Category Archives: Business Tips

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: Share and Share Alike

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 31, 2011.)

As an only child, I was a little late to the sharing party. Playing at home, there was no need to go halves or wait my turn. So when my classmate, Charlotte, grabbed the Colorforms from me during playtime, I smacked her in the face. Confronted about my selfishness by a kind and gentle preschool teacher, I quickly recognized the error of my ways and apologized to my shell-shocked peer.

When it comes to social media, sharing is caring.

As an adult and marketing professional, I now make sharing an important part of everyday life. And if you are an entrepreneur or nonprofit director, I recommend you do the same…in the real world as well as online. More than just posting your own opinions, promotions and experiences for everyone in your network to read and admire, sharing should always engage, enlighten and entertain.

Online and in the real world, you should listen as much as you talk—carefully considering the receiver before sharing any message. This is especially important since Google has recently re-calibrated algorithms to weigh interaction in addition to quantity of raw content to rank search results. Although the X-Robots that crawl across programming code can’t subjectively evaluate content, they now calculate the value of posts and associated authors based on how people respond to them.

Are you unsure about whether your content is valuable? If so, take this brief quiz:

 

  1. Do people “like” your Facebook status updates?
  2. Are connections asking for your input on LinkedIn?
  3. Does anyone retweet your Twitter posts?
  4. Is anyone commenting on your blog?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, consider the adage:

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If your online content falls on deaf ears, are you posting anything at all?

The new gold standard in social media is engagement. That’s why you see so many share-widgets displayed near videos you watch, songs you listen to and articles you read. But when should you click on them to share with your own network and which sharing icons and hyperlinks should you include on your own website and blog platform?

The following is hardly an exhaustive list. But these are currently the most popular ways to share (in alphabetical order). I suggest you select a few instead of cluttering your website with dozens of icons:

AddThis

Delicious

Digg

EVERNOTE

Facebook

Google+, which is currently in beta-testing

LinkedIn

Quora

Reddit

ShareThis

StumbleUpon

Technorati

Twitter

Forward only what you consider valuable. If you can’t find time to read an article, don’t assume your friends and colleagues are less busy than you. Also, resist the urge to forward cat videos unless you own a pet store.

Pikimal and Google+ Circles will make it easy to cherry-pick recipients, since they will enable you to share with friends while sparing business associates. But both are currently in beta-testing. So unless you’ve been invited to take a trial run, your posts will go to your entire network. And over-posting could land your email address in spam folders.

For Free

The best thing about sharing is that it doesn’t cost a thing. Anyone can take advantage of free sharing-icon software, which is easy to download and embed on websites and blogs. Here are a few great options:

On a Limited Budget

Hire a graphic designer to create custom icons to complement your brand identity. Talented artists should be able to use your logo for inspiration, so the social bookmarks won’t clutter your webpage. But be forewarned that if you go this route, the icons won’t be immediately recognizable. If you post the light blue Twitter image, or even just the iconic “T,” everyone knows what it stands for. If you alter the color and style of sharing networks to match your website, you could potentially lose a few “shares.”

 

The Sky’s the Limit

Rather than using someone else’s sharing application, create your own. The only reason so many applications exist is because it pays to keep people logged onto your system instead of clicking on and off of it. Sites like Twitter and Facebook, for example, are profitable because they deliver impressive traffic patterns. Just thought I’d share…

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

Bowling for Business: Digital Identity

Like it or not, your online activities will link to you forever.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 3, 2011.)

In the checkout line at Costco recently, one of the customer service members noticed that the contents of my cart could feed a small country. So he suggested I upgrade my membership to executive status. I immediately regretted my decision to do so when I arrived at the counter and saw something that rocked my world…a camera. Looking into the lens, it hit me that I hadn’t had time to shower, brush my hair, or apply makeup that morning.

“You aren’t going to take my picture, are you?” I asked.

“Yes, Mrs. Bowling,” Click. “You look fine.”

