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Testimonials Only Improve Sales If They Are Targeted

Getting your delighted customers to share their stories of satisfaction with your business can be a powerful marketing tool, John Jantsch writes at Duct Tape Marketing. He offers several ways to capture these testimonials, such as creating an automated form or holding a party for your clients.

Testimonials are tried and true and part of the fabric of sales. I’ve heard them called a lot of different names  (10 Tall Tales was one of the most creative) and they are truly effective if it applies to the customers need. Prospects want to hear what you’ve done for your previous clients. If they have a customer retention problem, a testimonial about driving traffic to a customer holds little punch. Prospects want to hear success stories that closely resemble their current issues.

It all begins with an understanding of the customer’s needs. If you don’t know what’s bugging them, ask. Then tell them about the amazing successes you have had with previous customers.

How Newspapers and Publishers Should Reinvent Themselves

The Audit Bureau of Circulations released the semiannual newspaper FAS-FAX report which includes top-line circulation data for all newspaper members for the six months ending Sept. 30.

This is the second reporting period in which ABC is counting circulation differently, so you can’t really compare current figures to previous periods and it doesn’t appear that anyone is really trying (or cares enough) to figure out a way to do it.

Circulation of the top two newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, was down slightly compared to the previous six months.  The New York Times' circulation was up 25 percent due to its paid online subscribers. The digital paywall The New York Times erected in March appears to have also spurred an unexpected increase in print circulation.

Most analysts, me included, believe that publishers will not be able to collect enough from digital revenue to offset the declines in print revenue. The economics of the industry and digital media simply will not make up the difference.

Most newspapers offer undifferentiated content which drives down the price of their products to their marginal cost (i.e. the cost of producing one more unit of a good). The problem for most of these companies… as Mary Meeker likes to point out… is the marginal cost for digital content is $0. Content creation is cheap. Very cheap.

The only way these companies will be successful is to differentiate their content and demonstrate that they have something to offer or that they “know something” that you cannot get anywhere else.

This type of content is not cheap. Experts are expensive.

Consumers are not going to buy wire stories and poorly written local stories by overworked writers trying to feed the daily beast. I don’t want coverage, I want knowledge.

Less is more. Think niches.

Insider knowledge that clues the reader into inside information and insight that they cannot get anywhere else is the key. There has to be a reason I will pay for content. Create niches with content from someone knowledgeable about the topic. Don’t man it with a writer who just sources information; find someone who is or could be the source.

I’m not concerned that the writer is skilled at writing or reporting. I will pay for believable knowledge about something I care about, not necessarily about the writer’s ability to turn a phrase. Writing ability is a bonus, but not my primary motivation to buy.

Create personalities or content creators who offer inside information and a demonstrated amount of knowledge about a topic I care about and I will pay for it. It might be news and insight on my favorite sports team (i.e. Nashville Predators) or details on why the stock market dropped today or scoop on what the movers and shakers are doing in the local business community and who is profiting from it.

Prove to me that you know stuff I want to know and I might buy it. Don’t try to right the world’s wrongs. I want to learn something from a source that I trust. 

Want proof?

I subscribe to Stratfor Global Intelligence to stay abreast of political, economic, and military events and their significance. Stratfor sells what they call “human intelligence” on subjects that is not readily available. They provide content and context I can’t get anywhere else.

And guess what… I’m buying it.

Perceived Loudness

The House of Representatives approved a measure to modulate television commercial loudness. A similar bill is headed to the Senate. If the bill becomes law, the FCC would be required to adopt Advanced Television Systems Committee guidelines for correcting loudness within one year, and to begin enforcing those standards the following year.

Here’s a great 2007 article from MSNBC that details why some TV commercials may appear louder than others. In short, they are rarely louder.

As is usually the case, legislators are better off not trying to solve a perceived consumer irritant. It is never as easy as just saying, keep the sounds levels even. There’s always a backstory and the opportunities for “unintended consequences” multiplies in direct proportion to the number of proposed bills drafted to right a wrong.

Plus, don’t we have bigger fish to fry right now?

