Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009: The Year in Badvertising

Compulsory year-in-review content is reaching a climax on the web right now, but at least there are plenty of entertaining reads, including our favorite genre: “worst ads of the year” articles.

Wired takes a look at “Outrageously Annoying” tech-centered ads, with embedded videos for each. Certainly, the Microsoft spots are an easy target of scorn. The success of Windows has never been driven by compelling TV ads (some of the Windows 7 launch notwithstanding).

However, as for the rest of the Wired list, we’d classify about half of it as closer to amusing—and actually pretty effective. For example, the Wired crew kind of missed the point of the GE locomotive piece, a lighthearted complement to GE’s strong imagination at work brand.

Meanwhile, has its own rundown of 2009 “badvertising” encompassing a broader array of consumer products. This one has more thumbs-down that we agree with, especially complaints about the Audi Q5 “Identity Theft at School” spot. There, the supposedly “unmistakable” Audi actually looks just like all the other crossover SUVs, but with black paint and some chrome trim. Come on, Audi, if you’re going to claim a real product differentiation, it’s got to be more than a paint job.

Bonus points go to this current, creepy Palm Pre campaign for making both the Wired and Slate lists:

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, we haven’t seen any “worst of 2009 web advertising” pieces. It could be because so many of them are so irritating and invasive that critics don’t know where to start.

This is a key challenge to keep in mind, as online advertising continues to grab a bigger share of marketing budgets. Web ads may be a cheaper and more targeted way of getting in front of more people, but it isn’t easy to find a balance between producing an effective ad and driving people away.

If all you’re doing is aggravating Internet surfers, then you may be better off making a mildly annoying TV spot—even one that makes one of these lists.

Friday, December 18, 2009

You've Got Fail?

AOL Tries Rebranding

With hopes to revive the faltering brand that was once an Internet and technology pioneer, AOL has adopted a new brand identity as the company parts ways with Time Warner.

AOL now aims to be seen as a world-class content provider akin to the New York Times or, BBC, according to Maureen Sullivan, Chief of Staff to the CEO, Tim Armstrong for AOL in a recent interview with BrandWeek.

Will it work?

On the surface, the move seems an obvious choice. AOL has been about a lot more than their Internet access business for many years; the old name and Running Man icon was pigeonholing the companies’ appeal and purpose in a way that no longer applied. AOL had out grown its ISP product line and was looking to offer loyal consumers more. Meanwhile, its website content,, already reflected the wider offer that the company was casting. So bringing it all in line under the revitalized logo AOL provided consistency across the mission, actions and communications of the company. It made perfect sense.But that’s not to say the overhaul was an easy thing to do. Brand and name changes take a lot of time, money and guts. The move also puts AOL into more obvious, direct competition with counterparts like, MSN and Yahoo!.
As times change, technology companies know they must continue to evolve, as must their marketing communications efforts. The AOL team had the vision and will to undergo this transition and celebrate it as a positive step forward for the future.

And for those disappointed to see the Running Man go, Sullivan hints that he will play a part in future corporate branding initiatives. Until then, the Running Man must take a seat in the back.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Are You Marketing (and Living) Your Mission?

Over at AdAge, there’s an interesting look at the trend in mission-based marketing among consumer brands.

Big names like Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Wal-Mart are putting a lot of emphasis on taglines and catchphrases that sound like they’re right out of a lofty mission statement.

Think Wal-Mart’s “Save money. Live better.” That’s a pretty dramatic and emotional turn from the old “Always low prices.” More importantly, the audience seems to be internal as much as external.

Guess it’s a sign of the times. In the recession, employees need to know they’re working for something more meaningful—helping people “live better”—than just providing cheap merchandise. Seems to be working at least OK for Wal-Mart lately.

Yes, a tagline tied to a mission can pack a pretty powerful punch. But a note of caution: If you’re going to engage in mission marketing, then it’s more critical than ever to follow through with the mission you’re promoting. You’ve got to live that brand promise.

