Shake Up YOUR Audience – With Earthquake Marketing!

Yes, that’s a pretty cheesy headline for a blog post. But, there’s a real point to be made about the reaction of yesterday’s earthquake on the East Coast. Read on…

By all measures, yesterday’s earthquake was a whole lotta nothing – a few bricks loose, some cracks in buildings, overturned lawn chairs. Really, a non-event, especially for folks in more earthquake-prone areas, like the West Coast of the United States. A yawner.

Nonetheless, it lit up social media and the news. Why?

Because is was a whole lotta something different for its audience!

I’ve spend most of my life in the eastern US (along with 7 years in Tennessee). Before yesterday, I had felt a total of two very minor earthquakes – pretty local events. And when yesterday’s event occurred, I wasn’t even certain what was happening – I just thought I was momentarily dizzy. Until I went onto Facebook and saw “Was that an earthquake??” popping up all over half the country.

Much to the amusement of other parts of the country and world, we felt a need to share our experience. Because it was something new to most of us.

The earthquake got viral news attention, not because it was all that great a quake, but because it “knew” its audience – “these people haven’t had a good shaking for a long time! Watch this!” A big thunderstorm would not have gotten near the attention. That’s old news here. Moving ground? That’s worth talking about!

I was evaluating a small company’s website this week. It said a whole lot of nothing. I found myself thinking, “all you have to do is swap out the company name, and this site is interchangeable with who knows how many other companies.” Nothing different = forgettable. A list of bullet points is a passing shower, not an earthquake. Nobody’s talking about you.

As a marketer, think about your audience before you make a decision about trying to create impact. What is old for you might be brand new for them – or vice-versa. Is your approach something different? That, in itself, can help break through the clutter.

Now, back to straightening up the lawn chairs…

(Image credit: jmckinley – love this post!)

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Hire Steve Woodruff  if your identity and message need clarity (personal or company Brand Therapy)

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Unglamorous Need for…Semantics!

>> When Your Branding Zings

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Crop Circles

Everyone wants impressive, attention-getting ads – something to rivet eyeballs and cut through the clutter of sensory overload.

Just be careful there’s more to it than just making a striking impression of some sort.

Crop circles get people’s attention. But when they come across them, here’s what they’re left with:

crops- What IS this?

- Why is it here?

- Who is responsible?

- Crops? What crops?

If people are asking those questions at the end of even a “great” ad, then you’ve just plowed under a lot of money. Creativity isn’t necessarily the same as effectiveness. Because you’re there to provide crops, not run rings around your audience…

(Image credit)

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Truckvertising

Almost exactly a year ago, I asked the question on this blog why trucks aren’t used more for advertising. All that empty space, those rolling billboards capturing countless eyeballs…seems like a no-brainer.

truckbboardsmYesterday, while enjoying dinner with my extended family in a bayside restaurant, I saw one way a company is doing this – NJMobileMedia.com has this truck driving around with (scrolling) billboards on both sides and the back. I’m not convinced that the truck carried anything but the ads, but they clearly got people’s attention, if only for the novelty factor.

Since this is not an Al Gore-approved blog, I won’t bring up any issues about the carbon footprint of mobile advertising (Al’s Gulfstream flights and palatial mansion have a much larger carbon footprint than this truck, I imagine), but I do think that certain platforms – like trucks – are quite underutilized. What other “vehicles” can you think of where advertising could be carried that would be both engaging and non-intrusive?

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Why Your Message Lives or Dies

You’ve got a great message. Maybe you’re marketing a needed service. Maybe you’re instructing a set of students. Maybe you’re preaching a sermon. But there’s a problem, and you can see it – the message is not making it all the way to long-term memory, and it is not leading to the desired behavior change.

Why? Why is it that what you’re saying is being filtered out by some of the recipients, and only a percentage is actually “getting” it? Why does your message live, or die, in the mind of the audience?

I’m going to outline a Theory of Message Reception for consideration and discussion. I owe the seeds and a good bit of the structure of this theory to Elliott Masie (@emasie), a training professional who founded and runs the Masie Center learning think tank in Saratoga Springs, NY. I attended a Social Learning Lab there recently, and while the discussion of social technologies applied to learning/training was interesting, what really got my mind buzzing was a theory of learning Elliott propounded using computer terms. He talked about information that learners process, using personal buffers to filter out/in what would be allowed into (write-protected) storage.

