I’m thrilled that several installments of my column in The Daily Muse have been picked up by Forbes Woman. Check them out!
It’s conference season, and the holidays are right around the corner, so marketing professionals everywhere are feverishly creating conference presentations and are eyeball-deep in holiday collateral. During this busy time of year, it’s easy to get bogged down in your benefits statements. You may even get tired of writing the same phrases, no matter how beautifully crafted they are.
Now’s the time to freshen up your messaging. By injecting new ideas into your cache, you’ll energize your sales and marketing teams and attract new customers. Here’s what I do when I need some inspiration:
1. Browse through AngelList. The startups using AngelList to attract and connect with investors are trying to sell themselves with pithy headlines and succinct profiles. Their messaging is as fresh as it gets, since these companies are typically under 3 or 4 years old. Browse through their profiles and think — how would I pitch my product to investors if I were in a fundraising round? Although the messaging you come up with might not be ideal for your current campaigns, it will jumpstart your brainstorm session and lead to new ideas.
2. Shadow a sales rep. Marketing writes the sheet music and salespeople sing the song. How are your clients responding to the lyrics? How are sales reps adding in their own melodies? Are they loving the song and making it even better with their special touch, or are they signing in a completely different key? You’ll never know unless you spend some time with your sales team and hear how clients actually respond to the messaging.
3. Describe my product or campaign to my grandma. We spend a lot of time, and rightly so, identifying and researching our target demographic. We find out what they like, what they understand, and what they know about our products, and then those findings turn into assumptions. It’s important to periodically revisit those assumptions, and describing the benefits of your product to someone who knows nothing about it — ie, your grandma — will do the trick. Assuming you’re not selling record players or Lincoln Town Cars, you’ll have to pare back your core capabilities back to their simplest terms and completely rethink their value.
My husband and I are getting ready to move, and so we’ve been spending quite a bit of time shopping for furniture, appliances, and housewares, visiting retailers both large and small, independently owned and big-box. Of course, as a marketer and as someone who works closely with sales pros, I’m constantly critiquing these stores’ messaging and sales strategies.
For example, today I was at a large store we’ll call Tom’s Furnishing Superstore (but it was really Bob’s Discount Furniture). As expected, a swarm of salivating salespeople immediately began spouting off the discounts and incentives du jour as soon as my husband and I walked through the doors. This type of behavior is the reason I hate going to furniture stores. Aggressive, hovering salespeople make me uncomfortable, and their selling style is incredibly ineffective — your pitch shouldn’t precede any understanding of your buyer’s needs. Nevertheless, Tom’s redeemed itself with one clever in-store tactic: they had a cafe with tables, huge jars of complimentary candy and carafes of coffee, lemonade, and tea for shoppers waiting on paperwork or bored children. Their prices were competitive, but their selling techniques have ensured that I’ll be making my purchase online.
After our trip to Tom’s, we headed to an appliance and electronic store that I’ll call JJ Craig (but it was really HH Gregg). We were mercifully greeted by just a single salesperson, who got off on the right foot by asking us a few questions before delving into the weekend’s sales. But things went downhill when we requested more details on the products. It became clear that he wasn’t familiar with the appliances he was trying to sell us. He was flipping through manuals for basic capabilities. He couldn’t tell us if the microwave/hood had a matching oven and refrigerator (It did. We found them.) So, although he was appropriately eager, he couldn’t really sell because he didn’t understand what he was selling.
Now, listen, I understand that a commission-based retail job is no walk in the park. These two salesmen are not in charge of their company’s marketing, pricing, and likely did not receive a great deal of training. However, you don’t need to be at the corporate level to implement these basic sales and marketing strategies:
1. Know your product. Use it. Talk to people who use it. You can’t market what you don’t understand.
2. Know your customer. The sales guys I met this weekend were obviously motivated to make a sale. But they weren’t interested in what I wanted to buy. Neither of them spent much time finding out what I was looking for. Instead, they focused on the pre-packaged incentives designed to make me spend a ton of money, and when my needs didn’t fit into this package, they fumbled.
2. Don’t treat your customer like a target. Because of their aggressive commission structure, sales pros tail you through aisles of appliances and stand awkwardly close to you in crowded living room displays. They repeat their name to you over and over, shoving piles of business cards into your hands, not because they want you to call them by name but because they don’t want you to forget to mention their name at check out. Instead of putting so much effort into tracking the customer like a hunter, focus on offering expertise and service, and loyalty will naturally follow.
Think of your favorite commercial.
Is it the one where the kid says “Tape a cheetah to her back”?
How about the one where the guy accidentally hits “reply-all” and then runs around smacking smartphones out of people’s hands?
Now, tell me what companies or products those commercials are advertising. Can you remember? I couldn’t.
This is one of the mistakes many advertisers are making these days. We’re so obsessed with delivering interesting, funny content that we’re failing to connect that content to our brand. A compelling story is important, but if your audience doesn’t associate that story with the product you’re trying to sell, the story has failed you.
