Bowling for Business: Ravings of a Mad Man


After years of resisting, I reluctantly heeded the recommendations of friends and colleagues and started watching AMC’s Mad Men. Set against the backdrop of a Madison Avenue ad agency circa 1960, the show features major moral failures on the part of every character. Nevertheless, I admit that I am hooked—mostly because each episode offers a priceless advertising gem.

One of my favorite such moments surfaces in the episode, Love Among the Ruins, where the show’s antihero, Don Draper, steps in to save a large account after a copywriter nearly blows it. A developer whose company is suffering from public outrage over plans to demolish Penn Station in order to replace it with Madison Square Garden, the client complains about the conflict. Draper replies:

“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

Clients often ask me what to do about negative comments posted to review sites. The knee-jerk reaction is to face the comments head-on, directly addressing each and every objection. But doing so panders to whiners. Instead, make sure you are aware of public sentiment relative to your brand. Respond only to legitimate concerns. And, more importantly, make sure you help shape the conversation, which you can do on any budget.

For Free—

To enter the online conversation, you first need to set up profiles on every available review site. The good news is that the basic packages for these accounts are free. The bad news is that signing up is time consuming.

Although new sites pop up daily, as of this writing, these are the major players:

  • Google Places—Since 97% of consumers reportedly search for local businesses online, provide them with the information they are looking for where they are looking for it. Google has the advantage when it comes to search. So if you want people to easily find your company, create a listing on Google Places. The site not only encourages reviews which will help you learn about what keywords prospects are searching for but also provides data to show where users are discovering your business. Armed with this information, you will be able to make better advertising decisions.
  • Google Alerts—is a great service for listening, since it captures every mention of your company name (and the names of competitors or other key words you enter). If you subscribe, you’ll be notified every time those words are mentioned anywhere on the web.
  • TripAdvisor—Completely free, this site boasts sophisticated search technology which helps entrepreneurs reach out to consumers at the very moment they are researching locations. Business owners list property descriptions, photos, and immediate booking. So TripAdvisor is most relevant to the hospitality industry. That said, the company has recently gotten more into restaurant and other local activity reviews, albeit with a bent toward tourism. Based on this, locals may find it more useful now than previously.
  • Yelp—promotes local businesses in virtually every field, from dentists to hair stylists to mechanics. With approximately 66 million monthly unique visitors in 2011, Yelp has hosted more than 25 million local reviews. In addition to setting up a free account and posting photos, you can use Yelp to have open conversations with your customers.

What’s more, to keep Yelp honest, an automated filter suppresses minority reviews and targets suspicious activity. And advertisers are prevented from changing or reordering their reviews, so users are more likely to trust the information.

On a Limited Budget—

Google Places and Yelp offer paid listings. If you can afford one, it might behoove you to upgrade. But if you do, make sure you track expenses so you can figure out your cost per click. One of our clients did an experimental run on Yelp. Although the cost-per-click for his Google Ad Words campaign averaged $5, the cost of similar ads we were managing for him on Yelp came in at a hefty $20 per click.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Although you might be tempted to start posting immediately after creating a free or paid account on any of these platforms, resist the urge to dive in before taking the time to listen. In the same way you wouldn’t interrupt a conversation at a cocktail party, don’t post until you understand what is going on. Listening will earn you the right to be heard.

Since you can’t be in several places at once, if you can afford to, hire an agency to manage your online reputation. Most social media employees literally live online. So they intuitively understand how to proactively start relevant conversations as well as rapidly react to negative feedback…even if it’s posted by a Mad Man.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Up the Ante in Your Ad Campaign

One of the first advertising campaigns I ran was my own bid for junior class senator at Columbine High School back in the Dark Ages. I’m not sure whether the buttons, posters or personal appearances did the trick. But, remarkably, despite the pathetic slogan: “Put the Luck of the Irish in Senate. Vote Kathy O’Brien,” I won. The experience led not to a love of politics but for the intoxicating ability to influence public opinion through promotion. Although the budget for my high school senatorial campaign was minimal, advertising paid off…as it always does.

