Party On -- Excellently
Is Online Worth It
Branding the Truth Another note to readers -- April
OK, I'm done writing notes about how I'm going to
keep this page up to date. If you browse down you'll see I get
anxious about once or twice a year and start apologizing and making
pledges to be more diligent. No more. Still, I'm aware that
some folks actually DO check into this page from time to time, so I'll
try to keep things as up to date as I can.
If you're looking for information about our collection of poetry
("Between the Lakes: The Poets of Linden Hills") contact me:
email@example.com. You can use the same email address for info
about the Southwest Poetry Project.
If you're a student and have a question, or want to get in touch,
again: same email address.
Below are a couple new (as of this spring) marketing-related
pieces. The first was published in the St. Thomas online
newsletter, Acumen, so it may sound familiar. The second was one
of a series of "marketing notes" I send out a few times a year.
Marketing and Checklists -- April
The word “checklist” sends shudders down my spine. So do the words
“template,” “marketing committee,” and “copy review meeting.” They
signal something gone horribly wrong with a marketing program—
something that could possibly be fixed but probably not in this
I’ve been an advertising “creative” most of my career—copywriter,
creative director, art director, idea-generator. A creative’s natural
instinct when confronted with a marketing challenge is to say, “Turn it
over to us and get out of the way.” Sometimes we look at any variation
on that approach as a prelude to disaster. Many times we’ve been right.
But sometimes we’re wrong to just skip the review process. Recently the
idea of using control measures has gained quite a bit of buzz thanks to
the research of Peter Provonost, a critical care doctor at Johns
Hopkins. He has demonstrated through a number of well-controlled
experiments that the simple act of using a checklist for procedures in
intensive care units can produce amazing results—thousands of lives
saved, hundreds of millions of dollars saved, complete turnarounds in
Provonost’s work—minimally funded, often belittled, and usually
resisted—has “saved more lives than any laboratory scientist in the
last decade.” The story, written up in an article in the New Yorker
(December 10, 2007), draws a number of interesting comparisons between
medicine and other fields. In aviation, the “expert audacity” of early
test pilots was instrumental in moving the field into the jet age. But
it was high-risk, erratic work, and eventually it gave way to flight
simulators and standard operating procedures—not as dashing but not as
risky either, and very effective.
One of the enduring conflicts in the marketing world is that agencies
want to sell “expert audacity” while the clients feel more comfortable
with checklists and committees. It’s an issue even within agencies as
any account executive who has had “differences” with a creative team
will tell you. Both sides tend to go further down their respective
paths than they should and the result is one of the reasons so many
marketing programs fail. The procedure works, but the patient dies.
Templates, for instance, are a lousy way to create exciting brochures—
marketing pieces that may actually attract interest in a world where
attention spans are limited and the fight to court them is highly
competitive. But using some kind of template is a very good way to
build a company-wide collateral program that helps keep the graphic
design and copy approach consistent. This can end up as a battle
between inwardly-focused company policy and outwardly-focused customer
service, but it doesn’t have to.
Marketing committees are usually oxymorons. You can’t do effective
marketing by committee. Too much depends on instinct, daring, quick
decisions, and timing. None of these is a typical result of committee
processes. There are a lot of people who can hedge and critique, and a
lot of people who can say “no.” The one thing most committees lack,
which is absolutely essential to good marketing, is someone who can say
“yes”—an expert with both audacity and authority.
The New Yorker article cited another factor that makes a difference in
both medical operations and marketing: the involvement of senior
executives. These are people who can make things happen because they
can get decisions implemented and because they have a stake in the
results. A copy review meeting that doesn’t include both an engaged
copywriter and a manager who can give final approval is a waste of
time. But if you bring both of them together—two audacious experts who
care about the results—you can be quite successful. The writer knows
that what he or she says counts, and a smart executive will keep in
mind David Ogilvy’s line about dealing with creatives: “Why buy a dog
and bark yourself?”
Provonost’s work on combining checklists and expert audacity sounds
obvious and simple, basic common sense—like most good marketing. He
claims it would cost very little (a fraction of one percent of the
National Institutes of Health budget) to quickly get his processes into
every ICU in the U.S., saving huge piles of health care dollars and
hundreds of thousands of lives.
The best marketing campaigns I’ve worked on had several things in
common: budgets that were not large, but sufficient for the job at
hand; control processes (e.g. checklists) that were accepted because
they produced better results; and experts who knew what they were doing
and acted both audaciously and effectively.
About the Author
Doug Wilhide is president of Wilhide & Company, a consulting firm
for advertising and marketing communications. He has been a copywriter
and creative director for three Minneapolis ad agencies and has worked
with over 150 clients in a variety of industries. His professional work
has been recognized locally and nationally with over 50 industry awards
and he received the Business Excellence Award for Creativity and
Innovation in Teaching from the University of St. Thomas. He has taught
graduate students in the Master of Business Communication program at
UST since 1986 and also teaches in the Mini Master of Business
Marketing Notes -- March 2008
One of the great joys of teaching a class of graduate students is that
they bring in all sorts of information I wouldn’t otherwise run
into. Recent revelations include:
-- Still measuring web-based ads on the basis of clicks? Recent
studies should give you pause. Half of all web display ad clicks
come from 6% of frequent web surfers. They have an annual income
less than $40,000 and account for less than 15% of online
spending. (source: Businessweek, 3/10/08, citing a comScore
-- Like the Wendy’s campaign featuring those weird Pippi Longstocking
red wigs? You’re one of the few. The ads have been roundly
panned by critics, though CEO Kerri Anderson seemed to be a fan:
“It feels like Wendy’s again,” was her comment. Then sales for Q4
2007 dipped 0.8% after rising 3.1% in the previous Q4. “It was a
love it or hate it spot,” said Bob Holtcamp, Wendy’s VP of brand
marketing. One piece of data that may become relevant here:
the average tenure of CMOs is 23.9 months. CEOs manage to hang on
for an average of 53.8 months (source: Joe Jaffe, author of “Life
after the 30-Second Spot,” in a talk to the Boston Ad Club.)
-- If you’ve heard of Mark Penn at all, it’s probably because he’s a
political advisor for Hillary Clinton. But he’s also the
co-author of “Microtrends:: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big
Changes.” One of his revelations is that there are all kinds of
small demographic segments that matter – to marketers and
politicians. These are groups that may represent only a fraction
of a percent of a universe, but still account for hundreds of thousands
of people. Name a U.S. segment with a 70+% married rate that
votes 82% of the time: moderate Muslims. What’s the fourth
fastest growing sport in the country? Archery. Want to
target a small, but important segment? Look at soccer moms whose kids
have gone off to college and are seeking new leisure activities.
Use a bow and arrow.
-- Other interesting stuff from Mr. Penn (source: New York Times,
9/16/2007): China and India combined are graduating nearly a
million engineers a year. Meanwhile math and science scores are
dropping in almost every U.S. category. Of the 6700 undergrads at
Harvard last year, only 77 were math majors.
Seeing Old People
For years I’ve been arguing that one reason marketers so often fail to
get it right is that they are young and their markets are not. Ad
agencies and design firms tend to be heavily populated with 20 and 30
somethings who have a hard time empathizing with a marketplace that is
increasingly (and literally) full of people old enough to be their moms
A recent student report on marketing to “tweens” cited statistics on
how much wealth they control – they spend something like $51 billion a
year directly and have another $170 billion spent on them. Sounds
like a lot. Then you look at the data for the over 50
crowd. In 2001 they /we accounted for $2.3 trillion (that’s with
a “T”) of consumer spending. It’s gone up from there and will continue
to do so. Do the math. The 50-plus demographic spends almost 50
times what the much-advertised-to younger segment does. (source:
In a noisy bar recently I engaged in a heated discussion with a young
retail buyer who seemed convinced that all marketing is about people
like her – under 30, fashion forward, trend conscious, a-historical,
math-challenged. She noted that her peeps are making and spending
more than ever before – “hundreds of billions of dollars.” Big
whoop. There are many more of us old folks and we control as much
wealth as all the other demographic segments and account for more than
half the consumer spending in the U.S.
Of course we are not really one segment. The range of
experiences, attitudes, beliefs and wealth of the population over 50 is
extraordinarily varied – another fact often overlooked by amateur
(young) marketers. They seem willing to differentiate between tweens
and teens, but not so much between those whose war was fought in Europe
and the Pacific and those whose war was fought in Vietnam.
The Boomers, for instance, constitute about 77 million people.
That’s not likely to be a single marketing segment. For some of us the
1960s offered choices between mind-altering drugs and Budweiser.
For other the choice was between cloth diapers and Pampers. As the
oldest of us turn 62 this year, it’s useful to remember that the
youngest are turning 44.
I don’t like to pick on young people too much. It’s a tradition
as old as Aristotle (“the kids in Plato’s academy these days can’t
spell and don’t know their Astrology from their Euclid!”), but in the
end they’ll be here when we’re gone. Our job is to try to help
them see that, when it comes to big things like understanding a
marketplace, it’s the little things that matter. (The
discussion in the bar with the young retailer ended amicably. I paid
for the beer.)
Women and Money
Interested in what may be one of the biggest marketing opportunities of
our times? Consider selling financial services to women.
One of my students presented some interesting data on the
subject: Women control over 80% of retail purchases and yet 90%
of them feel financially insecure. They are graduating from
colleges at increasingly higher rates than men and, in spite of wage
gaps, in the future they will be managing more individual wealth.
But the current challenges they face are substantial. Over 33% of
women have less than $25,000 in retirement accounts, compared with only
18% of men. Only 27% of women have over $100,000 in retirement
accounts, compared with 43% of men. But (here’s the kicker) women have
longer life expectancies. At some point in their lives 90% of
them will have sole responsibility for their finances.
More than ever before, women need to understand financial
planning. But 30% of them have never begun a retirement plan.
Over 70% of women have no financial advisor and the statistic
approaches 80% for some minorities. Tom Peters says, “I have never
tripped over an opportunity of this size.”
There is plenty of fodder for sales pitches. Women who have met
with a financial advisor are 50% more likely to have “financial
security, clarity and satisfaction” about money. They are 50%
more confident and optimistic. And they are 200% more likely to
teach their kids about managing money responsibly.
Why don’t more women take their financial futures in hand? Some
feel like they should be cared for by men – especially in the financial
area. Some are out of the workforce for extended periods and,
because they have less money, spend less attention on managing
it. Some have math phobias that get in the way.
But what an opportunity! The first financial services company that
decides to focus on this audience could be in for a huge, pleasant
surprise. One requirement is recruiting financial advisors with whom
women are comfortable – people (men and women) who are empathic, not
pushy, customer service-oriented and reliable. The bigger
requirement is commitment. Dove soap reinvented its brand and
gained international attention by promoting “natural beauty.” We’re
anxiously awaiting a financial services company that will launch a
public service campaign on financial planning for women – and back it
up with smart positioning, good products and female-friendly service.
Favorite New Word
There have always been salesmen. Then we had salesmen and
saleswomen. Then salespersons. Now, thanks to New Yorker writer
Patricia Marx, we have a term for those ridiculously young (and
frequently clueless) people who staff the floors of Apple stores and
Best Buys. Saleschild.
This is my last class at the University of St. Thomas College of
Business. I’ve been teaching advertising and marketing for nearly
30 years – copywriting to undergraduates at the University of Minnesota
and, since 1986, advertising strategy to graduate students in the St.
Thomas Master of Business Communication program. It’s time to
care about stuff other than marketing. This may not be my final
“marketing note,” but I have hopes.
Note to readers -- March 2007
Thanks for visiting this page. It contains short articles and
links to articles on a variety of subjects. Most of them have
something to do with marketing. I apologize for not updating it
more frequently, but life gets in the way, dontcha know.
In the future you may find more entries that have to do with
poetry. That's because I started a publishing company last year,
Trolley Car Press, and we published a book of poems, "Between the
Lakes: the Poets of Linden Hills." (It's available by contacting me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. $20 -- includes taxes, shipping and
handling.) I'm also the Poet Laureate of Linden Hills and have
recently been named
poetry editor for the Southwest Journal in Minneapolis.
I'll try to do better keeping this page up to date. If you're
interested in a specific subject, get in touch at the above email
Marketing notes -- October 2006
The Noun Gap
One of the crimes committed against language these days is dropping
nouns from conversations. Listen to kids talking and they, like,
just ramble on around the, like. whatever. There is no subject.
