Archive for the 'Marketing' Category

Are Marketing Plans Worth the Time to Create Them?

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Formal plan or back of an envelope. Which are you?

The short answer is yes, and that goes for companies of all sizes.

Small- and mid-sized companies are often the most challenged, with perhaps a few key employees (none of whom may have a true marketing background) tasked with the responsibility. In my consulting career, I’ve seen many firms with no formal plan, or, at best, a PowerPoint presentation outlining a few key goals along with some sketchy execution ideas.

Often the marketing plan (such as it is) suffers from a lack of constant scrutiny and direction. Over time, the company’s performance also begins to suffer as more aggressive competitors address the market’s changing conditions.

To assist, I created a marketing self-audit that provides basic guidelines to help you summarize your company’s marketing efforts and begin a more in-depth evaluation. A semi-annual review of your marketing plan and its creative execution will help keep your company a step ahead of the competition, which grows more aggressive and relentless each day.

Part one of the self-audit will begin with the core component of any marketing plan, positioning.

Auditing Your Positioning Strategy

  1. In a few concise sentences, describe your company’s market position.
  2. Name at least three important, competitive distinctions you have over your competitors. Reach beyond the traditional triangle of quality, service and price. Buyers hear these claims so often that they tend to ring hollow. And in all my years of consulting, I’ve never heard anyone say we have high prices, mediocre service and so-so quality.

Tip: One of the best pieces of advice I ever received came from a CPA/management consultant who said, “If you really want to know how your client performs, buy something from them.” And it’s true. You might be surprised, shocked even, to see how your company performs in the quality, service, price triangle. Have a trusted “secret shopper” do this for you if you really want to know.

  1. Ask the members of your sales and customer team to give their answers to questions one and two. It’s an excellent check to see if everyone is synchronized on some basic positioning messages. There must be consistency in the communication coming from all customer-facing employees.
  2. Name your major competitors and ask these questions:
    1. Who is on the rise and who is declining?
    2. Has any competitor threatened your existing market share, stifled your growth or cut your profit margins over the last six months?
    3. Has any competitor launched a major new product or service within the last year?
    4. Have you run a Dun and Bradstreet report within the last year on each major competitor?
    5. Have you maintained a file on each that includes copies of any advertising, sales literature, etc., and compared it to your own?
  3. Have you surveyed your customers within the past year to see if you are satisfying their market needs? If you’ve conducted a survey, did your carefully analyze the results? Remember that their opinion of your market position and performance is the only one that counts.

Contact me if you’d like help creating a marketing plan that will truly guide your company now and into the future. I have decades of experience helping companies of all sizes in a variety of market sectors.

Next up: Inquiry Programs and Database Management

Does Your Content Moral Compass Always Point True North?

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“Your moral compass may guide you, but it won’t get you there.”

I was struck by a recent article (“A call for supermarkets to stop selling National Enquirer”), by Eric Zorn in the Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune.  The opening line asserts that it’s immoral for stores to sell the National Enquirer. And while Zorn feels this has been true for many years, he says “it’s especially true now that news events have shown the depths to which the Enquirer and its parent company, American Media Inc., appear to have gone to distort, mangle and conceal the truth in pursuit of political goals.”

Now, the intention of this post isn’t to debate whether stores should sell the National Enquirer, but rather to spur thought about our content moral compasses. We’re people who write, design, produce, distribute and sell content. Has your moral compass ever made you refuse to be part of the process because you objected to the content? Has it ever made you think twice or feel uncomfortable?

Everyone Has Their Day of Decision

If you haven’t had to make that decision and you’re a younger professional, chances are you will. And the chances are even greater that it will involve decisions not only about the content, but also about money and your career.

Pressure on establishments that sell magazines with content some consider inappropriate is nothing new. Many have been pressured over pornography and even borderline material like the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. And there have been numerous debates about the content appropriateness in television and radio commercials as well as print. Yet there are many moral compass decisions that fly below the public radar but can impact you directly.

My Personal Moral Compass Decision Points

When I look back at my career in the graphic arts, I can think of two instances where I had to be part of the content decision process. The first was with a printer of a direct mail product called card packs. These are targeted, co-op vehicles that usually contain 40-50 direct mail postcards with advertising on one side and prepaid business reply mail on the back. Card packs still exist, though their heyday is long past.

