best of 2012

Another year has come and gone. As I do every year … [2005] [2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] [2011] … I present what were the biggest hits of 2012 on the blog for you to revisit if you’re a regular or discover if you are a new reader:

  • For raw numbers of traffic / visitors, it seems appropriate that AAA Marketing ranked first.
  • My recent diatribe on evolving holiday traditions also did well according to the reliable folks at Google Analytics.
  • One of my favorite posts from the past year dealt with the one essential rule for planning a great event.
  • I hate strongly dislike JC Penney. They continue to fail further since I wrote that post in June.
  • Kotex and social media are like peas and carrots.
  • Probably one of the best things I’ve ever written deals with brand leadership. Great brands are built by people.

I’ve been meaning to write a short post about this, but here’s a good a place as any… For the past seven years, I have tried to maintain a laser focus on this blog. I tried to just write about marketing topics with very little tangent material. Frankly, I’ve beat most of the traditional marketing stuff to death and the world doesn’t need more blog posts on how to do social media. In the past few months, there’s been a slight shift in the focus of this blog. That shift will continue and may grow in the future. There will still be the old media, marketing, branding, etc posts, but there will also be some other stuff too.

As always, thanks for reading this stuff, no matter what I output. I truly thank you for being a reader of the Shotgun Marketing Blog my blog. I hope to continue to provide you with useful and entertaining content in 2013. Don’t miss any of upcoming posts by either subscribing to the RSS feed (through a reader or by email) or following me on Twitter or on Facebook.

tradition

freedom from wantI am a staunch traditionalist.

There’s a reason things have been done the same way for a long time. It’s because those things work. Ain’t broke, don’t fix.

Every year around this time, magazines and TV shows start to wear on my traditionalist vein.

“New and exciting recipes for Thanksgiving” is the call of the headline. The magazine’s test kitchen or the celebrity chefs are rolling out alternatives as they reinvent the traditional bird and sides.

And I ask why.

How often does the average American roast an entire turkey EXCEPT in November or December? Do people not crave the holiday feast since it’s such a rarity? People cook this meal so infrequently that there’s a hotline to help them with questions.

And yet, turn on the TV or open the magazine to find someone telling you that you should prepare “Fruit-Loop encrusted turkey drumsticks for a new and exciting taste”. “Forget the whole bird and impress your guests with roadside turkey sliders with a Sriracha cranberry sauce!”

Even as I write this, my wife is planning to abandon a traditional pumpkin pie for something called Black Bottom Pumpkin Pie which sounds like a November mashup concert between Queen and AC/DC. Doesn’t bother me though as I deem any sort of pumpkin pie as a cooled jiggly inedible jack-o-lantern leftover. That recipe came straight out of the pages of this month’s Southern Living magazine. Southern Living used to be a good barometer of the traditional South, but now has been taken over by hipster editors and writers who overly rely on tales of grits and football to fake true Southern credentials.

It’s not just food. “Traditions” are now created to sell things like Elf on the Shelf. The masses are hooked into a faux tradition that was only conjured in 2005 to sell a book. The value of holiday traditions have been replaced with marauding crowds and the economic effects of Black Friday.

Change is inevitable. We wouldn’t pick out the stuff on a Thanksgiving table even 100 years ago and certainly not the original feast with Squanto and Company. Change will happen to us like frogs in the boiling pot. One day, there will be questions of why more people don’t eat the traditional Fruit-Loop encrusted turkey drumsticks anymore. The folks who ask that question will be accused of being square and out of touch.

Who’s responsible? As with most things, I blame the media. The media’s daily job is to convince millions of people to abandon what they know from experience to be true/right only to be replaced with an idea created by a few fresh-out-of-college 20-somethings looking for a hip story or trend.

So I ask you to join the rebellion this year. This Thanksgiving and Christmas, try something truly daring and off the wall. Ignore the hipster media kids. Do everything that way it would have been done in your childhood. Tell your friends to have a Merry Christmas.

Tradition is the new black.

the people at your event have to pee

I will be moderating a panel discussion later in the month about “creating great events” which has prompted me to think about what’s essential in creating and marketing an event.