Otherwise, it’s just an empty slogan. And your customers, and your employees, will see right through it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Key Considerations for Your Company Facebook Page

Should your business be on facebook?

Yes. With more than 300 million users across all demographics, you shouldn’t ignore this channel.

However, what you do with your facebook page is a different matter. Many companies may be unsure how to proceed in this huge but still evolving arena.

Maybe start by consulting this helpful primer on facebook pages for small businesses in The New York Times (sign-in required). There are some good links to other resources there, so by all means, read the article when you have time (away from facebook).

In the meantime, some key takeaways:

  • Start with strategy. Yes, you should be on facebook. No, you should not be aimlessly wasting time. However, there’s a learning curve involved. So identify objectives, and start experimenting now with ways to achieve them.
  • Show, don’t sell. People use facebook to interact, not to buy things. They’re interested in the personality of your business, so give them that experience on your page—not a bunch of pushy hype.
  • Stay up to date. Regular doses of current and relevant news, events and commentary keep visitors returning.
  • Don’t expect too much. Since facebook is about relationships, and relationships take time to develop, maintaining a great page won’t do your salespeople’s job for them.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Recovery Is Ramping Up. What about Your Marketing?

Feeling a little more optimistic lately?

If so, it’s not without cause. Numerous signs suggest that the economy is continuing to emerge from recession:

If you have some other tales of the upswing to point out, please join the conversation at Positive Breakthroughs, a LinkedIn group promoting good economic news.

In the meantime, you should be thinking about how you’ll take advantage of new growth opportunities as they arise. After all, there will be no shortage of companies vying for new business in the coming months.

How are you going to set yourself and your company apart from the fray?

It doesn’t have to mean big spending. As AdAge points out, positioning yourself as a thought leader is a smart, cost-effective way to differentiate yourself and increase your visibility. Whatever niche you’re in, now is the time to demonstrate your expertise through relevant social networks, in the trade publications and on the blogs.

You can start by commenting right here. ;)

Friday, October 30, 2009

New CNN Site Did Your Web Design Homework, the country’s highest-traffic network news site, went live this week with a redesign that’s worth further study.

Not sure if it’s as “beautiful” and “visually arresting” as the CNN folks claim, but it definitely has a greater emphasis on images, video and easily digestible, modular content. Adweek says there’s a lot more interactive, social functionality, as well.

The redesign reflects an important step in CNN’s transition—from just an online iteration of a TV network, toward a distinct news site that takes advantage of the web’s unique capabilities. But good as the new site is, it isn’t by any stretch revolutionary. CNN’s really just following the lead of non-mainstream news sites such as The Daily Beast and Newser.

The difference? CNN is a big organization backed by an even larger corporate parent, Time Warner. The changes they’ve made are almost certainly driven and justified by thorough research. They’ve looked carefully at what the audience wants: a more custom user experience and greater involvement with the content. These results appear to validate the savvy design and social aspects of those alternative news sites.

That’s why it’s a good idea for all of us to pay attention. The new CNN shows that social functionality, quick-read convenience and interactive communication are now mainstream must-haves on the web.

OK, so your site won’t make Alexa’s top 500 anytime soon, but you can still benefit by deploying some of the best practices of those that do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lucky 7? Microsoft Marketing Better with New Windows

Jaded techies around the world are grudgingly admitting that, whaddya know, Windows 7 is actually pretty good

It’s not at all clear whether the launch can help Microsoft fully recover from the expensive failures of Vista. But the strong initial buzz suggests they’re doing a lot more things right this time around.

 Things like:

n      Much closer collaboration with PC makers in developing the new product

n      Going for a more evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, advancement

n      Emphasizing Windows 7’s user-inspired improvements


The customer focus is also carried through in a push for “launch parties” at users’ houses (which was noticed in the marketplace at least enough to spur its own parody video). And there’s a nice, cohesive theme going throughout, around the number 7. Read a fairly glowing overview of all the moves over at Business Week.

Looks like the MS team has determined that, if they’re going to get a cynical, stingy public to buy in this time around, they’d better involve those customers from the start, give them a product they’re looking for and tell them about it every way they can.