Elliott identified 3 buffers – Value-testing (short-term relevance); Truth-testing (correspondence with reality); and Indexing (does it correspond with, and fit somewhere into, my mental index of information). Something that passes through these filtering mechanisms may get written on our “hard drive.” Because of the overload of (often irrelevant) information, we all need some sort of filters to sift through and find what matters.

This general concept intrigued me, and I wondered if the basic notion might bear the weight of some extensions, and broader applications (beyond learning, into the general notion of message reception). Having mulled it over for several weeks, here’s a preliminary Theory of Message Reception. First, the terribly-executed diagram (I’m not David Armano, after all…), then the explanation.

filters

Your (marketing, instructional, motivational) message is delivered. Before it is “accepted” by the recipient as valid and worthy of remembrance and action, it needs to first pass through four filters:

  1. Source - is the person/medium delivering this message authoritative and believable?
  2. Relevance - does this matter to me, now? (Masie’s value-test)
  3. Reality - does this message seem to be in accord with what I believe to be accurate and real? (Masie’s truth-test)
  4. Core Convictions – does this message line up with my first principles – my (capital T) Truth beliefs?

Anywhere along the way, messages will be tossed out or passed along depending on alignment with these filters. Once a message is accepted, it needs to find a way to be indexed in the mind according to prior categories of knowledge/experience, and if action is called for, then behavior change may be possible.

Why is social networking effective? Because we find peer-to-peer communication more authoritative than, say, 30-second advertisements on TV, which we’ve learned to distrust and filter out. A personal recommendation more easily passes through our Source filter.

A perfectly accurate message about life insurance may bounce off the mind and heart of a 16-year old. It doesn’t pass the Relevance filter. However, a 25-year old new parent who just had a car accident may have the same message (even from a less-than-reliable source) pass right through into action because now it all lines up with relevant, existential reality!

bumblebeeSomeone might explain to you, scientifically, with all sorts of charts and graphs and formulas, that bumblebees can’t fly. But it won’t get through the Reality filter, because…well, you’ve seen them fly!

Therefore, if you are a marketer, or teacher, or preacher, or parent, your goal is going to be to get your message indexed into memory and translated into action as efficiently as possible (sounds rather six-sigma’ish – sorry). If you want your message to pass readily through the Source filter, then it needs to delivered by someone with (real or perceived) authority. Celebrity endorsements apparently work for many marketers and dupes consumers this way (the tactic does have the opposite effect for many of us, by the way). The best source, however, is going to be the recommendation of a current participant, such as we find with friends, neighbors, and trusted social media connections. Hypocrites, shysters, and unknowns may actually have a valid message, but often the message will be jettisoned because the source isn’t truly authoritative.

The Relevance filter will also be a barrier if we haven’t truly studied and come to know our audience. If a congregation has recently suffered a traumatic loss, then preaching a very true message (in line with core convictions, even!) about the historical significance of Ezekiel’s visions just may not be well-received as valuable and helpful for the immediate circumstances. And don’t get me started about the fire-hose training method used on, say, new pharmaceutical sales reps, whose heads are stuffed with an extraordinary amount of background information that generally has little day-to-day relevance. Maybe it’s true, maybe it has a certain level of importance – but short-term relevance dooms much instruction to the dustbin once the test is taken.

The Reality filter is best addressed by creative use of analogies in communicating. When trying to get new information across, by appealing to well-established facts and previously-embraced “pictures” in the mind and heart of the recipient, the way is paved for more rapid uptake. If you’re trying to sell me a fast car, don’t try to go into the physics of mass and velocity. “Remember the rush you felt when you got your first real bike, and you raced downhill at speeds you never knew before…” OK, now I see it and feel it. A great recent example of this is the Heineken “walk-in fridge” commercial.

However, we must be aware that a lot of the “rubber meets the road” filtering happens at the level of Core Convictions. There is observable reality (bumblebees fly), but there are also deeply-held perspectives that shape our worldview and determine what we will or will not “hear” and act on. If my core conviction is that paying 100K for a car is utter vanity and waste (true, by the way), then your message about why I should buy one is going to be tossed out by that filter. If, on the other hand, your conviction is that a 100K car is absolutely necessary for status projection, then every argument for economy will fall on deaf ears.

