Musing about marketing

May 3, 2010

Dear John I’m a compulsive editor

I’m a compulsive editor. And I don’t mean just editing copy for my clients.  Copy everywhere–billboards, bus shelters, bus panels,  the streaming video ad panels at the new Whole Foods checkout.  I can’t open my own published novel without editing it, and I rewrote that sucker five times.

Standing in line at my credit union Patelco this morning, I was editing again.  Patelco is running a competitive campaign to get burned and disenfranchised bank customers to switch to Patelco.  

Posters, brochures and other materials encourage people to “Break up With Your Bank.”  The creative centers around handwritten “Dear John” notes in which the “customer” tells their bank why they’re leaving, and proclaims their right to a “healthier relationship.”  The rest of the copy in the ads is the usual financial jargon about rates and loans.  But the Dear John notes (in red pen to add to the drama of the “breakup”) are well-done. I didn’t edit a single word.

I did however, mentally rearrange the graphics (the Dear John notes should be more prominent to draw people’s attention immediately) and shrink the typeface here, enlarge it there.   I was about put on my glasses so I could edit the boilerplate legalese when the teller motioned she was ready to take my deposit.

I admit it–I have a problem.

April 12, 2010

Flower power to the Prius people

I have a love-hate relationship with the culture in Marin County, CA  where I live. At times, the attitude of political correctness grates on my nerves. And yet, I agree with many of the laws passed by Marin’s eco-conscious citizens.  Like the one passed in the 1970’s banning freeway billboards. 

Just the other day I was on Highway 101 North, admiring the gorgeous green hills and appreciating a view unhindered by billboards. Coincidentally that same week I was driving south on 101 and  passed a hillside  floral display of an economy-size car driving over an orange bridge, obviously the Golden Gate. 

I thought, “How cool, something fun and pretty to look at,” and made a note to point out the display to my daughter the next time she was in the car with me.  I was mildly curious about who had planted the flowers and why.

It turns out the “floralscape” is an “ad” made of seasonal live flowers, and placed by Toyota through Greenroad Media. An editorial in the Marin Independent Journal was quick to criticize Caltrans  for the display, which will help the agency save money in this abysmal economy.

I say lighten up Marinites and enjoy the flowers. And then consider the genius behind this innovative concept, hatched by Greenroad Media, and based on the “Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine,” branding campaign developed by Saatchi & Saatchi

The display uses live flowers, no copy or visual branding (the car is an abstract version of the Prius), and a theme appropriate to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Toyota logo is printed on a small sign similar to signs put up for commercial sponsors of the highway clean-up program. The flowers are grown locally in eco-friendly pots, fertilized with organic fertilizer and watered using drought friendly techniques. 

Not only do I not mind the concept, I like it. And no, I’m not from LA.

April 7, 2010

Gaga over Wonder Bread

Lady Gaga recently achieved a pop star, YouTube milestone of one billion views,  across three of her videos. Her latest, “Telephone, ” is packed with products, some paid placements, some not.  Miracle Whip, Wonder Bread, and Polaroid are among the brands featured in this sexually explicit, bad-girl, lesbian prison story.

In one scene in “Telephone,” Lady Gaga is released from prison, and with her accomplice Beyonce visits an American diner, where the two proceed to poison the all-male clientele.  

Supposedly, Wonder Bread didn’t pay for the placement. If this is true, that’s a lot of free advertising. 

Consider the irony of a brand billed on daytime TV used as the bread that  “builds strong bones in 12 ways,” and that is now the main ingredient (along with Miracle Whip)  in Lady Gaga’s poison sandwich.

Or do the two brands have more in common than first meets the eye? (As in overly processed and light on substance.)

I wonder, though–does it really matter what your brand stands for when one billion people are glued to their computer screens, hanging on Lady Gaga’s every tongue thrust?  Given the associated cool factor, thanks to the slick Lady Gaga marketing machine, how many of these viewers will reach for a loaf of Wonder Bread next trip down the bread aisle?

If sales do go up, I bet Weston Bakeries of Canada (yes, Wonder Bread is  Canadian owned)  won’t be too public about it.

March 30, 2010

Desperate measures don’t pay

Filed under: Email marketing — lwdoyle @ 10:55 pm

The self-help industry is feeling the pain of the recession. Given the choice between paying the mortgage and paying for a self-help seminar, even the most maladjusted folks are likely to choose the former.  

Proof that times are tough for the self-helpers came in the form of a recent email campaign promoting registration for an online video relationship training seminar.   

In the third in a series of emails I received, the messaging was pretty straightforward–at least initially: A description of the seminar (intriguing enough for me to take time to read), and a call to action informing me that registration was about to close.  I was fine with this. We all have to promote our services, and sometimes the method is creating urgency in the customer’s mind. 

But this well-meaning marketer went way beyond the typical “Buy now or you’ll lose your spot.” He resorted to threats. 

Here’s the verbatim call to action:    

Now it’s time for you to make your decision.
And if your decision is “no, it’s not for me, because…” then that’s fine too. Just make the decision you will be happy with.

