Marketing Podcast: Skip the Marketing Gimmicks

In this interview, Dave Weatherholt plays a bit of devil’s advocate, challenging my assertion that brands should avoid marketing gimmicks. But I remain firm– marketing gimmicks are bad for long-term success. Stick to what your business is passionate about, and your customers will notice.

Download or listen below:

Skip the Marketing Gimmicks

Marketing Podcast: Skip the Marketing Gimmicks (5.3 MB)

This segment first aired during “Getting Down to Business” on Alaska’s Fox News Talk 1020.

5000 Marketing Mistakes – Should We Keep Them?

My colleague Joanne Glass recently shared an experience with me that all marketers can learn from. It starts with this excerpt from a deli’s marketing communication:

During a quick glance at the menu, Joanne also spotted “Chichen Salad,” along with “Tow locations.” This menu was so replete with errors that she was prompted to ask the cashier why the deli handed it out to customers. He replied,

“The printer refused to give my boss a credit for the typos. He said they were our fault, because we didn’t proofread it. We don’t want to throw away 5000 flyers!”

This deli owner could benefit from learning about sunk costs. Just because a vendor is in the wrong, doesn’t mean a business should pass the mistake onto their customers. Sometimes businesses must face the unpleasant task of recycling 5000 flyers for the sake of their customer relationships.

In other news, this business is currently looking for a new printing partner. Sometimes vendors must also face the unpleasant task of admitting a mistake for the sake of their customer relationships– or face the consequences of losing their customers.

Fake Word-of-Mouth Marketing Could Cost You

Word-of-mouth marketing, the kind of marketing where your customers spread the word for you, is an exceptionally effective marketing strategy in our world of connections and sharing. Customers trust word-of-mouth because it comes from their disinterested friends, family or online community.

When a business first opens or releases a new product, they might be tempted to “get the ball rolling” by asking employees or relatives to post favorable reviews, but this dishonesty might cost them. Online word-of-mouth marketing only works because customers trust the recommendations, reviews and ratings. It’s dangerous to risk losing that trust.

For instance, potential customers might spot the fakes and publicly denounce the reviews. Even worse, the FTC might come knocking on your door. From an FTC news release:

“A public relations agency hired by video game developers will settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it engaged in deceptive advertising by having employees pose as ordinary consumers posting game reviews at the online iTunes store, and not disclosing that the reviews came from paid employees working on behalf of the developers.”

Clearly, this PR agency will have a difficult time reclaiming its reputation. As with every aspect of life, honesty is the best policy. Inspire real customers with great experiences, and you won’t need to run the risk of fake word-of-mouth.

Count Your Blessings

Happy New Year!

As we reflect over the passing year, let’s take some time to count our blessings. If you’ve had a successful year, this should certainly be easy. Contemplate how your success can extend into 2012.

If your year wasn’t so great, it can be harder to recognize those blessings, but the experience and wisdom you’ve gained will stay with you far longer than material gain. Just make sure to apply these lessons in the coming year!

Zoo in a Jungle Marketing had a fantastic year full of fun adventures and great people. We thank everyone who made 2011 possible– our clients, colleagues, family and (most of all) God.

Be Good, Businesses

The plumber ruined my plaster ceiling.

A year later, the roofer broke my deck.

Does this look right to you?

Does this look "right" to you?

They both told me, “I want to make this right.” Then, they did everything in their power to avoid paying. (With limited success. I’m pretty tenacious.)

In the age of word-of-mouth marketing, with Angie’s List, Yelp and girlfriends getting together for coffee, how could any business person be so short-sighted to think shirking a responsibility today would result in profit tomorrow?

Honesty and virtue are key ingredients to long-term success. It sounds old-fashioned, because there’s nothing new about being a good business with good people.

Dishonesty can lead to short-term gains–remember Enron?–but ultimately ends in business disaster. For the plumber, I wrote a reasonable yet scathing review of his business and chose one of his dozen competitors to be my go-to plumber. As for the roofer, I related my story to friends and neighbors, so they can make informed decisions in the future. I’m just one home-owner, but my influence extends beyond my own purchasing needs.

And the same is true of your customers. Each day, your customers are evaluating your dependability and trustworthiness. They are sharing their opinions with friends and family. Their opinions carry more weight than the most perfectly-designed marketing campaign.

So, be good. Do the right thing.

Your business will profit from it, and so will your conscience.

P.S. Bonus: The effects of unethical business decisions extend further than word-of-mouth. If you have customers who won’t pay anything until the last jot and tittle of the contract are fulfilled, they’ve likely been treated badly in the past. They feel the need to protect themselves. And who can blame them? We’ve all heard the lie at sometime or other, “I want to make this right.”

Customers See Through Marketing “Tactics”

Some marketing professionals seem to think marketing is all about “pulling one over” on customers with their clever tactics. The trouble with this philosophy (besides being ethically problematic, of course) is that it just doesn’t work. Marketers aren’t smarter than customers, and they can’t trick customers. And sometimes customers are actually smarter than the marketing experts.

