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design & marketing blog

Marketing, design, and technical resources for making your digital and print communications more effective.

Media Advertising is Struggling. What’s the Fix? Please Chime In!

July 22nd, 2007

As market-savvy corporations continue to adapt their marketing strategies to address consumer tendencies, traditional advertising outlets are feeling the crunch. Why? The answer is two fold: 1) today’s consumers are more likely than ever to base their purchasing decisions on peer reference rather than advertising and 2) access to alternative media via the internet has reduced the influence and control long held by newspapers, television networks, and radio stations. Hence, the appeal traditional media outlets once held has been mitigated and the writing is on the wall for change in their advertising sales departments.

So, thinking about the future from a media outlet, what is the answer? With so many options available via the Internet, which provide current and plausibly accurate information, I’m not sure that a paid subscription is the way to go. I know that I would never pay for a subscription to a newspaper site as I can access the same information on Google News for free. And with the advertising model, think back to how many banner ads you’ve clicked on … and on top of that, how many banner ads have actually led you to a purchase. I know for most folks, that number is minuscule if it exists at all.

To conclude, I’m hoping to solicit some honest and candid discussion on this topic. I’ve read several blogs and articles on this topic, and I have yet to find an adequate answer for the dilemma facing the major media outlets. Is their future dim? Or is there a solution that will drive the financial solvency of television and radio broadcasters and hard copy newspapers. As I have a genuine interest in this topic, please let me know your thoughts … especially if you work in the mass-media industry.

Guerrilla Marketing Redux

June 27th, 2007

Recently I found myself isolated from the digital world for a couple hours, courtesy of Idaho Power. After a brief period of anxiety, I picked up an old book I hadn’t looked at in many years—Guerrilla Marketing Weapons by Jay Conrad Levinson.

My first observation was how antiquated some of the strategies are. 1990 does not seem that long ago but from a business and marketing perspective it’s a world apart in many ways. Regardless of the era, I question some of the council he provides in his promotion of advertising as “affordable” and a “necessity”. The author was an advertising guy in a bygone era…can’t blame him for pushing his industry.

While some of the info was off base (should I really consider promoting my business through matchbook advertising?) most of the “weapons” are still spot on. One point the author made that really resonated with me was under the heading, Identity:

A word to strike from your marketing vocabulary is image. An image is a facade, something phony…prospects come in…and learn that the company is not, indeed, what it held itself out to be in the first place. Instead, it is different—not bad, but different.. This makes the prospect unconsciously feel ripped off…because you communicated an image that had little basis in reality, only in hope. A far better
i word than image is identity. An identity is automatically honest.

This timeless insight is the essence of the social revolution that New Media / Web 2.0 have brought to bear in the last 15 years and in fact it’s the catalyst that established RisingLine.

In the past, many companies could trick enough people (mainly through advertising and gimmicks) to keep a sustainable level of demand generation to feed their habit. In the New Media world, consumers have the power to cut through the phony facade of images and create their own expose of each company. We see it well established already on such outlets as Amazon’s star ratings and user reviews and are seeing it trickle down to even small businesses through the
local business rating systems of SuperPages.com and Google. It’s at an accelerate pace now that social media will continue to drive out the fakes and increase quality across the board.

It’s ironic that this sage advice is given in a book promoting advertising and gimmicks. I believe the important take away is that more than ever, prominence should be given to building real quality into your product or service and developing a marketing plan to empower your customer evangelists who will be the authenticators and communicators for your marketing message. While advertising and marketing “weapons” may plan a part, their role has been significantly depreciated in today’s business environment.

As a post script, I notice that on the Guerrilla Marketing website Guerrilla Marketing, New Edition is being promoted as an updated version including “strategies for the Internet.”

The Mac is Back: Apple’s customers make it a major player again

June 4th, 2007

Mac ads


Apple’s current ad campaign

For those of you who know me best, you’re already familiar with my incessant evangelism regarding Apple’s Macintosh. For those of you who don’t know me that well, just keep reading this blog. But for all my biased chest-beating, even the most anti-Apple critic has to acknowledge the recent strides the Mac has made in the marketplace. First off, Apple increased its earnings 88% last quarter, the company’s stock/equity portfolio is higher than it’s ever been, and well known icons within the PC industry are in the process of making “the switch.”

