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


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

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

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

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

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

In fact:

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

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

For Free—

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

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

On a Limited Budget—

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

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

The Sky’s the Limit—

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

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

Bowling for Business: Drown Out the Competition

Don't cut business essentials to save money.

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

Resist the Urge to Cut Back on Advertising Despite the Economy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bowling for Business: 2011—Marketing in Review

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

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

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

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

Misses

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

Hits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Free–

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

On a Limited Budget–

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

The Sky’s the Limit–

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

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

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

Bowling for Business—KISS to Keep Biz on the Hill

To save the mountain, keep your busines on the hill.

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on December 4, 2011.)

As soon as winter weather blew into Lake Arrowhead, I started experiencing insomnia. For weeks, I tossed and turned, double- and triple-checked the thermostat and added blankets to our bed, all to no avail. I’m embarrassed to share what proved to be the simple solution to my sleeplessness—socks. That’s right…all it took to warm me up so I could drift off to sleep was to slip into a toasty pair of socks.

In Lake Arrowhead and the surrounding area, we are experiencing a chronic problem of another kind—the impending death of our mountain community. Over the past three years, we’ve all watched in horror as businesses of every variety have shuttered at an alarming rate. Vino 100 in the Village, Betty’s General Store in Blue Jay and Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Cedar Glen are a few of the most recent casualties. The good news is that the solution is just as simple as warm socks on a cold night.

Do you, like me, enjoy the convenience of not having to drive down the 330 or the 18 every time you need to:

  • Pick up groceries?
  • Grab a bite to eat?
  • Buy necessities like underwear, dog food and medication?
  • Find last-minute gifts?
  • Work out?

Although Bowling for Business is usually written to entrepreneurs, let me depart from my usual format to speak directly to consumers. We can blame local vendors for limited inventory, high prices and inferior customer service until the cows come home. But if we don’t make a concerted effort to keep businesses open on the hill, eventually, we will lose the luxury of living in an active, beautiful mountain community. Lake Arrowhead will become a ghost town.

And we’re hardly alone. Small businesses and towns across the country are dropping like flies. But statistics are hard to pin down for several reasons:

  1. Definitions vary about what constitutes a small town. For purposes of this column, we will defer to The Huffington Post, which defines a small town as anyplace with a population of fewer than 50,000.
  2. Community leaders gamely hide facts for fear reality will sound the death knell. So figures are often fudged. For instance, administrators insist that 80% of The Lake Arrowhead Village is currently occupied. But one need only survey the local landscape to more accurately assess the situation. Creative displays and signs promising “another exciting store coming soon” belie the sobering reality that far more space is available than leased…not just in the Village but across the mountain entire.
  3. No central database exists for reporting closure of a business or small town. So, while towns and small businesses open with pomp and circumstance, they tend to die with a whimper.

When all is said and done, like the rest of the country, those of us who make this area our home are suffering the harsh realities of a down economy. Job loss is up. Housing prices are down. Discretionary spending is low. So how can we affect the future of Lake Arrowhead?

Spend money on the hill!

Now, admittedly, doing this is not always possible. For instance, I recently tried in vain to locate a hot holiday toy called the  vtech InnoTAB by shopping locally at Mr. G’s for Toys, Little Folks Bookshoppe and Radio Shack. But I struck out. When I asked one of the proprietors why I couldn’t even order the product, he explained that large companies like vtech require minimum orders of 25,000 units, which is why the toy is only sold at big box stores.

But, whenever possible, we should exercise our local options because buying local matters. In fact, Mickki Langsten, Executive Director of the Mile High Business Alliance in Denver, which has an active “Buy Local” program says,

“Each dollar spent at a locally-owned business re-circulates in a community six times more than a dollar spent at a non-local business.”

So, if you want to join a gym, check out Curves Lake Arrowhead. The owner, Candy Fairchild Krelnikov, understands the importance of investing in the lives of her members. In addition to supporting client weight-loss efforts, she organizes field trips and shares beauty secrets like tips about makeup and hairstyling products.

