There you are watching cable TV you pay too much for and on comes a splashy commercial advertising tourism in Ontario. There will undoubtedly be a shot of Old Fort Henry in my home town of Kingston, there will be shots of Niagara Falls (trying to show as little of the US side as possible), there will be shots of northern Ontario because they have to for political reasons although why anyone would go to bug-infested northern Ontario in summer except to visit my father is beyond me. Yes there is canoeing and hiking. It is no coincidence that one of the advertising sponsors is DEET.
No tourism commercial of Ontario is complete without a shot of the CN Tower, the world’s largest radio antenna.
The spot is populated by representatives of every member of the UN because if the UN has a capital, it is Toronto ergo, Ontario.
There are street festivals, music events, people kayaking because gas-powered boating is not environmentally or politically correct even though to get to where you can kayak you either have to portage for several days or drive a gas-powered automobile to get there.
Almost always there will be a shot of a moose although what you’re supposed to do with that is beyond me. Your chances of seeing a mouse is liable to be in the middle of the road you’re driving on and the outcome might not be very pretty. Memorable. But not pretty.
The commercial will encourage you to visit a website to find out more of what you can do in Ontario but nowhere will it list the Thousand Islands National Park because, well, that the Fed’s territory and as the second largest political land mass in the world, Canada’s tourism commercials have a lot of events and ground to cover. If you’re lucky, you might see a shot of the Thousand Island Bridge in a national spot but probably not because that might suggest you go to where the bridge takes you and that is to the United States.
That is the backdrop of a small client of mine. I have mentioned them before but I have kept some of the details secret but I see no reason to not share .
Houseboat Holidays is a seasonal business. No one wants to rent a houseboat in February and even if they did they couldn’t because in those winter months the boats are in for refurbishing and the river is frozen. So this company has to make a year’s revenue in Canada’s all too short summer season. July and August aren’t hard to rent but until recently, there were soft spots, particularly the first two weeks of July. Why was a mystery. So the task was to make sure there were no empty spots in July and August but more importantly, increase usage in the shoulder seasons of May and June and September and October.
Coming up with a plan
Every advertising campaign has a plan. Except for a lot of small advertisers who take a more shot gun or knee jerk approach. “We need a brochure.” “We need a website”. “We need to be in local tourism guides.” All without a plan.
People selling space in tourism guides or local tourism quasi newspapers will tell you how many issues are printed and that can seem very impressive. Stopped at a tourism centre on the highways or in small towns? You’ll see lots of brochures. The amount printed is not the point. The circulation and numbers that get read are what’s important. For most of these publications, that’s all but impossible to measure. They are not part of Roger’s media. In our trade we call that shotgun marketing.
So before you begin saying yes to every supplier who comes through the door with an “opportunity”, have a plan. Here is a simplified template for creating your plan: It is a series of questions.
Strategies can become much more elaborate (maybe you could write two pages on what we know about our target audience) but in a nutshell, this is the framework of a strategy or plan. And you can do it yourself or hire someone to help you do it.
Let’s go back to our houseboat client and look at question #2. Are we trying to reach people who are looking to rent a houseboat? Yes. But how many people search for houseboat rentals? Google analytics can give you a number or an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plug-in can tell us that. It’s not that high. And that’s for all of North America.
When you tell people you rented a houseboat in the 1000 Islands, the response is often, “What a great idea!” Would these people have done a search for houseboats on the 1000 islands? No. What would they look for? Cottages. So we positioned the houseboats as “Your floating river cottage”, did keywords to reflect that and added them to Trip Advisor. AirBnB, Facebook and even Kijiji.
So thinking outside the box in your planning can pay off. And it is paying off. They have had the best couple of years since they opened their doors in 1972.
The cost? Except for our time, virtually nothing. We saved them from spending money in local guides that are distributed when someone reaches the 1000 Islands. Why spend money when it is too late for someone to buy your product?
The heavy lifting on setting up this program is all at the front end which is where our time could and does add up. So we contracted to amortize the costs by year, giving them a manageable and predictable monthly marketing expense that reflected the realities of a small business. It wasn’t until the third year that we actually paid for some Facebook ads to promote a give-away guide to houseboating in the 1000 Islands in exchange for collecting their emails. While not huge, we are in the hundreds. But these are people who are highly engaged in the idea and open to email offers. Of the hundreds of emails we have, we have had only 4 unsubscribe.
The cost of producing that splashy Ontario tourism commercial would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. I know. I’ve done campaigns like that.
