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.


Target Customer Intelligence

I’m stunned at the number of companies targeting fools and idiots in their commercials. Geico continues with its ridiculous caveman ads, Cox has their talk show ads, Dunkin Donuts introduced a new product recently with the same concept, and Staples reduces people’s intellect to pushing a red button.

Maybe they are seeing something in their market research that identifies the less intelligent as a significant potential market. Perhaps they don’t think their customers recognize the insult. Or it could be they are counting on their customers not caring about being equated with nincompoops.

Here’s a thought. Advertise the actual features and benefits of the product. And move away from attempting to sell based on the “only the dumbest of the dumb haven’t bought it yet” philosophy.

Of course, I am assuming that these products have features and benefits worth selling and that they aren’t using these tactics as a cover.

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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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Or Current Resident Too Generic

The real beauty of database marketing is that you can tailor your content to your customer. The effectiveness comes in having good data about those customers. Which is why addressing a promotional piece to “Joe Smith or Current Resident” doesn’t cut it.

For the company, finding that customer should be an act of desperation, begging the current resident for assistance in locating Joe. When the current resident helps, reward him with something that will make him a customer as well. Even if they can’t help, thank them for the effort.

But when “or Current Resident” is part of communication, you show that you care less about the customer and more about saying whatever you want to say or just making a sale. That’s not building loyalty.

And if you’re not focused on building loyalty, then why did you invest in a database marketing system to being with?

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Categorically Speaking

Marketers love to speak in terms of categories related to their particular brand—premium, super-premium, ultra-premium, giga-premium, you get the picture. From the consumer’s viewpoint, however, brands get considered a bit differently.

Think about the various things you buy (where there is some choice involved). What you actually purchase is based on how it fits into one of the following categories:

  • Strict loyalty—”I’ll only buy computers from Dell” or “A Honda is the only thing I’ll drive”
  • Consideration set—while the consumer may not be strictly loyal, your brand is in a select group whose purchase or use depends on the mood
  • Convenience set—people buy it because it’s easy due to location, availability, ease of transaction, etc.
  • Price set—you are the best price on the shelf (this time)
  • Ignorance—the customer really doesn’t know any better

Chances are, you’re in more than one of these categories. And that is perfectly fine, as long as you use it to your advantage. And do use it to your advantage. Talk to your customers in those terms. Create your customer service to reinforce it.

Make it work for you.

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Great Service Leads to Success

My family is in the midst of a move to Phoenix. Through this process, we have worked with a number of different people providing various services. Some much better than others. It’s easy to see, based on the quality of service received, who will be successful and who won’t.

First, let me start with the two real estate agents we used—one in New Orleans and the other in Phoenix. Each has a good understanding of their respective markets and gives what appears to be good advice to clients. Where they differed (greatly) was in their follow-up. One followed up at every turn, often calling as soon as she had something to tell us. The other, not so much. In fact, more often than not, we were calling looking for answers.

The agent that had hardwired the follow-up into activity is, by far, the more successful agent.

Next, comes my lawn guy. I have the misfortune to be allergic to most grasses. Cutting my grass tends to put me into a bit of a sinus coma. It’s not fun. So, we had a lawn guy in New Orleans take care of our yard. He had been doing it for us for the past few years normally was highly reliable. This year, proved to be a much different story. Weeks would go by without us seeing him. Other things he had promised—weeding our front garden and powerwashing the house and sidewalk—simply didn’t happen.

As we were showing the house and getting to crunch time (receiving and accepting offers on the house and going through the inspections and appraisal), he was nowhere to be found. The grass crept about ankle level, approaching mid-calf. I called him, and he promised to be out that day. Two days later, he still hadn’t shown or called back to say he wasn’t going to be there. I called again. Same thing. I called two more times before he showed up—after we’d made the sale.

My guess is that after the owners settle in, he’ll approach them about continuing to care for the yard. Since they saw how “well” he maintained it, I’ll bet they turn him down. Other neighbors probably won’t look to him for his services either.

I had similar experiences with other service providers, just with this one event.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to service, you need to go above and beyond. Keep people informed. Make certain that your work can speak for itself. Exceed people’s expectations.

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