes taking time each day to see what others are thinking, discover new ideas and fresh perspectives, and then occasionally ruminate on those ideas for myself (and indirectly for others) in formats such as this.

I find it personally and professionally profitable. I think you will too.

 

Write for your audience, not for yourself

I used to write about me. Now I try to write about you.

I used to write copy that said things like:

"We here at Microsoft want you to know that..."

"It's our intention to be the premier provider of..."

"At Microsoft, our success is built on a foundation of..."

The problem with all of this copy is that it's "me-focused." It's all about the speaker, all about the company, person or product making the announcement.

If I'm the reader, I immediately want to know what's in it for me. I may do business with Microsoft, but I want to know what they have to say to ME, not what they want to say about themselves.

So, rather than write "me" copy, write "you" copy. Change those above lines to say things like:

"Your success is our top priority at Microsoft, and that's why..."

"You are the foundation of what Microsoft was built for..."

"We're here to provide you with the premier..."

Even that last line, though it starts with a "we", gets very quickly to a "you" statement.

For customer-centric companies, this kind of copywriting comes naturally. But no matter where you work, or who you write for, your audience is far more interested in themselves than in you. Make sure you write that way.

 

Listen privately now, or publicly later

Fascinating story from Miller Brewing Company, where several employees are not happy with the CEO's decision to freeze pensions. Some employees have taken their frustrations to YouTube, where they've published an amateur song/skit about the situation.

Appeasing all of your employees all of the time, no matter what the size of your company, is impossible. But listening should be required, and making sure your employees know you're listening to them and hearing/understanding their concerns is extremely important.

It may not stop some from expressing their frustrations publicly, but it will certainly mitigate the volume and intensity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

 

Time for a brief intermission...

I've so far made good on one of my New Year's Resolutions to be a better, more consistent blogger. We're 46 days into the year, and I'm already averaging more than a post a day!

That said, I'm about to take my beautiful bride to Arizona for a week of sun, relaxation and a little Spring Training baseball. I'll be leaving all computers and Blackberries behind.

Back the week of February 26, ideally re-energized and ready to hit the ground running (and blogging) again!

 

Making Mistakes

Kudos to The Daily Motivator for writing about the value of mistakes.

I wrote last year about learning from our mistakes, but Ralph says it much better:


Mistakes are valuable reminders that you do not know it all. And as such, they provide golden opportunities to learn.

Mistakes are a sure sign that you're making progress. For when you make mistakes, it means you are putting forth effort and having an influence.

Mistakes are certainly no cause for shame. The greatest achievements require you to work your way through the greatest errors and misunderstandings.

Mistakes are not to be feared. For the same actions that enable you to make a mistake also put you in a position to correct it.

When you're willing to accept the possibility of mistakes, you're able to follow the best opportunities. When you become experienced at handling mistakes, you'll be skilled at creating real value.

Success comes not from avoiding all mistakes, but from learning to find a positive way forward no matter what may happen. With each mistake, get over it, get wisdom from it, and become even more effective than you were before.

-- Ralph Marston

 

Every story sparks a response

Today ESPN launched a new feature on its site, that allows users to comment on any story - including those pulled from the wires.

This should be a "table stakes" feature for everyone publishing news, stories and especially opinion pieces online. Enabling real-time, online conversations is a great way to learn more about your readers, get a better temperature for how they think and feel, and an especially great way to get ideas for follow-up stories and topics to explore.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

 

Be For What Is

Maybe I've been living under a rock, but I've just recently discovered the wisdom of one Roy H. Williams. Some of you may know him by his other name, the self-titled "Wizard of Ads".

The man makes a LOT of sense. Check out his Web site, and his Monday Morning Memo to find out first-hand.

This past week, Roy wrote about two seemingly-opposite concepts.

1) The need to "be for what is" to accomplish your goals despite the reality of obstacle, roadblocks and difficulties; and
2) The need to "be the crank with a new idea" if tomorrow is going to be better than today.

From Roy's first book The Wizard of Ads:

"Weasels are everywhere, incessantly singing their sad little song: If Only. 'If only I had a better education.' 'If only my boss liked me better.' 'If only I had married someone else.' 'If only I had invested in Chrysler when it was fifty cents a share…' There's a little weasel in all of us, and that weasel needs to be slapped. When your ears hear your lips start to sing the Song of the Weasel, you must learn to immediately slap the weasel within."