The real test of creative for small businesses is not just being creative with the work you produce but creative with how you save the client money. There are many free online opportunities to take advantage of. Want to find out how we can help you sell and save money doing so? Contact us.
“The possibilities are endless.” Such are some company claims who provide online marketing ‘tools”. And if you have endless time to devote to harnessing these tools, you might get somewhere. Maybe. Depends on whose tools you buy into.
There is a formula for promoting online expertise. The usual one consists of posting articles with headlines such as “Five things you need to know to INSERT TOPIC HERE.” “The three best tools to help you INSERT FUNCTION HERE.”
You get the idea.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many companies out there providing relevant tools and expertise for those engaged in online marketing. I know. I use some. Not just for myself but for my clients as well.
Therein lies the challenge. Any marketer, including small businesses, can scour the internet looking to tap resources they don’t have and learn marketing tips from the experts.
Anyone can do it. You do not need a marketing agency, you may not even need a marketing or sales director. If you have the time to pursue and evaluate the resources available to you, you can save considerable money. That is, assuming that your time IS NOT money. That assumes your business runs so smoothly, you can put it on auto pilot while you wrestle the online marketing gorilla to the floor.
Many companies do not have that luxury. Their CEOs or Presidents have larger issues to attend to. Such as growing their business.
The power of internet marketing gives you the ability to target right down to people who wear brown shoes versus those who wear black; to which way a person’s house faces, be it north, south,east or west and whether they are more or less prone to purchase online or off.
But the real power of the internet is captured when a company’s business goals and objectives are clearly defined and milestones for achievements are clearly marked on the internet road to success.
Almost every B2B business wants to generate leads. To do that, you need to capture emails. We can measure that. To legally get those emails you need to get the visitor to your site to opt in. We can easily measure that, too. Oops. Forgot. First we have to get people to the site in the first place. We can measure that, too. We can measure where they came from, where they went, how long they stayed on your site, whether they set sail to other sites after just visiting your landing page.
We can measure what people search for and if that search relates to our business, we can plant our ads when they visit other sites. There is so much we can measure. The rabbit hole of digital measurement has almost endless burrows. The one with a dead end sign is the one labelled “Why?”
‘Why’ is one of the most potent questions in any strategic exercise including choosing online tools to help marketing efforts
I love online marketing because of its precision, predictability and accountability. I am an ad guy. I get my kicks from helping clients gain market share, grow awareness or change behaviour. And I love what online communications can do to help me do my job. That’s why most of my work now is online. What I don’t like is seeing intelligent management being lured through the digital looking glass and down the rabbit hole.
If no one needed advertising, companies’ bottom lines would be healthier, businesses would have one less complication and the series Mad Men would have no traction or relevance and would probably never have been produced.
However, to increase sales, companies have to sell. To sell, companies need advertising. Let me define what I mean by advertising. It is any tool used to reach a target audience and deliver a selling proposition. That includes broadcast communication (TV, radio) Direct Mail, print, digital or online communications (websites, apps, Twitter, Youtube, Facebook etc) and even door-to-door sales people. Advertising is disseminating information.
The question is not whether you need advertising, it is when and how to deploy advertising.
Communication strategies are most successful when they dovetail with marketing strategies which in turn work best when they intelligently dovetail with the larger corporate growth strategy .
However, it is not uncommon for companies to turn to advertising to solve a problem. There was a delightful campaign done many years ago for an Oregon beer, Henry Weinhard’s, competing with the giants like Anheuser Busch. This Oregon beer was made with all natural ingredients and the campaign was based on a foil of two characters (like a Mutt and Jeff) who were responsible for delivering “Schludwiller” into Oregon. In one spot, they were driving their tractor trailer through tiny backroads in an effort to sneak the beer into the state. Mutt was going on about how Henry Weinhard’s was made with all natural ingredients, etc.
He asks Jeff, “Is Schludwiller?”
Mutt: Well if it’s not, how do we plan to sell Schludwiller?
Jeff: Heck, Mutt, that’s what advertising’s for: to make up for stuff like that.
And so many people believe. But effective advertising, no matter what the media, is not a cure for flaws. Can it reposition a product or service in a new and relevant way? Absolutely. And this is where marketing and advertising strategies get muddied. The truth is that identifying how a product or service should be repositioned is in many ways at the role of marketing. However, analyzing the competitive communication landscape is part of what defines a communication strategy. Here, they can overlap.
Regardless of who takes the lead, identifying opportunities and defences against threats is a strategic one. Advertising is not the first thing a company or government should do in the face of unexpected crises or opportunity but the last.
The first thing to do? Get smart. Research. Intelligent research.
