Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Marketing Merry Christmas...

I just got back from a trip to the Post Office.

As I left, I wished the clerk  "Merry Christmas"! I paused to see her reaction.

Her response?

"Same to you."

She should be a marketing consultant!

The Postal Worker didn't use the Politically Incorrect word "Christmas". Nor did she reply with a generic "Happy Holidays!" She cleverly avoided any religious connotation, but returned the exact same sentiment to me in a warm and cheerful way.

As you may know, there's a tremendous marketing controversy centered around retailers using the word "Christmas" this holiday season.

One side opposes the word altogether, The other side insists on it. And the media claims shoppers are voting with their pocketbooks.

This leaves retailers stuck in the middle trying to appease both. Unsuccessfully.

But more than personal greetings, how successful are the the ads that have Holiday Trees and Holiday Cards?

I could discuss this from a variety of angles. But today my question is: What's the best marketing approach?

Start with basics. Know your audience. And connect with them.

Why not sell Christmas Trees? Sure someone will be offended. But how many?

Assess your audience.

Why don't they make kitchen appliances in Harvest Gold and Avocado Green?

Why don't Craftsman tool chests come in pink?

Because there's no demand. Very few people want them. So you lose customers who want those colors. That's business.

Marketing is a business of calculated decisions. For instance, when you set a price, that price will be too high for some and not as high as others will pay. If your price is right, you'll lose some potential customers that don't value what you sell. That's business.

So how many people don't really like the word Christmas. Is it a LARGE number of people or just a LOUD number of people? And vice versa. 

You'd need to assess the demographics of your market to decide for yourself.

But you actually could gain more customers with one word than you stand to lose. 

I think Target made that kind of calculated decision when they decided to do both Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday ads.

I celebrate Christmas. But whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or EID, I think you appreciate someone acknowledging your faith and respecting your holidays and holy days.

So my personal warm wishes to you for a Happy Holiday -- and Merry Christmas.

- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Many Unhappy Returns….

Since it will soon be 'tis the season for returns, I thought I'd touch on how NOT to deal with returns.

My office manager, Pat, told me the following customer service horror story that illustrates how few marketers realize how just big marketing really is. From what she said I imagine her conversation went something like this...

"I'd like to return an item I bought online a few months ago. I know you may have to charge me a restocking fee, but...," Pat said.

"You can't return it," the customer service rep said.

"I've had it a while, I understand. Can I exchange it instead?" she asked.

"Nope," the rep replied.

"My grandson's mattress was destroyed in a move and this won't fit his new one," Pat explained "It's never been opened. Is there anything I can do?"

"Maybe you could sell it on ebay," the rep suggested.

"Ebay?" Pat responded, stifling a scream. "Can I talk to your manager?"

I would have asked "Can I speak to someone with some authority -- or perhaps a brain?"

The manager eventually resolved things for her. But do you think Pat will ever shop with this merchant again?

There's a lot of marketing missteps that happened here, but perhaps the biggest problem centers as much around poor training as the lack of authority the CSR (Customer Service Rep) was given.

Selecting a new CSR? Beyond his or her background, look for good communication skills and a warm personality. Then invest in training. Go beyond the basics. Don't just train them on your computer system and policies. Teach them about listening and empathy. Your CSRs are your marketing voice. They are the only human contact some people will ever have with your company. Make sure they are prepared for that responsibility.

Then, empower them with some level of authority. Or at the very least, have them offer to transfer the call to the person with the authority to solve the customer's problem. ("I can't help you." should be a rare phrase in a CSR's vocabulary and should only be followed with "I can transfer you to someone who may".)

And "you could sell it on ebay" might be a phrase that's best avoided altogether.

--Phil Sasso

Monday, December 18, 2006

Here’s a bit of winter fun….

Pardon my break from our usual format for a bit of humor
with a marketing point.

Ode to Lester Moore

Lester Moore was a pioneer
He lived long ago and far from here
When he wanted soap he'd ride to the Out Post
Where there wasn't a choice between Dial and Coast
Before shopping he made a long list no doubt
Thirty miles, by horse, meant he couldn't run out.

