Content factory

•March 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The Internet LOVES content. The only thing the Internet loves more than content is relevant and timely content that is updated frequently. Businesses that win in the age of online marketing will embrace that fact that they need to evolve into content factories.

Of course it’s not as if producing content is new for marketing people. We do it all the time. The difference in the online era is that content is now A) free or nearly free to produce in digital form and B) free or nearly free to distribute to the world. This is a significant departure from the days when options were limited to broadcast television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and billboards as the primary means of delivering marketing messages. If you spend thousands (or millions) of dollars to produce an ad and then have to spend 10x that to actually run it there is going to be a very finite limit to the frequency with which you can update your messaging. And once the budget runs out the message, for all practical purposes, goes away.

Marketing on the Internet is different. Producing digital content can be as easy and inexpensive as typing a blog entry. You can do it as often as you want and the incremental cost is essentially free. Sending out 10,000 direct mail pieces costs thousands of dollars. Sending a digital newsletter to 10,000 subscribers via email is nearly free. Same thing with online video. With a video camera that costs less than dinner at a nice steakhouse you can shoot and edit video that can then be uploaded to YouTube for free and distributed worldwide. Blendtec has done a brilliant job of leveraging this concept.

When you feed the content-loving Internet with frequently updated, relevant content about your business the foundation of a powerful online presence is built. Just having a website is not enough. You want to have a presence. The good news is that there are very few barriers to creating all this stuff. The bad news is that many businesses aren’t doing it yet.

If you have been slow to start an ongoing content creation and distribution strategy for the Internet, start one now. Add value to your website on a continuous basis. Your customers want to know more about who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Publish information regularly so that each time your customers come back there is something new to engage them. Give them plenty of ways to join the conversation and then listen to the feedback you get.

Tracking

•February 25, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Asking people where they heard about your business is not a tracking strategy. The data that you get from this kind of informal polling just isn’t that accurate or useful. Decades of mass-media advertising has led to the evolution of powerful defense mechanisms that enable consumers to tune-out most of the ad impressions delivered to them. In other words, they are ignoring your ads. At least they are trying to. It’s a survival instinct. If everyone paid attention to every bit of information flying at them each day, nothing would ever get done. As a result, if you ask a customer “how did you hear about us?” chances are that you will get a random or made-up answer.

Just because the informal polling method doesn’t work does not mean that you cannot effectively track your advertising. One of the easiest ways is to embed campaign-specific offers into your ad content. If you run a special financing deal exclusively on cable TV you can keep track of how many customers ask for it. Online is even easier. By creating a campaign-specific landing page you can measure results by monitoring the traffic to that page. Text messaging is another simple way to track response. It’s now very easy to have your customers send a text message to a specific number to get a coupon or subscribe to a mailing list.

If you do not already, start making embedded tracking mechanisms a part of every campaign you run. The examples above are just a few of the many ways you can do this. It can be a little uncomfortable in the beginning because it will highlight failure as well as it identifies success but the benefits are countless.

Something worth finding

•February 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Advertising used to be about finding large groups of people congregating and then interrupting them with a message. Kind of like walking into the mall with a megaphone or the town crier standing on a box on Main Street. Many businesses still approach it that way and wonder why their ROI is dwindling. Things have changed.

From this point forward stop thinking about finding your customers and start thinking about making something worth finding. Your customers are already searching for your products. Make sure that your resources are being adequately allocated towards giving them something they will be thrilled with when they find it. Working this way turns your customers into your sales force. Your job is to be sales support. Give them something great to sell and they will not only find new customers for you, they will also do it in ways that are infinitely more efficient than anything you could accomplish with a ‘traditional’ advertising campaign.

Once you wrap your head around this concept it will become mush easier to figure out how to approach ‘new media’ such as blogs, social networks, and online communities. As an added benefit, you’ll also start to see new ways to incorporate traditional media to amplify your efforts.