You get the right strategy and give that to people who deliver on strategy and I guarantee your advertising will work. I have the proof to back that up. If you want to hear it, contact me.
Before forming my own company, I belonged to advertising agency creative departments in Canada and the US. The creatives were the ones who took a blank piece of paper and turned it into advertising that ran on TV, radio or print. Creatives were the ones who performed the magic.
Ore so many creative people would have you believe.
From as early as when I was a Sr. V.P. Creative Director at JWT, NYC, my mantra was ‘creative is not a department’ and ‘creative’ people do not hold a monopoly on creative thinking.
To best serve a client, everyone involved in the process needs to be creative. I have been fortunate to work with some very creative media planners.
Working for Guardian Group of Funds (now part of BMO), it was a creative media planner who helped us take a relatively small player and make them look much bigger than they were. Guardians funds are sold exclusively through brokers. So Scott Stewart, my media planner, came up with an ingenious plan that bought everything all around Bay St: bus shelters, Elevator News Network, ParkAd. (Bay Street is the Wall Street of Canada.) The result was phenomenal awareness for a fraction of the money big players were spending. Creative is not a department.
Creative research can be a creative person’s best tool despite how creative people often bemoan research. All it takes is the right question or questions. One of the most brilliant pieces of marketing/advertising research was done by Anheuser-Busch. They hired a psychologist to analysis drinking behaviour. Its was not about being blue collar or white collar, it had to do with mindset. They identified the reparative beer drinker: the one who has a beer after work to ‘repair’ themselves to get back to the person they were before they went to work. This is where the beer consumption volume was. The result of the study? “This Bud’s for you”; one for the most successful beer campaigns of all time. All based on research. Creative is not a department.
Perhaps the most potent potential of creative power is the art of creative thinking in the hands of a strong strategic planner. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more effective in marketing and communications than a crisp, insightful and focused strategy. Nothing. While I like to consider myself a strong creative person, I fully realize that power of great strategies. That’s why I spend as much time honing strategies as I do creative development. And no one appreciates a strong strategic planner more than I. And I am fortunate to work with one. He makes my job easy. All I have to do is be on strategy and I am all but guaranteed success. Because creative is not a department. It’s a way of problem-solving, no matter what the problem. Or department. In fact, any department that is not creative, is most likely a stagnant department.
Well, except for accounting.
IBM (USA) Frito Lay (USA) Pepsico (Canada). I have had the privilege of working on major campaigns achieving major results for major brands. All with the help of major budgets.
Give me $50 million and you will be astounded at what I can do for you.
Then we have Houseboat Holidays, a small, family-owned business in Gananoque, Ontario, boasting a fleet of 23 boats: a company we help more for love than money.
We have been frequent users of their product since 1994.
Houseboat Holidays has a seasonal business needing to make a year’s revenue in a scant six months, with shoulder seasons hard to sell. Like many SME’s, their marketing budget has been small, scattered and without a coordinated plan.
Their limited marketing dollars has been fifty dollars here, five hundred dollars there, a few thousand here and there and there you are: you have loaded your shotgun, hoped for the best and pulled the trigger. Often the ‘advertising’ was for regional guides: the kind you pick up where you arrive to an area. But anyone arriving will already have accommodation planned so a houseboat is irrelevant, as is the advertising in those guides. We took them out of all but free guides. Their marketing dollars are too precious to waste even a dollar.
SME’s are susceptible to shotgun marketing. Rarely do they see any tangible evidence in their ROI. Nor do they have the time to manage it. Most SME owners and managers are busy running their businesses.
It’s the SMEs, more than the blue chip giants, who need innovative, insightful and creative selling plans. Marketing dollars need to be measured and with today’s technology, they can be.
Today, Houseboat Holidays’ promotional life has changed as have the buying habits of their prospective clients. The middle class is shrinking and the choices for vacation destinations is growing, creating incredibly fierce competition.
Renting boats through the months of July and August is not a challenge (although they are experiencing more last-minute bookings than they had in the past.) We re-engineered their website making it an SEO-friendly, information-laden resource and established a social media platform. These have resulted in bookings.
The challenge is renting boats in the shoulder seasons: May, June, September and October.
With a little research we learned that Houseboat Holidays had almost no awareness in Kingston, Ontario, just a twenty minute drive from Gananoque. There was the shoulder season opportunity. Here is the plan:
It is targeted, timely and takes advantage of low-hanging fruit.
From brochures to an online presence, we have dramatically improved their creative product and have provided a money-saving, highly-focused selling plan.
