Friday, October 31, 2008

Why mobile is the future of advertising

In this AdAge interview, Google Mobile Product Manager Summit Agarwal sums up why the mobile web is absolutely changing everything for marketers:

The phone is the ultimate ad vehicle. It's the first one ever in the history of the planet that people go to bed with. It's ubiquitous across the world, across demographics, across age groups.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Credibility, confidence, and preparation

A new series from Lifehacker this week: How to Present Yourself Powerfully. The first excerpt gives some great tips for improving your public speaking skills, but here's a simple summary of how to succeed as a presenter:

  • The ultimate goal is credibility, which you get from having
  • Confidence, which you can only get through
  • Preparation
Preparation certainly means knowing your subject matter, but it also means knowing your audience, the room set-up, the technology you're using--even knowing your own speaking voice. Like most things in life, there's no substitute for hard work. By putting in the time it takes to do it right, you'll gain the confidence you need to feel comfortable at the front of the room.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Your mobile audience: what's in it for them?

One of the biggest opportunities for today's marketers is the mobile web. The cell phone is the device with the most potential to encourage immediate action, since most users carrying it with them all the time and since it almost always commands the user's immediate attention. The problem, however, is that most people don't want ads on their phones. In fact, they're only going to get more adamant about not wanting ads after marketers start making the mistake of assuming they do.

So how can marketers communicate with customers in a way that is constructive and welcome?
The key is providing information that is useful to the consumer--on their terms, not yours. In a sense, it's like any other medium: by understanding what's in it for them, you'll do a much better job of being heard and engaging your audience.

What specific kinds of information can effectively be communicated via mobile? There are some great examples in
this AdAge column, but here are a few others that immediately come to mind:

  • Restaurant reservation confirmations, other service provider (doctors, dentists, stylyst) reminder. And giving customers the ability to make reservations/appointments via mobile web is a no brainer.
  • Weight loss encouragement and nutrition reminders sent right before breakfast, lunch, and dinner by weight management and fitness centers
  • Reminders about financial aid, registration, and other deadline from colleges and universities
The idea is to anticipate needs users will have while on the go. And as web users of all kinds become more task-oriented, more mobile will increasingly displace desktop computer use. That's great news if you have valuable information to share. If you don't, then it's time to start thinking about what you can do to change that. The best place to start? Ask your customers what kind of information--if any--they'd like to receive on the cell phone. If you've worked hard to earn their trust, they'll tell you. If you haven't, you need to work on that before expecting they'll give you permission to communicate with them via the mobile web.

Photo: sofa on stock.xchng

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Is online TV for real? You betcha.

Hard upon the heels of her Joe-the-Plumber -clogged visit to Memorial Coliseum, Sarah Palin is attracting even more attention elsewhere--online, on, for example. reports that while the live TV-viewing audience was SNL's largest in 14 years, it will soon be surpassed by the online viewing audience:

Two clips of the Alaska governor on "SNL," her fake press conference and appearance on "Weekend Update," have racked up 6.1 million views on Derivative versions such as those used in news coverage, as well as pirated versions of the clips, have been viewed another 2.85 million times on sites like YouTube, MySpace and Yahoo, according to web video measurement firm Visible Measures.

Combined, the videos have been viewed 8.85 million times since Sunday, an impressive number in four days. But that doesn't include what may be the biggest source of online viewing: NBCU and News Corp.'s joint venture

Neither Hulu nor NBC will provide Hulu's streaming numbers, but they're likely to be high. Hulu streamed four times as many videos (142 million) as (36 million) during September, according to Nielsen's Video Census. While it's possible a high percentage of viewers looking for "SNL" clips would go first to, it's also likely that Hulu counts for as many, if not more, views as NBC. The opening skit with Tina Fey holding a press conference as Sarah Palin, while the real VP nominee looked on, was the No. 3 most watched Hulu clip this week, while the clip of Amy Poehler's Palin rap sat at No. 2.

The success of points to three important trends for marketers and other communication-watchers:
  • Audiences are learning that there's no sense in investing 30 minutes in a show when you can watch the best bits in a fraction of the time. Shorter is better.
  • The size of the audience gravitating to online viewing is only going to increase, so keep an eye on what you're being asked to pay for broadcast and cable air time.
  • Also pay close attention to content that's timely, and line up your advertising accordingly. Palin is a phenomenon, but a week from Wednesday she may start to be forgotten altogether. Get on the bandwagon as soon as you can, but bail out before the wheels start to fall off.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cutting Through the Clutter

In today's communication environment, one of the biggest challenges is getting your message to stand out. To cut through the clutter, you can't just raise the volume: you need to target your audience very precisely and create a message that immediately catches their attention without resorting to gimmicks or shock value.

As consumers have more and more options for tuning out advertising, communicating a marketing message becomes even more of a challenge. But it's not impossible, as this article in Monday's Wall Street Journal demonstrates. A sample:

Can the marketing stimulus be delivered at a time when the customer has few other distractions?

Marketing messages should target customers at times when they are unoccupied, perhaps even actively seeking some sort of information to process. Consider, for example, an airplane on the landing path into an airport. Sitting upright, with in-flight entertainment and electronic devices switched off, passengers have little to do but to look out of the window and wait for the aircraft to land.

Seeking to capitalize on this opportunity, London-based Ad-Air Group PLC places advertisements flat on the ground over an area as large as five acres alongside flight paths in and out of the world's busiest airports. Depending on their landing approach, passengers are provided with an unrestricted view of an ad for more than 10 seconds.

Read the other four questions and consider how your organization can cut through the clutter instead of just adding more noise.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Real Bad Realtor Ads

Want to inject a little awful into your Friday? Well, look no further than Keepin' It Realtor, "a showcase for the world’s finest real estate creative." Because in a bad housing market, there's no better way to stand out than by superimprosing your head on the body of a lamb.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Social networking jumps the shark...or maybe the pig

I'm a big believer in both bacon and niche social networks. But Bacon Lovers' Talk is too much, even for me. Anytime you see the phrase "Join the Bacon Community!" it's time to close the browser.

