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Archive for April, 2009

Google “decline of print media” and you’ll get more than 8.1 million search results. Many, if not most, are articles and blog posts forecasting the demise of printed newspapers. 

Just the other day, in fact, Seth Godin predicted in a post that, by the year 2012, there will be “no significant newspapers printed on newsprint in the U.S.”

Dire predictions for magazines aren’t quite as voluminous or vociferous. But in today’s business the drumbeat for digital media is so loud and constant, it would be easy for marketers to be left with the message “Print is dead!” ringing in their ears.

Here then, a post that sings the praises of printed publications. More specifically, the custom (i.e., corporate-sponsored) magazine.

 

The Ultimate Direct Marketing Piece

While a custom magazine is by no means the right marketing solution for every organization in every industry, it remains — done right — an extremely effective tool for building brand, sparking engagement and creating game-changing impact among an audience that matters to your business success.

If you’ve never considered adding a custom magazine to your marketing mix, it’s worth a look. I like to call a well-done magazine the most powerful direct marketing piece you can deliver to customers and potential customers.

But aren’t magazines expensive, you might ask, especially given the costs of paper and postage? Granted, a well-executed, measurably effective magazine does not come cheap.

But when budgeting one recently, it dawned on me: The client (using not atypical specs) could produce a high-impact magazine, and mail it four times each year to tens of thousands of people, for about what it would cost to buy each of those contacts a nice lunch at a mid-price restaurant.

So, what’s it worth to essentially pick up lunch for your most important customers or prospects? But instead of feeding them once, which is fleeting, you touch them multiple times. And each touch nurtures the relationship by delivering a differentiated, relevant experience that none of your competitors comes close to matching.

You’ve gotta admit, it’s food for thought.

 

Printed Magazines Keep Keeping On

You needn’t look far to find custom magazines at the center of remarkably successful marketing efforts in all sorts of industries, from financial services and automotive to manufacturing and retail. In fact, I don’t have to look at all. I work daily with content strategists, editors and designers who produce one of the most award-winning, strategically effective B-to-B custom magazines in recent U.S. business history.

I’m also a neighbor of Readex Research, among the most experienced firms in the country when it comes to testing attitudes and engagement among publication readers.

Between 1999 and 2007, Readex conducted more than 770 studies of magazine readers — the large majority B-to-B publications, but also some consumer and custom. In the context of marketing, these surveys are the equivalent of core samples drilled from the polar ice caps. They might have something almost geologic to tell us about content in magazine format. Here’s what the samples show:

After receiving four magazines over the course of the previous year, the majority of readers surveyed (again, over nearly a decade, and across more than 700 different surveys) said they had:

  • read each of the issues
  • read more than half of the content in each issue
  • devoted nearly an hour to each issue

“These results,” noted Readex in a recent newsletter, “indicate that printed publications cut through the information clutter and still deliver an engaged circulation. On average, the common metrics typically used to measure reader involvement with print publications haven’t experienced erosion.

“Printed publications aren’t nearing the end of their life,” Readex concluded, “nor do they seem to be slipping away.”

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Last week’s post, Do Religion and Marketing Mix?, stirred up some thoughtful and divergent opinion on LinkedIn, plus 14 responses to a Touch Point City MicroSurvey hosted on Poll Daddy.

To briefly recap, the post was triggered by a full-page, Easter-themed newspaper ad run by a Minnesota auto dealership. Click here if you’d like to review the ad and the original post.

If you assume the response to the question posed was a unanimous “no way,” sentiment wasn’t quite that one-sided. And if you guessed the predominant answer would be “absolutely,” it turns out not to be that simple, either. 

“It depends” broadly describes the overall tenor of the feedback and discussion, but with a clear majority expressing the view that blending religion and marketing is usually not good business nor smart branding.

Rather than attempt to capture all the discussion and feedback in this single post post mortem, you can find excerpts from the LinkedIn discussion and the MicroSurvey results here.

Meanwhile, one blogger’s thoughts on the advisability of this ad — and of mixing religion and marketing more generally:

 

If the No. 1 goal of a print ad is to stop the reader, I might be forced to give this auto dealer a point for creating a visual speed bump.

Beyond that , the ad struck me as the branding equivalent of a car crash. Hard not to gawk at for a moment. But ultimately unfortunate, sad, even painful to look upon and contemplate. And, ideally, something from which right-minded drivers (marketers) would want to steer clear.
 
