What's It For Series...Billboards

If the goal is to build an audience of loyal raving fans, a public sign is hardly the answer. A billboard can’t replace the hard one on one work necessary to build trust and earn attention. It doesn’t help create a tribe that is looking forward to your next offer. And in a sea of more messaging than ever before, it’s just adding to the mess.

What Does Success Look Like? numbers allowed

Often I get bogged down in the minutia when trying to solve problems. After a while I remember to ask myself this question. And it works every time. It really clears things up. It resets my mind and gets me focused on a clear goal. In terms of marketing and more specifically spreading the word I ask these additional sub-questions...

  • Who (what type of person) am I trying to reach? What inspires them?
  • Why do they want to hear from me?
  • Why would they support me (and my purpose)?
  • How do I earn their trust?
  • How can I connect with them?
This helps me get a real clear picture of who my prospective audience is, where they live, work, play and how they feel. Notice I don't ask how old they are, what zip code they're in, or how much they earn. Take triathlons as an example. If I were developing or promoting a race and limited the characterization of my audience to the old fashioned demographic profile I'd likely miss some prospects. If I focused on older, higher wage earners who lived nearby, I'd miss the younger, newbie crowd who'll take a road trip for just about anything. Albeit a smaller portion of the pie, this unrealized slice of the audience is important…in fact very important…to me and my race. So why leave them out?

Take special note that I didn't define success as a number. Because success isn't a number, it's a relationship. And you don't define or characterize a relationship with numbers…you do it with feelings. Numbers are indeed important. Numbers are required to make something sustainable. But numbers are a yield, based on the success or failure of the relationship. Unfortunately, too often we still confuse the "success" part of the question to mean "how many" big is the audience?…which really means how many can we sell? Because if we don't sell X we can't make money. On the heels of this strategy is the mass market promotion in HOPES of getting a small percentage to buy. Unfortunately, you annoy (and alienate) all of the people who don't want to hear from you and you leave out some of your best prospects...who didn't fit into the misguided demographic profile. This is no way to build trust. And certainly no way to build an audience of loyal raving fans. Now, if this isn't what you're after, go for it. Otherwise, spend more more time defining what success looks like, without numbers. 

Now Worries...we can market our way out of this

I continue to be astounded (just last week during a major ad campaign unveiling) with the misuse of the word Marketing. For some reason people, including the so called marketing professionals (they're the worst offenders), suggest Advertising is the same as Marketing. 

Folks, Advertising is a part of's not the whole thing. In fact I put it to you that advertising's share of the marketing pie continues to shrink as markets fragment and a customer's attention becomes increasingly harder to secure. What's replacing it is Content. Or as you sometimes hear, the Steak (where the advertising is the Sizzle). And since Sizzle is depreciating rather quickly as a means to convince people, the Steak is obviously the more important thing to focus on. But that's the confounding thing...people don't. They're still looking for the easy way out, the short-cut, the quick cure.

They're isn't one...sorry.

Hat Tip again to Hugh Macloud for the inspiring cartoon

Free Work

One of the cheapest and most effective ways to advertise is to give your work away for free. In the right hands, this sort of immersion is very powerful and the idea spreads, almost effortlessly. There are two give it away to the wrong people, people who would otherwise have no interest...and that your product is average. Both produce the same outcome...the price they are willing to pay is at or near zero. The pressure then is to do something so remarkable that even in the wrong hands it seems satisfactory.

Then there's the fear factor. People who are afraid to give anything away, a song, an ebook or a recipe are hiding behind the false notion that this somehow protects them and their pricing strategy. The worry is that someone will steal their idea and benefit from it. In reality, this sort of theft isn't that difficult anymore. So, the protection effort and the associated annoyances to the fan base are hardly worth it. But, more importantly, what they don't understand is that most people don't want something for free, especially if it's really great. There is an inherent quality in most of us that wants to reward people for brilliant work. So, again, the ultimate form of protection is to do something that matters, that creates such a stir that it compels people to talk about it.