Just Put A Monkey In A Diaper

According to a new LinkedIn Research Network/Harris Poll in June, 2009, of consumers and advertisers involved in the advertising decision making process, consumers and advertisers both like ads that amuse. 

  • 34% of consumers and 41% of advertisers say entertaining ads are very effective
  • 33% of consumers and 32% of advertisers say funny ads are very effective

I think David Ogilvy said it best.

Be well-mannered, but don’t be a clown. People don’t buy from bad-mannered salesmen, and research has shown that they don’t buy from bad-mannered advertisements. It’s easier to sell people with a friendly handshake than by hitting them over the head with a hammer. You should try to charm the consumer into buying your product. This doesn’t mean that your advertisements should be cute or comic. People don’t buy from clowns.
—David Ogilvy

There’s always a danger in asking people what they think will work and this research is great example. With very few exceptions, humor doesn’t work. Study after study demonstrates that humorous ads do generate recall. However, it takes sales not recall to pay the bills. People like funny ads but at the end of the day, we all enjoy the joke but we rarely take humor seriously.

Take your customers or products seriously or risk becoming a joke. Smart sells, clowns amuse.

What Comes Around..

Nestlé USA is taking aim at Muscle Milk, filing a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus that has since been referred to the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration, as well as filing a petition to revoke the brand's trademark. Nestlé says that CytoSport's Muscle Milk name is "deceptively misdescriptive" because the beverage contains no milk. The New York Times

Muscle Milk has been quite litigious over the years. They’ve sued in the past to block others from using variations of milk, opposing trademark applications for products including Mega Milk, Active Milk Shake Plus and Monster Milk.

So why is Nestle going after a sports drink company? Apparently Nesquik is promoting itself as a sports drink: after a 2006 study partly funded by the dairy industry found that chocolate milk helped in replenishing the body after workouts.

I don’t think I would be going out on a limb to say that that the previous targets of CytoSport’s attorneys are cheering Nestlé on as they challenge CytoSport’s trademark on Muscle Milk. I’m all for protecting your brand, but when you go overboard, karma is going to bite you back at some point. Looks like CytoSport is finally getting a dose of their own medicine.

Walmart A Green Brand? Seriously?

Here are the 10 greenest brands according to the 2009 Global Brands Survey.

Top 10 Greenest U.S. Brands

1. Green Works (Clorox)

2. Burt's Bees

3. Tom's of Maine

4. SC Johnson

5. Toyota

6. Procter & Gamble

7. Walmart

8. Ikea

9. Disney

10. Dove

Source: "2009 Global Green Brands Survey" conducted by WPP agencies Landor Associates, Cohn & Wolfe, and Penn, Schoen & Berland and independent consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners.

Tom’s of Maine, Burt’s, and Green Works are expected. But Wallly World? Did not see that one coming.

Back in 2005, CEO Lee Scott surprised everyone by embracing sustainability in a speech announcing ambitious initiatives on "all the issues that we've been dealing with historically from a defensive posture." Since then, Walmart has implemented an aggressive sustainability strategy, much of it employee led. Just last week, they unveiled plans to measure the sustainability of every product they sell.

The cynic would see this as a shameful PR attempt to blunt their constant negative press and to box in their critics. Whatever the motivation, it is amazing how far they have pushed this and how much they have accomplished in the past three years.

Local Media Gets Into The Spirit(s)

Increasingly, local TV stations are accepting liquor advertising.

It appears that the self-imposed ban on ads for distilled spirits is disappearing quickly and the industry is hoping the networks will follow suit.

"If the owned-and-operated stations are taking them, clearly the networks are seeing that it's just profit left on the table," said Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. New York Post (6/14)

With the huge cuts in auto ad spending and the closure of national retailers such as Circuit City, I have a feeling we will begin to see a lot of nontraditional advertisers on broadcast and radio in the very near future.

Auto Dealer Closings Means Tougher Times For Local Media

Chrysler is closing a quarter of its dealers in a matter of weeks, a strategy that might help save the company but will wipe out thousands of jobs and a lot of local business owners.

General Motors Corp. announced today that they are closing 1,200 dealerships in the next few weeks.