In addition to wild hair and a greasy face, my new card revealed dark, black circles under closed eyes. My mouth was open. A shadow blocked two of my bottom teeth. I looked like a crazy, drunken hillbilly. And until I am willing to wait in the Customer Service line again for three hours to have another photo taken, like it or not, my ill-fated trip has been recorded for posterity

In much the same way, whatever you do online will be linked to you and your business forever…for better or worse. Long before the advent of the Internet, pop-artist, Andy Warhol coined the oft-misquoted phrase: “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

Social media has flipped this expression on its head, to something like: “In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of privacy,” or says Scott Monty, who oversees Global Digital Communications for the Ford Motor Company.

In the final analysis, we will all have to weigh the need to promote our business ventures against our desire for privacy. This is particularly true now that executives at Google confirm they have altered search algorithms to factor results heavily on social media. In other words, if you want your website to draw traffic, you can no longer rely solely on keyword research and tagging. You simply have to participate in social media.

Mashable writer Lee Odden explains the interrelationship between SEO and social media like this: “Advertisers that fund social media campaigns can continue to realize the traffic benefit from keyword-optimized interactive content long after the campaign has ended.” In other words, social media can extend the life of your search engine optimized web content. So, whatever it takes, make sure your online campaign includes both.

 

For Free—

Set up a blog. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, a blog is the foundation of any successful social media campaign. So take advantage of the free platforms available and set one up! I recommend WordPress, because content posted to it is search-engine friendly. If you can’t afford to hire a writer or social media manager, you will have to find a way to come up with content on your own. You won’t be able to compete unless you bite the bullet and join the social media revolution. Consider it the new cost of doing business.

 

On a Limited Budget—

If you aren’t a natural born writer or if you don’t have time to write content yourself, hire someone to produce relevant, original blog posts on a regular basis. Once your blog is set up, connect social media sites like Twitter and Facebook to it. This might sound complicated. But it isn’t. All you have to do is create usernames on Twitter and Facebook that somehow relate to the title of your blog and then post short status updates and tweets relative to the blog posts. The more content you come up with, the faster your efforts will impact search results.

 

The Sky’s the Limit—

Don’t underestimate the importance of online interaction. Mountain Marketing Group clients who choose to write their own blog posts hire us to monitor and participate in online conversations and react to reviews posted about their business. This type of research is essential as well as time consuming.

Monitoring the Internet keeps us on top of industry-related news so we can share relevant information with our clients as well as their target markets. Checking the pulse of information posted about them helps us to protect their online images. After all, we wouldn’t want want anyone to come across as a crazy, drunken hillbilly.

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

Bowling for Business: Instead of slashing prices, add value

Advertising Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth

(This column first appeared on June 19, 2011.)

For the past two years, we have bitten the financial bullet in order to buy annual passes to Disneyland for family Christmas gifts. Selecting the handy dandy interest-free monthly installment option, we don’t buy the passes because they are cheap. In fact, our installment payments are probably higher than my parents’ monthly payments on their first house.

Also, we typically squander an additional hundred dollars or so on food and souvenirs with every trip. But we have counted the cost and decided it’s worth the investment to spend quality time with our daughters and granddaughter at the Happiest Place on Earth.

At a time when most business owners are slashing budgets and services in a mad scramble to survive, Disney thrives. Instead of drastically reducing prices and cutting back on their offerings, they continue to invest millions to improve and enhance their products. We would all do well to take a few cues from the entertainment giant:

Diversify.

Disney holdings are too numerous to list. But here are is a sampling:

  • Parks and resorts
  • Consumer products
  • Cruise line
  • Lodging
  • Television stations
  • Television programs
  • Radio stations
  • Magazines
  • Music
  • Books
  • Production and distribution
  • Broadband channels, subscription-based Internet services, websites and cellular services

Although he was a visionary, Walt Disney couldn’t possibly have foreseen the number of related industries his empire would one day include. But, early on, he took steps to ensure his company would never stagnate. In fact, 53 years ago in Anaheim, when he first opened the doors to Disneyland, Walt turned to a TV news reporter and announced:

Disneyland will never be complete. As long as there is creativity in the world, it will continue to grow.