Anyway, we had a customer that wanted to publish a card pack to the gay community. Card packs were a specialty item, and only a few companies produced them. And while it might sound like no big deal now, this occurred during the late 80s. Keep in mind also that most printing companies have policies on what types of content they won’t accept. Many, for example, have policies against printing pornography. That was true of my employer.

Our leadership team’s main moral compass concern was not that the card pack was going to the gay community, but rather what the content of the individual postcards might be. So, our decision was to agree to print and mail if the advertising content did not violate our policy of not printing pornography. There were times when we perceived some ads to be borderline, but we were always able to work through the issues. For the times, it was probably a pretty good solution and did not violate my moral compass.

Muddier Waters

A little trickier situation for me involved cigarette advertising. After the ban on radio and television advertising, the cigarette companies poured tons of money into print, outdoor and point-of-purchase advertising. The company I worked for had a small promotional agency customer that had a highly placed marketing contact at R.J. Reynolds Company, the second largest cigarette manufacturer.

Our client had access to a patented, plastic molding technology that could produce unique, three-dimensional point-of-sale materials. The agency owner wanted to partner with us for various reasons and the idea was to produce point-of-purchase materials with a sculpted replica of Joe Camel, the advertising mascot of Camel cigarettes.

Our team had some moral compass pangs about whether to participate. Although it was a legal product, we all knew the dangers of smoking and all had children we hoped wouldn’t smoke. We also knew Joe Camel tended to appeal to young people.

Our partner came through with the meeting and three of us went off to Winston-Salem, mock up in hand, to make the presentation. I was fortunate from a moral compass standpoint that the Camel marketing team ultimately chose another option. But I can’t deny giving in to both the prospects of big business and protecting my position. The lens of my moral compass got cloudy.

But moral compass decisions can be tough. Perhaps you’ve faced one? How did you respond?

Contact me if you’d like to create content that accomplishes your marketing goal without putting your moral compass in a spin.

Is Technology Paving the Way for More Print Marketing?

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Digital technology could get in its own way, causing a print resurgence.

I’m going out on a limb and assert that digital technology will ultimately cause a resurgence of print marketing. There are two main reasons for what may seem like a crazy notion:

First, the sheer volume of digitally driven communications is crushing consumers. The spam call epidemic alone is taking a huge toll on mobile marketing. First Orion, a call protection company, conducted a study that predicts half of all mobile calls will be spam robocalls in 2019. The study analyzed data from 50 billion calls over 18 months. It found that spam phone calls increased from 3.7% of total calls in 2017 to 29.2% in 2018. It further forecasts that number will reach 44.6% by early 2019, and then continue rising until half of all calls are spam by the year’s end. (Source: Nicole Lyn Pesce, “Here’s why you’re getting so many spam phone calls,” Moneyish)

And while there are aggressive attempts to combat the problem ranging from call screening apps to an FCC-created Robo Strike Force, the technology enabling robo calls is cheap (a fraction of a penny per call), which makes the barrier entry low. The culprits are difficult to track and obviously find enough success to continue the practice despite substantial efforts to stop them.

And when you consider that many of these calls are not just unsolicited and unwanted, but also scams, you understand why mobile phone users are beginning to fear the sound of their ring tone. The crisis is making consumers more guarded about how they use their mobile phones and what messaging they’ll accept—nothing that bodes well for legitimate marketers.

So, why not do more email marketing?

Companies did, chalking up an 18% increase in 2017 for a total of more than 30 billion emails sent, according to a comprehensive study by Yes Lifestyle Marketing. One of the challenges reported, however, is that the share of new subscribers in marketers’ databases consistently declined throughout the year. New subscriptions fell to their lowest point in the fourth quarter, accounting for just 3.5 percent of marketers’ mailable audience.

Plus, the benchmark study showed that 20 percent of brands’ mailable audiences (people who opted-in to receive emails) hadn’t opened an email in more than a year. That represents a 22.5% year-over-year jump in inactive subscribers. (Source: Amy Gesenhue, “Email marketing report: Email volume was up 18% in 2017,” Marketing Land)

In short, people aren’t exactly lining up to receive your newsletters and email promotions, either.

