E-mail is a Powerful Business Tool

email 78542920It’s hard to learn about e-mail marketing, because if you Google it you get bombarded with ads or links to service providers trying to sell you their solution rather than solid information about e-mail marketing. The first question, of course, is: Are you using e-mail marketing at all, and if so to what degree?

The second question is: How do you know when you’ve outgrown the basic providers from Microsoft Outlook to Hotmail, Gmail, iCloud or even Yahoo? Most of these services are meant for one ups, meaning they were designed for individual not business use.  If you’re really doing e-mail marketing – meaning sending regular messages to more than 25 people at a time – it’s likely time to upgrade to a business service. Why 25?  This magic number is a trigger for many spam filters. There are many definitions of spam, but one clue filters look for in determining if a message may be spam is the sheer number of addresses being targeted.

When it comes to business providers, the best known name is Constant Contact, due to great marketing investments, and personal representative franchise attendance at local business shows. But, it’s not the only solution. There are alternatives, most notably Mail Chimp. Consider this post comparing the two providers. Choosing an e-mail provider is no different than choosing any other type of service provider. You need know how you intend to use the service, how many people you need to communicate with at a time, and then judge the service providers based on price and how they serve your communication needs.

How do you intend to use e-mail? Are you sending out an e-mail on a regular basis, and to how many people? Are youjust sending out a group text e-mail on a seasonal basis, or only when you have a special sale or gained valuable publicity in a local newspaper? Are you sending links to your web site, or sending customer surveys?

E-mail continues to be one of the most powerful communication tools in a marketing arsenal, but as with all ads and communications channels, it should be done by plan and with knowledge not only about state regulations, but with intent to strategically grow your business.

Due to spam regulations it’s not OK to send your message to another company’s list. But small companies also find it hard to build a list of any scale. It’s the reason they frequently try to send their messages to another company’s list or buy a list. Both tactics teeter on the edge of getting your company known as  a spammer because unless you have relationship with the recipient or their permission to hear from you specifically, you are not using e-mail correctly or effectively. Instead, find a way to create a partnership, either by sponsoring  an e-newsletter, or advertising on one that is going to your intended audience.  That’s not spam, but alignment.

The Walk-Away: E-mail is a powerful business communication tool, but only if used wisely. When used aggressively, a good service provider is needed, but which service provider is right for you depends on your strategy and budget.

When Ads Aren’t Advertising

Not an adSome advertising isn’t advertising at all. It just takes advertising space and usually precious advertising dollars to achieve a different company purpose.

Consider these examples where ad space is used to:

  • Announce a new professional or service employee
  • Announce lists of employees with long service
  • Thank sponsors or volunteers for a particular event
  • Promote a preferred charitable endeavor

Each is a legitimate use of space or time, but should not come out of an advertising budget. They are not effectively advertising the business, but fulfilling a different role.

But, you might argue, “Announcing a new employee such as a famed doctor or hair dresser is advertising how our business has captured a great new talent and it will drive traffic to our business from those who follow this person.”  True to a degree, but it’s also likely true that the talent came with a “book” of their own and have already emailed and called regulars to announce their new location. More often, this type of ad is used as an ego-soother, just to make the new employee happy, and even might have been part of a negotiated package to bring them to a business from a competitor.

The same could be said of the next two bullets.  The ads are goodwill to employees, volunteers and sponsors.  A personal thank you note or gift may have worked as well and even been less expensive.

The last bullet is a charitable donation not an ad spend.  It’s a legitimate way to help a cause or organization gain recognition that it cannot afford on its own.  In this case, the ad should be written to promote something about the charity so that the ad works hardest for the cause being promoted. Then the ad is an ad, but not for the business paying the bill. For that business, the charge should be seen on the books as a valued, and likely non-deductible charitable donation unless the donation is given to the charity directly to purchase the ad space on their own. Many charities welcome and desire this type of donation over cash, because it improves their own effectiveness to  raise donations, or encourage volunteers from others.

Dollars for these types of ads should, ideally, come out of marketing budgets, HR budgets, or community service budgets for larger companies. For smaller companies, they should also be allocated to a non-advertising line to be accounted for accordingly and not skew the company’s review of its own ad effectiveness at year’s end.