So how does Apple leverage their success? Simply buy understanding the consumer and building stylistic products suited to their needs. Steve Jobs and his engineers and marketers strive toward building and communicating value to those who believe there has to be more to computing than blue screens, random shut-downs, and indistinguishable error messages. Not to mention, Apple has developed a reputation for taking care of its customers, providing the industry’s highest standard in design, all the while building quality products that put the competition to shame.

The point I’m trying to make here is that Apple is successfully de-commoditizing itself within the computing market by establishing itself as a leader in consumer satisfaction. It’s one thing for a company to claim it’s good at pleasing customers, it’s another thing when the customers are saying it themselves. While Dell is struggling to right itself by opening low-price channels through Wal-Mart, Apple is creating the undercurrent for a consumer revolution that will only help to break the Microsoft hegemony within the market.

In conclusion, Apple has proven that organizations are able to operate with substantial margins within a commoditized industry. If your business is struggling to find it self within a competitive, dog-eat-dog market, remember to follow Apple’s example in focusing on your customer’s needs. After all, customers are the most selfish people on the planet; they only care about what your product, service, or brand means to them. Apple understands this principal, as do most profitable businesses.

Customer Level Marketing – Investing in the Bottom Up

April 27th, 2007

Earlier this week, I was engaged in a discussion with a colleague on the way corporations tend to invest their capital. The amount of wasted dollars thrown toward executive pet projects, productivity initiatives, cubical redeployments, senseless non-strategic advertising, and other non-sales generating expenditures is simply mind-boggling. It truly makes me wonder how many companies have ever taken the time to consider what the results would be if they were to redirect a portion of their SG&A expenditure to improving customer relations.

Okay, you’re probably asking “what the heck does Erik mean by customer relations?” To be honest, I’ve never worked with or for a company that has ever concentrated their resources at the customer-level of the organization; every company I know concentrates most of their salaries, bonuses, amenities, perks, and other resources at the corporate executive level. Think about it, how many large organizations pay their frontline employees, namely those who interact and serve the customer, more than keyboard jockey managers back at the office?

I remember the first time I was introduced to this concept during my undergraduate studies over in Finland. My marketing professor asked us to read a phenomenal book by Jan Carlzon titled Moments of Truth. Through the book, Carlzon focuses on his stint as CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), where he is widely renowned for resurrecting what should have been a dead dog company. The SAS Carlzon took over was destined for insolvency, yet his progressive approach to turning the organization upside down literally saved the company and made it a world force in airline transportation. His strategy was simple: slash resources and expenses at the top and invest heavily in the bottom. Within a matter of months, SAS drastically reduced corporate headcount, frivolous spending (such as corporate-level perks), and useless overhead all the while investing in customer service training, customer-focused sales strategies (in regards to ticketing, seating arrangements, and travel packages), employee bonuses based on customer satisfaction, and salary increases for frontline personnel.

Along with the reallocation of resources, SAS initiated a policy wherein all corporate-level employees were required to work at the frontline level for a designated period of time so as to gain an intimate appreciation for the ticket counter representatives and stewards/stewardesses and the customers they served. Furthermore, SAS adapted a progressive policy of promoting high-performing frontline personnel to strategic positions within the organization so as to help consult other service-oriented personnel with customer-relations. Despite the temporary moral downswing at the corporate level, the frontline employee moral shot through the roof as opportunities opened up for incentive pay and promotions. Guess who reaped the benefits of motivated frontline personnel … yep, the customer.

So as to not give too much away, I do encourage you to read Carlzon’s book and contemplate his advice on marketing to your customers through your frontline employees. In addition to the frontline, bottom-up approach, Carlzon provides great strategic insight to managing a successful firm. Here’s a link to purchase Moments of Truth through Amazon:
Moments of Truth

To conclude, it would be well worth your time to consider how your organization could reallocate its resources to building a stronger relationship with your customers. It might be time to consider how to incentivize those who deal with your customers the most.

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