This particular ad was problematic on so many levels, it’s hard to do justice to them all, but let’s try three:
  • Copy to Die For. I’m still scratching my head to think of a copywriter’s handbook that suggests it’s a good idea to work “died” into your promo or branding copy for — well, for pretty much any product or service.
  • Style Points for Subtlety. The ad’s design is so overwrought with religious imagery that it makes the actual church ads inside the paper look apathetic toward the holiday.
  • “Relevance, Line 1. please. Relevance Department, Customer holding on Line 1.” Car dealers have a lot to show and tell people about cars — driving, safety, maintenance, the automotive lifestyle, innovation, travel, reducing fuel consumption. Except for providing the transporation by which people travel to church, temple or synagogue, car dealers have no real basis, no credibility, no standing from which to address and engage us around issues of spirituality and faith.

On the broader question, is it ever wise to mix religion and marketing, clearly it’s hard to argue the two can never mingle. After all, in some cultures, and with certain products and services (e.g., foods, literature, clothing, music), there is a direct link to spiritual practices and belief systems.

But in this instance, like some of the conversationalists on LinkedIn, I’m making an assumption the ad was the brainchild of the business owner. An owner who decided to direct an overt appeal to members of a specific faith, even though his or her product and business has no real connection or relevance to religion.

In a case such as this, mixing religion and marketing seems like a patently bad idea — perhaps even sacrilegious, depending on whether the motivation is more communal or commercial. And, if a business owner decides to proceed with the ill-conceived idea, it seems incumbent upon him or her to step outside the brand, stand apart from the employees, and claim personal ownership for the ad and the message. 

After all, employees who blog are expected to distinguish the views expressed from those of their employers. It seems reasonable that a business owner’s religion-inspired ad message — exclusionary toward some, perhaps even offensive toward others, both inside and outside the company — be treated similarly.

 

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Sometimes you wonder if we over complicate marketing.

And sometimes you wonder if it starts with how we describe the work.

Unfortunately, I have a number of friends and former colleagues who are between jobs at the moment. Some were agency professionals in their most recent employment. Some were corporate marketers and communicators. When possible, I pass along job openings they might find of interest.

Tonight I found myself reading a position description for a Segment Marketing Manager. The company seeking to fill the position is no slouch — Fortune 500. Here’s what my old-school journalism professors might call the description’s “nut paragraph”: 

As a part of the Segment Marketing Team identify, validate and implement Enterprise customer segmentation models, including project management activities to effectively roll out segmented customer views. Recommend programs that will seek profitable market share gains and sales of key customer segments through the design and development of programs to increase customer loyalty, arrest attrition and acquire new customers. Develop and sustain effective relationship marketing technologies and targeting mediums. Become the enterprise expert on customer segments and collaborate with internal stakeholders on execution of enterprise-wide segment marketing strategy.

How’s that for a call to arms? Kind of raises goose bumps, doesn’t it?

Let’s see now: Am I selling our products to the customer segment or actually selling off our customers? As I’m rolling out these customer views, should I be arresting attrition or merely detaining it over lunch hour for questioning? And while we’re executing the enterprise-wide marketing strategy, do you mind if I wear the blindfold?

David Meerman Scott, social media savant and a thought-leading speaker and author on marketing, has been crusading against corporate gobbledygook for years now. Much of his criticism has been directed at the rampant use of jargon and puffery in corporate news releases. It appears the same critique and advice could be leveled at a certain percentage of HR departments and marketing hiring managers.

How likely is that a marketer who gets hired for the position above will report to work that first Monday absolutely fired up and laser-focused on the stuff that truly matters:

  1. Thoroughly understand the needs, wants and lifestyles — the personas — of the company’s sweetspot customer and potential customers.
  2. Imagine, and then work with colleagues, to develop a category-best combination of products, services and customer experience.
  3. Make sure key suppliers and channel partners are fully engaged and feeling as though they’re in a win-win partnership.
  4. Establish an ongoing stream of value-adding information, interactions and experiences that makes all of these key audiences feel not sold, not marketed to, but in community with our brand. So much so that they’re inspired to give us most if not all of their business, and they feel great about recommending us to others.

What does your job description say? Are you “arresting attrition” or pioneering fresh, relevant ways to add value? Are you “developing and sustaining effective relationship marketing technologies,” or are you talking to customers and potential customers on a regular basis, and then providing them with content that enriches their lives or empowers their businesses.

