Archive for October, 2011

Rebranding Minnesota

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Since moving to Minnesota, I’ve argued that the winters here are actually easier to handle than those on the north shore of Lake Erie. Chilly, windy, gray and wet makes it hard to get outside from November to April in Cleveland, while in Minnesota it is cold, really cold, but generally it’s sunny and you don’t actually have to pack an entire fleet of huskies to ensure you arrive at work safely. We get outside in Minnesota in the winter and play festive outdoor games like broomball, while in Cleveland the winter pastimes are complaining about the Browns and writing “Wash Me!” on grimy and salted car windows. If my wife offered, I’d move back to Cleveland in a heartbeat, but if I have to be a transplant, Minnesota is better than a whole lot of places I could live.

Having come from a town in need of a serious rebranding (seriously people, do you really have to ask me about all of our sports heartbreak or a river fire from nearly fifty years ago the first time you meet me?), it was actually with great interest that I read Wendy Lee’s article Minnesota tourism seeks image makeover in the Star Tribune. Lee writes:

“The North Star State is boring. Unsophisticated. Downright old-fashioned. And that assessment comes from residents in neighboring Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska. In places farther away such as Dallas, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, the perception gets even worse.”

Nebraska finds us boring; if that isn’t a marketing wake-up call I don’t know what is. I think the words people might use to describe us are “quaint” when they don’t necessarily mean charming, or “antiquated” as if the entire state was an episode of Prairie Home Companion come alive. We have mullets and play hockey, and even if we aren’t originally from here, have an aunt and uncle named Ole and Lena who sit at the ready with a steaming plate of hotdish, lutefisk and some linguistic misadventures.

But just as the rivers in Wisconsin don’t run yellow with cheese, we know that is not really Minnesota. From great hiking and camping, to an excellent music scene, great neighborhood bars and restaurants, to the best event in the history of humankind—the Minnesota State Fair—the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota have a lot to offer people.

The real challenge is to capture the essence of the state in a few words, or a website or a thirty second commercial and to promote that as a unified image. According to Lee, not only does the state have to deal with negative perceptions about the weather, but it also has a fragmented marketing message.

Living in-state, it would be challenging for me to discuss the impact of out-of-state marketing, but I can take a look at the Explore Minnesota website, Facebook page and Twitter account. While their website is an excellent front for the face for the state of Minnesota, I think their Facebook and Twitter accounts are more geared toward people who already live here. While that isn’t problematic on its face, if you are looking to bring people in from other states, you probably don’t want to tweet on Wednesday events that are taking place on Friday—no matter how cool they are. You just aren’t going to get those folks from Chicago or elsewhere to come on over for a Friday arts cruise in Bemidji. That being said, both accounts appear to do a very good job of interacting with individuals and have attracted a nice following with 21,519 followers on Facebook and another 3574 on Twitter. For a state, the cross-channel marketing of traditional advertising combined with the accessibility of social media may be the perfect fit to encourage tourism to the state.

I can see the campaign now, “Minnesota, we even have computers.”

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go be slightly above average with the rest of my fellow Minnesotans.


Penguins in Sweaters

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

According to Google Analytics, the hits to my blogs have been steadily declining over the last few posts, and I’m not sure why. It could be my content–maybe my articles have been written poorly. Or it could be the subject matter. In a cyber world inundated with blogs and authors pounding out character after character on direct marketing and social media, maybe there’s just too much noise. There could be a myriad of reasons why. Ultimately, there is a random confluence of things that have limited my readership.

In marketing, the general mantra is to go with what works until it stops working, and then try something new–or go back to basics. With the advent of the internet, this means that photos of cats with adorable captions is the go-to to drive blog traffic. But my lovely wife sent me something much more meaningful yesterday, PENGUINS IN SWEATERS. Yes, that’s right. Penguins in sweaters! No pants of course, because that would violate the laws of cartoon biology. Now unfortunately, you just can’t find Creative Commons licensed photos of penguins in sweaters these days like you used to, so I’ll just have to share a couple of links.

