Is Your Content Radio Worthy?

Business Talks, Spokane Washington's live business radio program, is on the air

Photo credit: Andy Cook

A few months ago, I was invited to join a new business radio program as the producer.

In this case, “producer” meant lining up guests, and practically anything else I want or have time to do—only three of us were involved initially.

The idea from the outset was to spread positive stories from the local business community (the Spokane, Washington area). Like a lot of you, I’ve learned that a company’s ability to tell its story is vital, so accepting the invitation to produce the program —Business Talks—was irresistible.

It’s turned out to be so much fun, I wanted to tell you about it. Continue reading

Dave Martin, Founder Of The Martin Agency

Dave Martin's portrait by Luis BrielAs a young copywriter, I was lucky to fall in with a good crowd: The Martin Agency, founded by Dave Martin in 1965. 

Dave passed away Tuesday. I didn’t know him well, other than he was a gentleman, a good father, humble and respected by all.

But I want to share some observations about how he set his small ad agency in Richmond, Virginia, on a course to become one of the world’s greats. (You know their work for Geico, Walmart, Discover Card, and the “What Can Brown Do For You Campaign” for UPS.)

I was hired as a rookie copywriter at The Martin Agency a few years after college, just before Christmas 1981. It felt like the big time, though the agency only had about 25 employees.  Continue reading

5 For The Weekend, Vol. 7

How To Create Advertising That Sells, by David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy can still teach us a thing or two

It was a strange week. I read a lot of very good blog posts, but not many of the type that fit the profile for this weekly collection. 

To be precise: They should be at least somewhat related to marketing. You should be able to appreciate them whether or not you’re a marketing pro. They should be inspiring and/or educational. 

In other words, they should be just right for the weekend.

So for this week’s 5,  in addition to a couple of current articles about modern marketing, I looked back in time for inspiration.  There’s wisdom from the late advertising great David Ogilvy, soul bearing from a grieving 16th-Century widow, and inspiration from one of my first bosses.

Now that really is looking back in time. Continue reading

Why We Don’t Plagiarize

Vice President Joe Biden takes the oath of off...

Joe Biden, plagiarist, swearing to uphold the law. Photo credit Wikipedia.

Is plagiarism suddenly all the rage?

Articles about it popping are up everywhere. My new pal Tim Bonner posted about it, as did Content Marketing World speaker Rachel Foster. Craig Silverman writes about it at  Then I read a post from a marketing student at the University of South Florida, Murewa Olubela.

Murewa focuses on the kind of trouble students can get into for plagiarism. Because she’s a student, and president of her PR club, I can see where she’s coming from.

But I wanted to offer another point of view.

Continue reading

My Horrible Print Ad, circa 1984

Ad for North Carolina Economic Development

It’s an ad about education. Please, oh please, no typoes!

I just wanted to follow up my previous post about blogging – and how it’s not the end of the world if you occasionally make mistakes. Try to avoid them, of course. But don’t let the fear of mistakes keep you from posting content that’s vital to your strategy.  Most online mistakes are fixable. 

Continue reading

How To Avoid The “Solutions That Matter” Trap

Strategic marketing messages aren't complicated

It’s message development, not rocket science.

For this post on strategic marketing messages, I was trying to invent a vague and completely meaningless example. The result: “Solutions That Matter.” 

Then I Googled it, just for fun. I invite you to do the same. 

I’m not sure how “Solutions That Matter” could add value to any brand, in any situation. Is it supposed to contrast with “Solutions That Don’t Matter”? 

Major brands can spend millions developing strategic messages to use throughout their marketing.  And still they get it wrong. Your business can do better, even if you’re bootstrapping it.

So with no further ado…

Continue reading

Three lessons from a Coke napkin

A pleasant surprise from my airline experience last week: This modest little Coca-Cola cocktail napkin delivers one of the nicest, most pitch-perfect marketing messages that I’ve seen in a while. Check it out, front and back:

Coca-Cola cocktail napkin from Delta flight

Coca-Cola cocktail napkin back from Delta flight

Why is Coke’s message so smart?

