Category Archives: advertising

Let’s Put the “Folk Wisdom” to Bed Already

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I saw an interesting book on a coworker’s desk last week – The Art of War for Executives by Donald G. Krause, based on Sun Tzu’s classic text The Art of War. As I cracked it open yesterday and began reading it, a particular paragraph stood out to me and I found myself yelling “YES!” in my head.

“Sun Tzu warns us about relying on ‘folk wisdom.’ Folk wisdom is the body of unproven assumptions, unwarranted speculation, and generally accepted opinions that is present in any group of people. Great danger lies in not challenging folk wisdom. Reliable facts always precede successful actions.”

How much “folk wisdom” weighs us down daily, whether we’re talking about marketing, PR, social media or [insert your craft here], despite evidence that a new way may be better? One of the things I’ve said since the first post on this blog is that I want to use it regularly as a discussion starter to challenge the status quo and make sure we’re doing things because they are the best solutions, not simply because it’s the way we’ve always done them. Here are a few of the posts that have appeared here attempting to do just that.

I’m interested in your take. Do you notice any “folk wisdom” at work? Does it hold back your brand or the work you do for clients? Do you challenge the status quo even though it’s easier to go along with your boss or the crowd? What are ways we can challenge folk wisdom positively, constructively and effectively?

*Image by Kevin Dooley.

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What Advice Would You Share with These College Students?

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Next week I’m sitting down with a handful of PR students from Iowa State University who are currently taking an online writing/content management class. We’re going to chat about the ways social media has changed/is changing how brands market themselves and interact with consumers, as well as blogging basics.

Another topic of discussion will be tips on landing their first jobs and how to stand out and succeed early in their careers. I’d like your help with this portion. What advice would you share with these future professionals to help them succeed in PR, Marketing, Digital strategy and so on?

Here are three of the tips I’m going to pass along. They may be a bit evergreen, but some sage advice never changes.

Hustle – That’s the way to set yourself apart early on in your career. Of course, I’m assuming you’re smart and can carry a conversation. That goes without saying.

Lots of people meet expectations. Hustle will drive you to exceed them. Make one more pitch call. Think of one new idea for your client each month. Raise your hand to join the fun when new projects come in the door. Don’t be obnoxious, of course. There’s a balance. Find it and hustle!

Networking – Networking is the one of the important ways to both land a job and succeed in this business. When I was in college, networking was limited to people you could physically meet – in college, at local PRSA meetings, at career fairs, etc.

Today, networking is on steroids. It’s never been easier to meet and develop relationships with amazing professionals from across the country – and the globe – thanks to tools like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. There is no excuse not to be using them. These relationships are priceless when looking for a job. Even after you’re employed, continuing to engage with your connections gives you access to ongoing advice and points of view, which are beneficial throughout your career.

Internships – These have become a given, but I’m surprised that I still meet so many students who’ve had no internships or only one internship. Not only are internships a must, but more than one is a must. I’m not taking anything away from the classroom, but actual experience is where you really start learning the ins and outs of this business.

Actually, I think PR, advertising and digital communications are a bit like the types of careers folks had back in the colonial days – apprenticeships. A basic foundation learned in the classroom is important, but you’ve got to get your hands dirty to pick up the craft. Go get your hands dirty.

Your turn. What would you share with these bright, young minds? I’ll point them to this post and your advice while we’re chatting Tuesday.

*Image by Gusi Lu.

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Three Reasons Our Monday Morning Quarterbacks Should Stay Off the Field

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There are undoubtedly hordes of folks spending much of their Monday talking about all the mistakes Jake Delhomme made against the Arizona Cardinals on Saturday. Then they’ll move on to break down exactly what Philip Rivers and the Chargers should have done differently Sunday to beat the Steelers. They’re Monday Morning Quarterbacks and they take their “jobs” very seriously.

We often do the same in the PR, marketing, social media business, looking for opportunities to jump on the mistakes brands make and share how we would have done things differently, which, of course would have turned out perfectly. It’s especially rampant in the blog-o-sphere, where post after post piles on to the discussion.