A lot has been made about the impact of the closings of Chrysler and GM dealerships on local economies, but not a lot has been said about the impact on local media.

Local media - including local TV, radio, newspapers and outdoor - will really feel the pinch. The average car dealer spends about $341,000 on advertising. Typically, about 75% of that budget will be allocated among broadcast, print, online and outdoor media.

During good times, automotive advertising will make up about 10% to 15% of local advertising spending. This includes both spending by the individual dealers and by dealer groups. The impact on national advertising will be minimal, but the impact on local markets will be felt for many years.

What Marketers Need To Buy Before the Economy Improves

Earlier this month, Forbes put out a list of ten things to buy right now (assuming you have the cash) before the economy improves. Deals can be had for most of these items and the deals will probably evaporate later in the year. Here’s the Forbes list:

  1. Car
  2. A Vacation
  3. High-Dividend Stocks
  4. Laptop
  5. Television
  6. Toys
  7. Diamonds
  8. Women’s Clothing
  9. Furniture
  10. House

From a marketing standpoint, what items should we be focusing on before the economy improves? Granted, all of these items are dependent on the health of your organization and company budgets. If you are in the right position, here are a few things to think about.

First, advertising deals are available. Those with the budget should lock in avails now. New or renegotiated office space should be on the list since prices are depressed and availability is plentiful. Plus, creating a workspace that reflects your brand, your organization and who you want to be when the economy turns is now within reach.

Technology should also be on the list. Typically, tech leads early in most recoveries and the deals will dissipate quickly. Right now deals can be had plus you have the opportunity to get a leg up on the competition by improving your current processes.

Buy the competition. Oracle snapped up Sun, keeping them from IBM. Oracle will be creating efficiencies at Sun while the economy is improving which should be very helpful to their balance sheet. Why not take a look at buying up the competition? If they are not as healthy, this might be the time to talk.

Go see your customers. Travel is cheap. Why not go now when others are avoiding travel and when the prices are reasonable?

Of all of these, the last one is the most important. Go talk with your clients and see where they are headed and see how you can be part of their growth story. Remember, their recovery is your recovery.

Coupon Usage Is Attitudinal, Except During A Recession

In the late 90’s, I spent some time in marketing with shared mailer Advo. Now part of Valassis, Advo was the largest mailer in the country and the largest customer of the USPS. Each week, those shared mail packages containing coupons and inserts reached most of the households in the US.

One objection our sales team often faced was the perception that coupon usage was demographic and primarily used by lower income groups. To combat that perception, we commissioned research to show that all income groups used coupons. Usage was attitudinal and not necessarily based on income. As you might guess, there are a lot of wealthy Americans who use coupons. The research confirmed our message and was part of many presentations.

In the current economic climate, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see increases in coupon usage among a lot of different groups and markets. The amount of increases will vary from market to market. According to MRI, here are the top 10 DMA’s who used cents-off coupons in the last year:

  1. Harrisburg/ Lancaster/ Lebanon/ York, Pa.
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. Rochester, N.Y.
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Albany/ Schenectady/ Troy, N.Y.
  6. Syracuse, N.Y.
  7. Buffalo, N.Y.
  8. Hartford & New Haven, Conn.
  9. Minneapolis/ St. Paul
  10. Wilkes Barre-Scranton, Pa.

Source: MRI's Market-by-Market study, www.mediamark.com

Needless to say, one common element in each of these markets is job losses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. During difficult economic times, coupon usage and spending at discounters definitely increases, but this will vary from market to market. It is no surprise that these markets would be leading the pack.

It will be interesting to see if usage will hold up as the economy improves. Will this downturn be deep enough to have a lasting effect on usage and on attitudes? I’m guessing that a lot of people at Valassis are hoping that it will.

eBay Comes Full Circle

In 2003, I put together an analysis of the impact of eBay and Craigslist on the newspaper industry. In short, I concluded that the private party business for newspapers was about to go over the cliff. Not quite the answer the requesting audience had expected.

This morning’s news that eBay has launched an online automobile selling site closes the loop. eBay Motors has developed what might be called Craigslist for Cars, a local classified ad section for individual sellers.