The result is that, for once, Microsoft seems to be setting a good marketing example.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The French, and Other Snags in Your Global Marketing Efforts

Oh, those French. So proud, so self-serious. They can’t let a fun and fitting new term like cloud computing just be.

They have to come up with their own, uniquely French name for it. The Wall Street Journal takes a quizzical look at this process as it’s carried out by France's General Commission of Terminology and Neology.

The article is worth a read as a caution for all current and aspiring global marketers out there about the many pitfalls of communicating in overseas markets.

The French may be more forceful in their defiance of “outsider” words. But they’re hardly the only ones. Truth is, every culture is quick to dismiss anything that doesn’t sound native. They won’t look too kindly on your brand if you don’t blend in.

Google translator won’t cut it. A decent translation service won’t necessarily, either. After all, you have to do more than just speak the language; you have to work to become part of the culture, to understand and respond to what customers care about and the way they think in each market.

Chances are you can’t accomplish it with your own resources alone (unless you’re, say, Coca-Cola). More likely, you’ll get through to your audiences overseas by leveraging strategic partnerships with firms in those markets. They become the keepers of your brand in far-flung places. Who knows, you might even work with them by using cloud computing.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Southwest Brand Gets a Good Rap

Here's a little Friday uplift ...

It’s nothing new or groundbreaking to point out that Southwest Airlines has a great brand. But then again, maybe you haven’t seen Southwest’s rapping flight attendant:

Further proof that no company owns a more fully realized, thoroughly entertaining brand than Southwest. It makes a nice complement to the playful "Grab Your Bag, It's On" campaign they've got going.

And for David Holmes, it's made for his 15-plus minutes of fame--at the company's shareholders meeting, in the Wall Street Journal, even on Oprah and Leno.

Meanwhile, to Southwest's credit, they've appeared to be hands-off throughout. Blogs and news stories routinely attribute the origins of the phenomenon to recordings by passengers with cell phone cameras, not by anyone at Southwest posting and/or spreading the video. That's a key lesson for any aspiring viral marketers out there: it's got to at least look spontaneous.

Since Southwest and its people have been consistently supporting the company's well-grounded (or should we say "high-flying") brand for years, this video is easily assumed to be authentic. Either way, it's fun to watch on a Friday afternoon.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Old-School Social Media Success

Using social media can help you achieve lots of big goals—gaining recognition as a thought leader, generating leads, pumping up sales, etc.

But just as often, success in social media is simply about finding more efficient, effective ways to solve problems and increase customer satisfaction.

Take this Pitney Bowes example we just read about.

The postage meter people decided that maybe they were spending too much time and money on customer support phone calls. So they created an online user forum where customers could pose and answer each other’s questions, moderated by the company.

With the help of customers’ diverse content input—kind of a crowdsourced FAQ—Pitney Bowes’ forum quickly delivered robust answers to many of the most common questions that people used to call the hotline for. In the process, they’re saving the company money and customers lots of stressful time on the phone.

And maybe the most important (and reassuring) lesson here is that they did it without using the latest and greatest platforms. No Twitter, no Facebook, no StumbleUpon—just a clear objective and good ol’ forum, with great results.

Friday, September 25, 2009

On Elevating Yourself from the Low-Price Fray

Good column over at btobonline: Can low price be beat in today’s b-to-b markets?

It’s been a key question for years, but the current marketplace has made the low-price issue even more urgent.

What to do? We like columnist Kay Plantes’ suggestion that B2B companies refocus on their business model strategy.

That’s exactly what some of the midmarket manufacturers we work with have done. Price is a huge issue in this segment, and the recession has certainly made it difficult to avoid getting sucked into self-destructive pricing wars.

But our clients have been fighting back. They’ve taken a close look at what they do that customers value the most, and they’re actively adjusting their business models accordingly, by zeroing in on a niche or approaching customers with more robust offers.

