Category Archives: marketing

AAA Marketing

Back in the day, small biz owners thought they were über-clever when they named their buisness something like ‘AA Plumbers’.

It was a telephone strategy so that they would appear first in the Yellow Pages or other directory listings.

Flash forward to today and see what the market thinks about Yellow Pages. They make YouTube videos mocking the wasted marketing dollars.

While it’s easy to tsk-tsk thousands of businesses whose names start with AAAAAAAAA, pause and make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Are you writing web copy solely for SEO and not people? Are you clamouring for Facebook likes? Are you spamming inboxes with irrelevant messages?

There’s a difference between marketing tactics, marketing strategy, and marketing philosophy. Don’t get them mixed up.

Things change. Your success today doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve built a long term brand. Remember these words from the movie ‘Patton‘,

A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

Don’t make ‘core DNA’ business decisions based on today’s business fad. You’ll eventually regret it.

death of originality and creativity

One of the odder analogies I use when I teach and present is that of cooking and compression. When creating digital media, it’s best to work with the original uncompressed digital file for the best final result. Using compressed (cooked) files, you’ll not get a clean final product. To show this, I take audiences’ minds into the kitchen:

You can take raw hamburger meat and make a meatloaf.
You could chop up the leftover meatloaf, add seasoning, and create taco filling.
You could take that leftover taco filling and add it to a pot of chili.
You could take that chili and…etc.
Eventually, the meat will be processed repeatedly until it turns into an inedible mush that still has artifacts left over from previous incarnations.

Yum.

It’s an analogy that works for mp3s and jpgs, but it’s also what’s happening more and more with creativity and originality in our culture. Instead of new ideas, we’re recycling old ones. We’re using leftovers to fill us up instead creating a fresh standard.

They’re making a Broadway play based on the movie ‘Animal House’. Think about that while recalling what other classic movies and TV shows have been ruined by redux adaptations and reimaginings. Add that to the rote and repetitive grind of reality TV, pop music, sports, and other packaged entertainment for the masses.

And that’s just pop culture / entertainment. The same thing is happening in design, technology, and art where the mixup, mashup, reblog, retweet, adaptation, parody, and share are sometimes considered of more importance than the original.

Eventually, it’s all going to turn to mush.

Who will create fresh content and provide original ideas? Sounds like an opportunity for someone.

UPDATE: A few days after I posted this, James Lileks wrote a few great paragraphs (as always) that are related to this idea. Take a look at the last third of his post (after the dog and set parts).

best of 2011

I do it every year … [2005] [2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] … so I can’t stop now. For new readers or people who are just discovering my content, I always do a list of my favorite / top / best blog posts from the previous year so here’s 2011’s list:

I truly thank you for being a reader of the Shotgun Marketing Blog. I hope to continue to provide you with useful and entertaining content in 2012. Don’t miss any of the upcoming posts by either subscribing to the RSS feed (through a reader or by email) or following me on Twitter or on Facebook.

autopilot

According to the press release from American Airlines, their customers should see “no change in service” related to their bankruptcy filing today.

That’s a shame.

Might be a good time to start delivering better service so they don’t have to file for bankruptcy in the future.

Most airlines are living in customer service bankruptcy.

(From the archives: My favorite post about American Airlines – Eliminating the last olive)

the one about the music industry and record stores

Several years ago as a marketing consultant, I had a few independent record stores as clients. And I’ve had several other bigger music industry clients that I’ve done marketing projects for over the years. So it was with great interest when Adam Coronado contacted me for a piece he was writing for the San Antonio Current about the troubles of local record / music stores.

I enjoyed doing the interview. So much so, that I asked him if I could expand on his story by posting much of our interview here. (Lesson to bloggers: Never waste content.)

The following interview is from October 2011:

ADAM: From your vantage point, what is hurting the classic record store? For our purposes, when I say record store, I’m talking about a place that sells physical copies of music, not necessarily limited to vinyl. Is illegal downloading the major culprit?

