Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #2 Aliens

It was late. My parents’ television was turned up a little louder than normal and woke me up. I climbed out of bed and snuck up to their room. Whatever they were watching sounded pretty scary. I quietly approached their room and snuck a peak at their television…

There on the screen was probably one of the scariest things a second grader could ever see. It was the most evil creature I had ever seen before and it would haunt my dreams for weeks on end.

It was Ridley Scott’s Alien.

I think you’d be hard pressed to find a more evil, efficient killing machine around. The alien was literally designed as the perfect hunter. It was fast. It had multiple weapons, a hard exoskeleton, and acid for blood. They were smart and hunted in packs. Basically, if you lived to kill it, it could still kill you with a splash of it blood.

As a teenager, I was fascinated with this creature. I watched all the movies, read Aliens comic books, and collected some awesome action figures. Call it a strange admiration. This creature was fascinating. The backstory was interesting. It was a creature that had been genetically designed as the perfect killer. If I understood the history correctly, another alien race had developed the alien to use as a weapon against other races.

Adaptability Matters

There’s nothing romantic about this evil beast. It was bred to kill. It was incredibly efficient at what it did and it had no conscience. There was no hesitation, no silly speeches, no niceties. But what made the alien the deadliest killer of all was its ability to adapt to almost any environment it was exposed to.

The alien could literally be exposed to heat, water, cold, zero gravity, the cold depths of space and it kept coming after its victims. And if you want to be great at marketing, you have to be every bit as adaptable.

We live in an incredibly fast paced world. Technologies are shifting quickly. Consumers are finding new ways to consume media and are taking control of their lives in ways we had never imagined. They are empowered and are actively seeking ways to remove unnecessary marketing and advertising from their lives. If you want to succeed in this industry or if you have a small business and need to market yourself, you must learn to adapt. In your own way, you have to be every bit as good at marketing as the alien was at killing.

Being Adaptable ≠ Being Evil

While aliens can get away with being purely evil, we in the communications business have to look for better ways to connect with consumers. Though many of our old tools still work (billboards, television advertising, junk mail, spam, etc.), we can still win with consumers if we are willing to listen to them and find innovative ways to communicate with them.

Here’s a great example of what I mean. There are a ton of companies out there that will willingly sell you their email distribution lists. You can then turn around and send your marketing and advertising to their customers. Sounds pretty cool, right?

This approach comes with some serious risks. You fire off your email messages to a whole bunch of people that may or may not want your stuff. They might just ignore you and delete your span. On the other hand, you might make them mad and the resulting word of mouth could lead to distrust among consumers.

Growing your email lists is good thing, but you might want to rethink your approach to this. By far, the best way to go is to grow your lists organically. Be authentic. Sell great stuff. Run amazing promotions. Tell beautiful stories. Make it easy for customers to sign up and opt out of your email list.

When it comes to marketing, pr and communications in general, there are some fantastic ways to communicate with customers. If we are willing to listen, work hard and innovate, we can be every bit as driven and efficient as Ridley Scott’s aliens; however, if we are to thrive and change our reputation, we must learn to play nice.


Halloween Week Countdown Spooktacular: #4 Vampires

In case you haven’t noticed, vampires seem to be all the rage these days. I’ve heard of people sporting “bite me” license plates on their cars and there is a whole assortment of bumper stickers, jewelry, clothing and other merchandise that displays an insanely desire to be one of them.

Undoubtedly, the recent string of Stephanie Meyer books (amazon affiliate link), including the Twilight saga, have ratcheted up attention about these evil fiends.

While stories about vampires have been around for centuries in some form or another, Meyer’s gave us a whole new spin. Instead of being evil, she romanticized these characters as cursed beings who had a choice between being good or evil. Talk about having a good PR agent. Meyers has taken one of the most evil of all monsters and cast the vampire as a teenaged hunk with a slight biting problem who is simply looking for the love of his life.

Think about the genius behind what Meyers has done. She is probably one of the best marketers around. It’s like taking Charles Manson and turning him into a teenage heart throb. Now consider the flip side of her vampire characters. Behind the perfectly chiseled looks there is something else going on all together. When you read about vampires almost anywhere else you learn that they are cursed. They are doomed to walk the Earth for an eternity and must prey on other men for their blood. They are constantly in fear of being hunted down and destroyed. There is simply nothing romantic about it.

Let’s face it, millions of teens worldwide seem to love Meyer’s version of the vampire. I, for one, don’t. They scare the crap out of me. But I do admire Meyer’s skills and there it a valuable lesson for all of us marketers and small business people to learn from – great marketing can sell even the most evil of products (but this doesn’t make it right).

