Opposites Attract

There’s an old saying that opposites attract and that’s often true.  There was a story in the local paper recently about the decline of greeting cards due to the increasing popularity and usage of electronic versions and social media.

Stats back up this trend.  A U.S. Postal Service study which shows correspondence (like greet­ing cards) fell 24% between 2002 and 2010.  Hallmark estimates the number of greeting cards sold in the U.S. has fallen by 20% in the past decade.

It’s certainly great to log onto Facebook on your birthday and read dozens of birthday wishes from friends and family (most of whom probably would not have mailed you a physical card).  But, isn’t there something special about opening the mailbox to find an envelope with your name on it, written by hand?  That’s a great example of the opposite (of the norm) having a positive effect.

The same principle applies to business or job searching.  Most job applications are filed electronically and many of the larger companies have their own applicant tracking system in place.  Conventional job search wisdom is to send a thank you following an interview.  What if, instead of emailing that note, you mailed a physical thank you card and wrote your note by hand?  Don’t you think it would stand out (in a positive way) in this ever-increasingly electronic age?

With business, when everyone sends an email, why not pick up the phone?  Don’t forget the power of a sincere “thank you” in business – and to do something to make that thank you memorable.  At the end of the day, if you want to stand out from the crowd, sometimes you zig when others zag.  It may not always be true, but very often opposites do indeed attract.

Advertisements

Natural Disasters and Marketing

Companies need to tread lightly when it comes to marketing around a natural disaster.  With Superstorm Sandy, 100+ people died worldwide and damage estimates are at $20 Billion and growing.  That doesn’t make for a great marketing opportunity in most instances, but it can, if done correctly.

American Apparel caused a Twitter firestorm when they offered a Hurricane Sandy Sale.  As if that wasn’t tasteless enough, their headline read “In case you’re bored during the storm.”  Seriously.  The company was slammed on social media with outrage and rightly so, in my humble opinion.

Closer to (my) home, and with much less publicity, a local winery committed a similar marketing faux pas.  Glenora Wine Cellars offered customers a Hurricane Sandy Sale.

While not as egregious, I still thought it was in very poor taste (especially the picture).  I made my opinion known on their Facebook page, commenting on their post about the promotion.  Within hours, their post (along with my comment) was removed.  Their website still offered the promotion, and I called them out on Twitter for it.

Within hours, their web page promotion was removed too.  What couldn’t be removed were the emails the winery sent out to their list.

So what’s a “good” way to market around a natural disaster?  How about showing some compassion?  How about figuring out how to help the victims through a donation of time, talent, product or service?  Duracell brought charging stations to Lower Manhattan so that those without power could charge their cell phones.  They’re helping victims of Hurricane Sandy and garnering positive publicity and public relations in the process.

It’s such a simple concept when you compare the positive example to the negative ones, isn’t it?  Yet so many companies get it wrong.  One would hope that marketers would learn from these mistakes.  Sadly, history will likely repeat itself and some company will damage their image and reputation by running a tasteless promotion during the next natural disaster.  Hopefully, they have a public relations department or company at their disposal.  Even better would be to employ some common sense.

Want to help the victims?  Below are links to various organizations assisting in the relief efforts (list not to be considered an endorsement):

Red Cross

Salvation Army

New York Blood Center

Feeding America

AmeriCares

World Vision

Save The Children

Before you donate in a time of crisis, make sure you do your homework on the charitable organization.  Here are some tips by Charity Navigator.

Misconceptions Everywhere

I recently visited a close friend who had relocated from the Rochester, NY area to the Cleveland, OH area.  It was my first trip to Cleveland and my friend was happy to play tour guide with the big venues being the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Progressive Field.  I have to admit that prior to this trip, I pictured Cleveland to be the run-down, rust-belt, dirty, “mistake on the lake,” river-on-fire city that I recall hearing about decades ago.  I couldn’t have been more wrong as I found Cleveland to be a fun, clean, friendly and vibrant city.

While in Cleveland, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran a topical blog post.  The blogger had relocated to Rochester and had some misperceptions about Rochester (as well as Cleveland).  The timing of her blog post couldn’t have been more perfect and my relocated friend found a lot of truth in her post.

I grew up in a small town in northeastern New Jersey.  Unless you’re from that part of the country, your perception is likely tied to one or more of these television shows:  The Sopranos, Jersey Shore,  The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Cake Boss and/or Jerseylicious.  Or, perhaps you’ve driven the NJ Turnpike and you think that the entire state consists of swampland, rest stops named after famous people and smelly refineries.  I can assure you the vast majority of the state is much nicer than that.  Trust me.