Advertising Age conservatively estimates that ad spending in the United States exceeds $149 billion a year. Marketers in key categories for 2010 were:

  • Automotive
  • Retail
  • Restaurants
  • Wireless Carriers
  • Beverages
  • Beer
  • Prescription Medications
  • Personal Care
  • Household Products
  • Movies
  • Credit Cards

Admittedly, the lion’s share was spent by corporations. But small business owners and nonprofit directors continue to invest despite the economy because advertising in virtually any form pays off. If you currently sell a product or a service to one or more people, whether you know it or not, you are already advertising whenever you—

  1. Sell a great product
  2. Provide a service
  3. Tell someone at a party what you do for a living
  4. Hand your business card to a client
  5. Give someone your phone number
  6. Post to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter

Whether you run a one-man or one–woman show or a multi-national corporation, the key to increasing revenue is to amplify your existing advertising efforts:

For Free—

  1. Sell a few more units of your product.
  2. Improve customer service.
  3. Instead of casually answering questions about your occupation, take a genuine interest in the people you meet. And look for opportunities to mention how you might be able to help them achieve their professional goals.
  4. Give clients two business cards so they can share one with a friend.
  5. Place your business name and phone number in a free online directory like Yelp or Google Places.
  6. Post a promotion on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

On a Limited Budget—

  1. Instead of spreading advertising efforts too thin, promote just one of your products. By focusing on a single strategy, you will be able to effectively measure the effectiveness of your campaign.
  2. Reward employees for superior customer service. Let your clients know about your commitment to meeting their needs.
  3. Join an active referral group like BRG, BNI or I Take the Lead. These organizations encourage lead generation among their members.
  4. Run a copy of your business card in the local newspaper or phone directory. Test and measure before upping your ad budget.
  5. Experiment with Pay Per Click (PPC) to improve website search engine ranking.
  6. Invest in Facebook PPC, display ads on LinkedIn and contests on Twitter.

The Sky’s the Limit—

  1. Having access to a healthy ad budget will enable you to try several types of advertising so you can test and measure the effectiveness of each.
  2. Run a customer service contest to reward clients who post reviews and take surveys. Clients who care enough to write reviews should be encouraged.
  3. Seek out a leadership role in your local chamber of commerce or professional organization. While this will require a considerable investment of time, it is well worth the effort because you will emerge as a leader in your field.
  4. Increase your current Internet campaign to increase visibility and gain social media friends, fans or followers.
  5. Buy promotional items featuring your company logo, phone number, website address and slogan. Encourage employees to distribute the items.
  6. Google is constantly changing algorithms to rely heavily on social interactivity. And few business professionals have the time or desire to comment to blog posts, comment on Facebook or tweet. So, if you haven’t hired a professional agency to manage your social media yet, do so today. In fact, call Kathy O’Brien Bowling at Mountain Marketing Group and put the luck of the Irish in your campaigns!

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Leverage Newton’s Laws of Motion in Advertising


Queso Dip, made by combining Velveeta Cheese and canned Rotel tomatoes looked great on the television commercial. In fact, the ad convinced my husband and me that we should purchase the ingredients and serve along with chips for dinner. And that first bite was amazing.

But the problem with Velveeta is that no one actually knows what it is. The only thing everyone agrees about it is that it is no way related to actual cheese. Reading the nutrition information won’t help identify its contents. So don’t bother trying.

Whatever Velveeta is made from, it reverts to solid form as soon as it cools. So I can only guess what it does when it enters the human body. But I’m convinced it gains considerable mass and volume when it hits the stomach because, after only a few bites of the concoction, I felt like I had swallowed a bowling ball.

I share this cautionary tale because it demonstrates a phenomenon that advertising executives have long understood. Even though “objects at rest tend to stay at rest,” effective marketing can overcome Newton’s First Law of Motion by persuading prospective customers to get off of the couch, drive to the grocery store and spend money…even at the risk of making themselves sick.