Effective marketing is a challenge. And merely describing the work in more human, customer-centric terms doesn’t make things any easier. 

But it might make the task at hand sound a whole lot more clear, worthwhile, and fun.

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The middle two-thirds of a full-page newspaper ad published by a Minnesota car dealership on April 10, 2009.

The middle two-thirds of a full-page newspaper ad published by a Minnesota car dealership on April 10, 2009.

Is it a good idea to mix religion and marketing?

Apparently at least one Minnesota car dealership believes it can be.

Witness the April 10 (Good Friday) edition of my hometown weekly newspaper. The back page carried a full-page ad from a local car dealer. The ad’s headline proclaims, “The Best Automotive News Yet!…”

The ad goes on to attempt a thematic connection between “best automotive news” and the Easter holiday, when Christians celebrate their belief in the resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ, following his death by crucifixion.

You can see the ad’s core messaging and design elements at right. If you’re having difficulty viewing the image, the copy reads as follows:
The Best Automotive News Yet!…
Did You Know?…
He (JESUS)
Died For You…
Yet He Lives Today!!
He Has Risen
Happy Easter
To You and Your Families From…
I’ll take a pass on mentioning the advertiser by name, and on attempting to speculate regarding their motivation and reasoning, in the interest of exploring this broader question:

In your experience, in your opinion,
is it ever a good idea to mix marketing and religion?

If that sounds like a rhetorical question, perhaps not. After all, we live in an age when “God Bless America” is sung at public sporting events. And when the highest officeholders in the land, Republicans and Democrats alike, speak openly about solving societal challenges, at least in part, through “faith-based initiatives.”

So, might religious celebrations and symbols be a rich, mostly untapped source for potentially breakthrough ad creative? Can overtly aligning your brand with one of the world’s major religions constitute smart marketing strategy? Sometimes? Never? It depends?

Here’s an ultra-brief survey on the advisability of mixing marketing and religion. Please take a moment to answer the four questions. I’ll share results in a follow-up post, along with some personal thoughts on whether faith is fair game from which to draw marketing inspiration. Or, were there smarter ways, instead of this Easter wish and a prayer, for a car dealer to invest precious marketing dollars?
Do Religion and Marketing Mix?
Click here to take a Touch Point City MicroPoll

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Hillel Cooperman knows a thing or two about software. After all, he formerly directed the Windows user interface team at Microsoft.

Hillel Cooperman sees the distinctions between content and software disappearing ... fast.

Hillel Cooperman sees the distinctions between content and software disappearing ... fast.

Pause for a moment and try to picture a job that’s even roughly analogous in terms of day-to-day impact on modern-day multitudes. Home page gatekeeper at Google? Chief looker-at-the radar for the National Weather Service? Head clock winder at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England?

But we digress.

During last month’s Custom Content Conference in Miami, Cooperman spoke about what he sees as the next generation of online brand advertising: the Branded Software Experience.

Cooperman’s main point: software and content are becoming so intertwined, there’s no longer much point in drawing any distinction.

“The line between content and software is no longer relevant,” he said. “Branded software is already the new branded content. Brands will be in the software business.”

It’s worth noting that Cooperman has founded a company, Jackson Fish Market, which, as described on its Web site, “makes beautiful consumer software for the Web.”  But his remarks at the CCC were more than self-serving. They were spot on. And the point he was making extends well beyond consumers.

Indeed, a broader takeaway to be drawn from Cooperman’s comments is this: Content is more than articles. More than Web copy. More than white papers.

Content is about so much more than words.

For the record, my working definition of content (one that’s served fairly well for a few years now) is this:

Value-adding information, interactions and experiences
by which brands engage and build affinity
with the audiences vital to their business success.

Picture content as encompassing — but also going well beyond — words and articles, and suddenly all sorts of possibilities emerge for adding value and sparking engagement. 

Cooperman cited as a prime example Nike+. If you haven’t seen or heard of it, Nike+ is, well, I’m not sure there’s a label for it. Yet. Let’s call it a product-software-lifestyle mashup developed expressly for a target audience. In this case, runners.

Here’s another, perhaps less sexy, but no less powerful example of content and software converging. A few years back, the firm where I work, Hanley Wood Marketing, had as a client a heavy-equipment manufacturer. This client had done extensive research on how its machines compared with competitors’ on more than 40 performance factors of relevance to buyers and end users.

