best of 2011

I do it every year … [2005] [2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] … so I can’t stop now. For new readers or people who are just discovering my content, I always do a list of my favorite / top / best blog posts from the previous year so here’s 2011’s list:

I truly thank you for being a reader of the Shotgun Marketing Blog. I hope to continue to provide you with useful and entertaining content in 2012. Don’t miss any of the upcoming posts by either subscribing to the RSS feed (through a reader or by email) or following me on Twitter or on Facebook.

barbers don’t cut their own hair

A quick follow up thought to my post last week about a PR firm’s debacle

  • Barbers don’t cut their own hair.
  • The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
  • A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
  • And marketers do a poor job of marketing themselves. In fact, they stink at it.

Your ad, PR, or marketing firm should develop a reciprocal agreement with another similar sized shop that is not a local competitor.

The immediate gain could be a mutual sounding board and critic of current client outreach programs. Each PR firm, ad agency, or marketing shop could even create self-promotional content for the other one. This content would be fresh and exciting even for employees since they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it when they created it. It’s like having someone else make a sandwich for you. It’s better.

But the real reason you should create this reciprocal agreement today is for your impending disaster.

A smart marketer would never suggest that a client handle their own crisis communication. But marketers are more than willing to dig deeper holes for themselves.

Set up an agreement and plan that lets the other agency take over your corporate communications when you hit the panic button. Maybe even hold a social media fire drill.

Your crisis partner will have an objective view because when the crisis hits you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

PR firms and bloggers are like matches and gasoline

Blogger outreach in PR is like working with gasoline. Work with it correctly and it makes the vehicle go. Do it incorrectly and it blows up with disastrous consequences.

I am amazed at the number of PR firms who have an astounding lack of understanding at not only the basics of public relations, but also the basics of civility and common sense.

Until yesterday, one of the best recent examples of this phenomenon was ConAgra’s PR firm tricking bloggers about Marie Callender food, but some email exchanges yesterday provide us with a classic textbook debacle.

Instead of a recap, I’ll just let you read the story of how a few employees at BrandLink Communications have nearly destroyed their business with a bad pitch to the Bloggess. (warning: profanity-laden)

Their first basic mistake was relevance. While the point of PR is to get mentioned in as many forms of media as possible, too many firms just blast their entire contact list with every pitch. Look at the placement (whether it’s a blogger or traditional print/broadcast outlet) and see if what you’re pitching is similar to the type of content and audience they have.

For some reason, I keep getting emails from a PR firm who wants me to write about MRI machines here on the Shotgun Marketing Blog. They have not researched. Shoddy research doesn’t count either. I get a few pitches a week wanting me to write about guns and/or ammunition.

The well-researched personalized pitch works. Take a look at the 2nd half of Mark Schaefer’s post back when I was pitching bloggers about Brand Zeitgeist.

Another tenet of sending out good pitches is basic proofreading. If you look at the quotes from BrandLink Comm’s original pitch, it’s rampant with spelling and grammar errors. There’s now an entire generation of young professionals who are now sending out professional emails with the laissez-faire style of online communication and texting. It might work with some bloggers, but you’re going to immediately be deleted by the traditional editor who has an AP Stylebook sitting next to the Bible.

While BrandLink Comm had a bad pitch to start with (as The Bloggess tried to tell them with the Wil Wheaton link), this issue was compounded by arrogance, hubris, and rudeness. In PR, you’re basically going with hat-in-hand and asking for help. Be respectful of their audience and their time.

And when you do mess up, say you’re sorry and mean it. BrandComm has sent the Bloggess an email apology and apologized on their Facebook page, but the offensive VP (Jose) continues to be glib and use non-apologies on his Twitter feed.

All PR firms who reach out to bloggers need to have a training with all their employees using this instance as the prime case study. (Need a trainer?)

And always remember, reply-all is the most dangerous thing on your computer.

Update: This is not the first time that Jose has ticked off a high-profile blogger.

Follow-up Post: PR firms, ad agencies, and other marketers should find a partner for disaster

marketing in the stream

Since the days of the Cluetrain, it is accepted mantra that “markets are conversations”. However, I think this idea only seeped down to the creative and strategy levels in marketing. We really need to start paying more attention to media placement as virtual word-of-mouth.

