Monday, December 10, 2012

Rules and Guidelines for Copywriting

Everyone has their own rules for how to write good copy, or good headlines, or a novel, or anything really.  Type "rules for copywriting" into a search bar and you'll be swimming in tips, tricks, and how-tos.

Now, since this is the internet, some of those tips will be really good ideas, and some will make you wonder if the person writing them has ever written anything else since that book report in the third grade(the one where they got points off for copying the back of the book).

An easy way to tell if a rule is any good is to see how many people are repeating the same rule.  For example, most articles about writing ad copy will mention something about including a call to action.  If they don't, you might want to find a different source for advice.  It's one of those things that everyone tells you, and everyone tells you it because it's true.

One interesting rule I came across recently was, "assume your readers are at least as smart as you."  I think this is a good one to keep in mind.  I've seen more than a few ads and promotions where you can tell someone was trying to make their message idiot proof, and wound up just making it idiotic.

Talking down to your audience will only make them feel insulted.  On the other hand, you also don't want to get too technical if you're not talking to experts.  Try to keep in mind what your audience likely knows already, and what they are capable of learning.

That makes sense to me, but even better there are a lot of other people who have said the same thing, including somebody from Boston College(tip 3-c in the first section).

Another tip I've seen is to never use negatives.  Not double-negatives, mind you, any and all negative words.  As in, don't ever use the words "no" or "not."  I've even seen this advice applied to both headlines and writing in general.

This is one rule that I think is just silly.  Avoiding a generally negative tone in your writing is one thing, but you can accomplish that while still using the word "not."

Do you really want to avoid all negativity, though?  A little bit can create some tension and make things more enticing for the reader.  Which of these would you be more curious about:
     3 Tips for Better Writing
     Don't Make These 3 Mistakes In Your Writing

Ultimately, any rules that you come across when it comes to writing-or almost any other art form-are not really about "right" or "wrong" so much as "this" or "that."  Things like passive voice and sentence fragments create certain impressions in the reader's mind.  Sometimes you want to avoid those impressions, but sometimes they are exactly what you need depending on what the goal of your writing is.

Even the rule about assuming your audience is as smart as you is not so much about the "right" or "wrong" way of writing, but about not sounding patronizing.  But if you have a different goal, then you might want to break some rules.  Perhaps you want to create a patronizing tone for some reason.

Ultimately, it's up to the writer to determine what the purpose of their writing is and what rules they need to apply or break.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. - Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity is the key to making everything better.

At least, it certainly seems that way.  Every time some expert gives "X Tips for Better [Anything]," one of the tips that comes up the most is, "keep things simple."

In marketing, it's often seen alongside classics such as, "do your research," and "test everything."

It's not just a marketing tip either.  You hear that same piece of advice in almost any discipline.  Martial artists will tell you that simple moves and tactics are often more effective than big, showy techniques(which is why MMA matches look nothing like Jet Li movies).  The same goes for sports.  And have you ever seen Kitchen Nightmares?  Gordon Ramsay talks about "simple recipes" so much you could make a drinking game of it(and some people have).

Keeping things simple makes it hard to get them wrong.  Simple messages are easy to understand, and simple executions are hard to screw up.

This is important in marketing because people are constantly trying to avoid you.  Marketing is intrusive, it gets in the way of what people really want.  It's an interruption of their favorite TV show, an extra page to turn to get to that article they want to read, or a sponsored post that they have to scroll past to see what their friends are up to.

But a simple message becomes almost impossible to ignore.  As soon as you see it, you understand it.  A simple execution makes things even better because the whole process is over as quick as possible.  There is a minimum amount of intrusion on the consumer's time, so they are much less irritated by the interruption.

This is not to say that complexity has no place.  Anyone who was into video games around 2004 might remember the I Love Bees campaign to promote Halo 2.  People were required to stand by pay phones waiting for them to ring, share information with others from around the world, and crack codes, often with no idea what those codes were for.

Thousands of people from around the world participated, the website was viewed by over 3 million visitor in three months, and the campaign won several awards.

If you want another great example of complicated promotions, look at almost anything Red Bull is doing these days.  Their extreme-sports powered Rube Goldberg device(dubbed The Athlete Machine) is probably more complicated and daring than anything that would ever be dreamt of by other marketers.