Fortunately, we can all learn from example: many companies out there are getting it right: creating funny, memorable ads that tell a story and connect the viewer/reader to the brand without being them over the head. Here’s how to do the same:
1. Always return to a central message or tagline. For example, Geico continues to create an array of story lines with the Geico gecko and the “How happy are folks who save hundreds of dollars switching to Geico?” series (including the Hump Day commercial you’re probably sick of , but they consistently tie their stories — however varied and off-beat they may be — back to their tagline “15 minutes can save you 15% or more.”
2. Rely on a main character. It’s no coincidence that ultra-popular series of fiction often follow a central character or group of characters (think Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, 50 Shades, etc). Audiences fall in love with characters and want to watch them grow. You can recreate this with your brand storytelling. Focusing on a recurring character allows you to present a variety of value statements and target disparate audiences while continuing to connect your message with a central character, representing the heart of your brand. Allstate does a great job of this by focusing on two recurring characters, “Mayhem” and their spokesperson, Dennis Haysbert. By employing both of these characters, they’re able to produce two very different types of ads (and, thus, appeal to two very different types of audiences) without coming across as inconsistent.
3. Stick with a specific theme or format. If you unify your stories with a specific theme, technique, color scheme, or “look and feel,” that theme will become synonymous with brand and your stories will fall into place. Think of Google’s commercials, which implement the same montage theme punctuated by shots of search boxes. At the beginning of these commercials, the viewer is already primed to recognize these stories as Google’s.
How are you ensuring that your audience remembers your brand as much as they remember your story? Tweet me @rikki_rogers.
Earlier this year I began working from home as manager of marketing for a software start-up. Working from home is immensely beneficial for me — I don’t have to deal with the DC traffic (which guarantees an hour commute, no matter where you’re going). I can easily take care of parental responsibilities that must happen during business hours, and — this one might be the best — I don’t spend 45 minutes every day grooming myself into something appropriate for public view.
But since I’ve been working at home, I’m surprised by how many solicitors, salespeople, and grass-roots volunteers knock on my door every day. It’s constant. As someone who works closely with sales pros, I understand that these folks are just doing their jobs. And plenty of salespeople have told me that door-to-door work helps sales help build the tough skin they’ll need down the road.
But as a marketer, I question the strategy. As people become less sensitive to maintaining online privacy, they become more sensitive to maintaining physical privacy. I’m definitely in this camp. I find door-to-door sales and flyer-dropping aggressive and invasive. If I wanted to replace my roof or switch cable providers, I’d be online reading reviews and researching prices, not waiting for a stranger to give me an awkward pitch and try to politely ignore the fact that I’m in my bathrobe.
There’s no faster way to turn me off to your brand or flag your company as out-of-touch than to send a uniformed man to my door in the middle of the day, or, worse, dinner, or, worser, cocktail hour. Make a smart marketing decision and reinvest those dollars online. Your reputation and your ROI will thank you.
Am I wrong? I haven’t found a reputable recent study that shows a worthwhile ROI on door-to-door, but let me know if you’ve seen otherwise. I’m always on Twitter, @rikki_rogers.
When I was pregnant with my son, I constantly asked my older sister for advice. She’d had her first baby just a few months before and is, like me, a career-oriented woman with a demanding full-time job. Her life was like a peek into my future, and it made me simultaneously more comfortable and more terrified about all that was to come.
Late last week Herminia Ibarra published “Sex and the Working Mom” on the Harvard Business Review and aptly pointed out that in the ongoing debate about work-life balance one topic is often ignored: “A less discussable set of issues — sex, intimacy, the role that partners play in helping each other grow and develop, personally and professionally.”
Ibarra notices that when career-loving mothers discuss “the juggle,” they rarely mention how it can detrimentally affect their sex lives. She shares an anecdote from her company’s history in which a senior female employee responds to a question about the lack of diversity in high-ranking positions that require a lot of international travel with this: “Let me tell you what diversity means to me. My husband told me ‘there will be sex in this house at least once a week, whether you are here or not.’”
What I find most disturbing about this discussion is the implication that women/wives are “in charge” of a relationship’s sexual health. This assumption follows us from puberty to adulthood. Our culture teaches teenage girls that they are responsible for boys’ sexual behavior, and then, years later, tells married women that they are responsible for the abundance or lack of sex in their marriage. We assume that men and boys can’t control themselves, and so the burden of maintaining a “normal” sex life falls to the female. We peg young girls as temptresses who must be held accountable for boys’ sexual advances and married women as frigid careerists who must accommodate their husband’s needs. (And, for the record, I’m not arguing that Ibarra agrees with this assumption, but it seems like the women she quotes tacitly do.)
But there’s one universal truth about sex: it’s a joint venture. And it’s ridiculous to conclude that 50% of the participants have no part in determining its frequency. If a career-loving mother is too exhausted for intimacy, then she and her career-loving husband should work together to address the root of the issue. Why is she so exhausted? Can everyday tasks be redistributed so she feels less stressed? Are her partner’s demands reasonable to begin with? Is there a larger underlying issue? Both partners should be equally responsible for exploring these questions. But instead we frame her lack of sex drive as something that she must “fix.” From adolescence to middle-age sex — too much, not enough — is our problem.
As we continue the important debate of how working mothers and fathers can healthfully share the responsibilities of raising children while pursuing their passions, we need to reject this antiquated idea that men are uncontrollable animals that women must monitor. It’s a disservice to women and men of all ages.