Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

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Ads 2.0

I set up some Google Alerts for certain keywords I want to track. One of the neat things about the alerts is that they can include blog posts and new web pages. Some of what I am finding is a bit perverse. Fortunately, the limited execution should mean a short life.

It happens a different ways. One involves a blog post (I’m guessing someone pays to put their post on the blog) with the author’s description at the bottom encouraging readers to learn more at some other website that is little more than a link farm and covered with ads.

Another includes ad links within the body of the post, written in the form of a parenthetical statement. These are easy to spot because they have nothing to do with the context of the piece, and the statements appear in random parts of the sentence.

The final method uses sham “objective third-party” endorsements. One in particular that I found started as a general press release. At the end of the release, there is a non-branded link encouraging people to learn more about the topic. Clicking on the link brings the viewer to a branded site pushing a particular product. To give credibility to the product, the web page refers to a national institute recommending it. The problem is that the institute doesn’t really exist. The product company set it up themselves.

There could be any number of reasons for setting up one of these goofy web 2.0 promotion gimmicks. My guess, though, is that the brand owners either haven’t tried using it themselves—because if they had they would see how ridiculous and in effective at brand building the effort is—or they are modern-day spammers hoping for the most gullible of web users, which also is utterly ineffective at building a brand.

A bit of advice, before subjecting your current and prospective customers to one of these versions of advertising, or any other promotion strategy for that matter, try it out yourself. If it doesn’t quite feel right or fails to reinforce the brand promise, don’t do it.

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Underdoing It at Overstock

I wonder if the good people at Overstock.com really have a message about who they are and what they represent. Their initial ads focused on a women sexually describing that it was all about “the O”.

Now, they apparently have some state of the art delivery system so that nothing gets between you and your purchase. But they don’t. They use the same as most others—UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

So, what are they all about? What makes them important? Judging by their home page, it’s the index of items they sell and some special promotions. There’s no single identity for them.

And the identities they’ve tried to create don’t say anything accurate or important. There is no central message.

Look at your own brand through a consumer’s eyes. Does it make sense? Does it tell you what you need to know about the brand? Is it consistent with who you are? Is it all tied together to deliver the same message through multiple channels?

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Content as Perspective

For those of you that have been reading my posts regularly, you know that I have little tolerance for silly ads that lack content and that only those messages that get to the heart of the brand are worth sending. Something I’ve seen recently on HGTV (which is an iteration and longer form of a promotional style they and sister station Food Network have used for a few years) truly puts the content into perspective.

Through a series of 1 minute long short stories—generally three parts of one story told within an episode—the sponsor is able to show how it is able to fulfill a need. The ones I saw as I am writing this are from K-Mart, showing how its outdoor furniture can transform a blah backyard. I’m not a fan of K-Mart, but the spots are right on. Well done.

By taking the long-form approach, they address the problem and demonstrate how they can solve it. Brilliant! The nest step: Allow consumers to upload their pictures on your website and replace their old furniture and design with your offerings and give them a shopping list so they can get it either in person or online.

It works because it focuses on the content and the customers’ needs.

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Great Results Can Be Greater

Yesterday, I wrote about metrics and the importance of measuring relevant data—that which guides you to real growth. Carrying on with that theme, I saw a piece from Brandweek last week about Levi’s and viral videos. The article celebrated a new viral video from the denim giant focused on their 501 line of jeans that received 3.5 million hits in its first ten days. The jeans company wants to chase that early success now, hoping to ride the wave to a younger consumer base.

Having that kind of response is fantastic! Really, it is. And chasing that level of attention is spot on. Now comes the hard part: finding a way to measure how that first viral video translates into additional sales of 501s.

That also means that they have to chase the success in a way that allows them to measure the results in a meaningful way. In other words, whatever they do must convert new customers in a way that they can know what they did was right and why it worked.

Most folks will tell you that kind of measurement is near impossible. And they are right for the most part. And it’s because the ads and promotions themselves usually aren’t created in a way to generate measureable results.

Some compensate for that through web addresses specific to an ad, time frame or particular channel. Others use timing with a phone number (“call within the next 15 minutes…”). For direct sales, that can be effective. When the sale goes through an intermediary, like a retailer, using tools like those only measure web hits or phone calls.

An idea for Levi’s (which they may be all over already) would be to encourage customers to upload videos of what they are doing in their new 501s. Some benefits to Levi’s:

  • With the online component, they can capture some key information about the customer (at least what the person is willing to share) prior to the video upload
  • Running the promotion through YouTube or Facebook will allow for additional exposure
  • Regionalizing the entry pages themselves through ads and tags on the inventory offers an additional check on their demographic data

And that’s just the start. They won’t capture full and absolute data, but they will get a much better idea how effective their promotion strategy was on the heels of the initial viral video.

