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    While reading through a trade magazine, I came across a competitor’s ad that read, “We don’t do fancy advertisements because you shouldn’t be expected to pay for the overhead. We have some of the most competitive… rates in the industry.” I thought this was an interesting take on advertisements. A lot of people try to go for the catchiest slogan, flashiest colors, boldest fonts, and generally try to wow you. I think this ad did its job just as well as the “fancy” ads: I took a moment to read it, I’m taking a moment to write about it, and I might be willing to see if they really are passing savings along to their customers. This particular industry is less concerned about frills than they are about functionality and meeting Federal standards, so a no-nonsense approach can be a winner in this arena.

    Further, this ad reaches its target audience by speaking in a language they understand, with an offering that they care about. And, after all, isn’t that what ads are supposed to do? As a marketer and scrapbook-enthusiast, I tend to want to make everything “pretty”. But at the end of the day,  I am really aiming to sell a product or service to my target audience. While it’s not my favorite ad, and it certainly won’t win any awards in the ad community, I must concede that this particular ad delivered their message successfully to their core audience.

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    I’ve recently posted several articles about companies employing a “copycat” strategy, including references to BK vs. McDonald’s, and Starbucks vs. Peet’s Coffee. An article posted by CNN yesterday sparked this post about my thoughts on a trend of “copycat” wars. CNN titled the article “How Bing is out-innovating Google“, and discussed several new features of the Bing search engine. So, if Google continues to dominate the search engine space, why would it appear that they are copying their competition?

    The CNN article notes that Bing utilizes categories to display search results, which contributes to its’ mission of being a “decision engine”. A year later, Google started categorizing results in a similar format instead of their traditional blue links down the page. Further, they’ve started to stray from their traditional white background and “Google” logo to more colorful options in both background and logo. They also copied Bing by announcing that they would incorporate Twitter feeds into their results, an announcement that came hours after Bing’s announcement of the same feature. Everyone touts Google as the end-all be-all of the search engine world, but Bing is creeping up slowly and surely.

    While offering similar features is often an industry standard, employing the exact same tactics as a competitor can be detrimental. You don’t want to be the last one to jump on the bandwagon, as it tells your customers that you don’t have the latest and greatest at all times. Why use version 1.0 when I can upgrade to version 2.0 with better service?  It also looks a little desperate and lazy to just copy your competitors’ advertising, ideas, and timelines. This type of copycat strategy makes it difficult to distinguish your brand from everyone else in the industry, and you don’t want to be the one that no one remembers. Further, when a company makes a side-by-side comparison, it encourages their customers to make similar comparisons, which is dangerous when you’re the last one to implement a new feature or idea. It also encourages scrutiny of your weaknesses in direct comparison to your competitor, where most companies prefer to offer up their strengths for customers to judge. I’m interested to see if the copycat wars continue, and how many industries are permeated with this type of advertising. I think it’s a dangerous road, especially for the top two players in an industry to stop trying to differentiate themselves. For all the time, money, and effort that goes into a brand and a reputation, I think it’s unwise to let the fate of your company be determined by your competitor.

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    While cleaning up my scrapbooking room, I came across mementos from our trip to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. These mementos reminded me of a post I intended to write after the trip, as it struck me as ironic while we were in China. The irony? There were no knock-offs of Olympic paraphernalia while we were in Beijing. You could only find Olympic gear at actual events and at the Olympic Village. We all assumed there would be opportunities to buy all over the city, and figured we could find cheaper prices at the markets. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that the only place to find Olympic items was at the over-priced, sanctioned events!

    China is known for knock-offs of brand-name everything, from purses and shoes to DVDs and software. It’s just ironic that they managed to rid the city of black-market knock-offs for the Olympics. I assume it was part of the country-wide campaign to put their best foot forward as they stepped onto the world stage. But it does make you wonder: why can’t they control this issue with other manufactured items in the country? Are there just too many factories to oversee, too few incentives to stop the illegal sale of knock-offs, or corruption that makes it profitable? Several locals mentioned that many people in China were not supportive of hosting the Olympics, as it caused financial and emotional disruption for a lot of the population, particularly in Beijing. Maybe the lack of Olympic gear was somewhat of a boycott by the citizens of the city? This seems pretty far-fetched though, as the government continues to maintain a tight reign on citizens’ rights and daily lives.

