Caffeinated ideas and views on marketing communications

Podcasting, really?

According to an article in the Baltimore Business Journal –available here, but may be for subscribers only:^1607621&page=1  podcasting is the most targeted way to reach an audience. Perhaps I am showing technological resistance, but I have yet to go to a business or philanthropic website and listen to a podcast. The article states that companies don’t yet know how to best use podcasting.

Certainly in today’s new media/social media environment, organizations have to be as cutting edge as possible. A good website is no longer enough–it must be updated. Blogs have definitely had an impact, but unless they are updated frequently with information that is useful, they are useless. I know of a graphic designer who has a blog with nothing on it other than some self-serving news. Why not talk about design? And now the move toward audio and video via podcasts. Again, you must have something relevant to say, and as the article above points out, production values are important. So a cheesy do-it-yourself podcast may end up hurting you and not helping you by making you look unprofessional or amateurish.

I don’t know if I agree that podcasting is the next frontier in targeted marketing. I think it is just another tool in an expanding arsenal of online possibilities. Thoughts out there?


Do you believe in the power of branding?

I just bought a new vacuum cleaner.  My old vacuum cleaner was just losing suction every day. There were several types, brands and price points in the vacuum section at my local discount store. The range went from $39  Dirt Devil stick vacuums all the way to $350 Dysons. It’s been ten years since I last bought a vacuum, a Eureka. Naturally, I checked out Eurekas, and also the Hoovers and Bissells and Dirt Devils. Dyson was just out of my price range. But you know what kept going through my head? “Bissell, We Mean Clean.” That is the power of great tagline. So I bought a Bissell. But before you think that the tagline made me buy it, I chose it MAINLY because of price and features. The price was right and the features were good (bagless, 12 amps, lighter than the Eureka, onboard tools, HEPA filter).

I figured that Bissell had to be good. I didn’t check out consumer reports. I didn’t ask around to see what other people had. However, I have seen countless commercials for Bissell. It is not an unknown. That is the power of branding. You come to know and believe in a brand. Brand is not always enough to influence purchase. I know, for instance, that Dyson never loses suction (according to their commercials), but $350 is just not in my budget for a vacuum cleaner. I have been using a Eureka without problems for 10 years, but the Eureka model in the store was four pounds heavier than the Bissell.

Are there any brands that you won’t give up on, regardless of price and features? For one,  I always buy Tylenol, not store brand acetaminophen.  But I stopped buying branded zip top and  trash bags when I found the store brand was practically the same and a lot cheaper.


Junk Part II

Today’s Washington Post reports that the United States Postal Service in association with the Direct Marketing Association are working hard to quash “do not mail” initiatives. Read the full article here

Most consumers who want out of direct mail want to stop the flow of paper into their homes. They are concerned about the environment and the wastefulness of unwanted mail. Yet the USPS and the DMA are blocking this initiative. According to the article, the DMA went so far as to write their members and instructing them to ignore requests from Catalog Choice, a service that allows consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs.

In my opinion, this is another example of marketing gone awry. I understand that direct marketers and their affiliates (printers, writers, mailhouses, and the USPS) make money off direct mail. They stand to make less money if less people opt to get direct mail. However, there are two major issues at play here: 1) REAL concerns about the environment and 2) disinterested parties. It is high time that businesses take a more thoughtful approach to environmental issues. More and more, the public is concerned, and rightfully so, about the long-term impact of human action on the earth and the very real consequences of global warming.  In their own interest, why not market only to those people who are receptive to marketing? To send dozens of unwanted letters, catalogs, credit card offers into the homes of consumers who not only don’t want them but are actively seeking to stop this barrage will surely cause ill will on their part.  Remember targeted marketing?

The bottom line is that marketers are looking at their bottom line. And holding on to outdated modes of communication. My suggestion to them is for them to evolve. When the Internet starting taking over, what did banks do? They started online banking. Why not reinvent direct marketing so that it becomes environmentally acceptable? Why not think of new ways to reach your targets without creating harmful waste?


The buzz

Certain things are just not advertised, but you know about them anyway. That is the power of buzz. I think one of the most buzzed about items is Facebook. Even I am buzzing about it. Yet, you probably haven’t ever seen a Facebook ad, received a piece of mail about Facebook or picked up a Facebook brochure. In fact, if you are on it, it is because you got invited to “friend” someone you know. Or, you read about it (Facebook does engage in public/media relations). In fact, in the last couple weeks I have read two articles in women’s magazines about Facebook. One talked about the addictive quality of Facebook, and the collecting of friends, where the other discussed pros and cons versus the other large social networking site, MySpace.