Here’s the interesting thing about penguins in sweaters. It isn’t some Halloween pet torture passed down from the Inquisition to today. Instead, it serves as a useful enhancement for the tuxedo wearing birds that are the victims of oil spills. Many of the links included today describe the problem in-depth, but here’s a little background. When you get crude oil from a spill on the feathers of a penguin it displaces the natural oils on their feathers. The natural oil helps to keep them warm and provides waterproofing. Also, penguins clean their feathers with their beaks meaning they ingest the oil and, as we all remember from that kid in third grade who would eat anything, crude oil is bad for you. The sweaters keep the penguins warm and prevent them from eating the oil until they are rehabilitated and can be released back into the wild.

Now, this story has popped up several times over the last decade as oil-spill troubles affect the region around Australia and New Zealand. For some adorably compelling reason, people feel they must continue to knit penguin sweaters. They’ve knitted so many that the Tasmanian Conservation Trust has collected 15,000 sweaters to be included in their oil spill response kits. With that many sweaters available the little penguins (Eudyptula minor for those scoring in Latin) could probably be renamed the Dr. Cliff Huxtable penguins.

However, the backlog of mini-sweaters helps out only one small area. With the current oil spill off the coast of Tauranga, the most populous city on the northern island of New Zealand, there is a need for penguin sweaters somewhere other than Tasmania. Knitters and penguin lovers all over the globe are able to spread the word via social media that 1,300 birds have been killed by the 300 tons of oil that have already washed up on the beaches, and provide a simple call to action (well it’s a simple call to action if you can knit). For example, a friend of my wife’s came across the Skeinz blog referenced above, she posted it to Facebook, my wife read it, forwarded it to me and now I’m sharing it with you since my typing is only slightly better than my knitting.

What does this have to do with marketing, social media or blogging? Probably not much other than on the internet, a blog about penguins in sweaters will always trump the next article about Facebook or email marketing. To put it another way, old fashioned ideas, such as knitting, doesn’t necessarily mean old fashioned marketing. Even if the vehicle for communicating your message has changed, it doesn’t mean you have to redefine the message.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put this tracksuit on a polar bear.


It’s Just a Haircut, Not a Commitment

Monday, October 10th, 2011

How many clubs do you belong to? I’m not talking about the health clubs to which you pay a monthly fee so you can feel guilty for not attending, nor do I mean book clubs or even beer or cheese of the month clubs (Christmas is coming in case someone wants to get me a gift). I’m talking about marketing clubs. I don’t know about you but I have a giant box filled with cards for Frequent Flyers, car rentals, grocery stores, pet stores, bookstores, wholesale shopping and a myriad of other bits of plastic that are supposed to give me volume discounts and rewards. If future generations learn how to convert plastic back to oil, my club memberships could probably fuel my car for a year. Most likely the next club I will join will be a club club which will manage my club and rewards cards. With the advent of following brands on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I don’t think I really need more inclusivity when it comes to interacting with brands. I hardly spend enough time talking to my wife, why do I need even more communication with my brands?

This leads me to yesterday’s adventure. One of my least favorite things to do in this world is spending thirty to forty-five minutes getting my haircut. I’m not a huge fan of being forced to make small talk while a stranger contorts my head into awkward positions ensuring he or she doesn’t lop off a cosmetic, yet important, piece of my ear. Honestly, the only time I get motivated to get my haircut is when someone looks at the mullet emerging from the back of my head and confuses me for an out of shape hockey player. I just want to get in and out and get back on with my day.

I went to a new place yesterday based on the assumption that since it was geared toward men, with TV’s showing football and everything, that I’d be done with the process in ten minutes. I was wrong. I spent those ten minutes providing all of my personal information including my cat’s favorite beverage (coffee) so they could enter it into their customer database. Then another five minutes explaining how I wanted my hair trimmed because “just like it is, but a lot shorter” was clearly not enough instruction. Honestly, I am still not convinced that a “number four” is a thing and or what it represents. I’m guessing this is just an inside joke for those in the hair industry. Then I turned down a free upgrade to the expensive package as a first time customer, not because hot steamed towels don’t sound absolutely wonderful, but really I just came in for a trim.