Last, but not least is image advertising. Large companies know not to look for an ROI in dollars with image advertising because it’s not the purpose of the ads.  Instead, they might measure awareness effectiveness. The lesson in this is that not all ads are equal. Don’t judge them all the same way or look for the same metrics in reviewing their effectiveness as each serves a distinctly different purpose.

 The Walk-Away:  Advertising is a serious and not inexpensive endeavor. If using advertising space for reasons other than directly advertising a business, don’t allocate the dollars from your advertising budget.  Spend them from lines that allow you to see what you did during the year in an honest way, and allow you to measure true advertising results accurately.

Print Ads Used in Phenemy Positioning War

It started at the Consumer Electronics Show at the beginning of 2013, then moved to a full page ad in major nationphone legsal papers, only to be countered in the same papers soon thereafter.  What is it?  The newest phone ad wars between AT&T and T-Mobile!

Newspapers love ad wars almost as much as oil companies like price wars, and divorce lawyers like contentious divorces.  But, besides bringing in unexpected ad revenue, there are lessons to be learned from these phenemy (phone enemy) ad campaigns and not all of them are positive.

Companies have two basic ways to get their side of the story out — PR and advertising.  Effective PRcan get company spokespeople on pundit talk shows and inches in commentary sections of newspapers. If done really well, it can get the company quoted in an actual news article. But there are never any guarantees with PR.  On the other, Advertising does guarantee placements. It’s why during strikes, elections, employee recognition periods, and even phone wars, you’ll see a proliferation of print ads, because nothing tells a story better or quicker than a full-page ad in print.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear the recent AT&T and T-mobile ad wars were effective. Here’s why.

  • The campaign was limited to national publications.
  • It was based on a conference speech that was also limited to industry insiders.
  • The company with the leadership position gave free press to the competitor.

Here’s what happened. The new CEO of T-mobile made a snide remark about AT&T. Few might have heard the comment or given it credence since AT&T has the leadership position. But, instead of letting the comment slide, AT&T came out fighting with limited national ads. Most people never saw the ads, but others started talking about it as it hit the trades. In essence, AT&T gave a broader voice to the initial T-mobile argument.

The AT&T ads could have worked if they had been more widespread, but the creative also gave unnecessary ink to T-mobile. The AT&T ads claimed T-mobile had two times the dropped calls, two times the failed calls, and 50% slower download speeds. This drew added attention to the ongoing complaint about AT&Ts own dropped calls rather than playing to its strengths.

As noted in the now classic marketing text “Positioning The Battle for Your Mind” by Al Ries and Jack Trout, “At almost every step of the way, the leading brand has the advantage.”  By responding to the T-mobile posturing, AT&T gave up some of that advantage and opened minds to the possibility that T-mobile may be right. Or, as T-mobile’s CMO Mike Sievert said to Advertising Age, “AT&T doth protest too much.”

broken legCheck out the AT&T and T-mobile ads and judge for yourself.  Then, take a step back and think how the full page ad space could have been used more effectively, because a full page is a terrible thing to waste.

The Walk-Away:  Advertising should never be done defensively or off your main message because instead of giving a campaign legs, it creates confusion.  It’s more like trying to run on a broken leg. All you get is more injured.

Advertising Extends Seasonal Sales Cycles

Being in a seasonal business can mean one of three things:

  1. Your business is seasonal catering to a defined seasonal market. Summer amusement parks fall into this category.
  2. Your business is located in a seasonal market, but isn’t generally considered seasonal. Grocery stores that cater to local residents, but see an increase in sales during tourism seasons share this category.
  3. Your industry is considered seasonal.  Many retail businesses fall into this segment, with high holiday and back-to-school selling seasons.

carlegsRegardless of your category, great marketing helps you either broaden your season length, or create additional seasons. For instance, some category 1 B&Bs previously known only as for summer destinations have successfully positioned themselves as off-season resorts in addition to their regular high season. By advertising these new selling propositions to both standard clientele and new customers looking for different or more cost-effective vacation experiences, these B&Bs have effectively created a second sales season that didn’t exist several years ago.

