Category Archives: Media

Marketing In Another Dimension

Far ago and long away in a kingdom, whose name I don’t care to remember, was an emerging venture funded startup. We’ll call it StraightArrow. Its enterprise product for drawbridge management was a major improvement on what the feudal and knightly segments had traditionally used. The CEO, Lance A. Little, had tried everything from social media to ads painted on the sides of jousting horses to sponsored mead drinking bouts – all with indifferent success. StraightArrow was not hitting its growth targets and its investors were starting to dust off their management methods such as the rack and the dungeon.

Over a lunch at the ale house, Lance and his marketing team pondered ways to get their message across the moat. Clearly, mass media such as peppering a potential customer castle with logo bearing arrows was ineffective.

Theirs was a product appealing to a relatively small number of castles and princely buyers, so non-traditional tactics, even if individually more expensive, could still be affordable. Over the next round of mead, they considered placing a tempting object in front of the raised drawbridge. One which would be too tempting to ignore.

Candidates included:

A tethered unicorn
A damsel in distress
A bejeweled sword embedded in a bolder
A Swedish/Shiatsu massage throne
A Mysterious Unexpected Box

Reaching your target audience is difficult – whatever the communication medium. It has defenses for weeding out unwanted communication including yours. Most of your messages will die unseen in SPAM filters, voicemail, mute buttons, fast forwards, and waste bins. Real, as opposed to virtual junk mail, may be seen. It is seldom opened, let alone attended to.

A classic alternative is to send something sufficiently remarkable that it peaks the recipient’s curiosity. Something beyond the postcard or form letter, electronic or physical, which is hard to be immediately ignored. Something real and solid in three dimensions.

Dimensional communications can be effective because they are novel. How many have you received this month? They are uncommon in part because they are far more expensive per message. The marginal costs of most media are trivial. The costs of a dimensional campaign are not.

The higher cost makes targeting even more important. Many firms sling cheesy tchotchkes rather than send desirable tangible targeted premiums to real prospects. In other words, they trojan_horseabdicate marketing. Perhaps the best known example of using an enticing package is the myth of the Trojan Horse. The Greeks, so the legend goes, had exhausted traditional marketing media during ten years of war. Then they went dimensional with a precisely targeted package. Their campaign succeeded. Now you need the Wayback Machine to visit Troy.

Successful marketing campaigns have been built on dimensional marketing. They provide a compelling narrative by delivering a series of intriguing components to get the attention and engagement of an audience. For example, to reach technology decision makers, one might send in successive shipments, the components of a robot. When the final component arrived and the robot completed, it might invite the recipient to a presentation or event.

This requires a lot of thought to do well. Then there is the brute force approach.

I recently received an unexpected package about 10” by 4” by 14”. The label indicated it was from a supplier of office products. Though I have bought from them, I had no outstanding orders. The box was suspiciously light. In fact, it contained nothing but some sealed-air packaging and a single page print ad. The ad offered a trial on a package of “healthy snacks.”  The same ad could, of course, have been sent by many other media. None of these could have been as anticlimactic or disappointing. The predictable result – no sale at a much higher cost.

To cross the moat, you need more than hip boots.

Whose Camera Never Lies?

c1860-LincolnAlthough “the camera never lies” is a well worn cliché, we – and  our customers – know it can. Unsurprisingly fakery is in the public consciousness. Coursera, the popular free online university, is currently offering a course with this title, documenting how commercial, journalistic, and historical images have been distorted. A recent exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, aptly titled “Faking It,” celebrated works where illusion trumped reality. A sister exhibit, “After Photoshop,” displayed the ubiquity of altered photography.

Even in this cynical age, it’s not always clear what is fake. For example, the iconic image of Lincoln on the right, is in fact a composite photo of John C. Calhoon, with Lincoln’s heade superimposed.

Even if your audience doesn’t know how to use Photoshop, Gimp, or other image editing tools, they are aware that images and video can be manipulated. The resulting “enhancements” in product shots and collateral can range from fibs to whoppers. Websites such as Four and Six rhetorically ask, “can any photo be trusted?”

But what happens if the customers’ cameras do the lying? Online sites such pixlr, picMonkey, and iPiccy, and many many others make photo enhancement – or as one site euphomizes it, “embetterment” –  cheap and easy. In a climate where marketers encourage and reward social media sharing of images via Instagram and Twitter, how many are bogus? Perhaps more to the point, how many which make your competitors’ offerings look better are biased?

What would you do, if an alienated customer posted an “enhanced” image showing how your product is inferior or injurious and the image became popular on social media?

Reputation management is problematic and there is no perfect defense. You should be monitoring what social media say about your organization. To this, you may also want to track what they’re showing as well.

When Customers Attack

The explosion of social media has given almost everyone access to a digital printing press, soapbox and a potentially very loud virtual megaphone. These folks include your customers, some of whom, may be upset with your products or the way your organization treats them. Others may simply have an ax to grind, and you may just be the first thing they see after sharpening it.

Communications consultant Paul Gillin and tech entrepreneur Greg Gianforte (G&G), have written a valuable book – Attack of the Customers.  It is part history, part survival kit, and part vaccine help you deal with the next customer attack. To quote G&G: “There has never been a better time to be a critic.”