Or object. Or point. Except whatever. I’m
speculating, but perhaps one reason they can’t come up with a noun is
because they only know process and they’re afraid of, or ignorant of,
Nouns are content. That person, place or thing-ness quality is
what anchors the world in a reality beyond the subjective. Nouns
are the gears that mesh and drive the machine. Without them
communication just sort of whirrs pointlessly. Our ability to perceive
the persons, places and things that nouns represent -- and to
engage them, both in sentences and in life -- is what allows us to get
outside ourselves and become more than our own, limited consciousness.
Kids aren’t the only ones who are noun-challenged. I also see it
in my peer group as we get older. Sometimes that’s because we
can’t come up with the right word to represent the thing we’re thinking
of. But sometimes it’s because we, like our kids, don’t want to
commit to content either. Taking a position -- defining a thing,
stating an opinion, asserting what we feel to be a truth -- these are
the work of nouns and they involve risk. What if someone
disagrees? What if we break the flow of a social moment?
What if we turn out to be wrong?
Kids can be forgiven, at least a little, for not using nouns.
They are young and their talk (and writing) is like a breeze passing
through them. Adults need to accept the responsibility of
nouns. We have made choices and built structures. We cannot get
away with claiming ignorance any more than we can honestly remain
innocent. We can be forgiven if we can’t remember the exact word,
but surely we must try to engage the people, places and things -- the
nouns -- that are the fabric of our lives.
Liar Liar Pants on Fire.
If you’re looking for good writing on varied subjects, try
Masterfile.com. It’s a site sponsored by the stock photo outfit,
but it features articles picked out of little-known periodicals, many
of them Canadian.
One piece, “The Truth about Lying” by David Hayes (9/28/05), has some
relevance to this pre-election period. “It is a creeping
assumption at the start of a new millennium that there are things more
important than truth.” says Jeremy Campbell in his book, “The Liar’s
Tale: A History of Falsehood.”
Research shows that we lie an average of 13 times a week and that some
kind of lying happens in two-thirds of our conversations. Men and
women lie differently -- women create “false impressions” to smooth
over social situations while men tell “whoppers,” often for
self-aggrandizement. College students lie to their mothers in 50%
of their conversations. We have created a number of euphemisms
for lying, some of which (“misspeak,” “spin”) are now in the Oxford
English Dictionary. Donald Trump is credited with coining
If you’re interested in this topic (and if you work in marketing, you
probably should be), check out Princeton professor Harry
Frankfurt’s essay (published last year as a small book) “On
Bullshit.” Surely a must-read for those of us in the promotion
business. And if you’ve had it up to here with chicanery in
political ads, it may be time to go back to the grandaddy of all clear
thinking on the subject, George Orwell’s 1946 essay, “Politics and the
English Language,” easily available on line.
Stories from Create-An-Ad
This spring Chevy Tahoe had a web site that allowed visitors to put
together various pieces and create an ad for the vehicle. It’s
become semi-famous among advertising wonks. For one thing it was
kind of fun: you could actually make a halfway decent ad and view the
finished product (complete with sound track). It also
opened the door to a large number of critics who made up their own
negative (and often funny) ads about the Tahoe’s oversized,
Giving people an easy way to respond to your product and/or brand is
valuable if you know how to use what you get. One of my favorite web
sites, Chiefmarketer.com, suggests encouraging “loyalists” to
participate in online exercises. They like you; they are willing
to share their reasons; and they have the force of “authenticity”
because they aren’t on your payroll. At the very least they can
balance the critics.
There are lessons in this. I’m always frustrated by “service”
companies with web sites that are opaque to feedback. Every web
site should have an easy-to-find, easy-to-use, open-ended “contact us”
button. Responses should be tracked daily and those that offer
meaningful content should be answered and put to use.
The main advantage is that you allow people to tell their stories about
your brand -- for better or worse. The most important trend in
branding right now is linking your brand’s story to those of your
customers. The trick is getting the stories. As one
communication expert, Nicholas Bowman, puts it: "The quickest way to
get what you want in the world of business is by metaphor and story."
PowerPoint fades fast; 'once upon a time' is forever."
Marketing at the Ballpark -- August 2006
I was at a Twins game with my daughter and she was trying to get my
attention about a marketing problem. This was unusual in so many ways.
Since when does my daughter care about business matters, let alone
marketing problems? How often do my kids seriously seek my opinion on
anything? And why now, in the middle of a game on one of the rare
occasions I actually get to see the Twins play?
Call me old and out of touch (it wouldn’t be the first time), but I go
to the ballpark to watch the ballgame, not to multi-task and get deep
into the mazes of some organization’s marketing shortcomings. I go to
enjoy baseball. Radke was pitching and hitting his spots. Mauer had hit
two balls hard already. The Twins were trying to keep a five-game
winning streak alive. Things looked positive, but the score was still
My daughter is nothing if not persistent. She kept talking; I tuned in.
It seems that the organization she was discussing had made a lot of
* They had hired a design firm when they needed a marketing firm.
* They didn’t have a good copywriter in their corner.
* The internal marketing team had control of budgets but no control of
(or interest in) the audience, the issues, or the objectives.
* The people on the front lines were out of the loop and everyone else
had his own agenda.
* There were a lot of territorial games going on.
* A “pro bono” commitment from the outside was driving what should have
been controlled by internal people.
Sigh. One of the drawbacks of having been involved with marketing for
so long is that you see the same mistakes repeated over and over again.
They become what you expect, the background noise. The brilliant
insights and excellent executions stand out, but over time they seem
like lamplights descending a foggy street behind you. You know exactly
what is going wrong and exactly how to fix it, but no one will listen.
I tell my classes that strategy and execution are very much the same
thing when it comes to marketing. It doesn’t matter what you plan to
do, how many meetings you have, or how many buzz words you throw around
in them. It’s what you actually lay before an audience and what that
audience does that count.
The “product” of marketing is the message and getting that message
right depends on skills that are as old as Aristotle. I would argue
that creativity is less a function of innovation and more a function of
knowing what’s been done before and what might work in the situation at
hand. It’s not that being “new” or “different” isn’t important, it’s
just that being ignorant or naive is a real drawback if you want to do
this stuff well.
This isn’t an especially popular position these days. Some think I’m
old and out of touch, which I can understand. There ARE innovations
that matter in the field—new kinds of media, new technologies and their
applications, new ways of appealing to fragmented audiences, new
urgencies about measuring effectiveness... though all of these have
been experienced and addressed by marketers before.
By and large, the biggest hurdles to doing good marketing are failures
of common sense and organizational structure. We hire people with poor
marketing instincts and put them in decision-making positions. We set
up structures—both internal and with outside agencies—that make it
virtually impossible for good ideas to reach fruition, let alone an
audience. The old joke—ready, shoot, aim—describes too many marketing
efforts. It’s the execution that fails and makes the best-laid
Take my daughter’s situation. If you need a solution for a marketing
problem, I wouldn’t start with a design shop. They tend to think
aesthetically rather than persuasively. I’d go to a good
copywriter—someone with talent who will commit to the challenge,
understand the product and the audience and find ways to link them. A
good copywriter doesn’t just want to talk to the front line people, he
or she insists on it.
The way to set up a good internal marketing structure is to put the
people responsible for results in charge of the marketing budgets, then
hope and pray that they can find someone with good marketing sense to
run things. These people can be young or old, male or female,
left-brain or right, with a written word or visual sensibility, but
they “get” it. Just as you can’t teach a 95 mph fastball or a .380
hitter’s swing, you can’t expect ordinary corporate politicians to be
Pro bono marketing work is one of the great scandals of the industry.
Far too often, work done for “free” ends up being useful for the
donating agency, but off-target, poorly evaluated, and costly to
execute for the receiving organization. If you need good marketing, pay
for it; or if you can get a useful pro bono offer, manage it.
I’d have told my daughter all of this, but the game heated up. Rondell
White hit two home runs and a double. Mauer had two hits. Radke pitched
into the 7th. Call me old and out of touch, but I elected to get
another beer rather than try to talk marketing in the bleacher seats.
The Twins extended their winning streak, people were laughing and happy
as they were blown out the doors of the Metrodome, and conversations
dissipated in the rhythms of a couple of guys playing on a bunch of
plastic drums and a couple of cowbells.
We could talk about marketing later.
About the Author
Doug Wilhide is president of Wilhide & Company which provides
consulting and creative services for marketing communications. He has
worked as a creative director at three Minneapolis advertising agencies
and in marketing for Honeywell and American Express. He has won many
awards for his work locally and nationally and received the Business
Excellence Award for Creativity and Innovation in Teaching from the
University of St. Thomas. Doug is an expert in B2B advertising and
direct marketing and has taught in the UST Master of Business
Communication program for 21 years. He is also an instructor in the
Center for Business Excellence’s Mini Master of Business
Communication program beginning September 21, 2006.
Tommy Thompson, a long-time CEO of the
Colle & McVoy ad agency, once found himself in the midst of a
military coup in Venezuela -- lead not by generals but by
sergeants. He told stories about it for years, each time
differently. It became harder and harder to separate fact from
fiction, but that was part of his charm.
On-Site Story Telling
He was an amiable guy who had a knack for putting clients at ease while
he convinced them that C&M was exactly where they wanted to do
their advertising. He was very good at Ag advertising and a true
expert at ad campaigns aimed at distributors and franchisees.
Tommy was also a mentor. One of the things he taught me was a
phrase he used repeatedly in pitching new campaigns: “you gotta
be who you say you are.”
Years later, and after way too many discussions on brands and branding,
that phrase still echoes when I hear people talk about the
subject. A batch of recent student presentations brought this
JC Penney seems to be hot among MBA students these days. Penney’s
is trying to become “cool” -- to reposition itself with younger
audiences for everything from fashion to home furnishings. The
campaigns owe more than a little to Target, but they seem to resonate
with professional 20- and 30-somethings. They also seem to be
working. Sales of Penney’s house brands are up way over
projections and the “it’s all inside” ads have increased preference of
Penney’s as a place to buy clothes. Last year Penney’s registered a
very decent 4% revenue gain.
Wal-Mart also seems to be trying to jump on the cheap-but-also
fashionable bandwagon. A new campaign, “look beyond the basics”
has replaced the smiley-faced cost-slashing icon with ads that link
basic products like candy bars and eye drops with flat screen TVs and
trendy women’s clothes. The ads are pretty much a rip-off of
Target ads from the late 90s, and have been criticized as a pure
hijacking of a Sears campaign from the early 90s.
It’s not a good thing when you find yourself plagiarizing 15-year old
Sears ads, but the real problem with both campaigns is the follow
through. A trip to local Penney’s stores reveals poor lighting,
crowded displays and very few sales people who know the merchandise or
speak English. The experience of shopping at Wal-Mart is even
worse. And the products -- from towels that fall apart in the
washer to fashions that can be worn only once -- belie the ad
campaigns. Dismal stores, poor customer service and shoddy
merchandise is not cool or fashionable.
There’s an old advertising adage: “good advertising will make a bad
product fail faster.” And Tommy’s admonition to be what you say you are
in your ads has never seemed more relevant to branding groups and their
Building a brand has got to be an organization-wide undertaking.
If the advertising gets too far out in front of the reality -- or
customer expectations -- then it’s bad marketing strategy. I find
that one good test for this is to talk to employees. If they buy
into the brand, then the time to start advertising is at hand. If
they’re cynical or critical, then it’s time to fix the product/service,
not launch an ad campaign.
Branding is about creating stories: your story and your customers’
stories and how they interact. If the stories disconnect with
employees, they will probably not connect with customers.
Consistent graphic design, new media choices, fancy web sites and ads
aimed at younger, cooler, hipper audiences won’t work if the
pay-off isn’t there.
In one version of Tommy’s “revolutionary” experience, he commandeered a
boat and rescued himself and his associates by cruising down a river,
gunshots ringing out behind him. We all knew he was creating a
Hemingwayesque version of reality, but he could get away with it
because he was, in a sense, his own brand and he was true to what
He managed to guide a quirky agency through some difficult times and
made lots of people quite wealthy, including many clients and
himself. He wasn’t young, cool or hip. But he was often
-- April 2006
March may be dreary and long, but it was an exciting month in the world
of classroom marketing discussions. Paul Frett of
PopularFront.com, gave a guest talk about “web-centric integrated
marketing.” His key point was that advertisers are in trouble:
they don’t know how to allocate their budgets in a world of fragmented
audiences and media. Agencies (and consultants) are having a hard
time keeping up with the changes.