Because of the complexity of these campaigns, a casual consumer cannot simply glance at it, get the message, and then move on.  It acts as a filter so only the more dedicated consumers will bother with the content.

With this smaller, more dedicated audience comes an incredible level of engagement.  Unlike the intrusive ads that people try to avoid, these campaigns will be sought out and shared by the consumers.

As I already said, though, simple makes things easy.  Making another campaign like I Love Bees requires experienced professionals who know how to pull that sort of thing off, as well as a sizable budget.  It's not something a small business with just an intern would want to attempt.

In Marketing-and martial arts, and cooking, and life-complexity can have its place, but you can't go wrong with keeping things simple.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Time to Ditch Demographic Profiling

Right now the marketing industry is being weighed down by a tool that has outlived its usefulness: demographic profiles - the idea that you can group people by age or income level and most people in those groups will be pretty similar.

Now, I know I'm not the first person to rail against the age-old use of demographics - a lot of people before me have said that they need to go(usually while promoting the rise of psychographics) - but the thing is, people are still using them!

You hear marketers talk all the time about how their campaign did really well among the 18-24 demographic, or how they're planning on targeting women age 30-49, and every time I hear that I roll my eyes a little.

Why are we still using this outdated tool?  I know why we started.

Once Upon a Time...

Demographic profiles used to be a pretty good way to figure out who your consumers were and how to target them.  When I say "used to be," I mean in the 50s and 60s, when people's roles in society were much stricter.  You could split society into groups, and those groups were pretty homogenized.

A white, middle-class man either went into the military or college(or maybe went straight to the work force), got a job, got married, had kids, and then worked until they retired.  If a woman wasn't the one that the man married and had kids with, she was either a secretary, nurse, or a teacher.  And if you weren't white, you probably went into the service industry.

Society didn't really like people who were different.  If you were different, you probably bought a lot of the same things anyway just to fit in.

But then society started to change.  Women started to get jobs - jobs that weren't teacher, nurse, or secretary.  White collars started to be worn by people who weren't white.  Some people began to put off going to college or starting their career.  People became more tolerant of those who were different.

Demographics persisted because, despite their growing inaccuracy, they were still the most efficient option.  Getting detailed information on a person's buying habits and cross-referencing that with other people's buying habits to form new groups was a daunting task.

Until the internet.

Now - thanks largely to Facebook and Google - marketers have easy access to all kinds of information about their consumers.  So much access, in fact, that an entire industry has risen up around gathering and organizing that data.

Marketers are left with no excuse.  There is no reason to target "males age 18-25" to sell kayaks to when they can target "people who go kayaking."

In this age of big data, old-school demographic profiles have reached a new height of obsolescence.  They are, at best, grossly ineffective.  At worst, they are downright harmful to society.

Useless and Dangerous

Think about it: what is the "average 25-year-old white female" like?  Did she just graduate from college and is focusing on her career, or did she settle down early and start a family?  Does she like to go out dancing, or stay in and watch sitcoms and reality TV?  Or would she rather play Call of Duty, or read Lord of the Rings?

Assuming that any of those activities are "normal" would be insulting to every woman who didn't enjoy them, and assuming they aren't "normal" would be insulting to every woman who did.

That's not to mention the danger of what Seth Godin recently called the "false proxy trap."

Let's say that a research group discovers that a certain subset of middle-class women in their early 30s have focused on getting a good education and having a successful career, but are now taking some time to relax, meet new people, and have fun.  So the research group determines that middle-class women in their early 30s would be a good group to target for a dance class.

An ad agency, using "middle-class women age 30-35" as a false proxy for that subset, decides to place an ad during The Price Is Right, because a lot of women in that demographic watch that show.

Except the women watching The Price Is Right are stay-at-home moms who don't have time to go out dancing.  The entire ad budget is wasted.

Demographic profiling may have been the best tool of its time, but that time has passed.  Now, like any other tool that's past its prime, it is ineffective when it does work, and dangerous when it doesn't.  Marketers have so many shiny new tools at their disposal, it's time to put those to work and leave the old rusted demographics behind.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Socia Media Is the New Television

There are few guarantees in this world - death, taxes, night following day - but one of the greatest and surest guarantees, encompassing all others, is change.  No matter how huge, how powerful, how entrenched something seems, things will change.  Nothing will last forever.