So if your company could benefit from more business, stop sitting on the sidelines complaining about the game. While it is true the economy is basically in the toilet, people have never stopped spending money. They still need shelter, food and entertainment. Engaged couples still marry. Pregnant women still give birth. Employed individuals still take vacations.

In fact:

  • Americans spend an average of $16,895 on housing for every consumer unit (family) every year.
  • We spend approximately $6,372 a year per person on food.
  • According to Top Stock Analysts, the “average” American household spends more than $8,000 a year on goods and services it does not actually need.
  • Market research done for the wedding industry reveals the average amount of money spent on a wedding in the U.S. in 2011 was $18,859.
  • Wise Geek reports the estimated cost to raise a child from birth to the age of 18 is $200,000-$250,000 (not including college). Nevertheless, in 2012 in the United States, as of 3:30 PST on January 29, a total of 4,797,000 babies were born.
  • In 2011, Americans spent an average $2,000 per family on vacations.

Whatever your product or service, someone somewhere is spending money on it. The trick is to find out where they are and convince them to spend their money with you. And you can do this regardless of your budget.

For Free—

While you need a substantial advertising budget to run television promos like the manufacturers of RoTel or Velveeta, you can employ Newton’s Second Law of Motion (“Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.”) even if you have no money whatsoever to spend on marketing. You just have to be willing to do some research and pound the pavement yourself to convince people they should take action.

Start by asking your best customers what they like to do and where they spend their time. Try not to pry. But don’t be afraid to get to know them. If you can figure out what current clients have in common, you won’t have to waste your time advertising to the wrong market. One of my clients wanted to start a cable television campaign. But rudimentary research revealed that none of his buyers watched public access TV.

On a Limited Budget—

If your advertising budget is limited, hone in on areas you can target on the cheap. You might be surprised to discover that guerrilla marketing techniques like standing at the right intersection holding a sign can generate more leads than a sophisticated, expensive campaign in the wrong location.

Once you’ve done the research, make the most of your money. Instead of creating an amateurish banner, leave artwork and production to professionals. If you must, you can cut costs by handing the sign yourself instead of hiring someone to handle the grunt work, but don’t make the costly mistake of hiring an amateur for design; your reputation depends on keeping a professional and consistent image in your marketing.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Find someone to partner with whose product or service compliments your own. ConAgra Foods (which owns RoTel) and Kraft (which owns Velveeta) increased market share and decreased advertising outlay when they came up with a joint marketing venture. Granted, Queso Dip can make you sick. But, as everyone knows: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” So at least the companies figured out a way to put Newton’s Third Law of Motion in action.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: Drown Out the Competition

Don't cut business essentials to save money.

(This column first appeared in The Press Enterprise and on January 12, 2012 and on ROTWNEWS.com on January 14, 2012.)

Resist the Urge to Cut Back on Advertising Despite the Economy

Planning a wedding is a little bit like drowning. As a future mother-of-the-bride, I often feel like I’m in over my head. And you know what they say about people who are drowning: Don’t get too close or they might pull you under. It isn’t that we want to kill prospective rescuers–we are just flailing about in a desperate attempt to survive.

During the past four years in a difficult economy, I’ve watched entrepreneurs thrash around and kill the very thing that could potentially ensure their small business survival: marketing.

The silver lining to a recession is that it focuses business owners’ attention on cost control. And keeping overhead low and profit margins should be a priority regardless of the financial environment. But, in many cases, there are much better ways to boost your bottom line and improve cash flow than blindly cutting costs. Like it or not, there is no getting around the fact that you have to spend money to make money. So, as important as knowing which costs to cut, you should make sure you understand which ones to protect.

If you own a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t consider reducing overhead by cancelling your wholesale order for food. Intuitively, you know that you can’t sell gourmet fare if you don’t have fresh ingredients. Advertising, on the other hand, is a less obvious necessity since it isn’t directly traceable to active income. But the best meals on the planet won’t sell unless potential patrons know where to find them.