When you sense a shift in consumer demand, don’t waste your time lamenting the good old days. Instead, mix it up. Take a class or hire someone “in the know” so you will be prepared to offer what customers want. For example, if your bakery profits take a hit when health concerns reduce doughnut consumption, add low fat choices to your menu.

Reinvent yourself

I remember the day my industry changed forever. I was at an international public relations conference in 2007 when someone asked me whether or not I tweeted. In my 28 years experience as a marketing professional, I had never heard the term. Naturally, I assumed he was insane. Ironically, I now tweet several times a day.

Due to shifting consumer demand, we have completely changed our service line at Mountain Marketing Group to feature dynamic websites and comprehensive social media campaigns. We could have resisted the shift, like some of our fallen advertising comrades. But embracing the change has invigorated business and keeps things interesting.

Add value

My family and I stood in line for three hours last weekend to see the new Star Tours: The Adventure Continues 3-D Attraction. Disney spent millions of dollars to retool the ride, which features trips to six fictional planets told via 50 different “story adventures.” The fervor proves that people are still willing and able to spend time and money if they believe the investment worthwhile.

Resist the urge to strip your products and services to bare bones; instead, amp things up. The saying still holds true, “You get what you pay for.” Make sure your customers understand the value they get by paying you.

Build client loyalty

During the soft launch of the reinvigorated Star Tours’ attraction, Disney emailed season pass holders early invitations to ride. This type of exclusive offer does more than control traffic. When we weigh our renewal decision in December, rewards like this will definitely factor in.

Advertise

Few brands are as recognizable as Mickey’s iconic ears. This is the result of billions of dollars in advertising. And while most of us have considerably less to spend, when it comes to garnering publicity, we can still learn much from Disney—for free, on a limited budget or when the sky’s the limit.

  1. Have fun. Regardless of the campaign, Disney maintains a sense of humor.
  2. Don’t put all of your advertising eggs in one basket. Positive publicity is often more effective than advertising. Invest in both.
  3. Stick with what works. Downplay what doesn’t. Case in point? I was hard-pressed to find anything online about the history of ineffective Disney advertising campaigns. Instead, I kept unwittingly clicking on ways to pay even more to upgrade my experience as a happy season pass-holder.

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

Bowling for Business: Marketing Lessons from Oscar

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on February 28, 2011.)

By the time you read this column, the 2011 Academy Awards will be history. And while the events that unfold at each Oscar ceremony don’t affect most of us personally, there is much we can learn about marketing by studying the annual affair:

Image is everything—more viewers tune in to see beautiful people modeling glamorous fashions than because they care about who wins the award for best sound editing in a documentary. This might not be true if the dress code was “Come as you are.” Celebrities dress up (or down…remember Bjork?) because they understand the importance of defining, projecting and protecting their brand.

Entrepreneurs who understand this concept are able to leverage it for increased brand name recognition, customer loyalty and, ultimately, higher sales. When we sign a new website client at Mountain Marketing Group, the first order of business is to create or refine the client’s logo and slogan since these steps are foundational to effective advertising and public relations.

Membership has its privileges— while all members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences cast votes, only a small percentage receive invitations to attend the event. On the other hand, if you aren’t a member, your chances of attending are zip… unless you want to be a seat-filler.

This is also true for business owners and non-profit directors. If you don’t belong to the local chamber of commerce, you won’t be invited to mixers or educational seminars. And if you don’t attend business events, you won’t be able to hobnob. And if you don’t rub shoulders with people in the community where you do business, you won’t be able to build valuable relationships that might very well lead to business opportunities. Other memberships to consider include country clubs, professional associations and service organizations.

Networking is non-negotiable— in Hollywood, they call it “walking the red carpet.” In the real world, networking involves having actual conversations with real people who aren’t holding microphones or asking us who we are wearing.

Profitable business networking requires an investment of time and attention. When you attend a networking event, I challenge you to close your mouth and open your ears. Most of us prefer to spend time with good listeners than with people who never shut their mouths. American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman and political consultant Bernard M. Baruch summed it up well when he said,

“Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

Social Media matters—As soon as Justin Bieber gave a small clear box of his hair to Ellen DeGeneres, the Twittersphere went into overdrive, with nearly all of the 7,686,188 people who follow Bieber tweeting about the event as if it was the most important story in the world. The highest bid for the teen singer’s locks is currently at $12,000.