CHRIS: While illegal downloads were the first taste of the drug and are still used, I think the main culprit is consumer apathy.

It’s like people who say they support local food movements and mourn the loss of local farms but, in a time/money pinch, will pick up a tomato at Wal-Mart that was grown thousands of miles away. People “say” they support the local music store or local bookstore because their conscience (and society) dictates they say that. And in their heart, they may really mean it. But given the chance to either leave the house and go down to the store or sit on their couch and click an icon, their true colors show though.

While the illegal download is still going strong, I think the true culprit is the recently departed Mr. Jobs and his 99-cent siren. I have never seen an entire industry so upended in such a short amount of time. While record companies were suing little old ladies for downloads, iTunes snuck in and took over. It completely changed the paradigm for the actual retailers of music.

The short answer to this question is that what is hurting the classic record store is that society and culture evolved. You can’t fight that. The basic consumption of all media has changed and it’s changing consumer behavior across the spectrum. Just over the past 20 years .. a single generation.. things like travel agents, bookstores, newspapers, film/photo processing, record stores, and hundreds of other areas have drastically changed. The future is arriving much faster than it used to. Adapt or die.

ADAM: Why is the record store still important? Why should we continue to support them? What should a record store that fires on all cylinders look like? In other words, what does one that won’t close offer? Is it a pipe dream to consider the idea of them never becoming extinct?

CHRIS: There will always be a remnant. There are still farriers to shoe horses. Even with GPS, people still appreciate a beautiful map. People like handwritten notes. They still actually make chariots.

Record stores should adapt from a “sell” mentality to a “curator and guide” mentality. I love the signs I’ve seen in several libraries that says something to the effect of “Google may give you a thousand results, but a librarian will give you the one you need”

That’s why a record store is still important and why the public needs to support them. iTunes Genius and Pandora may suggest items based on what you say you already like. But a personal curator of music can introduce new things outside of your comfort zone.

ADAM: Tell me what you think of (as in pros and cons):
-Cloud music services. For example: Spotify, Rhapsody and Grooveshark.
CHRIS: The pro with Spotify is Facebook. When music becomes social, it can spread. The con is also Facebook. I don’t care what some of my friends are listening to .. some of it stinks.

-Digital music services. For example: iTunes, Amazon, etc.
CHRIS: Much of what I talked about above with consumer apathy. But I think its best attribute is the idea of the single song. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted on an entire album just for one song. The problem with that is discovery of the deep cuts. I think it will hurt the artists most. I foresee a day when the “album” will no longer exists. Artists will only put out singles.

-Illegal downloading. For example: the original Napster, Soulseek,
CHRIS: Napster got people comfortable with the idea of digital tracks. I think it also sowed the seeds of destruction for lots of areas. The biggest victims were the artists. It’s a problem in general with today’s web. The idea of ownership and copyright of creative content is slipping (has slipped?) away from us. Kids know it’s wrong to take a candy bar out of store without paying. But they think nothing of copy-pasting text or right-clicking and grabbing a photo from the web.

While it’s been building for a while, the societal shift happened with the ruling on the Shepard Fairly Obama hope image. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. The trouble with “illegal” things on the web in general is the lagtime. By the time some legislator gets outraged enough to change laws, the thing they’re fixing went out of vogue 18 months ago. Case law and technology are not synched.

ADAM: Does the metaphysical meaning of music get altered when its packaging goes away?

CHRIS: Absolutely. Placing importance on the abstract is a difficult sell. When people can hold something in their hands or see it, there is an emotional and physiological connection. “I have something” But digital tracks are kind of like insurance. It’s something we buy, but can’t hold. I think that’s the Achilles Heel of digital music and the opportunity for record stores. Back to a previous question, when people can come in and the music curator lets you hold the album cover or flip through the liner notes, there’s more of a connection to the experience.