Free Seth Godin download from

For a limited time, is offering a free download of Tribes, a new audio book from uber guru Seth Godin. A companion casebook is also available as a PDF, also at no cost.

Hat tip: PR Squared

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The changing science of media measurement

Measuring media consumption habits is becoming more and more difficult as people interact with content in divergent ways. If you watch The Office on Hulu, for example, you might not be counted as viewer under the traditional Nielsen model. And that makes it difficult for advertisers to judge the true value of any given medium or time slot.

A new technology, however, is trying to change all that by measuring consumer response to ads across multiple media. And they're doing it, as the Wall Street Journal reports, using the communication tool that is becoming the Holy Grail of all media--the cell phone.

[Integrated Media Measurement] embeds its software into the cellphones of the company's 4,900 panelists. The software picks up audio from an ad or a TV show and converts it into its own digital code that is then uploaded into an IMMI database, which includes codes for media content such as TV shows, commercials, movies and songs.

IMMI's database then figures out what the cellphone was exposed to by matching the code. Cellphone conversations and background noise are filtered out by the software, IMMI says, since there is no "match" in the IMMI database.

To get a handle on the effectiveness of a given ad, IMMI's data can show, for example, when a panel member is exposed to a movie trailer on TV and whether that same consumer later goes to see the movie. Similarly, IMMI data can show if a panelist watching a promo for a TV program will later watch the show, either on TV or online. IMMI thinks it can expand that idea from films and TV shows to consumer products like shampoo or toothpaste. It is testing its technology with a national grocery store chain.

Anyone who buys ads on mass media will want to keep an eye on new trends in measurement since the resulting numbers dictate the cost of airtime. On thing's certain: as we consume multiple media simultaneously and in nontraditional settings--even on our cell phones themselves--measuring consumption will become less of an exact science and more of an educated guess.

Graphic from the Wall Street Journal/NBC Universal

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ZenHabits' "New Rules" for productivity at work

Still doing the same old thing and getting the same old results? This post from ZenHabits will change the way you look at on the job productivity--and it might just result in you working fewer hours, not more. A sample:

4. Don’t multi-task — multi-project and single-task.

Old school: Multi-tasking is productive. Juggling tasks shows how productive you are, says old school productivity. I’ve written enough about multi-tasking for you to know where I stand on that.

Productivity 2.0: Multi-project and single-task. While I won’t go on once again about single-tasking — focusing on one task at a time to be more effective — I will say that multi-projecting has its uses. Let’s say you’re working on Task 1 of Project A — you should single-task while working on Task 1. But when it’s done, you might need to wait for a response from your boss before moving on to Task 2. In that case, while you’re waiting, you can work on Task 1 of Project B, single-tasking while doing that. When you’re done with that, you might need to hear back from a client before moving on to the next task of Project B — in which case you can either return to Project A if your boss responded, or move on to Project C. Single-task while working on any one task, but working on different projects to make your time more efficient can be a useful skill.

Go read the other 7 and then get busy getting less busy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Brands that thrive in a down economy

What brands do well when the economy takes a downturn? According to this Brandweek article, a few obvious ones like discount retailers and repair services. But there are also some surprises:

[C]onsumers are willing to spend on some forms of escapism. Entertainment can expect to fare well during a downturn, experts say. The weekend after a $700 billion bailout was passed by Congress, theatergoers flocked to the malls, sending the weekend gross for the top dozen flicks to $95.4 million, up 41.5% from the same period a year ago, per Media by Numbers, Encino, Calif.

"The conventional wisdom is that an economic downturn helps the movie business," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media By Numbers, Los Angeles. "They find escapism for a relatively small amount of money."

Then there's beer. It seems only logical that watching the Dow plummet into the abyss would drive some to drink. The U.S. beer industry is expected to post its second consecutive year of case sales gains, per the Beverage Information Group's 2008 Beer Handbook.
Another interesting side effect of a down economy is an increase in enrollment at two-year and vocational colleges. This only seems logical, however, if the school is know for affordability and outcomes, since potential enrollees will be especially focused on getting a return on their investment.

Brands that benefit from hard times, however, shouldn't celebrate too hard: after all, what goes up must come down:
Wal-Mart, which seemed to be losing brand power only a year ago, today is poised to reap the rewards of consumers who are looking to save some cash. In September, as same-store sales for Kohl's and Nordstrom fell 5.5% and 9.6%, respectively, Wal-Mart's rose 2.4%. Author and branding expert Rob Frankel thinks the retailer's gains will closely mirror the economy: "Wal-Mart is the brand that reminds people they are poor. Nobody shops at Wal-Mart because they want to; they shop there because they have to. The minute the economy recovers, Wal-Mart's sales will drop like a brick."
What's the lesson in all this? Be true to your brand promise, regardless of short-term changes in market conditions or trends. Because if you change your identity too often, you'll end up with no identity whatsoever--and that's a formula for failure in even the best economy.

Illustration: svilen001 on stock.xchng

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Obamamercial planned for Oct. 29; first of its kind since '92

The New York Times reports that the Barack Obama campaign will run a 30-minute ad on Oct. 29. The spot, which will appear in prime time on NBC and CBS, is the first 30-min. candidate infomercial since Ross Perot 's in 1992. One of the more interesting aspects of this news from an advertising perspective is the cost for the airtime, which--while undisclosed--is clearly significant.

Neither network officials nor Obama campaign aides would discuss the cost of the television time. An analysis of advertising rates shows that the price of the commercial time alone between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night would be about $1 million. It was unclear whether the networks were charging the campaign for only that commercial time or for the entire half hour, which would cost significantly more.
If nothing else, it's clear that the Obama campaign is in good financial shape as the campaign heads into the home stretch. Whether the 30-min. message will change anyone's mind is another matter, but it's always easier to script your own story than to let the media tell it for you--especially as all the undecideds start to decide.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Good advice for tough times

What's the one thing you can control in a challenging economy? Well, it's not your employment, but you can control your employability. There's never been a better time to be--or get--really good at your job, and there's never been a better time to improve your level of productivity.