This might sound depressing to some, but I think it's incredibly exciting.  To think that no matter how important and integral to society something may seem, one day things will be completely different.

Technologies will emerge, fads will disappear, and society will move on.

The perfect example of this is television.  At the end of the twentieth century, TV was fairly ubiquitous.  True, not every home had one, but those were the outliers, the oddballs.  If you met anyone, regardless of their social status, if they had a home and electricity, you could assume they had a TV.  And you would probably be right.

It was like a super-weapon for marketers.  A spot in primetime on the right station could be guaranteed an audience of millions.  Repeat it a few times on a few different stations, and the entire country would know of your product.  Or you could target a more local population using the network affiliates, and certain demographics through specific cable networks and shows.

Then high-speed internet came along, and with it came streaming services like Hulu, as well as less legitimate services like Bit Torrent.  Around the same time, Tivo appeared, and cable companies introduced their own DVRs to compete.  Now people are able to watch what they want whenever they want with little or no commercials.

What's more, there is no centralization.  In addition to Hulu, people can go to the network website, Netflix, or any of several other services to watch a show.  There is no one place where a marketer can put their ad and expect all the fans of a show to see it.

But there is another side to this coin.  With the rise of high-speed internet came social media.  Now there are over 1 billion people on Facebook.  That's 1 out of every 7 people on the planet.  If you're looking at just a first-world country like America, that ratio becomes closer to 1 out of every 2.

And with social media, brands can talk with their fans, know exactly who is buying their products and listening to their messages, and get instant feedback.

With television, the use of demographics was really just very educated guesswork.  If you sold snowboards, your customers would probably be watching the winter X-games, so you would make sure you had a lot of ads during those games.

On social media, you can easily seek out the people near your store who are interested in snowboarding, and not waste your time on people who might be watching, but won't be buying.

Social media has all the reach that television once had, and far more power and flexibility than would have ever been possible with TV.  Our world has changed.  Social media is the new television.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Marketing to Women: You're Doing It Wrong

Lately I've been seeing a spate of products marketed toward women.  Ridiculously, unnecessarily marketed toward women.  Products like pens and beef jerky and Legos.  Products that(you would think) are genderless.

I think I know the reasoning behind all this, too.  Somebody was looking at the sales figures and thinks, "This product sells mostly to men.  If we target women, we'll have a huge market open to us."  

And so they take a formerly gender neutral product and try to feminize it.  Make it smaller, make it sweeter, make it pink(and possibly other pastel colors).

And it's all stupid.  When I see it, it feels like disingenuous pandering.  Probably because that's what it is.  

Does anybody really think women don't buy BIC pens because their small, frail hands can't grip the rugged shaft, and the garish, manly colors offend their sight?  Or that they don't buy jerky because their child-like tastes veer toward sweeter, fruitier flavors?

Honestly, haven't we moved on from this way of thinking yet?

Obviously not, because marketers(and many other people, but that's another issue) still see women as "other."  They are a separate group with different values and a different way of thinking.

I suppose they could be forgiven for thinking this.  After all, how many times do we hear people pointing out how different women are?  Relationship-advisors telling us that, when women complain, they're not asking for help, just venting.  Comedians talking about how a man would punch you in the face, a woman would stab you in the back.  Men are simple, women are complicated.  

And women go to the bathroom in groups.  What's up with that?

The thing is, all of these differences are created by society.  They are all behaviors that women have to learn in order to deal with the different standards and expectations placed upon them.

"But don't marketers have to work with what society gives you?" you might ask.  "I mean, you wouldn't use the same campaign in Africa as you would in America, because they're a different society with different values and ideas.  So even if these differences are only created by society, don't we still need to take them into consideration when marketing a product?"

That's a very good question, Hypothetical Reader.  The answer is: partly yes, but mostly no.

Marketing is like a funhouse mirror.  Some aspects of the product are emphasized(You like low prices, and this has a very low price), and some are deemphasized or ignored completely(It will break in a week), and the product becomes a reflection of the values and ideas that you already hold.

Knowing which parts of a picture should be ignored is just as important as knowing which ones to highlight.  Those imagined differences between men and women need to be ignored because they only serve to create unnecessary barriers between groups.  Those barriers let people know that you are not talking to them and they can ignore you, even if they might otherwise have bought your product.  