So you can start there. The key then is to follow through on the new business model by linking it directly to marketing strategy and execution you need to achieve your goals. Don’t drop the ball. You’ve got to take that strategic focus, articulate it clearly and run with it, making it the backbone of all communications and interactions you have with current and prospective customers.

The result should be less emphasis on products and prices, and greater emphasis on the unique value your organization provides to customers through your refined business model strategy.

This is what’s meant by “strategic marketing communications.” It’s based on your goals, it’s well grounded and it really gets you somewhere—out of the low-price game.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Let’s Hear It for U.S. Manufacturing

It’s nice to see someone sticking up for U.S. manufacturing, for a change. Example: Rockwell Automation Inc. chairman and chief executive officer Keith Nosbusch, has been visible and vocal lately advocating for more investment in the sector.

"U.S. manufacturers absolutely must have innovative energy-efficient and productivity-enhancing technology to be competitive," he told a press briefing last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The good news is that many manufacturers are applying these lean technologies. The not-so-good news: Too few people are aware of this success.

That’s why it’s refreshing to hear an industry leader like Nosbusch speaking out. We’ve talked a lot in this space about the need for manufacturers to market their individual companies with differentiating brands. Today, the need for more powerful communications may be equally important for the manufacturing sector as a whole.

After all, despite the tough times and fierce overseas competition, manufacturing remains a vital backbone of the U.S. economy. This sector deserves and needs support, and manufacturers should not and cannot allow themselves o be overlooked.

Kudos to Nosbusch for putting himself out there on this front. Now, are there any other manufacturing leaders ready to lend their voices?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dear NFL: You’re Doing It Wrong

So, the National Football League is moving to restrict fans’ in-game tweets and other microblogging activity. The justification? The threat posed to the NFL’s exclusive TV contracts by fans giving play-by-play updates and posting video clips.

This attempted crackdown is so misguided we’re not even sure where to start. Maybe here: Are Roger Goodell and the gang really so worried about random, shaky handheld video on Twitter enough to risk alienating hundreds of millions of fans with these heavy-handed, paranoid/defensive tactics?

From a Forbes article on the topic: “The strong-armed tactics demonstrate how worried sports leagues are about the impact of social media on their business. But they also open the NFL up to a potentially ugly legal battle if the league cracks down on fans.”

But it’s a lot more than a litigation nightmare. The NFL has a great community of rabid fans. And even if social media was a slight drain on sports broadcast audiences, this would still be just plain bad PR. Instead of going on the defense, the NFL should play a little offense and leverage social media to channel the enthusiasm of its fan base.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Summer’s Over (Sort of), but Economy’s Heating Up (a Little Bit)

Most of us consider Labor Day to be the end of summer and all the good vibrations that go with it. Nevertheless, we’re feeling pretty upbeat around here.

And it’s not just because of the coming three-day weekend. It’s also because of the coming economic recovery. There are more positive signs every day:

-- Global economic acceleration

-- Private sector hiring

-- Productivity up

-- Private equity investments increasing

Tell us your thoughts here or over at Positive Breakthroughs, our LinkedIn group sharing economic optimism.

And then be sure to enjoy your long, still-summer weekend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Another One of Those Incremental Improvements That Keep Google Ahead

Here’s something that shouldn’t surprise you: Google just keeps getting smarter.

Last week, the Internet frontrunner announced changes that will enhance its contextual targeting capabilities.

Contextual ads show up on pages of Google publishing partners. These AdSense ads are supposed to be relevant to various keywords on a given page. (Say you load a story about increasing new home construction. You’re likely to see an ad from a homebuilder.) When it works, it’s your typical, intuitive, don’t-even-realize-it’s-happening Google experience.

Trouble is, sometimes Google’s contextual targeting hasn’t worked quite right. Like when an ad for cheap airline tickets shows up on a page about a plane crash. Here’s an amusing slideshow of some of the most egregious examples of contextual targeting mishaps.

The changes Google announced this week should cut down on these embarrassing exceptions—once again keeping Google ahead of the pack in terms of creating an ever smoother, more customized Internet that works better for advertisers and users alike.

