The Value Of First Impressions

I’ve written previously about the value of first impressions.  A few weeks ago I was reminded about how valuable those first impressions can be.  I had the opportunity to bring my daughter to a local college fair with over 200 schools in attendance.  She did some homework ahead of the event and we had a large list of schools we wanted to speak with.

Upon arriving at the event, what struck me first, was that there was an immediate and obvious discrepancy among the schools.  Some had great signage that was branded consistently with their school.  Other colleges simply made do with what was provided by the convention center.  When you see something like that, what’s your first impression?  Is it that one school takes pride in their brand and another doesn’t?  Or is it something more cynical, such as one school charges more in tuition to support its marketing and promotions budget?

A few of the colleges had more than one representative at the table to help reduce waiting times.  As a parent with many schools on the list and many questions to ask, I found that to be very valuable.  But that begs the same questions, doesn’t it?  Is it “smart business” on the school’s behalf or is it flaunting a larger budget that can afford to send two representatives instead of one?

Many of the colleges had large visuals of campus.  Not surprisingly, all of the students look like models and the campus apparently enjoys nothing but  sunny, blue skies and 70-degree days all year-long.  What surprised me was that some schools didn’t have visuals at all, unless you proactively flipped through their glossy brochures.  You can’t flip through a brochure if your booth doesn’t attract the visitor to begin with!  That seems like Marketing 101 to me, and that doesn’t bode well for the offending schools offering a marketing degree.  I think they need to re-take that class, or perhaps take it at a different school that understands marketing!

My final observation, however, was how few schools had promotional products with them.  I was expecting to bring home enough branded pens to supply a few classrooms with.  Instead, we found one school that had postcards of campus images printed in 3-D and another school that gave out small smartphone screen cleaning pads.

After speaking with 30+ schools, I must admit that many of them blended together at the end of the event.  The ones I remembered either had a great representative, or they had the right combination of marketing and promotional collateral to stand out from the crowd.  For the colleges, isn’t it all about making a great first impression at an event like that?  My daughter was able to eliminate many schools from consideration based on first impressions alone.  The rest will be eliminated on other, more traditional criteria.

Does your business actively plan for making the right first impression?  If you’re looking for a job, what are you doing to ensure your first impression is a good one?

Ithaca College, IC, Roy H. Park School of Communications, Cayuga Lake, South Hill

A first-impression of my alma matter, the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College, overlooking Cayuga Lake (image via ithaca.edu)

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Is Social Media Right For Your Business?

I recently consulted with a business regarding their various marketing needs.  One of the topics we discussed was social media.  After our initial consultation, they decided to hold-off on moving forward with social media for a few reasons/concerns.  I hear these a lot, so I thought I’d share them (and my opinion) with my readers.

“I’m not sure I’ll do it correctly.”  While it’s not super-complicated, there is a marketing science (and etiquette) to using social media correctly.  In a nutshell . . . you need to determine if your customers are using social media, what platforms they engage in and what their expectations are.  You need to determine goals and objectives for your social media and create a strategy/plan to meet those objectives.  You’ll also need to determine what metrics you’ll use to evaluate your strategy.

“I’m not sure it will pay off.”  If you’re expecting an immediate and significant boost in sales by suddenly engaging in social media, you will likely be disappointed.  Social media is more about relationship and community building, interacting with customers and a gradual build.  It’s about sharing and providing something of value.  It’s about the art of attraction.  It’s not a soapbox to promote your business with 90%+ of your posts.

“I’m not sure I’ll be able to generate content.”  Don’t let that stop you! Chances are, if you Google the product or service you sell, you’ll find millions of hits on that search.  Which is a good article?  Which is a trusted source?  Use your industry knowledge and experience to become an information filter for your audience.  That filtering of quality information provides value, builds trust and attracts others.  Over time, it positions you as someone with subject matter expertise.

Is social media right for your business?  It can be, if you use it correctly (or hire someone who does).

“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.

Learning With Perspective

I recently met with a prospective client and one of the things we discussed was my blog.  I’m always interested to hear what people think about it – their likes, dislikes and favorite posts.  What’s interesting is the different messages people take from the same blog.  It’s a great example of perspective and how it influences your interaction and learning.

For example, my three most recent blog posts were The Most Important Rule of Connecting, Social Media Abandonment and Big Lessons from a Mini Contest.  If you read them, on the surface they were about social networking, social media and marketing/contests respectively.

Depending on your perspective, you may have read those posts and taken away different messages.  Hopefully a small business owner read those posts and tried to apply the information to his/her business.  Hopefully a job seeker read those posts and applied the lessons to his/her job search.  Someone in marketing hopefully took away different points too.

I’m not sure that enough people read and learn with perspective.  As I review the analytics of my previous posts, the ones with the most views and comments tend to be the ones that are the most universal – at least on the surface.  I suppose in today’s world where we must compete for limited attention spans and available time, that’s natural and not very surprising.