Here's the catch: improvement--true improvement--means you'll have to spend more time on things you're not doing right now. You'll have to read. Study. Learn new things. So where do you find the time? Seth Godin offers some ideas:

Delete 120 minutes a day of 'spare time' from your life. This can include TV, reading the newspaper, commuting, wasting time in social networks and meetings. Up to you.
What if you had two hours a day to invest in yourself? What would you do with that time if your career depended on it?

And if you're not spending that time doing the things you want, what would you do with an extra two hours if your
happiness depended upon it?

Improving your productivity, you see, isn't just about working more hours. It's about getting more done in the hours you're at work so you have more time for the things you love to do. The good news is that even in a down economy, you still get 24 hours in every day--not more, but not less, either--at a time when it probably seems like you're getting less of everything. How you spend those hours matters more, though, since waste becomes more conspicuous when others don't have time or money to spare. That should be all the motivation you need.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Alert the media

Shrinking newsroom staff is dramatically affecting the number of camera crews available from any given media outlet, and that means it's harder than ever to secure coverage for your event.

So how do you maximize your chances of getting air time? Well, start by using a media alert--not a release--to generate interest. Unlike releases, alerts leave a little to the imagination and instead provide only enough information to pique the media's interest. Since you don't give everything away, media are more likely to attend to make the story their own and secure their own footage. There are no guarantees, of course, but a professional, complete media alert is less likely to get lost in the shuffle since it commands a higher sense of urgency than a release.

How do you structure your media alert to provide enough--but not too much--information? Here are the key things to focus on:

- Include a media contact name, phone number, and email address. Be sure that this is someone who can answer calls promptly and who, for continuity, will be at the media event.

- Just say "Photo/B-Roll Opportunity" in the headline. That will send a signal to the assignment editor that this isn't just another news release.

- Create a subhead that sums up the event and what's in it for any media who attend

- Break up the rest of the alert into four sections:

  • "Who": The people participating in your media event. Lead with those most likely to draw cameras (elected officials, celebrities, etc.). Don't assume the media will know who they are, however--include their title of a brief description of who they are
  • "What": This is the meatiest section. Describe what's going to happen and why it's important (from a news value standpoint--NOT why it's important to your organization). Be complete but concise--not more than a paragraph or two.
  • "When": Be specific--day, date, time (and if it's for national/regional media, include time zone).
  • "Where": Again, be specific. Provide an address and room number/name. It doesn't help you if a camera gets to the building but misses the ribbon cutting because they didn't know where to find you.
Keep the whole thing to one page. The goal is to make it glanceable and to provide just enough information, but not too much. If you find yourself tempted to include a quote from a spokesperson, you're trying too hard.

Preparing a media alert doesn't preclude you from writing a release, too, but you'll only send the release after the event to accommodate cameras that couldn't get there. Use the two hand-in-hand, and you'll make the most of your chances to get coverage.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Newspaper ad revenue sinks to a new low

A story in last week's Editor & Publisher delivers more bad news for the newspaper industry:

Total advertising revenue for the newspaper industry is expected to decline 11.5% to $40.1 billion this year, according to the Newspaper Association of America.


The loss of dollars in 2008, which if the NAA proves to be correct will be the largest decline the industry has seen since the association started tracking results 58 years ago, is due to plunges in print advertising.
With these kind of numbers, expect to see more of this. Who isn't ready to move their paper paperless? Publishers that have made significant, recent investments in printing presses. Know any that fit that description?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

SoundBite Back back on Monday

Finally getting time to write some new posts, so I'll relaunch on Monday, a month after my unplanned hiatus. As always, I look forward to your comments and ideas.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I'll be back

Right now a busy period at work is preventing me from blogging about work. I hope to be back soon. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Clash and the art of listening to your audience

I am a huge fan of The Clash. They just had it--a swagger, a conviction, and a unique style that earned them the right to be called "the only band that matters." A book I'm reading right now includes a quote from Creem writer Bob Gruen that helps explain why they were so great:

The band would stay up every night and talk to anyone who wanted to talk. They weren't just out to meet cute girls. They were available to all their fans. It was the roadies' job to get their fans into the dressing room and the hotel, which was the opposite to other bands. They wanted to know what their fans were thinking. That helped inspire them.*
So what does this mean for you? No matter who your audience is, you have to do more than just listen--you have to create an environment that encourages honest feedback. And it can't just be because you want to sell something. It should be because you genuinely want to improve. The minute you stop listening is the minute you risk inauthenticity. And if you're not going to be authentic, what's the point?

*From Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash by Pat Gilbert

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

10-14 year olds prefer web to TV

A study cited in yesterday's New York Times indicates that for younger audiences, the web is taking "first-screen" status away from TV:

For children ages 10 to 14 who use the Internet, the computer is a bigger draw than the TV set, according to a study recently released by DoubleClick Performics, a search marketing company. The study found that 83 percent of Internet users in that age bracket spent an hour or more online a day, but only 68 percent devoted that much time to television.
If you're marketing to these audiences, there's another important factor to consider: the mobile web. With cell phones becoming an ever more ubiquitous part of the middle schooler's life, the best place to reach them is on the device that's with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, as the web and the phone become one in the same, the ethics of marketing to teens will get even more complex.

NYT awards the gold to, Yahoo, Coke, GE, GM, others

The New York Times' Olympic wrap-up coverage included two stories about the big winners in media and advertising. Coke, GE, GM, United Airlines, and Visa produced the Old Grey Lady's favorite spots, and the paper also awarded Yahoo and the gold in generating interest on the web:

Benefiting from the growth in broadband Internet access, served up more than 1.2 billion pages and 72 million video streams through Saturday, more than doubling the combined traffic to its site during the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2006 Games in Turin. The popularity of the site will very likely make digital rights more significant in next year’s bidding for the 2014 and 2016 Games.