Getting into much deeper water, on various sides of the man-caused climate change/global warming debate are people with very different core (first-principle) beliefs about Man, God, the Earth, and Fate. Messages will often be filtered or received, not due to inherent and provable validity, but due to pre-existing prejudices (core convictions). And why are some people-groups committed to destroying others, ignoring all reality, reason, relevance, and moral persuasion? Because of a core conviction that “we’re better than they are” and “they are unworthy to live due to past offenses/race/religious differences and we need to eliminate them.” Some core convictions, obviously, are at war with peaceful and productive civilization.

We shouldn’t think that some core convictions cannot or should not be changed. A teacher, or parent, or pastor, or friend who can reach down into the heart and soul of someone paralyzed by a deep-seated persuasion that they are worthless and that all attempts at progress are fruitless, and begin to re-shape that filter into a more healthy state – that is one of the greatest tasks anyone can undertake. Our filters need regular maintenance and recalibration, and we should always be willing to adjust and refine and change over time. But we should always be aware that the core convictions, even if held unconsciously, will still hold tremendous sway over reception of any messages.

If we’re in the business of delivering messages, our craft is not to try to “fake out” the filters, but to authentically and effectively reach the index and the will to act with truth that resonates. If you’re a marketer, what does that mean for your approach? If a corporate trainer, how should this shape your curriculum and instructional design (and delivery)? For instance, how can spend the first few moments getting a handshake from the Source and Relevance filters, instead of immediately setting up barriers to entry?

All right, that’s a mindful. I’m not concerned here with what you think of Heineken or global warming, but let’s enjoy a robust discussion in the comments about the validity (or not) of the general principles, and how they apply to marketing, social media, learning, and life. Poke, prod, improve – chime in!

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(image credit: bumblebee)

“Social Media”, Business, and Matchmaking

This is a “part 2″ post, growing out of the principles outlined here in part 1, where we enjoyed a lively discussion about how, in business, social media (or Community Networking/Networked Communications) is part of the larger category of Communications, along with a lot of other traditionally silo’ed disciplines such as PR, Marketing, and Advertising. We also discussed how the usage of two-way communication networks in business will lead to a more relational, rather than transactional, approach to gaining and keeping customers.

Now let’s turn to another fundamental perspective. This one has a lot of tentacles so we’ll try to outline a general principle here, and then we can carry on in the Comments. I believe that healthy business<–>customer relationships will increasingly be marked by a matchmaking approach. That is, we can steadily shift from a view of the potential customer world as a mass of demographics, and the potential supplier world as a bunch of faceless commodity providers. The first questions in a provider’s mind should no longer be, “How can I get MORE customers?” “How can I reach MORE of my target audience?” “How can I get my numbers up?” We should shift to, “How can we use networked communications to find the right people for whom we are the right fit (and vice-versa)?”

Let’s take a simple analogy, from the social media world. You can use Twitter as a “follower accumulation engine”, and in a few month’s time have thousands of subscribers, but how many of those are really a “match” for your interests, perspectives, business direction, resource needs, etc.? In social media, as in life and business, you’ll find that a relatively small number of folks are a “fit”, and when you spend time cultivating them, they will help you find others who fit.  Some business owners pursue anything or anyone that will be a revenue producer, but I’ve learned over the years that “not all business is good business.”

Customers, too, are overwhelmed by choices, and gladly latch onto for providers of goods and services that are a good “match” – companies that make them feel like they’re getting consistent value, and that make life simpler by taking one more decision off the table. And now, with great social networking tools, many of these winning companies can have a “face” and carry on a dialogue with potential and existing customers, which strengthens the sense of relationship. If I have found a great “match” for, say, an on-line bookkeeping service, then I don’t have to think about who to use next time – and, I very readily pass on my recommendations through my network, especially if I feel like I’ve come to know the supplier more personally.

Of course, all of this has been going on before the era of web-enabled social networking – but the importance is much greater now, and the capacity to weave matchmaking into the equation (from both sides) is wonderfully expanded. There are one-time buyers, there are occasional customers, and there are matches. Businesses should be aggressively using networked communications to identify and invest in the latter, rather than constantly trolling for any new revenue that can be found. The customer network thus built will, in the long term, generate far more new and repeat business. It will even give you the luxury of “firing” unprofitable and troublesome customers (b-to-b or b-to-c).

What do you think? How do you weave a matchmaking perspective (and practices) into your business model?

Matchmaking is not merely employing a set of business tactics and tools. It’s a mindset. It can also be the foundation for an entire business model, which will be the subject of my final post (part 3) in this series, on Marketing Profs DailyFix.