As an author of a blog with weekly content, I have to decide how to properly craft both the content and the headline.  There’s a line between being so specific that you limit your potential audience, versus being so broad that you mislead your potential audience.  There’s a line between wanting to grow your blog readership “organically” versus sensationalism.

The most “popular” blog of my previous three was The Most Important Rule of Connecting.  It drew almost 4x more than the others, despite similar promotion.  Perhaps it’s because there’s somewhat of a universal application to most readers, whether it’s connecting for business or for personal reasons.  Perhaps, people didn’t have to read that post using their “perspective glasses” compared to the others.

So how about you?  Now that I’ve drawn your attention to reading with perspective, what new things have you learned from my previous posts?  Is there one post in particular you learned the most from?  Is there a particular topic you’d like to see me cover in a future post?  As always, thank you for reading!

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.

Did You Get a Lexus for Christmas?

Did you get a Lexus for Christmas?  You know, the beautiful luxury car, complete with the bow on top and the little jingle playing faintly in the background.  Me neither!  Do you know anyone who has received a new luxury car in such a way?  Me neither!

Advertisements serve multiple purposes, including brand awareness and brand envy to name a few.  While their commercials are likely a pipe dream for 99% of the population, they are memorable.  In fact, throughout the month of December, it’s difficult to watch any television channel without coming across one of their ads.  Chances are, you’ve seen one or more of the variations.

But maybe their purpose isn’t to cause you to run out and purchase one for your loved one without their input on model, style, color and without their knowledge.  Then, you somehow arrange for it to magically appear in your driveway with a big red bow on top that’s the size of a golf cart while you creatively surprise the recipient.  Perhaps Lexus is thinking more strategically and more long-term than that.

Quick! Can you recall the last commercial you watched for Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac, Jaguar, BMW or Infiniti?  I’m sure you’ve seen them, but they’re likely more of your “typical car ad” than something as unique as Lexus’ approach.  When it’s not unique (even if slightly more practical), it often gets lost in the clutter.  So if/when you’re in the enviable position of being able to purchase a new luxury automobile, which brand might you think of first?  Which brand will create as much joy?  Which one would be seen as a priceless gift?

As unrealistic as their ads might seem at first for the majority of viewers, I’m guessing they’re actually quite effective in the long-term for creating brand awareness and brand envy.

What other television commercials do you recall from this past holiday season?  What made them stand out?

Do You Fit The Demographic?

Nearly twenty years ago (yikes!), Bruce Springsteen wrote 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).

Technology and how we watch television has changed tremendously since 1992.  Who could have imagined we’d watch streaming video on smart phones?  After all, cell phones were the size of a shoe box then!

What hasn’t changed is there’s still a lot of junk on television.  With far greater than 57 channels to choose from, why is it that we have so little quality to choose from?  I had lunch with some old friends not too long ago and we discussed one show in particular that they swore I made up as a joke.

Television channels exist to make money, mostly through advertising.  They use research to illustrate the demographics of their audience and set rates for commercial spots accordingly.  Below are 10 shows currently on air with descriptions mostly taken from their websites.  It makes you wonder what the demographic profile is for their audience.  See if you can spot the fake.

  1. Pawn Stars (History Channel).  Pawn Stars takes you inside the colorful world of the pawn business at a shop on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
  2. Hairy Bikers (History Channel).  A classically trained French chef who loves motorcycles pairs with a motorcycle mechanic who loves food to travel the back roads of America.
  3. My Strange Addiction (TLC)The compelling stories of individuals battling unusual obsessive behaviors.
  4. I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant (TLC).  As impossible as that sounds, apparently there are tons of women who receive the surprise of their life with each new episode.
  5. Sweet Home Alabama (CMT).  Inspired by the movie of the same name, a southern bachelorette (or bachelor) searches for love among 22 contestants (11 from the country, 11 from the city).
  6. Silent Library (MTV).  Modeled after a Japanese game show, six friends vie for a cash prize by imposing unimaginable, beyond hysterical stunts on one another in a library setting, but they must maintain their silence to win.
  7. Jerseylicious (Style).  A “docusoap” that follows the owner and employees of a renovated hair salon in New Jersey, showing off Jersey fashion and style.
  8. Beer Money (SNY).  A fast-paced, non-traditional New York sports quiz show, with cash given away to people (in bars, tailgating, on the street corner) who know their New York sports.
  9. Hillbilly Handfishin’ (Animal Planet).  A reality show about noodling, the sport of fishing for catfish using only bare hands and feet.
  10. American Loggers (Discovery).  Follow brothers as they carry on the family tradition of harvesting timber in the Maine wilderness.
  11. Swamp People (History).  Follow Cajuns who live in the swamps of Louisiana during the 30-day alligator season.

I’ve actually seen about half of the above shows.  Some are actually interesting, although I can’t imagine I’d be considered in the target audience for most of them.  As for the fake?  Trick question – they’re all legit.

What show do you enjoy despite not being in their target demographic?