His basic proposition is to make the Web the driving force for
marketing programs. This takes more creativity than most
companies can muster. It also requires a paradigm shift to
thinking of the Web as a “new medium” that’s as active and involving as
broadcast and print used to be.
How do you do that? Paul showed a case history for “Groovy
girls,” a company that makes dolls and accessories for young
girls. The Web site, promoted only on tags attached to product
sold in stores, is a “story” experience.” Girls create a
character and go online to join in dancing sessions, talk rooms, and
other activities. they can customize their character’s hair
style, clothing, rooms, etc. -- all with products sold by the
company. But there is no selling on the site. Security
protocols keep a careful eye on misuse and self-policing catches any
The result? In less than a year over 3 million (million!)
visitors, most of them repeat users. Paul went online live and
encountered characters from all over the U.S. The site doesn’t
sell, but it does build loyalty and awareness and lets the company
track user patterns: visits increase on weekends and holidays.
All of this was done through viral marketing -- girls discover the site
and send the info on to their friends. They come back because
it’s fun. And it’s theirs. They create their characters and
customize them. They interact as they choose (within proscribed
limits). The fascination is driven by interactivity -- “the ego
of authorship.” Users are creating their own stories and using
the web to share them.
In another case, Paul showed a “snowflake” site that was used as
self-promotion for PopularFront. The site has a sheet of paper
and a simple cutting tool driven by a mouse. Participants can
make thheir own snowflakes then send them on to friends. Each is
unique and some carry short messages. The original emailing was
to 300 people. The site now attracts over 2.7 million visitors
from all over the world (including soldiers in Iraq) and has spawned
Yahoo user groups and “flakers” who monitor the site for objectionable
use. It also leads to regular RFPs for the company.
“Consumers are social. Shopping is a social activity. Social
networking is what the Web is all about,” says Paul. He thinks
the key to success is leveraging the Web as a media channel that lets
people create their own content -- and their own story -- when and
where they want to.
A follow-up presentation by a student backed this all up with an
in-depth discussion of Web measurement metrics. There are four
basic ways to measure Web activity. You can measure the
“hierarchy of traffic”like number of hits, unique and repeat
visitors. You can measure “technical” information like geography
and source (browser links) and adapt your technology to the lowest
significant common denominator (Internet Esxplorer accounts for about
85% of Web traffic; Netscape 7+ is about 4% -- older Netscape versions
are quickly dying ; Firefox accounts for about 7%). You can
measure “marketing” metrics like advertising that drives people to the
web, keywords, banner ads, and ROI from web visits that lead to
sales. And you can measure “behaviors” -- scenario analysis that
shows how people navigate a site, where they drop off, where they
linger , etc.
Emerging technologies are quickly becoming important facts of internet
life. Orange is the leading cell phone provider in most of
Europe. It offered free Wednesday night movie tickets to users
who text messaged. (The European cell phone market is pretty much
saturated so “stealing” customers is the only viable strategy to
increase share.) Results? With virtually no additional
advertising, Wednesday went from dead last to the third most popular
The next trend may be “collaborative content,” where inernet users --
via computers, cell phones, pods, and other devices not only engage in
communications with other customers and companies, but participate in
designing the products they want.
All of this is pretty heady stuff -- at least on the tech end of
it. The creative part is what interests me, though. No
matter what the tehcnology -- or the medium -- the key is engaging
Every performer knows that if you can get the audience to sing along
you’ll get bigger applause. If you can engage a class in a
participatory activity, they’ll sit up and pay attention.
Workshops integrated into seminars are much more effective in terms of
interest and retention. “The ego of authorship” needs to be a
part of our thinking. It’s not just our story that we need to be
telling now. It’s giving our customers permission to integrate
what we’re offering into their own stories.
That takes a customer-focused appproach, real empathy with the audience
and a level of fun and creativity that is too often missing from both
advertising and marketing communications. But that’s the future.
A few more data bits:
Is brand loyalty still a viable concept? According to Frank
Reicheld’s “The Loyalty Effect,” U.S. corporations lose half their
customers every 5 years, half their employees every 4 years and half
their invesotrs every year.
According to a recent DDB study, the likelihood that people in the
20-29 demographic will stick with a brand has declined from 66% to 58%
since 2000. With the over 75 age group the decline was from 69%
How important is “buzz” and “viral marketing?” Again, from “The
Loyalty Effect:” credibility for word-of-mouth recommendations is
about 90%. Credibility for messages in ads is just under 30%.
My recommendation: Make your brand mean something valuable to
your customer. The most valuable thing you can have is the belief
that your story and your customers’ stories are related. That has
to be true... and it has to be communicated frequently, authentically
and through a wide variety of media channels.
"Between the Lakes: The Poets of
It's not marketing, but it is interesting. We've just published a
new book -- a collection of 75 poems by 11 poets who live in, or have
close ties to, the Linden Hills area of Minneapolis. These poems
will make you laugh, make you think, break your heart and give you
hope. It's a great gift or souvenir. You can order online
by going to bibelotshops.com
contact me directly: email@example.com
Marketing Around the World
-- March 2006
* A correspondent in Birmingham, England recently visited the large
Minster in York. She writes:
“Of course, most of the stimulation in the Minster is visual.
They have the largest collection of Medieval glass in the world in
their stained glass windows, and in some cases the glassworkers used
horns and antlers instead of glass. Apparently if you soak horn
in hot enough liquid for long enough, it becomes pliable and, more
importantly, translucent. The guide pointed out to us that the windows
were not considered decorative as much as they were considered tutorial
because of course the common people could not read.
“Everything is symbolic, and every window tells several stories.
In addition to people and situations in the Bible that are depicted,
the glass craftsmen also set in little symbols to promote their
businesses. Ha! One guy who gave money for a whole window
was actually a bell maker by trade, so every panel has several bells in
it. So if the clergy or merchants were looking at the window,
they might think, “Bells are cool, aren’t they? I think we should
have another bell!” Then, low and behold, the bell maker would
have had his name written in the window.
“Anyone who thinks the strategies of marketing, cross-selling,
promotion, and advertising are recent phenomena is wrong!”
* Target was not an official sponsor of the winter Olympics, but it had
a presence in Torino anyway. It wrapped commuter trains in
large supergraphics featuring downhill skiers and snowboarders wearing
Target logos. It also sent a team of “experiential marketers” who
recruited a couple dozen good-looking young Italians to wander the
streets dressed in Target colors and skiing bibs. They answered
questions, promoted the brand and found their way on to telecasts.
We were in Hollywood a couple years ago during the Academy Awards and
saw a similar strategy. The Independent film awards celebration
was in a couple of large tents out near the beach in Venice.
People dressed in Target colors and riding cute red and white motor
scooters were everywhere... zipping along, gathering at intersections,
It’s an admirable, out-of-the-box way of thinking about media
placement. And it seems to have grown from a guerilla marketing
tactic to a regular part of Target’s opportunistic branding program.
* My graduate class at St. Thomas had our third annual debate on
the pros and cons of branding last week. A lot of interesting
data surfaced, including a good critique from “Beyond the Brand” by
John Winsor. He decries the co-opting of the word to apply to
everything from “branding” countries and locations (Bermuda, Puerto
Rico and now Oregon, Mongolia and Slovenia) to ordinary activities (HR
advice on “what’s your personal brand?”). One student recounted
the tale of a non-profit committee set up to raise funds that decided
it needed its own brand and logo before it could get started.
For all the foolishness, brands and branding are still worth
attention. A few years ago the value of the Coca Cola brand (just
the name and identity) was estimated at $69 billion. The value of
the Apple brand was worth more than the market value of the
company. Nortel’s brand was recently valued at $25 billion.
Market leaders tend to have more valuable brands as well as dominant
market shares . A rule of thumb: the #1 brand holds 50% of the
market; #2 holds about 25%; #3 about 12.5% and everyone else splits the
remaining 12.5%. Another rule of thumb: the value of a
leadership brand is roughly equal to twice annual revenues.
For the record: the “Pro” team squeaked out a narrow victory
because they had better arguments and more supporting data.
* Attempts to replace the #10 package as the standard for
producing DM results continues. A recent test promoting trade
shows had postcards returning a 5% response while #10s delivered only
* Little things matter. In a recent test to increase magazine
subscriptions the offer “Save $12.00; Subscribe for only $10” pulled
better than “Save $12. Subscribe for only $10.00.” Every retailer
knows that a $9.99 price point will sell better than a $10 one.
But in a recent DM test, $9.97 pulled better than either.
* A couple final factoids to leave you with:
-- Reuters, the European news agency began as a series of posts for
carrier pigeons. It’s a long, long way to the world wide
-- Remember as you’re targeting your markets: there are 77
million baby boomers in the U.S. and the over 50 demographic controls
20 times the wealth of the 18-35 one. It’s not exclusive to older
folks, of course, but the market for replacement hips and knees last
year was $3 billion. Every hour, 330 people in America turn
Things Done Well
-- February 2006
The History Forum is a series of lectures by prominent speakers on the
subject of america in the 20th century. Topics have included WWI
and its effect on American culture, the Cold War, the polio epidemic of
the 1940s and 50s and, last month, the decade of the 1960s.
The speaker was Thomas Sugrue, a professor at the University of
Pennsylvania. He missed some of the essence of the period
-- he was 6 when Woodstock happened -- but he had some interesting
Nostlagia, he pointed out, is more about what we forget than what we
remember. In some ways it’s the “enemy of history” because it
romanticizes events and ignores their complexity. The 60s are a
prime example. We remember the radical, liberal movements such as
hippies, free-love, the civil rights movement, feminism, war protests,
campus activism, going to San Francisco with flowers in your
But we forget that there was an equal and opposite conservative
movement. Goldwater carried more southern states in 1964 than at
any time since the Civil War; Reagon was elected governor of
California in 1966; televangelism began big time operations;
California passed its first anti-tax measures and voted against civil
rights for immigrants. The NAACP didn’t grow between 1960 and
1970 and there were as many Young Republicans on campus in 1970 as
there were members of the SDS.
Sugrue’s main argument, though, was that most of this really didn’t
effect mainstream America. In the 60s, the “defining” movements
were on the fringes and were seen that way by most middle class and
blue collar families. For them, the 60s was a kind of continuum
with what went before. They watched events on TV, but they really
didn’t respond to them.
I’m not so sure, and, unlike Sugrue, I WAS there. Sugrue does
claim that the media was arguably the most important “player” during
the period, with the unprecedented reach of TV (and color TV at that)
and the extraordinary journalism of the period. This was back
when war correspondents weren’t “embedded” with military PR people or
afraid to leave a Green Zone... and local news wasn’t all so vapid and
I think the media played a major role -- especially in the Civil Rights
movement and building anti-war sentiment. When those images
appeared of civil rights activists being sprayed with fire hoses, set
upon by dogs and beaten by cops, they changed something fundamental in
our beliefs about American fairness and the rule of law. When we
saw the pictures of military action in Vietnam, wounded soliders and
body bags, it made it very hard to trust our leaders who were telling
us we were “winning” the war and just had to “stay the course” (sound
familiar?). And when we saw Mayor Daley give a one-fingered
salute to a speaker at the Democratic Convention, it seemed like he was
violating what we thought was a legitimate electoral process (30 years
before a conservative Supreme Court did essentially the same thing)..
But Sugrue leaves out what I would call the most important definer of
the times: the music. From the bubble-gum rock and roll of
the early 60s to the psychedelic innvoations of the San Francisco
scene, music was the heartbeat of the 60s. It’s a long way from
“I want to hold your hand” to Sergeant Peppers, and an even longer
journey from hootenannies to Jimmy Hendix, and we tracked every step
with an interest that can only be called religious. And this was
way before Ipods.
You could argue that any era has a majority of people who aren’t
involved in societal change. But I would also argue that what
defines an era is precisely what Sugrue discounts (or doesn’t mention)
-- the activity on the fringes that changes our views of who we
are and/or should be. Sugrue may be right in pointing out that
the decade had more complexity than we sometimes credit, but the seeds
of a radical conservatism are not the same as its fruition.