We’ve always talked about media placement as a physical hole in print space, airtime, website, etc that could be filled with a marketing message. It’s an item that could be pegged to a specific timeframe and a space that worked to achieve maximum reach and frequency and build awareness.

But with feeds, walls, tags, and clouds; there is no past and no future. Just a constant stream.

Studies show the average tweet has a lifespan of only about an hour before it’s pushed down the stream never to be seen again. This stream effect is similar on every other social medium.

So, in essence, you’re now marketing with mayflies.

So what to do?

First comes a fundamental rethinking the idea of media placement and consumption. The same people who laughed and tsked a few years ago about traditional media luddites who couldn’t adapt to a digital world are now having to adapt to a new shift in the media mindset themselves.

We must not just “launch a social media campaign” and dump messages into this constant stream, but we must consider that the individuals consuming the initial marketing messages are also another potential “media buy” that can spread the message further.

It’s a duplicate of the same problem marketers faced when the web first came to force. Converting the company brochure into a website was not a good idea in the 1990s. Converting your digital marketing messages into the social stream is not a good idea today.

the personal branding myth

Personal BrandingI’m tired of the personal branding shtick.

People are people. Brands are brands.

Are there people who are also simultaneously brands? Sure.
Madonna, Seth Godin, Lady Gaga, Warren Buffett, Oprah, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and many more.

If you can drop your name in that list and it not be a game of “one of these things is not like the other“, then I’ll agree that you are a personal brand.

For everyone else, you don’t need to work on your “personal branding”. You just need to maintain something called “personal integrity”.

Going all the way back to the original personal brand treatise by Tom Peters in the late 90s, most of the things that the personal branding movement tells you to do are the same basic social and communication skills you’ve been working on since kindergarten:

  • Be nice.
  • Treat people with respect.
  • Present yourself in a manner that causes others to respect you.
  • Do good work.

Do you have to adapt these basic IRL social skills for use in the business world or online? Sometimes.
Could you take tips from corporate marketing and brand strategies to shape the way you present yourself on paper and online? Absolutely.

But you can’t just sell the sizzle. People eventually want to eat the steak.

If you spend your time actually creating good content instead of worrying so much about the wrapper you put it in, I think you’d find that your “personal brand” would grow by itself.

just DO something

I saw a friend at lunch today and our conversation centered around business, the economy, and the fact that everyone seems to be on hiatus. They’re waiting for things to change before they get back into full gear.

Our talk reminded me of this quote that my junior high health teacher made me memorize (don’t ask):

Upon the plains of indecision lie the blackened bones of countless millions, who at the very brink of victory stopped to rest, and resting there died.

(btw, my version of the quote is actually inaccurate. See Adlai Stevenson’s actual quote here.)

There are too many businesses sitting and resting. People seem scared to either expand operations, do intensive marketing or start new businesses because of uncertainty. But whether its high gas prices, healthcare turmoil, anti-business politics, or other factors, it will always be something.

In reality, now is an excellent time for you to make your move because everyone else is standing still.

In the future, will you say “My business idea failed because of X” or will you say “My business idea failed because I sat on the sidelines for years waiting for the perfect moment which never came”?

Hopefully, you will be able to say “It was a rough time to jump in, but we overcame X and we were very successful”.

the one where I offer $500 for a burger

Ever feel like you get attacked by a certain topic?

The universe is assaulting me with In-N-Out Burger.

in-n-outJust a few examples: Earlier this year, the advertising class I teach delved into a long discussion about the brand equity of the chain. A few weeks ago, this oddly fanatical account of ordering every item on the menu came in on my feeds. Last week as I took the kids to Barnes & Noble, this book was lying beside the Thomas train table. Today, I saw a story that In-N-Out is expanding east into Texas.

It has all added up to cruel and unusual punishment for someone in Kentucky who is over 1,600 miles from the nearest In-N-Out.