This ain't the Wild West no more,
Shopping's not as simple as the General Store.
Today I drove to the grocer and looked around
I just wanted "dish soap", here's what I found:
Dozens of products shouting out at me
One promised softer hands, one aromatherapy.
While I thought the offers were really keen,
I just wanted one to get my dishes clean.

Sometimes I wish for the simpler times before
Those good old days when less was more
You didn't need to forge the Super Mega Mart
You didn't need to fight for a shopping cart
But lest you think that way was best,
imagine life without Citrus Breeze Crest

-Phil Sasso

Friday, December 15, 2006

Providing Value...

My first car was a 1972 Chevy Chevelle. It was painted gold and primer gray. I lovingly tried to restore the decaying car until the hole in the floorboard became big enough to lose a passenger. I continued to drive that car, as I put myself through my first year of college.

One summer, the muffler fell off in the middle of the street. I stopped, threw the muffler in my trunk and continued on.

The next day, I visited a local muffler shop that's advertising vowed: "We'll only replace what's needed." There I met the owner: Rick. He welcomed me, gave his tech my keys and offered me a cup of coffee. After a few minutes the tech called me into the bay to look at things.

"You need a whole new exhaust system," he said. "Look at that hole there, the thing is falling apart. I don't want you breathing all that carbon monoxide."

I took my key and firmly tapped at the area around the pin hole. It was solid.

I walked back into the waiting room.

"So, should I write up an order for you?" he asked.

I brought him back and tapped along the exhaust pipe.

"Your tech said I need a whole new system," I said. "This looks like it will last longer than the car to me. What do you think?"

"Well , I want my guys to sell stuff, you know," he replied.

"Sorry. Not to me," I replied. "Only replace what's needed. If the car lasts me to end of summer I'm happy."

There's a conflict in business between "selling stuff" and "serving customers". And that tension often can destroy long term gains for a quick sale.

Perhaps the book "The Ultimate Question", puts it best: "Bad profits are about extracting value from customers, not creating value."

Creating value creates fanatically loyal customers.

I know at least a dozen people who, without being asked, rave about Costco (a hero in "Ultimate"). You'd think they were paid to shop there. "High quality, low price," is their mantra.

But providing value isn't always about low prices. My fellow Apple Computer fans pay a premium for what we feel is an unparalleled user experience. The value outweighs the price tag. Apple has created the kind of value that builds loyal customers at a premium price. And they are consistently profitable.

Unfortunately, Rick's Muffler Shop was shortly out of business.

What can you do to increase the value of your brand? Ask customers what they love -- and what they hate. Fix what's wrong. Promote what works. And watch how it revs up your sales growth.

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 3...

I leave day-to-day shopping to Beth. She's a smart consumer.

So, one Sunday afternoon I decided to study under the Master to understand how good promotion influences buying decisions.

Beth was on the living room floor studying the coupon section like a holy book. I quietly sat beside her, so as not to disturb her focus. After watching her, I grabbed a section…

"Here's 10% off..." I proudly began to proclaim breaking the silence.

"Naw." She said not even looking up. "If it’s not at least 15% it's not worth it."

"Here’s a Campbell's…"

"Nope." She responded. "Too many different sub-brands. It’s confusing,"

I tossed the booklet aside in defeat. Beth picked it up and clipped a coupon.

"What? Why'd you choose that coupon?" I asked.

"It's for your brand of shaving cream," she replied.

"How'd I miss it?" I respond, confused.

I looked at the coupon. It really didn't appeal to me. It was almost feminine. Then it hit me: Women must buy 90% of the shaving cream used in North America. (Actually, upon further reflection, women probably clip 90% of the coupons used, too!)

So what's the marketing lesson? Every promotion has 3 parts: The media, the message and the offer. If your promotions aren’t working, study each part carefully.

1. Using the right media is the key to reaching your target market. A coupon in Motor Trend probably won't hit as many Revlon buyers as a coupon in Family Circle.

2. The message has to connect with your target audience. That means everything from words, colors and design to the story you’re telling. Good messages are compelling.

3. And finally, the offer has to have a high perceived value. That doesn’t mean it has to cost you a lot, it just has to be valuable to your customer. For instance I joined the Safari Club at the Rainforest Café because members get a free appetizer. The appetizer doesn’t cost the restaurant much but it’s a nice perk to me.

-- Phil Sasso

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 2...