The Academy Awards’ ceremony is no longer simply broadcasted on television but streamed, celebri-tweeted, posted, blogged, checked in, stumbled upon, connected and fed to millions of eager viewers, followers, friends and fans. The reason any of this should matter to small business owners is that it’s all about buzz. If you want to take advantage of social media, don’t miss the groundswell. Create a Twitter account and set up a Facebook Fan Page for your organization. Today.

Everybody loves a party—more than the Academy Awards’ ceremony itself, I wish I could into the Governor’s Ball or one of the after-parties hosted by Elton John, James Franco or Madonna. It isn’t that I want to see movie stars up close and personal. It’s that I would love to dine on party fare prepared by the likes of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck.

If you want to generate interest in your product or services, host an event and serve great food. Then, once your prospects have eaten, wow them with your professional offerings. People are more likely to respond favorably to sales pitches when they have happy tummies.

Nobody likes a windbag—the best Oscar speeches have been brief:

Jack Nicholson

I guess this proves there are as many nuts in the Academy as anywhere else.

Kim Basinger

I just want to thank everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life.

Benicio Del Toro

I won and I get to scream and jump a little. But I got to go back to work tomorrow.

Steven Spielberg

Am I allowed to say I really wanted this? This is fantastic.

James Cameron

I am the king of the world!

If you are giving your Oscar acceptance speech and the music starts, you need to shut up. The best advertising campaigns have also been brief:

Brylcreem

A little dab’ll do ya.

De Beers’ diamonds

A diamond is forever.

Florida Citrus Commission

A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine.

Rice a Roni

The San Francisco treat

Florida Citrus Commission

Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions.

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

Bowling for Business: Insane Campaigns

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 31, 2011.)

We used to spend Saturday mornings at the Denver Suds-n-Duds, where I played with miniature bottles of Borax and tiny boxes of Tide while my mom fumbled with quarters and battled the ramshackle appliances. Back then, I could sit for hours in front of the dryer watching the clothes spin. (Mind you, this was long before cable TV or the Internet.) So the delivery of our very first washer and dryer circa 1973 marked the end of an era. It also signaled the start of my disgust with all things washing-related.

An only child, it was my job to venture into our cold, dark utility room when the buzzer sounded, to check whether or not the clothes were dry. Why we listened to the timer was beyond me, since, in all the years we owned it, it never once correctly assessed the condition of our clothes. Each load required two or three complete cycles…which meant two or three times I would have to run in the dark, with bare feet, onto the uncovered concrete floor, open the dryer, restart the machine and run back before spiders, dust bunnies or utility room monsters had time to attack. In all of those years, never once did it occur to me to turn on the laundry room light or wear slippers.

What does this have to do with marketing? It reminds me of something Albert Einstein once said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Had I heeded his implied suggestion, to change strategies when something doesn’t work, I might not still equate doing laundry with serving time. It is for this very reason I strive to save clients the inherent frustration of habitually sticking with unsuccessful marketing campaigns. It might seem like a no-brainer to pull the plug on a plan that doesn’t work. But, remarkably, when I propose a shift, the suggestion is often meet with resistance.

Sure, the idea might be inspired. The right people might be doing the right tasks and have every base covered. Your campaign might be cheap. But check the bottom line. If you’re not getting the results you expected, something is obviously wrong. If this is the case, switch things up. Just don’t make the mistake of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

For Free—

For example, if your social media campaign isn’t producing results, don’t assume social media doesn’t work. Instead, change your approach. Swap out your profile pictures and bios. Or post something using a completely different tone of voice. Track everything, and see if the changes affect your results. You might be surprised.

On a Limited Budget—

Review artwork and copy for print campaigns. Does your message show potential clients and donors how your product or service would add value for them or does it toot your horn? There is a distinct difference.