I just bought some prints on Shutterfly. You never see ads for it, or its competitors like Snapfish. Yet everyone is using these sites to print out their digital photos. Or at least it seems like everyone is doing it–and that is exactly what buzz is about. Truly, buzz marketing is the ultimate type of marketing. It puts in question the future of people like me and other marketing people. Buzz depends on word of mouth. It creates an epidemic, to borrow from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In fact, The Tipping Point is buzz’s bible, since it explains just how the buzz phenomenon can “tip” something, that is, making it bigger and badder. According to Gladwell, ideas move through society because of three types of people: connectors, mavens and salespeople. Basically, they all influence their circles and in interconnection, they influence the larger sphere.  Facebook is a great example of something that has tipped. Today, it has become a larger phenomenon than its competitors and it is everywhere around the world.


Is Spam Marketing?

How much spam email do you get every day? I get at least 20 spam emails, even though I have some sort of mailguard. I delete them immediately. However, somewhere, someone, is opening spam, and responding to it. Otherwise, why would spam exist? Whether it is cheap medication or some financial scheme, some people out there are intrigued by their spam email. That shows me a few things: 1) headlines (subject lines) are tremendously important; 2) the offer is what makes the sale; 3) there is an audience for everything!

Spam operates on the same principle of any direct mail–a good Return on Investment (ROI). In fact, most direct mail averages a 4 percent success rate, but that 4 percent actually buy something or donate to the cause, making the mailing worthwhile.  With spam, postage is not an issue, so spammers can afford to have a very very low success rate–even less than 1 percent. This is why spam has proliferated. There is no tangible cost (postage or printing).  The cost boils down to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) fee, and the spammers time. And they don’t spend a ton of time on those emails–how many have egregious spelling mistakes?

Bottom line is that spam is direct marketing gone awry. It is direct marketing without principles. Their target demographic is reduced to people who have email. Spam really is another get rich quick scheme that preys on the uninformed. When spam is phishing, it is even more insidious–targeting careless or naive people to get their credit card/account/other ID information.


Good Ol’ Martha Stewart

Have you seen the new commercials for Macy’s? I just saw one featuring Usher, selling his perfume, and Martha Stewart. Martha is talking about how much time she spent in research and development. Usher says he worked on two products and asks her how many products she did. She answers 2000 or so. He shakes his head and says, when do you sleep girl? Cute, funny. Take on the whole Martha Stewart quest for perfection. My question is, does this make people go to Macy’s? Is it image advertising? Am I supposed to think Macy’s is perfect? Or is it that Macy’s is funny? Or that Macy’s attracts top names like Usher and Martha Stewart? Actually the tag line for the campaign is something like “where the stars are.” Their logo is a star. I am starting to get it.

Macy’s is one of the biggest newspaper and television advertisers. But how are their sales doing? Is their advertising working? Well according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, as of March 2008, Macy’s will no longer release their monthly sales figures. Today, the Washington Post reports that discount retailers have seen sales go up while traditional stores have had sales go down, as a result of general belt-tightening in the U.S. economy. Begs the question…


Intrusive marketing hits a nerve

Love it or hate it, direct marketing is here for the time being. However, it seems that more people hate it than love it. Or at least are more vocal about it. Other than the character Sammy, in Kristen Gore’s funny book Sammy’s Hill, I don’t know anyone who talks to telemarketers.  This blog just received a post from a group that is seeking to limit political “robo-calls.” All this begs the question, if so many people are annoyed, why do marketers continue doing it? I know the “robo-calls” were particularly insidious in the last election.  Perhaps marketers are looking to cover all bases. Even a four percent return on investment might make the difference. But what if it creates bad will? Does a little bit of good will compensate for a lot of bad will?

Again, as a marketing person, I think all messaging should be targeted and tailored. Calls generated by computer are targeted geographically, but lack the personalization that helps make direct marketing more successful. I also think it is much easier to hang up on a recorded voice than it is to hang up on a live person asking to speak to Mr. or Mrs. butchered last name.


How different can a supermarket be?

Well, according to Bloom, very different. Zany songs and even “zanier” commercials are portraying Bloom as the store with a smile. I guess smiling at the supermarket would be different.