We’re our own breed of Monday Morning Quarterbacks.

I’m all for critical evaluations of marketing campaigns and initiatives, both of those that were wildly successful and those that didn’t fare so well. It’s incredibly beneficial for many reasons. Like our football fanatic counterparts, though, we need to recognize the limits of our assessments.

Assumptions – Sometimes we make major assumptions. “Why didn’t they have focus groups?” “They should have done more research.” And so on. How do we know they didn’t do these things and more? We assume it.

Hindsight is 20/20 – It’s easy to say something should have been done differently after it doesn’t succeed. I’ve seen some bloggers write very condescending posts in reaction to a marketing initiative gone wrong. Obviously smart people on both the client-side and agency-side thought it was a sound strategy or they wouldn’t have pursued the initiative. We have the advantage of watching the slow motion replay and what comes to mind in that scenario can be very different than what seems like the right decision in the middle of the game.

We’ll never know if WE are wrong – Let’s face it. I could share with you my thoughts on why Brand X goofed up and what I would have done differently from the start, but I’m sharing that with you from a pretty safe place. We don’t get to redo the initiative and implement all my recommendations instead. Who knows? The same woeful outcome may be achieved if we could.

We need to be especially careful when critiquing marketing programs in the social media space. Yes, best practices are surfacing, but the truth is that the environment is new enough and quirky enough that there’s a great chance we’ll all continue to get at least a few bumps and bruises. We don’t do ourselves any favors by leaping on brands with vigor and mockery. All we’re doing is scaring other brands away from dipping their toes in the water for fear that the sharks will smell blood if they happen to make a mistake along the way.

I’ll say it again. I’m all for critical evaluations. I’ve seen some really good ones, in fact. My hope is that we look at marketing missteps as opportunities to learn and discuss them in ways that advance the profession forward, not in condescending, ridicule-filled conversations that don’t really offer much beyond entertainment.

Or am I missing the great value that Monday Morning Quarterbacks bring to the actual playing field?

*Image by Justin Russell.

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The One Thing I Would Change About Marketing

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You have the power to change the status quo in marketing. It’s true. Even if you’re not in a position to direct much change today, you will be soon enough. Which leads me to wonder about your answer to this question.

“What if you could change one thing about our industry. What would it be?”

What would I change? I often wonder why marketers and media don’t wield our powers for good more often. Don’t get me wrong. Most agencies take on a few pro-bono clients and our ranks our chock full of good-hearted people who make the world a better place. But there are times when I see work across every marketing channel that makes me feel like we as an industry are playing a major role in the growth of our hyper-selfish, imperfection-obsessed, fear-charged society. And, to be honest, I don’t always know what to do with that thought.

Sorry if that’s a bit heavy. There are other things I’d change that would not make me sound like a Debbie Downer. (Really, I’m not!) But I’m interested in your thoughts.

If you could change anything about our industry as a whole or your day-to-day work, what would it be? After you get it off your chest, let’s start working toward changing it.

*Image by Indy Kethdy.

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Want Consumer Loyalty? Use These Magic Words.

magic-hat

Here’s the no-crap headline of the year: The economy sucks. That’s caused most brands to re-evaluate their marketing mix, re-allocate spending and re-prioritize initiatives. Sometimes the marketing strategy or tactic that makes you stand out, though, can be something incredibly small.

I’ve always heard that you shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. There are times, though, that I disagree. Depending on the context, sweating the small stuff can mean the difference between success and failure. The details matter and paying attention to them can set your brand apart from the competition.

Case in point…

I bought my wife a sweater from jcrew.com a few weeks before Christmas. It wasn’t a large order for the retailer – about $50 total. My wife opened the box when it arrived, pulled out a note card-sized piece of paper, read it, smiled and said “this is nice.” Then she handed it over to me.