The site is intended to connect buyers and sellers within a 100-mile radius of their local markets.

Losing private party auto liner ads will negatively impact the print ad revenues from dealers. The readership of those auto classified pages with their large dealer display ads is bolstered by the liner ads placed by private parties. As the liner business slips away, so does the readership and the response advertisers can expect from their ads.

It is not a surprise that eBay would finally take a shot at the private party liner ads. I’m just wondering what took so long.

The Perils of a Celebrity Spokesperson

Entrepreneur Magazine offers up a listing of tips to smaller businesses and startups interested in employing a celebrity spokesperson. The article’s advice for companies looking to boost their visibility offers more than a dozen tips on finding the right celebrity endorsement. Here are some of the more important takeaways:

  • Define expectations, budget and time frame
  • Be sure values, ethics and personalities jibe
  • Don't settle for just any celebrity
  • Evaluate with your head, not your heart
  • When shooting for the stars, aim high
  • For businesses whose market is strictly local, think local celebrity
  • Look for someone with charisma
  • Find someone willing to go beyond the call of duty because he or she has genuine interest in your product/brand
  • Weigh whether to hire an outside firm to help in the search
  • Know the risks-—and have an exit strategy

That last item is the most important. While the article spends a lot of time talking about the positive aspects of a celebrity spokesperson, it also brings a lot of risk.

When you employ a spokesperson, you are aligning your brand and organization with the face of a single individual. This can be very successful for all types of organizations. Wendy’s had a great run with Dave Thomas, Priceline has done very well with William Shatner and George Foreman made the Foreman Grill a success.

However, trouble for a spokesperson generally means trouble for the business or brand. Despite the familiarity and appeal of a celebrity (often calculated by us researchers as a Q-Score), their troubles are now your troubles.

Here’s a great example. Many years ago, a mid-sized southern regional bank tried to position themselves as friendly and caring about their customers. The campaign included the tag line “Where banking is still a people business.” It was great campaign that made the CEO the face of the organization. The CEO was the epitome of a bank CEO, tall, gray hair, and always wearing a blue suit. The CEO was included in local commercials dismissing the importance of technology and automation, always closing with the tag, “Banking is a people business!”

The organization spent a lot on the campaign and on customer service and measuring customer satisfaction. The entire organization was focused on customer service and customer surveys.

Just one problem. Profitability. The organization did a great job of focusing on the customer and developing the campaign, but they also made a lot of bad loans and lost sight of risk and profitability.

As you might guess, the CEO was removed and the spokesperson of the campaign disappeared. All of the investments that made the CEO the face of an organization focused on satisfying the customer was history, and so was the successful campaign.

Having a celebrity spokesperson ties your brand to that person. Everyone has ups and downs and their success or failure now become your worry. It can make a small company, just ask George Foreman, or it can be a complete headache. Whatever you do, it should never be done lightly and without some thought. I also would suggest not using a CEO. Being able to distance yourself from a celebrity is much easier than distancing yourself from your CEO or former CEO.

Focus On Value And The Influencers Will Follow

Ed Keller, who co-authored the book THE INFLUENTIALS, answered some of the recent criticism of the concepts popularized by his book on Media Post’s Marketing Daily today. Based on decades of research through the Roper Polls, Keller’s book and his work at RoperASW, along with Malcolm Gladwell’s THE TIPPING POINT, popularized the concept of a small number of Americans (say 10%) determining how the rest consume and live by chatting about their likes and dislikes.

The concept of influencers was not a new one at the time Keller’s book was published. A hundred years after John Stuart Mill penned these words on opinion leaders, research began to empirically prove the concept:

The mass do not now take their opinions from dignitaries in Church or State, from ostensible leaders, or from books. Their thinking is done for them by men much like themselves, addressing or speaking in the name, on the spur of the moment...

-John Stuart Mill, ON LIBERTY

In short, Keller tries to refute Guy Kawasaki’s October blog post that declared: "Reliance on influentials is flawed because the Internet has flattened and democratized information..." maintaining that "it's better to have an army of committed nobodies than a few drive-by somebodies."