The 60s, in America and around the world, were a time of great hope and
great change. Those of us who came of age then were both patiiotic and
idealistic, energized by Kennedy’s call to ask what we could do for our
country. It was also a time of great scientific and technological
change, much of it driven by JFK’s goal to put a man on the moon.
I wonder how historians will look back on the early 21st century.
It’s certainly another period of great scientific and technological
change, but it’s also a period of anti-science and societal
stasis. It seems to lack the energizing idealism that Sugrue
missed in his talk.
I remember arguing with a professor about this a few years ago.
He was complaining that the 60s were a terrible time for teaching
because authority was being questioned on every front. “Yes,” I
replied, “but it was a great time for learning.”
The best thing about these lectures is that they take place at
all. The auditorium has seats for about 350 people. They
have been sold out since last fall.
As we start 2006, online appears to be where it’s at. The
forecasts keep getting rosier, with the latest data I’ve seen
indicating that online advertising will generate close to $17 billion
dollars in revenue this year. The surveys say that marketing
decision makers plan to increase online spending anywhere from 25 to
This, of course, means banner profits (so to speak) for companies like
Google and Yahoo and more worries for “legacy” media like television,
outdoor, newspapers and magazines. The big winners are sponsored
ads on landing pages and graphic banner ads, with “rich media”
(animated mini-commercials) quickly catching up.
What is all this doing for clients’ bottom lines? Real data is
remarkably hard to come by, though I suspect it’s lurking in the file
folders of people who know what they’re doing. According to
marketingsherpa.com (an interesting and sometimes useful site) 43% of
2005 survey respondents said that results for paid search advertising
were “very good.” That’s an increase from 34% in 2004. And
it beats satisfaction with email marketing, which was just 25% in 2005.
I tend to be a bit suspicious of phrases like “very good” when it comes
to advertising results. Too often that means nobody actually
measured anything, compared it to goals and tracked it through to
ROI. But somebody (with a job review coming up?) thinks things
are going well.
I’ve done my own very informal survey and failed to come up with real
case histories. This could be because nobody wants to share data, or it
could be that nobody really has any. One respondent, when asked if they
had hard data replied “of course we do,” but provided no
specifics. Another indicated that a campaign involving an online
strategy had “exceeded goals,” but they hadn’t broken out the online
component. Online and multichannel retailers appear to have had a
good holiday season, but, again, I haven’t seen specifics yet.
A few bits of real data filter through, and they’re not
encouraging. One source indicated that click through rates for
sponsored ads dropped from 3% to 2.6% between 2004 and 2005, while the
cost per click for these ads on Google increased from $1.29 to
$1.61. Another source shows declining click-through rates
for rich media, with the “industry average” in 2004 being
0.39%. A 2005 B2B campaign that tracked results from emails
sent to house lists reported click through rates of 0.5% to 2.0%.
Another B2C source claims that “conversion” rates (another term with
varying definitions) for people who click on banner ads is usually in
the single digits, though it’s slightly higher for email programs sent
to house lists.
Maybe that $17 billion will be worth it. The internet is a
powerful medium and getting more so every day. U.S. web searches
grew to over 2 million in 2005, a 27% increase over the previous year.
But I find it remarkable that data is so hard to come by, especially in
a medium that is relatively easy to track. It may be true that
dollars spent for online marketing are generating positive results, but
this wouldn’t be the first time that “very good” is an advertising
euphemism for “we have no idea.”
Images and email
Marketingsherpa.com did an eye-tracking study on how people read
email. The results indicated that an image -- any kind of image
-- increases readership: “What's interesting is most people
looking at this email didn't actually spend a lot of that time on the
picture itself. The picture was such a frequently-seen image they could
register it in almost peripheral attention mode. However, its presence
raised their engagement level with the email, and willingness to read
much more of the copy.”
Design and layout played an even more important role, but the lesson
here is that making your message visual is as important as ever.
It’s always been true in traditional advertising, of course, but now we
have some proof that it’s also true on line. Whether it’s a print
ad, a brochure or an electronic newsletter, adding pictures helps both
readership and retention. The most effective pictures? Use
From copywriter to coach
One of the newer trends in the business is the assumption of the title
“marketing coach.” I know of at least three copywriters who now
also advertise coaching services. It’s an interesting
development. Copywriters (good ones) are often well situated to
assume a leading role in the development of marketing
communications. We’re the ones who have to understand the
client’s business, product and marketing strategy, as well as the
audience’s situation, needs and desires -- all before we sit down to
Does that enable us to be coaches? Maybe. With the fallout
after 9/11, a lot of experienced people left the business, making
way for a new generation of younger, less knowledgeable marketing
people. This isn’t always bad, in fact it’s a natural part of the
ad world, but it does open up opportunities for new ways to bring in
the experience that may be lacking.
FYI, we don’t offer coaching services (at least not formally) but we do
offer training sessions and customized seminars for marketing
communications groups. Let me know if you have a need or an
-- December 2005
“The more things change, the more they
don’t.” It’s an old bromide but that doesn’t make it any less
“In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman was the one
truly must-read business book of the 1980s . It was a collection
of “lessons from America’s best-run companies” backed up with mini-case
histories about companies like IBM, Disney, Hewlett Packard and
In the late 1990s, Leonard Barry published “Discovering the Soul of
Service,” which translated the search for excellence to service
industries using examples like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Charles Schwab
and the St. Paul Saints.
Now we have a pat-on-the-back article by Dale Buss called ”Branding, A
Job Well Done.” It highlights excellence in customer service by
Ritz-Carlton, Costco and the Cheesecake Factory. Buss want to
make the point that companies don’t need advertising to build a
brand. Excellent service built by intensive training (and
treatment) of employees will be enough to “become household names by
The ideas are solid, if not new. Cheesecake Factory treats its
employees like “internal customers” to build a culture that features a
competitive drive to providing each guest with top level service.
Costco works hard at turning employees into “internal marketers” who
build networking relationships through churches, civic organizations,
unions, etc. Unadvertised low prices drive word-of-mouth so well
that one in every 10 American carries a Costco card.
Ritz-Carlton uses a 20-point list called “The Ritz-Carlton Basics” to
encourage every employee to become “attendants to our guests... (and)
actors spreading our brand.” If a guest makes a complaint, the
person who receives it “owns” it, records it and resolves it to the
Calling this “branding” brings home the point -- so often missed --
that branding is much more than creating graphic standards for a
cohesive collateral program. But it misses the point that
building a brand also requires a sound advertising strategy, lead
generation, promotion, PR and other marketing efforts. Still, you gotta
be what you say you are (as one of my mentors used to proclaim)
and good branding efforts begin with employees who believe in the
organization’s idea and walk their talk.
The similarity to earlier commentaries about service and excellence
brings home another point. Business ideas tend to go in
cycles. Some remain valid, some don’t, but
much as we like to look to the future and start fresh, it’s useful to
have some history in the mix.
Especially in marketing, if we know even a little about what’s happened
before we can avoid reinventing the wheel with every initiative.
Some things do change, of course. We used to know how to party.
Back in the ancient days of the Minneapolis advertising community (how
fast a quarter century flies by!) this time of year events piled on top
of each other. There was a gala party hosted by media
representatives from Chicago, photographers’ parties, typesetters’
parties, color separation house parties, paper company and printer’s
parties, design studio open houses (and open bars) and agency shindigs
with loose invitation policies. Clients used to invite their
agency teams to marketing group celebrations. Even copywriters
The good news is that 80% of America’s companies are planning some kind
of holiday party this year. The bad news is that 75% of those say
their budget for such events is the same or less than last year.
One of the great advantages of the old style of partying was that you
got to know each other better.. People knew people they had met under
pool tables. Art directors and copywriters fell in love
(sometimes figuratively, sometime literally). Client-agency
relationships were deepened, even when things got out of hand (as they
often did). Guilt, like deadlines, can be a wonderful driving
force for producing good work -- on both sides of the desk.
If you wanted to you could schedule a free lunch almost any day and
come back at happy hour to rejoin the group. One might think the
work suffered. I think the opposite was true. The work, at
least creatively, soared. This was when this town made its name
for creative firepower and built a national reputation that still
attracts talent and clients.
And gifts were exchanged. My favorite: One year we were
doing work with a very classy design firm whose principals had roots in
Iowa. On Christmas Eve one of them showed up on my doorstep with
a large box. He handed it to me, wished us a happy holiday and
bustled off. Inside was a 12-pound slab of custom cured
bacon! It took us until late summer to get through it.
Happy Holidays. We hope to join you in a busy and prosperous New Year!
Estonia, Bullshit and Gutter Trees
-- November 2005
While I normally prefer truth over
trends, I have to admit that some recent trends have caught my
attention. For instance, there appears to be a growing interest
in “serious” subjects presented through the medium of lectures.
The recent Nobel conference in St. Peter celebrating the 100th
anniversary of Einstein’s publication of the special theory of
relativity attracted over 5000 people for two days of heavy and heady
lectures on subjects ranging from string theory to Einstein’s
development as an outspoken social critic.
A recent talk by Salmon Rushdie as part of the Westminster Forum in
Minneapolis was standing room only. Rushdie spoke eloquently
about the role of fiction in presenting the “stories we live in,” and
the conflict between truth and lies in fiction and politics. He
talked about the “intimacy” of reading as opposed to watching TV or
movies, how it happens “inside our heads” and how the act of writing is
completed by the reader so it’s always different.
(Interested? Send me an email and I’ll send you my notes on this
The Minnesota Historical Society has sold out a series of lectures on
various historical topics. The most recent was about the polio
epidemic of the 1930s,40s and 50s. David Oshinsky, a University
of Texas professor, discussed the competing development of the Saulk
and Sabine vaccines. The most moving part of the talk, however,
was the story of the March of Dimes. Founded by FDR and his law
partner, it established new paradigms for non-profit fund raising and
fulfilled its mission: half the money went to research and
promotion, the other half made sure that everyone (every one!) who
contracted polio got the best possible medical care. That’s one
reason FDR ended up on the dime.
But my favorite trend is the popularity of the essay, “On Bullshit,”
written over 20 years ago by a Princeton professor, Harry Frankfurt,
and recently published as a book. It’s a semi-serious study of
the subject that gets into the distinctions between lying, telling the
truth and not caring which is which. Frankfurt on
“The realms of advertising and of public relations, and the nowadays
closely related realm of politics, are replete with instances of
bullshit so unmitigated that they can serve among the most indisputable
and classic paradigms of the concept. And in these realms there are
exquisitely sophisticated craftsmen who — with the help of advanced and
demanding techniques of market research, of public opinion polling, of
psychological testing, and so forth — dedicate themselves tirelessly to
getting every word and image they produce exactly right.”
I’ve always been a fan of bullshit. It’s something I believe is
both a more complex form of “Truth” than the usual pious homilies, and
an essential part of our survival as a modern species. Bullshit
is never the complete truth, but usually contains partial ones.
The mental act needed to separate the two helps us discover what we
think is the “real” truth and makes us better critical thinkers.
By the way, Frankfurt points out that the term didn’t originate with
cow manure. It dates back to the spurious Papal “Bulls” of the
Middle Ages when you could buy everything from saints’ bones to eternal
forgiveness of sins. The association with livestock didn’t come
about until the late 19th century.
-- The hottest travel destination these days is Capetown. A
little more than a decade after the official end of apartheid, the city
is building a reputation for style, fashion, and tourism. It’s
also completing what will be the third-largest movie production studio
in the world.
-- Estonia (Estonia?) is the only nation on earth where every aspect of
the government is on line and internet access is a constitutional right.
-- Want a new definition for what you do? Try this:
“Marketing is an actionable conversation about the future.”
There’s a tree growing out of my gutter. It’s not a big tree but
it’s been there for some time, so when a recent newspaper arrived
carrying a Post-it note on the front page advertising a gutter cleaning
service I called. They scheduled. Then they called back to
cancel. Too many responses, too few trucks and service
It’s a classic problem: advertising that works too well. It’s not
the most serious of problems and ad people tend to worry about it more
than they should. Most advertising struggles to produce results
-- better to worry about that first. But occasionally you get a
response that exceeds expectations and, rarely, you get a response that
swamps your capabilities.