According to its website, Bloom is  a happy shopping experience, hassle-free even.  In a sense, I think the commercials work because they do make you kind of shake your head, maybe even smile. The one I saw today was a classic comedy move–the response is not appropriate to the situation. For instance, a guy says he is thinking about his daughter, clearly worried about her, and the Bloom shopping associate says something like, check this watermelon out, it’s one of hundreds of fresh produce items. Huh? Are we supposed to go shopping at Bloom to forget our troubles? Or, is Bloom a place where there are no troubles? Or is the commercial trying to be memorable? All of the above. Maybe I should go to Bloom, there I would forget why I had issues with their advertising.


Junk calling

Thanks to Tony Attwood, from the U.K.-based Hamilton House, a direct mail enterprise, for pointing out that telemarketing call are more intrusive than junk mail. I quite agree and that is why the U.S. government was right to create the “Do Not Call List.” It is about choice. We can reduce the “junk mail” and”junk calls” we get. Of course, we can always just hang up the phone when we realize it is a telemarketing call. Particularly offensive, in my opinion, are those recorded calls you get on your cell phone.

This got me to thinking about telemarketing calls. Somewhere, a marcomm person wrote a script for those calls. Ideally, the caller should move the call receiver to some sort of action–buy something, subscribe to something, donate money, etc. As in direct mail, these calls do have a success rate, and I am sure it varies by product or service and all by telemarketer ( I have had rude telemarketers call me. Needless to say, they don’t get very far. ).

The media was busy reporting this week that a new nuisance is text spam, in which you get unsolicited sales messages as text messages on your cell phone.  Email spam is noxious, primarily because it is unsolicited and often advertises pharmaceuticals or sex-related services.  We have legitimate email solicitations, which feature an opt-out option. But we don’t pay per email message. We do pay for text message.  Text spam may be even more nefarious than email spam.

Back to telemarketing–there is a role for direct calls in a marketing campaign. Clearly, politicians use this technique quite a lot, since they are trying to reach people “directly” and motivate them to vote. In some cases, it can backfire. If I get too many recorded messages, I get irritated. I wonder if telemarketing is more effective to retirees or people who are homebound. To these people a call is not an intrusion as much as chance to connect with someone. Somebody who has been on the phone all day and just wants to relax in the evening may find unsolicited calls from telemarketers very intrusive.

From a marketing standpoint, my advice about telemarketing is to proceed with caution. Certainly, the more targeted your message and your list, the more successful. Telemarketers who ignore common sense (calling too early or too late or too often) or run afoul of the Do Not Call list will not help the product or service they are trying to sell.


Direct mail or junk mail?

Direct mail is an industry on to itself, with an association (Direct Marketing Association) and a whole class of direct marketing specialists. The idea is that direct mail is the ultimate targeted medium. It is also ultimately invasive. Who does not get letters and catalogs overflowing the mailbox? Of course, some of this direct mail comes from organizations (usually nonprofits) to which you have contributed or otherwise been involved with. Some catalogs come from stores you have shopped in. Although not solicited, these items seem to be less junk than other junk. What is junk, in my mind, are the thousands of unsolicited credit card applications and circulars that we get. Those aren’t targeted at all. Especially not the circulars (although I am sure there is a circular manager out there that will argue they are targeted by zip code and all that). But as a writer, there is a difference between convincing an existing or former donor to consider giving again to a charity and a mass mailing for window blinds or steam cleaning services. For the latter, direct mail is just another form of advertising. It is basically the same as their electronic or print advertising, and may even be part of a package (newspapers often sell this as an added value…advertise in the newspaper and we will add you to our weekly circular to zip codes you choose, etc.)

The trouble is many people just toss out all direct mail, especially circulars. Thus the garbage can is really the targeted audience. Also, the amount of paper these mailings generate has become the target of many environmentalists out there. Yet the mailings keep coming.  I was just in Australia where many mailboxes carry the sign “no junk mail.” Unfortunately, we don’t have this here in America. And, from what I understand, the mail carrier is required by law to deliver the circulars and other mail to your box.

It would be better for both the direct mailer and the direct mailee if there were choice involved. If I choose to receive a mailing, I may pay attention to that mailing. If all I do with unsolicited mail is throw it out, the message is not being heard and there is actual harm being done to the environment.


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