Events have the ability to build awareness and create personal connections that other marketing tactics can’t match. But even with their power, you know there are lots of bad events to attend. And you’ve probably attended ones that didn’t pass marketing muster. In fact, many times most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I think for all that can be said about event planning, a great event comes down to one simple rule: Primal first, enlightenment second.

You have to make sure the basic needs of your attendees are catered to before the awe-inspiring stuff. It goes back to our old friend, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I based much of Brand Zeitgeist on.

You’d think the key to event planning would be to focus on the big bang sublime stuff. But those first three levels of basic 1) physiological, 2) safety, and 3) group needs are in line before the transcendent self-actualization growth occurs. It’s only in the two top levels of the hierarchy that people can learn and grow. You delight and awe in the basic stuff before you hit the other levels to wow the audience. The trouble is that most event planners see the bottom three levels as “just logistics and details” that have to be taken care of.

In simple terms what this means is, that on a fundamental level, your event attendees are more concerned about the rubbery chicken they’re eating and their need to pee …  than the $50,000 speaker you paid for them to listen to. Looking at event planning in that frame of mind could help you to focus on the mundane as a way to delight attendees.

jc penney failure

jc penney logoI’m typically not one to root for something to fail, but I will make exceptions.

Ever since the “rebranding” of JC Penney JCP back in February, I’ve boycotted the store and waited for the day that their marketing stupidity would result in marketing failure. That day was yesterday.

From the super annoying teaser spots back in January (Nooooooo!) to the vapid campaign that was heavy on style but lacking any substantive advertising strategy, the whole endeavor by JC Penney to abandon their heritage was sad.

The advertising campaign bothered me the most. Newspaper inserts were wasted empty brand building pieces sitting next to other stores’ inserts chock full of merchandise. JCP featured no products. The campaign delivered no message. JCP waded right into the culture wars with a spokesperson who many people find objectionable. The media placement and scheduling was infuriating to viewers. The creative was not original. It was like watching an advertising student recreate an ad from The GAP or Old Navy as a class project.

(Lack of substance is an issue with alot of advertising today. More ad people need to read this book.)

But advertising is temporal. If a campaign doesn’t work, you can shove it under the rug and start fresh with the next one. JC Penney’s bigger problem is they have irreparably damaged their two most valuable assets: their customer base and their brand.

They may not be sexy, but the 35-65 female demo buys most things in department stores. They have disposable income. They purchase clothes and other items for the kids and the rest of the family. This type of base customer was the loyal customer base of JC Penney. And JCP left them to chase after a younger woman.

The JC Penney brand was not broken, but did need an update and adjustment. Like so many companies instead of brand adjustments, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. Rebranding is rarely the answer. You only need to rebrand if the brand is damaged. (Phillip Morris, BP, etc)

Marketing execs need to learn that rebranding is like paying the mortgage on a house for 30 years then abandoning the house because you’re tired of the wallpaper and paint. The key to successfully moving the perception of a brand is to take the positive brand equity with you instead of abandoning it.

JC Penney faced an impossible task. You can’t change a 110-year-old brand in a few months. Maybe they began with good intentions. Moving away from constant sales, coupons, and promotions was a good idea, but they over reached by trying to reinvent language. People know what a “sale” is, but a normal person doesn’t understand what “month-long value” is. And who knew a “Best Price Friday” happens on Saturday and Sunday as well? In general, JCP should have been more delicate with the brand work.

So now what? JC Penney is caught between the dock and the boat. They’re going to have to decide whether to build on what they have or keep trying to reinvent. What would you do?

By the way, if any company is thinking of hiring someone to come in and destroy their brand in 9 months for $15 million, I’ll do it in 5 months for only $7 million!

(UPDATE: April 2013 – JCP has ousted the architect of failure and reinstalled the former head honcho. We’ll see if it’s too late to save the brand.)

(UPDATE: May 2013 – I’ve written a new post complete with the JC Penney mea culpa commercial.)

AAA Marketing

Back in the day, small biz owners thought they were über-clever when they named their buisness something like ‘AA Plumbers’.

It was a telephone strategy so that they would appear first in the Yellow Pages or other directory listings.

Flash forward to today and see what the market thinks about Yellow Pages. They make YouTube videos mocking the wasted marketing dollars.