**Read Adam’s full story in the San Antonio Current here.

the marketer’s bookshelf

As I consult or speak, people often ask me for marketing or business book recommendations. While I sometimes review new business books on the blog, I didn’t have a list of the classics. I thought it would be nice to have a central repository that I could point to as the “essential marketing book shelf”. So here are some of my top picks in several business categories:

— The Essential Essentials —

There are only a few people in the world that I consider worthy of the title of marketing guru. So I could probably list the entire Seth Godin canon in this post. However, there are two of his books I consider fundamental reading.

I distinctly remember when I was honored to receive one of the 1st copies of Purple Cow. The milk carton that came in the mail freaked out the secretaries at the office I was working in at the time. The book was remarkable in that it practiced what it preached in the way it was distributed. When I do a marketing keynote, I lay out 3 essential elements of successful marketing for the audience. The ideas in Purple Cow parallel my first step which is “Great marketing begins with the product”.

 

The other essential Godin book is Permission Marketing. This book was written in 1999 and predates Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels, but the basic idea works for those items as well as the traditional marketing channels that Seth discusses in the book.

 

While he’s not a marketer, per se, the other prolific business author who has multiple books that could be on this list is Malcolm Gladwell. Much of creating successful marketing is understanding the way society and individuals think. Both Blink and The Tipping Point are important books to read to understand this better.

 

Ogilvy on Advertising is an old book. David Ogilvy is dead. But if everyone who created TV, radio, print, or online ads had a copy and referred to it, we wouldn’t see so much horrible advertising today. If you’re only going to read a few books on this list, make this one of them.

 

— Branding / Brand Strategy —

I’m a big proponent of the idea that strong brands are created by consumers, not marketers. But the majority of the time in order for that to happen, the marketer must have a solid brand strategy in place. Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout is a must-read that helps you understand the importance of developing a strong thought-out brand strategy.

 

Closely related to Positioning (literally) is The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding which Al Ries wrote with his daughter Laura. It’s basically a more bite sized version of Positioning with plenty of real life examples.

 

If I’m recommending marketing and business books, I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brand Zeitgeist. I wrote it because I wanted a comprehensive look at the branding and marketing basics that I want audiences to understand. Brand Zeitgeist reinforces basic marketing and branding principles and illustrates how businesses can use fundamental aspects of human nature to develop a brand strategy.

 

— Entrepreneurship / Career —

I have two tchotchkes, both given to me by wife, that have similar mantras. One has a quote from Thoreau that says, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” The other one has Dan Zadra’s simple quote of “Trust your crazy ideas.”
There are advantages to being different. I was first drawn to Chris Guillebeau because of his amazing travel quest, but related to that is his outlook on life which is outlined in The Art of Non-Conformity.

 

I spoke on a panel with Pamela Slim in 2010. In our chats both onstage and offstage, I found her message from Escape From Cubicle Nation was a needed one. Too many people are stuck in jobs they hate. Don’t be like that.

 

Another good resource for job seekers or would-be entrepreneurs is Dan Miller’s 48 Days to the Work You Love

 

— Communication —

While it covers visual presentation in general, I feel it should be mandatory to pass a test on Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen before someone is allowed to create a slide in PowerPoint or Keynote.
(Bonus points if you also read Seth Godin’s Really Bad PowerPoint e-book.)

 

Up in the “branding” section of this post, the books will tell you repeatedly to avoid brand extension, but Jay Conrad Levinson has successfully milked his Guerrilla Marketing concept for all it’s worth. His numerous books which all revolve around the same ideas have good points. Much of it common sense stuff that you need to do. A copy of one of the guerrilla marketing books needs to be in every small business owner’s hands.

 

— Social Media —

At any given time, there are a lot of good books about social media marketing. Everyone wants the answers to social media presented as a neat package in a book. But the trouble with printed books about social media is that they’re outdated by the time they roll off the press or even onto your Kindle. You need a big picture overview of the fundamentals BEHIND social media that you can apply to any platform.
The book you need for this was written over 12 years ago before social media as we currently define it even existed. Most of the 95 theses in The Cluetrain Manifesto can be applied to your marketing strategy for any current social media platform. Don’t want to buy the book? Read it for free.