Second, technology and privacy laws are likely to give consumers more screening power. We currently can create great one-to-one email campaigns based on information we gather electronically at critical data points. But what if privacy laws or technology providers give consumers the ability to mask simple inbox behaviors such as opens and clicks?

“We can expect ever greater restrictions imposed on marketers,” says Andrew Bonar, Founder of deliverability consultancy Deliverability Ltd. “We can expect users to demand the right to opt-out of many tools and data points that marketers take for granted. Open tracking, device tracking, location tracking, click-through behavior and other data may all be subject to subscriber opt-ins and opt-outs.” (Source: Chad White, “These Are the Biggest Disruptors to the Future of Email Marketing,” Convince and Convert with Jay Baer)

Then there’s the whole issue of getting things smaller. With most emails now opened on mobile phones, you already need to make your message work on a 4” x 6” screen. Shorter copy. Fewer images.  Singe calls-to-action. Imagine if mobile phones are replaced by wearable technology such as the Apple Watch. How will you adjust your marketing messages?

I could easily go on, but I think you get the idea: digitally based marketing technologies could start to make print look like an even more attractive alternative.

Contact me if you’d like to explore how print might fit into your marketing strategy.

 

The Marketing Aftermath of Nike’s Controversial Ads

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First, let me be clear that this article has nothing to do with the politics surrounding the controversial Nike ads involving football quarterback Colin Kaepernick. But since there were obvious marketing risks to running the campaign, I was curious about the results. And while the long-term effects are yet to be seen, here’s what I learned about the immediate aftermath:

  • Sales grew 31% from Sunday through Tuesday over the Labor Day weekend this year compared with the previous year, according to statistics reported by Edison Trends.
  • A survey indicated that 24% of American’s now view the brand negatively. That’s up from 7% before the campaign’s launch. Many Nike customers, as well as President Trump, blasted the decision on social media. Some even filmed themselves destroying Nike products and vowing to boycott the company.
  • Nike stock took a 3% hit immediately after the campaign, but then recouped their losses. Shares were up 31% year-to-date, and there will be an earnings report at the end of the month.
  • The online tumult surrounding the campaign translated into $43 million in free media that’s still growing, according to Apex Marketing Group. There were 2.7 million mentions of Nike over the 24 hours prior to the launch, as noted by  social media analysis firm Talkwalker. That represented an increase of 135 percent over the previous week.

Why Nike May Have Decided to Just Do It

Generally, most of us are doing whatever we can to attract new customers. Yet Nike clearly decided to put some of its business at risk. Why?

Some analysts believe Nike thought there was more to be gained by locking in brand loyalists and not worry about the less committed. According to branding specialist Pia Silva and many supporting marketing studies, it takes longer to win customers who don’t identify with your brand. What’s more, it takes more work to make them happy and their churn rate is higher.

On the other hand, customers devoted to your brand like (maybe love) your products and tend to buy more and are usually happy with their purchases. They become your brand ambassadors. Nike likely chose to further identify and focus on this group. In fairness, an irreverent, rebellious attitude has always been part of the company’s brand identity.

Time will tell if their decision works over the longer term.

Whether you’re trying to stir the pot or work across the aisle, contact me for help with your corporate messaging. I’m an experienced marketer who can help you with any challenge.

The Long and Short of Marketing Copy

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The debate is hardly new in marketing circles: should you write long or short copy? Long-copy advocates, including many direct-mail writers, argue that long copy always works best. People read what interests them, and longer copy equals more sales.

Short-copy champions say that consumers don’t t like to read long copy because they’re bombarded with information and don’t have time.  This side goes for short copy accompanied by graphics, images and now video.

Both arguments have merit. But whether you use shorter or longer copy depends more on context than any school of thought.  Here are some tips for deciding whether to write long or short.

Write long when:

  • Your product is technical, expensive or unusual and needs more explanation.
  • You need to create trust and believability by including lots of testimonials.
  • You know there are typically a lot of objections that need to be answered.

Marketing and SEO copywriter Belinda Weaver suggests making your long copy more reader friendly by:

  •  Including great subheads.
  •  Incorporating lists and different formatting to break up copy.
  • Repeating your call to action so readers don’t need to skim or scroll through the copy to take the next step.