It's the job of a marketer to get people's attention, and you do that by including people in the group you are addressing, not separating and excluding them.

And there lies the key to successfully marketing to women: realize that you are not marketing to women, you're marketing to people.  People who eat jerky, write with pens, and play with Legos, regardless of what sort of genitalia they have.

This goes both ways.  Hair care products are largely marketed to women, but what about the men who want to take care of their hair?  There's no reason to exclude them.  These products should be marketed to people who want healthy, shiny hair, not just women.

And maybe if we, as marketers, stop pretending that men and women are different, then the rest of society will finally begin to follow suit.  Dare to dream.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The "Do Not Track" Controversy

The other day I saw this article on Ad Age.  It says that a "coalition of advertising trade associations" called the Digital Advertising Alliance has decided that it's okay to just ignore the "do not track" setting on Internet Explorer 10(If you haven't heard, Microsoft has said that IE10 will have DNT turned on by default).

The reasoning behind this is that, because it was the default setting, it doesn't count as the person's choice.

The big problem here is that they are presuming to know what the users want and taking the control out of their hands.  As a marketer, you never do that.

What you do is figure out what you have to offer, and then offer that to the people who want it.  If you do, in fact, know what people want, that's easy.  If you're a really good salesman, you can convince people that they want what you offer.

But in the end, it's always the consumer's choice.  You can place yourself directly in front of them, but they still have to come to you.

I think that's what unnerves people about online tracking in the first place.  Instead of people seeking out the providers and marketers, those marketers are approaching the customers without being solicited.  It's the same with door-to-door salesmen, telemarketers, or Jehovah's Witnesses.

Now marketers are taking it a step further by taking a choice out of the customers' hands.  They are essentially unchecking that little box for you.

This is not just an inconvenience for people who want to not be tracked.  While it is likely that some of the users don't know or care about the DNT settings, it is also likely that some users were drawn to IE10 because of the default settings.  Those people made a conscious choice in using IE10 and the DAA is ignoring that.

For those people, the freedom of choice has been taken away.  Even if they could make it clear that it's not the default setting, that it is the user-preferred setting, that's requiring them to make the choice again after the first one was ignored.

To me, this marks the line between being convenient and creepy.  When marketers approach customers instead of the other way around, things get creepy and privacy gets violated.  When you start ignoring choices they make, you take away the customer's power.  And when you start making their choices for them, you take away some of their freedom.

People don't usually react kindly to that.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gay Rights: Cultural Turning Point or Marketing Fad?

Was it just me, or did this summer seem kind of gay?

I don't mean that in any kind of negative way.  I just mean that a lot of brands seemed to be very strongly supporting gay rights this year(and for the record, I'm in favor of that).

First there were JCPenney's ads for Mother's Day and Father's Day sales which featured same-sex couples with their children, then there was Oreo's infamous rainbow cookie(which I still wish was real, because that looks delicious), and though I never saw any Starbucks ads featuring this theme, they made a lot of headlines with their public support of gay marriage legislation in Washington.

What's behind this seemingly sudden outpouring of support?  Have we reached a cultural turning point where homosexuality is finally so accepted that marketers can openly target that demographic, or is this simply a marketing fad that some brands are using to grab a bit of attention?  Can it be both?

The way so many brands were showing their support after JCPenney makes it seem like a bit of a fad.  When everyone else saw the kind of attention they were getting, they all jumped on board before it became passee.

Not a bad idea, from a marketing perspective.  It certainly worked out for Starbucks.  They saw an entire grassroots movement form around buying their coffee.

It's possible that our society has turned a corner.  That, once JCPenney showed it was safe, everyone took the opportunity to express themselves and the floodgates opened.  Perhaps they were all excited to finally be able to appeal to a group that they had been forced to pretend did not exist for fear of starting a controversy and finding themselves in a PR nightmare.

Now we are in the fall, Gay Pride Month is far behind us, and I haven't heard much from brands about supporting LGBT rights lately.  Sure, if you search for it, you'll still see some articles here and there about companies supporting(or opposing) LGBT rights, but nothing like the phenomenon that we saw this summer.

So it looks like it was all a fad of sorts.  Just like with the Olympics and the presidential election, brands saw a hot topic and jumped at the opportunity to grab some of the spotlight.