My good friend Laura Poland (who is a photographer, not a marketer) recently showed some serious marketing smarts. She told me how she caught on to Covergirl’s marketing tactics. A TV commercial claimed their Outlast Lipstain is the #1 selling lipstain. She speculates, “What is a lipstain? They’ve created a new category! My thinking is they’re the only ‘lipstain.'” She’s not very far off with her analysis. They are number one because they are almost the only one, with few competitors. A quick check of the Covergirl website shows the product isn’t very well-received, either– it only receives 3 of 5 stars from reviewers.

This example of a photographer picking apart a marketing campaign isn’t isolated. Everyday, customers evaluate your marketing messages for trustworthiness and believability. If they catch a whiff of “tactics,” their skepticism will keep them from buying from you. The best approach is to be honest with your marketing and sell a product you are proud to promote.

Good Customer Service: How to Tell a Customer “No”

Good customer service is easy when things are going smoothly, and you can say, “Yes!” to your customers’ requests. But when you have to tell a customer, “No,” it takes more thought and effort to deliver good customer service. Recently, I got to experience amazing customer service and found it a “teachable moment” for all businesses.

For many years, I have subscribed to the Wall Street Journal‘s “Best of the Web Today” emails, but in the last few months they changed the emails to excerpts, requiring subscribers to visit a web page to read the whole digest. Upset about the change, I sent a curt email, writing:

I really don’t like how you no longer include the full article in the email. I subscribe by email because I want to read the whole thing in my email inbox.

James Taranto, the editor for Best of the Web Today, emailed me back:

I’m afraid this was a business decision. There was hardly any demand for ads in the BOTWT email, so we decided to direct readers to the website. However, you can still get the full text–but without formatting and links–if you switch your subscription to the text format. Cheers, James

Four Elements of Good Customer Service

This email response took me aback. It was perfect, even though he was effectively telling me, “No.” Here’s why:

  1. The response came from someone I respect. James Taranto, the editor, wrote this email. Someone with decision-making power thought my complaint important enough to respond to himself.
  2. The explanation was honest. I can’t argue that the Wall Street Journal needs to make a profit. Taranto respected me enough to just tell me the truth.
  3. The email was personalized. Clearly, this email was not a form letter. It was written in direct response to my complaint.
  4. Taranto presented a remedy and specified its drawbacks. To get the full text,  I can subscribe to the plain text version of the mailing. But thanks to his explanation, I won’t be surprised when there aren’t any links in it. Taranto prevented a further customer service problem by telling me the drawbacks up front.

If you incorporate these four elements into your customer service interactions, you will not only satisfy customers, but you will make them more loyal and raving fans of your products and company as well. How’s that for turning a negative into a positive? Take my example. Instead of remaining angry with the Wall Street Journal, I wrote a glowing article about their great customer service.

Did the recovery catch you by surprise?

With news out that the recession is over, many small business owners are left scratching their heads. What was expected to be a joyous event sneaked up on us in June 2009, and many Americans don’t feel like they-or their businesses- are recovering.

So what does it all mean?

It means we have to keep working. We have no one to expect prosperity from except ourselves.

But everyone could use a little inspiration, especially now. Last year, I printed out the following advice from Tom Peters and taped it to my wall. I think it still applies.

Daily Wisdom for Troubled Times

Get up earlier.
Go to bed later.
Work harder.
Finish what you start.
Learn one new thing.
Renew one contact.
Ask, “How can I help you?” at least once.
Make yourself visible.
Be of good cheer.

Catch a break.
Or not.
Repeat tomorrow.

Here’s the full post by Tom Peters (with plenty of comments from the thoughtful Tom Peters community).

Life is a Zoo in a Jungle

I often am asked, “What does Zoo in a Jungle Marketing mean?” While I certainly do like animals, there’s a deeper philosophy to the name. My company name is inspired by author Peter DeVries when he said, “Life is a zoo in a jungle.

Life is a zoo in a jungle. This quote sums up two keys to small business success: personal responsibility and seizing opportunity. Everyone lives with constraints to their freedom, much like zoo animals live in cages. Some of these constraints are internal. We worry if we are capable, smart, creative or likeable. Others are external, like regulations, competitors or the weather. Often, these constraints keep us from fulfilling our greatest potential and highest ability.

Successful businesspeople take personal responsibility for the constraints that surround them – both internal and external constraints. Less successful people make excuses instead. You may say that it’s not your fault that the economy is bad, or that you would be successful if only circumstances were different. The fact remains that external constraints are facts you may not be able to change, but you will have to work with them. (People who make excuses for their own internal constraints should consider leaving the path of entrepreneurialism- it might be too dangerous for them.)

If you heed the internal constraints and ignore the impact of the external ones, you will remain in your cage, afraid to venture out into the unknown world. But it is in this jungle where opportunity resides. Once you take responsibility for your constraints, you can seize opportunity and uncage your potential.

To hear more, listen to the interview on my small business marketing philosophy below:

Small Business Marketing Philosophy

Download the small business marketing philosophy MP3 file here. (1.2MB)