NBC, as the holder of United States rights to the Olympics, was the sole source for online video and the only media organization that could use the Olympics logos. But Yahoo, which offered a feature-oriented mix of news stories and slide shows, gave NBC a run for its online advertising money, or at least audience, attracting just as many visitors, according to Nielsen.

But maybe the biggest winner of all--fittingly--is Michael Phelps. According to a recent story in CNN, he's looking at between $30-50 million in endorsements. No wonder those medals are made out of gold.

Monday, August 25, 2008

When the everyday becomes a luxury, differentiation becomes even more important

Remember the menu question? Well, it wasn't about food, but a recent Time article shows why restaurants are such a great metaphor for marketing your organization to the 21st century consumer:

The U.S. economic downturn has claimed another victim: Bennigan's Grill & Tavern, the 32-year-old chain of casual-dining fern bars. Amid sky-high gas and food prices and tightening consumer spending, the chain's Texas-based parent company declared bankruptcy July 29, saying it would shutter 150 eateries. While the franchise outlets remain open for now, Americans who want to peruse oversize menus for oversize portions of unremarkable food in unremarkable settings may soon have to check out Applebee's or Chili's. Or Ruby Tuesday or T.G.I. Friday's. Or the scores of other family-style restaurants serving deep-fried mozzarella sticks beneath hypnotically rotating ceiling fans.

They're a lot harder to distinguish than they are to find. Bennigan's had an Irish theme, with burgers slathered in Guinness and a drink called the Blarney Blast, but it was about as Gaelic as Barack O'Bama...

Bennigan's failed a few days after the state of California banned trans fats, so it's tempting to blame its demise on an antiobesity backlash. But fast-food joints are doing fine. The real problem is that middle-class families are struggling, and food prices are soaring. In good times, a trip to the local Outback or Olive Garden could be part of the family routine; with gas prices near $4 a gallon, it's become a special occasion.

And Bennigan's--an Old Navy of cuisine, a Levittown of the dining experience--just wasn't all that special. If Americans still want chicken wings and chocolate desserts served with an Irish surname, they can always go to Houlihan's.

In a challenging economy, it's more important than ever to stand out so that you're the only option for your customers and to ensure that you get as much wallet share as you can. Trying to be all things to people is the quickest way to become an object lesson in the paradox of choice.

Photo: Ashley on Picasa
Hat tip: Matt G.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Viral: be a host, not a parasite

Good story in this morning's JG about viral...a snippet:

[V]iral ads...have been around for years and routinely appear on YouTube and social-networking sites. Forrester Research estimates interactive advertising, which includes viral ads, was worth $20 billion in the U.S. this year – an amount expected to triple by 2012.

But the strategy could backfire, according to Allen Adamson, author of the recently published book “Brand Digital: Simple Ways Top Brands Succeed in the Digital World.”

“It could get people talking, but you also have to be careful – people may be too busy or don’t want to work that hard to figure out what the heck it’s about,” said Adamson, who is managing director at brand consulting firm Landor Associates. “With this, people may not connect the ad to the brand at all, and you may end up shooting yourself in the foot.”

Another problem with viral that the AP story above doesn't cover: you can't start your own virus--that's up to your audience. You can put something out there and promote it, but it only becomes truly "viral" at the whim of the audience. B.L. Ochman summed this up very nicely in a post last week:

You can't dictate what people will find funny by labeling it "hilarious". People have brains and are smart enough to figure out what they like without being hit over the head. Labels like "hilarious video" or "viral video" that are not created by viewers are bogus.

You don't tell us what's hilarious or viral. We tell you.

Today more than ever, you can't fake authenticity. You can't plan spontaneity. And you can't dictate the terms of the conversation. What can you do, then? Create things that are worth talking about. Easier said than done, but it's definitely worth the extra effort and expense.

Maybe the best way to think about viral, then, is to consider yourself the "host": you provide the environment for the virus to thrive, but it's up to others to spread it. By trying to force the conversation, conversely, you become a parasite, latching yourself onto your audience in hopes that you'll infect them. And we all know how well people respond to parasites.

Not the prettiest metaphor ever, but it seems to fit.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Safe is risky; risky is safe

You have about three seconds--maybe even less--to capture your audience's attention with your billboard. One way to do that, as this Moderinsta billboard for Stop Handgun Violence shows, is by embracing controversy. Sure, that's easier to do when you're promoting a polarizing political issue. But think how this translates to your product or service. What can you do to push the envelope? Remember, advertising isn't cheap, but it's a lot more expensive when no one notices your message. This is another case where--as Seth Godin might say--safe is risky, and risky is safe.

Hat tip: Ad Freak

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Those Nike people know what they're doing

This Nike spot would have been my #1 pick among all those mentioned in Paste Magazine's "10 Best Songs in Commercials During The Olympics." Yes, even at the risk of people asking me where my lapel pin is, I liked it more than Paste's top choice, which is pretty good in its own right. But pairing a great lyric from The Killers with a combination of images featuring the agony of defeat/thrill of victory, Lance before and after, and Oscar Pistorius (an especially bold choice given the controversy earlier this year) make this one of the best brand boosters I've seen in a long time.

What's your favorite, and why?

Hat tip: Ad Freak

Abbreviations and your audience

One of the keys to writing well is focusing on your audience--making sure what you write is specific to their needs, while remaining both concise and precise. Today more than ever before, however, it's easy to take the whole "concise" thing too far, given the increasing role that abbreviations and non-standard language are playing in communication. The main problem with such abbreviations is that unless you're certain your audience knows how to decode your writing, you're making them do too much work.

This has gone well beyond common acronyms like "lol," "ttyl," and "brb." A lot of writers--especially younger writers--have gotten used to saying more with less, and it's becoming a bad habit. Remember, the more formal the communication, the less likely it is that abbreviations and slang are going to be received well. Remember too, that it's your job as a writer to make it as easy as possible for your audience to understand what you're saying. By taking shortcuts, you're asking the audience to do the majority of the work--and giving them an excuse to focus on something else that's easier for them to understand,

Monday, August 18, 2008

Your audience's favorite subject IS your audience

I read about a study last week that found teens are only "sorta" interested in the Olympics. The problem isn't that the Games are boring, but they're suffering from the same challenge nearly every medium and message faces today: they have to compete against text messages, blogs, cell phone conversations, and other content all focused on teens' favorite topic: themselves.