Online and offline media

•February 1, 2008 • Leave a Comment

There seems to be a lot of confusion out there about the role of offline media in an increasingly online world. Companies are busy creating MySpace pages, YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, writing blogs, running search ads, banner ads, streaming ads etc. because they know that these tools are all part of the revolution that’s going on with online marketing. And all of this is healthy. You should be building, testing, and refining these things because tools like this will become the foundation of your marketing efforts (if they aren’t already). What you want to be careful of however, is becoming so enamored with ‘New’ media that you become completely averse to more traditional forms of advertising.

Being on TV just isn’t as sexy as it used to be is it? What about radio or the newspaper? Why would you even mess with these ancient technologies when everyone knows that the web is where it’s at?

The reason traditional media still makes sense is because there are still benefits to reaching large audiences. The difference now is that instead of trying to close the deal in :30 seconds with a TV spot, you use offline media as the front-end for your online presence. Instead of expecting people to see your commercial and then call up asking to buy something, use the reach of traditional media to drive people to your web assets. You will find that people are much more willing to log on to a website after seeing your commercial than they are to call you for an appointment or walk into your showroom. The other benefit of sending people to the web is that you build a reliable tracking mechanism into your campaign. By simply monitoring the traffic to a campaign-specific landing page you can quickly see what’s working and what isn’t.

It’s critical to be online, just don’t be myopic about it. Make sure you’re making good use of all the tools available to you (new and old) and you’ll get ahead faster.

Electronic measurement

•January 31, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Electronic measurement has been a hot topic in the world of broadcast media for some time now. Until fairly recently, TV and Radio audience measurement was tracked primarily through the use of written diaries that listeners/viewers filled out by hand (TV ratings usually combined diary results with a primitive set-tuning meter). As you might expect, this type of system is extremely susceptible to error.

It’s not like the average person is going to walk around with a notebook all week long taking copious notes on every interaction they have with the TV or radio. In practice it plays out more like this: At the end the day or week, the diary recipient fills in the diary by memory. Let’s say they are in the habit of listening to the radio each day as they get ready for work. So they fill in the 7a-7:45a time slots for each weekday and say that they listened to the morning show on channel ‘X’. The problem with this is that they did not actually get exposed to all of this programming because they were in and out of the shower, eating breakfast, blow drying their hair etc. while channel ‘X’ was on in the background. Yet the ratings will still reflect this as 3 hours and 45 minutes worth of listening for the channel ‘X’ morning show. This is just one simple example of many ways that ratings distortion can occur in a diary-based system.

Advertising agencies have been calling for a more accurate electronic measurement system for many years. As you can imagine, the very thought of changing the diary system is frightening to TV and radio companies because they know that they receive an artificial ratings boost from the diary system. So implementing the technology has been a long, slow battle between broadcasters, the ratings companies, and advertising agencies.

We have now reached the point where both Nielsen (the major TV ratings provider) and Arbitron (the major radio ratings provider) have developed electronic “people meters” that measure audiences by automatically tracking their listening and viewing habits. These systems are far from perfect but they do represent a significant increase in accuracy compared to the old methods.

As we gradually transition to these new measurement systems, advertisers should be aware of the effects of this new data on their media schedules. The most dramatic effect for both radio and television is a significant drop in Average Quarter Hour listening and viewing levels. In some cases these levels can drop by 50% or more. If you plan your broadcast buys by aiming for a certain level of gross ratings points delivered, you will need to adjust your expectations if your market is moving from diary-based to electronic measurement.

The good news is that nothing is really changing other than the accuracy of the numbers. If you were buying 100 gross ratings points for $25,000 using the old data, the same schedule/budget may now only deliver 75 gross ratings points. While it may seem like you are getting a lot less for your money, the reality is that you were never really getting the full 100 ratings points in the first place. It’s not the most pleasant thing to accept but at least we’re moving in the direction of improved accuracy.

Recession

•January 30, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I have no idea if we are headed for a recession. There’s an awful lot of talk about it in the media however so now is as good a time as any to talk about how to market during a slowdown (recession or otherwise). The first thing to do is avoid panic. Panic leads to reactionary tactics. This is another one of those things that sounds simple on the surface but turns out to be difficult in practice.

