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    The 11th Commandment: Like Us on Facebook

    I have to admit to an addiction: I watch endless reruns of Law and Order on TNT. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I pop on the TV and watch and episode or two. I can watch the first ten minutes or the last ten, or twenty random minutes in the middle, any day of the week. (If you want this post to feel more like the show, click here to play the famous Law and Order "Doink Doink" sounder)This addiction comes with a price, besides sleep deprivation: I must watch lots of promos for TNT's other shows. They've done an excellent job of creating its own original series, various crime and action shows. The promos are creative and the network, giving it the unique identity it had been lacking for decades. 

    At the end of many of these promos is an invitation--no; a command: "Like Us on Facebook!" It was an order. Maybe it was a threat, implying something awful would happen to the lead character on the show if I refused to comply. "Like Us on Facebook...or else!"

    While I have no particular interest in the show "Perception," I did not want to upset the universe's delicate balance between fictional TV and reality, so I complied. The show has a robust Facebook page with more than 40,000 likes, a decent, but hardly overwhelming following. By comparison, Barack Obama has 28 million likes (Mitt Romney has 6 million...sorry, Republicans...I'm just reporting the facts here).

    Back to "Perception." The page posts are mostly to promote upcoming episodes, a good way to drive viewers to the show. There are also quite a few references to puzzles, which, I assume, have some relation to the program. Generally, less than one-half of one percent of the page's followers Like these posts and about a tenth of one percent post comments. Not great. Not awful. Not terribly influential.

    Here's my objection/point: why do you command us to do things instead of asking us? How many times have you used the famous cliche, "Give us a call today?" Besides the fact that I object to the very notion that I can "give" anyone a phone call, as if it were a gift (can you imagine someone uttering the command, "Give me a gift!"), it's rude; yet advertisers do it all the time. Of course, they know they're being rude, hence following that cliched phrase with another old chestnut: "you'll be glad you did!" Not only are you commanding me to call, you're ordering me to enjoy it, too. Like mom hovering over her uncooperative child at the dinner table. "You're gonna eat all your vegetables and you're gonna like it, too!!"

    You can't command anyone to engage with your social media. You can invite, incentivize, engage, converse, or entertain your prospects, but you can't force them to eat their vegetables. With so many posts per second whizzing by one everyone's smartphones, the value of your content is more critical than ever. Not the value of your product or the worthiness of the eventual purchase, but the value of the prospect's interaction with the content itself. When someone chooses to Like or Follow you, they have an expectation. The burden of satisfying that expection is always on the marketer.

    In today's upside down world, the commandments--and the choices-- belong to the customer. It's time for marketers to be more polite. Next time, invite me to like your page. In the meantime, let me finish watching this episode of Law and Order in peace! Doink-Doink!


    Why small business owners are so fond of cliched content

    The classic baseball movie "Bull Durham" features Kevin Costner's minor-league veteran catcher Crash Davis tutoring the young, raw pitching prospect Nuke LaLoosh on the finer points of becoming a big leaguer. While the team is on a rare winning streak, Nook asks Crash to "teach him something new," launching the weary catcher into a lesson on cliche-speak.

    I try and see this wonderful movie at least once a year. So do most baseball fans and, judging from the content they post online, so do most of my customers. If I had to take all the great Crash Davis cliches of marketing and make them into one piece of really awful content, it would read something like this:

    We're a full service firm. Our goal is to become your preferred partner and help you find the solution that meets your needs. We continuously strive to offer the highest possible quality within a framework of professional integrity and incomparable customer service with a spirit of teamwork and participation, combined with knowledge, personal service, and creative design.

    Our philosophy has remained unchanged: deliver a quality product on time.

    Our clients can select from an extensive and diverse inventory at a competitive price.

    And we’ll help you achieve a solution that works for you.

    We have thrived because of our natural attention to detail and an ability to innovate. You can count on quality workmanship, personal service, creative ideas, and competitive pricing.

    Our distinctive network of sales executives are the envy of the industry.

    Their knowledge combined with client oriented service skills enhances customer satisfaction, so we can easily handle all of your needs.

    Let us share our passion with you by offering extraordinary customer service through our team of outstanding employees who share our philosophy.

    Our customer-driven service focuses on integrity and reliability. We’re extremely proud of the many long-term relationships we’ve developed with our customers who have come to depend on us for the highest quality products and superior service.

    No one can match our product quality and outstanding customer service.

    We want to be leader in quality, innovation and service, following our basic values of respect, loyalty, humility and honesty, a commitment to teamwork, communication and a high degree of responsibility always in the best interests of our customers.