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Content Construction

Whatever business you’re in, your primary function is in getting your various audiences to take specific actions, or behave with a specific purpose. As I wrote on Wednesday, it comes down to message, image and content. For our purposes, we will consider content to also include the combination of message and image.

Regardless of your medium, the same basic principles apply. The message must be clear and concise. The image must support that message or the brand. And the content pulls everything together to inspire the desired behavior.

It’s how you construct and use the content that makes the difference. Your marketing content is going to contain the same three things:

  • Who you are, typically represented with a logo
  • A supporting image, even if it is white space
  • Your message

The amount of information within the content will depend entirely on the medium. Some examples for advertising:

  • Billboards—You have to keep it simple and straightforward when using billboards. Your logo, supporting image and basic message must be big enough for people to see and recognize as they are zooming by. Your message needs to be about 5 words (7 tops). If you can’t keep it that short, then either the message is saying too much at one time or you are trying to use the wrong medium. Avoid using phone numbers. People are not going to stop to write them down. Providing too much information in a billboard will cause viewers to ignore them. Don’t count on people reading them while stuck in traffic. They are focused too much on the traffic inching around them and the mobile devices they have with them.
  • Online Banner Ads—See the comments about billboards above.
  • Online Text Ads—With text ads, you won’t use your logo, but you still have to tell people who you are. The ad is all message, since you won’t have a supporting image of your own. You will be using the website where you place your ad as the supporting “image”. Again, though, keep the message short and to the point (7-10 words).
  • Radio—Much like the others mentioned above. Get to the point and be clear in what you are saying. Avoid using phone numbers unless it is a mnemonic (1-800-FLOWERS). Do not use “fine print speak”, that rapid spewing of legalese that tells the listener not to trust anything you just said. And don’t try to be overly creative or off-beat with your ad. It leads to an incongruent message and weaker commercials. For instance, there is DVD rental service with a farcical game show commercial with seemingly random and obscure questions and answers. They follow those with what they purport to be a fact about the number of movies they’ve rented. It is a complete disconnect.
  • Traditional TV—15 or 30 seconds is a long time if you stay on point. Again, getting too off-beat or overly creative leaves less time to actually sell your product. For the same reasons mentioned above, don’t use fine print or fine print speak. (As an aside, one furniture company had the audacity to slam on their competitors use of fine print while flashing fine print on the screen themselves.) It is possible to get your point across without doing the same-old, same-old commercials like everyone else and without creating nonsense. Just because your research shows that your audience wants or likes to see goofy off-beat stuff doesn’t mean they want to see it from you. It also doesn’t mean that’s how they make purchasing decisions.
  • Online TV—Producing video ads online allows for longer formats. You can develop more creative commercials that support the message because you have more time to pull it all together. If it’s good, people will watch something that is 2-4 minutes long. But don’t lose focus on the message.
  • Print—Depending on the size you have to work with, you can add more content, but try to avoid it. Stick to the basics of your message. I recently helped a group revise a small ad for a trade publication. It was overly wordy and distracting. I cut some of the copy and consolidated others. I didn’t add anything. When they looked at it, they became most concerned about the wording of one of the statements (which I hadn’t changed, only exposed). There was so much other stuff, that they had missed it completely in the earlier version.
  • Brochures—With brochures, you have the opportunity to use more supporting images and facts. Resist the urge to make it text dense. Use the space and imagery to tell the story. Support those with some basic, to-the-point text.

That’s a lot to digest on a Friday. Next week, we’ll look at developing content that supports your marketing efforts and some ways to develop your message concisely.

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FedEx vs. UPS

The recent FedEx commercials have attempted to use humor in promoting how easy and inexpensive it is. Over time, however, the humor has gone from chuckle-worthy through sophomoric to downright foolish. The problem is that they are so impressed with their workplace parodies, they forget to actually tell us how they can be a complete solution.

UPS, on the other hand, uses their Whiteboard concept to demonstrate the various solutions we can use for getting our packages from point A to point B or even C if the situation changes. It is fully integrated, informative and fun. Most of all, it works. It instills confidence that they will handle packages with care and be responsive to our needs. (I’ve also mentioned UPS in this column on Promotion Strategy at my website.)

Take note, FedEx, foolish humor is not original; just visit any random high school of your choosing. If the businesses that use your services can’t seem to find things to do with their employees, then I question whether they should be in business anyway. And you have an actual advantage over UPS in that you offer printing services.

Congratulations, UPS! You have given us a textbook example of fully-integrated marketing. Keep it up.

Let me know your thoughts.

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