    While I’m not sure why we couldn’t get knock-offs of the Olympic gear, I am sure that this should help the rest of the world take a stand against the sale of knock-offs. This proves that China does have some ability to police the manufacturing industry, and that by partnering with other countries, counterfeit items on the market could be reduced. It further points to the deeper issues with copyright laws in China, and that those laws can be upheld when the world requires China to protect them.

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    For those of you from somewhere other than the great state of Texas, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of Tollways. Tollways are these amazing privatized roads that make a commute much more bearable, as long as you have a Tolltag. Because the roads are privatized, you are required to pay for the right to drive. A little more than 5 years ago, the process of obtaining a Tolltag was pretty much a nightmare. There was only one office for the whole metroplex, and it was located in an awkward stop near a downtown area. And their hours of operation? You guessed it, 9 am to 5 pm… prime business hours. Couple that with the downtown location and horrible online service, and you’ve got a bunch of unhappy customers. When you finally received your Tolltag, it was a clunky square plate to adhere to your window using some gooey-velcro adhesive that generally didn’t hold up to the Texas heat. All of this to say, I was dreading the experience with a Tolltag purchase.

    However, I must retract all the negative feelings and battering the North Texas Tolltag Association after my recent experience with them. First, they’ve added a second building in a more central location for making the initial purchase of a Tolltag, and added centers all over the metroplex for bill pay and updating your account. The website has been re-designed to offer information about new toll roads and construction, payment options, and other helpful information in an easy-to-navigate layout. The website also mentioned that the hours of operation had been extended from 7 am to 7 pm, giving business people plenty of time to make the trip. I was further impressed as I drove along looking for my destination that a branded sign pointed to the NTTA building that was by hidden trees. I appreciated the directions, as I would have passed it completely were it not for the sign. When I walked in, a sign told me exactly how to proceed, which makes everyone’s job easier. The NTTA forms and office boast a clever new Marketing slogan, “Stop throwing money out the window”. This is clever for two reasons: 1) you save money by pre-paying for a Tolltag, as the cost per entrance/exit decreases, and 2) because previously you were having to fish quarters out of your purse to toss into the meters as you drove through. It’s a great slogan, perfect for encouraging the purchase of a Tolltag by helping people understand that it saves you both time and money. I filled out my form and dealt with a very nice customer service lady who explained the new features of the tag. Then, she hands me this beautiful package with sleek branding, account information, and NTTA contact information. The package was about the size of an old-school cd case, perfect for keeping it handy in the glove box of my car. Finally, she finished by giving me a thin 3″X3″ plastic tab with adhesive all over the back, to place under my rear-view mirror. No more struggling to keep my tag adhered to the window, and no more clunky distractions out of the corner of my eye. This new design also eliminated an internal problem for NTTA. For years, people wanted to just buy one tag, and then use it among several vehicles that didn’t travel the Tollway on the same day. Now, if you remove the tag from the windshield, it automatically de-activates it. This is also nice because you don’t have to worry about your tag being lost or stolen, but still being used by someone else. I told the lady that I loved the new streamlined process, and to pass along the compliment to her managers. It was an AWESOME experience. And to top it all off? I made the whole trip in about 15 minutes, from exiting my car to re-entering my car, only 15 minutes! I was so surprised and pleased with my experience that I went home and told my brother and his friend about it… and they both said they’d had an awesome experience as well. This solidified my resolve to write a post immediately, proving that people do recognize and recommend a good customer experience, even for the most mundane tasks.

    I’ve talked about good customer service on this blog before, and I must say, the complete turn around by NTTA hits the nail on the head. They really listened to what their customers wanted: more convenience in purchase locations, account management, and in using the tag. They really listened to their staff and examined internal problems to offer solutions that would not disrupt the daily operations and use of the tag. I think a lot of other businesses can learn from the tactics employed by NTTA, and we can all stop dreading the horrible experience, as it no longer exists.

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    I’m normally a Starbucks drinker, but I recently dropped into Peet’s for my morning fix. I was surprised to see a hand-written sign advertising “Freddo Fridays”, a deal that offer Freddos for $2 every Friday this summer. Now, why does this sound familiar? Could it be that Starbucks is running a VERY similar promotion, the $2 after 2 pm for all cold drinks? More interestingly, on the back of the hand-written sign at Peet’s, was an almost identical advertising for “Any Way You Want” Freddos, with the milks and coffee strengths listed. Again… didn’t Starbucks JUST post this promotion about a month ago? The humor was further heightened when I realized that the head-to-head Starbucks sign was hand-written and placed in once location, and had absolutely nothing to do with their current summer promotions and signage. Their original promotion says, “Feels like summer, tastes like Peet’s”, on beautiful banners plastered all over the windows and counters.

