Monday, January 21, 2008

I'll Have What Their Having

Marketing, Money and More Issue 5 (1/21/07)

What Worked Yesterday...
I don't believe it when anyone says, "It's been done before." If it's been done before and it works for your brand, go with it. A smart person takes the best practices of their industry and reskins it for their business. What worked yesterday, might not work today, but it could work tomorrow. Never forget to test.

Have you ever gotten an annoying telemarketer and wondered who would ever buy something from a person you talked to on the phone? Me too. But...If it did not work, companies would not spend money on this relatively expensive tactic. It works.

I've worked with several casino properties here in Las Vegas and around the country. There are only so many ways you can do a slot tournament, poker tournament or other gaming event. It is the same promotion at every casino. They do them because they work.

Testing, testing...
I have spoken with many businesses. They come to firms or agencies looking for the guarantee. That does not exist and if your firm ever guarantees you anything, call them liars and find a new agency. A guarantee would assume that they have some sort of mind control or psychic ability. All a firm can provide is knowledge of what has worked for a similar customer and the ability to analyze information to make the best decision on the client's behalf. It is a game of knowing what the market is doing, what the competition is doing and breaking throug the clutter.

Test everything and give it a chance to work. If you decide that direct mail is right for your business, test it. Put together a campaign with a small list based on the attributes of your current customer or at least who you think might be your customer. Do an A/B Split. This test will tell you what sort of offer is most likely to get your target group through your doors. Once the offer is perfected, work on the creative. Does a postcard outperform a letter? Does increasing the size of the call to action make a difference in response?

Testing can and should be done for as many tactics as you can test in your marketing mix. Branding is the exception. You can test how well you are branding your company, but it is very expensive and may not be justified in your industry. Not every business is Nabisco with multi-million dollar budgets. It makes sense to spend $70,000 on market research when you are making a decision that could cost you $5 million.

They Did It, So I Gotta Do It
The car dealer industry is notorious for this mentality. They are all on TV, Radio and Newspaper trying to scream louder. Each is so affraid to step away from traditional media that they never try anything new for any decent amount of time. I have had a car dealer tell us so desperately how much they wanted to explore "outside the box" thinking (a term which has come to mean nothing due to overuse.) If everyone is outside the box, you might want to be in it.

Many businesses tend to look at what their competitor is doing and use that as the sole basis for their decisions. Competitive knowledge is good, but sound research and strategy is better. You may find out that your competitor is not being as effective as they could be and you'll just be adding to that waste.

Media Reps Are Good People, But...
A rep for a media outlet is not a bad person and most are very knowledgable. They have only one fault. They are looking out for the interests of their outlet and obtaining as much of your budget as possible. It is not always in the best interest of your business. The rep is doing their job and hopefully going above and beyond to show the value of what their outlet may provide. This is where the consultant or firm comes in. We study them with all of our tools and metrics and make them work to prove value beyond what our resources tell us. It is a win for the client because they are not talked into spending an inappropriate amount of their budget with a single outlet. Rarely is one medium appropriate for a client. It may be a start, but not the most effective mix.

Competition is Good
All in all, competition is good. It is what makes for great branding, keeps companies honest and makes us all a bit smarter. In the end, the customer wins because we tend to create more value when we are engaged in competive marketing. I would love to hear if anyone has a case where following the competition proved to be the right strategy.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Branding Begins

Marketing, Money and More Issue 4 (1/7/07)

A Little Personality Goes a Long Way
I've had lots of first contacts with business owners. Their problems always seem so obvious to me. In this day and age, it takes more than the ability to cook to run a restaurant, more than slot machines to run a casino and more than good taste to sell soda. We've gone well above "basic needs" and we are feeding our emotional needs. We are all consumer addicts looking for that next emotional fix.

