Marketing Genius from Maple Creative

Marketing tips, observations & philosophy, plus a few rants and random musings - from those who practice, preach and teach marketing, research, advertising, public relations and business strategy.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

How Advertising Works - Part Two

There is a reality that you and I must face as we create advertising and marketing strategies.

It is the fact that at any given time, most businesses, services and products only appeal to a very small percentage of the buying population.

Then, after this small "thin-market" is in the position to buy, you and I enter into competition with other brands, products and services in the product category.

An example of this would be the fact that only about 14% of the adult population in our core market area here in Charleston are seeking a new home today.

14 out of 100. That's pretty thin. Then those 14 people have to make a decision as to which realty company, if any, they are going to contact to help them facilitate the purchase of their new home.

You and I flow in and out of these "thin markets" constantly.

Today I may need shoes, two weeks ago, I needed a new car, yesterday, I wanted to donate my used car to a good cause, tomorrow, I may be in the market for furniture (my anniversary is coming up).

My point is that not only does advertising have to be effective in communicating to a target audience in terms of demographic and psychogrpahic likelihood to buy, but it also needs to be present when an overall small percentage of the market is actively seeking your product or service.

That's why one of the first things we do with businesses we work with is chart their sales, revenues and expenses by month.

Find out when the highest numbert of people are in the market for your product and it's a little easier to sell it to them.

Fight the "thin market" and you probably won't win. Look at everything you can get your hands on to see when it is best to put your message out there to cultivate the best opportunity for you to create an environment for sales to flourish.


I have abstained from revisiting the coffee sleeve situation, well, because when I talk to folks about it I sound a little crazy. But, I have to talk about it again.

Over the past few weeks, our local coffee shop switched back to the traditional brown coffee sleeve.

I was so happy. I didn't get burned. The folks that served the coffee didn't have to double sleeve. I didn't have to draw attention to myself by complaining - ahh...Nirvana.

Then it happened, they switched back - arughh!

Well, JavaArt from BriteVision Media didn't get it. The sleeves are still too thin. And, they haven't responded to my call about the sleeve not working well.

Maybe I'm nuts, but I am going to contact them again.

My question: is anyone else having this problem at their local coffee shop?

Monday, May 30, 2005

How Advertising Works

A really cool thing happened to me this morning.

I witnessed a small ad in a newspaper work.

Here's the story:

For about a year, I have been driving an old, high-mileage (160K miles), pseudo-reliable Jeep to work.

Two weeks ago, I realized that I needed to bite the bullet and get a second (newer, more-reliable, safer) vehicle. I have three small children and my work has recently caused me to spend more and more time on the road.

Now, my Jeep, sits behind my house, waiting for me to figure out what I want to do with it.

My initial idea is to donate the car to something called the "Good News Mountaineer Garage." They fix up older cars and provide them to people that are reentering the workforce.

I don't even know if they would want the beast of a car - I just hoped it would do someone some good.

I have not called yet, the task keeps getting knocked down on my list. It also involved a trip to the DMV to get the title.

Lo' an behold, there in the newspaper, a small space ad that said "Donate That Car." Oh, it gets better - "we handle the DMV" and "we pick up your vehicle."

Can you belive it? This ad was two inches wide by one inch high, no pictures - just pure feature benefit, targeted towards a pretty small audience - specifically me.

I clipped the ad, will call in the morning and hopefully someone will get some good use out of my old Jeep.

Advertising Works!

A Hearty Welcome

It is so exciting to welcome Jen Wagner to the blogosphere!

Go check out Jen's spiffy new blog "On the Porch Swing." It is a great read.

Mired in a Salad Dressing Rut

Come on, Americans. Ninety-nine point nine percent of us order the same salad dressing, each and every time. We must snap out of it ... this salad dressing rut in which we are hopelessly mired!

If you're "Ranch" you always order ranch.
If you're Italian, you always order Italian (regardless of your ethnic origin).
Honey mustard begets honey mustard.
Thousand Island ... thousand island.

Most of us have a "backup" dressing selection. It's our choice-de-deux, if you will. Truthfully though we rarely, if ever, go with it. And I'm not talking about that one time you got all wild and crazy and ordered raspberry vinaigrette. Clearly, you felt pressured to do so because you were at the pricey, white-tablecloth place. Instead, let's think about the norm ... the rule, not the exception, okay?

Hmmm - a dressing rut? If you're still a bit skeptical, just open your refrigerator. Likely, you will find about a half-dozen varieties of salad dressing. The ones that are empty or almost empty: the old faves (ranch, Italian, French, honey mustard, etc).