The solution is to learn from the experience. Next time, control
the distribution of those Post-it notes better and plan based on
previous response rates. In the meantime I think I’ll hang
Christmas lights on my gutter tree. It should be big enough by
The Legacy of Einstein
Notes from the 2005 Nobel Conference. Lots of stuff on the
special and general theories of relativity, string theory, Einstein’s
“education,” and how Einstein’s 1905 papers change the way we
understand the universe. If you’re interested, link to the
the Fundamentals -- October 2005
I was checking out at the grocery store when a box of laundry detergent
wouldn’t go through the scanner. The checkout person examined the
box carefully. Bright yellow color. Multiple red logos.
Slogans -- “Powerfully Clean” “Naturally Fresh” “The Arm and
Hammer guarantee” “Complete Triple Action Formula”-- were proudly
proclaimed in both English and Spanish.
But nowhere on the box did it say what the product was.
She rang it up as cat litter.
It seems to me a good example of the failure of our current emphasis on
branding and promotion. We leap to establish a branding “look and
feel” before we have a place for the brand in the minds of
customers. We promote all kinds of often meaningless slogans in
an attempt to differentiate what are essentially commodity
products. In the process we forget the basics, like including on
the packaging what the product actually is.
The problem goes beyond packaging. I’ve seen B2B marketers get so
entangled in their efforts to establish brand “standards” that they
forget to consider what the customer might actually want. They
jump over the marketing building blocks that should precede branding:
-- establish a customer need/desire
-- define it carefully and keep it current.
-- design and market a product/service that meet the customer’s
-- build preference based on delivering value.
-- create a group of market advocates that champion your product’s
THEN begin efforts to build a brand with a consistent look and
message. Be what people expect you to be and keep delivering the
value. The brand identity, packaging, promotional strategies and
marketing ideas will flow from that.
Trying to build a brand in advance -- before people know who you are,
what you stand for, what your product is, what it does, how it provides
value and why they should care -- is misbegotten marketing.
It’s like washing your clothes with cat litter, or putting detergent in
the litter box.
We recently attended the 41st Nobel Conference in St. Peter, a
remarkable event that attracts 5000 people to sit on hard chairs for
two days of esoteric scientific lectures. This year’s theme was
“The Legacy of Einstein,” celebrating the hundredth anniversary of his
publication of the Special Theory of Relativity. There was a lot
of theoretical physics, discussions of string theory, an update on what
we now know (or think we know) about the structure of the universe and
insights into Einstein’s growth as a person as well as a
If you’re interested, let me know. I’ve written up my notes as a
Some favorite recent samples of wearable slogans:
* A t-shirt on a teenager: “Sarcasm: just one of the
services I provide.”
* A kitchen apron for sale in a catalog: “Don’t make me poison
* A bright red t-shirt at the Nobel Conference: “If this looks
blue to you, you’re moving too fast.”
The Musee Publicite in Paris
-- September 2005
The Musee Publicite (Advertising Museum) is located just off Rue Rivoli
in Paris, at the northwest corner of the Louvre. It’s a temporary
location, while the larger museum space undergoes renovation.
When I stopped by a month ago the place was a trendy, modern
installation with lots of brushed aluminum, dark areas and careful
lighting. The featured exhibit was “metro,” a series of large
photographs of Paris subway stops. They were notable for the
classic balance -- green and black tile at Saint Lazarre; yellow and
red glazed brick at Raspail; houses and tree tops at La
Chapelle. The photos also highlighted subway advertising -- very
large posters, mostly for movies, cosmetics and retail stores.
They looked erie with their blazing images and colors in the deserted
The museum featured more nudity and risqué ads than you see
here: a perfume ad with a young man in the background and a
models long legs in the foreground with the headline: “Stop
Thinking;” an ad for olive oil with a naked woman lying in a pool
full of olives. There was an Yves St. Laurent ad with a retouched (I
assume) photo of a guy hanging by his feet from a helicopter to kiss an
attractive young woman standing at the top deck of the Eiffel
Tower. (Ogilvy on outdoor and poster advertising: it should
create “a visual scandal.”)
There were displays of 100 years of Coke and Perrier bottles and TV
screens playing commercials before deep, comfy couches. In a
classic Pledge ad, a cleaning lady closes the door to an office, sprays
on the product, then takes a running leap to slide down the conference
table on her stomach.
What wasn’t there was missed: the classic French posters from the
period 1890 to 1940. Beginning with Toulouse Lautrec and
continuing through the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, those posters
set the standard for “visual scandal” that I miss in today’s
advertising art. More on this subject later this month, when a
new “Observations” will be ready.
Direct mail note: We recently tested a B2B mailing where the offer was
golf balls. Half the list was offered a sleeve (3 balls) of top
quality golf balls, the other half was offered a box (12).
Results? The box offer outpulled the sleeve by nearly two to one
and drew five times as many qualified leads. I see two lessons
here: First, Offer Big! After the list, the offer is the
most important part of a direct mail effort, so don’t skimp.
Offer something you would really like to have if you were part of the
target audience. Second, go for response. Some folks think
that it’s better to trim the list and offer to get more qualified
respondents, but in test after test I’ve found that if you get more raw
inquiries you also get a disproportionately high number of qualified
leads as well.
Friends and colleagues --
A note about availability: We’re not taking on any new projects
until September. Our son, Sam, is getting married in southern
France in a few weeks and we’ll be out of the country for much of
August. If you have a project or campaign where we could help,
please get in touch after Labor Day. And if you know someone who
could use our help, or might like to be on our mailing list, please let
them know about us or refer them to our Web site,
See you in September!
BRANDING THE BAND -- June
Branding is the hot marketing trend at the moment and has been for the
past several years. But in spite of claims to the contrary, it’s
hardly a new phenomenon. Consider Duke Ellington. His
“famous orchestra” was promoted in the 1930s in a way that could
be a classic case study of brand-building. Irving Mills was
his impresario and in 1933 he published a manual for publicity agents
at venues that had booked Ellington and the band. It included,
among other things:
* The correct way to list Ellington, the famous orchestra and
Mills Artists on all promotional material, including line art of
Ellington in top hat and tails.
* Suggestions on how to get media outlets (radio stations and local
newspapers) interested in interviews.
* Availability of photos for “autograph stunts.”
* Newspaper “tie-ups” for charitable causes such as “ shoe fund, boys
camp, crippled children, aged persons or hospital shut-ins.”
* A collection of sample press stories, “punch lines” and “trailers” to
be used at movie theaters.
The manual also included what we would now call “message points:”
“In your campaign do not treat Duke Ellington as just another band
leader... Sell Ellington as a great artist, a musical genius whose
unique style and individual theories of harmony have created a new
music. Sell his orchestra as a class attraction, a group of
stellar artists whose performance has stimulated international
This comes from, “Reminiscing in Tempo: A Portrait of Duke
Ellington, an excellent biography by Stuart Nicholson. It’s
almost entirely written in direct quotes from Ellington and his
associates, which gives it both narrative drive and a wonderful sense
We now think of Ellington as a legend and one of America’s national
treasures, but in the early 1930s he WAS just another band
leader. He was “controlled” for instance by mob interests in New
York (who also offered valuable protection in Chicago and Los Angeles),
and he faced the same problems while traveling in the south as other
black entertainers. (Many of those problems were solved by leasing
private Pullman cars for the band to use as sleeping and eating
Radio broadcasts from Harlem’s Cotton Club, and appearances in movies
helped elevate Ellington to national recognition. And Mills’
branding guide helped keep the momentum going throughout the Depression
There’s a new creative group in town, composed of writers, novelists,
copywriters, poets, editors, graphic artists, movie and commercial
directors and others who engage in creative activities. The group
calls itself “Algonquin Hotdish” -- a play off New York’s Algonquin
Roundtable of the 1920s -- and meets most first Fridays at someone’s
house. The food is excellent, the wine is plentiful and the
conversation is varied, interesting and often hilarious.
I’m also continuing to help stage and promote poetry “salons” in my
role as Poet Laureate of Linden Hills. Both efforts are attempts
to bring people together to talk about things beyond the weather, the
cabin and our health (though we certainly cover those subjects as
well). It ain’t New York or Paris, perhaps, but it ain’t
One of the things I like about direct mail is that there are rules of
thumb that have been tested for decades and still apply. They
don’t guarantee success, but knowing them helps separate the amateurs
from the pros.
For instance, there’s a hierarchy of things that determine
results. The list -- who you mail to -- comes first. Spend
most of your time getting a good list, working with it, maintaining it
and turning it into a database.
After the list is the offer: what’s in it for the
recipient? The offer should be something you would want if you
were on that mailing list. Good offers entice people into taking
action, not just reading the piece. The worst offers are things
like “request a sales call” or “for more information...”
After the offer is the format. A “blind #10” package is usually
the most effective. It’s an envelope with just the logo and
return address on the front, a 2-page letter and a response
device. Five-part Cornell packages also work well.
Postcards usually don’t unless they’re announcing a sale or an event.
After the offer is the “creative” -- how the message is
presented. At this level (and only after you’ve really spent time
on the first three) pay attention to things like how the piece is
worded, the tone, whether you call out, indent or bold face parts of
the copy, how soon the reader gets to the offer, what goes in the P.S.,
the motivational quality of visuals, etc.
Every part of a direct mail package is important -- both what you
include and what you leave out -- but some things are more important
than others if you want to generate response. Once you find a
package that works, test it until something else beats it.
Recent research -- May 2005
Well it’s May, but the weather here in Minnesota sure doesn’t
seem like it. It’s been gray and rainy forever and it snowed as
recently as a couple weeks ago. This is why the great majority of
the world’s population lives south of here. Nonetheless, life is
still interesting. Here are some recent tidbits and factoids that
you may be able to use.
And please remember -- if you have a project or campaign where we can
help, get in touch. If not, tell your friends. If you know
people who might be interested in these periodic marketing notes, let
me know and I’ll add them to the list. (If you’re interested in
other subjects, or in finding out more about Wilhide & Co.’s
services, go to our website: www.wilhide.com.)
* Why do people go into this business? One of my students
did her master’s thesis on childhood influences as determinants of
careers. She surveyed nearly 1000 business communications pros
and asked them about key career traits like leadership, teamwork,
communication skills and confidence. 68% of them said they
learned leadership skills when they volunteered as kids. 93%
attributed teamwork skills to youth team sports. 81% attributed
communication skills to volunteer activities. 87% said that individual
sports (especially tennis) helped them build confidence.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), very few followed in their parents’ career
footsteps -- 78% never considered it. The most important
determinant of a career choice in biz comm? English classes in
high school, college or both.
* Another student did a class project on the use of images and
copy in advertising. She found conflicting results about the
efficacy of long and short copy -- half the “experts” prefer one, half
the other. I’m still convinced that your copy should be as long
as your audience’s attention span for the subject -- which is NOT the
same thing as everything you think you want to say.
* 75% of the tickets for Broadway road shows are purchased by
women. The promotional efforts in this category, however, are way
behind the curve in terms of media, budget and creative. They
seem to be fixated on icons (the Phantom’s mask, the little girl for
Les Miserables, etc.) This works when the icon stands for
something but not so much when the icon doesn’t carry the emotional
attachment ot the show.
* There is evidence that a “likable” spokesperson can counter
unfavorable response to a brand. This is not the same as saying
that if people like your ads they’ll like your product -- in fact there
is evidence to suggest the opposite. The Mr. Whipple (“Don’t
squeeze the Charmin”) ads were frequently cited as the most annoying
campaign around, but the product maintained its number one position for
more than a decade.
* Another master’s degree thesis focused on the use of technology
in K-12 classrooms. The study showed wide and enthusiastic
acceptance of it among both teachers and students. (The role of linking
parents to schools via technology is still up in the air.) 76% of
students have access to key technology (computers, cell phones, etc.)
and two-thirds of them have internet access at home. Surprisingly
(or, again, maybe not) the early acceptors of technology in the
classroom seem to be older teachers (16+ years of experience) not the
* Speaking of old folks, a friend is finishing a book on marketing to
the AARP audience. One of the useful discoveries is how diverse
this audience really is. People who lived through the depression
and WW2 have different views from those who “matured” during the 1950s
and they differ from those who came of age during the Vietnam
era. The divides are widespread and important, so if you’re
marketing to “seniors” be sure you know which ones you’re talking
to. We have more money and spend more than any other demographic
segment, but we’re not a homogeneous group.
* My favorite recent bumper sticker: “Frodo failed. Bush
has the ring.”