That might sound bad, but I would consider it a very good sign.  It would mean society has become accepting to the point that something like this can become a fad.

At least, it would if that's what actually happened.  But let's take a closer look at these events.

JCPenney hired Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson in 2011, well before any of this summer's controversies began.  The Mother's Day and Father's Day ads seem like a natural extension of the supportive stance the company had already taken.

Starbucks voiced their support of the new legislation back in January, again before the height of the controversy.  And, like JCPenney, it was a reasonable extension of their existing policies.

Oreo perhaps caused one of the biggest stirs with their rainbow cookie, but I don't think they can even be credited with that.  All they did was make an image for their Daily Twist campaign.  There was no way they could have planned for it to spread like it did.

So then what was behind the sudden attention to gay rights?  Was the media simply covering it much more for some reason?

I think that was part of it, but mainly I think it was because all of these stories went viral.  People became passionate and vocal about LGBT rights and equality in a way that they haven't before.  It could be that a new generation has come of age that is more accepting than those before, or it could be that social media has made it easier for those who are already passionate to make their voices heard.  Or it could be backlash against anti-gay conservative groups who had suddenly become vocal themselves(nothing gets people fired up like having an enemy).  Likely it is a combination of the three.

As always, the marketing industry serves as a kind of mirror, reflecting what's going through the minds of the consumers.  We saw brands getting fired up because we saw people getting fired up.  And I'm eager to see what comes next.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

6 Lessons Learned the Hard Way About Event Marketing

Friday night I had the privilege of attending an event that I had helped organize and plan for over a month.  My main role was the go-to writer and social-media manager, but I was also a part of all the planning meetings.

This was my first time being a part of anything like this, so I learned a lot about what goes into putting on an event.  Here is what I took away.

1. Allow yourself plenty of time.

There had been talk of putting on an event of some kind for months, but talk was all it was.

And not productive talk.  The kind of talk that you hear when people talk about writing a book, running a marathon, or traveling around the world.

Aside from getting the venue, the serious planning didn't start until about five or six weeks before the event.  I don't think I need to tell you, that isn't a lot of time.

There are a lot of things that you need to get set up.  We needed to find someone to handle sound, lights, hors d'oeuvres, photography.  We needed to find corporate sponsors, donors for the silent auction, performers, speakers.

And on top of all that we needed to build up some marketing momentum.  A big problem when you have very little time.

We put together a radio spot, but it only ran once on a single station.  There was talk of getting local magazines to donate ad space, but no time to get an ad out to any of them.  And a Twitter account was started, but not much of a following could be built up.

Getting people properly worked up takes time.  Make sure you have that time.

2. Practice.

One of the cardinal rules of marketing is to test first to make sure everything works the way it should.  Test your product, test your webpage, test your marketing, test everything.

The same goes for events.  Do a dry run of everything to make sure of the timing, make sure everyone knows their places, and look for any problems that might come up.

We had platters of cheese, meat, crackers, and vegetables for people to snack on while looking at the silent auction items.  Then we took everyone into another room for the main show, and nobody thought about if we would need to put the food away.

Somebody had put it away, but then needed to take it out again during intermission.

It's these little things that can only get ironed out with practice.  And going back to the first point, give yourself time to practice everything and change things if you need to.

3. Make sure everything is to scale.

We had some people working very hard on getting items for the silent auction.  They did a great job and got a number of items from various artists, jewelers, and so on.

When it came time everyone to wander through and bid on the items, it wound up looking like a bit too much.  There were so many items that demand could not be driven that high.  Many items had only one or two bids, and some didn't have any.

We ran into a similar problem with seating.  We had a decent turnout, but still had a lot of empty seats.

If we had had a good way of accurately anticipating how many people would show up, we could have adjusted.  Perhaps if there were just a bit more scarcity, demand would have been driven a bit higher.

Though we may have also gotten more bids if we had ended on time and allowed people a last chance at the items, instead of going long and telling people, "Sorry, the auction closed while you were sitting here."  Another spot where practice would have helped.

4. Know what else is going on.

If there is a major event going on at the same time as your event, it can take away a lot of the attention that you would have been getting, but check if there are any smaller events that would also interfere.

We had an intermission scheduled in our show where people could walk around, have a drink or two, look at the auction items some more, and hopefully bid on them some more.