My family was on the road. Tight schedule. We needed to grab dinner and keep moving.

"Where do you want to eat?" Beth asked looking in her wallet.

"I don't know, how about The Encore?" I replied.

"No time for sit down," she said "Besides I don't have much cash. Did you stop at the bank?"

" BK has 3 under $3. McD's has 2 for $2.22. Do either of those sound good?"

"Naw," Beth said. "Hey, I just found an IHOP coupon: 'Buy One, Get One Free'."

"It's sit down. We need fast food," I reminded her. "I know -- Arby's has 5 for $5."

"Do you think they take credit cards?" she asked. (I should have stopped at the bank.)

But who'd think an entire adult conversation could be about promotional offers?

Promotions are limited-time incentive programs to get a customer to buy now -- like coupons, rebates, on-pack offers, and price incentives. About a quarter billion dollars will go to promotions this year, roughly half of all marketing spending. Why? A couple reasons. It can be timed to seasonal sales highs or lows. And the results can be measured.

So what's a good response to a promotion? Some marketers count coupons. That tells you how popular a promotion is. If a "two for one" coupon has a high percentage response the offer strikes a responsive cord with your target market. That's good.

I prefer to take it a step further and compare dollars spent on the promotion with dollars earned. Not sales. Profits. For every dollar you spend you want to earn back MORE than a dollar back.

It's obvious. If not, you're better off standing on a street corner handing out money.

Actually, Washington Mutual did a promotion like that here in Chicago. They posted people downtown handing out $1.50 to passersby. It wasn't technically a promotion, but a publicity stunt to draw attention to surcharge-free ATMs. "The buck and a half stops here." The Washington Mutual T-shirts shouted.

So what if your promotions aren't making more than it cost? How can you fix it? More next time…

-- Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Real World Promotion - Part 1...

Beth let's me shop with her. Sometimes.

I understand why I'm not invited more often. It must really be hard to get any shopping done with me around. I stop and study all the marketing: Who's the target market? What's the strategy? Does the messaging work? Why choose those colors?

I'm also a sucker for promotion.

"Honey, is this something you'd buy?" I ask my wife holding up a bottle of SoBe. "It's 'On Sale With Coupon'."

"No," Beth says. "That drink is targeted to adolescent boys 12 to 19. It's heavily promoted on sports broadcasts for skateboarding and BMX Freestyle Motorbiking."

Hmm. I didn't even know it was a drink.

About $240 Million was spent on promotion in the U.S. in 2002 says the Promotional Marketing Association in Promo Magazine. Promotional budgets account for about half of all marketing spending.

Promotions are limited time incentive programs to get someone to buy now. They include coupons, rebates, on-pack offers, mail-in offers, and seasonal price incentives.

I like promotions because, like direct marketing, it's a measurable methodology. If you distribute 100 coupons and get back 2, you know you had a 2% direct response to that offer. It means you've chosen the right media, the right messaging and the right offer to reach your target market.

So is 2% a good response? I'll cover that next time.

-- Phil Sasso

Monday, December 11, 2006


Years ago, I took a mall survey where I was showed mock-ups of Coke cans. The interviewer asked me questions about which I'd buy based on design, color, size, shape. I answered what he asked. But my answers weren't true.

Don't misunderstand, I wasn't lying. I was being totally honest. But I was telling the interviewer what I thought I might do, think or feel. I have no idea what I'd really do. My answers were unconsciously skewed by the artificial lab setting.

You may have laughed at my wastebasket diving research (posted October 20, 2006). But in reality, I believe real world research like that is much more effective than interviews and focus groups. Many products that did well in lab-type tests failed in the market.

A better Coke survey might have been putting prototypes on real store shelves and watching the behavior of unsuspecting shoppers.

Why? People act differently in artificial situations. They want to sound rational or try to justify their actions. And in a focus group, one person may overpower the group or peer pressure might make someone say what the group or interviewer wants to hear, not what they really believe.

Plus when no one is looking, we often act differently than even we think we'd act.

Did you ever run out to buy something and return with things you never intended to buy? Sometimes, I return with a bunch of things -- but not the item I originally set out for. "How illogical," Mr. Spock would say. "How human" I'd say.

