David Stashower

Monday, 22 July 2002 10:05

12 blunders for the Information Age

Editor's note: Early this year, David L. Stashower retired from his post atop Cleveland's Liggett-Stashower Advertising Inc. After 43 years building a reputation as one of the region's best marketing minds, that retirement, predictably, is something less than total. He still puts in office hours as a consultant and adviser and still spends a lot of time thinking about the business.

Just ask him, and he will offer a learned opinion.

Like the time in the early '80s, when a young reporter asked him about the second-largest hamburger chain's embarrassing tear through one ad campaign after another as it tried to gain on McDonald's. "Burger King," he said flatly, "doesn't have an advertising problem. It's a real-estate problem."

More recently, we asked him about this new era of interactive, one-on-one, "so close you can smell their breath" marketing. He responded with the following menu of mistaken assumptions that companies are making every day.

1. 'Marketing database' is just a $10 name for a customer list.

The names and addresses of customers are invaluable, but they are not the same as a marketing database. Your customer information was probably collected for other reasons-little things like sales, delivery, warranty, service and so on-and doesn't include the right data for marketing.

Professional database management includes getting what you need to build lifetime customer value and to time the use of appropriate marketing tools.

Database and list management have probably grown faster and benefited more from technology in recent years than any other aspect of marketing.

2. I don't need marketing; I know my customers and prospects by name and call on them personally.

Business-to-business and commercial sales executives often eschew marketing programs, viewing them only as preliminaries to sales calls-and therefore unnecessary when there's routine calling in place.

In truth, you might get in the face of whoever places the order, but you may never meet all the other people who influence the decision-and whose good opinion is essential to the continued employment of your contact.

Odds are, your contact list-even if it's a good one-doesn't deal with those who influence the purchase, those who replace the present contact, and those who are new entries (companies and people alike).

3. PR is like free advertising.

Unhappily, the Constitutional guarantee of a "free press" refers only to editorial liberty. The media won't give away anything it can sell any more than you would.

Journalists fiercely defend their independence from advertising. They are, however, willing to give credit where credit is due and identify products by name if they perceive there is news value and, therefore, audience interest. They are the sole, albeit sometimes perfidious, judges of what constitutes news.

Public relations professionals make a business of maintaining media relationships to ascertain what interests individual newspeople at any given time, and are often able to influence the judgment. What they can't do is control how journalists translate your message to the public. Nor can they leverage the advertising budget in the editorial department. Neither can you.

4. Mass media are dead.

Consider it so if you're suicidal. Direct marketing at its best is not the prescription of choice for creating awareness.

Achieving a one-on-one relationship with customers and prospects depends on those customers and prospects knowing that you exist and believing there will be sufficient benefit to invest their time in you.

Mass media are still the most effective and efficient means to generate and define awareness.

With the advent of specialized content that targets discrete audiences, "mass" no longer means indiscriminate bulk. Enlightened advertisers are changing the messages their mass media deliver, making them of a piece with all the other elements in an integrated strategy.

Have you noticed how many ads include prominent references to toll-free numbers and Web sites?

5. The way to a man's heart is through his telephone.

Except when you get his stomach by calling at dinner time. Many consider telemarketing tantamount to the 1918 flu epidemic.

Take the advice of experts. If you don't use a professional telemarketing bureau, get a qualified consultant to script your pitch, train your staff, analyze the results and make adjustments.

Telemarketing has become a very sophisticated tool. Used for all its worth, it can be a keystone of lifetime customer value.

On the other hand, 99 percent of members of the American public have at least one telephone, so telemarketing amateur night has the potential for alienating prospects much faster than the current birthrate replacing them.

6. Nobody is in a better position to write direct-mail copy than me

You aced English and your business correspondence gets results. Nobody knows more about the product than you do. Obviously, that will produce the most informative and sincere direct-mail piece possible.

But it won't include the words of art nor the devices that a century (no kidding) of experience has taught the specialists. The reason the direct-mail envelopes you receive in such abundance usually contain multiple pieces/parts is that each element has a track record. In combination, they all serve to do one thing: work.

Direct-mail experts are always testing - letters, offers, lists and so on - and comparing the returns from cells.

Drives you nuts. Nevertheless, these professionals are dedicated to getting the most sales for the least cost. You have to love them.

7. Once they try our product, they'll come back for more

Why, then, do people who respond ecstatically to the Big Three customer satisfaction surveys buy a different make of car the next time they trade?

No matter how evident you believe the product's attributes to be, the consumer, perhaps subconsciously, asks "compared to what?"-and sets about finding an answer.

There is something in the human condition that abhors contentment. Maintaining a relationship with customers provides opportunities to reinforce acknowledged benefits and, if that communication is truly interactive, detect incipient problems and head them off at the pass.

But never underestimate boredom: It's the reason cook-book sales rank second only to the Bible.

8. Co-op is the most efficient way to make advertising pay.

Co-op - meaning payments to retailers for including your product in their price/item advertising - is an essential sales promotion tool. It often includes preferential treatment at the point-of-sale, and it puts your product before the consumer when he or she is seriously considering a purchase.

But it will ruin you if it's merely your excuse to avoid advertising the brand on your own.

Brand advertising - your own message completely under your control - is an investment in your ability to demand respectable margins and maintain the consumer recognition that retailers demand if they're going to carry your products at all.

Despite your generous co-op support for a store's advertising program, the buyer at chain headquarters will ask to see your brand's media advertising schedule nine times out of 10. Who said life is fair?

9. A Web site is like mailing my brochure to the world.

As the novelty wears off, people won't read anything put up on the Web any more than they still invite friends over to watch the test pattern on TV.

Interactive media has an insatiable appetite for freshness. Web content needs to be interactive to be effective.

Most folks don't realize that the battle is not for people's minds but for their names. Whoever uses a Web site to harvest names and marketing data from visitors will have a priceless asset and beco me the gatekeeper for countless transactions.

You want to be the linker, not the linkee. The information adroit marketers gain from their Web sites will give them real power and may very well upset some historic vendor-retailer relationships.

10. I advertise in trade journals to send competitors a message.

Write them a letter. Don't use trade papers that have no other purpose, such as reaching your distribution channels. Using advertising to impress your peers is not only a waste of money, it can dilute the effectiveness of your message or audience.

11. I sent the new ads back because they just weren't me.

So what? Subjective preferences - graphics, writing style, media selection, etc. - have little place in the creative and approval processes.

If it's off-strategy (make sure that's a reason and not an excuse), flirts with legal or regulatory problems, or is in questionable taste, you're right to send it back to the drawing board.

Otherwise, you're better off to trust the good people you've hired. Objective opinion is one of the least recognized or valued contributions professional counselors make.

12. If I build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to my door.

It can be the rule if you assume A), they know you've done it, and B), they think they have mice.

But if the whole thing was as simple as being the first guy with a new idea, we'd still be buying Dumont television sets.

Better to use PR to make and keep people aware of the rodent problem; mass media to generate awareness of your product's superiority; sales promotion (including co-op) to induce trial; directory advertising to help people find where to buy it; and direct marketing to build the relationship and increase the incidence of repurchase, even before the Mark II model is introduced.

Remember: A mousetrap for every room, and don't forget the vacation home. Plus, they make wonderful gifts.