Marketing and the College Tour

In March I wrote a post about the value of first impressions.  That post was inspired by the different marketing and promotional approaches of colleges and universities at a local college fair I attended with my daughter.  Fast forward four months and some of the booths that grabbed our attention that day were visited recently.

Since I tend to view many things with a marketer’s eye, the college tour experience was viewed with the same scrutiny I applied to the college fair in March.  It’s safe to say that some excelled and others failed miserably.  After visiting/looking at 7 schools in 3 states, here’s what stood out:

  1. Photo editing is a marketer’s best friend.  One school that looked great on the web and in their brochures was the exact opposite in person.  Situated in a very poor part of town, there was no dedicated campus and the buildings were quite run-down in person.  This is exactly why you must visit schools and not believe everything you see in a marketing brochure.
  2. Hospitality goes a long way.  Most schools offered visitors something to drink (bottled water, coffee, tea).  Some even offered cookies.  One offered nothing and pointed to vending machines in the lobby.  You certainly wouldn’t apply to a school based on whether or not the Admissions Department offered cookies.  But, which experience leaves a better taste in your mouth (pun intended)?
  3. Personalization makes a great impression.  Most schools followed-up on our visits with a “canned” thank you note and additional marketing materials.  Thank you notes are important, but they need to be authentic.  We received a hand-written thank you note from the student tour guide at one of the schools (in addition to one from admissions).  That simple gesture made a great and lasting impression!
  4. You need to walk the walk.  If you’re going to tout how state-of-the-art your campus is when it comes to technology, then your admissions presentation should reflect that.  A simple PowerPoint isn’t going to cut it.  The schools that invested in a higher quality multimedia presentation reinforced their claim of incorporating cutting edge technology.
  5. Finding common ground.  A few of the schools had large groups of students/parents for the campus tour.  Most simply split the groups randomly.  However, one university split the groups by the prospective students’ potential major/school.  Additionally, they matched that group with a student tour guide from that same school.  Rather than having a theater major attempting to answer questions about a business major, you had a business major answering questions from prospective business school students.
  6. Kids like swag.  Just like point #2 above, whether or not you receive a coffee mug or t-shirt from the school should have no bearing on whether or not you choose to apply to that school.  But, kids like free stuff!  The schools which made a small investment in a promotional budget sent visiting students home with a positive impression (and created a walking advertisement in the process).

The above marketing observations are certainly not limited to higher education.  These same examples and principles apply to small businesses too.  Think about the impression your action (or inaction) is leaving on customers and potential customers.  Quite often, just a simple shift can make a big difference!

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Check Your Facebook Privacy Settings Ahead of Graph Search

You may have heard Facebook’s recent announcement about Graph Search.  It’s currently being beta tested, but it will allow you to search Facebook for people, places, photos and interests.  It’s Facebook’s attempt to take on Google’s powerful search engine.

Now (before this feature is released to the masses) is as good a time as any to make sure your privacy settings are set the way you want them to be.  Perhaps the easiest way to check your settings is to use the padlock symbol in the upper right portion of the Facebook toolbar.

Facebook Privacy, Privacy Settings, Facebook, Privacy, Facebook Privacy Change, Facebook Privacy Settings

As a first step, check each of the three areas that appear in the drop-down privacy settings box as shown in the picture above.  I tend to limit my posts to friends-only (you can always change this on a per-post basis).  You can always view your profile as someone else sees it, if you’re uncertain as to what the settings mean.

As a second step, review who can contact you and how you’d like your messages filtered to your inbox.  Next, you’ll want to click on the link at the bottom of the drop-down privacy settings box titled “see more settings”.  Are you comfortable with who can look you up using the email address and/or phone number you provided (if you did provide such info)?  Now’s the time to edit that info and/or change that setting if you want.

The last setting under “Who can look me up?” (see image below) allows search engines to find your profile and link to your timeline.  I have mine turned off and I’m guessing you may want to as well if you’re concerned about privacy.