I'm talking mostly about researching routine and low involvement decisions, like inexpensive dry goods and consumables. But people are sometimes just as irrational when making considered decisions on long-term purchases and big ticket items

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm heading out to lunch. Something healthy like a salad I think. Or maybe not.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Marketing Ethos...

Quick: Write a list 10 people you know.

Now circle all the people on that list that you respect.

Chances are you didn't circle all 10. Just because you know someone
doesn't necessarily mean you respect them.

The same is true for branding. Just because you recognize Virgin
Airlines or Britney Spears' name doesn't mean you're going to spend
money on them.

Many factors influence brand preference. One of the most interesting
is the influence of personal relationships and experiences. It's another
form of WOM (Word Of Mouth) Marketing.

I may or may not buy something a friend recommends. But I definitely
will not buy something they slam.

Last week, we stayed with friends in adjoining cabins at a large State
Park here in Illinois. It's an end-of-winter tradition we've had for 3
years. We usually have a good time despite little problems with
booking or lodging. I often speak highly of the Lodge and Restaurant
and suggest people try it as a unique get-away.

This year, however, there was a booking mistake that required we
change rooms in the middle of our stay. We lost a whole morning
getting rooms unlocked, repacking, and trudging luggage.

"It was an honest mistake." the front desk manager told our friends
when they asked to be compensated for the inconvenience. So why
didn't the manager make an honest attempt at making good?

When our friends checked out they had been credited $20 a night
by mistake. They reported the mistake -- and were charged back for
every penny.

So much for rewarding their integrity.

The Park has great marketing. They have beautiful ads, a nice
website, enticing literature. But, as the old saying goes, the best
advertising is Word-Of-Mouth.

How has the experience changed my feeling about the brand? All the
great marketing in the world won't make me feel the same way
again. And my recommendation won't be quite so genuine either.

Too bad. It used to be on my top 10 list.

- Phil Sasso

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Selling: A Bad Connection...

My contract with my phone company is up in a few weeks, so I called my provider to re-negotiate.

"You probably are best to stay with the plan you have," said the rep.

"AT&T just quoted me $50 less with unlimited local and long distance," I retorted.

"Oh. Let me see if we have a better plan for you," he replied sheepishly.

The rep didn't care about me. He was interested in selling me the most expensive service. I see that as bad marketing.

Study the fastest growing businesses in North America and I think you'll find a common thread: they're not about selling, they're all about marketing.

Let me explain.

Selling, in it's rawest sense, is about the seller. Selling is about convincing a prospect to buy a product or service.

Marketing, at it's core, is all about the customer. Marketing starts by CREATING a product or service that meets a customer's needs.

Now, don't get me wrong. Not all salesmen are insensitive sellers. The best ones tend to be more service-centered marketers.

In an interesting book I just started reading,"The Ultimate Question" by Fred Reichheld, the author talks about good profits and bad profits. He doesn't mean high and low profits. His premise is that good profits come from providing value to customers. Good profits create and sustain true sales growth. Bad profits are derived by mistreating customers in someway. They will kill your business.

Through my goggles, it looks like a marketing-centered company provides good profits and a sales-driven company, bad.

I'll expand on that in future tips and give some real world examples.

Meantime, ask yourself: Am I treating my customers with respect and providing them with a fair value? Would I do business with me?

Over the next few weeks, I'll explain why following the golden rule can truly be a golden opportunity.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sales: Blah, Blah, Blah...

As I stood listening to the sales person drone on and on, my eyes started to glaze over. I started noticing things that had nothing to do with the sales pitch, like weird patterns in the carpet and the strange pin the salesperson was wearing. Was it a serpent or a dragon...

"So, what do you think?"


"Can I sign you up today?"

"No, Sorry. I've got to run. I'm feeling a little drowsy. Thanks anyway."

A good salesperson knows the balance between listening and talking. Not this one!

In advertising, like in sales, you can talk too much, too.

Saying too much makes it impossible for your prospect to remember your Unique Selling proposition. Stick to selling one key, distinguishing feature in an ad and you'll sell much more than trying to cover everything. If you have more than one USP, buy more than one ad and position them on consecutive pages. But keep to one point.

Think about it. How much time do YOU spend reading ads? And how many do you actually remember? What's the last ad you read? What was it about? Would you buy it?