Tips from the front lines
-- April 2005
* Paul Frett, who does Web marketing for Target, talked to
my St. Thomas graduate class a few weeks ago. Target is using
carefully delineated “micro-sites” to serve its various customers and
reinforce its brand. One site is aimed at new and recent mothers
and features links to healthcare resources that deal with pre-and
post-natal subjects. Another site is aimed at 13-18 year old
males and features online videos about extreme sports. The
content of each side is radically different, of course, but they both
do a nice job of positioning Target’s brand.
Paul thinks the next major trend will be using wireless capabilities to
link retailers to customers. Cell phones, for instance, offer a
widespread medium for providing marketing information, but a way must
be found to prevent spamming.
* Should you use a self-mailer or a piece contained in an
envelope for your direct marketing? For several years we’ve found
that a “blind number 10” package is the most effective format for most
DM efforts. It’s an envelope with the recipient’s name and a
return address, a 2-page letter and a response card, and it outpulls
every other format -- including postcards and most dimensional
Now there’s new supportive evidence. A client recently wanted to
collect voluntary email addresses from its newsletter mailing
list. The newsletter was mailed out with an offer to those who
would provide their information. Half the list got the newsletter
as a self-mailer; the other half got it in a 9X12 envelope with a short
letter. Over 1000 people provided email address and 90% of
responses came from the enclosed package.
* One of the great things about e-marketing is how fast you can
get results. The normal response curve for a direct mail package
might be a couple weeks. For an email it’s about 48 hours.
In a recent test Best Buy offered a desktop computer system for “$400
off.” Response was below norms after 24 hours, so Best Buy
changed the offer to “Systems starting at $299.” Response
increased dramatically. Within 36 hours the offer was made,
tested and changed to be more effective.
* Are brochures becoming obsolete? Well, no. Recently a
student argued persuasively that brochures do things online media
can’t: they are dimensional so people have a tactile connection
to them. They can be carried to meetings and shared in a way that
URLs can’t. They provide consistent color and layout. And
they slow down the process of communication so people engage
more. Web sites and email may be easier, but they are not
necessarily more effective.
The principle holds on a broader scale as well. While its
becoming second nature for many of us to count on web-based media, it’s
not true for everyone. There’s still an acceptance spectrum out
there. In some ways it mirrors the red-state, blue-state
political divide. In urban centers and with highly educated and
younger populations, online is where it’s at. But the further you
get from cities, campuses and coasts, the further south you go and the
further west, the more you find resistance to computer-based
* How do you get the most from recruitment advertising? One of
the students in my class is an expert. Among her tips and
suggestions: Get marketing involved because HR people often don’t have
the skills to do this right. Ask any group of people what they want to
know about a new job and you’ll get a range of answers. But
they’ll almost always include location, hours and salary. Job
postings on the internet are increasing but newspaper classifieds are
still slightly more productive. Change features (company
background, position requirements) to benefits: here’s what we
offer and here’s how the job matches your qualifications.
She also notes that branding plays a role in recruitment
advertising. Strong brands attract better prospects, so if you
have one, make it prominent. The want ads are a good place to
show your brand name. One recruitment firm ran ads with just the
company name and a contact address. It drew more responses than
“real” ads with details of jobs.
Aristotle Now -- February
There’s a California business called Aristotle International, Inc. that
specializes in “political technology” -- the stuff used to do polling
and analyze surveys. Condoleezza Rice has been a client. In New
Zealand there’s a business motivational firm called “Aristotle: your
personal mentor.” Aristotle Web Design is an award-winning design
shop in (of all places) Arkansas. “If Aristotle Ran General
Motors: The New Soul of Business,” by Tom Morris, was an international
business bestseller a few years ago. (In 1998, he gave over 100 keynote
speeches to corporate audiences.)
Why is this dead white guy (and a Greek to boot) still prominent in a
world where trends excite us so much more than truths? I taught
my annual class on Aristotle recently and the common response from
students was -- “I couldn’t believe how much of what he says is still
so important today.”
So what does Aristotle say? Well, lots of stuff. He was the
son of the court physician for Philip of Macedon and the top student at
Plato’s academy in Athens -- Plato called him “the intelligence of the
school.” As top students sometimes do, he rebelled against
Plato’s ideas about universal truths and set up his own school to
investigate the “real” world around him. At one time he was
directing 1000 researchers who set out to catalog all the known plants
and animals. He published over 400 manuscripts. Then he
became a celebrity tutor to Alexander the Great -- the world’s leading
military genius, trained by the world’s leading philosopher. Oh,
But none of this is especially relevant to most of us. What we
really care about is what Aristotle had to say about ethics and
persuasion. He was the founder of a system of logic used to
discover truth and he was so good at it that what he said became
accepted as Truth. For 1500 years, next to the Bible, Aristotle’s
Truth was the most definitive one around.
In “The Art of Rhetoric,” Aristotle lays out the system for how you go
about persuading people. He thought persuasion was an art, not a
science, because it was not always true the same way (like scientific
experiments) and because you didn’t have to have special training to do
it. He also thought that true persuasion didn’t rely on tricks
(artifice) but on finding the inherent, convincing thing in an
argument. “Rhetoric,” he says, “is the power to observe the
persuasiveness of which any particular matter admits.” And he
knew that persuasion depends on emotion as well as logic.
Aristotle thought there were three types of proof: the character
of the speaker, the disposition of the audience and the speech
itself. In modern marketing, we might translate these to the
brand, the market and the ad. Character is especially important,
because if we trust the speaker we are more willing to accept whatever
he or she says. This is why Reagan’s administration was effective
even while polls showed his policies were highly unpopular. This is why
Clinton was less effective, even though his policies were popular. This
is probably why Bush got re-elected. He used the word “character” four
times in his recent State of the Union speech, each time with a
But the heart of Aristotle’s ideas on persuasion is understanding the
audience. “The Art of Rhetoric,” in addition to being the first
systematic study of persuasion, is also the first real study of what
today we call behavioral psychology.
People seek pleasure, says Aristotle, and they seek to avoid
pain. This is the central idea behind almost all
advertising. People find pleasure in nostalgia, in winning, in
revenge, in friendship, status, power, nature, physical exercise,
successful offspring and flattery. They are displeased by the
opposites of all these things.
The root of all anger, Aristotle says, is a feeling of
disrespect. The basis of fear is “proximity of danger.”
People are envious of others’ wisdom, wealth and power and also when
they are “small-minded, because all things seem great to them.”
Confidence comes from having succeeded, from overcoming obstacles, from
having “assets,” and from being virtuous -- from having done no wrong.
Aristotle is a good target marketer too. He discusses the three
stages of life -- youth, age and “prime.” The young are
courageous, but foolish. They are driven by bodily appetites and
ambition. They are magnanimous, value their friends and they
“live in hope” for the future. The old are wise, but
cowardly. They qualify their opinions, are more self-loving and
pessimistic. Those in their prime are balanced. They are
neither overconfident nor excessively fearful. They balance
courage with moderation. and they judge according to the truth.
Aristotle thought physical prime was about age 30-35 and the prime of
the soul came at age 49. I like to think we can move this last
date up a bit -- as one of my students (bless her!) noted, “sixty is
the new forty.”
All of this comes into play when we do advertising. Character is
important -- we trust a brand, especially when we don’t know much else
about a product or service. We trust politicians even when we
don’t really understand their policies. But the most important
knowledge we need is about the audience: How old are they? What
pleasure do they seek? What pain do they wish to avoid?
What is the balance between emotion and logic that will move them to
act? How do we translate all this into an effective message?
So if you find yourself with a spare hour or two, browse through The
Art of Rhetoric. You don’t need to read it in Greek (as used to
be required of all grade school students), and you don’t need to read
the whole thing. But I bet you’ll find useful stuff. If
nothing else, you can make an impression by dropping Aristotle’s name
into your conversation. And if you do engage the old guy, let me
know -- it’s always fun to discuss the rediscovery of trendy truths.
-- Doug Wilhide
Miscellany -- December 2004
An update, and some items of interest, as we go into the final month of
* Does the quality of creative work make a difference?
Well, yes. We recently completed a direct mail piece for
Honeywell Federal Credit Union. Same audience, same offer. We
replaced a complicated package with unnecessary graphics and too much
information with a much simpler piece in a blind envelope.
Results? Response rates doubled.
* Does integrating tactics work? Again, yes. We
recently dropped a package for RSM McGladrey’s tax planning services to
a list of about 35,000. We added an email component, sent to a
list about 1/3 as big. Results? The email produced 400
leads in less than a week.
* I’m teaching a graduate class in Advertising Planning at St.
Thomas this fall. Three interesting discoveries:
-- Students reading a variety of books on “alternative” advertising
strategies report that the alternatives are really mainstream ideas
phrased differently. Once you scratch the surface, you find that
the same basic processes and premises make the difference between
marketing that’s successful and marketing that’s not.
-- We discussed widely varying attempts at branding. Target’s
2004 brand campaign was driven by “intuition,” with media choices that
took advantage of unexpected opportunities and a budget that
tripled. H&R Block’s re-branding effort was researched to
within an inch of it’s life, carefully monitored and produced less-than
spectacular results. Different strokes.
-- Guest speakers from Carmichael Lynch presented a case study on
toilets -- specifically American Standard’s introduction of it’s new
“Champion.” The new product intro featured demonstrations (the Champion
can flush 29 golf balls at once!), a buzz-generating campaign to the
trade using a full range of integrated tactics, and a consumer campaign
using TV and print.
* The Museum of Modern Art is reopening in New York after extensive
remodeling. It opened originally in 1929, just weeks after the
stock market crashed. The first exhibit featured a new group
called “post impressionists,” and included 35 Cezannes, 26 Gauguins, 17
Seurats and 27 Van Goghs. How would you like to have been there
for that one (held in rented space on the 12th floor of an old
building)? Or been able to invest in some of the art?
* Finally -- a reminder: If you need help with marketing communications
-- from planning a campaign to copywriting/art direction services to
get it done right -- please get in touch. I d love to hear about your
projects and perhaps could suggest some ideas. If you’re planning
for the first quarter of 2005, now is the time to call me, or
email. Tell your friends, tell your boss, keep us in
mind when the subject comes up, forward these notes to others who may
be interested. Thanks!
Happy Holidays and best wishes for a prosperous 2005!
“The Science of Aging” was the topic for the 40th annual Nobel
Conference held in October in St. Peter, MN. I took notes.
You can read them by clicking on this link: The Science of Aging.doc
You’ll find information about the state-of-the-art in gerontological
thinking, as well as answers to some interesting questions:
-- What is aging and why is it a new and unique concern? (We’re the
first species in the history of life on earth to have to worry about
-- What is the difference between aging and age-related diseases and
why is it important?
-- What is Alzheimer’s? How does it differ from other kinds of
-- Should we be focused on the problems of aging or the benefits of
-- What is “the positivity effect?”
-- Do microscopic worms hold the key to extending longevity?
-- Does reading and telling stories help “treat” dementia?
What’s Hot in July: Marketing in the middle of 2004 --
1. The hottest topic right now is metrics and measurement.
the carnage of the last few years devastated marketing departments,
careers and campaigns, survivors are paying close attention to
business value of marketing efforts. “ROI” lingers on everyone’s
like an illicit kiss. Advertisers want to know what they’re
for their money and agencies are attempting to find new ways to show
The result is a sharpening of pencils and of focus.
PR shops used to measure success by the number of media outlets that
up a press release, or the value of PR exposure expressed in comparable
dollars. Now smart PR shops are looking at which media pick up
story and how that influenced behavior among target audiences.
Ad agencies are mixing direct marketing and Web-based programs with ad
to get quantifiable data to support claims of success. It’s no
good enough to say we reached X number of people X number of
Clients want to know what those people did and be able to relate that
to goals for which marketing people can be held accountable.
New techniques and technology are helping measurement-based disciplines
direct mail and Web-based marketing get data and analyze it
Where DM people used to track raw inquiries, we now track qualified
and sales data and relate them to list, offer, package format,
time of year and a dozen other variables. Web efforts used to be
in terms of the number of hits on a Web site. Now we track
information about who is connecting, what they’re looking at and how
There’s a learning curve here, of course. Most ad efforts still
measured at all, people still claim success on a highly questionable
and even direct marketers don’t always do the back end work well.
the organizations that are picking up on this have an edge: they
prove the value of marketing to management.
2. Web-based marketing is moving to the center of integrated
A couple years ago the Web part of a campaign was an afterthought, a
idea” that often didn’t get funded properly. Now companies are
the Web a key part of the strategy from the beginning.