When in a category 3 business with a seasonal selling cycle, it’s important to stay abreast of ever-changing consumer trends to ensure that what has traditionally been your key selling season hasn’t changed the game. The auto industry is a great example of how consumer shopping patterns have shifted just within a two-year time period.

Take a look at the table below from the US Census, which tracks retail sales by category every year. In 2010, two years after the recession hit high gear, auto sales by auto dealers were highest in December as consumers waited for late year models to go on sale.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2010

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
7.3%
7.2%
8.4%
8.3%
8.5%
8.4%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.4%
8.5%
8.1%
8.3%
8.6%
10.2%

Sales in December were 2-3 points higher than any other time of the year with January and February being the off season. Traditional car advertising followed this pattern, tending to run heavier during the holiday seasons and staying low during the early winter months.

But, buying patterns have changed and if a car dealer today is still buying advertising based on the 2010 model, they would be missing a significant amount of  2012 buyers, who are far more consistent in buying cars throughout the year. Check out the buying patterns for 2012 below.

Percentage of Auto Sales by Auto Dealers in 2012

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
8.0%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
8.2%
Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
8.2%
8.4%
8.6%
8.4%
8.7%
8.8%

This new data set shows that consumers are actively buying cars all year long with December still being a key buying month, but no one group of months being significantly different from the others. What was once a semi-seasonal business has evened out.

What this means is advertisers not adjusting their media plans to attract consumers all year long are missing those consumers who are actively in the market at any point in time. The data is available from the government for most key industrial codes.

The Walk-away: Assumptions made about key selling times of the year can cause businesses to unnecessarily miss key selling opportunities. The recent past is not always a good indication of current or future buying trends.

SOURCE: Monthly Retail and Food Service Sales, 2012 Sales, census data, http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/excel/mrtssales92-present.xls

Visibility and Traffic in Advertising

billboard_77386345What do business locations and advertising have in common? Both, if chosen and used carefully, bring the two elements of visibility and traffic to foster business growth. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally have an easier time understanding the importance of location and visibility in choosing real estate than they do with choosing advertising, but the principles are the same.

A business that can’t easily be found loses traffic – both planned and serendipitous. If a trip to a business is planned, and it’s too hard to find the location, a consumer can simply give up. And if the location is not easily seen from main roads, a business can lose impulse traffic from those just passing by.

The same holds true for business advertising regardless of medium. For instance, outdoor bulletins on unlit billboards can’t be seen at night and the extra fee for billboards with lighting is likely worth the expense in added visibility for evening hours particularly during winter months. On TV, ads positioned at 2AM or even 2PM have far less visibility than ads positioned during prime time or news hours. In newspapers, ads positioned on key editorial pages and designed large enough to dominate share of space gain much higher visibility than ads that are smaller and stacked with other ads. There are different ad positions for higher visibility and targeted to specific audience based on your advertising objectives.

The key to ad visibility is clarity and not making a consumer choose between viewing your ad or someone else’s. It’s the reason that half billboards (where two advertisers each take one half of a billboard) are never recommended. Motorists barely have time to read one ad while speeding by at 60 mph, much less two.

The Walk-away: One key to advertising success is to insure that ad placement gives you a great location for consumers to see you and that the ad is positioned  in such a way as to be clearly visible without fighting with other ads for consumer attention.

Promises = Real Ad Impressions

Recent posts by my colleague Bill Merklee have discussed the pros and largely cons of using humorin advertising. The basic tenet is that it doesn’t work if too many people don’t “get the joke.”  I’d argue humor in advertising doesn’t work for a bigger reason – advertising is serious business. People want to find something that you’re hopefully selling.

One key to advertising is catching someone’s attention – hence the attraction of humor.  It’s also the reason frequently for skimpily clad girls, six-pack bare-chested men and celebrities in ads.  Sex and celebrities grab our attention. However, getting attention and having a message resonate are two very different things.