Except a band had been scheduled to use that same room later that night.

We lost a bunch of space in that room, and their playing was a bit of a distraction during some of the speeches at the end of the night.

5. Keep it focused, but keep it interesting.

Our event was a little bit of a variety show.  We had a speaker, a musical performance, a runway fashion show, another musical performance, another fashion show, intermission, another speech, musical performance, and one last fashion show.

It never felt boring, which was great.  Sitting through two hours of anything can be tough, even if you are interested to begin with.  By breaking the night up into several smaller events, I was never wondering when things would be over.

But at the same time it felt a little unfocused.  We could have probably cut one of the musical performances(especially since one of the performers had a bad case of laryngitis), and we would have had a night that still would have had variety, but would have been more focused and had a tighter timeline.

Keep the evening balanced so people aren't bored, but know what your event is about.  Don't be afraid to skew the balance toward that.

6. "Inspirational" videos are rarely inspirational.

It's good to have a reminder that you're doing this "for the kids," or "for the whales," or whoever/whatever, but don't expect to get a huge emotional response from your audience with a five-minute collection of film clips, unless you have one hell of a filmmaker on your team.

Despite all of this, I feel our event was a tremendous success, and I hope I get to do something like that again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

SEO is Dead

Okay, I'll admit that headline is a bit sensationalist.  People have been claiming that the art of search-engine optimization is dead/dying for a (very) long time.  Do a quick search on the topic and you'll find articles written years ago in response to this.

Some say that SEO is still very much alive, it's just changing.  That's undoubtedly true.  The glorious thing about the age of the internet is that everything is changing all the time.

But how much change must there be before SEO is no longer SEO?

Now, there are some basics that will likely never go away.  You will probably always want things like clean code in your website, a healthy amount of backlinks, and a few relevant keywords in your content.

Until recently, these have been very set rules.  Use those keywords X number of times, place those keywords here, here, and here, make the article between Y and Z words long, etc.  It was a great business for people who were good at following checklists.

Now, with every update, Google is making their algorithms more and more organic.  Many experts are already telling people to target the consumer, not the search engine.

With Google+ and the +1 button, Google is even adding a social element to the mix.  Some are already predicting that the future of SEO will revolve around social searching.

With so much emphasis on people and what they actually find useful or entertaining, the SEO landscape has already changed to something completely different from what it was only a few years ago.  It's gone from the realm of checklists and formulas to something much more intuitive.

It has become the domain of the artists.

The name search-engine optimization doesn't really apply anymore.  You are not optimizing for the search engines, you are optimizing for the consumers.

SEO is dead.  Now is the time of consumer optimization.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

3 Questions to Ask When Starting a New Marketing Campaign

Whenever I hear about how a great new marketing campaign was created or why it failed, I find the discussion usually revolves around at least one of three areas: What am I selling, who am I selling it to, and who am I?  These three questions are what marketers must ask themselves before starting any promotion.

1. What am I selling?

You might think this is the easiest question in the world to answer.  "I own a pizza place.  I sell pizzas.  Duh!"


There's an old saying in marketing, "You don't sell the steak, you sell the sizzle."  The way I interpret that is: you sell the differences between your product and everyone else's.

What makes your pizza unique?(I'll be sticking with a hypothetical pizza place for my examples)  Is it cheaper than anyone else's?  Is the crust the thinnest or the thickest?  Do you have the freshest ingredients?  Is there some gimmick?  A combination of any of those?

People can get a pizza anywhere.  Figure out why they would want to get one from YOU.

And if you really are the only place in town where people can get a pizza, don't get lazy.  Think about why people should get your pizza instead of someone else's burger or rack of ribs.

Note: If you really have absolutely no competition and just need to get people's attention, then I guess you can skip to the next question.  Congratulations on your monopoly.

2. Who am I selling to?

This is a big one.  Entire industries have formed around researching customer bases and telling businesses exactly who is buying their products or services.  You need to know your customer so you can know how and where to reach them.

"I'm a pizza place.  I sell to everybody."

Wrong again.

Everyone is different and likes different things.  Not everyone likes pizza.  You've just narrowed your target: people who like pizza.

Now narrow it further.  Look back at Question 1.  You are targeting people who want cheap pizza, or pizza with a very thin/thick crust, or whatever your selling point is.  Let's say it's 'value.'