Here comes the good part:

Registration for this course is priced at $297.  The thing is, we honestly think it’s too cheap and as a result we have been giving a lot of consideration to breaking it up into 4 parts and making each module a stand-alone class priced at $197.

Wait, it gets better: 
We want to be clear that were not saying that we will definitely do that, but it’s a very real possibility. So if you are thinking that you might wait and do the class at another time that is something you might want to consider. 

I mean no disrespect to this therapist turned marketer, nor do I mean to criticize the content of the seminar, which is probably valuable.  

But desperate measures to promote a product or service are a turn off.  Threats don’t work in customer relationships any more than they do in intimate relationships.  

I suspect the business owner who came up with this campaign thought this last call to action would get more people to click through and register before the price went up.  

Instead, the tone of urgency was superseded by groveling, which bordered on dishonesty.  If my reaction to this campaign is any indication of the average Joe’s, then maybe this relationship “expert” needs to learn a few guidelines for building good customer relationships.

March 24, 2010

Engaging in etymology

Few verbs have had more ink, air, or web time lately in marketing circles than, “Engage.” The word’s been elevated to near-celebrity status, brought to us by the social media revolution. 

I’ve been reading (and mostly enjoying) Brian Solis‘s Engage!, which could explain why the word is on my brain more than usual. And I’ve been curious about its etymology.  

Being a fan of  hard-copy dictionaries (the heavier, the better), I did what any logofile does–I looked up the word. Here’s what the 2001 edition of the New Oxford American Dictionary had to say: 

Engage comes from the Middle English word ingage, which comes from the French word engager. The original meaning was “to pawn or pledge something,” which evolved to “to pledge oneself,” and eventually “to involve oneself in an activity,” “enter into contract,” and finally, “to involve someone in something.” 

Coincidentally, the etymology of “engage” follows the evolution of marketing from a company-centric practice (pledge or involve onself) to community-centric (involving others) approach.  In the former world, messages and images were controlled by the company delivering them; in the latter, marketing or “unmarketing,” to quote Solis, has became a conversation the company participates in, and perhaps shapes, but doesn’t control. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if future editions of the Oxford American Dictionary took into account the influence of social media on the evolving definition of “engage.”

The new definition? How about this: “To participate in a conversation among likeminded individuals belonging to the same community.”

What’s your new definition?

March 18, 2010

Cowboy Todd and my social media a-ha moment

I teach social media classes at the local library, alternating between blogging, Facebook, and LinkedIn–sometimes mixing it up YouTube and Twitter classes.

These classes are a free community service. The level of knowledge ranges from beginning to intermediate.  Some students are curious about social media and want to find out what all the fuss is about, others wary about their privacy, or about the encroachment of the Internet on, well, everything. Pretty much to a person, students haven’t been bit by the social media bug. Not yet.   

It took me awhile.  But last week, I got bit. All it took was a single blog post, from Todd Defren of Shift Communications

Todd’s good-looking (that’s him in the upper right),  smart, and a kick-ass PR guy who knows a ton about social media. But that’s not what got me.  His post made me smile. Hell, it made me happy

I know I’m gushing.  But everyone who participates in social media long enough has their ah-ha moment. And this one was mine.

Todd announced he would not be attending SXSW in Austin. Instead, he was sending his cardboard Doppelganger Cowboy Todd.  Todd (the real one) rallied SXSW attendees to get in on the fun:  Tweet about Cowboy Todd, check him in at Foursquare, create a spot for him on Gowalla, take a photo with him and send it to Shift for posting on the  PR-Squared and the Shift Facebook Fanpage, and film themselves partying with Cowboy Todd. The agency would hand out prizes for the best entries (no announcements, yet).

So maybe social media isn’t all about the evil marketers scooping up our personal data and using it for nefarious purposes (as some of my students at the library fear).  Maybe it really is about connecting and communing with the tribe. 

I presume the ultimate goal of the Cowboy Todd “campaign” was  to generate buzz for Shift and to show what a savvy social media agency they are. But these goals were secondary to engaging people.

Consequently, I didn’t feel “marketed to” or messaged at or manipulated. I felt connected, part of something bigger. And I wasn’t even going to SXSW.  

I can only imagine what the folks who ran into or hung out with Cowboy Todd felt. Judging from some of the photos, they had a helluva a good time.

March 12, 2010

How marketing copy is like fiction

Filed under: mere musings — Tags: , — lwdoyle @ 4:21 am

I’m a novelist, and I write marketing copy, and never shall the twain meet. Except in my mind, and my work, they do.  Why?  Because every time I sit down to write something for a client, I think about the story that needs to be told. 

In fiction, writers are all over the storyline. Is it believable, engaging, un-put-downable? Does the voice work for this story? Sometimes we ask these questions consciously and freak out when the answers don’t come right away. Other times we trust the answers will emerge in the writing.  

In marketing, we ask similar questions. What story will engage customers? What does the brand convey and what voice fits with the brand? The answers  to these questions shape the form and content of the story.

The need for story is innate, possibly even the price of entry into the customer’s consciousness.  

