Category Archives: Mountain Marketing Group

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.

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: When it comes to social media, what qualifies as TMI?

Circles of Google Plus Friends

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on August 15, 2011.)

Long before anyone realized the potential business applications, I created a Facebook account to reconnect with high school friends. The official label for those of us who signed up before anyone understood the platform is early adopter, which is just another name for what we really were—social media guinea pigs.

In those early days, I didn’t understand the subtleties of Facebook features like the wall or messages. I learned the difference the hard way when I posted something to my wall which was meant as a message for one of my closest friends:

I FORGOT TO MAKE A DEPOSIT. SO OUR ACCOUNT IS OVERDRAWN BY $1,000!

Any regular readers of Bowling for Business know that I am pretty transparent when it comes to sharing details about my personal life. But revealing the balance, or lack thereof, of my checking account to hundreds of business associates is not something I routinely do. That type of disclosure definitely qualifies as TMI (too much information).

Several years later, we are all constantly faced with decisions about what to share and what to withhold from our various online contacts, connections, followers and friends. Is Google+ the answer to our prayers or another way to sacrifice our privacy at the altar of electronic transparency?

When I first got word of, I tried to sign up but was directed to a screen that informed me:

Google+ is in beta testing. We will keep your email address on hand and send updates.

In the meantime, friends and colleagues were posting about the fun they were having experimenting with Google+ while Mountain Marketing Group clients forwarded articles about it, asking my opinion. I didn’t have a clue.

Desperate, I finally did what I should have done in the first place—I turned to my own social networks. I tweeted my frustration about #GooglePlus, which fed an update to my Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Within minutes, several friends and business associates offered to send me invitations. Google emailed me a personal invite. And some of my Twitter followers sent hyper-linked invitations.

In hindsight, it’s all quite simple: If you want to play the game, you have to follow the rules. I wasn’t successful trying to sign up using traditional communication methods because the platform, like social media itself, is all about engaging, interacting and sharing.

In the interest of transparency, I have to admit I’m still a Google+ newbie. But, so far, the application seems promising. Here is how social media guru Pete Cashmore of Mashable explains the application:

Google+, a social network operated by Google, Inc., launched on June 28th, 2011 with integrations across a number of Google products, including Buzz and Profiles. One key element of Google+ is a focus on targeted sharing within subsets of your social group, which are what Google calls Circles. Circles are simply small groups of people that you can share to, each with names like friends, family, classmates and co-workers.

Google’s new app allows subscribers to manage connections by corralling them into groups. This is helpful because it will keep users from inadvertently sharing business content with friends and personal posts with associates. The downside is that Google+ uploads anything and everything to users’ streams.

One of my Google+ connections had this to say about the caveat:

The Google+ app instantly uploads photos my camera phone took to my account. I’m not sure if I like that or not—convenience versus automatic upload to the internet?

Another downside to Google+ is that, at least for now, you have to create personal profiles instead of business accounts. Also, since Google ranks search engine results based on the account holder’s associated email address relative to online engagement, involvement and interaction, it virtually precludes ad agency ghost-writing and ghost-posting.

So, at least for now, I can’t examine the tool through the lens of my usual three categories of marketing for free, on a limited budget and when the sky’s the limit. For the time being, Google+ won’t do you any good unless you’re willing to do the work yourself. If you want to tinker around with the tool, email me Kathy@MountainMarketingGroup.net, and I will gladly send you an invitation. And don’t worry—I won’t post your request on my wall.

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.

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: Business sucks? There’s an App for that.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on March 14, 2011.)

I was required to take a torturously boring class in high school circa 1982 called Data Processing. (The fact it was held in the math department should have been my first clue that I was in trouble.) Since I try to block out the most traumatic experiences in life, I remember very little about the course. But I do recall the day that it was my turn to stand in the computer lab waiting 45 minutes for the bulky, loud modem to connect to the server via rotary telephone, so it could send back a string of useless numbers. After the incident, I was certain of only one thing: computers were a ridiculous waste of time.

Fast forward 24 years. I use computers and the Internet more often than toilet paper or toothpaste. In fact, I have to admit that in the glorious days since Verizon started selling and supporting the iPad and iPhone, I spend almost every minute of the day wired in.

At home, if I’m not checking available points in my Weight Watcher’s tracker, I’m logged onto Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, reading an iBook or eMagazine, playing Mahjong or balancing our checkbook with Quicken. At work, I’m almost always updating blog posts, tweeting on behalf of clients or evaluating website analytics.

And, although, admittedly, as a marketing and social media professional, I use technology more than the average bear, I’m hardly alone when it comes to relying heavily on technology. In fact, according to InternetWorldStats.com, almost 361 million people use the Internet multiple times each day. As an entrepreneur or non-profit director, don’t make the mistake of ignoring this trend.

For Free—

Whether you use a device supported by Google, RIM or Apple, and pretty much no matter what you want to do, there’s an App for that. (But I should reveal that Apple owns the rights to that phrase.)

Purportedly struggling in the darkness to escape from debris, stranded Android users in Japan downloaded Flashlight Apps some 50,000 times in the hours immediately following the recent tsunami and resulting earthquakes.

For business professionals, there are literally hundreds of thousands of apps for virtually every need:

But not all Smartphone apps are so utilitarian. Consider:

On a Limited Budget—

There is a Vook App for $9.99 for struggling business professionals called Help! My Business Sucks! The app offers marketing ideas to save virtually any company, though the results are not guaranteed.

A recent study by cnet Reviews revealed that 42% of Americans use a Blackberry, iPhone, Palm or Google Smartphone. Even if you, like my own husband, have somehow managed to escape the lure of purchasing your own handheld or tablet computer, consider the buying habits of your target market when you are making marketing decisions. Savvy business professionals won’t ignore the fact that a high percentage of people will try to access website content using their phones. So enable your site for mobile viewing. Doing so is relatively simple and very affordable.

The Sky’s the Limit—

If you can swing it, hire an app developer to create a customized application that will provide value to your target market. The epitome of interactive product placement, apps that integrate your brand through a fun game or useful tool could propel your product or service sales to new heights. Some corporations are already leading the charge:

  • Papa John’s offers a free iPhone app that lets users build electronic and order actual pizzas.
  • Spin the Coke provides Facebook integration so you can virtually play Spin the Bottle with friends.
  • Home Depot has a Toolbox that allows users to quickly measure objects with a virtual Caliper
  • The MGM Hot Tub Time Machine Soundboard promises to “get you out of any situation past, present, or future.” A chance to revisit Data Processing in 1982 and change my own early opinion of computers? At $1.99, that might be worth the price of admission.

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.