Finally, I’m on my way out the door but I wasn’t able to leave just yet. My name was already written on a special club membership soon-to-be-recycled piece of paper with one visit already ticked off. There was another slip of paper with an upgrade to the deluxe package because I turned down the hot towels and other stuff this time, ANOTHER piece of paper eight foot long to get a discount on my next haircut by answering a survey, and finally my receipt. I walked out of the place with an adequate haircut and a wad of papers that made me look like an attorney who had just dropped all his briefs.

Who doesn’t like getting discounts? But with everything in life there’s a balance between time and effort. So I can save three bucks by doing a phone survey? No thanks. I somehow have to manage a little slip of paper so I can get a sticker every time I get a haircut? Unlikely to happen. Join your email list? Maybe, but I suspect you’ll send me too many emails and not think about when it would be appropriate to reach me.

Maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but as I look at my hairline I suspect the only hair club I’m likely to join in my life is the Hair Club for Men. Possibly I’m wrong, and there’s a great market for haircut rewards, but the only discount I’m really working toward is one that gives me a break based on how much hair is left on my head.

I don’t need a relationship with the national chain that cuts my hair; I need an inexpensive and quick hair cutting solution.

So to get back to the point, marketing programs should be easy to manage for the consumer and the business and targeted to what your customers want. Any business can set up rewards, but frequency and value are important to keep at the forefront of the program. And please don’t make me carry or have to remember another card, it is becoming too much to manage.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go find a barber shop run by some monks who have taken a vow of silence.


Someone Blogged about Direct Mail *Gasp*

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

“It just makes cents to save a few bucks.” A quick Google search tells me no one has said this before, but I find it hard to believe a pun this good has been passed up. Anyway, you don’t have to get an A in accounting to know that the two ways to increase your profit is either sell more, or spend less while generating the same revenue. It’s important to spend your sales and marketing money wisely to get the best return on your investment. Despite what you may have heard from social media or electronic marketers telling you that direct mail has little value, getting something in the mail is still a great way to reach prospects or introduce existing customers to new services. Or, if you are Delta Airlines and American Express, introduce current customers to services they already have.

Yes, I said that correctly.

It seems that about every six weeks, I get a really shiny fancy-pants offer in the mail co-signed by bigwig marketers from Delta and Amex about all the benefits of signing up for the Delta SkyMiles American Express card. It’s a great offer, provides plenty of features, and, as Rick Vaughn in Major League says, “it keeps us from getting shut out at our favorite hotels and restaurant-type places.” I’d be all for getting this card, except I already have one. It’s been nearly two years since the wife signed us up and we use the card religiously at all of those restaurant-type places.

But Joel, why don’t you just drop it in the recycling bin and be quiet about it? Because direct mail can be expensive and sending out pieces to people who already have your product doesn’t make good business sense.

For argument’s sake, let’s say that between design, printing, materials, labor, and postage that it costs about one dollar to mail each piece (maybe that’s a little high or low, but it makes the math easier). If they send out 250,000 pieces, and even if 5% are people who already have the card, they’re wasting $12,500 per mailing. If they mail eight times a year their marketing departments are spending $100,000 to reach customers that already have their product. Maybe the lifetime value of an American Express customer more than makes up for those marketing losses, but I’m guessing no company gets to that level of success by wasting $100,000 annually without trying to fix the problem.

Since my wife doesn’t get the same offers, my guess is that American Express and Delta match two files. One is the universe of people with SkyMiles numbers and the other is a file of SkyMiles numbers that are associated with an Amex card. Any records that don’t match and reach a credit score threshold get a mailer. However, this process fails to recognize joint-card accounts like my wife and I enjoy. Given the annual fee associated with this card, I’m assuming that many households similarly have joint cardholders. Given this fact, it would probably be much more effective for them to do their matching at the address level rather than at the name or SkyMiles level, which they are presently doing. Soliciting present joint-account holders is very unlikely to lead to new customers.

As with many examples, it’s easy to shrug off the “big company problem.” But if you are a small non-profit and have a correspondingly small marketing budget, you probably don’t want to waste a penny of your marketing dollars sending multiple mailers to one household. There are many ways to look at your customer list and determine the most effective way to reach the people you want, and it’s significantly cheaper to scrub your list for duplicates than it is to send them mail.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go call a guy about trademarking that “cents” intro.