Propagandizers, Evil PR Agents and Crooked Marketers

Let’s face it. Those of us in the marketing, advertising and public relations business often get a bad wrap. But often, it is a well deserved one. We live in a country where our trade has been used for all kinds of bad stuff:

  • Wars
  • Political campaigns
  • Bad agendas
  • Spinning bad companies out of messes
  • Hiding celebrity and political messes
  • Selling teens on warped image of beauty
  • Making America fatter
  • Diet fads
  • Countless bad products
  • Rampant consumerism

It isn’t a stretch to say that our industry has a reputation that is very similar to that of the traditional vampire. We’re evil. Our job is to sell stuff, sell ideas. And the most evil among us use their vampire-like abilities to prey on a public that doesn’t always need what we’re selling.

There’s a Choice

I will admit it, I read Meyer first book. I had to see what all the fuss was about and though I respect her abilities, I really hated the book. I’ve always preferred the other image of the vampire – an evil creature of the night that was meant to be hunted down and killed. The nice thing is that we in the communications industry have a choice.

Unlike fictional vampires, we are not cursed or doomed. We can make a decision to help good causes. We can use our skills to help raise awareness about great companies that actually care about the communities they do business in. We have the ability to help great products win when they really deserve to. We can take an active role in making this nation into the greatest it has ever been.

Sure, there will always be those annoying people out there that send me spam via every possible route they can. These folks will continue to ruin great things like email, Twitter and facebook. The nice this is that we as consumers can choose to ignore it. That’s the beauty of America. While we have the right to freedom of speech, we have the right to be educated and to ignore or block out the stuff we don’t want in our lives.

Adding a “Game Layer” to the World (and your business)

Classic Life Game BoxCould you make shopping your store more fun? Can shopping be turned into a game that actually gets your customers to want to spend more money and shop more at your location?

We got a look at how the world could be changed when Volkswagon launched their Fun Theory project. The idea behind it was could we take something that was a routine and boring, an experience that people avoided, and turn it into something people would enjoy doing. One of my favorite examples of what they did was they looked at a subway entrance/exit where most people were using the escalators instead of taking the stairs. Obviously, it is more cost effective if people take the stairs. Also, it can be a lot healthier for people. But taking the stairs requires work and so many people avoid it. Who knows why, but that is how they behave.

Volkswagon set out to find out if they could change people’s behavior. What’d they do? They turned the stairs into the keys of a working piano. Take a look at video from the experiment:

What do you think they are learning about people? More importantly, how might this apply to work and business?

Let’s start with a question about your team – what if you could increase team member loyalty simply by tweaking some of your procedures and routines? We operate in a business climate where our teams often lack inspiration and they are incredibly worried about their job security. The economy has people on edge. Now that might sound like it plays to your advantage. People are worried about their jobs and might be less likely to jump ship at the moment. But don’t fall for this illusion.

Sure, today’s economic situation might play to your advantage, but in the long term your team members will end up with the upper hand. The demographics are simple – we have way more people on the verge of retirement than people entering the workforce. This means that businesses will be fighting for talent in the future.

So what could you do to make work more fun and meaningful? Here are a few ideas to think about:

  • Create more levels of achievement. Don’t hire anyone and throw them into a high ranking position. Instead, set up a challenging set of progressions with clear tasks that have to be achieved in order to move forward.
  • Make a big deal out of milestones. I’m not suggesting that you spend a lot of money, but find ways to have a ton of fun when someone on your team achieves something special.
  • Create competitions. Build teams and then have them compete against one another. Now you don’t want to turn the competition into a negative. Have fun with it and celebrate the entire team’s efforts and success.
  • Learn to have fun. Relax and find ways to have fun with your time both while on and off the clock.

You know your business way better than I do. Take some time to think about what you could do to make it more fun for your team. Now, let’s look a at your customers for a minute.

We have a natural inclination to want to be better than others and if you can find a fun way to do this, you can increase loyalty among your shoppers. Think about Costco for a minute. They offer several membership levels that come with a variety of benefits. I know a lot of people who opt for the business membership that don’t even own their own business. Why are they willing to spend the few extra dollars? Sure they get a couple of extra privileges, but is getting access to a store an hour or two earlier than everyone else that important? I’d throw out to you that it doesn’t. What matters is that people want to feel special; they are looking for ways to be different and feel important.

What if you were able to set up a loyal system in your store where after customers have shopped with you for a period of time they earned the right to be a gold member. What would that mean to them? What benefits could you offer them? Could you figure out a simple way to do this that would not cost you a ton of money?

There are a number of interesting tools out there to help you add a game layer to your business. Have you heard of “location-based” apps? They are mobile phone apps that allow people to check in at a location and earn rewards over time. There are a variety of these apps on the market, including FourSquare and Facebook’s new Places feature. But none of these apps have tapped into the true potent of the “game layer.” They are good tools and if you are creative with them you can do some amazing things; however there is a great product out there called SCVNGR.

