While in the waiting room of a doctor's office, I noticed a couple of framed posters on the wall that caught my attention. With an emphasis on sports medicine, this particular office is well known for their expertise in treating both athletes and those who enjoy moderate sports activities.

As I approached the large posters, I was immediately struck by the testimonials each one projected. The first was an image of former swimmer Amy Van Dyken. Beneath her picture, the text read "4 time Olympic Gold Medalist". However, that had been modified when Amy autographed the poster. Next to her signature, Amy had marked through the number 4 and written 6! But, here's where the eye-opener comes in - - next to that, she wrote "thanks to you". The endorsement now stated "6 time Olympic Gold Medalist - Thanks to You"; directly attributing her success to the sports medicine doctor.
 
The second poster was one of former Major League Baseball player, Jeff Bagwell, when he played for the Houston Astros. Next to his autograph, he wrote "Thank you for helping me make it to the World Series." Wow! That's the type endorsement you just don't see every day.
 
Your business really isn't that different from this sports medicine doctor. Granted, you may not have access to the same "star power" of a celebrity endorsement, but if you're doing a good job for your customers, surely someone will want to boast about that on your behalf.
 
Endorsements are powerful and can be used in many ways such as your website, in newsletters, brochures, etc. All it takes is a simple quote, a comment or something similar that states your business delivers what you promise and your customer receives the expected result - maybe even more!

Even if you are not a golf fan, stories about the Masters tournament played at Augusta National will interest you. Some tell of the personal side of a player like Phil Mickelson and his family while others remain centered on the game itself. Beyond the stories, though, is a mind-boggling business that makes this a big time event.

Tickets for the tournament days are nearly impossible to obtain unless you know someone. Practice round tickets are only available through a lottery system. It's all highly controlled by the tournament because they can do it. And that's how they like it.

Why? Because the demand is there. Plus, they like the prestige and tradition that are synonymous with the Masters.

For an operation that is only 'public' a few days out of the year, the tournament can turn a buck. It's done strategically and very effectively. Food and beverage options are very inexpensive considering the venue and the process for obtaining a quick meal is simple and easy. That's all by design.

But, rather than mark up food and beverage items beyond reason, it is the merchandise that sells like crazy. Nowhere else can you buy authentic Masters merchandise but at Augusta National (of course, there are those who resell on eBay). Lines of patrons file into the pro shops to grab whatever gear they can with the coveted Masters logo on it. You name it and they have it - golf shirts and tee-shirts to ball caps and ball markers. There are towels, flags, playing cards, belts and more.

Just as quickly as the merchandise flies off the shelf, it is restocked by fast moving clerks. It's an amazing process as the clerks know that everyone in the shop is there to buy something. They don't have to persuade anyone. It's a dream come true for retail selling. Imagine the margins on these products. Tee-shirts are $26, ball caps are $24 and golf shirts are $68. With the buying power that the Masters undoubtedly wields, the profits must be extremely favorable.

Even though this entire operation is an extraordinary one, it doesn't happen automatically. The Masters tournament understands their market. They understand demand and they know how to sell right into it - without really having to sell.

That's where some businesses miss it. They think a product will sell itself or that demand will somehow be there. That's not always the case. Sometimes you have to create it. And, oftentimes, you have to sell it. However, when everything is aligned (strategy, marketing, sales and service), you will reap the rewards.

Wouldn't it be great to be the 'Masters' of your market!

This was too good to pass up on branding and who actually represents the brand - a blog post by marketing guru, Seth Godin. It is a near perfect follow-up to our recent posting on Billy Mays and the brands he represented. In that post, we asked the question as to whether or not the brands he pitched could survive without him since he was arguably, the brand!

In the case of Seth Godin's posting, look at the reverse situation. It's a sad reality that there are employees out there working for supposedly reputable brands, yet taking no responsibility to uphold the integrity of the company, business, product or services because...drum roll...it's just a job...all I do is work here!

Seth nails it: when you are employed by the company, then you represent EVERYTHING about that business and thus, the brand. And, that means the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly (thank you Mr. Eastwood).

Thankfully, there are companies out there who have instilled a culture within their organizations where employees 'get it'. Go to a Chik-fil-A sometime and you'll see it from every single employee. You'll never hear one of them proclaim 'I just work here'.

Pitchman Billy Mays revolutionized direct response advertising via his unmistakable commercial presence that always opened with “Hi, Billy Mays here…”He became the icon of direct response television commercials and infomercials.What’s interesting is the effectiveness of his pitches that resulted in the sales of millions of dollars of product.

This brings up the question:was Billy Mays really the brand or was it the product he was selling?His products certainly have become household brand names – OxiClean, Orange Glo, Awesome Auger, Mighty Putty, etc.But, without Billy Mays these arguably would be unknown.However, having a strong pitch for a product is just one aspect to building an effective brand – it has to work and be well received by the consumer.If these products didn’t deliver on their brand promises as Billy demonstrated in his commercials, additional sales would likely have never happened.Still, with a guy like Mays and his notoriety representing the products, one could make a strong case that he is more of the brand than anything else.He is the voice, the image, the seller, the convincer – the guy who compels the sale.That’s more than just a sales guy.