Strategically: It reflects everything the Coke brand tries to stand for: friendliness to all, “real thing” authenticity, and a distinctive taste in a world of wannabes.

Tactically: It delivers the message to a captive audience that has a free sample the product right in front of it. The message is completely appropriate and relevant. It’s beautifully written and designed, and as engaging as a napkin can possibly be. The right message, to the right people, at the right time. Perfect.

Three lessons for all marketers

1. Work on your key (strategic) messages.
If you think this message was simple and easy to produce — well, Coke and their marketing partners are so good at messaging that it only seems easy. Can you state your value proposition so easily? Does your company have a consistent voice and personality? These elements are central to your effective messages. Work on them and reinforce them — now, and constantly. A week or two before your trade show, or the day before your press release is due, is way too late.

2. Anytime, anywhere your company or brand interacts with your customers, there’s a profound opportunity.
Never take “small” touchpoints for granted. How easy it would be for Coke just to put a logo on the napkin, with an inane slogan. (I don’t believe “Open Happiness” is inane in any way, shape or form, but feel free to disagree.) This is powerful messaging where you’d least expect it. What are some small touchpoints that you’ve overlooked?

3. It’s harder than it looks to maintain market leadership in a commoditized category.
Coke has a hard job compared smaller brands that talk to more focused segments. Yet Coke still hit home runs. Think about it: Red Bull and Mountain Dew have created their own sub-categories. With much more focused audiences, their job of creating relevant communication is relatively easy. (Red Bull and Mountain Dew are tremendously successful, that’s part of the lesson.) But Coke must connect with 12-year-olds as well as their great grandparents, and they do a great job.

(Coke seems to be moving from “most liked” to “beloved” with their current efforts. Contrast this to the sad state of affairs over at Pepsi — their Super Bowl commercials, in particular). If Coke can rise to this challenge, how about you — whether you’re a market leader, or a challenger?

What do you think?

Do you agree that this example from Coke is a particularly strong bit of marketing? What lessons do you take from it?

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. 

One way to respond when your competitors lie to your customers

How do you respond to misleading information spread by your competitors? This video provides one simple example.

I like how they’re not angry or obnoxious (as I’d be tempted to be). They use a low-key approach with disarming good nature to nail the message. Sure, the presentation could be better, and I wish they could have taken Paramount Equity Mortgage to task more directly. But I give the two young mortgage brokers a lot a credit for standing up for themselves.

[By the way, here’s my post on the misleading advertising they refer to from Paramount Equity Mortgage. Here’s more information from the Washington Dept. of Financial Institutions.]

Does one video posted to YouTube solve the problem of  competitors who mislead the public? Of course not. Some people will always weigh the pros and cons of playing dirty. They’ll figure out how much they can get away with and go just that far. As social media continues to empower consumers and small competitors, the unscrupulous will look for new and creative ways to cheat. So while I applaud the video, there has to be more.

Imagine if every honest company, small and large alike, policed their own industry like Brandon and Cliff tried to do on their own. Imagine if an entire confederation of honest companies cooperated in showing customers how to recognize and deal with questionable sales tactics. Eventually, I think that will be rule, rather than the exception – and it will be a lot harder for the bad guys to win by cheating. I sure hope so.

Maybe I’m wrong. (I don’t think so!) What about you – do you think companies should respond when they find competitors lying to their customers? If so, how?

Note: from the looks of things, Revolution Financial seems to have gone out of business. But I have a feeling Brandon and Cliff will do well in the long run if they keep using the same instincts that led them to post that video.

When raving fans spread your message

If you’ve crafted a tight and compelling company/brand story, exuberant fans will spread it for you. Your employees will work harder to play their part in the story. Here are a few videos, created by raving fans, that remind us that if you get your story straight, customers have unprecedented means of spreading it. The videos:  Continue reading