Here’s what normally happens. At some point a competitor, driven by fear, comes up with an offer designed to get the market ‘moving again.’ It could be a straight discount, gift with purchase, financing gimmick, buy one get one, third-party tie-in, etc. They feel intense pressure to ‘do something’ and when no one knows what else to do, price cutting usually emerges as the crowd favorite.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with using a special offer to generate sales but when it’s done out of fear it often ends up smelling a lot like desperation. Desperation attracts more of the same. The next thing you know, another competitor copies the idea and offers a discount of their own. And from there the downward spiral begins. Pretty soon everyone is out there trying to one-up each other’s discount offer and the longer you hold out the more you feel like you’re getting left in the dust by your competitors. So eventually you join in and start cheapening your products as well. When everyone is competing on price, the product becomes a commodity and as Warren Buffet says “in a commodity business it’s impossible to be a lot smarter than your dumbest competitor.”

Here’s a little secret. You cannot reverse a market-wide trend with a price cut. Sure, you can create a spike here and there but if you start chipping away at your brand with a series of progressively uglier deals then you are going to regret it later on. So what’s the right thing to do? Get back to the basics.

When things are slow for a long period of time you can count on your competitors to dramatically scale back their marketing efforts. You may have to scale back too but if you are smart you’ll take this opportunity to focus on making your product or service more valuable to your customers and letting them know about it through smart marketing. The businesses that stay in front of their customers during slow times emerge as the leaders when things pick back up. If you take the Ostrich route (stick your head in the sand) you are going to have a hard time making it through the soft period and an even harder time capturing share when things return to normal.

If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to jump in and compete with incentive offers be sure to use it tactically while not deviating from your overall strategy. Don’t make the discount the only compelling reason to buy now. Above all else – don’t try to be the low price leader unless that was your unique position prior to the slowdown anyway.

Slowdowns are not the end of the world. For smart businesses they actually represent an opportunity to capture market share while your competitors hide in a cave. You may have to scale back your budgets but that doesn’t mean you can’t invest more time in lower cost alternatives such as building your blog subscriber base, updating your website, building a profile for your business on a social networking site, starting a podcast, writing an ebook etc. Immerse yourself in making your business remarkable and before you know it, the slow times will have passed.

Calling out

•January 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Let me just tell you how important I am. Over the past few weeks I have received personal calls from the Governor of Florida and most of the 2008 presidential candidates. Now if they only called once or twice I might not think I was that important; but I’m telling you it’s every day lately…sometimes multiple calls per day! I can’t begin to explain how happy I am to get interrupted multiple times per day to pick up the phone and hear an automated message from a politician.

Technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to marketing. It is the major enabler of so many of the New Marketing strategies and tactics the we read about every day. Internet-based mass calling services are just one of the many tools that are now accessible to anyone at affordable rates. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

There is no doubt that in the era of New Marketing your customer database is the most valuable marketing asset you have, particularly if you can leverage it into a permission-based communication vehicle. But a permission-based asset’s value is directly proportional to how excited your customers are about receiving your messages. Inundate them with too many email blasts, phone calls, junk mail pieces etc. and they will quickly begin ignoring everything you send. If you want to accelerate the process even more, be sure to include plenty of useless clutter and offers that aren’t all that exciting or unique to begin with.

The problem isn’t the technology. Mass-calling services are a wonderful tool that can be used effectively in a marketing capacity. The problems come when you start to abuse permission. If you have a bunch of customers that have given you permission to communicate with them directly, don’t do it unless you have a reason to. That’s the quickest way to erode your asset. Instead, make sure that every time you reach out to them you are providing something that is truly of significant value to them. If you send a discount offer, make sure it is a meaningful discount and not something that anyone who walks in off the street can take advantage of. It seems simple enough but I am continually amazed at the number of companies that screw this up regularly.