Now teens aren't alone in this: we all like content that's all about us. There are a couple of differences between millennials and the rest of us, however:

1. They're the first generation to have easy access to tools that allow them to create their own content, which means that content about themselves is always accesible, and

2. They're not predisposed to choose old media over other options.

In other words, we Gen Xers and Baby Boomers aren't less self-centered; we're just more conditioned to turn on the TV and less conditioned to create content.

This is a crucial point to remember when crafting your message, whether or not you have a Olympic-sized budget or idea. If your message isn't about your audience, it's not going to have much of a chance of cutting through. You can't just talk about yourself. Today's gold medal communicators start by figuring out how their message is relevant to their audience, and they focus on that. Do anything else, and you'll be lucky to make them even "sorta" interested.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Message in a bottle

Looking for an example of a differentiated message? Well, look no further than Arrogant Bastard Ale, one of the brews available at J.K. O'Donnell's Irish Ale House. One glance at the home page, and you know they're not trying to appeal to everyone. In today's fragmented communication environment, that's a risk worth taking. In fact, the real risk is playing it safe.

Of course, if their product was no good, the message wouldn't matter. But by positioning themselves uniquely, Arrogant Bastard comes across as a brand that's not watered down--a pretty nice match for the beer itself, actually.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Made to Stick sticks it to the GM ad

I'm not the only one who sees some contradictions in GM's heavy rotation Olympic ad. Here's what they're saying on the Made to Stick blog:

[I]t seems to be a rare specimen: the self-refuting argument. First, there’s the primary argument, made via the titles: “…goes for miles and miles on every gallon,” “hybrid,” “biofuel,” “clean diesel,” “fuel cell.” I.e., GM is Rainforest Pure. GM = Green Motors.

Then, at the end of the ad, as the song comes to an emotional close, comes the rejoinder: the HUMMER logo. Brilliant! Objection sustained.

The GM spot has made me dream of launching my own ad, with a (tough but inspiring) Lucinda Williams song playing over a montage of great moments in feminist history — from Seneca Falls to Rosie the Riveter, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Betty Friedan to Carly and Hillary. And then, with a dramatic flourish, as the cymbals crash and fade, comes: the HOOTERS logo.

From a marketing standpoint at least, it's time for GM to pick a side: stand by the Hummer and lose any environmentalist aspirations, or promote fuel efficiency and new technologies at the expense of Hummer porn. Regardless of whether the perception is based in reality, the Hummer stands for everything that environmentally-conscious consumers hate about gas-powered vehicles, so GM can't have it both ways. And because they're trying to do just that, I think the worst is yet to come for our shiny, blue friends.

Shiny, blue, and cheesy as hell

On Sunday night I turned on the Olympics for a few minutes, and this GM spot showed up. In the midst of the company's current troubles and the general national malaise about gas prices, the economy, and life in general, it rang more than a little hollow. Sure, the ad is pretty, but it ain't that pretty. Is this really all GM has to say about its products? You'll notice they ditch the word "Hummer" pretty quickly (don't blink at :13, or you'll miss it). Why not get rid of it altogether, and the rest of this one-size-fits-all, trite, let's-pat-ourselves-on-the-back message, and instead devote a full :60 to the Volt? Kind of a metaphor for not being able to let go of the past, no?

Hat tip: The Truth About Cars

Monday, August 11, 2008

The menu question

A few weeks ago, I asked the following question:

[W]ould you rather go to a restaurant that:

  • Has a huge menu (so big you can hardly get through the whole thing) that stays the same every time you visit, or
  • Has a one-page menu that changes every time you visit?

Assuming the quality is consistent, which would you choose? And why?

As I mentioned, the question related to a marketing issue and wasn’t really about food. It must have hit a nerve, though, because the post received quite a few comments and even more e-mails, most of which took the restaurant analogy and ran with it.

So what was the point? Well, I’ve been working on some web usability studies for clients, and I’ve become increasingly convinced that less is more—on the web and elsewhere. I believe in the paradox of choice to some extent, but I still think people want variety. The challenge is providing variety within a constraint, which sounds like a contradiction in terms even though it's not. The answers I received--almost everyone chose the one-page menu that changes frequently--reinforced my belief that there’s a distinct difference between giving your audience something new--and high quality--every time you see them, as opposed to just throwing everything out there at once and hoping they’ll discover the good stuff.

Part of the problem is that people just don’t have—or aren’t willing to give you—the time to wade through a huge menu. Jon summed this us nicely in his comment:

I hate facing a menu that I cannot completely read before ordering. I hate that!

And Heather, a new reader from Oregon, added this:

I always get intimidated with a too long menu, like I might miss THE special dish...because I couldn't find it!

The issue of quality isn't just about what you might overlook. It also involves the time and attention an organization will give to things when it's trying to do too much. Beth made this point in her comment:

I find that restaurants with too many offerings end up being a jack of all trades, master of none.

As did Julianne, who knows her stuff when it comes to both restaurants and marketing:

I have talked to enough chefs to know that when they are able to choose the dishes for the day guided by the season or inspiration or fresh ingredients or a new wine on the list, and they can set the menu to express their talents and training, that they then bring enthusiasm and pride to this dish, and it's likely the best you'll ever taste.

The challenge for all marketers—not just restaurants—is keeping things exciting, satisfying our need for fresh options but making those choices clear and easy to find.
Arienne made this point in her comment about restaurants with constantly changing one-page menus:

These are almost always the best places to dine because you explore something new.

And sometimes, as Joe stated, the element of surprise itself is what draws people in:

One of my favorite restaurants in Denver does not even have that. They walk up and tell you the 3 choices you have. And...I have never went to Denver without eating there!