We also went outside conventional thinking and put them on AirBnB, Facebook page, Instagram and Trip Advisor. Used properly, they work. Houseboat Holidays saw rentals from Europeans looking for a unique Canadian experience.
SME’s need blue chip thinking applied to comparatively shoe-string budgets. In fact, SMEs need to work dollar for dollar, much harder than corporate enterprises.
LowerWorks is the ‘go-to’ team for SMEs. Whether it is making a sales presentation stronger, a corporate video (we excel in broadcast) or help identifying new market opportunities, LowerWorks can help.
We understand SMEs and service their communication and marketing needs exceptionally well. We have the people, the experience and the skill sets to bring innovation and results to SMEs’ marketing budgets.
We are an SME engineered to succeed. We welcome the opportunity to help you do the same.
Creative people often balk at research, claiming focus groups have killed more great ideas than all the clients combined. There might be some truth to that: focus groups can be dangerous. But research has much more to offer than focus groups. Intelligent research, grounded in science, can be the creative person’s most powerful weapon. But it does come with one caveat: creative people need to read the research. Don’t accept someone’s synopsis of the research. Read it. Consider a U&A (Usage and Attitude) study. Given that the sample base is statistically significant, that report can include powerful nuggets many overlook. That was how I managed to solve a big problem for Frito Lay’s Doritos. Looking at the study and knowing where Doritos enjoyed good market share (the Southwest USA) and where it didn’t (Northeast USA) resulted in an insight. In regions outside the direct influence of Mexican cuisine (at the time), consumers had no idea what a tortilla chip was. And ingredients-based TV campaign broke the barrier to sales. Today, everyone knows what a tortilla chip is. And Doritos enjoys a strong, global market share.
The true talent of a creative person exhibits itself when that person applies their creativity to research learning. It’s a matter of finding creative way to connect the dots.
Anyone who has worked in the beer category has undoubtedly sat through many nights of painful focus groups. Generally, a focus group is a terrible way to evaluate creative approaches. There are too many variables. The style of the moderator. The impact of a dominant subject (people can either galvanize to their POV because they like the person or they can oppose anything the dominant subject says because they don’t like them or find them too abrasive.) For focus groups to be statistically significant, there must be many, often expensive, groups held before one should be making financial decisions based on the groups’ findings.
However, the proverbial light bulb can be triggered by focus groups, not necessarily because of the outcome of the groups, but because of the dynamics of the group. Such was the case in a beer launch I created. Labatt was launching a beer in January (huh?) in an attempt to disrupt Molson at the beginning of the baseball season. Baseball season is a long way off from January but given the lead time just to achieve awareness, mid-January was targeted as the launch date.
And so came the focus groups on this particular beer. Anyone who has sat through beer focus groups would agree that if there is one thing consistent from one group to another, regardless of the beer, is that beer drinkers consider themselves experts in beer. So armed with that insight and knowing that the objective was to disrupt Molson, where does that take you? What would you do?
It took me to a question. If beer drinkers consider themselves experts and we want to disrupt the category, why are we launching one beer? Why not two beers and create a beer battle between ourselves?
While not an initially easy sell to Labatt, they ultimately agreed and Canada’s first beer battle was launched. While creating awareness can take months, in some parts of the country, this beer launched gained a 7 point share market in three weeks. Unheard of. And for that success I thank research. If I had not attended those focus groups, this never would have happened.
Creative people can continue to believe research is a blight. Or they can embrace it and harness an exceptionally powerful tool. Research has no bounds when you add creative interpretation.
Customer reviews are becoming more and more important in the online retail sector. On some sites, such as AirBnB and TripAdvisor, they push to get you do these reviews.
I use online resources and like most people, I do look at reviews and comments. However, I am becoming skeptical and I am learning things to be wary of and I thought it only appropriate to share this. (Please feel free to leave gushing, positive comments below.)
The first thing to raise alarms is use of the word “wow”. I can’t remember that last time I heard a human being use the word, useless it was used with no further comment. Wow. End of story. But, “Wow! You guys really nailed it.” is suspect. Even Mickey Rooney would have had a hard time delivering those words and if you don’t know who Mickey Rooney was, consider yourself blessed.
Winning new business is the life blood of advertising agencies. Whenever agencies, (be they full service, tradition media agencies or digital agencies) pitch for a new piece of business, they pull out their best people, their strongest case studies and prepare the presentation, tailoring it as best they can to what they believe the prospective client wants/needs.
I know. I’ve been in those meetings. IBM at Wells Rich Greene, Taco Bell at BBDO Atlanta, Financial clients in Canada. I have done many.
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