Further demonstrating her commitment to the local community, Candy is organizing an informal group called Women in Action, made up of business owners who wants to meet to informally discuss business best practices. The first meeting will be held at Hot Shots in Blue Jay, at 1 p.m. the first Thursday of every month beginning in January.

If a similar group exists for men, I’m not aware of it. But the Chamber of Commerce encourages entrepreneurs of both genders to take advantage of mixers, meetings and business events held throughout the year, including the mountain-wide economic summit held annually in Big Bear.

So, the next time you shop or go out to eat, consider the cost of driving down the hill…not just in gas and time, but in terms of the potential long-term affect your decision might have on our local economy. Enjoy the fact that, for now, at least, you can still buy socks without having to leave the mountain.

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

Bowling for Business: Don’t Just Do Something; Stand There!

Don’t Just Do Something–Stand There!

(This column first appeared on RIMOFTHEWORLD.net on November 6, 2011.)

One of the reasons we moved to Lake Arrowhead is because we love the snow. But dealing with it poses a myriad of associated problems, including (but not limited to) getting stuck on mountain roads. Last winter, my husband and I were driving separate cars up the hill one winter night when we became trapped behind a line of cars that were stuck in a snow bank on Highway 330.

Legend has it that the first car to get stuck was not equipped with 4-wheel drive or chains. And instead of waiting patiently for someone to help push his vehicle out of the way, he repeatedly gunned the engine, which only managed to dig the wheels of his Smart Car more firmly into the snow. His actions resulted in a 30-car pileup that shut down the road for hours and generated thousands of dollars in local tow-truck revenue.

I deal with the same type of fallout virtually every day in my work as a marketing director. Instead of starting fresh with advertising and social media campaigns, I spend much of my time digging clients out of messes they create before bringing me on board. So, I implore you; if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to marketing your small or medium business, please—don’t just do something; stand there!

You might wonder just how much trouble an unprepared entrepreneur can get himself or herself into when it comes to advertising. You might be surprised. Let me share a few real world examples:

Websites—although it took awhile (especially on the hill), most business owners finally realize that a website is a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. But with budgets tight, hiring a web developer is not always an option.  To wit, my team and I are often brought on board when functionality is compromised, homemade sites crash and/or metrics reveal low traffic patterns.

One client recently called us in a panic, when the e-commerce site he built himself froze immediately after the first order came in. He ended up paying a rush fee to have us build him an entirely new site that could handle plenty of hits. Had he come to us at the onset, we could have built him something fantastic at a fraction of the cost.

Social Media—more often than not, we devote the first several weeks of clients’ social media campaigns undoing the damage unwittingly done by well-meaning folks who set up accounts without knowing what they’re doing. Here are some common mistakes:

1. Facebook

  • Setting up personal profiles for business accounts. When Facebook was new, people tried to circumvent the system by setting up business accounts as personal profiles. One Mountain Marketing Group client initially registered his hair salon “first name” as The Loft and “last name” as Hair for Men & Women. While the maneuver tricked the Facebook robots at first, eventually, many such accounts were locked. The good news is that Facebook recognizes honest mistakes and now offers the option of easily converting erroneously created personal profiles to business pages.
  • Creating a group page instead of a fan page. Facebook groups are for organizations and clubs, not businesses. So if you want to promote your company, don’t set up your Facebook account as a group instead of a page. The problem with group accounts is that most are scheduled to be archived. And once a group has members, the only way to delete it is after all of the members leave the group. And convincing busy group members to leave groups is difficult, if not impossible.

2. Twitter

  • Forgotten usernames and passwords. Since Twitter is a free service, when it comes to customer service, you get what you pay for. And, all too often, clients forget usernames, passwords and associated email addresses and then set up secondary accounts with alternate business names. So, by the time we come on board, we are left without options.
  • Abandoning an account after setting it up. It is just as foolhardy to set up a new Twitter profile and leave it unattended as it would be to lease a suite, hang a sign and then ditch the office.

So, what’s a budget-conscious business owner to do? Nothing! I implore you: if you don’t know much about electronic advertising, resist the urge to act. Instead, wait! Save your money and invest a little at a time instead of digging yourself in…that is, unless you enjoy supporting the tow truck industry.

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