All of these responses were great, but my favorite came from Sarah, who agreed with a lot of the points made above while putting her usual unique spin on things:

I don't like to sacrifice quality for quantity. Restaurants with giant menus generally have something to satisfy any palette, but none of the dishes excel....I also feel that a restaurant that's always changing requires an active, involved owner and/or chef, whereas the place with the huge static menu requires some yahoo with a clipboard to merely keep an eye out for the Sysco truck while some 16-year-old stoner chops a bag of onions before peeling a crate of potatoes and rinsing off last week's fish to get rid of the ammonia smell.

There are several analogies between your organization and these two types of restaurants. One big issue, of course, is whether it's being managed by an "active, involved owner and/or chef" or "some yahoo with a clipboard." Today more than ever, it’s important to do a few things well instead of being all things to all people--and that takes time and attention that generalists just can't give.

It also comes down to how today's audience interacts with your message. On the web, for example, we know that people who visit your page spend just a few minutes on your site before leaving. So when you're thinking about what should go on your home page, and how much content to include overall, think "today's special," not "everything on the menu is good...what do you like?" You need to spoon-feed your audience nothing but the best options you have to offer, with confidence that when they're hungry for more, they'll return to you.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Taking "The Real Thing" a step too far

Given increasing concerns about nutrition and obesity--especially childhood obesity--these are hard times for soft drink companies. So what's a company like Coca-Cola to do? Well, according to this New York Times story, the folks at Coke think it's time to share a few details about their secret recipe. Little did we know, however, that one of the most prominent ingredients is bullshit:

In a campaign introduced last month in Britain, Coke divulged a few facts about the formula. It has “no added preservatives or artificial flavors.” Its mastermind, Dr. Pemberton, selected “the best spices from around the world"...


“When we talked to consumers about Coke, we realized they didn’t know that it has no added preservatives or artificial flavors,” said Cathryn Sleight, marketing director of Coca-Cola Great Britain. “We felt it was important to reassure Coke drinkers of this fact.”

Now I don't know about you, but "reassure" seems like a bit of a stretch. The point isn't whether anybody is losing sleep wondering if there's anything "unnatural" in their soda. Isn't it more likely that Coca-Cola may be trying to subtlely infer that Coke isn't as bad for you as all those empty calories might lead you to believe?

Here's a simple rule: don't try to fool people into thinking your product is something it's not. It doesn't work and it makes consumers lose faith in your brand. After all, if you're overstating one thing about your product, why should I believe that everything you say isn't overstated?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bright ideas from Brandweek

Looking for some quick inspiration? Brandweek's "Bright Ideas for 2008" is the perfect jump start for your brain. Number 10-- "Greenrating"--is a must-read cautionary tale for anyone hoping to hop on the environmentally-friendly bandwagon (suffice it to say that you'll want to make sure that bandwagon is a hybrid). And if you want to find out the latest about "Lickertising"-- discussed on SBB back in February--just click over to number 6. It's juicy stuff.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

20 lessons learned (or relearned) while on vacation

Some of these are about communication, marketing, and advertising. Some aren't.

1. It's good to give your brain a break.

2. The cooler something is, the less marketing it needs.

3. "Multitasking" is a myth (more on this later).

4. If you're in a kayak on the ocean, you won't miss anything if you leave the Blackberry in the car (see #1).

5. If you think of exercise as a chore, it will seem like a chore. If you think of it as fun, it's more likely to seem fun.

6. Word of mouth beats every other form of marketing. Almost every significant dollar I spent was based on a recommendation from a friend.

7. It's easier to deal with 200 e-mails in one chunk than one at a time.

8. It's easier to really get away when you have confidence in the people you work with.

9. It's easier to really get away by working hard enough to earn the right to really get away.

10. But no one is irreplaceable. Not even me. (See #8.)

11. Billboards are ugly but effective.

12. XM radio is great for long road trips. Between that, Internet radio, and in-car distractions, I have more skepticism than ever before when it comes to radio advertising.

13. The longer someone has known you, the less you need to rely on well-thought-out verbal communication.

14. Don't fall on your back while doing something stupid (no permanent damage, and yes, that's all I'm sayin').

15. If you have a chance to see Niagara Falls, see it from Canada--if for no other reason than to go to Canada.

16. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is pretty cool, but I have a few great ideas that would make it so much cooler. I'm holding out until they hire me as a consultant, though.

17. If someone opened a Cheesecake Factory* in Fort Wayne, it would do very well. In fact, maybe I'll do just that.

18. Vacations are a good time to think about what's next.

19. Summer is short, so sit outside.

20. There's nothing like going back to where you're from to remember who you are.

*But don't go to Cheesecake Factory if you're away from home. Go somewhere like this.

Friday, July 25, 2008

See you next week

SBB is taking a break until Aug. 3. Feel free to do the same.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A question

And I ask this for a specific, marketing-related reason (although it has nothing to do with food): would you rather go to a restaurant that:

  • Has a huge menu (so big you can hardly get through the whole thing) that stays the same every time you visit, or
  • Has a one-page menu that changes every time you visit?
Assuming the quality is consistent, which would you choose? And why? Answer in the comments or e-mail me your thoughts. I'll 'splain later.

Photo: JonCaves on Flickr

Monday, July 21, 2008

How the BMV can help you stay productive. (Yes, THAT BMV.)

A few weeks ago, I was planning my first BMV visit in a few years and I was not looking forward to it. At all. Then I stumbled across this on the BMV website.

That's right: you can make an appointment with the BMV. So I did. And it works--very well, in fact.

I made an appointment for 8:30, and when I walked in they called my name, escorted me to the first available desk, and I was done in about 10 minutes. Not only was I satisfied, but I became a BMV evangelist, e-mailing all my co-workers and telling everyone I know about this great service.

What surprised me even more, though, is that--according to a story in today's News-Sentinel--my experience isn't all that unique:

The average wait time at the state’s 140 branches has declined from 28 minutes in 2006 to less than nine minutes now. And through thousands of surveys of BMV customers, about 97 percent so far this year have rated their experience at a BMV branch as either excellent, above average or satisfactory.