Those exotic flavors that you bought many months ago on a whim (honey lime, ginger pear or asiago yogurt, for example)? Untouched or nearly full. You tried one ... once ... and made a beeline back to your boring dressing.

Need more proof? Think of the last dressing that you ordered at a restaurant. The chances are you ordered one of the old standbys: ranch, blue cheese, Italian, French, Thousand Island or honey mustard. In fact, it's sad that I can click through these like a well-trained waiter from your neighborhood diner.

And the food manufacturers aren't pumping out anything new or exciting--not that I'm seeing, anyway. When was the last time you saw an ad from Kraft or Wishbone or Hidden Valley (ahem) Ranch, touting some spectacular new salad dressing? It's been years, literally, since I've seen one.

Consider their situation. Why would they risk a new product when we, Americans, are so habitual in our salad dressing behavior? As a result, we keep pouring on the same old tired dressings, and the food companies keep on making the same old, same old.

Friday, May 27, 2005

We've Been Nominated!

Thanks to the marketing geniuses at Marketing Sherpa, we've been nominated as a finalist for their 4th annual Readers' Choice Blog Awards. Wow - what a humbling honor for this band of bloggers from Maple Creative in Charleston, West Virginia. We are entered in the category of "team blog." There's some stiff competition in that category, as well as the other classes. It's a top-notch cast of bloggers who have been assembled by Marketing Sherpa.

I'm really proud of our team effort to nurture and sustain our ongoing blog project. As we've reported previously, this blog has progressed from a curiousity to a hobby to a very powerful marketing tool for our company. It has become a brand reinforcer, a credibility builder and a pipeline for new sales prospects.

If you like what you see and have seen for the past 15 months, we would be honored to have you cast a vote for us at the contest/voting site. The voting period has begun and continues through June 8.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Target Gets It

Several weeks ago, I posted about the revolutionary redesigned medicine bottle. Target commissioned the R&D on the new design.

We have a Target charge card. This month's bill contained an insert, or stuffer, that told the story about the new medicine bottle. First, I heard about it in a technology/business magazine (Wired magazine, I think). Then, I saw it again in a direct mailing. Earned media, coordinated with marketing, coordinated with the credit/finance function ... very, very impressive!!

So what Target is doing is telling customers, like me, how they are providing valuable and innovative solutions that affect our lives.

Once again, my compliments to the marketing geniuses at Target.

Dealing with Conflict and Adversity

Okay, World ... I get it. This month it has been determined that my life lesson shall be about adversity. You've certainly given me plenty of practice in recent weeks. And I am ever so grateful. Thank you, Sir, may I have another!!

From the client who is upset over a quality control issue (yes -a typo)...

To the vendor who went behind our back to our client and wrote a contract directly with them, cutting us out of the transaction ...

From the client who negotiated with brute force over an engagement (contract) renewal with us, reminding us how badly our competition wanted to bend over backwards for them, busting our chops repeatedly over how hard we were going to have to work to keep their business ...

To the client who has put the CFO in charge of a marketing project, where the scope of work never ceases to expand and evolve, and who expresses their unrelenting dissatifaction with a steady stream of e-mail nastygrams ...

Ahhh ... the joys of business! Ahhh ... the joys of life! It's interesting--in a weird way--how life presents these patterns and lessons. No question, though, it is a great way to learn.

My close friend and mentor, John Wells Jr., who passed away a few months ago, used to tell me to embrace adversity. He coached me to treasure conflict. Treat it as a gift from God, a life lesson. Give thanks for the learning experience. He told me that whenever conflict arose at his company, he couldn't wait to get to work the very next morning. He would roll up his sleeves, say a quick prayer and jump right into the fray. That is just what I've been doing all month.

Thanks to my friend and mentor, that marketing genius known as John Wellls, Jr. John, I am still learning--still applying the wisdom that you shared with me!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Sprint - The Rest of the Story

For those just coming into this ongoing saga, the first part is here.

So, just to recap, after having been a loyal Sprint PCS mobile customer for five years ... after being a revenue stream to Sprint in the neighborhood of $3,500 per year for five years ... after they decided, capriciously one day to discontinue my mobile phone service ... in the midst of a busy Friday ....

You would never in a million years guess what they did!

They charged me with two (count 'em - two) cancellation charges at $150 each.

Now they are trying to collect on me for the remaining balance owed PLUS $300.

