A Story About The Circus

A lesson for marketers from the business that made marketing famous.

The Shriners Circus I was walking to a meeting yesterday when I stopped for one of downtown Spokane’s interminable red lights. A 30-ish man walked up beside me with a rental tuxedo slung over his shoulder. 

I said, “I hope it’s going to be a good party.”

That’s all it took; he couldn’t contain himself: “I won a contest! The circus is in town and I got chosen to be the assistant ringmaster! My kids will be in the front row while I’m in the main ring!”  (Later, I drove by the big top. Yep, the circus was in town.)

It was fun to see a full-grown man get so excited about the circus. Heck, I got excited for him.

It was a brilliant promotion

The contest from the El Katif Shrine Circus sums up the magic and excitement of the circus. Yet the grand prize cost the circus very little.

What an angle it would make for the local paper:  “Ringmaster For A Day – Family Gets A Front Row Thrill.”

Do your company’s promotions pack this much emotion?

Maybe you’re thinking – “That’s easy for a circus. I have a home heating company. I can’t match that!” Perhaps. But what a lesson:

The purpose of marketing is to make a connection with your customers. To do that, you have to give something of yourself.

It’s tempting to take the easy way out with promotions or contests. It’s easy to become the millionth company to give away an iPad or iSomething that has nothing to do with your business. But would a prize like that make a connection to your actual business? 

Instead, take some inspiration from the man in the main ring, who gets to be the center of his kids’ world in a whole new way.

How could you make your customers Ringmaster For A Day? 

If you were planning a promotion, could you give your customers an experience they can’t get anywhere else? Maybe that’s too much to ask, but it’s not too much to aim for. 

HootSuite went down: Anger and gratitude

When HootSuite went down yesterday, I have to admit I was TO’ed. “What? My precious, witty, added value/value added tweets – lost in cyberspace for all time! THOSE BASTARDS!”

Really, I should have been grateful for the free service they provide. For the hundreds of new Twitter folks I’ve connected with, with HootSuite’s help. For the 99.99% of the time that they’re up and running and helping me expand my horizons. (You old-time telecom folks will notice that’s four, not five 9s of reliability.)

And it makes me think: How many free services would I be sunk without? Admittedly, not as many as some folks, but still… here’s a short list.

Yahoo mail
Google Analytics
Google Alerts
Google Reader
Google Docs
Dozens of WordPress plugins from generous folks around the world
Free WordPress themes from generous folks around the world
Social Mention (OK, I wouln’t be sunk, exactly)

Klout (OK, it’s actually a curse)
A hundred free resources from HubSpot

* * *

That’s just off the top of my head. Amazing value there, isn’t it?

There are so many great services available at no cost beyond a computer and a connection. We all take them for granted, yet they help us get in business, compete, learn and just have a good time.

Which free services are you grateful for – and why?  And even more important, do we show enough gratitude for the hard work of so many people in the digital community?




No budget, no object to marketing a new business

This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time on marketing for new businesses, so I’m just going to post the link without much comment.

Startup Marketing: Tactical Tips From The Trenches

The link takes you to a blog post from Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of HubSpot, the marketing automation software company that coined the term inbound marketing. He knows a few things about startups and success. Here’s how he intros his list of 21 tips:

…I started making a list of all of the things I’d advise a new startup to do to get things kicked off with a limited budget.  As it turns out, there are a lot of tactical steps that individually don’t do much, but in aggregate start laying the foundation for much bigger things…This list is not intended to be a comprehensive “here are all the things you should do”, but more of a “if I were starting a company today, here’s what I would do in the first 10 days…”

That list includes:

– A name
– A simple website
– A Twitter account
– A “clean” Facebook URL
– A blog article about how you got to this point
– Setting up Google Alerts 

Of course, Mr. Shah goes into a bit of detail. But no so much as to overwhelm.

There’s a lot of marketing you can do without a budget. Click the link, then come back and tell me what you thought.


Make your marketing stronger: Focus

Want to make your marketing message unique? Relevant? Powerful? Then focus on solving the hardest problems for your customers.

Soft focus equals soft salesI worked with a great art director way back when. His favorite expression was, “If it were easy, anyone could do it.” It’s unassailable logic, and more true now than ever.

By focusing on the hardest problems, you’ll be forced to innovate. You’ll be able to do things that no one else does, or can do. You won’t be all things to all people – you’ll be the only thing for a lot of people. How much better for your business and your message.

In marketing-speak, that’s called “differentiation.” And “positioning.” It means you’ll have a story no one else can tell. Here are some examples.

Continue reading

5 clues that a business needs to change

Change doesn’t come easily to most of us. Companies, individuals and even entire industries don’t easily change their practices, policies and worldview – even in the face of irrefutable evidence that customers are unhappy. See: airlines, banks, auto dealers, cell phone carriers, real estate brokers, mortgage brokers. Continue reading

When you use “borrowed interest,” what exactly are you borrowing?

Timothy Hutton's ill-fated Groupon commercial

Piggybacking on the Dali Lama didn't work

Sometimes when you’re trying to figure out what to talk about in your marketing communications, the temptation to “borrow interest” from a totally unrelated topic is too hard to pass up.

Maybe because it’s relatively easy to borrow interest from something or someone who is well-known. And relatively hard to perform the real work that’s often required to communicate real value.

But think twice before using someone else’s fame, reputation or notoriety to get attention for yourself. It can backfire. Continue reading

Inbound marketing: a primer

Darren would be even more confused today

He'd be even more confused today

I lost faith in the ability of traditional advertising to make a dent in most businesses years ago. The tipping point was probably when my boss strong-armed a client into producing a Super Bowl commercial. The client, an old beer brand, would have had better luck investing in the California Lotto. An entire year’s budget was blown in one fell swoop.

Traditional marketing used to work, no doubt. It was a decent enough trade-off at the time: You watch our awkward and often insulting and sometimes misleading messages, and we’ll subsidize your TV, radio and print content. New technologies — the remote control, 500 channel cable, DVDs, DVRs, MP3 players, caller ID, the Internet — all made these interruptions more unwanted, and more avoidable.

For the vast majority of businesses — mine, and probably yours — traditional interruption-based marketing just doesn’t work any more.

At some point, it became far more efficient simply to help the customer find you online, than for you to find the customer, interrupt him and seduce him. Continue reading