 

— Corporate Culture / Ethics —

I have to stop myself from using Zappos too much as an example of how great corporate culture and employee empowerment can contribute to a strong brand and a healthy bottom line. In Delivering Happiness, Zappos founder, Tony Hsieh, outlines the Zappos philosophy and how you can do it in your business.

 

Successful long term businesses have a strong moral code at their foundation. I have found that the KJV Bible provides a specific set of guidelines and principles that will work in every possible situation.

 

— The Usual Suspects —

Robert Waterman / Tom Peters’ In Search of Excellence may be a little heavy for every application / user and parts of it are dated, but it is the definitive resource for how to manage a company.

Most essential business reading lists like this one will include Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. All these have valuable business insight, but I would challenge anyone to find someone who is not a MBA nerd who has actually read these books. Put them on your shelf, but read the Cliffs Notes version of all three.

— Virtual Bookshelf —

The books on your shelf are great for the big ideas that stay constant, but the tactics of marketing are changing every day. You need updates. Don’t get caught up in the ‘fad du jour’ mob mentality on Twitter, but do stay abreast of marketing trends by following marketers on Twitter. (I may do a follow-up post to this one of Twitter recommendations … posted on a Friday, of course.)

And there’s still a need for longer content than 140 characters so make it a habit to read competent marketing blogs and online versions of marketing publications. Look on the right sidebar of this page for my marketing blogroll. (link for rss readers)

And while not reading, you should be watching TED videos.

— Your books —

Initially, this post seemed like a great idea as a quick listing of essential business books. But it’s been one of the hardest I’ve written. I have had to leave out many books I enjoyed and found valuable, but would have made this list much too long.

So I’m turning it over to you. What essential book on the marketer’s bookshelf did I miss? Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments.

Disclosure: I wrote one of these books. Most links are Amazon affiliate links. A list of these books can be found on Amazon.

it’s always the little things

Positive branding comes from positive customer experiences. Most of your brand is built through mundane daily customer experiences rather than polished marketing messages.

The opportunity and danger in this is that there are a LOT of little things that can either be a remarkable delight for customers or a slightly off-key note.

I eat regularly at a place that occasionally offers me a free food incentive on my receipt if I take their online survey. I usually take the survey because … hey … free taco.

At the end of the otherwise well-designed feedback survey, the final screen tells me to write the confirmation number on the line provided on the receipt and bring it in for the free food.

But … there’s no line anywhere on the receipt.

I usually just jot it down in some white space on the receipt and redeem it.

Is the line a big deal? No.

Does the lack of the line offend me so much that I will never set foot in the place again? No.

But here’s the point. If they’re missing such an obvious little thing, what else are they missing in the customer experience?

It’s like a story I enjoy using when I speak to groups about how you never notice your house stinks until you’ve been gone for a few days and return home. Likewise, business owners don’t notice the many things customers do notice because they rarely go through the customer experience for themselves.

They never see the dead plant at the entrance of the building like customers because they enter from a back door.

They never get lost in phone call center option matrix that their customers have to navigate.

And they never notice a line is missing where they say a line should be.

barbers don’t cut their own hair

A quick follow up thought to my post last week about a PR firm’s debacle

  • Barbers don’t cut their own hair.
  • The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
  • A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
  • And marketers do a poor job of marketing themselves. In fact, they stink at it.

Your ad, PR, or marketing firm should develop a reciprocal agreement with another similar sized shop that is not a local competitor.

The immediate gain could be a mutual sounding board and critic of current client outreach programs. Each PR firm, ad agency, or marketing shop could even create self-promotional content for the other one. This content would be fresh and exciting even for employees since they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it when they created it. It’s like having someone else make a sandwich for you. It’s better.