To say that I am outraged is an understatment! Any advice, dear friends from the blogosphere?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Old School Marketing

With all of the airplay today in the marketing world about branding, buzz, stickiness, conversations, relationship marketing and "verticals," I find that what really works are the old-school, main line marketing approaches.

Here's what I'm talking about:

- Segmenting your market
- The five C's: customer, competition, cost, communication and collaboration
- Product rationalization and structuring
- Research
- Hard hitting messaging built around clearly articulated & proven benefits
- Well-placed and well-designed ads with great copy
- Compelling news stories placed in targeted publications
- A tightly and effectively articulated unique selling/value proposition
- Thougtfully engineered sales processes to support marketing
- Flawless product/service delivery to back up the marketing

I'll give you all the buzz and conversations that you want, but if you don't have a firm grasp and a deep understanding of the items mentioned above, your marketing program will be inefficient at best and completely unsuccessful at worst.

When I listen to prospects and clients talk about selling into "vertical markets" it often tells me that they do not have an understanding of their markets, those corresponding needs, their features/benefits and their unique selling (or value) propostion.

Here's to the old-school marketing geniuses!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Hampton Inn

Stayed at a Hampton Inn recently. It had been many years since I had patronized the Hampton Inn chain. I tend to prefer Embassy Suites, Radisson or Marriott.

Wow! Was I ever impressed.

The Hampton Inn where I stayed provided free, high speed, wireless Internet. I did not expect that at a Hampton. Wow ... cool!

They have also upgraded the whole visual experience. As I entered, I noticed a very warm, inviting display of blues and grays. This included some really high-quality, black & white photography. Basically, the Hampton Inn was showing me pictures (stock images, really) of people who look like me. Generational cohort photography. It makes we feel welcome ... like I'm in the right place.

Next, I noticed a brand retooling with a new logo. The lozenge shape of the old Hampton logo has been transformed into a background texture of dark blue and light blue shapes, repeated in a geometric pattern. The word "Hampton" has been restyled with new typography--and used very, very sparingly.

Most impressive is the consistency of the brand across all of their collateral, sales and in-room display materials. Many of these items also displayed the rich, black & white photography carrying the theme forward from the lobby into the guest rooms. From the room key-card to the "things to do" list, from the Wi-Fi instruction card to the cable TV lineup card, what you see is one consistent brand. In the bathroom, Hampton has upgraded to a very contemporary looking assemblage of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel ... in the very stylish color range of pale, ice blues with silver accents.

Hampton Inn has executed a very impressive facelift. It made me feel comfortable and welcome. Kudos to the marketing geniuses at Hampton Inns for a wonderful redesign and rebranding!

Friday, May 13, 2005


Any of you in the business of consulting, or research or analysis might relate to this topic: tenacity is one of the keys to success in business.

Yesterday, I was engaged in a quasi-business conversation with a colleague about the very topic of tenacity. He believes that it separates the winners from the losers in the world of business, especially in the area of entrepreneurs. And I agree with him wholeheartedly.

If you are in the business of delivering results or getting answers, you will inevitably get stuck once in a while. The cart will go in the ditch. The train will run off track. [Pick your favorite cliche.] One way to respond is to give up. Another way to respond is with tenacity.

Tenacity, of course, is about never giving up. Tenacity is about not accepting "no" for an answer. Tenacity is about having the creativity, wisdom and resolve to change plans or to alter one's course when adversity is encountered. "Tuh-nah-suh-tee" I even like the sound of the word.

As Jimmy Valvano said, so plainly and simply: "Never give up. Never, never, never give up!"

Presently at Maple Creative, a team of us are involved in a research project for a client. It involves a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods or tactics. So far, we have gotten lukewarm results on the quant and downright horrible results on the qualitative. The problem is that we have been unable to recruit focus group participants - at least a sufficient number to satisfy the research objectives that we promised to our client. I'll be honest: this has been tough ... discouraging. For about two weeks my colleagues and I continued to grind ... to beat our heads against the wall trying to round up focus group participants. Still no avail.

[By the by ... a quick marketing lesson: Spring is a horrible time to expect people to be somewhere for something that they might rather not do ... meetings, training, focus groups, etc. Folks have been "cooped up" all winter and are bursting to get outside and do outdoor things. This same phenomenon bit us in the rear last spring on a similar research project for a different client.]

Did we give up? No. Did we get discouraged and frustrated? You bet we did.