To learn more about SCVNGR, check out Seth Priebatsch’s presentation at TEDx, Founder of SCVNGR.

Starbuck’s Gets It: Do You?

If there is a company out there that fully understands how to build community and generate excitement among their fans, it has to be Starbucks. A couple weeks ago I received an email from them announcing that one of their seasonal signature favorites was about to be launched again. Let’s see, Fall is on the way. Have you figured out what it is yet?

Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Latte

Continue reading “Starbuck’s Gets It: Do You?”

Flight vs. Invisibility

superhero flying through the airIf you could choose between these two super powers, which would you choose – flight or invisibility? Why?

This last week the public radio program, This American Life asked this very question and explored the meaning behind people’s answers. You should definitely listen to the program if you have some time. Listening to the program led me to a similar question – is your marketing about flight or is it invisible?

To understand what I mean by this question you must dig deeper into the essence of the first question. There were two schools of thought on the program. The first said that most people would choose flight. Why? Because choosing invisibility would indicate that you had problems. It assumed that you would ultimately use the power for evil reasons.

The second school of thought went like this – truth be told, the majority of us would choose invisibility. You might say that this view was held by those who felt that we as am race are motivated by less-than altruistic virtues. They also felt that by choosing flight you were showing that you had a slight hero complex coupled with an over inflated ego. Now let’s return to the question at hand, where does your marketing fit into this scheme?

Used-Car Salesman or Honorable Marketer?

Are you trying to deceive customers? Are you willing to tell them anything in order to get them to buy your products? Do you lie or exaggerate about the benefits of your service? We have all done business with people like this. After dealing with him, you walk out of the store feeling pretty good about your decision; however, by the time you get home you have already realized that you made a bad decision but you are stuck with what you bought. The bad news is that we won’t ever get rid of these types of business people, salesmen and marketers.

Or does your marketing start with unbelievable products and services matched with equally great marketing? Does your product or service genuinely solve your customers’ problems or do they enhance their lives in someway? Do you have a remarkable story to share with your customers? Do you treat them like humans instead of walking wallets? If you are genuine in what you are selling you will find that your results will be sustainable. You will also be able to do business with a clear conscience.

The choice is pretty simple. Will you be a used-car salesman or an honorable marketer?

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SBM 101: Do Fans Matter?

Small Business Marketing 101What is the value of a fan? Can they help you grow in the short and long term?

Do fans matter to your business’ success? Yes.

Focusing on the middle of the marketing pyramid will help you build a strong fan base. As you identify and address customer wants within your business, customers will come to appreciate what you have done. But don’t mistake a fan for a diehard loyalist.

Marketing Loyalty PyramidFans are fickle. Just watch any Utah Jazz game to learn about fans. When the Jazz are winning, their fans love them. When they are struggling, you can often hear boos and jeers from the crowd. Business and brand fans are the same. If you are doing something they love, you will hear about it and they will talk about you. But when you slow down or don’t have any major marketing initiatives going, they won’t care that much.

Fans are important. Love you fans and treat them well. Find ways to go beyond your normal customer service when caring for them. Why? They talk. They tell stories about you to their family, friends and coworkers. Simply put, a well-targeted campaign directed at your fans is a great way to build word of mouth.

What are you doing to build your business’ fan base? How do you cultivate this relationship? What is the most interesting thing you have done for your fans? How did they respond?

SBM 101: Understanding and Delivering On Customer Wants

Small Business Marketing 101How can you figure out what your customers want? What types of goods and services are your potential customers looking for? What types of things could you be doing today that would move your customers from not caring about you to fans of your business?

How do you discover customer wants?

Marketing Loyalty Pyramid

Ask them. Spend some time with your customers. Pull them aside and chat for a bit. Find out what they are concerned with and determine if it is something you can do. Call them on the phone and thank them for their business. Find out what you could be doing better.

Watch them. Observe how customers shop your store. Sit down with them and see how they use your website. Note the difficulties they have. Talk to them after and find out if they had frustrations, what they liked, and which features could be improved.

Understand the trends. Keep a close eye on the economy, shopping habits, and general social beliefs. By watching these closely and doing something about them, you can jump out ahead of your competition. Are customers trying to live healthier? What could your business be doing to tap into this potential? As consumers begin to understand the need to become more environmentally aware, what will you do to make your business greener, offer greener products, and provide greener solutions? These are just a couple examples of trends that you might consider.

As you talk to your customers, watch their behaviors and understand the trends, you then have to determine which issues you can act on and then do something. As you address your customers’ wants, remember to evaluate your progress and make adjustments along the way.

What is one thing you could do today to address your customer wants? Do something about it.