That’s not only good news for you if you’re an advertiser. It’s also a good example. The lesson? Never stop improving. The folks at Google never do, and that’s one of the ways they maintain a competitive edge.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lessons from a ‘Best Buy’ That Wasn’t

Come on Best Buy, you can do better than this. Your little $10 LCD TV mistake could have been parlayed into some goodwill publicity—if you bothered to follow through.

Instead, we get what amounted, more or less, to a classic “no comment.” In fairness to Best Buy, the retailer is refunding everyone who ordered the sets at that eye-popping price on And the official word from the company was oops, sorry for the misunderstanding.

But that was followed by a gentle reassertion of the company’s right to change pricing and availability of products at any time. And beyond that, Best Buy is mum.

Why? Seems to us like the perfect opportunity to turn a mix-up into a make-up with customers. Turning an unhappy customer into a satisfied one is one of the quickest routes to positive word of mouth (and great PR). For Best Buy, it could have been as simple as sending all the aggrieved a little Best Buy gift card (or at least a decent coupon) along with their refund. Then, of course, announce loudly that you’re doing that.

Alas, that’s not happening. Meanwhile, customers are griping, news outlets are spreading the story and Best Buy is looking kind of cold and careless.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Branding is back, baby!

For many B2B companies, the whole idea of brand building has taken a back seat in today’s economy. Everybody’s cautious with their investments, limiting their spending to price promotions and the like.

It’s understandable, but it’s also ill-advised. Why? Because in a shrinking market, you have to aggressively protect and grow your share. And you can’t do that by focusing on your products and services alone. Doing so only plays into the trap of commoditization.

We think it’s time to give brand building a little love again. Good thing we have this powerful tool nowadays that can help you build your brand directly and cost-effectively with customers. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called social media.

Check out this decent primer in The New York Times on managing your reputation online (or, in other words, building brand equity).

Opportunities abound to connect with customers, solve their problems, anticipate new ones and cultivate trust every step of the way—exactly the vibe customers are seeking in these uncertain times. Social media is an excellent path to reinforce your brand and build the confidence your customers need to have for you to win their business. Yes, branding is back, baby! It’s online, it’s every day, and it’s here to stay.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Microsoft-Yahoo! Partnership Needs a Culture Shift to Take on Google

As the escalating Microsoft-Google faceoff continues, Microsoft and Yahoo! have finally hooked up, but nobody seems too impressed with their search partnership.

Combining resources, they’ll still have only 30-35 percent of the market, compared to Google’s 65. Then there’s the looming antitrust scrutiny.

But we’re wondering about a separate issue: culture. Can Microsoft and Yahoo! mix successfully—and can they do it in a way that keeps pace with the open-source-innovation model parlayed by Google into Internet domination?

It takes a strong commitment to ingenuity to support a policy like Google’s “20 percent time,” whereby employees spend a day per week taking on projects outside their job description.

Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, Yahoo! are more entrenched, institutional organizations. They’ve evolved, sure, but they aren’t in a constant state of advancement the way Google is and has always been.

To be fair, Microsoft has fired some fairly strong volleys in this match, including the Bing rollout. Bill Gates’ behemoth baby isn’t accustomed to second place, so don’t count them out just yet. But the new MSFT-YHOO partners have big hurdles to clear as they try to cultivate a combined culture of creativity that’s a worthy rival of Google.

Friday, July 24, 2009

As Social Media’s Status Rises, Don’t Ignore the ‘Why’

In an interesting if unsurprising development, BtoB has released a study declaring that “Social media use soars among b-to-b marketers.”

Indeed, we’re all atwitter about the interactive, community-building possibilities. And as we’ve said before here, here and here, you should be experimenting in social media.

But at the same time, a word of caution. We’re talking about experimenting here. And experiments sometimes fail. As marketers, we can’t let ourselves get so tangled up in social media excitement that we don’t recognize when our efforts aren’t achieving any marketing objectives.