    We want to be the best.

    We’re large enough to answer client needs and small enough to maintain personal relationships.

    Call us for a free estimate.

    These cliches are treasured by small business owners. Like Nuke LaLoosh, they study them every day, committing them to memory, using them every chance they get.

    Why do they do it? Well, just like Crash said, your cliches are 'your friends.' They keep you out of trouble. Avoid controversy. Keep expectations low.

    And why not? What business owner wants to write a check they can't cash by promising a potential customer something so specific and concrete? Who wants to be held accountable?

    And that's how the cliches of ad-speak were born. And they worked--for a while, but no more.

    Why are they no longer effective?

    1. Cliches are broad generalizations that prevent differentiation. By their nature, cliches are generalizations so broad they have to be true, but also meaningless. Every business talks about "top quality" and "outstanding service" so they no longer function as useful pieces of information customers can use to make a buying decision.
    2. People don't search for cliches. Google put the final nail in the cliche coffin by allowing customers to search for exactly what they want. They can zero in on finding solutions for their specific problem, bypasing the need for the broad, generalized statements used in ad-speak. As far as Google is concerned, this type of content doesn't exist, because no one types "outstanding service" into a search request.
    3. The winners have abandoned cliches for meaningful content. Go to Amazon's website and see what's NOT there. Not a single word about the company. No cliches or ad-speak of any kind. Why? because Amazon knows its customers are coming to browse and buy stuff. Instead Amazon focuses on what the customer is interested in. It makes suggestions about other complimentary items that might go with what's being purchased. It lets you browse through books like you would in a bookstore and makes it incredibly easy to order. There's no need for Amazon to spend any time at all bragging about itself. The user's experience says everything needed.
    4. Customers don't waste time online. The average person views less than two pages on a website and spends less than two minutes visiting. They're trying to be as efficient as possible, whether making a purchase or doing research. Cliches just get in the way, and since it only takes one click to maneuver around them, the customer evaluates the marketer's message for relevance, literally, in seconds. 

    When Nuke LaLoosh was called up to the big leagues, he filled his first TV interview with all the cliches Crash taught him, a sign he was ready for "the show." No longer needed, Crash was released from the team and retired. While I will always believe Crash's advice when it comes to "the hanging curve ball, high fiber and good scotch," it's now time to 'un-learn your cliches' and make your content big-league ready.


    Is Penn State Crippled as a Marketing Brand?

    Are sponsors now less likely to invest in Penn State football because of the Sandusky scandal? Ad Age addresses the issue in this analysis. "The marketing ship has sailed, as it were, for anything related to Penn State football for the immediate and extended future," said Kevin Adler, president of Chicago-based sports-marketing firm Engage Marketing. Perhaps, but it's a difficult puzzle to solve.

    Which factors will drive marketers' decisions? Some will want to disassociate themselves from the University because of the scandal itself. What company wants to have their name next to anything as awful as criminal acts committed against children? For some, however, the staunch support of Penn State's large alumni and fan base provides a degree of protection against outside criticism. These people might develop even greater loyalty to the brands that continued to support the University in its time of crisis. Separating the act from the institution may provide additional cover.

    The bigger question is whether or not sponsors will begin pulling out because they believe the football program will no longer be a national powerhouse, fan support will dwindle and the marketing investment just won't be worth it anymore.

    It's cruel, but true. Sports marketing dollars flow to the winners. A few years ago, when LeBron James was still in Cleveland, the Cavaliers were a winning team, regularly featured on national TV, playing before sellout crowds with advertisers lined up to associate their name with a winner. When LeBron took off for Miami two years ago, the marketing gravy train packed up right behind him and left Cleveland. No more winning. No more national TV. No more sellouts.

    Experts predict Penn State will not be a viable national contender for at least a decade and probably more, due to the severe penalties handed down by the NCAA on Monday. Winning will be difficult, if not impossible, as current players leave and high school recruits head to other schools. Beaver Stadium seats almost 107,000 fans, the second largest college stadium in America. If the team doesn't win and the stadium is half empty, the value of the advertising Penn State sells will be diminished.

    Sponsors weigh these type of investments in two ways: value for their dollar (size and quality of audience reached, category exlcusivity, perks for customers, etc.), and emotional attachment (the boss is an alum, doing something good for the community, personal recognition). Ultimately, the value of the sponsorship is in the perception. For more than 40 years at Penn State, it was a no-brainer: good team, strong support, high character organization. What's the peception now? Loser, bad reputation, potentially eroding fan base.