I’m hardly alone in my belief that no matter how strapped you are for cash as a business owner, advertising is absolutely the last thing you should eliminate from your budget. The key is to look at your marketing dollars as an investment instead of an expense. The Harvard Business Review maintains that advertising during a recession contributed to profits:

“The rationale that a company can afford a cutback in advertising because everybody else is cutting back [is fallacious]. Rather than wait for business to return to normal, top executives should cash in on the opportunity that the rival companies are creating for them. The company courageous enough to stay in the fight when everyone else is playing safe can bring about a dramatic change in market position.”

A 1979 study done by ABP/Meldurm & Fewsmith revealed that:

“Companies which did not cut marketing expenditures experienced higher sales and net income during those two years and the two years following than those companies which cut in either or both recession years.”

In fact, some remarkable marketing success stories emerged during times of economic difficulties:

  • Procter & Gamble pushed Ivory Soap during the height of the Great Depression. It’s no coincidence that P&G has made progress during every major recession. While competitors cut ad budgets, this company increases spending.
  • FedEx started doing business in 1973 during the gas crisis-led recession. In spite of relying on gas-guzzling trucks and planes to ship packages around the country, they succeeded and grew not only because they could deliver packages overnight, but because they clearly communicated their ability to do so.
  • Kellogg’s and Post were tied for market share in the cereal category in the 1920s. Post cut their advertising budget while Kellogg’s increased theirs by one million dollars. After the recession, Kellogg’s profits improved from $4.3 million a year in the 1920s to $5.7 million in the early 1930s, leaving Post profits in the dust.

In tough times, resist the tightwad tendency to cut advertising. Instead, increase your budget and be thankful if your competition cuts theirs. When rivals cut back, your message will stand out all the more. And that way you’ll ensure at least your company stays afloat.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

(This column first appeared on ROTWNEWS.com on January 1, 2011 and in The Press Enterprise on January 14, 2012.)

For our family, 2011 marks the year our daughter, Lauren, and her fiancé, Kyle, got engaged. Atop Coit Tower in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, Kyle proposed with an extravagant engagement ring wrapped in an unassuming Taco Bell hot sauce packet labeled Will You Marry Me?

The event melts my heart not just because I’m a mother who recognizes that the two of them are head-over-heels in love, but because, as a marketing professional, I appreciate the fact that advertising played a role in one of the most important moments of our daughter’s life. After all—consider the free word-of-mouth publicity their engagement story will generate over the course of their lives. You just can’t buy that kind of buzz. But you can try. And 2011 was filled with advertisers who did just that.

The Top 11 Hits and Misses that made 2011 a Banner Year:

Misses

  1. FAX Spam. Messages that come through FAX machine tie up phone lines, not to mention valuable ink and paper. Whoever invented this method of advertising should be shot.
  2. Text Spam. Ditto.
  3. Ashton Kutcher. It is an understatement to say that Kutcher made a poor choice to comment about the Penn State scandal on Twitter. In so doing, he emerged as the poster boy for why social media is best left to professionals.
  4. Charlie Sheen. Ditto.
  5. Groupon. Although some would argue that online coupon groups like Groupon and Living Social belong in the “hit” category, I argue the point based on the controversial Timothy Hutton ad which ran during Super Bowl XLV. Taking pot shots at suffering humanity is never a good advertising strategy.

Hits

  1. Viral Videos. 71 million YouTube clicks of an amateur video of a wedding party dancing up the aisle convinced marketers of the unprecedented potential of the viral video. Now professionals spend billions producing spots they hope will capture the imagination of the public, such as the case with Volkswagen’s tiny Darth Vader to the New Old Spice Guy Fabio.
  2. Flash Mobs. Because of their potential to go viral when recorded (see above), flash mobs have become big business, evidenced by the T-Mobile Flash Mob Video to the success of the T-Mobil Royal Wedding to the wink of the “flash mob canceled” commercial by AT&T.
  3. Television. Although I specialize in stretching advertising budgets, so rarely recommend TV ads to clients, there is something to be said for sinking a boatload of money into a well-conceived, top-flight campaign. Take Allstate’s “Mayhem like Me” series or the catchy new “We Are Farmer’s” jingle. You don’t have to spend billions on marketing. But if you can afford it, why not?
  4. Product Placement. While we’re on the subject of spending big money on advertising, I feel compelled to mention the method which has seemingly become the default for creative directors on Madison Avenue. Case in point? The 2-1/2 hour Tom Cruise commercial for BMWs, Ghost Protocol. Sorry, Morgan Spurlock…but Mission Impossible 4 was obviously The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
  5. Pinterest. Admittedly, Pinterest was not created as an advertising medium. But, take note…neither was Facebook. Already the number one source of traffic to the virtual consignment shop Etsy, Pinterest will likely emerge as a major advertising player in 2012.
  6. Kyle’s proposal—especially if we could figure out a way to get Taco Bell to pay for the wedding…