BMV officials say that’s partly due to new options, including appointments available at many branches, enhanced online services and 176 non-branch locations where some services are offered.
Not only does this save everyone time at the BMV, but it cuts down on time complaining about the BMV, worrying about going to the BMV, and avoiding the BMV. It's not quite to the point where you actually lose time by not going to the BMV, but it's close. (OK, maybe that's a stretch. But the appointment thing really is pretty cool.)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The two questions every webmaster should ask

I'm working on web usability studies for two clients right now, and here's what I've learned: it all comes down to asking two questions about every page on your site:

  • What one thing do you want the visitor to do on this page?
  • How do you facilitate that action in as few steps as possible?

Maybe you want them to make a purchase. Maybe fill out a form. Maybe send you an e-mail. Whatever it is, everything else on the page should be designed to encourage that action.

Why only one action? Well, consider these stats from usability guru Jakob Nielsen: when visiting a new site, users spend an average of only 30 seconds on the homepage and less than 2 minutes on the entire site before leaving. For sites they return to, their stay isn’t much longer—just 4 minutes on average. That means you need to give people the chance to get on, get done, and move on. The easier you make that, the more likely it is that they'll return.

Differentiation: It's a funny thing

Whether you're talking about your company's brand or your personal brand, it's all about doing one thing, and doing it well. Just listen to this conversation between Don Rickles and Chris Rock in this month's GQ:

Rickles: Chris has a style, and God bless him, it's great. And I have a style that I picked up. When I was a young man, I was the guy with the insult. It was always in my personality. I always did what I did and never made plans otherwise.

Rock: That's like saying, "Why didn't Pete Rose hit more home runs?" Listen, he figures out what works for him. Basically, whatever gets your mother a house, you do that thing.
What's your thing? How well do you stick to it?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Sears to tweens: "We're cool!" Tweens to Sears: "No, you're not."

Another example of a retailer trying to fight perceptions instead of focusing on its wheelhouse: reports that struggling Sears is courting tweens with a bunch of online junk:

The traditional retailer known for its print catalog is taking a decidedly untraditional approach to back-to-school marketing, blanketing the online world by partnering with just about every youth-focused social, virtual and entertainment network out there -- all in hot pursuit of 8- to 14-year-olds that don't exactly see Sears as fashion forward.

"Our belief is that, particularly for this tween market, there's a little bit of undiscovered opportunity within Sears," said Richard Gerstein, Sears' chief marketing officer. "Part of what ... Sears needs to do is build credibility with this tween market. There are a lot of people out there that have that credibility, so we've partnered with them to help us do that."
Two things about this approach:

1. You can't co-opt someone else's credibility in an area where you have none of your own. You can't steal someone else's story. And you can't fool people into thinking you're something you're not--especially the most marketing-savvy generation ever.

2. If you're a 100-year old company and you call your business a "well-kept secret " or an "undiscovered opportunity" among a particular customer base, turn out the lights. If they haven't found you after 100 years, you're probably lost for good.

So what should Sears do instead? I don't know for sure, but it begins with conceding some of the audience and admitting that being uncool is still better than being out of business.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

BlueTie banking on "featuretisements"

Can your calendar or your e-mail predict what products and services you're thinking of buying? thinks so--and the company believes it can do so more effectively than Gmail.

BlueTie's product is called the "featuretisement," and a story in this week's Forbes details company founder David Koretz's plans for growth:

"[F]eaturetisements," match an event someone types into his calendar or e-mail (such as a trip to Chicago) with, say, a possibly useful ad detailing flights that day.


So far [Koretz] has 26 brands, including Orbitz, ftd, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and Amazon, advertising to clusters of his 3 million e-mail customers. BlueTie gets paid only if someone books a ticket or buys flowers. Koretz says 2% are doing just that, while the average rate for merely clicking through on the Web is 0.5%.

He has spent the past few months trying to sell BlueTie's featuretisement technology to Facebook, Microsoft and MySpace...


He thought of featuretisements one night after a meeting with managers of Google's Gmail service, which was already placing targeted ads alongside messages. "They told me not to go into application advertising, because they were going to own the space. I was frustrated and spent six hours brainstorming with a colleague," he says. The two realized that Gmail is often on the wrong end of a communication. "If I send you a message about my Kilimanjaro climb, you'll see ads for treks in Africa. But you never signaled you had any interest in going there. That got us thinking about what people do signal."

One thing's certain: Koretz understand the pitfalls of advertising on social networks, so his plan is to develop interactive solutions, not just passive ads:
Koretz and others say social network members want to share messages and photos with their friends, not click on ads. A few of the scenarios he has talked up to Facebook and MySpace: a click-to-print capability (via a service like Kodak's) for all those photos, an option to buy movie tickets based on an instant message exchange and gift-buying buttons that flash alongside birthday notifications. Says Koretz: "You have to see intent, and then not annoy the hell out of people."
I don't know if BlueTie's idea will fly. But Koretz's last quote--"You have to see intent, and then not annoy the hell out of people"--is the best description I've seen in while of what it takes to be a successful 21st-century marketer. Whether you're advertising on TV, in the paper, or on the web, keep those words in mind.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Slate on the "weird science of stock photography"

Back in June I posted about some of the perils of stock photography. The bottom line is that today more than ever, audiences demand authenticity in communication, and it's hard to be authentic when you're using a photo that wasn't shot for a specific purpose. This is especially true in ads, where the audience is super sensitive to inauthenticity because they have so many other choices about how the use their eyeballs and ears.

But there's another risk in using stock photos: someone else may use the same shot--over and over again, in fact. Yesterday, ran a great story about stock photography, and it included an example of duplicate use by competing interests:

A few years ago, a model/actress living in Portland did a one-day photo shoot on the campus of Reed College. She frolicked around the grounds and inside a classroom, wearing a purplish hat she'd borrowed from the wardrobe coordinator. The photos taken that day have subsequently appeared in ads for both Gateway and Dell; on the Web sites for a Canadian media planning company, a British science museum, the BBC, Microsoft Finland, Greyhound bus lines, etc.; and on the covers of countless books.