    Once again, I am amazed at the message, “we’re not different or better, but exactly the same”. I mentioned this in the BK vs. McDonald’s post, but I think the Peet’s strategy is less compelling, as it truly seems to be an afterthought or copycat. It’s like their Marketing department decided that what they’d worked for several months to create wasn’t quite as good as what could be done with a hand-written sign using the Marketing plan that Starbucks had developed. I know they say there are no truly original ideas, but I think it’s best to at least try to put your own twist on  your Marketing pieces!

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    Dear Non-Profit Organizations,

    Please take a moment to invite someone you know from a For-Profit organization to lunch. At this lunch, you will ask them all the ways they make their business successful. Then, you’ll take all these tips back to your “business”, incorporate them… and be successful!

    I’ve been a little frustrated with several non-profits lately because they don’t seem to understand that non-profit organizations face many of the same challenges as their for-profit counterparts. For instance, both are generally trying to reach a niche target audience. While for-profit businesses tend to put some emphasis on defining and reaching this target audience in practice, non-profits seem to deal with this in only in theory. For example, we received a door hanger the other day that was pretty confusing, and, as a Marketer, a little funny. The mailer was written completely in Spanish, showcased two Caucasian people with blue eyes on the front, and was distributed in a location with a fairly low population of Hispanic people. In fact, the “minority” population is mostly Asian in the area of distribution. It makes no sense to send the message that you want to increase your service to the Hispanic community by distributing this door-hanger. The message in the text needs to match the message in the photos, and the overall message needs to match the demographic make-up of the geographic location.

    Further, I volunteered for one non-profit that seemed to take the simplest task and make it incredibly complicated, thus wasting valuable volunteer hours. In their minds, they were “saving money”, but they failed to realize that often time is money when it comes to non-profits. Instead of trying to save a few dollars by turning a 1 hour task into a 2 hour task, it might make sense to spend the extra money and use your man-hours somewhere else. Businesses know that time is a valuable commodity that must be factored into decisions, but non-profits seem to leave this out.

    Finally, it seems a lot of non-profits give very little time to Marketing in general. This is partly due to points one and two above… they don’t take time to really choose a segment to serve, and they think Marketing costs too much money. Their for-profit counterparts know that it takes money to make money. If you don’t know that a non-profit exists, how are you supposed to donate? If you don’t realize the merits of one non-profit over another, how are you supposed to decide which non-profit is most deserving of your attention? Non-profits should take time to understand who they benefit and why those who donate care about helping the charity. This information can help them target their Marketing and increase their funding for their cause. By neglecting analysis and Marketing, many non-profits may be losing out on significant donors.

    Non-profits do good work, and they need the funding and volunteer hours to continue serving the community or helping the cause they’ve dedicated themselves to. But blunders in “business savvy” may be costing them valuable assets. I think a For-Profit should treat a Non-Profit to coffee and advice every so often!

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    I’ve been travelling a lot over the past few weeks, and I recently returned from a trip to the Dominican Republic. I’m always struck by the different selling tactics utilized in other countries, and I’ve found some common techniques among those selling in the Caribbean. My experience showed me that young men follow you around, constantly ask if you want to buy this or that, and if you touch anything, they’ll pressure you even more than before. They’ve created these “relationships”, where one person will go to the beach and convince you to go down to the shopping center, where he’ll then proceed to lead you to all the shops where he receives commission. It’s so frustrating to be hounded on the beach, on the way to the market, in the market, and on the way out of the market. It makes me, my mom, my sister, and my travelling female companions lose our desire to shop! And, our male companions are annoyed with the need to be over-protective when these “salesmen” come around.

    My mom finally gave one guy an extra dollar because he DIDN’T pressure her while she was shopping! And, she told him the reason for the extra money was because he wasn’t constatly bothering her. She gave the guy a free lesson on how to sell to Americans, and it may seem counter-intuitive… leave them alone and let them shop! You would think that after seeing similar behavior every day, the local vendors would learn that in-your-face techniques backfire. It makes a buyer feel like they’re being suckered into something they don’t want or need, which increases the likelihood of post-purchase dissonance. While this may seem high-level, it makes a difference when a group of shoppers returns and tells all the other potential shoppers not to frequent the local market because of the uncomfortable conditions. The vendors would sell more if they backed off a little!