For more Monday Morning musings, click here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

 

Need vs. Want

I need to eat dinner tonight.
I want to dine at a fancy restaurant, and enjoy a fine bottle of wine.

I need to have a job, to pay my bills.
I want a career.

I need a way to get to and from work each day.
I want an SUV with leather seats and a sunroof to make that trip more enjoyable.

Three pairs, each essentially describing the same thing. But while the "need" is relatively basic, the "want" adds a flavor of preference and desire. The gap is good marketing.

Even better marketing is when you convince your customer or audience that they want something so much, that they actually need it.

I need a new BluRay DVD player.
I need a vacation to Hawaii.

 

More examples of great storytelling

Great marketing often means great storytelling.

Take E.E. Robbins, for example. It's a small chain of engagement ring stores in the Seattle area. Emerson Robbins, the third-generation owner of the chain, runs a constant campaign of radio ads on stations throughout the Seattle metro area.

But his ads aren't about rings. They aren't about his stores. His ads are about people getting engaged. He features actual couples telling the story of how they were engaged, how the husband-to-be proposed, and what an amazing experience the whole thing was.

Emerson isn't just selling a diamond ring. He's selling a story, something that transcends products and creates a vision of success, satisfaction and happiness for his customers.

It makes his ads memorable, and it quickly creates an emotional bond between store and prospective buyer.

Emerson knows how to tell a great story. Do you?

 

Write your customer manifesto!

Some companies write positioning documents. Marketers write sets of bullet points describing their products. Others write complicated creative briefs, or build positioning frameworks.

Those tools all have value, but I find that the most powerful way to build, communicate and create message consistency organization-wide is to write it in terms that your customers would understand.

In other words, write a customer manifesto!

Too many positioning frameworks put messaging into a context and in prose that should never be in front of a customer. It's justified as "core" messaging that ultimately will be honed for its audience.

But what value does that actually have? If you can't write customer-centric messaging into a framework, how do you expect to translate fundamental product value to your customers?

If you take the time to sit down, and write your company, product or brand "manifesto" as if you were speaking to your customers directly, you will end up with a powerful piece that can rally a large organization around a single message, common nomenclature, and a unified vision for what value you provide back to customers.

HouseValues, for example, takes pride in providing its customers with a complete & market-proven system for real estate professionals to grow their business. Thousands of real estate agents have used the system over the past seven years, and have helped hone the system to what it is today.

So, how do you communicate that system to new real estate agents? How do you communicate the key tenets, the "three simple things" that are at the heart of that system?

The manifesto, of course!

Attached here is a copy of the HouseValues Business System manifesto, written with a customer audience in mind. It's a simple two and a half pages - easy and fast for everyone in the organization to read, and get behind.

Could you write a 2-3 page manifesto for your product, business or brand? What would it say? And how would you put it into action?

 

My top five marketing podcasts

Podcasts were built for multi-tasking.

Just like books on tape. Most people don't settle onto the couch at home, pop in a book on tape, and listen for a couple hours. People buy books on tape for the car, for travel, or for the gym. It's a great way to catch up on a book when you don't otherwise had time to read the "traditional" way.

Podcasts are no different. I've found podcasts to be perfect for the gym, for example. I'm focused on the words and conversation, which makes my time on the Stairclimber go that much faster.

If you're still relatively new to podcasts, I'd encourage you to browse the selection on iTunes, or use one of the fantastic new podcast search engines (such as Pluggd) to find content fit for your interests. Here are five of my favorites:

The New York Times Front Page: In five minutes or less, a nice man reads me the stories from the paper's front page, plus offers a little perspective on each story beyond the headlines. A great way to get caught up quickly on national and world news, and it fits into even the shortest morning commutes! It's one of several podcasts offered by the Times.

Duct-Tape Marketing Podcast: I'm a big fan of what John Jantsch is doing on his Web site and blog, and he's now extended it to a series of podcasts. Most feature interviews with some of marketing's top minds, all focused on providing listeners with real-life, tangible marketing ideas that can immediately be put to work in almost any business.