The reason ad-men have bad reputations and most ads don’t work is very simply that they don’t keep their promises. A promise not kept in an ad is a scam and you know the old saying: “Fool me once…”

The most basic reason for an ad is to make a promise. You advertise to tell someone that you have a product or service that will do something for the consumer. Heaven help you if you don’t have that product or service and if it’s falsely advertised in terms of what it promises to do.

Unfortunately, false promises are more common that one would hope. In one recent example, a retailer took a stock photo of a garment and put it in her ad. The good news is that the ad worked and people walked into her store with the ad in hand and asking for the item. Oops. The retailer never carried that particular item and couldn’t fulfill expectations. Sure, she tried to steer people to similar or different product she did carry, and also tried to quickly order the pictured garment, but the promise was broken particularly for those who hurried in to be first to buy.

What’s the promise in your ad? If you can’t easily say, there’s a problem right there. If you can, but feel unsure if it’s solid, that’s yet another problem. Make sure your ad firmly makes a promise you’re comfortable keeping. Promises can range from lowest price to largest inventory, punk trendy, get this one great outfit, get a James Bond car here, or find your closet full of coolest stuff. Then when targeted customers respond, they will never be disappointed.

The Walk-away: Great advertising makes a promise so compelling, targeted customers can’t help but respond. But like first impressions, consumers will only trust you once, so make sure you can fulfill the dream you promoted in your effective ad, or you’ll have trouble attracting repeat business.

shopping-legs

What You Can Learn from Political Campaign Ads

‘Tis the season of political advertising. It’s a great opportunity to dissect effective campaign ad techniques in influencing voters, and learn how you can adopt them to influence consumer interest in your business.

Here are just the first two:

  1. Bragging Needs Bragging Rights
  2. The Hmmm Factor

We’ll cover more in future posts. You’ll likely notice highlighted similarities in each technique.There’s a reason for that. Each technique is designed to get a candidate noticed, and each is counter-intuitive to Basic Advertising Wisdom – Tell Everyone Why You’re So Great. Below each is a practical way on how to apply the technique in business advertising.

Bragging Needs Bragging Rights.  Just because you say you’re the greatest doesn’t cut it. People expect you to say you’re the best in an ad, so they can too easily ignore that message

BUT … if someone else says you’re great, then you have bragging rights. It’s the reason top brands spend big dollars on celebrity endorsements, and the reason political candidates from both parties get Keynote Speakers at their conventions. The message is: “Don’t take my word for it. Listen to these guys tell you how great I am.”

How to apply it:  Smart companies let you know their endorsements. There are many companies making sure their ads say they won a “Best of the Press” citation. Make sure to use your ads to announce whenever you are mentioned as top in your category either from a contest, reader survey, or article.

The Hmmm Factor. The goal of many political ads is to get a potential voter to say “Hmmm, didn’t think of that.” That  “Hmmm,” or  “Brain Pause” is frequently what gets a campaign humming, and a key reason political ads go negative. Positive doesn’t work as well. Why?

Just because you say you’re the greatest doesn’t cut it. People expect you to say you’re the best in an ad, so they can too easily  ignore that message

BUT … if a candidate or PAC says the other guy is not so great, a voter may say “Hmmm,” and process the ad as new “information” rather than an ad.

How to apply it:  It is not recommended to go negative in your ads on the competition. It is, however, important to get the reader to “pause” and consider your ad as information rather than a pitch. Consider ads that are Q and As, provide an insight into your commitment to the community, or find a way to personalize your company through the ad copy. The new information can get them to say “Hmmm,” and that pause means they’ve stopped to take time to consider your message.

The Walk-away: Politicians use political ads because they work. Consider the technique behind the ad and how you might be able to use it to give your ads the influence factor that drives traffic and attention to your business.

Is It Worth Paying for Color in Print Ads?

What’s the value of color for a print ad?  For most publications, color is an up-charge from as low as $2 per inch to sometimes more than double the base charge. How can you determine if it’s worth the additional investment?

In general, research consistently shows that color ads out pull black and white ads of the same size with the same message. One 2009 study on color ads in US Newspapers conducted by Research and Analysis of Media found the following:

Color helps readers remember ads.

  • Full color increased ad recall (readers who remembered seeing an ad) by 23%.
  • Spot color increased ad recall by 15%.