I think Kawasaki, like Mill, is correct. Yes, I just paired Kawasaki and John Stuart Mill. Everyone is influenced by their 10%, which differs from group to group, a point Keller acknowledges. As Kawasaki points out, social media has flattened how information flows. I think using a traditional top down approach is becoming less effective and I don’t think Keller would dispute that statement.

To me, it is pretty simple. Consumers respond to a quality product, a compelling story and are apt to tell others about their positive experience.

It always comes back to the perceived value of the product and how you communicate that value. The online tools available to spread that message, both positively and negatively, are now flatter and faster than ever before and the access to people and influences has never been greater.

As David Oligivy pointed out many years ago,

The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few vapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything. She wants all the information you can give her.

It does not matter how many bloggers, followers, friends, media personalities, or perceived influencers you have promoting your product if there is no value. Creating a needed product or service, testing it to ensure it fulfills those needs, and communicating value are the three keys to success that everyone should focus on despite the available technologies to communicate the message.

Mine, Turning Pages Online?

Having conducted a lot of focus groups for print products, I can tell you that the desire for customized content has been a recurring theme from readers for many years. Time, Inc is planning to test a new product that provides customized content. The magazine called "Mine" combines reader-selected sections from eight publications. The magazine is free but the print edition is limited to the first 31,000 respondents, while an online version is available for another 200,000.

Online subscribers will get digital editions that look just like the printed version, but in a special format that allows virtual page turns with clicks. Editors will pre-select the stories that make it into every biweekly issue, and readers won't have the option of changing the picks from issue to issue. There are 56 editorial combinations.

This summer, MediaNews Group, publisher of The Denver Post, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and other newspapers, plans to experiment with its own reader-created publication, likely at its Daily News in Los Angeles.

Readers will be allowed to choose specific stories, or those by author, keyword or subject. The customized publication will be laid out like a newspaper and sent with targeted advertisements as a digital "PDF" file for printing at home or viewing on computers or mobile phones.

I’m a little skeptical of both these ventures for one reason; they are both trying to digitally replicate a print experience. I applaud the efforts to try something new, but the online experience is different and distinct from print. Users navigate online products very differently from print and have very different expectations for each channel.

I would love to see both provide customized content online that is a true online experience. I think this would be a better test of how to purpose content by channel. Logistically, it would be a headache. However in the end, I think you would have a cleaner and more valuable test.

Notice a Pattern?

According to MRI, here are the top 10 DMAs for adults who spent more than $150 on eyeglasses in the past 12 months:

  1. Ft. Smith/ Fayetteville/ Springdale/ Rodgers, Ark.
  2. Waco/ Temple/ Bryan, Ala.
  3. Huntsville/ Decatur (Florence), Ala.
  4. Minneapolis/ St. Paul
  5. Shreveport, La.
  6. Cedar Rapids/ Waterloo/ Iowa City & Dubuque, Iowa
  7. Knoxville, Tenn.
  8. Louisville, Ky.
  9. Tri-Cities, Tenn./ Va.
  10. Birmingham (Anniston and Tuscaloosa), Ala.

Source: MRI's Market-by-Market study

Notice any patterns in these cities?

Here’s a hint:

  1. University of Arkansas
  2. Baylor/Texas AM
  3. University of Alabama Huntsville/Alabama AM/Embry Riddle
  4. University of Minnesota
  5. Louisiana Tech/Grambling
  6. University of Iowa
  7. University of Tennessee
  8. University of Louisville
  9. East Tennessee State University/King College
  10. University of Alabama/University of Alabama Birmingham

Just a guess, but I would think per capita eyeglass purchases would be higher in towns close to a major university. The key to good research is to look beyond the bar charts and the top ten list. Understanding why these are top DMA’s is the real value of research.

Earned Media In The Blink of An Eye

'High Life': All Miller needed to say.

Sales of Miller High Life popped 8.6% during the week after the Super Bowl vs. the same period a year earlier, and they were up nearly 5% during the week before the game, according to ACNielsen.

Miller announced plans to air the ads -- and placed a bunch of them online -- on Jan. 20. Despite NBC’s directive to its owned and operated stations not to run them, the spots and/or the hubbub around the spots worked. The one-second spot ran in more than 100 markets nationwide.