HBR Ideacast: The editors of Harvard Business Review bring their journal to life in this great podcast, featuring a mix of outside speakers, HBS professors and other luminaries sharing a combination of business strategy, marketing insights, and collected best practices. Just like the magazine, this podcast will help you keep a strategic edge.

Marketing Voices: One of several great podcasts from PodTech.net, this one features Jennifer Jones interviewing a wide variety of marketing and technology leaders on subjects relevant to all of us.

The Wood Whisperer: This is unrelated to marketing, and a video podcast to-boot, but it's just plain cool. I'm a budding (but very amateur) wordworker these days, and Marc does a great job explaining everything from how to use tools to how to build boxes. It's a great example of how video podcasting can work, and also an example of just how much great content is out there already.

 

The conversation is king

Kudos to Jonah Bloom at Advertising Age for writing that consumer-generated Super Bowl ads largely miss the point.

Yes, it was very cool to see $2.6-million in airtime used by a concept conceived, directed and created by a consumer. But the real value is in enabling and sustaining conversations with and between your customers.

If done right, the effect this will have on your business lasts far longer than 30 seconds.

Monday, February 12, 2007

 

The 90-second news cycle

Tomorrow morning's newspaper will always be out of date.

Media Guerilla gives a well-done breakdown of how quickly news now is published, communicated, and even discussed.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

Learning from other industries

A smart man once suggested that sales & marketing executives attend at least one trade show or conference each year in an industry far different from their own. The idea is that, although the industry and products are likely very different, some of the sales & marketing strategies they use are likely very leveragable in your own industry, and in your own business.

Now, justifying a trip to a totally unrelated conference might not fit into your budget this year, but that doesn't excuse you from learning.

There are trade publications. Magazines. Industry association Web sites and newsletters. Blogs and podcasts.

Check out, for example, this restaurant marketing blog. It's written by the Cohen Restaurant Marketing Group, a firm in the business of helping restaurants build their brand and grow their business.

But take a look at the lessons and insights this blog shares. Although they may be written and tailored to the restaurant and dining industry, most of them can be applied to any of our businesses.

Stepping outside of our offices, our businesses, and our industry can often generate brand new, out-of-the-box insights that our own industries & businesses haven't yet experienced. And that just might lead to some breakthrough ideas, insights and successes of your own.

 

Surprise networking

Want to meet new people? Expand your network? Part of the solution is right in front of you.

Let's say you read an article in the paper, online or in a magazine about an interesting company. An executive from the company is interviewed for the story. Why not write an email to the executive, introducing yourself and expressing your interest and delight in the story you just read?

You'll get more responses than you think.

Let's say you hear an interview on the radio, or on a podcast. Why not write an email to the interviewee, thanking them for their insights?

Sending a quick "thank you" or "appreciated your ideas" note is faster and easier than ever, thanks to email. And thanks to the Internet, finding contact information for those executives and interviewees is also quite easy.

So here's my challenge to you this week. Send an email to five people you don't know. Just five. Do it based on things you read, things you hear, or just businesses you've always admired.

The Internet is a virtual cocktail reception. If you summon the courage to walk up to someone and introduce yourself, well, you've just made a new friend, and expanded your network.

 

The Wizards of Buzz

In most social networks, a very small number of people actually set the agenda and drive the discussion. Every discussion board I've found online operates much the same way. Although there may be thousands of people visiting and reading the forum on a regular basis, a handful of people are responsible for the majority of posts, and end up setting the tone and agenda of the conversations.

The Wall Street Journal recently tackled this subject in a well-done article titled The Wizards of Buzz. For example, of the 300,000 registered users of Digg.com, just 30 users are responsible for one-third of the content that ends up on Digg's home page.

Those 30 people, clearly, have incredible power.

The Journal story does a nice job profiling the power these users (at Digg and nearly every social network online) gain and leverage their power, and how others try to influence them.

(links to the WSJ story require a subscription, but you can also read a free copy here).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

 

The Web's Best Marketing Blogs

Here's a great list of some of the Web's best marketing blogs. For regular blog readers, there should be some familiar names here, in addition to many more worth exploring.

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

 

Don't let a good plan go to waste

You write a great plan. Lots of research, insight, and critical thinking go into this plan. It gets broad approval across your organization. Everyone’s excited about it. Great work.