The book explores both the challenge and opportunity that empowered and angry customers afford. The threats are obvious. It used to be that unsatisfied customers would not return or tell a small circle of friends that they didn’t like your offering. Now if you alienate them, they can create a Facebook page or go to Youtube and post a criticism. If their critique get noticed, think of United Breaks Guitars; you’ve not only got mail, you’ve got a problem.

Attacks can also be opportunities. G&G show how engaging unhappy customers can convert them into loyal fans. Responding to criticism can allow you to improve your own procedures, operations, and business models. This can enable you to increase both customer satisfaction and profitability.

The book is no academic treatise. It is a deep compendium of cases categorized and analyzed for lessons learned. Students of social media may be familiar with notorious cases, such as Jet Blue’s stranding passengers on the tarmac for up to nine hours. G&G, dive deeper and present examples and analyses, I had not encountered.

Social media can both amplify and shape responses of small groups of consumers. Often these complaints fail to propagate and so die out, before attaining critical mass. But not always, as the book illustrates extensively. The author’s broad experience is a welcome antidote to simplistic or formulaic responses to bad PR and worse corporate reflexes. G&G offer perspective on when you should engage critics and when it may be safe to ignore them. The latter should be a conscious choice rather than an ostrich-life reflex.

If your organization hasn’t been savaged in social media yet, it may well be tomorrow. Read Attack of the Customers and be prepared.

Note: Attack Of The Customers is currently available only through You can also read a free sample chapter here.


How Mobile Do You Look?

According to the latest research from the Pew Internet and American Life project, 46% of American adults 18 and older own smartphones. This has grown from 35% a year earlier. Desktop computer ownership, on the other hand, has continued to decline. Only 55% of adults now own desktops.

As these data show, the country is going mobile. Many of your customers probably are accessing your content through their phones. This begs the question – how does your site look, and more important work, through a mobile browser?

Many larger companies and organizations seem to have figured this out. The website of IBM, HP, Home Depot, Whole Foods, REI, and Harvard University are fundamentally different when visited from a desktop or laptop vs. when visited from a smartphone.

On a mobile aware site, a graphically busy multicolumn layout festooned with badges and banners can become a simplified and cleaner single column display. Now how does your site look?

Not every large organization seems to have considered the mobile visitor and the results can be unsightly not to mention unusable. If you need to get some information from the IRS or Chase Credit Cards from the browser on your phone, you’re in for a lot of pinching, panning, scrolling and zooming.

Small firms often lack mobile aware sites. If they are your competition, being mobile aware could give you an “unfair” advantage. As a smaller firm, you may have fewer marketing and web development resources, but going mobile can be easier than it might appear.

An emerging company called dudamobile offers one straight forward solution. It converts an existing site to one, which is mobile ready. I’ve been testing its service for a number of clients and find it works. It’s also easy.

To make a companion mobile site, you visit and follow an onscreen wizard. You can modify the overall look of the mobile site by choosing a number of design templates and otherwise tweak your site, without knowing any web technology. The only technical skill required is the ability to paste a few lines of code in the head section of your homepage.  The service doesn’t work if your site uses framesets, which are obsolete technology, or Flash. Otherwise you should be good to go.

Compare the versions below, of a retail website below. Which one would you be more like to spend time on? Once you’ve implemented the service, visitors on a computer will see your traditional site. Those on mobile will automatically see the mobile version. Dudamobile charges $9 per month for this but it is currently offering a free one year trial. This may mobilize you to “mobilize” your site.


      Before Mobilization

             After Mobilization

A Good Read?

Customers don’t usually curl up by the fireside and devour your collateral. If they look at it at all, they browse it – often while doing other things.

No matter how profound your insights, it makes sense to follow the KISS principal – as in Keep It Simple Stupid. If you’re writing a graduate school thesis, don’t expect anyone but your committee to read it. I’m not recommending that you dumb down your prose. Say what you need to say, but clearly and briefly.

To help make it easier for your potential customers, consider using a measure of readability. Educator Rudolph Flesch, author of Why Johnny Can’t Read and early advocate of phonics, proposed a readability index*. You can get Flesch’s Reading Ease score automatically – it’s built into the spell checker of Microsoft Word. (You may have to turn this feature on, before using it for the first time.) If you don’t use Word, you can use free online sites such as Edit Central.

More readable text has a higher index. Consider an example from an Iowa public health program:

Reading Ease of 48.0:

Babies born to women who are covered by one of Iowa’s health care programs are covered through the month of their first birthday, provided the baby continues to live with the mother and reside in the state of Iowa.

Reading Ease of 80.1:

Are you pregnant? Do you get health coverage from an Iowa program? If you do, your baby will also be covered. Coverage will last until the end of the month of your baby’s first birthday. The baby must live with you in Iowa.

If you were marketing the program, which copy would you use?

As a simple test, I grabbed some copy from websites of major brands. The easiest to read was from Sony Playstation; the most difficult from a consumer publication of the Federal Reserve. In this sample, the firms offering easier reading also tend to be more successful.


Ease of reading is, of course, only one ingredient of good copy. Since it’s so easy to test, why not grade your latest masterpiece before pushing the publish button?

* Reading Ease score = 206.835 − (1.015 × ASL) − (84.6 × ASW)

Where: ASL = average sentence length (number of words divided by number of sentences)
ASW = average word length in syllables (number of syllables divided by number of words)