Fallon’s groundbreaking campaigns for BMW featured short films created
“name” directors and shown only on the BMW Web site. The results
been over the top, especially with the target audience of younger
customers. The campaign is entering its third year. Target
been launching “micro sites” aimed at specific subsets of audiences,
collected under the umbrella of target.com. The original idea was
bring Target’s Web presence more in line with its other branding
but the results show that these sites provide useful data for promoting
specific interests. There’s a micro-site aimed at teens that
on concerts, CDs and DVDs, and another aimed at expectant mothers and
families that includes links to sites with helpful advice.
Electronic marketing is also a hot area. B2B marketers use it to
direct mail campaigns and to get easily downloadable information to
They also use email to promote special Web events -- webinars -- and to
live training events. Public Radio International (PRI) markets
with an electronic newsletter and special flash emails that announce
Again, there’s a learning curve, but the organizations that are
Web and electronic marketing have a big advantage: they can
all kinds of data almost automatically and funnel it into spread sheets
sharpen future promotion.
3. There’s a gap between entertaining an audience and selling
that isn’t getting bridged. Too many ad campaigns go for the
value and forget about the reason why organizations spend money to
The ads are often amusing and sometimes memorable, but they don’t do
for the bottom line. The “Got Milk” campaign, for instance, was
selected as one of the top three campaigns of the last decade, but it
accomplish its goal, which was to increase sales of milk. The
Bell chihuahua campaign won all kinds of awards, but it failed to bring
customers who were more interested in the food than the dog.
4. There’s a serious problem with “going young” for many
Most advertising is done by younger people and they tend to believe
what they’re interested in is what interests everyone. While it’s
that young audiences (18-34) have more wealth than ever before, they’re
relatively small part of the overall universe and probably not the best
audience for many organizations. AARP reports that the 50+
continues to be the fastest growing demographic segment, and it
70% of the wealth in the U.S. It accounts for 40% of all consumer
but is targeted in less than 10% of advertising messages.
5. A related issue is the lack of experienced people in marketing
and agencies. Where we used to have a mix of new and seasoned
we now have mostly young people who are poorly trained. They’re
in both quantitative skills and writing and even weaker in
how their job relates to the purpose of the business. They’re
less than expert at project management and long range planning.
don’t know how to collect data, analyze it and communicate it so it can
used for the next campaign.
These are generalizations, of course. There are plenty of
young people in marketing now, and they bring both energy and optimism
the job. But they lack basic skills and sorely miss having
hands around to guide and mentor them.
6. There’s a renewed interest in understanding the
There’s more money being spent to find out what audiences want, how
make decisions, why they buy or don’t buy, etc. The slow but
growth of the “account planner” function in top agencies, for instance,
an effort to represent the audience in discussions with both creative
7. Branding is becoming recognized as an organization-wide
not just a superficial design strategy. Companies with strong
(Target, Lee Jeans, Apple, Mayo Clinic, among many others) are
their structure around the brand. Target, for instance, used its
fast, and friendly” brand strategy to select products, design stores,
people and make alliances with community groups -- as well as in
and collateral design. Just slapping a new logo on the
or producing a “brand guidelines” book with rigid typography and color
isn’t enough any more.
8. The wars between advertising and public relations (sparked by
2002 book, “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR” by Al Reiss and
daughter Laura) seem to be abating. Good organizations are
PR and ad efforts more closely, and combining them with event
Web and electronic initiatives and direct mail. It isn’t easy to
across silos, but the top person is now a “Communications Director” not
PR manager or an Advertising manager.
9. We need to be alert to new media choices. NASCAR, for
is growing rapidly while pro football, basketball and baseball are
Advertising in movie theaters is one of the fastest growing “new
The Morris car campaign recently bought a section of seats at a college
bowl game, removed them and put one of the cars in with the spectators
“watch” the game and be seen by the TV cameras.
10. Another hot area is internal communications. Printed
and blanket announcements from HR departments have grown stale.
companies now give employees access to sophisticated intranets where
can do everything from tracking their company stock and 401Ks (hour by
to product training, do-it-yourself IT fixes and group meetings, all on
at the office, at home or on the road.
11. People are learning to write visually. Rather than
narratives, we’re writing hard copy the way we read Web copy. The
stuff is up front then backed up with more detail if you want to “drill
to it. You can get a summary at a glance, and more detail deeper
the Web site -- or in the back of the brochure/ newsletter/ white
12. We may be at a turning point in the communications
The dichotomies are starting to resolve: measured results vs
campaigns; youth vs experience; entertainment vs product
Web vs traditional media; segmented disciplines vs integrated
branding vs product-specific advertising. The good organizations
find ways to tie these together and the best ones will figure out how
use new metrics to prove that their communications programs are an
and vital part of the overall business mission.
Miscellaneous marketing notes -- 6/8/2004
* Advertising/marketing that produces measurable (and measured)
results is hard to find, but it’s not impossible:
-- The Aflac insurance campaign (with that annoying duck) has posted
impressive numbers. Name recognition has nearly doubled and Aflac
has posted double-digit sales gains while the rest of the industry
stayed nearly flat. Pretty good use of an icon-based creative
-- In places where the California avocado industry campaign has run,
the percentage of “heavy users” of avocados increased from 28% to
good, but that’s over 10 years and one wonders if the change is due to
advertising or broader changes in diet and cooking patterns that led to
-- If you’ll pardon the lack of humility, I’m still enjoying a small
direct mail campaign we did last fall for a manufacturer of cabinet
doors. The package cost under $6000 and produced first year new
sales over $131,000, with a three-year projection of over $400K.
* My favorite recent ad -- for an organization promoting the
healthy effects of eating more beans. The visual is a baked bean
on a fork. The headline: Live to be an old fart.
* From a recent article by industry pundit Bob Donath, an old
friend and, indeed, a fellow old fart (in the finest sense of the
term): “Two years ago... business marketers faced exceptional
spending scrutiny from senior
management. Not that the big bosses demanded professional
multivariate modeling of dependent and independent endogenous and
exogenous marketing variables,
they simply wanted persuasive evidence of what they were getting for
marketing buck. Out of context ambiguous metrics such as lead
Web site hits, share of mind and dealer sales call counts, augmented by
‘they really love it’ platitudes rang hollow during a recession that
debunked the ‘new economy’ fantasies of the 1990s.”
* In the same piece, Donath noted a survey by the Institute for the
Study of Business Markets that listed the top challenges facing B2B
marketers now. Achieving profitable growth was #1, followed by
“better organize and market the marketing function itself.” This
is part self-interest, of course -- if marketing people want to keep
their jobs, it’s wise to pay more attention to marketing the value of
what they do. But it’s also a sound business strategy. Good
marketing is well researched, consistently supported by senior
management and responsible for results. Lousy marketing is poorly
conceived, inconsistently supported and more about BS than ROI.
* June is the month of choice for people looking to consummate marriage
vows. There’s almost as much love in the air as there is
Also money. The marriage industry took in $70 billion (with a
in revenues last year -- about twice what the movie industry did.
* Good service never goes out of style and in many cases it’s the
real basis behind a strong brand. Over 100 years ago Sears
revolutionized the mail order business with this guarantee: "Kind
Sears warmly addressed its catalog prospects in 1900. "Any customer
anything from us and not finding it entirely satisfactory, even though
be exactly as represented, is under all circumstances at liberty to
it to us and we will promptly refund the money paid for it, and bear
freight or express charges both ways."
Wonder if that works for marriages?
12 Tips for Better Brochures -- 4/12/2004
1. Show off up front -- put your money into the outside of the
piece, use heavier paper, big graphic elements. Think about “plop
-- give it enough heft so it feels valuable and makes a “plop” sound
you drop it on a table. You don’t get a second chance to make a first
2. Give it a name -- this is the brochure about what? Give
it a title beyond the product name and think about what the audience is
looking for. It’s a good exercise to focus the piece and to move
features to benefits.
3. Provide an entrance -- a brochure is like a building. You
don’t want people coming through the front door directly into someone’s
The inside cover is throwaway space -- don’t put important information
The first right hand page is for a short summary of the message.
4. The back door is for exit only -- use it for addresses, contact
information, logos, etc. Don’t put important information
here. The last inside page is a good place for a call to action
-- what’s the next step you want readers to take? The inside back
cover is usually throwaway space.
5. Be as visual as possible -- Use big pictures rather than
small ones. Make sure every picture tells a story. Try to create
what David Ogilvy calls “a visual scandal.” Don’t use the same
stock shots everyone else in your industry uses. Balance the
visuals by spread --
emphasize the primary picture and subordinate other graphic
elements. Put your best picture in the middle spread of the
6. Organize the flow -- what should the reader see first (second,
third, etc.) and why? Outline each spread and use a headline --
this is the spread about what? Use subheads so the reader can
track the information.
If the piece will be used as sales support, think about using it upside
-- as a sales rep might do while making a sales pitch.
7. Write short -- Write blocks of copy, not narratives (this is
NOT a novel). Use bullets. Your brochure should echo your
Web site. Use captions and callouts for important information rather
it in the copy. Adapt the length to the audience’s interest, NOT
you want to say. Write informally -- use the second person.
-- Pay for good copywriting. Get the right writer -- Ad agencies,
PR agencies, design firms, freelancers, etc. all take a different
approach to brochures. What’s the right choice for this
piece? Proofread at least three times -- and don’t use the
creative team as proofreaders.
8. Keep the focus -- Don’t include information that’s irrelevant
to the purpose of the piece. A good brochure is about ONE thing,
a “full line” or a collection of subjects. It’s better to use
several smaller brochures than cram stuff into one large tome.
Avoid pockets in the back -- use a separate folder instead.
9. Brochures are about branding -- Get a good design and stick
with it. Try to “own” a typeface, color palette, general look,
Try to develop a likable and consistent “voice.” Develop a system
for different kinds of brochures. Give a brand manager time to
each piece. But remember -- consistent collateral is just common
marketing; it’s not ALL there is to branding.
10. Get to know paper -- it’s the easiest way to get better
brochures on large and small budgets. Ask a printer or paper
company for a presentation.
Know types of uncoated and coated stocks, finishing techniques,
varnishes and coatings, etc. Use heavier paper on the outside,
lighter on the inside. Paper cost is roughly 25% of the project
so a move to higher quality is often cost-efficient.
11. Set objectives -- Schedules, costs, usage, internal and
external processes, etc. How will you know if this brochure is
successful or not?
12. Other things to consider -- Differentiate between high,
middle and low end printers and send brochures to the right place for
Don’t print more than a 9-month supply -- too many things change and
it’s better to reprint than use outdated materials. Try to group
projects so you can save on production costs.
-- You only need to use a trademark or copyright symbol once in the
If you can deploy the information via the Web, do so. Offer pdf
downloads and/or print “on-demand” when you can. Assume that a
buyer will have only one piece in hand at key decision points and be
sure all the contact info needed is in that piece.
-- The tri-fold is the most common type of brochure and it has its own
rules. Decide if it will be a self-mailer or not and use the
accordingly. The inside right flap panel needs color, a bleed
or some kind of border to set it apart from the spread behind it.
Use it to summarize the main idea. The inside three panels are
visual spread, design it as such.
Remember: every brochure represents you and your
It’s how people see you and understand what you stand for. Never
waste an opportunity.
This is a very compressed version of what we talk about when discussing
brochures. Want more? Have questions? Get in
touch. I offer training sessions on this subject (and others) and
can help you evaluate your current project or collateral program.
NOTES ON BRANDING 3/16/2004
* From a United Way workbook on branding: “A product or service
does not become a brand until it has earned a significant place in the
lives of its users.”
* Branding should be tied to a business strategy, an HR strategy and a
* From Scott Bedbury, CEO of Seattle-based Brandstream: “Today,
branding is everything -- and I mean everything. Brands are not
products or services. Brands are the sum total of all the images that
have in their heads about a particular company and a particular
Brands absorb everything around them.”
* From Regis McKenna: “Branding is overrated. On average,
U.S. corporations lose half their customers every five years, half
employees every four years and half of their investors every year
to Fredrick Reicheld, author of The Loyalty Effect.) And I thought
was supposed to keep people coming back for more.”
* Branding has been described this way: “a company’s attempt to
whitewash over third-world production, horrible labor practices,
distribution and consumer brainwashing... when we realize we have no
no choice and no jobs, we will rise up and demand No Logo.”