Then you start to execute. Some things are harder to do than expected. New opportunities develop. New complications materialize. You make real-time decisions on how to change what you’d planned to do. You make adjustments, compromises, changes to get the plan in motion, to get things executed and to meet deadlines.

But despite the need to stay nimble and flexible during execution, it’s important to occasionally look back and ensure that what you’re building, or executing, has stayed true to what you had planned to achieve in the first place.

Adjustments to the plan are fine. Changes in how you execute the plan? Perfectly reasonable.

But a good plan is based on expected outcomes. A clear sense for what success looks like. Clear, measurable objectives.

If some of your execution adjustments and compromises change the fundamental nature of your plan, or dramatically impact your ability to hit expected outcomes, then that’s not good.

If you’ve built a long-term plan, check back on the original plan every month or so. Start a monthly “review” meeting with your team by literally pulling out the original, final plan and reviewing it together. Identify the places where you’ve deviated, and make sure everyone agrees that those changes are OK. Also use this time to “rediscover” parts of the plan you may have forgotten, and identify places where you’ve compromised or deviated to the point where the previously-stated expected outcome is no longer possible.

If you ignore this crucial step, especially with complicated plans executed by many individuals across multiple work groups, you run the very real risk of executing a watered-down, highly compromised version of what you had intended, something that doesn’t have near the impact of what you (and your bosses) had expected.

It takes just a little extra time to do that review, but it’ll keep you focused, on track, and on a path towards achieving the success and results you originally intended.

 

Are you a cult brand in waiting?

When you think about cult brands, you probably think about companies and brands such as Apple, Harley Davidson, Linux and Star Trek. These brands have highly-active customers, all of whom go the extra mile to evangelize and protect to brand. Apple users volunteering their time to work at retail stores, convincing others to also buy Mac. Star Trek fans spending thousands a year on costumes, conventions, collectibles and more.

A “cult following” is an enormous advantage that companies and brand managers work hard to protect and leverage.

But aren’t we all cult brands in waiting? Do we all have the potential to reach the cult status of Apple? Or Harley Davidson?

Yes. But first thing’s first.

You start with a great product, and a great experience. If your products aren’t good, or don’t serve a fundamental customer need, you have bigger problems than trying to create a cult brand.

But let’s assume you have good products, and a strong fundamental business.

You are a cult brand in waiting. You merely need to identify, energize and mobilize your passionate customers.

Every business has detractors. But every business also has Promoters – rabid fans who love the product or service, and tell others about it. The problem is, most companies don’t know who those promoters are, don’t know where to find them, and therefore have absolutely no way to accelerate the word-of-mouth and impact those promoters can generate.

If you can find your promoters, you can make them stronger. You can make them “insiders,” give them extra information, samples of your products to give others. You can create tools that effectively give those passionate customers a microphone to communicate to others the passion they have for your products.

Create your own customer brand army that works side-by-side with you to protect the reputation of your company and brand. Make them insiders, make them feel part of the family, and they’ll work harder for you.

I believe most companies are at various stages of becoming cult brands. Most are just relatively far away from realizing true cult status.

But with focus and work, you can get there.

 

Write about your customers, not your products

I spoke the other day to a group about social & conversational media, and how to leverage simple strategies with blogs, social networks and the like to generate interest, awareness and sales for any product, service or brand.

An executive from a print services company at the event was convinced that nobody would care to read a blog about printers and print services. And I agreed with him.

Don’t write about your products. Write about your customers.

Your customers don’t buy printers because they want printers. If you know why they’re buying printers (in other words, how they’re using those printers), you can write about THAT. It gives you infinitely more subject matter to write about, especially in formats that lend themselves to progressive, serialized or community-contributed content.

Let’s say you’re trying to sell printers to amateur photographers. How can you teach photographers how to best user home printers to create professional-looking prints? Can you help those same photographers discover inexpensive, downloadable software to make their photos look even better before printing? How about helping them share their photos with friends & family, or with other networks of photographers?

Give your customers some information to chew on, then ask what other resources they know about. Your content will be a starting point for more, user-generated content that not only enhances your original content, but will give you suggestions for future content, marketing ideas, product suggestions and more.

All of these topics, and dozens more, and far more interesting to your customers. And every single one will lead to them thinking about printers.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

 

DRPR at the SDMA

Thank you to the Seattle Direct Marketing Association (SDMA) for giving me the opportunity to speak about Direct Response Public Relations (DRPR) at their February dinner tonight.