Write short when:

  • The format, such as postcards or signage, dictates shorter copy.
  • You’re selling a less expensive product or service.
  • Consumers know your product, service and perhaps even your offer so well that they don’t need a lot of explanation.
  • Images do the selling of your product or service.

But Never Use More Words Than You Need

Economy of words should apply to both long and short marketing copy. You need to make every word count. Well-chosen words make your writing clear and bring the reader more quickly to the point.  Make the copy interesting and conversational in tone but also remember that the objective of marketing copy is to sell.

Oh, And Don’t Forget to Test

You’ll never know for certain whether long or short copy works best without testing each approach. In many instances, the cost of testing is low, yet the payback can be very high.  And while you’re in test mode, consider mixing the two, say a postcard with a personalized URL (pURL) that sends the recipient to a landing page with greater detail vs. a longer, more all-inclusive initial message.

Need help with your copy strategy or writing? Contact me today. Websites, Email, Social Media, Public Relations, Thought Leadership Content (blogs, white papers, newsletters), Corporate Branding Materials, Direct Mail and Video Scripts

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

How Printers Can Hang Out with the Corporate Cool Kids

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Do you ever feel like your clients are having parties and you’re the only one not invited? That’s exactly what happens to most printing companies when it comes to strategy sessions. Printers simply aren’t part of the marketing “in” crowd despite claims of being marketing service providers.

Too often printers are left sitting in the lobby unless there is a question about print. And those questions generally don’t come up until well after all the important campaign decisions have been made.  You end up with the scraps from the digital people who are influencing the strategy.

Getting on the “A” List

Some printers respond by defending print. That’s okay to a point. I certainly do it myself at times because many marketers miss opportunities that can only be achieved through print or an integrated print-digital solution.

The bigger reason printers become wallflowers is because they’re too shy to move beyond the comfort zone of print production. Marketing executives don’t care about how dots get on paper. They care about bigger strategic issues like how to:

  • Acquire and maintain customers
  • Increase marketing ROI
  • Get to market faster
  • Leverage customer data
  • Find new markets
  • Reduce waste and costs
  • Track results

If you’re an account rep, ask yourself how comfortable you’d be leading a discussion about any of these topics in relation to the tools your company provides. And are you connecting to the people in your customers’ marketing circles who make the decisions?

If you’re an owner, ask yourself how confident you are in the ability of your sales force to sell at the strategic level. Are you looking for the right types of account reps? Are you providing the training, encouragement and patience to develop this type of business? Trust me. It’s not the production manager.

But How Do I Communicate the Print Message?

The best way to promote the value of print is by using it in creative ways yourself. I’ve spent a career advising printers on marketing strategy, and it’s common to find companies that have limited ability to use their own print- and multichannel-based marketing tools. The challenge often begins with companies not having an actionable customer and prospect database to create a campaign.

When was the last time your company committed resources to a marketing campaign that involved personalized data, print and digital channels as well as campaign tracking?

The takeaway is that you need to build credibility by demonstrating knowledge of the marketing issues impacting your customers and the ability to strategically integrate your own products and services. Then you have a chance of making the “A” list for your customer’s next strategy meeting. Need help? Give me a call.

 

 

Get on Board the B2B Video Marketing Train.

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B2B marketers are incorporating video in both electronic and print marketing.

Video is well on its way to accounting for more three fourths of all Internet traffic and could account for 82 percent by 2021, according to Cisco. In the B2B sector, Demand Metric reports that nearly 70 percent of marketers are using video in their mix. Budgets are also growing, mainly because more than 80 percent of B2B marketers report success with video marketing integration. So, it’s vital for marketers who have not yet embraced video to develop effective strategies now. And if you’re already using video, it may be time to up your game.

Everything today is about adding value, and that’s the number one reason to use video marketing. It plugs interaction — including face-to-face interaction — into your website, email promotions, social media and events. You also get a unique opportunity to blend your company’s personality and message into either an online or offline experience.