Eventually, our tenacity kicked in, and we shifted gears. We found a better way to get the research done ... to get answers for our client. We took to the "streets." Armed with clipboards and our attitudes, we began on Wed

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Duct Tape and the Shrinking Blogosphere

I met John Jantsch, the genius behind Duct Tape Marketing today. We were both involved in the West Virginia Conference on Entrepreneurship. John conducted two seminars, both aimed squarely at the audience of burgeoning entrepreneurs and small business owners.

John's seminars and materials were outstanding, truly superlative. One of the things that is great about John's theories and techniques is that he uses distinctive language. That makes it all the more memorable.

Here's an example: "How to unleash a flood of referrals for your business."

Great job, John!I hope that the panel discussion session that I moderated was half as informative, entertaining and on-message as your lectures.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

She Won't Take No for an Answer

Radio jingles are amazingly sticky. If well produced and properly placed, a jingle in a radio or TV ad can improve recollection and identification by more than a factor of 10. Ten times more memorable. Ten times as powerful.

The following radio jingle is etched into my head ... and the heads of about 900,000 other people in this region:

Jan Dils
Attorney at Law.
She won't take no
for answer!

Actually, that's just the chorus of the radio jingle. Sadly, I know every last insipid word of it.

Your bills are piling up.
You don't know where to turn.
Get the money you deserve-
The careful help you need.

Call Jan Dils,
Attorney at law.
She won't take
for an aaaa-hannnnn-serrrrrr.

I've never met Jan Dils, but when I do ... I'm going to sing her jingle to her, as strong and proudly as I can.

Music is a powerful communication and advertising tool. Prior blog post about the power of music here. Music helps us remember words and word relationship--even if we don't really want to remember them.

Because of their musical nature, radio and TV jingles are sticky. They have staying power. They get stuck in our brains.

Jingles are not cheap. In fact, they are fairly expensive. But for the right situation ... consumer oriented advertising in a crowded, competitive market space ... a good jingle is well worth the investment.

A tip of my cap to the marketing genius who first thought of singing the ad lines to a musical score, instead of simply speaking them.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A Sprint Customer No More

Sprint infuriated me.

Sprint lost me as a customer.

I was a three-year, satisfied Sprint customer. Two phones, max minutes each on the account. Our monthly bill is always around $250. For me, my mobile phone is a tool ... a money maker. It's as vital to me as a scalpel to a surgeon or a hammer to a carpenter.

I hate to fool with account settings, choices or selections on any product or service. Just too busy to keep up with such things. Set it once and forget it--that's my modus operandi.

One day last Fall, I noticed my monthly bill had skyrocketed. We weren't doing anything differently, as far as minutes, roaming, etc. I eventually checked my Sprint account online. Guess what? Sprint had allowed my account plan to expire. Instead of notifying me, they dumped me into their "list price" plan--the most expensive option. I was paying "rack rate" to borrow a term from the hotel industry. Is that any way to treat a longtime customer?


Sprint infuriated me. Sprint lost me as a customer.

But wait. It gets worse.

One day Sprint cut me off. They disabled my service on a busy Friday. No warnings, no phone calls, no e-mail messages. Just cut me off cold. Friday is a day for closing deals and completing business. Not a day to be with cell phone service.

In fairness, I readily admit that I pay my bills a bit late. Our account is always paid about 15-20 days beyond the due date. I pay bills once a month. Hey - I'm a busy father/ author/ teacher/ husband/ entrepreneur/ business owner/ marketing guy. So please cut me some slack.

One would think that since I'm using their PHONE, they could have CALLED me to remind me that the account was past due. Jeesh!

Instead, they disabled my service so that any button I pressed immediately routed me to their call center in India. I happily talked to the account rep in India. He offered me one option: "Sir, how would you like to pay your bill today? Credit card? Or would you like me to debit the funds from your bank account?"


I wanted to express my complaints and concerns to a manager. Grudgingly, the call center rep transfers my call. After a couple dozen rings and several hard-click transfers, the call winds up squarely back in India at the same call center. Play the movie all over again ... sir ... pay your bill ... debit the funds.

You gotta be kidding me. I am beyond annoyed. I'm ballistic.

Finally, I got to talk to a nice lady somewhere in New Jersey. She was willing to listen to my concerns, in a professional manner. I'm telling her about how Sprint is losing me as a customer, losing a three-year relationship, two phones, three grand a year in revenues. Then, suddenly, the Sprint network dropped my call.

A metaphor? Yes. Ironic? You bet.

Stay tuned. There's a lesson here. And yes, it gets even worse.

--- To be continued ---