    Penn State's sponsors may have been relying on their emotional attachment to stick with the school as the scandal came to light. But when the on-field product deteriorates and the fan base begins to shrink, value for the dollar will take center stage and sponsorship dollars will eventually shift to activities perceived to be on the upswing.

    I'll take you back to Cleveland for one final example. In 1994, the Indians opened a beautiful new ballpark that really put Cleveland on the map. The team was up and coming, and long-starved fans welcomed the new experience. A year later, the Cleveland Browns moved out of town while the Indians won their first pennant in 40 years. Jacobs Field was the place to be. 455 straight sellouts. Winning teams every year. Sponsor dollars flooded into luxury suites, billboards and television ads. The Indians became one of the most profitable teams in baseball.

    Four years later, a new Browns team was born, with a new stadium. Sponsor dollars moved from the Indians back to the Browns. A few years later, LeBron James arrives and the Cavaliers became the place to be. More sponsor dollars move. Indians fans buy fewer season tickets. The team's winning streak ends and the downward spiral begins. Now, almost 20 years later, the Indians struggle to attract sponsors and fans. The Browns and Cavs aren't doing so well either, but that's another story.

    The moral of the story for Penn State: better start planning for a significant reduction in sponsorship funding. That money is reserved for winners.


    In website development, which comes first: the content or the container?

    If you keep leftovers in your refrigerator, you know that different items require different storage containers. Some things do well in plastic bags (hard things, like carrots or cucumbers), while other items do not (sauces, if they aren't frozen). Some things keep better in hard containers, while other items do best wrapped in aluminum foil. The point is, for optimuim storage effectiveness, the contents dictate the container, not the other way around. Same is true with marketing.

    Most local marketers spend 80 percent of their time trying to figure out which media to use and use the remaining 20 percent (or less) to develop their message and positioning. Well, it may be an Internet 3.0 world, but business owners still approach marketing as if it were 1970, focusing on media first and message second, third, fourth or, sometimes, not at all.

    That old line behavior today translates to designing and building a website first and then, almost as an afterthought, thinking about what information to put on it. Most local business owners figure if they need a new website they should call a web developer, someone who is technically proficient but usually lacking in real marketing skills. All the attention and time is put on things like graphics, photos, layouts and other style issues. Then, after all those elements are worked over (and over), the developer usually either copies over the words from the old site or asks the business owner to "send me some content so I can fill up these pages." Six months to develop a website and 30 minutes is devoted to the most important element: the words!

    Here's an article from the Content Marketing Institute on how to change the process. As I've told my clients: spend 80 percent of your time focusing on your message and your target audience and you won't need the remaining 20 percent to decide the media-- or the layout of your website. Content should always determine the container, not the other way around.



    Heading to the Pacific Northwest

    Getting ready for next week's Marble Institute Stone Summit in Portland next week. We were in Toronto two weeks ago and had a great time with the fabricators and distributors who spent the day with us at the MS International facility in Mississasauga. MIA Vice-President Jim Hieb sent out a really nice email today. I really appreciate the positive feedback.

    You have probably seen the notices for this meeting.  I would like to share a few perspectives and strongly encourage you to attend!   How about registering today before you head off to enjoy the 4th of July holiday!

    “Marty Gould’s presentation was worth $5,000 to my company!  He alone was worth taking a few hours away from my business to focus on my business.  I was also proud to serve as one of the panelist on the fabricator’s forum --- sharing and getting feedback from other fabricators was valuable.”
    -          Paolo Mantenuto, Marble & Marble Ltd
    NOTE: Paolo attended the MIA/Stone World seminar on June 21st in Toronto.  His comment about the value of this seminar is one we hear often.
    Marketing Keynote
    Marty Gould of Focalize Now will share a number of online marketing tips to the for the Portland Stone World / MIA seminar. At the recent Toronto seminar he shared that when it comes to online content stone companies need to:
    1) Narrow their focus
    2) Pick keywords that set you apart
    3) Write content relevant to your keywords
    4) Build external links to your site
    5) Avoid paid shortcuts
    6) Manage your online reputation
    He later showcased the 9 biggest website mistakes made by companies. What attendees most appreciated from Marty's presentation was that he showcased the websites of many stone companies - some good - some bad. The attendees quickly saw why his list of six "must do" items (especially the writing of "content") is so important. So this wasn't just a marketing was a seminar that delved directly into how stone companies can reach consumers/clients. Companies not paying attention to their online presence will lose marketshare over time.

    I know some folks have already decided to come down from Washington and hope a few more will join us. I promise you'll come away with at least one easy to implement idea that will improve your business. See you in Portland!