Here are 10 additional reasons to use video marketing:

  1. Raises your website’s search engine results. Media measurement and analytics company comScore says adding a video to your website can increase the chance of a front-page Google result by 53 times. Video software platform provider Brightcove claims video drives a 157 percent increase in organic traffic from search engines.
  2. Improves the potential for your message to go viral through the social networks.Brightcove research says social video generates 1,200 percent more shares than text and images combined.
  3. Increases the average amount of time visitors spend at your site. A blog post by Mary Lister of Fluent, LLC reports that the average user spends 88 percent more time on a website that uses video.
  4. Connects you to the coveted 25-34 (millennial) age group. Millennials watch the most online videos according to online agency WordStream. 
  5. Offers opportunities to provide a tremendously rich offline media experience. Stuff a disk with video, personal messages, mobile apps, high-res product photos, web links and free downloads — and include it as part of a direct mail package.
  6. Augments and supports your existing online strategy. Combine it with direct mail to provide a seamless physical/digital experience that encourages double-digit response rates according to research studies.
  7. Appeals to people who like to see something before they read it. Most people view more than three fourths of a video and prefer video over reading text.
  8. Provides an opportunity to educate customers about a product or service. Since people prefer to watch video, give them what they want across the entire decision-making journey and increase conversions.
  9. Puts a face on your company and builds your brand. Simply put,  video is changing how brands communicate with customers.
  10. Engages your customers’ senses. Video triggers emotional reactions that influence buying decisions in ways that static content can’t.

Professional vs. Homegrown Video

The nice thing about digital video is that it doesn’t always have to be high end and expensive. The key is to know when you can use your flip camera and when you need a professional team.

And really, the rules are simple:

Homegrown video is fine for website demos, new product intros, how-to presentations, brief commentaries and the like. Further, excellent video production technology has become much more affordable over past few years. Companies such as VideoMakerFX, Sellamations and Vyond have greatly simplified video creation. Small companies should easily be able to produce a short demo or “how to” video for one or two thousand dollars. Homegrown solutions work great for purposes where immediacy is important, and viewers don’t expect premium content with the highest-end production. What’s more, Cisco claims that Live Internet video (video streaming) will account for 13 percent of the total video traffic 

Professional video is a must when the production represents the official, animated face of your brand. That’s when you need a quality script, title slides, smooth transitions, excellent lighting and sound, multiple shooting perspectives and top-notch editing. It can also be a good investment when the video will have multiple purposes — website, direct mail, trade shows—and a longer life span. You also need to consider professional video whenever your audience is more sophisticated and has high expectations.

What’s the Right Length?

Everyone wants to know how long is too long. And the consensus for the appropriate length of online video is one to three minutes. But a research study by Wistia, which provides video platform solutions for business, shows that engagement is steady up to 2 minutes, meaning that a 90-second video will hold a viewer’s attention as much as a 30-second video. There is a significant drop-off between two and three minutes. Attention spans seem to grow shorter every day, especially online.

Yet purpose means a lot, too. So, a one- or two-minute product intro is not the same as a four- to six-minute in-depth case study.The bottom line is that your video needs to be as long as it needs to be. Based on the nature of the content, viewers will adjust.

You can also cut longer videos into segments that allow people to access only the parts that interest them. In general, you need to think of the video as an overview from which you can then link buyers to more detailed information in electronic or print form.

Regardless of length, relevance dictates how long people will view any video. Provide information that people want to know, and they’re far more likely to stay for the duration. When you’re trying to keep their attention, it pays to be tactical in selecting content and forget the broad-brush stuff.

Video Media Types

Video is an evolving medium, and different media types are emerging that include video:

  • Product demos
  • Product overviews
  • Email and social media promotions
  • Testimonials
  • News releases
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Corporate presentations
  • Commercials
  • Trade show and event previews
  • “How-to” demos
  • Blog posts

As these media types mature, more specific standards for length and other factors will emerge as well. In the meantime, don’t be afraid to experiment. Viewership will tell you quickly enough what’s working and what’s not. In fact, videos built-in feedback loop makes measuring click-through rates, number of times watched and drop-off points a snap.

Want Expert Advice?

Bauer Associates helps companies of all sizes develop and execute effective marketing strategies. Message me at lbauer@bauerassociates.net, or call 708-610-9917 if you would like to discuss how video marketing can help advance your marketing strategy.

 

Contact Info

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lbauer@bauerassociates.net