All roads lead to remarkable as the best insurance policy.



The Battle for Engagement

I've been in a battle...for a long time. Sometimes the battle is with co-workers, sometimes with bosses, sometimes with myself. Nevertheless it's a overcome tradition. All my marketing professors, virtually all of my peers and every marketing firm I've ever hired have spent a great deal of time trying to convince me that I'm somehow flawed in my thinking that engaging with people should take precedence over shouting at them.

My argument is based on a simple have a better chance of practicing art when you're engaged with someone than when it's a one way conversation. Engaged, I have a better shot at making someone feel comfortable, cared for and welcome. Engaged, I have a better chance of building a loyal audience of raving fans. And far less of a chance to annoy them.

Here's the problem...there are serious counter forces at work. Traditional marketing (specifically promotions) is simply easier and safer to do than engagement. There is a huge body of evidence (albeit outdated) and countless pundits that will convince you that banner ads, tv and radio commercials, billboards, email blasts and table tents are the answer to generating more customers and more sales. Generally speaking, this old way of doing things doesn't require much in the way of meaningful content as long a you have a big ad budget. Of course, most of us don't have that...a big marketing budget. Even so, we find our way to tradition somehow, some way. And the paradox the absence of remarkable content and engagement we're left with the only shout and hope for a favorable response.

For every dollar and minute you spend hanging on to tradition, you rob yourself of the opportunity to engage and build a relationship with a customer, to inspire front line staff to do meaningful do something that matters. I encourage you to begin replacing traditional marketing with engagement activities, perhaps slowly at first. But, later as you gain momentum and the word begins to spread, you'll find yourself measuring referrals, evangelist incentives and rewards instead of click through's and 800 number counts. And, you'll find yourself in a happier place.

Legacy work isn't born from tradition, it's born from hard, meaningful work, done by heretics that often scare others away.

Advertising Isn't Dead...It's Broken

The old model, selling people features and benefits, doesn't work anymore. There's too much clutter. Unless you're a gazillionaire, you don't stand much of a chance. However, you could change your approach. You could adapt to a new marketing order and use advertising for a completely different purpose. You could use ads as an opportunity to begin a conversation... instead of selling products. A quick rewind of recent advertising history might help put this into perspective.

Prior to radio and TV, if you had something to sell to people outside your immediate area, you bought print ads and billboards. It was a straightforward system, the more ads you bought, the more you would likely sell. Soon, competitors started advertising too. And, "what" you said about a product was overshadowed by "how" it was said...the advertising profession was born. Things started changing with the advent of TV. Slowly, as more and more companies could afford to advertise, we started to see ads which were designed to entertain instead of sell. Some companies figured it was better to get people to talk about the ad, not just the product. That required loads of creativity and was hard. But, those ads rose above the clutter. They convinced us that the people behind the products were interesting, imaginative and funny...that they were real people, not just big companies. Their ads created an emotional connection and started a conversation. Those companies won. Life was good. The internet (specifically, wide distribution of broadband) changed the game again. The cost barrier to entry was lowered to practically zero. Companies of all sizes and even individuals could get into the act. Viral marketing as we now know it was born. But, cheap led to a very low signal to noise ratio...lots of junk and more clutter than ever. Instead of working harder to start a conversation, companies abused the system and tried pushing old tactics in a new medium. And then, the death spiral became cheaper, which meant you could buy more ads, which led to more clutter and an increasingly ineffective mechanism. More and more people stopped paying attention.

Fast forward...If you think of customer conversations as the lifeblood of your business, you understand all this. You know how important it is for customers to go out and tell your story. Respectively, that's what you spend most of your time and money on...engaging with customers and reinventing your product and story to keep things fresh. And, as a new marketer you know that advertising is your chance to connect with people and stimulate conversation. You understand that it's not just a space to interrupt someone and sell them something. You've studied marketing history and know what not to do. So, you wouldn't waste time and money placing boring ads that look and sound like everyone else's. Instead, you would try this sort of thing.