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.

Bowling for Business: How to Use Pinterest to Promote Your Business

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 19, 2011.)

One of my family’s Christmas Eve traditions is a White Elephant Gift Exchange. For the uninitiated, the cruel process goes something like this:

  1. Purchase a gift worth $5.
  2. Wrap it up so it looks like a million bucks.
  3. Draw a number to determine the order you will be allowed to select one of the gifts.
  4. When your number is up, choose from the wrapped gifts or steal a previously opened gift from someone else. (Once the item has been swapped three times, it is “dead” and can no longer be stolen.)
  5. Drool over the “dead” gifts.

A game also referred to as Yankee Swap, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Thieving Secret Santa, Parcel Pass, Christmas Swamp Thing, or Pollyanna, it never ceases to amaze me that, on a holiday honoring the birth of the One whose very life was an act of lavish generosity, we celebrate by joyously stealing trinkets from family and friends. I broach the subject because I believe the reason we covet the popular white elephant gifts is not because of their inherent value but because of something which is extremely precious in the field of marketing—buzz.

I’ve written about buzz in previous Bowling for Business columns. But, since my last post, several new social media channels have emerged…the most popular of which is an image-based site called Pinterest. Named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2011, Pinterest is a virtual online bulletin board (called a pinboard), which enables members to organize and share web-based images. People use pinboards to plan weddings, decorate homes and organize recipes. Often described as addictive, the site allows users to browse pinboards to discover images from people with similar interests. And, once invited, you can create pinboards of your own in subjects from soup to nuts (literally).

Although purists shudder at the thought of turning any mindless free-time activity into a marketing tool, as business owners, it is our job to figure out how to convert addictive free-time pursuits into tools for generating interest in our products and services. If this was not the case, there would be no such thing as product placement, television commercials, newspaper display ads or pay-per-click campaigns.

Of Pinterest, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, wrote: “Smart marketers are starting to wake up to the buzz and branding power of the growing Pinterest community.”

So how might you use Pinterest for your business? The good news is that you can use it to regardless of your marketing budget:

For Free–

Before you pursue any avenue for advertising, I suggest you get to know the platform inside and out. Otherwise, you will run the risk of intruding instead of investing, which would undermine your credibility in the online community. So spend some time browsing Pinterest. Once you find a subject of interest, you’ll be hooked. I love perusing categories like holiday cookies, home décor and humor. Unless you are somehow able to secure an invitation to Pinterest without being wait-listed, you will have little choice but to browse instead of create. And browsing is free.

On a Limited Budget–

Once you are invited to create a Pinterest account, figure out how to convert your offering to a compilation of beautiful images. The thing that sets Pinterest apart from Google Images is the quality of photography. So don’t create a board unless it features high-quality, low resolution, web-friendly pictures. It might be worthwhile to hire a professional photographer once you’ve developed a marketing game plan. The images you pin should hyperlink to your website or social networking hub. If you can’t tell the tale with images, go a different route.

The Sky’s the Limit–

Pinterest has become the number-one source of traffic to the online sales site, Etsy.

But a beautiful online bulletin board with hundreds of followers on Pinterest will only be effective if it is part of a comprehensive marketing strategy. So, hire someone who knows what they are doing to set up and maintain your Pinterest account. That way, you will be able to ask them to photograph and post pictures of the White Elephant Gift you steal this year from Grandma.

Until next time, I’ll be Bowling for Business.