Color helps ads of all sizes, but has the most impact  on full page ads.

  • Recall went up by 6% in quarter page ads, 8% in half page ads, and 23% in full page ads.

Color makes an advertiser appear interesting and fresh.

  • 15% found the ads more interesting and 29% said the ads communicated a fresh approach.

Color drives traffic and a reader’s potential to buy from the advertiser.

  • When compared with the same ad in black and white, 6% more said they would seek more information,while 8% more said they would visit the advertiser.
  • 12 % more said they either have bought or plan to buy from the advertiser.

These are compelling reasons to consider color, but as with all ad techniques, there are no hard and fast rules. If you’re a high-end, luxury retailer advertising in an artsy magazine, you could make the case that a glossy black and white ad makes the statement you need.  It this case, the black and white choice is not about budget, but a desired image. For most small to mid-sized businesses, the  data on color indicates you should try to present your message through rose, if not multi-colored glasses.

The Walk-away: Color in print helps readers see you more clearly. It generally makes them more willing to engage with you rather than stepping aside and letting you pass  by.

Is Your Advertising Art?

Is your Advertising Art? If not, it’s likely not effective, because Advertising is Art. That’s why it’s generally done by well-trained graphic designers who understand the importance of visuals and getting the eye to connect to the brain. In terms of commercial advertising, the artistry of an ad is important for letting the consumer make an emotional connection to your business story.

Most small to mid-sized businesses make the error of treating their ads as glorified listings. Their ads display their company name, phone number and perhaps web address. Many company names are the owner’s name, giving the customer no clue as to what you do. The lack of creative copy does nothing to entice a new customer to give a company a try, or understand why your company is the one worth aligning with in a sea of similar businesses. And yes, the Copy is Art as well.

Not all exterminators, car dealerships, grocery stores, or gas stations are alike, and yet they tend to make their ads excruciatingly similar. Differentiation has always been critical, but is even more so in the digital age, when competitors are as likely to come from around the world as around the corner.

Want your advertising to be effective in connecting with a prospect or potential customer? Don’t save money on artists. Many broadcast and media companies offer to do your ads for free, or at low cost. It’s their way of enticing you to give their medium a try, and reduce your overall costs so you can afford their space costs without incurring other production fees. Unfortunately, Advertising is like everything else. You get what you pay for.

Have a limited budget? Give a rising young student a shot. Or, there are many freelancers out there today who would love to give you a good artist’s rate in exchange for the experience, added income, and portfolio beefing.  Good to great artists are worth their weight in gold, yet artists tend to be highly underpaid, so make a connection with someone now who will value your relationship and keep you looking “cool” long after they’ve been discovered and raise their own rates.

The Walk-away: Ads are not one-size fits all. An effective ad is exciting to watch and artfully gets your message across even in a very crowded field.

Lessons from a Leader – Ray Ban Ads

Have you seen the latest series of Ray Ban ads, running in the May issue of Wired magazine?  If not, here they are.

What can we learn from them?

  • Ads don’t need lots of copy to be effective
  • Frequency gains awareness
  • Consistency in copy builds brand positioning
  • A great photo can make a great ad
  • What’s in the background is as important as the foreground
  • A little color is sometimes more effective than a lot
  • Not everything has to be in the ad. A web site is great for extra info.
  • Change has to be consistent.

The problem with most ads is inconsistency. With the Ray Ban ads, the photos change, but the message does not – be different boldly and with pride. The headline, logo positioning, logo color, web address for more info on the left, and  anniversary mark remain the same.

The message in the series is simple. Ray Bans are for the people who stand out from the crowd. What you see here are three of five interpretations of the same concept, but unwavering attention to a consistent, simple theme. Click here to see the complete campaign.  The ads are the latest in a five-year campaign. This year’s ads celebrate the company’s 75th anniversary and celebrate people who, throughout times, flout conformity in plain site.

The Walk-away: Ads that build brands are like walking shoes. They’re built to last (apologies to Jim Collins ) by solidly supporting the brand’s message. Whether you like them or not, they’re simple, reliable and get you where you want to go.