If you were there and want a copy of the deck, you can download it here.

Fascinating subject. I had an interview candidate just this week tell me that it's impossible to track ROI from a PR campaign. He was spending $1.5 million per year on a marketing channel to which he couldn't track, measure or assign value? Is that money well spent?

The PR world is changing. Intermediaries still exist, always will, but direct channels to your audience are proliferating, and both traditional and new PR strategies are proving to be incredibly valuable in reaching them.

If you're in the Seattle area and want to join the dinner, registration is still open both online, and at the door tonight. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at the McCormick & Schmick's Harborside restaurant.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

 

The evolution of ideas, content & communication

A professor of anthropology at Kansas State University pulled this together (thanks to John Battelle for accelerating its discoverability).

Tons more content, infinitely more discoverable. The paradox of our time.

Check it out.

 

Creating Passionate Users

This is a blatant plug for what is quickly becoming my favorite blog - period.

Many companies are coming to realize that customer satisfaction, when measured and leveraged correctly, can be a core driver of top-line and bottom-line growth. Hockey-stick growth.

Kathy Sierra understands this better than most, and regularly turns out some of the best, most insightful customer evangelism writing on the Web today.

I can't think of a single post on her Creating Passionate Users blog that I haven't picked up and forwarded to someone in my organization or professional network.

It's a must read.

Monday, February 05, 2007

 

Critical Customer Service Skills

These come direct from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and more specifically from Kirk Kazanjian's great new book, Exceeding Customer Expectations.

1. A passion for taking care of customers.
2. A willingness to be flexible.
3. A work ethic based on dedication to the company and its mission.
4. An eagerness to learn a new business and work their way up.
5. Self-motivation and goal-orientation.
6. Persuasive sales skills.
7. Excellent communication skills.
8. Leadership ability.

Enterprise is well-known for their focus on customer satisfaction, but also is fanatical about their hiring process. Based on their results, it's working.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

 

The best Super Bowl ads, you'll never see

It cost $2.6 million to buy 30 seconds of air time during the Super Bowl this year. That's a lot of money, and a ton of visibility, for any company. With that kind of cash and eyeballs, decisions aren't just made by agencies and a head of marketing. In many companies, there are a lot of cooks in that ad kitchen.

Every year, we set higher and higher expectations for Super Bowl ads. Every year, we expect Super Sunday to deliver the year's best advertising creative.

And every year, we're disappointed. We talk about ads that were boring, too straight and narrow, too much alike. Where's the out-of-the-box? Where are the crazy ideas? Where's the memorability?

Where's the risk? It's likely on the cutting-room floor.

The agencies, and likely marketing staffs, I'm sure are coming up with a ton of fantastic ideas for Super Bowl ads. But those ad concepts go through a lot of hands, and many rounds of approval.

The result? Mediocre, safe ads.

I bet some of the best ideas from Super Bowl advertisers in the past five years have never been produced, never been aired. If any of those ideas were filmed and produced (but turned down by the clients), they're locked in ad agency vaults never to see the light of day.

That's just my theory...

 

Super Bowl Ad Review - Worth Watching?

We're going to read a lot the next couple days about the Super Bowl. Yes, probably a little about Peyton Manning, the Colts and the weather. But likely a lot more about the ads in between plays - how good they were, which will be remembered (good and bad), and what it all meant.

It was actually fun watching some of the real-time blogging going on during the game, as some pundits offered instant reviews of each spot. A quick recap of one is here, as well as a March Madness-style competition among MSNBC readers to choose the best ad.

In general, I was a bit disappointed this year. Not a ton of creativity across the board, and far less viewer interactivity than I expected. Despite a couple fairly well done consumer-generated ads (for Doritos twice, and also for the NFL), I expected more brands to use their $2.6-million Super Bowl ad to kick off a longer "Web 2.0-style" campaign, getting viewers (and ultimately Web site visitors) engaged in a longer brand experience.

Alas, the brand that tried hardest to do this was Snickers, who produced one of the worst Super Bowl ads in recent memory.

Other ads worth noting:

Bud Light: Always good for a good laugh, they had several ads featuring a wide variety of punchline types. The ads that played best were (surprise, surprise) animal ads.