Okay, you're targeting people who like pizza that's a good value.  And who are they?  College students?  Lower-income families?  Bosses who want to show their employees that they are appreciated, but not that appreciated?

Once you get a good idea of the type of person you are going to be targeting with your campaign, you can ask yourself, "What else do they like?"

Video games?  You could invest in a few arcade games, sponsor(or host) a video-game tournament, see what sort of joint promotion you might do with a local Gamestop.

Sports?  Get some nice TVs and a comfortable area where people can watch while they eat, and maybe organize a fantasy league.

Starting to get the idea?

A word of warning, though: being too specific can really limit the number of your potential customers, and end up hurting you instead of helping.  The same if you choose the wrong category.  Don't target college students if there's no college around.

3. Who am I?

Once you've got those first two questions answered, you need to figure out your own identity.  This will depend a lot on your answers to the first two questions.

And like the first two questions, this is more complicated than you might think.

You can't simply say, "I'm Hypothetical Pizza.  We sell pizza at a decent value to college students who like sports."  To really make your brand stand out and be memorable, it has to have a unique personality.

If you're selling high-quality pizza with fresh ingredients to people who appreciate that kind of thing, you will probably want to be more professional and straightforward in your messaging to reflect that quality.  If you're targeting a younger, more carefree crowd, your messaging should be more relaxed and have a sense of humor.

Try to get as detailed with this as possible.  It's better to know the details of your brand's character and not have to bring them up, than to not have them at all and end up seeming too generic.

For more help with this, check out some advice for writers on creating good characters for stories.

Once you have the answers to these three questions, often the rest of the campaign will simply fall into place.  But if you don't have the answers, you might find yourself wracking your brain to come up with a new promotion that falls completely flat.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Promoting in the Aftermath of a Tragedy

You probably heard about the shooting that happened at the Dark Knight Rises premier in Colorado(oh God I hope you've heard of that), but did you hear about the company that actually tried to make money off it?, a "dating" website where men can bid on a date with a woman, issued a press release saying, "During the Dark Knight Massacre, three men lost their lives to save the lives of their girlfriends. But what if you were on a first date, and you had only just met?"

It went on to say that the men on their site were "generous" and implied they would be more willing to take a bullet for their date.

Needless to say, there was some pretty severe backlash.  Many Twitter users called out the company for being insensitive and trying to profit off a tragedy, and Brandon Wade, the founder of, responded.

It was a pretty boneheaded move to use the shooting in the press release in the first place, and not listening to feedback was even worse.  There's no question about that.

But it did make a morbid part of my mind wonder: Could it be done?  Is there some way that a brand can use the publicity of a major tragedy like that and turn it to their advantage?

On the surface that would seem impossible.  I can think of a couple of failed attempts off the top of my head, like Groupon's super bowl commercial with Timothy Hutton, and Kenneth Cole's infamous tweet.  I'm sure you can come up with a few more examples.

But I also think of Budweiser.

After September 11, they had a touching tribute featuring their Clydesdales bowing toward the New York skyline.  There were a few critics(aren't there always?), but generally it was well-received enough that they remade the spot for the 10-year anniversary of the event.

But why were they okay?  What's the difference between the Budweiser Tribute spots, and's "This is so sad, now BUY OUR STUFF" approach?

I guess it would be the "buy our stuff" part.

What makes the Budweiser spots tributes is that they aren't selling anything.  They are expressions of grief and sympathy.  They have Budweiser branding to let you know who the message comes from, but that's all.  It's like putting your signature on a sympathy card.

To emphasize that point, Budweiser only ever aired the spots once.  They didn't want to turn it into a regular commercial because they didn't want to spoil the sentiment. 

So there's the key.  Selling is the poison that turns a touching and heartfelt sentiment into a disingenuous and manipulative sales pitch.  If you want your audience to know that your message comes from the heart, don't sell.  It can't be done.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Marketing: A Love Letter

This was originally going to be my debut post, because I feel it's a good introduction to me and how I look at the world of marketing, but my previous post was much more topical and I wanted to get that out while it was still relevant.

I love marketing.  I think it is a fascinating art, and it's a social art at that.  What do I mean by "social art?"  I will explain(because what else would I do with my blog?).