For example, as one BtoB commenter points out, it’s nice that we marketers are flocking to social media, but we should also consider whether our target audience in any given case is active in these emerging channels. If not, why waste the time?

So while we’re listening and chiming in online, we also should be thinking about how social media dialogs fit with our goals and strategy. Shooting for a quota of sales leads? Just trying to stay on top of what customers care about? We can’t expect too much from our Tweets, replies, status updates, etc. But we should expect something.
In social media, at a minimum, we need some idea what we’re getting into—and what we’re trying to get out of it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Social Media: Just Because? Perhaps ;)

There’s some provocative commentary over at Ad Age: “Why I Hate Social Media

Don’t count me among the social media haters, per se. I do find the media themselves to be interesting—especially all the instant interconnectedness among people around the globe.

But Ad Age columnist Matt Jones has a point, I think, when talking about using this tool for marketing purposes: it’s still about the big idea.

Lots of people are jumping on the social media express. They’re reading about it everywhere, and the knee-jerk reaction is to say “Hey, me, too!” But for jumping on board to be worthwhile, you still have to offer fresh, compelling stories that engage and build community with people who share similar interests. Otherwise, your Tweets will be easily ignored by the same social-media-savvy people you’re trying to reach.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be experimenting in these fast-evolving realms. But if you’re using social media for your business, you should at least consider how doing so relates to your company goals and strategy. And more importantly, you have to make sure you’re having real-life, give-and-take conversations with customers, prospects and industry people. (Take Dell and IdeaStorm, for example.)

Don’t forget to listen, learn and take action. Thanks to the wide variety of social media research tools available (start by exploring Twitter’s search function), you can tune in to what people are talking about and tailor your messages accordingly. So go ahead and join the conversation.

After all, the big idea of “social media” is being “social.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Word of Mouth Marketing: More Valuable Than Ever

In these days of tight resources, the quest to do more with less has many of us returning to marketing basics.

You don’t get more basic—or more cost-effective—than word-of-mouth marketing. And today, good old-fashioned word of mouth can be easier and more powerful than ever, thanks to social media and other web 2.0 tools.

To help you get going, there’s a constant parade of great advice and examples to emulate over at the Word of Mouth Marketing Blog.

It’s run by to Gaspedal, a noted word-of-mouth marketing consultancy led by Andy Sernovitz, author and expert in word-of-mouth and its 21st century manifestation in blogs and social media.

OK, full disclosure: We were pleased to see that a Nueske’s tradeshow giveaway we orchestrated got a shout-out recently on the blog.

Nevertheless, gaspedal and its blog have tons of excellent tips for how you can fuse classic approaches and new technology to accelerate your success. So go check it out and put it to use.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can Pork Producers Win Their ‘H1N1’ vs. ‘Swine Flu’ Crisis Communications Quest?

Let’s take a quick break from all our hand washing and cough covering to note the crisis communications case study in action that is the swine flu outbreak.

Excuse me, I mean the “H1N1 virus,” as industry groups for the other white meat would greatly prefer we call it. In one of the most interesting aspects of this saga from a marketing perspective, pork producers are struggling to save their products from panic and misinformation.

No, pork producers didn’t cause this crisis. But they certainly risk taking a sales hit due to the fast-spreading bug’s potentially misleading common name. So the National Pork Board is wise to be tackling the problem aggressively.

We’ll go ahead and call it H1N1 here, but the odds may be against them winning this name game (although the Obama administration appears to be on board). Today, the chatter about the outbreak is spreading incredibly fast through social media, Internet searches and 3G phones. The virtual masses are guiding that conversation, and ultimately, they’ll call it what they call it. Swine flu.

It’s just another cautionary tale demonstrating why crisis communications planning is more important and more complicated than ever.

And since we have a client that makes some of the finest swine products in the world, we want to help the pork people out. To set the record straight, you can’t get H1N1 from eating pork. In fact, I just enjoyed a hot dog for lunch. Then, because President Obama and the CDC reminded me to do so, I washed my hands.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Harley-Davidson Talks Tough in the New York Times

Here’s an update on the recent struggles at Harley-Davidson, an American icon based in our hometown. Harley’s sales may have tumbled lately—and whose haven’t?—but the brand is still showing some mettle, as a recent dustup with The New York Times demonstrates.