If a stock photo is good and inexpensive, you can be certain that someone else is probably already using it. Want to ensure that your photos are yours and yours alone? Buy the rights. Or hire a photographer.

Neoti Broadcast Network installs screens at TRF

Last week, Justin at Media Musings and the Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly ran stories about the Neoti Broadcast Network's presence at this year's Three Rivers Festival. Here's what GFWBW had to say:

Neoti will be installing six screens in the Event Pavilion, with a number of other screens throughout the festival. The screens will feature a special thanks to title sponsors, area business advertising, a listing of events happening around the screen locations as well as a live weather forecast.
I was at the Three Rivers Festival Friday night to watch The Best Karaoke Singer Ever (you know who you are), and I saw one of the screens. There's a lot competing for your attention at TRF, but the location of the one I saw--above the beer line--was good.

I see this is just another example of a trend I discussed back in December: video, wherever you are, all the time. If you go to the Festival and you see the screens, let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A sign of things to come

It's hard to compete for attention in Times Square. If you're going to put up a sign, then, it needs to be big. Really big.

At 25 stories high, and wrapping three sides of One Times Square, a new sign commissioned by Walgreen's will be, in fact, the biggest digital sign in the world. According to a story and video on today's, it consists of "23 synchronized digital screens," more than twice the number of its next-largest neighbor.

No word on when the sign will make its debut, but something tells me that it won't go unnoticed.

Screen capture from video

Remember this the next time you send someone a link

Jessica Kizorek does a nice job of breaking down our motivations for sharing information in this Online Video Insider article:

Why do people share video?

They do so because it reinforces and strengthens the bond between the sender and the recipient. When someone shares a YouTube video with his or her friend, there is a subliminal communication taking place: "You would like this because I know you and I'm in touch with who you are as a human being, and I want to provide you with something you'd be interested in."

In the business world, a viewer may send someone a video clip to educate or inform a potential client. He or she is effectively saying to that person, "We are on the same page. We should do business because you can count on me and I'm listening to what you need. You can trust me -- I know what's going on."

When a video clip is received well, it immediately strengthens the relationship. If the video is not relevant or inappropriate, it weakens the bond right there and then. The deterioration of rapport may be conscious or unconscious. Either way, the sender becomes either a resource or a waste of time.

Think, therefore, before you hit send. What's your motivation for sharing the link? Are you certain it will position you as a resource?

Kurt Vonnegut on writing well

Hoosier native Kurt Vonnegut's "How to Write With Style" is a must-read for anyone who wants to get better at putting words on paper. And why would you want to do that? Well, take it from Vonnegut himself:

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead --- or, worse, they will stop reading you.
There's more where that came from.

McDonald's Egg-cellent Chi-town billboard

Most billboards ideas aren't all they're cracked up to be. Well, you sure can't say that about the one McDonald's hatched last week near Wrigley Field in Chicago.

The Arab Aquarius has the details:

The giant egg billboard starts cracking and opening up in the wee hours of morning. By breakfast time, the egg has already hatched, and you can see "Fresh Eggs Daily" written on the egg's yolk.

The egg stays open from 6:00AM till 10:30AM, to indicate the availability of fresh eggs during that time. Once the breakfast time is finished, the egg billboard shuts and stays closed as a whole egg till the next morning.
This is a classic example of the "reveal," where a message is hidden or incomplete for a time, creating curiosity and interest before the mystery is solved. Reveals have been so overdone that most are anticlimactic, but you can't say that about this one.

Hat tip: SBB reader and Chicago resident Julianne...thanks for sending it along!
Photo: The Arab Aquarius

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bad grammar can kill your love life

Chalk another one up for us grammar nerds. Listen to what "Loss for Words" has to say in the "Ask Amy" column in today's Journal Gazette:

Dear Amy: I am dating a very, very nice man. We get along fabulously and have for the past year. There's just one problem--his language skills...

For example, he consistently uses the wrong verb tenses in speech and incorrect words such as "hisself" instead of "himself."


I'm in my early 30s and reluctant to reject a good, kind man because of this seemingly small thing, but it is an increasing concern for me...
So watch those verb tenses, ye single folk. Poor language skills are a total turnoff.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to reach sports fans beyond the stadium

With the opening of Lucas Oil Stadium just weeks away, advertisers are eagerly awaiting the chance to reach Colts fans in the team's new home. According to a recent post on Sports Marketing 2.0, though, online might be a better place to spend ad dollars targeted at sports fans:

There are 7.5 million Colts favorite team fans online and over 20% spend 20+ hours online each week!


[W]hen you consider that 68.7% of the US Population are NFL fans, and only 32 cities have NFL teams, it makes you realize that targeting stadiums and regions around stadiums fall way short of reaching the majority of NFL TEAM fans.

The upshot of all this is that team Web sites are the only way to reach MOST of the favorite team fan bases, yet most sponsors are totally focused on the stadium and the region around it.
While I agree with Pat's premise, I think in-stadium advertising has additional benefits when it can be seen on TV. Dasher boards, scoreboard signage, and other ads can give your brand some air time during the game, when fans eyes are focused on the screen. In-stadium advertising can be expensive, though, so just make sure you're buying as a marketer, not as a fan.

Friday, July 11, 2008

More great stuff from digs up another round of great ad ideas in this post. Another reminder that advertising that's fun, daring, and a little different works a lot better than the same ol' same ol'.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The single best way to improve your media relations skills

If you want better relationships with reporters and editors, listen to what Adweek’s Brian Morrissey had to say in this interview with The Bad Pitch Blog:

Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing. The ratio of PR people to reporters is probably like 75:1....

What it means for PR people is your job is harder. The best PR people I know simply connect me with people that can help me. They know what I cover, what I don’t and how their clients do and do not fit. That means a lot more work before the email and the call. It also means knowing when to get out of the way.

The goal is to be viewed as a resource, not a PR person. And the first step is knowing the difference between those two designations.