Saying too much clouds the message. Stay focused and you'll gain more sales than trying to say everything.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need a nap.

-Phil Sasso

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Good Humor, Bad Ad...

(Originally Published December 2004)

This Christmas season, "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" celebrated its 41st anniversary. I taped it for my 5-year-old son PJ. He's watched it again and again until well past New Year's Day. I've watched segments with him. We've even memorized some catch phrases (like, "Herbie! Why weren't you at Elf Practice?!").

There's a funny commercial on the tape with a group of kids dressed like grown-ups at a fashion photo shoot -- until they hear the bell of a Good Humor truck and revert to children running off. Every little nuance makes me smile from the moody model to the artsy photographer. But one thing doesn't make me smile: I remember the commercial but I don't remember the advertiser. And I've seen it several times.

Unless the ad is for Good Humor, someone is wasting a lot of money.

Used well, humor is a powerful tool in persuasion. Used poorly, it can hinder your message more than help it.

I have nothing against humor. I use humor often in client ads.

The key to using humor well is making your product or service an integral part of the humor. It shouldn't be just an attention-getting device, but the humor and selling message should be woven inseparably together. Use it to illustrate a competing products flaw or one of your key benefits. Try to make your product the "hero",

Use humor as you might salt and pepper -- sparingly to enhance the experience, not to overwhelm it.

- Phil Sasso

Monday, December 04, 2006


My young designer proudly handed me an ad layout. 

“Yuck.” I responded. 

“You don’t like it?” he said sheepishly. “I can try again...” 

“I hate it,” I replied. “But who cares what I think.” 

He looked into each of my eyes to see if I was angry or joking. He
furrowed his brow and bit his lip as he pondered my response.
Then, he brightened.  “I get it. It doesn’t matter what you think,”
he said. “It’s the client’s opinion that counts.” 

“Nope,” I said. 

“I’m stumped,’ he replied.
“It’s the client’s customers that matter,” I explained. “It has to
connect with them.” 

A giant light bulb went on in the designer’s head. 

“The target audience in this case is females age 50 to 65,” I
explained. “I probably don’t like what they like. They wouldn’t
like what I do. Like a good salesperson, your ad has to connect
with the customer. This connects -- just not with me. That’s fine.
I’m not your market..” 

“So you don’t like it -- but you like it?” he said confused. 

“I don’t like it, but I LOVE it,” I said. “I think it works. It will
connect with the audience. That’s really all that matters. If others
like it, too -- great. But connecting with customers is not our
key concern.” 

He left my office smiling at a job well done. Or laughing at how
confusing I was. Either way, he left thinking. And that’s all that
really matters. I think. 

Who likes your marketing materials better? You or your customers?

- Phil Sasso

Friday, December 01, 2006

Building Marketing Buzz...

A Culver's restaurant is going up near my office.

I haven't seen an ad, a billboard or a sign for it. I don't even think they've broken ground, yet. But everyone in town knows about it. This is the first Culver's in our area, so it has a certain mystique. More mystique than you'd expect from Butter Burgers and Frozen Custard.

The owner couldn't buy this kind of pre-opening buzz -- or could he?

How's everyone know about this? WOM -- that's Word-Of-Mouth.

I've mentioned B2B and B2C marketing in my tips before. This is C2C, Consumer to Consumer marketing. It's based on human nature. People like to be "in the know" and share with others. It's a harmless form of gossip.

In this case, those who follow the local press, like Beth, are filling in those who don't, like me. Until it opens. Then all the WOM will be based on experience -- and marketing.

You can use publicity and other means to build buzz for your brand, too, no matter what you sell.

That's what evangelism marketing guru Guy Kawasaki did for Apple Computer -- all in the days before cell phone messaging and blogs.

In fact, Kawasaki will be a keynote speaker at the first WOMMA (Word Of Mouth Marketing Association) Summit at University of Chicago March 29 - 30. Experts in "viral, buzz, word of mouth, evangelism, grassroots and other customer-centered marketing strategies" will gather to discuss case studies, best practices, tracking ROI and ethics.

Sound interesting? Want to know the word on word-of-mouth? Want in on the buzz?

Contribute towards my $895 registration fee and I'll gladly attend and report back every gossipy detail.

- Phil Sasso