A week or so ago, the NYT ran a piece headlined “Harley, You’re Not Getting Any Older.” It wasn’t a hatchet job by any stretch. But it did paint the future in dark colors, emphasizing the usual criticism that Harley’s core customers, baby boomers, won’t be in the market forever, and so the company needs to find a way to lure new blood.

Well, some people at Harley didn’t think they got a fair shake in the article. So, a few days later, they ran a big ad in an American flag design, with the provocative headline “You can file our obituary where the sun don’t shine.” You can read more about Harley’s advertising response here.

Now, you can say what you want about the logic of responding to a piece of journalism you disagree with by buying ad space in the publication that ran it. You also might take issue with the ad’s tone. Something about the in-your-face, red-white-and-blue attitude plays like 1987. In other words, the ad may appeal mostly to the baby boomer audience Harley needs to reach beyond.

Nevertheless, our local bike maker has a good point. As we’ve noted before, the company has been making moves and trying new things to cultivate new fans. These things take time, especially for a brand as well established as Harley’s is.

In the meantime, this playful advertising volley has earned plenty of additional coverage and conversation. And at its heart, the message is true to the rebellious, resilient image. On balance, that’s surely a win.

Friday, March 20, 2009

For Banks, a Crisis Communications Fail

An article in AdAge offers a reminder why staying quiet about a crisis is bad communications strategy.

The piece cites a new PR survey showing that only 8 % of consumers have full confidence in the nation’s financial service companies. AdAge attributes the low approval rating, in part, to the banks’ failure to communicate clearly with their customers in this time of trouble.

We say it all the time, and we’ll say it again: You’ve got to tell your story the way you want it to be told. If you don’t, it may be told by someone else—and they won’t be nearly as nice about it. In the banks’ case, the barrage of bad publicity in the 24-hour news cycle is telling their story.

So once again, we’re seeing how a “no comment” attitude only digs a deeper hole for businesses stuck in a bad situation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Some Stimulating Conversation about Targeted Marketing

BtoB Online has a piece worth reading about what the federal economic stimulus legislation means for b2b marketers.

The theme is that it’s a good time for targeted marketing aimed at those who stand to benefit, either directly or indirectly, from the government spending.

“We are … taking more of a rifle-shot approach to target places where dollars are being spent,” says one article interviewee.

The piece looks at the prime targets of the stimulus, including commercial construction, alternative energy, telecommunications, computer hardware and software and financial services.

OK, but what if you aren’t involved in any of those markets? No matter. In this economy, targeted marketing makes sense, whatever markets you’re in. It’s about being as smart and cost-effective as possible. Rather than broad campaigns, you should be working to tie all marketing directly to specific sales initiatives. That means working harder to understand each and every customer’s situation.

Online and Web 2.0 tools offer speed, flexibility and interactivity that are especially conducive to these targeted marketing efforts. So get cracking. Identify those targets. Ready, aim …

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Data show B2B marketers are active on social networks. Are you?

A follow-up to an earlier post about social media and other Web 2.0 tools, and why it’s important for b2b marketers to be testing those waters.

Some new data from Forrester Research shows that B2B buyers have very high social participation, according to a new post on Forrester’s blog.

Key quote from that entry:

“What does this mean for you? If you're a B2B marketer and you're not using social technologies in your marketing, it means you're late.”

So, how do you catch up?

For starters, as we’ve said before, join the conversation. And it is a conversation—not a one-way communication where a hard sell is appropriate or effective.

Social networks are dynamic communities. You can and should help shape the discussions, but you can’t completely direct them. For example, Forrester recommends facilitating the sharing of technical information related to your products and services among customers.

This freer-flowing dialog can foster a closer connection to and a better understanding of your customers than was ever possible without the Internet.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The latest news: Lots of positive breakthroughs!