Facebook Privacy, Privacy Settings, Facebook, Privacy, Facebook Privacy Change, Facebook Privacy Settings

Lastly, you’ll want to review the apps that you’ve given access to.  Do you still use all of them?  Are you comfortable with them making posts on your behalf?  You’ll want to remove the apps you no longer use and check the settings for the ones you keep.  This can all be done by clicking on the apps link (left-hand column in the picture above).  In addition to the apps you use, make sure you review the settings for “Apps others use.”

Do You Signal?

No, I’m not talking about driving – although that could easily apply to half of this blog’s readers based on a recent vacation.  😉

I’m talking about LinkedIn’s under-utilized feature called Signal.  Do you use it?  Have you even heard of it?

Last week I wrote about how Twitter’s decision to discontinue automatic cross-postings to LinkedIn has helped reduce clutter in your network update stream.  If you’d like to further reduce the noise and fine-tune the relevancy of the LinkedIn status updates and news in your stream, you need to use Signal.

Signal allows you to filter your stream based on one or more of the following:  network, company, location, industry, time, school, group, topics, seniority and/or update type.  You can search within checked filters on keywords or people.  As with your “regular” network update stream, any new updates will get pushed in real-time so that you can refresh for the latest update that meets your filter settings.  You can even view trending links and who has shared them.  Lastly, you can save your searches and even share them as a status update, post into a group or send via private message.

So where can you find this handy LinkedIn tool?  Look under “News” in the gray toolbar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage (between “Companies” and “More”).  It’s the last choice in a 3-choice drop down menu.

If you’re not familiar with Signal, I encourage you to check it out.  Play with the different filters and see how it changes your update stream.  As I write this post, I have 5,579 network updates I could read.  If you don’t have the time to read that many updates (who does?!), using Signal could turn LinkedIn from a casual “read when I have time” to a highly filtered daily must-read.

Let me know your thoughts on Signal.  Are you ready to start using it?  If you have been using it, what’s your experience been like?

“Dads and Grads” – Brilliant or Lazy?

It’s that time of year again . . . June brings us both Father’s Day and graduations.    You’ve probably heard some clever advertiser jump on the “dads and grads” marketing bandwagon to grab your attention.

Honestly, this is a big pet peeve of mine when it comes to marketing.  Aside from a rhyme, how smart is it to lump the two groups together?  Effective marketing is supposed to be targeted.  You’ve researched your customers and/or target audience, you’ve analyzed the demographics and sociographics, and you’ve somehow concluded that dads = grads and it’s smart to market to both simultaneously.  Really?!?

I’m a dad, but I doubt I have a ton in common with the class of 2012 when it comes to demographics and sociographics.  You don’t need to be a market research guru to come to that conclusion.

Most college graduations occur in May, but you don’t see marketers lumping them with Mother’s Day.  Why not?   June is an extremely popular month for weddings, but you don’t see marketers lumping brides or grooms with dads.  Why not?

It’s a safe assumption that there’s a demographic/sociographic discrepancy between each of the aforementioned groups.  Therefore, I can assume the reason dads and grads are linked is simply because they rhyme.  How pathetic is that?!

Don’t you think recent graduates want their own moment in the spotlight after years of hard work?  As a dad, I’m a little insulted that the significance of Father’s Day is muted by the inclusion of graduates.  Aren’t we deserving of sole attention from marketers?  And while I’m on my marketing pet peeve soap box, not all dads are bumbling, clueless and lazy.  Come on marketers, you’re better than that!  “Dads and grads” is not creative, original or effective; it’s lazy.

I’d especially like to hear from fellow dads out there.  Am I off-base with this or do you feel similarly?  What’s your biggest complaint with how dads are portrayed in advertising?

A New Advertising World – Part 1

Depending on your television viewing habits, you may have noticed a gradual change in advertising over the past few years.

Not too long ago, prescription drug manufacturers could not advertise on television.  Instead, they focused on trade/B2B magazines targeted to physicians and other medical industry professionals (as well as direct mail, trade shows, branded merchandise and samples).  I measured the effectiveness of literally thousands of these advertisements, in dozens of publications, over many years.  Print advertising rates are based on many factors, but are primarily driven by audience size (circulation quantity), quality (subscriber profile), page size, page color and frequency.