Unfortunately, that data sat in a three-ring binder at headquarters. Then, one day, the client asked us if there were a way to get the data into the hands of dealers.  There was. We developed a piece of custom software — a competitive-sell configurator — that empowered dealers to instantly generate detailed, side-by-side performance comparisons among competing front-end loaders, giving them a powerful new way to engage potential buyers in strategic sales conversations.

It’s these sorts of tools, not only white papers and webinars, that are defining the edge of innovation in branded content. Widgets. Generators, Configurators. Calculators that let customers, prospects or stakeholders accomplish real work, or real lifestyle fulfillment.

Where in your business is there a junction where value-adding content and software can powerfully converge? On your Web site? An in-store kiosk? In the hands of the sales force? On your employee intranet?

When you find it, and make it happen, stand back: That explosion you’re about to hear is a value-adding branded experience.

Got a favorite example of a content-software convergence that’s driving your business? Your comments and case examples are welcomed.

Photo credit: Custom Publishing Council

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Dave Pelz is a world-class content marketer. In fact, the nominating committee here at TPC has decided to induct Pelz into our just-now-opened Touch Point City Hall of Fame.

Dave Pelz, golf guru and content marketer extraordinaire

Dave Pelz, golf guru and content marketer extraordinaire

If you play or follow golf, you know Pelz as the sport’s premier short-game teacher and guru. A veritable Wizard of the Wedge. The Grand Pooba of Putting.

Indeed, Pelz has made himself into a global, vertically integrated golf instruction brand. Among other things he:

  • Coaches pros and top amateurs on putting, chipping and pitching.
  • Operates name-branded golf schools and clinics around the world.
  • Conducts and publishes research. 
  • Authors (or applies his expertise and brand to) instruction books, videos, a Web site, and how-to articles in Golf magazine.
  • Appears often to dispense analysis on Golf Channel TV.

Whether he views himself as such or not, Pelz is a content marketer. In fact, how he approaches his craft holds lessons for all of us on leveraging content to build brand and create following. Here are six Pelz-inspired tips:


1. Focus on a precise target, then commit to the shot.
  
Pelz is not a golf instructor. He’s a short-game guru. Major distinction. Take a somewhat narrow category (golf), one occupied by other brands (golf pros and coaches). Now, carve an even narrower niche, where you can focus, differentiate, and thus be more likely to achieve thought-leader status.

Similarly, in a field such as IT strategy and infrastructure, a consultant wanting to build a brand would be wise to focus on a particular area — e.g., identity management, legal e-discovery — than be one among hundreds or even thousands generically cranking out Webinars and white papers across a spectrum of IT topics.


2. Grip down on your subject matter.
 
I’m surprised at how often I hear marketers underestimate audience interest in deep-dive content. “People just aren’t going to read that much, is the oft-cited reasoning. 

I fear the outcome of that attitude tends to favor tried-and-true promotional messaging or surface-level storytelling. And guess what? People aren’t going to read that much.

Clearly Pelz doesn’t share the concern. In fact, his work suggests that once you decide on a niche, dare to delve into the nitty-gritty. Assuming you’ve gauged the audience and the subject-matter depth and breadth correctly, dive deep — and trust they’ll follow.

In Golf‘s March 2009 issue, Pelz and co-author David DeNunzio offer a six-page, photo-rich feature on wedge play. But not just any wedge play. Their feature drills way down on generating effective spin. It describes the adverse impact grass blades have on spin. And how the two most common golf ball cover materials influence spin.

In one call-out, they even advise catching the ball on grooves 3 through 6 of a wedge’s face to create optimum spin. Now that’s long-tail content!? Pelz clearly believes people who are passionate about a sport — or any topic — value grit, not gloss.


3. Vary your club selection and approach.
 
Pelz, and the editors and designers at Golf, recognize that content can be deep, rich, even arcane — without being long and droning. It’s all about providing the audience with multiple entry points.

In the March feature, Pelz guides readers through a helpful thought-model for perfecting wedge spin (Swing Quality + Ball Type + Groove Structure = Backspin). There’s a “5 Reasons Why You Need More Spin” sidebar. Photo vignettes show a common backswing fault, plus three set-up, body position and practice tips.

No copy block looks more than 175 words long. But readers go away feeling they’ve digested a book chapter’s worth of insight and ideas.


4. Use all the clubs in the bag.
As noted above, Pelz is all over delivering content in multiple media formats. Video. Books. Articles. Quizzes. Practice aids and tools. Expert commentary.