For instance, if you own a beauty salon, focus your marketing on the ways your products and services improve your clients’ appearance rather than on your own expertise and qualifications. It won’t make any difference to customers whether you’ve styled hair for 25 days or 25 years unless that experience directly affects their own heads of hair. Select a tagline that shows the way that your experience will ultimately translate to a better experience for them.

For example, instead of: “We’ve been cutting hair for 25 years,” opt for: “Keeping women chic for 25 years.” Although the difference is subtle, it is critical.

The Sky’s the Limit—

One of our clients initially bristled at the thought of changing an advertising campaign he had been doing with another agency for 14 years because, he said, “We’ve always done it this way.”

“Exactly how much business can you track to these ads?” I asked.

“I don’t know. We’ve never tried to figure it out,” he replied.

After working with him to quantify metrics, we were able to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of his existing approach. Faced with the raw data, he finally agreed to change things up. And for a fraction of the cost of his old campaign, we took an entirely different tact which significantly improved his bottom line. And though revamping an ad campaign isn’t rocket science, I’m certain Mr. Einstein would approve.

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

Bowling for Business: Show and Tell

For maximum marketing impact, use copy as well as images.

This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on January 3, 2011.

My favorite day of the week in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade was Friday because that’s when we got to do Show and Tell. Since we had three dogs, a turtle and several fish, and because I loved having an excuse to bring pets to school, I was set for weeks. But my love of the activity extended to other classmates’ treasures as well:

  • Brian made a belt out of paperclips, which he fastened to his chair as a sort of makeshift restraining device.
  • Dawn had a watch with interchangeable face plates and bands, to match every outfit in her extensive closet.
  • Chad routinely forgot to bring anything from home, so he often stuffed part of his lunch into his boot before recess so he would have something to share later in class.

As we begin marketing in 2011, I contend the most successful advertising and public relations’ campaigns will hearken to this elementary-school standby. After all, it is widely believed the use of pictures along with words increases brain activity and aids learning.

  • According to Head First Labs, “When words appear within a picture, or there is a combination of words and a picture, our brains try to make sense of how the words and the picture relate. When more neurons are firing, there are more chances for your brain to get that this is something worth paying attention to.”
  • Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that pictures allow patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease to better recognize and identify a subject compared to using words alone.
  • Swish Video contends that people remember merely 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see and an incredible 70% what they hear and see. So, to effectively promote your product or service, no matter your audience, make sure you do both—show and tell.

For Free—

If you are handling your own marketing and public relations, make much of pictures. Many entrepreneurs understand their own products to a fault. Don’t forget to “dumb down” technical jargon when marketing your product or service so it makes sense to the buying public. One way to do this is with pictures:

  • With blog posts, for example, upload an image and restrict copywriting to a caption. This will remind you to be brief. As a rule, blog posts should contain a maximum of 700 words.
  • Include a photo or illustration with every press release you write. If you have not yet mastered the art of uploading a jpeg from your desktop to an online platform, figure it out. Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. So don’t let technology stand in your way.

On a Limited Budget—

  • Pay a little extra to include artwork in your advertising. It will be worth it. In fact, if you only have enough cash to buy a small ad, ax the text. No one has time to sift through a sea of words anyway.
  • Experiment with video. You can get a hand-held video camera for about $100. Buy one. Take it to work and start filming anything and everything. Then, edit and upload short, educational bits to YouTube.
  • If the idea of making a video is overwhelming, start with a slideshow. Use a platform like Vimeo, Animoto or Kizoa, which will enable you to use still photos to create short video pieces set to music.

The Sky’s the Limit—

Zappos.com recently reported a 6 to 30 percent increase in sales on items that are accompanied by a video. Quality video content, with correct tagging and intelligent distribution online, has tremendous power to reach wide audiences for two reasons:

  1. Video is a powerful medium for contacting and communicating on a human level.
  2. Video is a powerful tool for engaging search engines.

So hire someone to produce, tag and post short, professional videos for use with press releases, ads, websites and social media platforms. But make sure you keep the clips short or they will likely go un-clicked.

Still unconvinced? Imagine how much more interesting this particular column would have been if it had been accompanied by a video of Show and Tell in Mrs. Stanley’s first grade class circa 1969.

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