It was quite apparent that these companies had large budgets when it came to advertising.  Instead of the standard one page advertisement with color, their advertising was often 4+ pages printed on heavy-weight glossy card stock.  And sometimes, they would advertise more than once within the same issue.  Because most people outside of the medical industry don’t have the opportunity to see this kind of advertising, what you also missed was a page or two (or more!) of contraindications.  That’s a fancy word for side effects, how the drugs interact with other drugs and conditions that would warrant avoiding the drug and complications that could arise as a result of taking it.

Fast-forward several years and regulations have been lessened to allow drug manufacturers to advertise on television.  Most drug manufacturers jumped at the chance to advertise on television because it brought prestige to their product.

The biggest change is that they’re no longer targeting the doctors and medical industry professionals but the end-consumers and patients.  “Ask your doctor about [drug name here]” is the new normal.  They’ve altered the marketing dynamic by creating consumer demand to supplement physician knowledge.

What hasn’t changed?  The need to incorporate the contraindications as part of the advertising.  So the same commercial that spends time praising the amazing benefits of the drug being advertised must also spend time telling you all the bad things that could happen too.  While it’s probably a good thing that they have to disclose that information, they’re sharing it with those who aren’t qualified to make complicated prescription decisions.

Is having to include negative information in the commercial ultimately hurting their marketing efforts?  There’s certainly an increased volume of television commercials for prescription products.

Why do you think they’re working?  Do you think people simply tune-out that part of the message, or is there some other reason?  Or, do you think they don’t work and the drug manufacturers simply have a budget large enough to advertise on television despite incorporating a negative message?

Part 2 on this topic has been published.

Social Media Experiment Results

In my post last week, I asked for your help in conducting a social media experiment to see if I could get blog/site views from specific countries for the first time.  I was hoping readers would share their favorite post of mine via social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+) and try to target some of the countries listed.

Immediately after publishing that post, one of the subscribers to my blog was kind enough to tweet it and reference some countries using hashtags.

In less than an hour, someone from Iceland had visited!  My excitement grew at the idea that the map would quickly fill.  I scheduled a few more tweets for the next few days with countries listed, paying attention to the time difference so the tweet would launch during business hours in those countries.  However, no new countries had visited and my tweets weren’t being re-tweeted.

I took to Google+ and tried to get some additional country views using that platform.  While it did bring in some additional views and was on-par with my normal quantity of visits, they weren’t from any of the “missing” countries I had specifically listed/identified.  I changed my LinkedIn status to see if anyone in my network could help.

So with Mike’s comment on my update, I set my sites solely on Greenland, perhaps the largest country missing from my map (land size).  Tweets referencing Greenland weren’t working as quickly as I hoped.  With a promised update for this week’s blog, time was running out.  I took a more strategic marketing approach and searched LinkedIn Groups using “Greenland” as a keyword.  I further narrowed the search to “open groups” plus English-speaking and found a few I could post a discussion thread to without first joining the group.  I decided to post one of my more popular blogs to date, The Lost Art of the Thank You.

Within a day, I had two site visits from Greenland!  Buoyed by the success of this new approach, I tried something similar with China, South Africa, Finland/Scandinavia and a few other countries.

I’m happy to report with just a tiny bit of extra effort this week, I’ve added 9 new countries to my map (many I specifically targeted):  Panama, South Africa, Greenland, Japan, Iceland, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Mongolia and Slovakia.

The biggest lessons learned?  Be targeted, provide something of value, be timely, monitor your progress and be willing to adapt/alter course as needed.

Social Media Experiment

Most bloggers get a thrill out of knowing that their posts have been read and have made a difference with their readers.  Truth be told, I’m not very different.  And, having a background in marketing research, I do pay attention to the analytics of my blog.  I watch site views, which sites bring in views (referring sites), blog post “likes” and comments.

One of the site stats I find most interesting is WordPress’ “Views By Country.”  I’m proud to share that my blog has been read by people in 49 different countries!  Each time my site is visited by someone in a country for the first time, that country gets colored in on a world map.  Here’s what it looks like at the present time:

Since late February, my site has been visited by every continent on the map (Antarctica not included)!  As of a few weeks ago, the most glaring omissions (by land size) were Australia, Greenland and China.  A few strategic tweets to promote my blog specifically mentioned that I would love for views from those countries.  Perhaps it was coincidence, but soon after Australia was on the board.