So that got me thinking about marketers in the tourism industry.  Besides touting the many positives of a given area, how much of their efforts are spent countering misconceptions?  I recently chatted with my friend Carol White Llewellyn, who is a travel and tourism promotion entrepreneur for the Finger Lakes region of NY.

According to Carol, the Rochester area has two big misconceptions.  “The first is that Rochester and this region does not get many tourists. In 2010, in spite of a still-down economy, Rochester alone got $1.3 billion in tourism revenue (http://www.actrochester.org/Indicator/Default.aspx?id=1&indicator=11).  Tourism is huge here, especially because of the growth of the wine and food/restaurant locavore movements. Various communities have also been listed in the “Top 10″ as must-see’s by a variety of travel press.  The other misconception among locals is that there is nothing to do here. In fact, about the only thing we’re missing that’s found elsewhere in the country is deserts and tornadoes.”

Carol goes on to say, “In truth, I don’t spend a lot of time correcting misconceptions. I just keep blogging and talking about all the wonders of the region.  I think sometimes, like most communities, we simply don’t recognize/appreciate/take advantage of the amazing wonders we have in our own back yard!”

As with most things in life, you need to take what you hear/see/read with a grain of salt.  Take the time to do some investigating.  If you don’t, you might incorrectly believe the misconceptions that are everywhere.

Networking When You Least Expect It

“Always be prepared” is the famous motto of the Boy Scouts, but it also applies to networking.  You’ll be able to seize an opportunity no matter when or where it presents itself, if you’re prepared.

I recently co-hosted a birthday party for my youngest child at a local indoor play center.  My wife was asked to wear a name tag for security purposes so one of us would be immediately recognizable to staff and parents.  While watching the kids enjoy the various inflatables, a parent from another birthday party recognized our last name and asked her if she was related to me.  When my wife confirmed it, this person shared that she’s seen my posts and activity in many locations, especially on LinkedIn.

She then brought her over to introduce her to me and we were able to chat for a few minutes while our kids were engrossed in a climbing maze.  It turns out we had many common connections in our networks.  She’s the president of a recruiting company in Rochester, NY and I continue to run social media for The August Group which facilitates networking opportunities for those looking for work.  It was a great professional connection to make when I was least expecting it!  We both had business cards with us and each of us listened (above the joyful screams of playing children) to how we could help the other.

Most people can prepare in advance of a scheduled networking event by bringing business cards, rehearsing an elevator speech and/or identifying key attendees he/she would like to meet.  But are you prepared for that chance encounter that can happen anytime, anywhere?  If not, it could be a golden opportunity that slips through your fingers.

Looking back on your professional networking, what were the most unusual circumstances surrounding a connection you made when you were least expecting it?

Authenticity in Advertising

In my last post, I wrote about authenticity in social media.  With this post, I’m focusing on authenticity in advertising.  While that subject could likely provide enough source material to teach a full semester’s course, I’ll narrow it down to fast food advertising (and just this one post).

It’s not a secret that many hours go into enhancing the look of fast food products.  The lighting has to be just right, items are strategically placed, touch-ups are done.  In fact, quite often what you see isn’t the actual food product but something made to look like it.  Is that really ice cream you’re seeing in a commercial, or scoops of lard covered in motor oil?  Is it milk in that cereal bowl, or watered-down glue?  Yes, you read those examples correctly.  🙂

Since learning about these techniques in college,  I’ve never really trusted fast food advertising.  Watch the video below and your level of trust might be lower too.

There’s a recent trend that’s become an advertising pet peeve of mine.  Have you noticed fast food restaurants often include slow-motion shots of sandwiches being meticulously constructed with farm-fresh ingredients using pristine instruments?  It’s almost like watching a culinary version of the game “Operation!”  Do you really think that’s what occurs after you place your order at the drive-thru?  Or, is it more likely someone is slapping together food warmed under a heat lamp as quickly as possible using their hands (hopefully with gloves)?

For the above reasons, I find authenticity in fast food advertising significantly lacking.  What other industries need to do a better job of being authentic in their advertising?

Authenticity in Social Media

I intentionally try to avoid traditionally controversial subjects in my blog such as politics and religion to name a few.  I have other things I’d rather write about and want to keep my blog on more of a professional level than personal level.  I’d also rather not add fuel to the fire of a rumor.  So, it’s with some hesitation that I write this post.

I read an article on The Hill about Mitt Romney’s Twitter account that I thought was rather interesting.  Presidential candidates seemingly have everything scrutinized with a magnifying glass these days.  Someone noticed that Romney’s account, which had been averaging 3,000-4,000 new followers daily had suddenly picked up almost 100,000 followers in a two-day period.  And, this increase occurred without any significant change in his engagement with followers.  Immediately the speculation was that his campaign was buying Twitter followers.