Great formula:

Leverage old media for earned media program + smart online strategy=8.6% growth.

One In Four Have It Right

According to a survey conducted by the Association of National Advertisers, 77% of marketers plan to reduce their advertising campaigns' media budgets.

Typically, advertising lags six to twelve months behind the economy. So, most advertising growth should occur in 2010. As the economy begins to improve late in the year, smart advertisers (i.e. the 23% not cutting budgets) will have plans and budgets in place to take advantage of lower rates, available inventory and opportunities to grab share.

It also looks like agencies will need to cut expenses to hold on to accounts. Check out these other findings:

  • 72% of marketers plan to reduce advertising-campaign production budgets
  • 68% plan to "challenge" agencies to reduce internal expenses and/or identify cost reductions
  • 48% are looking at reducing agency compensation

In With The New

On Sunday, Staples will begin rewarding customers $3 in Staples Rewards on any recycled brand or type of ink or toner cartridge. Previously, the offer was limited to certain brands.

In 2008, Staples recycled more than 22 million ink and toner cartridges and plans to recycle more than 30 million cartridges in 2009. Great program, excellent time to expand it.

Just one little quibble. I don’t think Staples sells recycled toner cartridges. I understand why and I think it is a great program. I just think they should consider carrying the recycled cartridges to close the loop.

The Perils of Research (You Can't Be Everything To Everyone)

Henry Ford famously said, "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have asked for a faster horse."

The point? Think differently, be innovative. Cast a wide net for new market opportunities.

Your customers love - or will love - your product or service because it is different. If you try to emulate your competition in the hopes of attracting their customers, you'll not only fail, you will also alienate your loyal customers.

It doesn't matter if you are a computer company, a political party, a radio station, or an association. If you try to become like the competition to attract their customers, you risk losing the distinctiveness that initially made you successful.

This is one of the truly dangerous elements of market research. Too often, researchers and consultants will happily report that they have the discovered the features and benefits valued by your competitor's customers. The tendency is to change your products, services or beliefs in an effort to attract or steal their customers.

Typically, this will not work. You can't be everything to everyone and remain distinctive. If you are everything to everyone, you have no positioning and you are basically an undifferentiated product. If you mimic the competition you will be destined to compete just on price and service.

Brand distinctiveness or brand uniqueness are often the strongest determinants of overall brand equity. Brands with significant equity not only have low churn and defection rates, they also have customers that champion their products and services.

You have to understand the competition and why each of you are successful. But you cannot emulate or side with or act like your competition to appeal to a wider audience. This will only alienate your current customers and it will offer no reason for your competitor's customers to switch.

Using reliable quantitative as well as qualitative research to uncover all of the viable attributes of the competition and your brand should be used to better position the uniqueness of your product or service and demonstrate why your product is different.

2009? It Could Be A Good One

Despite current wisdom, I remain quite bullish on 2009. I think we have hit bottom economically and the last half of the year will significantly improve. While all of the money pumped into the system will lead to inflation and higher prices down the road, there's no doubt that real economic activity will be stimulated and we will begin to see an improvement later this year. Economist Dr. Donald Ratajczak at Morgan Keegan points out that the Friedman hypothesis says that we should have a real response to all of the stimulus in about 6 to 9 months and an inflationary reaction in 18 to 25 months.

Job losses have peaked and we should see improvements in the employment numbers over the next few months. As this occurs, operating profits should begin to improve. Since most industries will be going against lower year to year numbers, the last half of 2009 looks like it will be positive.

So what does this mean to marketers? It means you have six months to prepare for what could be a profitable 2009. Ad and marketing budgets severely lag the economy (which is a post for another day), so back loading your budget for the last half of 2009 is probably a good idea. Granted, it is not uncommon for organizations to cut the budget at midyear. So, I would highly recommend that plans be locked in before mid year for a late year push.

Those who get their programs in place and budget effectively will have a great 2009. Those who don't will be playing catch up. By the time they do catch up, those ahead of the curve will be will on to the next problem: inflation and increasing consumer and producer prices.