When I write for clients, I think about the reader (end user, consumer, etc.) more than the client. I’m a reader myself, and a consumer. I like words and I appreciate well-written stories as much as I do well-written copy.    

Marketing, good marketing anyway, tells a relevant story to the right people, at the right time (think of the  ultra-targeted ads of Facebook, the mini-spots on Hulu–both based on your interests, choices, etc). Some stories told in advertising are so strong they stay with you for years.  

Remember the story of drug addiction in the ad of the  egg cracked and dropped, hissing, into a hot pan? I can still hear the announcer’s somber warning: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.”  Not a happy story, but  certainly a powerful one.  

Given that all marketing has an agenda (to sell products, ideas, etc.) is the new trend of “authentic” marketing an oxymoron? 

Not if it’s about the story. Not if the story is relevant and engaging.  

People want to be engaged. They won’t tell you this when they’re looking at an ad, or an email promotion or a website. But subconsciously, they’ll be looking for the “arc.” Reading your copy to see “what’s going to happen next,” how your brand, product, service, etc. might change them or their lives. Maybe not in a significant way, but in some way.    

If you fail to give your audience a story, you’ve lost them. Maybe for good. But get them hooked on a good story and, well, that’s a happy ending all around.

March 9, 2010

Counting tweets and tacos

Back when I working as an in-house PR manager for PC World magazine, then as a  freelance publicist for dot-com clients, ink (and airtime) was pretty much the measurement of success. Social media has changed all that.

Mind you, clients still expect and deserve both print and online media coverage. But new metrics have been added to the mix. Tweets or “re-tweets” is one. 

The more tweets the better. Right? Not necessarily. 

I asked Todd Defren how many tweets makes for a happy client. Todd is a principal of Shift Communications, a PR firm known for their social media marketing expertise.

He says that while his firm measures the number of re-tweets for all client programs, quality  trumps quantity. Who is doing the re-tweeting?  Are they influencers? Do their re-tweets reach thousands or just a handful? What is the business impact of the tweets? For example, how many Twitter users clicked through to the client’s website?    

 “Try telling any savvy CEO about the 1,001 re-tweets they got,” Todd explains.  “They’ll immediately turn to the marketing [or PR] exec and ask ‘How did this increase traffic and conversions?’”   

Some tweets have a more immediate effect on the bottom line. Take the use of Twitter by Kogi, a Korean taco vendor (yes, Korean) in Los Angeles. For Kogi, tweets translate quickly into taco sales. As the truck travels around LA county each evening, Kogi tweets upcoming stops to fifty-seven thousand Twitter users. Hungry followers flock to the truck at the announced location.

Tweets for tacos. Now that’s a metric tech companies and their PR teams can envy.

March 5, 2010

Why Your CEO Blog Needs a Mission

I came across a CEO’s blog recently that read like a blog without a mission. No theme, no focus, no point to it that I could see. There are more than a few corporate blogs like this languishing out in cyberspace. They lack editorial focus, and so neither inspire their readers nor build the community that all blogs seek to create.

There are loads of personal blogs that drift aimlessly along. These bloggers muse, speculate, and pontificate, diverting off topic and sometimes even circling back, much to the delight of readers.  But a corporate blog doesn’t have the same luxury or wiggle room, especially if it comes from the CEO (and even if it’s ghost-written by communications staff). 

The last post in the (short-lived) blog I came across, written by the CEO of a major online retailer, is dated July 22, 2009. The post reads: “You can read and post comments here! “(Read the email I sent to employees first.)”  The CEO is referring to the previous post, six months earlier—a cut-and-pasted email in which he explains in great detail how Twitter has improved his life. It’s hard to tell if he was trying to inspire employees to jump on the tweeting bandwagon, or merely looking for a convenient place to plug the company’s ten core values. Either way, the blog is a yawner.

Further complicating the “message,” the CEO lists four ways Twitter has made him happier, more fulfilled, etc. The take-away goes something like this: Four reasons to get a Twitter account and by the way, here are our ten core values. 

An editor would have helped this blogger. But a clear mission and an “editorial calendar” of compelling posts before the first post ever hit the Intranet would have been even more helpful.  

Suppose that the CEO had decided the mission of his blog was to promote core values (with input from the internal communications team, HR department, and managers). A good idea–if executed properly.  By execution, I mean posts that resonate with and inspire employees. For example, posts that: 

1. Illustrate core values through storytelling (the old “show, don’t tell”). If “Embrace and Drive Change,” is one of your core values, write about an employee or team demonstrating this value. Put detail and heart into the story.      

2.  Hold up other industries that model a similar core value—perhaps a strong commitment to customer service— and describe how the company put this value into action.      

3. Walk-the-talk–for instance, what the CEO learned by soul-searching about a core value, and how it changed his or her perspective. 

CEOs aren’t the only ones who are busy. Employees have their hands full, too. And I’d wager they’re just as bombarded with information as the big boss.  CEOs and their support teams should consider employee interests and time constraints and write posts that really bring value. 

Is it time to dust off your CEO’s blog and make it worth employees’ time? Do you want to convince your CEO an internal blog is doable, even rewarding? Contact me at And check out my blogging services.

Create a free website or blog at