Careerbuilder: Thank goodness the monkey ads are gone, and the "office survivor" theme was entertaining. I could watch those ads over and over, and likely discover each time a new, highly creative element deep within the ad. Things like the post-it outfit, the three-ring binder hat, etc. All very clever, and well targeted.

Snickers: Bad, bad, bad. Not worth any more words.

Nationwide: Great use of Kevin Federline. I still can't believe they talked him into doing this.

Friday, February 02, 2007

 

Use every opportunity to create buzz

Creating buzz for your company, your product, even yourself is an everyday, every opportunity kind of thing. Everything you do, all day long, has the possibility of accelerating awareness, perception, and buzzworthiness.

Some buzz-building opportunities are right in front of us, and we don't even think about them.

I had never thought about my email "out of office" autoreply as a word-of-mouth opportunity until I received one from Andy Sernovitz today. Andy's the CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and author of the soon-to-be-released book (appropriately titled) Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.

In response to an email I sent Andy this morning, his auto-reply said the following:

I will be out of the office at conferences until Friday, with limited access to email. I'll reply as soon as I get a chance.

1. Reporters and emergencies: Please call my cell at XXX-XXX-XXXX. (actual number removed)
2. Wife and parents: You may also call my cell.
3. Charlie (my 3-year-old): No, you cannot pee in the sink. Yes, a dinosaur could eat a monkey.
4. Telemarketers: Please take me off your list.
5. Spammers: Please call my stock broker.

With this simple, short out-of-office message, Andy near-guaranteed that his message would be forwarded around by folks that thought this was incredibly clever (and funny). And of course, at the bottom of this message was Andy's contact information, information about WOMMA, and a tout for his new book.

Andy's creating buzz for himself, his organization and his new book all at once. Just by adding a little extra leverage to something many of us already use all of the time.

Very smart. He should probably write a book about this stuff.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

 

Ethical Storytelling: A Case Study

Good marketing tugs at the heart. It appeals to the emotional, sometimes irrational side of our decision-making process. Good marketing is, essentially, good story-telling. To sell your idea, or your product, you have to tell an effective, remarkable story to compel your audience to take action.

Story-telling is good marketing. But intentionally inaccurate story-telling borders on unethical.

In early January, the Shoreline School District in suburban Seattle made the difficult decision to recommend two schools for closure. Student population in the district has been shrinking in recent years, so fewer schools are needed to handle the volume of students living within district boundaries. Closing schools is never fun, and never easy, and the reasons why the closure candidates were chosen isn't specifically important here.

What I'm more concerned about is the questionable strategy, message, and story-telling being propagated by those who don't want their specific school closed.

One of the schools slated for closure is Sunset Elementary. Sunset happens to be one of the "richest" schools in the district, meaning the median income of its families is among the highest in Shoreline. A parent group, understandably, is not happy with the prospect that their school may be closed at the end of this school year. So they've started a campaign with the title of "Save Shoreline Schools." They've started a Web site and an aggressive PR campaign to keep their school open.

I can certainly empathize with their situation, but I'm less than excited about their tactics. They are not telling a clean story about their specific school being closed. Instead, the story being told is that all Shoreline schools and students are in jeopardy. But that's far from true.

The "Save Shoreline Schools" organization has rallied local business leaders, radio stations, even real estate agents behind their cause. The organization has certainly tugged on heart-strings with their story. The problem is, their story is wrong. Real estate agents, radio stations and business leaders alike all believe that they are fighting to save all Shoreline schools, when in fact the entire effort is focused on ensuring that a single elementary school is taken off of the closure list (and replaced by another).

The Shoreline School District has made their intentions very clear - they need to close schools to better distribute their student population and get budgets in line.

Saving one elementary school to close another does nothing for Shoreline students overall.

But that's not the story being told, is it? That's not the story being aggressively promoted, and now pulling on heart-strings of radio listeners and local business customers throughout Seattle.

Sunset Elementary School parents are doing a great job marketing their cause. They've created some very compelling stories. But their stories are not true.

Imagine if you did this for your own business, or your own products. Imagine your customers were moved to action by an effective story, only to find out that the story was not true. Wouldn't that have a significant impact on your reputation, and ultimately your results? Is the short-term gain ever worth the long-term impact?

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