Are you game for a social media experiment?  I’d love to see if I could get some of the remaining larger land masses filled in on the map!

  • I’m missing all of Central America:  Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.
  • In South America I’m missing Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay (as well as a few others).
  • I’m missing most of Africa, but the biggest omissions appear to be South Africa and Madagascar.
  • In Asia, the largest countries that are missing include China, Japan, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
  • In Europe, I would love site views from Finland, Poland, Belarus and Austria.
  • And, Greenland and Iceland are still missing too.

Are you connected on LinkedIn, Google+ or Facebook with anyone in the countries I listed?  If so, could you promote your favorite post (among the 28 I’ve written so far) to them?  If you’re on Twitter, could you do the same and mention one of the countries in your tweet?  I’m curious to see what the power of an online network and social media can accomplish when it comes to marketing and promotion.

I thank you in advance for your help and assistance and I’ll report back in a week with the results to see what we were able to accomplish together!

Plan Ahead Now for 2012 Holidays

In a recent Ad Age article, they advised marketers to plan ahead now for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Your calendar is correct – it’s only April and Easter was just this past Sunday.

As we learned last year (for many, with regret and disillusionment), the holiday shopping season moved back one day to Thanksgiving Day.   Expect more companies to jump on that bandwagon this year as for the most part, it was a successful strategy.  Think it will stop there?  Think again.  Expect the kickoff date to slide even earlier in subsequent years.

For marketers, the planning indeed needs to start now.  After all, there are the proverbial ducks to get in a row.  If you’re uncertain about your “ducks” – the answers to the questions of who? what? where? when? why? how? then you desperately need market research.  Without it, you’ll be planning blindfolded and will likely fail before you even begin.  I’d even argue that it should be your first duck in that proverbial row.

Properly designed market research can provide the answers to those questions, giving you direction for your planning.  It will capture where you are and where you need to be with your efforts.  It can prove or disprove assumptions you’ve made about your industry, your customers or your clients.  It can confirm a good plan and point out the flaws of a bad plan.

If you’re not experienced with market research, don’t assume any old Survey Monkey survey that you or your intern whips up will do.  Bad idea.  Really bad idea.  Poorly designed market research is actually worse than no research.  It could lead you to draw incorrect conclusions and send you down the wrong path.

If you think you can’t afford to incorporate market research as part of your planning process, I’d say you can’t afford not to.  Companies don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.  No company is too big or small to need market research.

When is the last time you professionally researched your industry, company, competitors and/or customers?

How Well Do You Know Your Customer?

If I had $1 for every business owner who thought he/she knew their customers very well, I’d be wealthy and retired at this point.  The sad reality is, most businesses think they know their customer, but their perception is almost always inaccurate (and sometimes by quite a bit).

I once worked with an established retail business in Rochester, NY that sold men’s fine clothing.  They were convinced their clientele were, on average, “male, 50 years or older, from the eastern suburbs, wealthy and watched prestigious networks on television like CNN.”  While that seemed plausible, I still conducted market research analysis with two main goals.  The first was to verify their customers’ demographics and the second was to research the media consumption of the actual demographic.

When the data was tabulated, it showed their customer base to be much younger and less affluent than they thought.  As a result, different television networks were a better fit.  Imagine their shock when I demonstrated how their advertising would be more effective (and cost-effective) on MTV instead of CNN!

Since seeing is not always believing, the client wanted to stick with the media plan involving CNN.  I was able to convince them to incorporate MTV into the plan as a trial, and suggested they simply ask customers if and where they saw their television commercial and keep a manual tabulation next to the cash register.  At the end of one month, MTV had a 3x advantage over CNN.

Seeing that MTV was significantly less expensive than CNN at the time, by concentrating on the proper network for their customer base, they could cut their ad spend, double their advertising frequency and triple (at minimum) their impact.  Now that’s what I call bang for the advertiser’s buck!

If you own a business, how well do you think you know your customer? If you haven’t conducted market research recently, I’d suggest there are many things you could learn.