    However, I must admit, they have perfected one portion of the selling cycle. They’re good closers, and they know how to ask for the sale, which is a failure of many amateur sales people. When I was a leasing agent, it was imperative to offer a lease application at the end of each tour of the property. If you fail to ask, you often fail to close the sale. While their methods were annoying, the local vendors in the Dominican were on target with their desire to close the sale. Take a lesson from each extreme: be helpful without pressuring the buyer, but have the guts to close the sale when you’ve found a suitable solution to the shopper’s problem.

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    I just had a quick dinner at Cici’s Pizza, a place you go for the value, not necessarily the taste. While sitting at my table and tossing my crust onto another plate, I looked up and noticed something interesting… the bus boy was carrying a whole tray full of crust! I’m generally a pretty big fan of bread, but I rarely eat my crust. Apparently, a lot of people choose not to eat their crust. I started looking around and noticed that everyone had one plate piled high with pizza, and another plate piled high with discarded crust.

    This begs the question: could Cici’s improve their margins by putting more cheese on the pizza, thereby reducing the amount of dough that is wasted on unwanted crust, thereby causing diners to eat fewer slices because they are eating more of the slice? If I have to eat 5 slices because I discard almost 1/4 of every slice, wouldn’t it make sense to find a way to get me to eat more of each slice? Maybe cheese is more expensive that dough, but if people are eating more slices, they’re having to use more cheese anyway. Another cheap solution might be to add garlic butter like most of their competitors do. I generally eat my crust if I have some garlic butter to dip it in, and this option might make people finish their crust and eat fewer slices. My survey of one and observation of a few tells my common sense that surely there’s a way to improve things in this situation! Do you toss your crust?

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    I watched the season premiere of “Glee” tonight on Fox, and oh how I love it! Also, can we talk about how they brought in Idina Menzel? SO excited about that. But, enough with my music and theatre love, let’s get down to the Marketing.

    “Glee” was the 4th highest trending topic on Twitter, and logging into my Facebook account showed “Glee” related status posts all over the Home page. There are already comments on the premiere episode at Fox.com, and news stories come up in the search engines to discuss the genius Marketing by Fox. “Glee” has over a million fans on Facebook, and several thousand people like their wall posts. It’s a social media marketer’s dream and success story. The thing is, all this talk is turning into a huge fan base that recruits more Gleeks. The buzz also kept the fan base alive and growing during the show’s four month hiatus, and positioning after “American Idol” is set to sky rocket season premiere viewership.

    I checked out “Glee” on Bing, and the first search result gave me this link to CNN.com, which talks about the Marketing and audience for the show. I’ve also been impressed with the show’s ability to cross audience barriers, bringing in people of all ages. I got my mom and dad to watch the show with me tonight for the first time, and my mom’s first comment was that they had done an excellent job reaching different people. She’s not a Marketer, but even she can tell that there’s something different about the premise and execution of this show. To add my two cents to the online buzz and loyalty, I encourage you to check out “Glee” if you haven’t already. If not for the music, then at least for the water cooler conversation at the office tomorrow!

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    I just saw the craziest commercial the other night! It featured the Burger King mascot breaking into McDonald’s headquarters and stealing the blueprint for a sausage, egg, and cheese muffin. The tagline stated, “It’s not that original, just sausage, egg, and cheese, but it tastes good and it’s only $1.” The end of the commercial shows the Burger King mascot racing through the security gate on a motorcycle, leaving the security guards bewildered.

    I have seen Apple vs. Microsoft and Verizon vs. AT&T, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen food companies directly challenging each other in their advertising. It’s also odd that they aren’t trying to say they are better than McDonald’s, they’re actually trying to say they’re the SAME as McDonald’s. Very interesting in my opinion. I wonder if it’s just gotten to the point that the fast food companies are playing a price game after failing at other tactics. McDonald’s tried to go healthy and go premium, while Burger King has always offered “have it your way” and premium burgers, but now it comes down to saying, “we’re selling the same thing, at the same price… the end.” I haven’t looked into BK’s Marketing recently, but it seems odd that they used this tactic in their advertising. I’ll have to keep my eyes open to see if I can figure out where they’re going with it. But, if nothing else, it caught my attention and kept me talking, so they must be doing something right!

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