Every time I have a speaking engagement near an In-N-Out, I make the effort. My last one was an enjoyable afternoon at Fisherman’s Wharf last summer while I was at the San Francisco #140conf. I had just sat down to eat when a Wharf tourist stopped by my table, pointed at me, and yelled to his wife, “Hon! This guy got his fries Animal-style!”. I felt like a celebrity while I smiled and waved at her.

While I don’t eat there that often, I’m a big fan. On a gastronomical level for sure, but also on a marketing level. It’s a great brand that’s been built through a great customer experience from the cleanliness of the restaurants to the fresh ingredients to the “secret” menu.

But it seems the only time I get to eat at an In-N-Out is when I’m speaking near one on the left coast. So with all these cues coming at me, I figured I needed to do something about it.

For 2011, in addition to the three normal speaking discounts that I’ve always offered (KY/TN, multiple program, and non-profit), I am adding another discount.

I will take $500 off my speaking fee if your meeting is held within a 15 minute commute of an In-N-Out Burger location.

I guess it’s like my own version of the secret menu. You’ll have to ask for it to get it. If you’re planning a meeting or corporate event in California, Arizona, Nevada, or Utah (and now Texas) in 2011, let’s talk.

You can see my speaking info with topics, testimonials, etc here or my National Speakers Association listing here.

UPDATE: It’s still happening. I was watching Undercover Boss on CBS last night and the MGM Grand’s manager’s family brought him In-N-Out for supper.

the uninspired white meat

The National Pork Board has announced that, starting today, they will abandon their 25 year old tagline for pork, “The Other White Meat”, for a new slogan: “Pork: Be Inspired.”

Their new website, PorkBeInspired.com, has more info on the new tagline as well as videos of Candace Cameron demonstrating different ways to cook pork. Between that and John Stamos being floated as a replacement for Charlie Sheen, we may be in the midst of a Full House renaissance.

But I digress.

In 2000, a study conducted by Northwestern University found “The Other White Meat” slogan to be the fifth most memorable promotional tagline in the history of contemporary advertising. The slogan has achieved the ultimate in brand success. It has established itself in the cultural zeitgeist. Anyone can make a reference to “the other white meat” in conversation or in the media with confidence that it will be understood.

Why just throw all that brand equity away for a shallow forgettable slogan that has no concrete connection to the product?

When the motivational speaker down at the Airport Marriott says “Be Inspired”, will you think about pork chops?

Pork has seen some hard times as of late. Pork sales are not great. The unfortunate intital moniker of the H1N1 virus in 2009 hurt pork consumption. While pork is the most popular meat globally, it comes in third behind beef and chicken in the U.S. So some strong marketing is needed, but why not build on the strengths?

The success of any agricultural commodity branding (Beef, it’s what’s for dinner … The incredible edible egg … Got Milk? … Cotton: The Fabric of our Lives) lies in long term exposure to the fundamental aspects of the commodity. (Subsidies and checkoff fees help too.)

And that’s true for any brand strategy. Build your marketing on the foundations that you’ve already established. Don’t tear everything down and start from scratch unless you want people to forget the old brand. (see BP, Phillip Morris, etc)

Apparently, the pork board does see the value in the “other white meat” slogan. They are regulating it to what they call a “heritage brand” and say will be used in some communications. This is obviously to keep a foot in the intellectual property door and keep the pig rustlers away from it.

So there’s hope. Maybe eventually they’ll be inspired to bring back their best asset.

the top 3 facebook marketing mistakes

Facebook pages are getting a redesign similar to the one that Facebook profiles recently underwent. If you’re a page admin, you can voluntarily go to the new design or be automatically converted around March 1st. I suggest you go ahead and opt-in to the change a few days after it’s offered. (Let others deal with the inevitable initial bugs, but still be an early adopter.)

changes are coming to facebook. Is your marketing ready?There are lots of positives (and negatives) surrounding the change. I think the best change is the new ability for email alerts on page activity (I don’t have a clue why this wasn’t there from the start) But at the same time, I will miss tabs.

If you’re already actively marketing your brand on Facebook, you’ll find this post from ‘Inside Facebook’ on the redesign a very helpful guide.