It is very difficult to think about any of these brand names without the name and image of Billy Mays coming to mind at the same time. What happens now? His commercials continue to be aired since his death and unquestionably the products are selling. Over time, will they sustain without Billy Mays? Have the brands built a strong enough following to succeed without their pitchman? Only time will tell us how these products will perform sales-wise in the future and whether or not they can live on without their beloved spokesperson.

Yep, it appears Denny's is at it again. They must be on to something that is working. A new advertisement is launching to promote another free meal for their Grand Slamwich. As they did during the Super Bowl ad, Denny's will be offering a freebie to those who bring a friend who could use a good meal. The idea is to promote 'acts of kindness'. A good idea, no doubt, and one that will continue to boost their already high brand favorability.

Some may be asking why they would bother with another free offer. In marketing, there is no more powerful word than 'free'. And, it works. It's obviously working for Denny's because they wouldn't bother investing in another promotion of this type if the first had been unsuccessful. Plus, they understand the importance of consistency. The Super Bowl promo could have easily been a one-off, one-time deal that we soon forgot about. But, no, the marketing pros at Denny's recognize that and are ready to pull the trigger again. When this ad hits, there will be many consumers who recall the Super Bowl promotion and thousands upon thousands who will recall excellent service and quality food when they partook of the free Grand Slam meal back in February.

This is likely to create a lot of additional buzz for Denny's. That's only part of what they're after. It is the buzz that translates into revenue dollars that will be the real measure. I'm betting they'll please a lot of hungry patrons while bringing a smile to the company's bottom line.

 

On a trip to the coast last fall, I observed a fisherman that to me appeared to know what he was doing. He arrived on the beach and proceeded to mark his spot, prepare bait and set his pole with high hopes of landing 'the big one'. I watched out of curiosity as he cast his rod then waited patiently for a bite on the end of the line. Sure enough, he had action in no time. From my vantage point and distance from him, it was difficult to see exactly what he caught, but I did witness a few 'keepers'. At the same time, there were definitely some 'throw backs'.

As this scene unfolded, it reminded me of how many companies approach their marketing. The intentions are normally good, but sometimes the strategy and execution are lacking. Simply casting your marketing dollars into the blue abyss hoping for a big bite is a high risk and expensive venture. It's essentially the same as mass communication with the intention of reeling in perhaps only a select few keepers. The bait and rod may be right and even the blue waters where those prospects are looming, but tossing a 'hook' for anyone to snag probably isn't the best approach.

Wouldn't you have a much better opportunity of success by identifying who you want to send your message to, tailoring it to their needs and then executing a plan that properly connects with them? Such an approach is targeted and strategic to maximize your marketing investment and efforts.

Think about that the next time you're tempted to bait your hook before tossing it to the masses.

As if the Super Bowl wasn't enough, Denny's stepped up to the plate and smacked one right out of the park...or was it through the uprights?! Through their :30 second advertising spot during the Super Bowl, Denny's promoted their free Grand Slam breakfast at all US restaurants from 6AM till 2PM on the Tuesday following super Sunday.

Great idea? Youbet. During this economy? Brilliant.

Sure, Super Bowl ads are ultra expensive, but when you consider the nearly immediate call to action that Denny's promoted, the pay-off was sure to follow. And that's what happened. People came, a lot of them waited patiently in long lines, they ate, were satisfied...and then what? Well, the real ROI for Denny's is the bet that these people will come back and become loyal patrons to the restaurant.

That's one of the keys to this campaign. Denny's advertising message was put in front of millions of people - mass communication. But, they hit a hot button with the viewing audience - free. Who can beat that these days? A free meal, sure. More than that, they drew people into their restaurants - perhaps some for the first time. Once they came, Denny's had to deliver. Service had to be spot-on. The food quality had to be tops. The customer experience had to be superb.

Well, based on the reviews, it looks like the free Grand Slam was a winner. When Denny's statistically measures their spike in meals served over the coming weeks, they should see increased revenues. The key will be keeping these customers and converting them into loyal patrons. Otherwise, they risk the short-term enjoyment of a sharp revenue increase that could easily drop back down to previous levels.

In most sports, there are great analogies to marketing strategy. Successful teams go into games with a solid strategy and game plan. They don't just show up expecting the results they've mapped out on the white board prior to the game. Instead, they've considered their competition, studied how they can overcome them and devised a way to reach their ultimate goal.

Proactive marketers are always on the offense - perhaps even the 'attack'. They're constantly running their game plan methodically to consistently cross the goal line. They're in control and they're getting results. Companies that take this approach with their marketing will achieve success.

Consider the alternative. Suppose you choose to be reactive. Without a game plan, you're going to realize mediocre results. And, your sales team is going to be winded and on their heels worn down from battling the aggressive competition. Rarely are companies in this mode able to attain their goals and often they become frustrated at their inability to 'move the ball'.

Before running out on the field (or the marketplace), consider your game plan and how you're going to implement a goal-reaching drive. When you take such an approach, your marketing and sales team will be efficient and consistently successful.