The note was “from” J.Crew chairman and CEO Millard “Mickey” Drexler. Here’s what it said:

“We’ve all read the news, and I think it’s safe to say, we’ve seen better times. We understand that now more than ever, where you shop is an important decision… so we just want to say thank you for your continued loyalty to J. Crew. – Mickey”

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Of course he didn’t hand write the note, though the font chosen gives you that impression. He most likely didn’t write the copy. He may not have even read it. As a marketer, I know these things. But the note and the sentiment behind it left us with a very good feeling about our purchase and about J.Crew generally. Apparently, the brand has given a few other folks the same feeling.

That’s because the note shows that J.Crew recognizes an important truth. Consumers are making more calculated purchase decisions now, but getting what we pay for is never the only value we want from those purchases, regardless of whether we’re in an up economy or a down economy. We also want to feel that our business is genuinely appreciated.

Often we brainstorm elaborate marketing tactics in hopes they will make a big splash with consumers. That’s not a bad thing, but we shouldn’t overlook the small stuff that can make a meaningful impact. Want to build consumer loyalty for your brand? Let them know you’re thankful for their business. The easiest way to do that, ironically, is to simply say “thank you.”

Turns out our moms were right. Good manners like saying “please” and “thank you” can take us far in life – and our brands, too.

  • Have you been impressed by a company – small or large, local or national – that won you over by paying attention to the details that too often get overlooked?
  • What did they do?
  • What are other small things brands can do to win consumers in this down economy?

*Image of Magic Toy by Georgios Karamanis. *Image of J.Crew note card by David Mullen.

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Why Both Obama and McCain Failed to Woo Me

election-pumpkin

According to everything I’ve heard and read for the past two months, myself and people like me are the Holy Grail for both presidential candidate’s campaign – the independent swing voter. So if that’s the case, I’m wondering why neither Barack Obama nor John McCain did anything to woo me leading up to today.

The swing voter should be getting barraged with information based on this general PR truth:

  • Don’t spend much time or energy trying to convert those strongly opposed to your brand.
  • Spend good time and energy keeping your brand’s evangelists loyal.
  • Spend most of your time and energy trying to convert those in the middle who can be swayed to your brand.

My wife is registered with a particular party, while I’m a registered independent. She’s been getting direct mail from that candidate’s campaign regularly for the past month. A colleague has been getting phone calls from her party daily for weeks now. One friend even got a recorded call from Stevie Wonder. Stevie “I just called to say I love you” Wonder!

Me? I got a postcard-sized mailer from the McCain camp on Friday and three Obama supporters canvassing our neighborhood stopped by my house Saturday as I played with my oldest daughter in our front yard.

I’m not being presumptuous. I don’t think either should have reached out to me because it’s me. But I am wondering how either could overlook ANY registered independent this election, especially one who’s still going back and forth between both candidates – even this morning as I get ready to head out to the polls.

What has been your experience with direct communications this election cycle? Has either candidate’s campaign purposefully reached out to you?

*Image by Brandi Tressler.

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Should Marketers and Media Wield Their Power for Good?

I shared a few videos with some friends this weekend as I led a discussion on the impact media has on defining beauty and sexuality in our culture. Aside from being incredibly well produced, the videos – and the larger campaign that they are a part of – are a great example of how brands can differentiate themselves in a meaningful way by having the courage to buck their industries’ status quo marketing trends and look at key consumer insights through a different lens.

I wanted to share the videos with you.

After watching them, the reminder for me is that we don’t always have to focus our marketing efforts on telling people how our product or service will help them become who they want to be. That they are incomplete without product X, which will make them whole. Showing that you understand their insecurities and empowering them to recognize that they are already amazing can create incredibly powerful connections between brand and consumer.

So I found myself asking “do marketers and media have actual influence over how consumers’ view themselves and the world around them?” I say, “yes.” That led to a bigger question. If so, do we have a responsibility to use that power for good more often? I’m interested in what you think about that.

Okay, on to the videos… My personal favorite is “Amy,” because it sums up how 99% of men feel about their significant other, even though they usually don’t believe us.

Enjoy.

“Evolution”

“Onslaught”

“Amy”

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