This certainly is not very newsworthy, especially since it’s speculation at this point.  But fact or fiction, it is a great example of the importance that authenticity plays in social media.  In a previous post that still generates weekly views, I offered 3 reasons why quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media.

The number one reason I listed in that post is that when fans/followers can be bought, your authenticity comes into question.  Whether it’s a politician or a consumer brand, most people won’t tolerate a fake.  Engagement cannot happen with fans/followers who do not have a true interest, let alone may not exist in the first place.

Don’t just take my word for it.  A recent research study from About.com demonstrated that activity (i.e., engagement) on a Facebook page was a better indicator of trust than the number of “likes” a page had.  In fact, 84% said that being trustworthy is a requirement before interacting with a page or info source.

Again, fact or fiction, here’s a current reminder why quality is more important than quantity when it comes to social media.  What are your thoughts when it comes to authenticity in social media?

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.

Networking For Life Or Networking Out Of Necessity?

The mantra of The August Group is “networking for life.”  It’s a great mantra that everyone should embrace, regardless if they’re a member of that organization or not.  Yet what percentage of people truly embrace continual networking?  Unfortunately, not a lot.  But this isn’t an August Group problem.  It goes way beyond that.

Unless you’re in sales or are a small business owner in search of leads and customers, most people discover the value of networking when they’re looking for work.  Unfortunately, most people only associate it with job search and discontinue networking once they land a new position.  Very few continue to network and make it an ongoing part of their new professional reality.

Why is that?  Are they lazy?  Do they get complacent?  Do they feel invincible in their new position and immune to another unexpected and sudden loss of work?  Are they so introverted that they network strictly out of necessity and stop once the need passes?

I won’t buy the excuse that they’re too busy.  We’re all busy!  Attending a function once or twice a month for a few hours is something that virtually everyone can find the time for.

When I was looking for work, I had several people tell me that I should only network with employed people.  Really?  Why?  Do employed people make better networkers?  Do they know more people than those who are unemployed?  Is unemployment a communicable disease that’s easily transferable?  If employment is cyclical, then isn’t it possible that the employment status of your network could flip at some point?

As someone who’s been actively involved with The August Group for 3 years, I’ve observed the networking of hundreds of job seekers.  I’d describe their networking as somewhat of a bell curve.  They start with virtually no networking, they lose their job and start to network, they see the value of networking as a job search tool and increase their networking activity, they find work and their networking activity gradually trails off.

But, we’re not invincible and we’re not immune to another unexpected job loss.  And just as you would continually tend to a garden you’ve planted, you should tend to your network by networking regularly/continually.  When you do, your bell curve becomes more of a straight line.

The networking curve. Blue represents networking out of necessity. Red represents networking for life.

So which side of the networking curve are you on?  What’s preventing you from changing it to more of a straight line?  Are you currently networking for life, or networking out of necessity?

The Lost Art of the Thank You

It was ingrained in me at a young age by my parents to always write a thank you note.  When you fail to do so, they’d preach, it insults the gift-giver and almost assures you won’t receive another from that person.

I now preach that same lesson to my kids.  Two weeks ago, my youngest came home from school with an Easter-themed bag of treats from one of her teachers.  Over the holiday weekend we had her write a thank you note to her teacher.  Her teacher was very appreciative of the note and said something that shocked me.  She claimed that in all her years of teaching, she could count on one hand the number of times a student had written her a thank you note, and my daughter had written two of those.

As communication methods have become more numerous and perhaps more casual, has that changed what many would still consider good manners?  Has this changed business manners too?

When was the last professional thank you note you wrote and what was it for?  My guess is that most readers can’t remember and the other group of readers will claim it was while job searching following an interview or a meeting.  Am I right?

If you think back on the past year, there have probably been many occasions where a quick note of thanks could have been sent but wasn’t.  Think about how you feel when you receive a thank you note that’s been customized enough where you get a true sense of the gratitude.  You’re more likely to want to repeat the experience again in the future.  The goal of most businesses, regardless of industry, is to get repeat business in addition to new business.  Doesn’t it seem obvious then that a thank you note can be a powerful business tool?

So my challenge to you is to write a business-related thank you note to a client, customer or vendor this week.  Like fertilizer in a Spring garden, see how your business relationship blossoms as a result of a little personalization and display of gratitude.  Let me know how it goes!

Big Lessons From A Mini Contest

This past weekend I was selected as the second winner of Dorschel Automotive’s #winsmall contest.  I won a free weekend-long test drive of a Mini Cooper and now have a 1-in-12 chance to win a free 2-year lease of a Mini.  It was a great experience to trade in my Mini Van for a Mini Cooper, even if just for 3 days.

Their contest had 3 great components which could be applied to many marketing campaigns.  Learn more about them in my first video blog!