While it’s easy to tsk-tsk thousands of businesses whose names start with AAAAAAAAA, pause and make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Are you writing web copy solely for SEO and not people? Are you clamouring for Facebook likes? Are you spamming inboxes with irrelevant messages?

There’s a difference between marketing tactics, marketing strategy, and marketing philosophy. Don’t get them mixed up.

Things change. Your success today doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve built a long term brand. Remember these words from the movie ‘Patton‘,

A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

Don’t make ‘core DNA’ business decisions based on today’s business fad. You’ll eventually regret it.

the one where I talk about kotex

When most brands try to integrate their social media and traditional marketing, it’s … awkward.

Here’s a current commercial for a brand and a product I am biologically unable to connect to:

You know what helps says the hipster female comedian … Come on, ad guys.

Anyway, the spot ends with the call-to-action of “Tweet #KotexforReal“.

Really? At some point, there was a meeting of ad and social media gurus where someone said:

Let’s integrate our traditional TV ad buy with a hashtag to synergize the social experience and empower our customers to connect with our brand and talk about their menstrual cycles.

Sounds like the bookstore from Portlandia.

So I’m watching the TeeVee while I’m on the Twitter and the spot comes on. I check the hashtag.

95% of the tweets are from 14-35 year-old males who are ridiculing the spot in a vulgar way.
3% are a variation of the tweet, “The TV said I should tweet #KotexforReal”. (which is scary).
The other 2% are #TeamFollowBack and spammers.

Does a personal hygiene brand really want to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a TV spot that generates “free” social media mentions like this?

When you try to astroturf social media buzz, you WILL get your hashtag hijacked. Social media marketing conversations are just like any other marketing conversation with consumers. If they’re transparent, they will fail.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Hugh MacLeod: “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

brand leadership

Strong brands have strong leaders with strong personalities. This branded leadership will help organizations succeed because the audience will have confidence that the leaders will respond to their needs.

colonel sandersLeaders of the organization (at all levels) can influence brand perception. How they exercise that influence can have positive or negative effects.

But where does this leadership come from? There are three primary sources:

Shoppers trust Joe down at Joe’s Butcher Shop more than the corporate meat cutter behind the glass at the Mega-Low Mart. The product is similar in both instances. Why is there a major perception difference? It’s because shoppers perceive Joe as a guide, curator, and maybe even a friend. His personal integrity stands behind his product. The meat at the big box store is presented as a faceless commodity.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the small mom & pop business can do this stuff, right? That’s their strength. Major national brands can’t do it.”

Perhaps you’re reading this post on a product you picked up down at Steve’s Apple Store.

Steve Jobs was defined by Apple and Apple will always be defined by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Jobs’ personal credibility bled through to the brand. While he was infamously a hands-on micromanager in development and design, he didn’t personally sell iPhones, Macs, and the rest to consumers….Or did he?…You saw the personal connection between him, the brand, and consumers at when he unveiled a new Apple product when he was alive and you certainly saw it when he died.

You’ve seen this strong personal leadership that crossed the veil into the brand at several strong corporate entities. Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Richard Branson at Virgin. Herb Kelleher at SouthWest. Oprah at … Oprah. All individuals whose personal leadership made those brands great.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the founders of these companies made a huge impact on the corporate brand. But our founder is ____. (boring / evil / dead / etc) We can’t do it.”

No doubt Henry Ford, in his day, made as much or more of an influence on his company as any of the people I mentioned above. His influence on the Ford brand is finished. But with social media connections to people like Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), there is a personal leadership and connection to the brand. Through an effective social media strategy, consumers can talk “personally” to a brand and feel a one-on-one connection that is similar to Joe down at the butcher shop.

Another point to remember is that brand leadership happens at every level of the organization. The barista that you interact with every morning who knows your name and you know theirs is more of the face of Starbucks to you than Howard Schultz is. Develop a corporate culture that helps the people who are ambassadors of your brand (employees, volunteers, other customers, and more) show brand leadership.

People want to interact with personalities, not corporations. No matter where the leadership for that personality comes from, organizations will benefit from it whether it be from an employee empowered corporate culture, an interactive social media presence, or a visible dynamic founder.