But I urge you to take a step even further back and evaluate your Facebook marketing strategy. Are you sure you’ve covered some of the basics?

Are you making some of the following mistakes as a marketer using Facebook to connect with customers?

Why am I here?
Brands are spending lots of money to get people to like them on Facebook. But what are companies doing with them once they get them there? Getting people to like you on Facebook should not be a marketing end-goal; it should be a tactic in a larger strategy.

The like is not the end of the marketing; it’s just the beginning.

How often are you posting new content? Are you interacting with fans? Are you just re-posting your traditional marketing messages or are you having a conversation?

It’s also important to remember that having a Facebook page is not a web marketing strategy. It should be one element of a much larger plan.

Profiles are not Pages
A profile is something on Facebook that an individual person has. A page is for brands. If you’re doing business or trying to promote something, you need a page; not a profile. There are 3 big reasons for this.

1) The major reason is that it’s against Facebook rules for anything other than an individual person to have a profile. You run the risk of being suspended.
2) Pages work differently than profiles. Many of these things (like some of the changes that are coming) are designed to help you market and sell rather than play Farmville.
3) A person can only have 5,000 friends on Facebook. If you ever aspire to have more than 5,000 fans, you need to move to a page as soon as you can.

The worst thing you can do is have both a page and a profile. It confuses your customers. Post on the profile numerous times that you’re moving to the page. Try to get as many to move with you as you can. Chalk up the lost stragglers as a marketing lesson.

Get a decent URL
I see the same mistakes all the time when someone is trying to convey the location of the brand’s page. If you have over 25 fans, you can get a simple URL like www.facebook.com/BrandZeitgeist by going to facebook.com/username and choosing your name. That’s alot simpler to communicate than the ambiguous “find us on facebook” or the incorrect “become our friend on facebook”. (see previous ‘Profiles are not Pages’ point)

The only thing harder to communicate is the deadly full page name and ID URL like http://www.facebook.com/pages/Chris-Houchens/17831081539. I’m sure that URL will flow beautifully in your radio commercials (and take up half the time).

Something else I see alot is people taking the full URL sin one step further and promoting some of their personal browsing history like: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lighthouse-Restaurant-Sulphur-Well-KY/114743131874741#!/pages/Chris-Houchens/17831081539 goes to my page but also shows that I have been thinking about going to Sulphur Well for some country ham. The url will still work when you take the pages/Lighthouse-Restaurant-Sulphur-Well-KY/114743131874741#!/ out of it.

These are the big three mistakes that I see brands make the most often. What would you add to this list? What are brands do you think are using Facebook effectively?

(by the way — when you like me on Facebook, you’ll get my latest blog posts delivered in your news feed.)

how the brand extension cookie crumbles

There’s a great marketing lesson to be gleaned from recent news about Girl Scout cookies.

Samoa Girl Scout CookieThe Girl Scouts have announced they are downsizing the varieties of cookies they sell to just six flavors. They’ll now just offer Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, Trefoils, Samoas, Lemon Chalet Cremes, and Tagalongs.

Why are they doing this? When they looked at the numbers, they saw that just five varieties made up a whopping 77% of total cookie sales.

Girl Scout cookies had been a victim of something that happens to alot of successful brands. They had become bloated with brand extensions. They had over 25 options which meant 20 flavors of cookies just sat there with minimal sales. They had ridden the trend of moment rather that focusing on the core brand by launching cookie flavors geared toward certain demographic groups or healthier options with sugar-free or trans-fat options.

They’re cookies. Cookies are not supposed to be healthy.

Companies can get lost by offering too many brand extensions. A decision to branch out to new products must be considered carefully. While new product offerings can help, it can also dilute the brand. Brands must know what their core brand is all about. When your brand is considering product extensions that don’t fit that mold of the core brand values, you must either make the (major) decision to change the core values of the brand or reject the new offering as something that doesn’t fit.

Had some brands made that simple decision, we would never have seen silly gimmick-of-the-moment flops like McDonald’s Arch Deluxe, Bic Pantyhose, Coors Spring Water, Taco Bell Burgers, Virgin Cola, and more.

It comes down to knowing what your brand represents — and using that perception to your advantage.