Positive Breakthroughs, the LinkedIn group dedicated to sharing and discussing good business news, has gained lots of momentum since we introduced it in the last post.

Seems the “positive breakthrough” movement is striking a chord with business leaders eager to escape the negative loop and refocus on business growth. We now 59 members and 8 discussions going.

Let’s keep it growing. Come join the discussion and add your own positive stories.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Share a Positive Breakthrough

Woke up the other day to a pleasant surprise—some big, positive business news.

“Johnson Controls gets Ford hybrid deal” led broadcasts and topped page 1 of the paper and the business news websites in our Milwaukee market. What a nice break from the funeral march the news cycle has become.

Then it struck me: There must be many more upbeat economic tales out there. And I want to hear them. I bet you do, too.

At Scheibel Halaska, we figured it was time to cultivate some positivity. So we started a new group on LinkedIn called Positive Breakthroughs, a place to spread good business news. Go check it out and chime in.

No need for your stories to be as big as Johnson Controls’ new contract. We’re also looking for the smaller-scale successes, the kind of stuff that’s often overlooked and unheralded:

- The non-profit organization that gets an unsolicited donation that ensures viability for another year.
- The Third Ward retailer that declares commitment to staying in business despite the slowdown in the economy.

Now more than ever, we need to emphasize the victories, large and small. We’re mired in a slump technically, physically and mentally, and it’s up to us as businesses leaders to change the tone and focus.

No, a brighter outlook alone won’t suddenly end the recession. But if negativity breeds negativity, a positive approach is the right counter move. It shows leadership vision and creates business cultures that are strong enough to survive—and thrive. .

OK, then, who’s got good news? The more the merrier, so share your Positive Breakthroughs today.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Family and Friends Trump Recession Woes

It’s hard to ignore the relentless onslaught of bad economic news. If you’re in the Midwest, it’s also hard to ignore the relentless onslaught of winter weather.

Even though it’s a new year, with a new president, it may take a little more effort to look on the bright side.

Businesses are struggling. Money is tight. The holidays are over. And backs are sore from shoveling snow.

Nevertheless, we’re determined to put it all into perspective. After all, conditions will improve. They always do. And in the meantime, we can choose to focus not on what’s wrong, but on everything that’s right.

I’m not just talking about looking for silver linings in the economic news—although there are some to be found. For one, we should be thankful for every last customer or client. And how about those gas prices (even though they’ve begun to inch up again)?

But much more importantly, consider the bright side that’s always there, no matter the economy or the weather or anything else: our families and our friends.

We draw strength from each other in difficult times, and we share the joyful days just the same.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Resolve to Join the Conversation Online

We’re all trying to grow business without spending too much money. Good thing we have the Internet. Because online, there are all kinds of low-cost opportunities to reach more prospective customers and engage them like never before.

In this unkind economy, you owe it to the future of your company to explore how social networks, blogs, wikis and the like might fit in with your business objectives.

But for most businesses, especially in the B2B realm, Web 2.0 is uncharted territory. So, to get started, the Wall Street Journal has a helpful primer, The Secrets of Marketing in a Web 2.0 World. The piece contains insights and advice from experienced web marketing types.

One key takeaway happens to be one of the most difficult aspects to grasp about the online environment: that the online community directs the conversation. You can’t force the flow, but you can interact with more people and in more ways than ever.

That’s why the WSJ article’s final pointer is also probably the most important: Embrace experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try things out. But along the way, keep analyzing whether the results you’re achieving support your overall strategy.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Marketing Efforts Must Begin with Accountability

Advertising Age’s Michael Fassnacht has a great column titled “Producing Accountability in Hard Times.”

In these days in which even U.S. Senators are clamoring for accountability for TARP Funds, Michael’s message should be heeded by anyone involved with marketing and sales communication expenditures.

My strong beliefs about being accountable for results shouldn’t be that surprising to readers of this blog. See, for instance, this post on the ROI/accountability conversation from 2006.