But the real reason you should create this reciprocal agreement today is for your impending disaster.

A smart marketer would never suggest that a client handle their own crisis communication. But marketers are more than willing to dig deeper holes for themselves.

Set up an agreement and plan that lets the other agency take over your corporate communications when you hit the panic button. Maybe even hold a social media fire drill.

Your crisis partner will have an objective view because when the crisis hits you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

PR firms and bloggers are like matches and gasoline

Blogger outreach in PR is like working with gasoline. Work with it correctly and it makes the vehicle go. Do it incorrectly and it blows up with disastrous consequences.

I am amazed at the number of PR firms who have an astounding lack of understanding at not only the basics of public relations, but also the basics of civility and common sense.

Until yesterday, one of the best recent examples of this phenomenon was ConAgra’s PR firm tricking bloggers about Marie Callender food, but some email exchanges yesterday provide us with a classic textbook debacle.

Instead of a recap, I’ll just let you read the story of how a few employees at BrandLink Communications have nearly destroyed their business with a bad pitch to the Bloggess. (warning: profanity-laden)

Their first basic mistake was relevance. While the point of PR is to get mentioned in as many forms of media as possible, too many firms just blast their entire contact list with every pitch. Look at the placement (whether it’s a blogger or traditional print/broadcast outlet) and see if what you’re pitching is similar to the type of content and audience they have.

For some reason, I keep getting emails from a PR firm who wants me to write about MRI machines here on the Shotgun Marketing Blog. They have not researched. Shoddy research doesn’t count either. I get a few pitches a week wanting me to write about guns and/or ammunition.

The well-researched personalized pitch works. Take a look at the 2nd half of Mark Schaefer’s post back when I was pitching bloggers about Brand Zeitgeist.

Another tenet of sending out good pitches is basic proofreading. If you look at the quotes from BrandLink Comm’s original pitch, it’s rampant with spelling and grammar errors. There’s now an entire generation of young professionals who are now sending out professional emails with the laissez-faire style of online communication and texting. It might work with some bloggers, but you’re going to immediately be deleted by the traditional editor who has an AP Stylebook sitting next to the Bible.

While BrandLink Comm had a bad pitch to start with (as The Bloggess tried to tell them with the Wil Wheaton link), this issue was compounded by arrogance, hubris, and rudeness. In PR, you’re basically going with hat-in-hand and asking for help. Be respectful of their audience and their time.

And when you do mess up, say you’re sorry and mean it. BrandComm has sent the Bloggess an email apology and apologized on their Facebook page, but the offensive VP (Jose) continues to be glib and use non-apologies on his Twitter feed.

All PR firms who reach out to bloggers need to have a training with all their employees using this instance as the prime case study. (Need a trainer?)

And always remember, reply-all is the most dangerous thing on your computer.

Update: This is not the first time that Jose has ticked off a high-profile blogger.

Follow-up Post: PR firms, ad agencies, and other marketers should find a partner for disaster

no one cares about your company’s history

I’m sure you’ve had this happen to you.

Someone is making a sales pitch or educational presentation to you. They need your attention. Then as they begin, they say…

but before we get started let me tell you a little about our company. It was founded by Joe Whatsisname back in 1923. We merged with Whatsicallit Corp in 1934. The new company decided…

And on it goes for the next several slides and minutes.

Why lead with this?

It’s the equivalent of pulling out slides of your parent’s trip to the Grand Canyon when visitors enter your front door. It’s only mildly interesting to the person presenting. It’s sheer boredom to the audience and the potential customer.

But you might say they need to know the history of the company so they can see our longevity in the market and make an informed purchase decision…

Okay. Then in the first 5 minutes of your next job interview, tell the interviewer about the writing award you got in 7th grade.

It falls back to one of my fundamental precepts of marketing and communication. Approach all communication from the audience’s perception, not yours.

Tell them things they care about and want to know, not what you (or corporate) want to tell them.