Everyone has their own definition of "art."  To me, "art" means a mastery of all the little details of a job that make the difference when it comes to quality.  If you're making a table, for example, you turn it into an art by knowing all the little tricks that go into making a table sturdy and level that an ordinary person wouldn't know about.

"Fine art" is when you communicate an idea or emotion using those details.  A poet will choose just the right words, a painter will put in just the right splash of color, and the observer will get the emotion or idea that the artist is trying to get across.

Not every marketing campaign will seem like it's trying to be emotional.  Some of the most successful campaigns are simply fliers stating, "Shirts for $X."  But even then a skilled marketer will carefully choose the font, color, image, arrangement, and many other details to effectively get across the idea that these shirts are a good value.

When marketing is done right, every paragraph is a poem, every image a portrait, every display a sculpture, every meal a banquet, every paycheck a fortune, every formation a parade!  I LOVE the corps!

Sorry, I got a little carried away and started quoting from Aliens.  Won't happen again.

Marketing done well is fine art.  But unlike other types of art, it is not meant to merely be pondered for a while before moving on to the next piece.  It is meant to move the observer to action.  It's a way for brands to communicate to customers, and it gives customers a means to communicate back.  In the past that's been with their wallets or some other way of showing general support for the brand, but now with social media that communication can be very direct.

That is what makes marketing so cool.  Where other arts are narcissistic, broadcasting their message and not caring what you do after, marketing is extremely social, passing along it's message and asking you to respond.  In fact, without that response, marketing becomes worthless.  Fine art joined with social interaction.  I love it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What's the Real Value of Being a "Native?"

Back in July, Cathryn Sloane wrote an article arguing that the people most qualified to manage a brand’s social media would be under twenty-five.  These people, the argument goes, would be the natives.  They would be the ones who grew up using social media technology, they were immersed in that culture, and so they would be the ones who best know how to use it. 

“The key is that we learned to use social media socially before professionally, rather than vice versa or simultaneously.”

I find this argument to be a little insulting. 

Ms. Sloane is assuming that learning the culture is the hard part, and after that the marketing will be easy, and that this disparity is great enough that someone who is intimately familiar with the social media generation but has almost no experience in marketing is more valuable than a seasoned marketing veteran who had to learn social media as part of their job. 

It certainly is important to know the culture that you are marketing to, but you still need actual marketing skill.  Sloane’s assumption both underestimates the abilities of marketers and overestimates the importance of simply being familiar with social media and its users. 

What value is there really in having come of age with social media and knowing it “socially before professionally?” 

There are over 900 million people on Facebook.  That is more than double the population of the United States.  That user base is spread all across the world and across all sorts of different social groups.  There are conservatives and liberals, anime fans and documentary lovers, adrenaline junkies and homebodies. 

This diversity makes it impossible to know all of Facebook society.  With such large portions of the social population that hold very different values and think in very different ways from you, you can only really know your own demographic.

There is such a large and diverse population that saying something like, “I grew up with Facebook.  Put me in charge of you social media campaign,” is like saying, “I’m from Europe.  Put me in charge of your European marketing campaign(according to a 2010 census, the population of Europe is over 738 million, which still isn’t as big as Facebook).” 

As I said, it is important to know the culture, and a native would have an advantage over a non-native marketer, but in the end it still comes down to who is the better marketer.

The industry is rife with examples of older marketers targeting younger adults and teenagers, and professionals managing campaigns for countries that they are not from.  They can do this because they are talented marketers and know how to reach people in these cultures, despite not being native to them.

Skills such as telling a brand’s story in a compelling way, working in a good call to action, and tying in a single spot to a campaign stretching across several channels are not things that simply come to you because you know the target audience. 

Knowing what will or won’t resonate with a certain group of people makes you an effective test-subject, a benchmark, not a boss.

But really, are people on social media that different?  Aren’t these the same people that marketers have been targeting for generations?  A low-income college student who likes mountain biking is still a low-income college student who likes mountain biking when he’s on Facebook. 

The only difference is that marketers have a new tool to reach him.

Learning who your audience is, what their values are, how they communicate, how to best reach them, these are all things that every good marketer must learn, and not just once, but with every campaign. 

When we see a social media campaign fall flat, it is most likely not because the people behind it didn’t know social media.  It’s because they didn’t know marketing.  Perhaps this is something Ms. Sloane would know with more experience.