We get validation from jeans, attitude from the beer we drink and our sense of humor from insurance companies. None of it makes sense. Take the logic of this scenario:

  1. I need clothes
  2. I search for clothes
  3. I compare price and quality of clothes
  4. I buy clothes
  5. I wear clothes

Each step is logical. We fulfil our need for clothes with a quality product at a good price. Now suddenly we throw emotions into the whole thing and it all gets complicated. Now we have a new scenario:

  1. I need clothes
  2. I search for clothes
  3. I see a person I want to be like wearing ripped, faded jeans with paint splatters
  4. I see the girl I like with the person that I want to be like
  5. I find the overpriced, ripped, faded jeans
  6. I pay too much
  7. I wear clothes
  8. I feel like the person I want to be like for a short while
  9. The girl I like is still with the person I want to be like
  10. I need more clothes

It's called emotional branding.

To Brand or Not to Brand
I've found that a good product will only go so far if there are comparable substitutes. Once the competition enters the market and the differences in your product or services become indistinguishable, customers rely on their emotions to make a choice. "Which do I like better?"

This is where branding comes in. Rely on society's need to fit in, need to stand out, need for status... We are emotional beings and to the detriment of our bank accounts. We move from one branded experience to the next and marketers have caught on to our weakness. The book Brand Hijack covers what happens when society shapes the brand such as in the case of Dickies or RedBull.

Branding Begins at Home
Most small and medium businesses look to ad agencies to solve their problems. Ad agencies tend to look at a brand as the perception of the business that they can create in the public eye. I believe branding begins a bit deeper. Healing begins inside. Here's an example:

  • I met with a restaurant owner a few years ago. He had a Mediterranean Restaurant attached to a small market. He explained the cuisine and that the restaurant was very slow. I spoke with him about what PR could accomplish, what print ads could accomplish, direct mail and so on. He told me to come in and try it out. I took a lady friend of mine and we met there. We came in and sat...and sat...and sat and after five long minutes, a very quiet server came to the table. She gave us menus, took our orders and didn't really say much and walked away. We waited for a while. The food shows up after about 25 minutes. Mind you we were the only other table in the restaurant besides an older couple already eating their food. We finished and were not asked about dessert and were presented with the check. I will say that the food was good.

The moral of the story is that I told the owner that there was nothing that marketing could do for him. All marketing would do is encourage people to come in for bad service so that they can tell 10 other people how bad it was. Dick's Last Resort can get away with that because they've built a brand around bad attitudes in their service.

The Customer Experience is King
Your brand begins with the owner or president. Once decisions are made about the customer experience, and preferably one that will lead to a profitable business, then the brand can be communicated. Branding has foundations in consistency in customer experience and management of customer expectations. Your service can be bad if it is part of the experience that you are selling. Your product can be average if that's what you are selling. If you claim to cater to a particular segment such as gay couples, your staff better buy into that. It's called a Brand Promise.

The best brand experiences can be found right here in Las Vegas. Each experience is coreographed down to the way staff members point to the bathroom. Themes are eveywhere. The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas hires young men and women that fit the profile. Tatoos, hair and attitude. Yes, it's even down to the hiring.

Just Start at the Beginning
Before you run out to find an ad agency you may want to evaluate your customer experience. Do my customers enjoy the experience we provide? Are the sales staff of the same attitude and corporate culture? Are employees empowered to do their job?

Speak to your customers on a regular basis and ask them what they like and don't like. This can provide great insight into what you are doing right and what you are likely doing wrong. Take notes and try to put some words to what you think your brand is. Even if all you get down is some rules about engaging the customer and visualize a few scenarios, you are that much closer. Once you've done as much as you can to improve the internal branding, communicate that to ALL of the employees. Tell them what the customer experience is supposed to be and accept nothing but perfection from them.

After that, you may want to talk with a marketing consultant and work out a formal plan. Once you have everything in a document, staff are living the brand and customers are happy and coming back, then you are ready to talk to a firm.

Let me know if you agree with what I have said or have examples that can help.