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 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: 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.

Bowling for Business: Getting Your Advertising Feet Wet

When it comes to marketing, have yourself committed.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on September 12, 2011.)

My family and I survived another move. Although we’re still unpacking boxes and, in the process, have uncovered more junk than the professional organizers on Hoarders, things are finally returning to normal.

It was just a year ago we last lived the nightmare of packing up everything in one home and toting it to another. So we were reluctant to relocate yet again. But as soon as we saw the location of the condo, all four of us were sold. After eight years of living in Arrowhead, we finally have access to the lake. And we aren’t about to let little things (like lack of a boat, canoe or kayak) keep us from diving in.

All too often, entrepreneurs dabble instead of committing to comprehensive advertising strategies. But, in today’s competitive market, your campaign won’t succeed if you just dip your toe in the water. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge.

I recently met with a gentleman who wanted to hire my firm to handle his advertising. But he barred us from using Facebook, Twitter or a blog. He said that he would turn over the keys to his social media kingdom after we generated media attention for his brand.

“I’m not sure I buy into this whole social media thing,” he explained. “So I’ll let you set up those platforms after you get us on The Rachel Ray Show or Good Morning America. You can do it the old-fashioned way by writing press releases, running newspaper ads and making phone calls.”

I told him that his request was akin to asking a plastic surgeon to improve the appearance of a patient’s nose without using a scalpel. I doubt many doctors would be willing to accept the challenge.

Professional communicators have enough obstacles to garnering media attention and public interest in our clients’ products and services, as it is…let alone taking critical tools off of the table. Companies that don’t stand a chance of getting on Rachel Ray can still make a respectable name for themselves, faster and less expensively, using social media. Besides, any successful campaign incorporates a multi-pronged approach.

No matter how little or how much you have to work with, you can cover all of the advertising bases even if you’re doing everything yourself. This is my own short list for managing our clients’ comprehensive campaigns:

  • Print—Although you might not have access to Madison Avenue copywriters, professional graphic designers or funds to purchase big media buys, you can do print advertising as long as have access to a computer and a printer. Start small but aim high. After you’ve built your business one customer at a time, you will be able to hire someone to help refine your strategy.

In the meantime, don’t neglect alerting folks about your brand by using paper and ink. No matter how popular the Internet becomes, there is something to be said for putting your message in writing and getting it into the hands of your target market.

If you can afford to hire a graphic designer and a copywriter, do it. Coming up with a catchy turn-of-phrase and adding visual interest will serve you well.

  • 3-D—Participate in the real world. You need to rub shoulders with folks to get them interested in your products and services. Think chatting with folks at chamber of commerce mixers, networking groups and your son’s Little League games. Get involved in your own community so people have a reason to support your small business.
  • Online—Strange that a relatively new business phenomenon is now compulsory. But it is. Pew Research reports that 58% of people do some type of online research before making a purchase of any kind. Is your company easy for them to find?

For free, you can add your business to review sites such as Google Places, Yelp, Merchant Circle, and Service Magic. You’ll be amazed at how much interest a free listing can generate. And for a modest fee, you can upgrade to a premium listing.

Don’t be worried about the potential for negative reviews. The nice thing about these sites is that you can address concerns and complaints immediately and publicly by posting them directly beneath positive notes or less than favorable comments. So go on in. The water’s fine.

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: The Rules of the Mobile Road

Should you use QR Codes to promote your business?

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on July 18, 2011.)

Overall, I’m a very safe driver. In fact, if you ask my kids, they’ll eagerly tell you how irritating it is that I so closely follow the rules of the road. I drive the speed limit, observe stop signs, obey traffic signals, use my turn indicators at intersections—the works!

But I have to admit I have a pet peeve while driving on San Bernardino Mountain roads. My husband explains it like this:

If you can’t run with the big dogs…get off the dang road!

While I was on Grass Valley last week, I had the misfortune of encountering a woman who chose to ignore the posted speed limit of 35 and opted, instead, to drive 5 MPH…for several miles. But heck, this is a free country. So she has the right to drive whatever speed she prefers. Let’s face it—few and far between are the drivers who are ticketed for driving under the speed limit. But I have one small request: if you insist on driving at a snail’s pace, please have the decency to turn out so others, who actually have a pulse, can pull ahead.

When the slug finally reached her destination and turned right, I made the critical error of accommodating my passengers’ requests to lay on my horn. As soon as I did, the turtle finally discovered the location of her gas pedal and made a 180-degree hairpin turn until her silver BMW pinned my green Kia to the shoulder. For several minutes, we rode two astride in the very narrow right lane, like battling chariots in Ben Hur.

I finally pulled into a driveway and jumped out of my car to face my nemesis. I tried in vain to raise my voice above the cacophony of obscenities she yelled so I could tell her to learn how to drive! In hindsight, I realize that both of us were at fault…she for driving under the speed limit and I for using my horn to communicate road rage. The entire situation would have been avoided if we had followed the rules of the road.

As licensed drivers, we can either make sure we understand and implement changes and updates to California DMV Code or suffer the consequences of our ignorance. This is also true when it comes to advertising in the digital age. We have the choice to bury our heads in the sand and refuse to adopt modern marketing strategies or do whatever it takes to stay informed.

Case in point? Mobile Tagging. As a business owner in 2011, do you know what it is? Do you care? Should you take the time to figure it out?

Initially designed as a method for tracking inventory at a Toyota subsidiary in Japan in 1994, the most popular form of mobile tagging is the QR Code. These codes are similar to the barcodes used by retailers to track inventory and price products at points of sale. QR Codes store addresses and URLs and may appear in magazines and newspapers or on signs, buses and business cards—in fact, virtually anywhere.

Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a webpage in the phone’s internet browser. QR Codes are free and easy for advertisers to create and customers to access.

I should also mention that Microsoft has created a convoluted, personalized mobile tagging platform called Microsoft Tag which has yet to take off. But unless makers retool the complicated instructions, I doubt it will threaten the QR market.

To create a QR Code:

  • Create a call to action so people know what to do once they access your advertising content.
  • Use a free QR Code Generator to enter a destination URL that connects to your content.
  • Out pops a personalized digital two-dimensional matrix barcode consisting of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. Post the barcode anywhere you want existing or potential customers to find it.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

To access a QR Code:

  • Download a free Apple or Android QR Code Reader application to your Internet-enabled mobile camera phone.
  • Scan any QR Code with your QR Reader.
  • Enjoy the content.
  • That’s it. It’s really that simple.

But is the relative ease of creating a QR Code reason enough to do so?

Consider this: in the United States, the total population of mobile device owners (cellphone and/or tablet users) is 84%. Since QR Code Readers are free and hip and trendy (for the time being, at least), mobile tagging is an efficient method for marketing on virtually any advertising budget. In fact, the Social Media Examiner reports:

Storage capacity and ease of use makes QR Codes practical for small businesses.

If you remain undecided and would like a few moments to consider whether the use of QR Codes is right for you and your small business, I have only one request: please don’t ponder it while driving on Grass Valley Road.

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