5.
Become a student of the game. 
To his credit, many of Pelz’s teachings and practice drills are based on empirical research, not merely his own feel and talent for the game. His Pelz Institute conducts both practice range/green and statistical studies, seeking patterns and root causes among shots — lots of shots — struck poorly and well by low- and high-handicap players alike.

It’s this “science inside the swing” that, in part, accounts for Pelz’s guru status and credibility. Meanwhile, it also helps fuel and enrich his ongoing content-generation process.


6. Take feedback from each shot

At the end of the March feature, Pelz invites readers to complete a questionnaire (either by mail or online) to indicate whether and how they plan to change their approach to hitting wedges, based on the content provided. 

In fact, he sounds as though he welcomes the feedback. And that he’ll use it to enrich the ongoing dialogue and learning in which he and his short-game disciples are engaged.

 

Congratulations, Professor Pelz. You’re a Touch Point City Hall of Famer! 

Now, I wonder if you wouldn’t mind taking a look at my putting stroke…


Photo credit
www.pelzgolf.com.

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My friend David Meerman Scott* likes to encourage people to quit their jobs.

David’s been thinking, writing and speaking insightfully about content, Web marketing and social media for a while now. He seems to relish, in the midst of a speech or one of his books, making this only half-joking observation:

You might need to quit your job.

He’s not directing this advice to just anyone, mind you. He reserves it for aspiring social-media and content marketers. And not even for all of them. Specifically, for those frustrated by their inability to convince higher-ups that their organizations must get on the content/social media train.

If that describes your situation, and David’s advice seems like the only remaining option, don’t send that resignation e-mail just yet.

I spend a lot of time talking with people about the power of branded content. The eyes-glazed quotient can still be fairly high. Granted, that might mean I need to work on my elevator speech. Or, it could be we’re all still searching for easy-to-grasp analogies or similes by which to explain (and understand) why content marketing is such a breakthrough, yet grounded and logical, approach.

Here are three to consider. If they make sense, try them on a colleague or neighbor, and then your boss, before you tender that resignation.

Content marketing is like…

  • Putting AAAA in front of your name (only 180 degrees better).
    If you’re like me, you’ll simply never call a duct cleaner or locksmith that pulls this stunt. It puts them at or near the head of the Yellow Pages listings, sure. But it also feels shady, even slimy. Which means I won’t call, because my trust level is zero. Give me an authentic sounding brand and value proposition any day — even one that starts with Z.

    Today people use the Web as they once did the Yellow Pages. To get atop search results in your category, you can do one of two things:
    Pay your way. Or, produce fresh, relevant content that people want to consume — and that search engines will notice.

    In other words, for brand credibility and authenticity, content marketing is the exact opposite of tricking your way up the Yellow Pages listings. Yet, when the goal is to be found and contacted, content also exerts the desired updraft effect.

  • Hosting the Chamber of Commerce after-hours event.
    Technology aside, there isn’t much difference between organizing a LinkedIn discussion group or an online community and hosting the chamber members at your office or factory. The same goes for publishing a great value-adding magazine, newsletter or blog.

    Content marketing, done well, congregates customers and potential customers for networking, learning, even fun — and does so in a soft-sell, value-adding way. You’re the conversation starter and the gracious host. At night’s end, you get to collect all the “thank yous” and “I didn’t know your business did this!” exclamations. And you don’t even have to spring for snacks and soda.

  • Lending top employees to your customers.
    You’ve heard of the “loaned executive” concept? Where a supplier and a customer are in such symbiosis that the supplier temporarily loans a key manager or technician to jump start an initiative or fill in where the client is short staffed.

    Content is kind of like that. Only, instead of sharing human capital, you’re sharing other forms of value and support. Often information. Which usually means you can share with many more clients and potential clients, and do so without affecting your staffing or operations.

    Meanwhile, though, you’re showing extra-mile willingness and ability to think so hard and smart about your customer — and their customer, their needs, the market in which they operate — that you’re serving up insights and solutions before they’ve even asked for a loan.

Search-ability. Community. Thought leadership grounded in customer insights. At the core, isn’t that what content marketing is all about?

Or, maybe you’ve got a better analogy. If so, by all means post a comment.

If not… well, there’s always David’s advice to consider.

____________________

  • If you don’t know David, you’ll want to know his work. He’s written a best seller, The New Rules of Marketing and PR, and he’s just out with what’s likely to be another, World Wide Rave. Find him at www.webinknow.com.

 

 

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