“Social Media” and Business, part 1

Earlier this week, I enjoyed a robust Twitter conversation with a few folks (thanks, @lizscherer, @kellyferrara, @lindabeth!) on how “social media” fits into the pre-existing business silos that we all know and love (Marketing, PR, Sales, Customer Service, etc.)

Instead of putting out 140-character fragments of thought, it might be more valuable to sketch out some big-picture ideas about how this all, perhaps, fits together, and continue the discussion in the comments.

First, I’ll freely admit that I don’t much care for the term “Social Media.” I think it’s limiting. I tend to prefer either Community Networking (more on the inter-personal level), or Networked Communications (more on the business level). Take your pick; we’re talking about person-to-person or organization<–>person communications and connections mediated through on-line tools.

Let’s think about business. I think a lot of these legacy silos are not particularly helpful, so let’s imagine for a moment that they are swept off the table and everything is encompassed under one umbrella term: Communications. PR, Marketing, Social Media, etc. – it’s all about communicating to the world at large (people unaware of the company; prospective customers; imminent buyers; existing users; other stakeholders). These communications take various forms, including direct advertising, word of mouth (on- or off-line), press, or what have you, but it’s all communications, and it should all be strategically tied together.

For a business, then, let’s take this practice of communication and view it through the prism of the main goal: increased uptake of offerings and therefore, increased revenue. Business growth. From the perspective of the business, and using rather sterile terms, there are three main stages of this: Customer Awareness, Customer Acquisition, and Customer Retention.

What is the process – the pattern – that occurs to reach this goal of business growth, and how does the discipline of Communications fit? Here’s a suggested way to view it:

Awareness Communications – strategies and tactics that elevate some level of understanding of the company’s existence, offerings, and value. An analogy: this is walking into a party with an attractive, attention-getting outfit.

Qualification Communications – think pre-sales marketing here. Expressing, at some level, what the nature and benefits of the offering are. But this need not be one-way anymore – through networked communications, businesses can much more readily understand the needs and desires of potential customers. Ongoing analogy: chatting up at the party and gauging if there is interest in more than just a polite chat.

Commitment Communications – assuming that the potential customer is seeing genuine value, now the parties discuss how they might get together to meet mutual goals. This is a deeper dive into needs and offerings, and gaining a comfortable feel for overall compatibility. Ongoing analogy: entering into a committed dating relationship.

Satisfaction Communications – the company realizes that its best hope of gaining new customers is by keeping current customers not only pacified, but satisfied to the point of being advocates. Time and two-way communications are invested to build the relationship and improve the offerings. Ongoing analogy: the diligent care and feeding of a marriage relationship.

This is the typical linear process of how business is obtained and grown, and if we range our Communications options and methods along these lines, we can see how a strategic approach to the various legacy disciplines (PR, Marketing, Advertising, etc.) can now be achieved. Each stage of the continuum requires different types/mixes of communication, with differing levels of two-way exchange. “Social Media” plays a role throughout, not as a separate discipline, but as an integral part of two-way communication that should mark an entire process.

When you look at this continuum, ask yourself: does your business have a consistent message that is woven throughout the entire communications landscape? It should.

Oh, and for an interesting twist, swap out the word “Customer” for “Employee”. Sorta makes sense on the recruitment/retention side of things, doesn’t it?

Kind of a mind dump here and lots of loose ends. What do you think? Speak your mind in the comments!

:: So far, we’re attempting to define the landscape of business communications – but in a follow-up post, I want to take something implied here and make it more explicit. Successful business will increasingly be marked, not by a transactional view (I am using communications to persuade you to buy my product so I can make money and you can, maybe, gain a benefit), but by a more holistic relational view. That is, customers and companies will increasingly seek out ways to determine if they are right for each other, something networked communications truly helps enable. My consulting business is built on a “matchmaking” network model and I’ll share a few thoughts on why I think there is tremendous value in this approach…

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Church Advertising FAIL

placeforyou-smSaw this advertising effort on the street this morning and did a double take.

It’s odd enough for a church to promote itself on a trash can. But to toss out the throwaway tagline: There’s a place for you? Perhaps they could have added: Drop-ins welcome!

Consider that a waste of the advertising budget. Or maybe I’m just not being very creative. What tagline might you put on, say, a Dumpster? (add your suggestions in the Comments!)

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