Back in August, we posted a story about poor customer service called 'Customer Service - Not This Way'. That was 'the bad and ugly'.

How about the good? In that same post, we mentioned a company located in the Isle of Palms, South Carolina called Island Realty. When my May vacation accommodations didn't quite stack up to normal standards, I let the Island Realty folks know about it in a post-vacation survey. The motivation wasn't to smack them between the eyes; rather, the intention was to give them honest feedback on my experience. And that's what I did. Too many times we're just too nice or want to be gracious in our expressions of poor experiences. In most cases, nothing is said at all. That's actually a disservice to companies who will never know what happened. By telling them about your situation and giving details, there is a much better opportunity for improvement. Sadly, statistics show that a large majority never make a direct complaint or share feedback with the company. Instead, they tell others - - and it snowballs into negative word of mouth.

When my friends at Island Realty received my survey feedback, they took the high road and responded right away. No excuses, no shifting of blame. They didn't even give me the opportunity to start complaining to my network of friends. Instead, they acknowledged the situation, even apologized and offered a free week back at the beach as their way of addressing the issue. I was stunned. This was completely unexpected. Immediately, I took note of this action and told them how much I appreciated what they were doing.

That's a great example of extraordinary customer service. And you know what? That's probably the way it should always be with any business. Of course, I'm not suggesting you have to do what they did, but the point is that they took action and quickly addressed the situation proactively. Isn't this a great step toward building favorable customer relations and loyalty? Absolutely.

When companies invest in marketing to an audience, then they should take great care to ensure the customer's experience is a wonderful one. It isn't that difficult, but it does take some thought, strategy and effort. Getting a sale or a new client is only half the equation. Developing them into loyal patrons is the other half. Then they become your advocates!

By the way, we enjoyed a great stay back at the beach. And, as I absorbed the sun, waves and sand, I couldn't help but think it was only possible because of what Island Realty did. I'm a satisfied customer who is telling others about my experience. Great job guys.

Learning from this experience will perhaps help us all become better marketers. Here's the story:

Went to lunch today to a spot visited perhaps twice a year. My friend and I walked in the door and almost simultaneously started searching for the menu. Nothing. Where the 'specials board' once sat was nothing but an empty floor. Then, we spotted the whiteboard - on the opposite wall. Finally, we found menus at the end of the counter. After about 5 minutes, I realized the name of the joint had changed. Hmmm. What's up with that?

We both placed our orders and I thought mine was a really, really simple one: the All-American cheeseburger. After a few minutes chit-chatting with my friend at our booth, we were interrupted by a guy who turns out to be the restaurant owner. He asked me what seemed like 20 questions about how I wanted my burger. My initial thoughts were "Didn't I already tell the girl who took my order?" Not long after that, our food arrived. It was OK. Nothing special and nothing to tell anyone else about - - at least that's what I thought.

Minding our own business and chomping down our lunch, we were once again interrupted by Mr. Restaurant Owner. This time, he was in a full-throttle sales mode. Without hardly taking a breath, he proceeded to tell us why we should order lunches for our businesses through him and why his food was so good because it is fresh daily, etc. OK, I understand. A fairly new business and he's a bit excited to tell us about his business. But what was wrong with this tactic?

1 - He interrupted us without permission assuming we wanted to hear his sales pitch while we were attempting to eat our lunch

2 - He constantly repeated himself and over-emphasized what may otherwise have been decent selling points

3 - He contradicted himself - - in one breath he told us the food was prepared fresh daily and in the next breath promoted his pastries which he receives frozen, then pops them in the oven!

4 - He broke a major sales law by explaining that his prices were going up due to someone else's problem (the gas prices)

Numbers 3 and 4 are worth exploring a bit. I can't think of a worse example than for a restaurant owner to brag about fresh food and in the next sentence tell me some of it is frozen and simply 'heated up' in the oven. What's your answer, sir? Do you offer fresh or frozen food? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the conflict.

In number 4, he was attempting to point out menu items (again, while we were trying to eat) that he thought would interest us, but then said a new menu was coming out within a week. Keep in mind, this place just opened less than 2 months ago. Here's the kicker: he said their prices were going to be higher because of "you know, gas and other stuff like that". Ouch.

Lessons learned:

Create a brand that means something. I left that place with more brand conflict than anything else. What about an outstanding lunch experience that I would want to tell all my friends about? How about emphasizing true freshness in all menu items? Our brand experience was negative. The restaurant brand doesn't exist - in name, atmosphere or experience (well, it does in a negative way).

Ask permission to interrupt patrons or customers. That's a fundamental law of marketing. We're all interrupted dozens of times a day with commercials, emails, etc. Be strategic and tactful when you want to express a message. How about offering an incentive to come back to this restaurant as first time diners? How about coupons to pass along to our friends and colleagues? The list goes on.

Seth Godin says to create 'remarkable' experiences. He's right. Delight the customer instead of irritating him. Be known for something great, unique, special, beneficial, outstanding, etc. Eliminate contradictions in your business. Be consistent and let your brand grow your business.



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