* People spend far too much time saying “I want to build a
brand.” Forget about building a brand. Build customers
* A brand must be believable; this is both a strength and a weakness of
* People prefer to buy what they know. I buy the same
toothpaste, laundry detergent, toilet paper, grocery products, etc. as
my mother did.
* Regis McKenna again: “billions are wasted on this useless
strategy.” Pets.com spent over $100 million on branding-related
activities, then sold the name to Petsmart for $1 million.
* We have a “crisis of differentiation” among brands. One
recent study looked at the top two brands in 46 categories of consumer
and found that in 44 of them the top brands were “more alike than
* What is the most valuable brand in the world? The lists
usually include Coca Cola (the brand itself is estimated at $70
Microsoft, IBM, Nokia, GE, Disney, Intel and McDonalds.
* One study indicated that the most valuable brand today is the
United States Marines. It’s powerful, differentiated, respected and
deep emotional values. (One of my favorite lines, from Thomas
Friedman: you can’t have a McDonald’s in every country unless you
also have a McDonald-Douglas.)
12/3/03 -- Happy Holidays!
Here's hoping you and the people you love have a wonderful Holiday
season. Keep us in mind of you have a marketing communications
project (or problem) and be sure to check the latest Observations
10/17/03 -- The Story of Life
We recently attended the Nobel Conference in St. Peter, MN. It
was two days of high-level lectures on the current research into
evolution and related issues. Some good talks on what
paleontologists are uncovering in places like Alberta, Ethiopia, the
Galapagos and China. Proof
that birds are descended from dinosaurs, that we're related to monkees
and neanderthals but not descended from them (the governor of
notwithstanding), and that we are "serial homologs" -- we use a few
toolkits of genes to construct the same architectural parts. Also
a good talk on how religions can come to grips with Darwin beyond the
of bumper stickers with fish. I've posted my notes if you want to
know more. Nobel
9/29/03 Now appearing...
This fall is a busy season for sharing expertise. I'll be
presenting mini-MBC sessions on Advertising Strategy on October 16 and
22 through the University of St. Thomas Management Center. On
30 I'll lead two sessions about Creative Approaches for Direct Mail
presented by the printing company DPD. And on November 13 I'll be
part of a half-day seminar on "Measurement," chairing a panel
discussion on the subject, offered by the Association of Women in
Communications. If you're interested, get in touch and I'll link
you to the details. (Note: some of the sessions are open to anyone,
Coming soon: 6 reasons why advertising doesn't get measured
properly and 6 ways to do the job better.
ALSO the new October issue of our newsletter Observations
is out. Contact
us for a copy, or check out the on-line version.
In the land of the cheeseheads
In June I went on a 416-mile bike ride with a group of about 120 other
masochists. This is my ninth “Jaunt with Jim Klobuchar” ride --
and after each one I usually vow “never again!” This year’s
ride was the first in Wisconsin and it was actually quite
Beautiful country, not much wind, pretty good weather -- except for one
afternoon when we biked on a very narrow shoulder in the rain with
truck drivers roaring by a few inches from our helmets. Then
were the hills. Northern Wisconsin is a lot more up and down than
you might think. It ain’t the Alps or the Pyrenees, but I ain’t
You can read my notes by clicking on this link: bike trip 03.doc
5/1/2003 Happy Mayday!
The recent Minnesota IABC annual conference in St. Paul featured an
interesting session: a debate about whether or not branding is
Bruce Tait, founding partner of Fallon Brand Consulting, took the
position that building the brand is still the single most important
thing a company can do with its advertising. I maintained that
branding is too costly, done poorly too often and the wrong choice for
most companies -- a fad whose time has passed.
Here are the key points from my argument (Updated now --
If you want to know more, get in touch. Or ask for a copy of our
Observations newsletter from last September (click on the Observations
10 Reasons Why Branding Is Dead (or at least dying)
1. It’s often done poorly. People mistake
consistency with building a brand.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," said
Branding committees and brand tsars do a great deal of damage.
Having a consistent look and feel to your collateral materials is a
It’s basic, competent marketing. But it’s not a big deal.
And it’s not branding. Graphic design firms who establish
for collateral programs can make more money by calling themselves brand
consultants. But it’s still not branding.
2. Brand building takes precedence over creating what the brand
Branding used to be what cowboys did to cows. Why did it
become such a hot buzzword for marketers? The essence of good
is still the same: you find out what your customers want, you
it, tell them about it and sell it at a price that appears to be a good
value to them and makes a profit for you. You build an audience
your product or service. Then -- and only then -- do you start
thinking about establishing a brand. Before you commit too many
resources to branding, ask yourself, “where’s the beef?”
3. Branding requires long-term vision, often not available in
rapidly changing industries and companies.
The classic example is the dot.coms who set out to establish an image
before there was any content to it. Branding became a 6-month
project after which the technology and the company behind the “brand”
was often obsolete or out of business or both. Even in the real
world too many companies are focused on quarterly earnings and
immediate sales -- not a good environment for building a brand.
4. Branding is company-focused rather than customer-focused.
It tends to be an internal discussion. All those brand committees
and brand tsars worry too much about who they want to say they are and
omit the more important question: who do their customers want
be? You have to be what you say you are -- in the minds of your
not just in the imaginations of your brand experts.
5. Branding can lead to boring messaging.
Forcing ad layouts into a brand “look and feel” can make them less
visible, not more. All those rehashed “key messages” and “brand
statements” crammed into brochure copy make the brochures less useful
the audience, not more so. Key messaging may be useful in getting
your employees on the same page, but it’s not necessarily something you
need to repeat to your customers. They don’t work for you.
can’t force them to believe, or even care about, your carefully crafted
6. Branding leads to a reliance on marketing rather than
In a recent New Yorker article, James Surowiecki discussed the efforts
of Nike to introduce a new golf ball. It was really an old golf
ball with Tiger Woods behind it. Meanwhile Callaway invested in
R&D to develop a better gold ball. Golfers were not fooled
they stayed away from Nike balls in droves. As Surowiecki
“Where modern marketers have succeeded, wildly, is in selling us on the
idea that marketing is all you need. The numbers suggest a
homier lesson. The surest way to get stronger sales is to sell a
7. The assumption of "lifetime brand loyalty" is often false.
The theory -- if you can call it that -- behind a lot of branding
efforts is that if you can lock people in, especially at an early age,
stay with the same brand forever. Recent research by media
-- notably CBS -- has disproved this claim, especially among older
audiences -- which is where the money is. The fact is that with
more choices and new products and increased global competition, we are
a lot less brand loyal than we used to be. Who really wanted to
buy “not your father’s Oldsmobile?” How many of us will stick
with a Nike running shoe if
an equally good Asics or Saucony shoe is available for $20 less?
those 20-somethings clicking on to the BMW website to see the latest
Web videos be loyal to BMW when they’re forty, have finally moved out
their parents’ home and can afford a $50,000 car?
8. Branding leads to errors in positioning.
Brand experts forget the key lesson of positioning -- another term
for branding. As Trout and Reis explained 20 years ago, a
is something your audience permits, not something you determine
the Battle for Your Mind). Apple, for instance, had a specific
in the minds of its advocates so it could do branding campaigns like
computer for the rest of us” and "Think different.” Most
don’t have that luxury. You can’t just leap out and brainwash
into believing what your brand stands for. It’s something you
not something you invent. You may want to be the world’s biggest
company, but unless you’re IBM or Microsoft you can’t have that
even if you are, in fact, the world’s biggest computer company (General
9. Branding is costly, especially for new and smaller companies.
It takes money, commitment and time... all in short supply at most
companies. You don’t want to spend scarce advertising dollars
a brand when what you really need to do is sell the next version of
software or your new, better widget. And you don’t want your CEO
in on brand meetings when what he should be doing is improving quality
on the production line or deciding to expand sales in a new market.
10. Branding is a fad and it’s time to move on.
Marketing is a business of fads -- though now we call them
(Speaking of misused terms, how about “trend marketing? Can you
market a trend? Or do you discover it and adjust your product or
service to fit?”) In the 1950s it was icons -- think Betty
Crocker, the Jolly Green Giant, the Hamms bear. In the 60s and
70s it was unique selling propositions -- think Volkswagen (Think
small)... or Federal Express.
In the 1980s and 90s it was positioning (Apple). Then it was
management by objectives, searching for excellence, team-driven
star performers. Then it was dot.coms and the “new economy.” Now
it’s widespread unemployment -- especially among marketers.
Fads have their moment -- and their elements of truth -- but we outgrow
them. It’s time to outgrow branding and look for the “next big
thing.” I would nominate the one business concept that never
seems to get outdated: common sense. Branding is part of the
marketing story, and for some companies a very important part (check
out your basket the next time you go to a supermarket or to
Target). But it's not the whole marketing story and, for most
organizations, probably not the most important thing they should be
paying attention to.
It’s been a busy month and I apologize for not updating this
page more frequently. We’ll do better in the future, so check in
often. We visited Japan the end of
March, spent time with our son, Sam, who is teaching English outside of
Osaka, travelled around to Kyoto, Nara and a couple mountain towns, and
were lucky enough to get to Tokyo right as the cherry blossoms were in
full bloom. What an experience! It’s more than just
beautiful, it’s like the air around you has taken on an exuberance and
everyone is sharing it. A first kiss... drinking champagne in
Paris...sunset at Key West -- all come to mind as metaphors of the
USING THE CEO AS YOUR AD SPOKESMAN
I’ve been way too frequent a visitor at St. Thomas graduate business
classes since our return from Japan.
I’m teaching my Advertising Strategies class on Tuesdays, sitting
in on a marketing management class on Mondays and teaching/auditing the
new mini-MBC classes on Thursdays. And on Wednesday, 4/16, I did
a guest lecture gig for Glenn Karwolski’s class on Management
The subject was using the CEO as an advertising spokesperson. For
those who might be interested, here’s the gist of what we
discussed. If you have questions, or comments, email or
call. I’d be happy to provide details.
There are two key questions:
1. CAN HE DO IT?
2. SHOULD HE DO IT
You can help decide these questions by working
through a couple of checklists:
CAN HE DO IT checklist:
1. Does he look good, especially on TV?
-- note JFK vs Nixon; Reagan vs everybody;
Bush Sr vs Dukakis
2. Can he act?
-- this requires real acting skills and not everyone has them
-- can he move in and out of a personna?
-- how about the voice?
3. Does he want to do it?
-- celebrity is not for everyone
-- note Ray Kroc ( a shy accountant) vs Dave Thomas (an extrovert
SHOULD HE DO IT checklist:
1. Is this the right creative strategy?
-- what about your product, competition, marketplace, etc.?
-- what business are you really in and is this
the business you want to promote?
-- what are your advertising objectives, near and long term?
2. If a brand image creative strategy makes sense, is the CEO the
-- Dave Thomas... Lee Iacocca, etc.
-- look at it from outside... don’t get caught
up in groupthink
-- will this icon help sell the product/message?
-- note Taco Bell chihuahua, Marlboro Man, Hathaway eye patch guy,
3. Is this the best use of the CEO’s time and unique talents?
-- is the company stable or in flux?
-- how strong is the management team?
-- does this align with senior management KPOs?
-- recognize that this is a major undertaking if done right.
4. Other issues
-- this is always a short term branding strategy. Does that make
-- how do you plan to integrate CEO with other
-- is the CEO going to be around for a while?
-- are there skeletons in the closet (due dilligence as with any
-- how will this play with Wall Street and other stakeholders?
-- are you “selling the source” when you should be “selling the
-- keep current skepticism about CEOs and ad spokesmen in mind:
-- Enron, tobacco execs lying to Congress, fraud
-- CEO salary controversies
-- “( advertising) spokesmen are paid liars with
WHEN IT WORKS, the upside can be great
-- gives the organization a face and a personality
-- builds customer trust
-- Teddy Roosevelt and John
Muir as spokesmen for railroads in 1890s
-- gives the appearance of personal involvement with customers
-- helps counter crisis situations (Michael Jordan vs negative
Nike manufacturing press)
-- a good way to extend brands
-- "The only true measure of advertising is its ability to create the
brand momentum that transforms an organization, ignites its bottom
line, and deepens the relationship between a
brand and its customers." -- Jack Supple, Carmichael-Lynch.
Can your CEO do that?