Monday, January 25, 2010


I am a big fan of Mountain Dew. I always have been. I know it's not the healthiest choice, but it is a delicious choice. Last night while watching the NFL conference championships at a friend's house, I enjoyed a can of Mountain Dew Throwback, and it got me thinking about the campaign.

Pepsi first unleashed their Throwback products (called a "throwback" because they are made with actual sugar instead of the high fructose corn syrup America now puts in literally everything) last year, I believe. Below is what the cans looked like then.

I tasted the Pepsi Throwback at a family members house, but missed my chance for the Mountain Dew version. The store was sold out by the time I got there - they weren't kidding about the 'limited time'. They are now back in stores for another limited time offer, and this time I made sure to get a 12-pack of my favorite pop.

It seems as though Pepsi is being really smart with this offering. When it is offered, the 'limited time' call to action is real. They ship out a certain amount along with an ad campaign, and let it sell until it is gone. The 'limited time only' tag creates both a call to action and extra shove toward an impulse buy. The fact that it is made with natural sugar appeals to people that appreciate a natural sweetener and those that are becoming more conscious these days of the abundance of high fructose corn syrup in our diets. Offering this formula for a limited time is also better than trying to extend the brand line with infinite variations that people will quickly tire of. Lastly, Pepsi made a switch to a more retro-looking design this time out which will encourage the nostalgic mind to make a purchase.

Overall, I appreciate the look, taste, feel, and branding approach of Pepsi Throwbacks as a marketer as well as a consumer.

Friday, January 22, 2010

One Time At Bandcamp...

Being a big music fan, I spend a lot of time on different websites and blogs that discuss music and post new songs by artists that I like (or that I've never heard of - a lot of times this is how I, and others, get turned on to new music). These are not sites that pirate music and offer for free what artists hope that you, as fans, will pay for.

In fact, these websites tend to function more as a "street team" for promotion, only for the Internet. They get the word out on new artists, post links to new songs that were sent to them by the artists themselves, and allow people to discuss what they've heard in the comment sections. Many sites even have a link next to the free download for a song that allows a viewer to buy the song or album on iTunes or Amazon. As many of you are aware, having this convenient link right there for the reader makes it much more likely that they will choose to support the music by purchasing it.

Lately, I've noticed that more and more artists are taking this promotional concept a step further for themselves and becoming smarter at marketing their own product. These entrepreneur-minded musicians are using a free offering as a means to gather email lists of those interested in their music and market to them directly in the future. They are identifying their target market that will help them drive sales of their songs and concert tickets with very little expenditure.

Let me explain what I mean with an example. Instead of just posting a song or two here and there on their website and on the music sites I mentioned above, a few artists I like are now offering what have been dubbed 'FreEps' - or, a free EP, a shorter collection of songs usually meant to drum up interest for the forthcoming full-length album, or LP. They send this link out to music websites in their genre to post for their readers. Only instead of being taken to a random third party file-sharing site to get the file without giving any information, the fan is taken to a website set up by the artist, such as Bandcamp, when they click on the download link.

Once on the site, a pop-up appears asking the visitor to enter their email address and zip code. The link to the music is then emailed to the visitor. And, just like that the music fan gets some free music, and the musician has an email address (and region via zip code) which they can message with any updates they have to give or offers to make in the future. Now how easy and beneficial is that?

If a person ends up not liking the music they heard, it is very easy to unsubscribe from the mailing list. After all, why would the artist want to keep someone on their list who doesn't like the product anyway? But, those that do like it are now in place to receive offers which they may not have received otherwise, and be more inclined to engage with the artist in the future. For example, in addition to more free downloads, I have received invitations to album release parties and concerts through email. Because I offered up my zip code as well, I can be notified if there is an event in my area - direct marketing without the expense of advertisements or snail mail.

These are classic marketing concepts updated for an Internet age. This example of how an artist may use Bandcamp is just what was apparent to me after a few brief experiences. The site actually offers a lot more than what I wrote about here. Much of it works like a stat counter for a blog, so artists can keep better track of their audience. But, the site also allows an artist to charge for some songs and not others, give away a lower-quality version of a song while charging for the higher-quality, allow the fan to specify what they would like to pay, post lyrics and cover art, and much more.

If you are interested, you can visit their site at the link below and watch their video.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Direct Marketing Campaign Abandoned At The Point Of Sale

While doing more research and reading on direct marketing campaigns I was reminded of one that I partook in as a consumer a few years back. It worked out just fine for me, but horribly for the company involved. I received the benefit through my response, but they did not receive the sale. And, they had no one to blame but themselves.

I received a direct marketing piece in the mail from Ford. They were offering a fantastic deal: come in to one of their dealerships and test-drive one of their vehicles, and receive a Visa gift card in the mail in the amount of either $50 or $75 (I can't remember which it was, but either way it's a great deal, right?). I was still under a lease agreement with Toyota at the time and had no plans to buy a new car, but I figured why pass up the deal? I don't have to buy. The only requirement for me was that I come in and test-drive. After that, I can fill out the paperwork (most likely ending up on their mailing list for future correspondence and offers), say 'no thank you' to any offer, and go home to await my gift card.

There happened to be a Ford dealership right down the street from me, so one day when I had some time and made my way over there. I went in and told the salesman that approached about the offer I had received in the mail and presented it to him. I followed him over to a table in the showroom and sat down. He looked it over briefly and then asked me point blank if I had any intention of buying a vehicle. I said 'no'.

"Okay, well let me just sign this paper, and you can be on your way", he said.

He signed the paper and gave it to me. Then he let me leave. No test drive. No sales pitch. Nothing. He didn't even try. As far as he was concerned, every person that came into the showroom with this direct mail piece in hand was going to waste his time. They were not going to buy a car. They just wanted the gift card. And, for him to make money he has to sell cars. So, in his eyes it was better to get rid of us freeloaders up front, and get back to business.

But, in doing this he missed the entire point of the direct marketing campaign. What the campaign did was bring people into the showroom and require them to actually try out a Ford product. Once the consumer was in there, it was the job of the salesperson (and the vehicle) to sell the product. Now, in my case (and perhaps the case of many others) the day would not have resulted in a sale. There was no chance of that. I had an almost brand new car which I was happy with. However, this visit could have potentially done a lot to help change my perception of Ford's products and of Ford as a company. But, instead the ball was dropped in the red zone.

All of the blame does not fall onto the salesman though. In his head, it made sense to not 'waste time' with these non-customers. His manager should have done more to ensure he did his best to educate these consumers and make any kind of connection that he could. Next, those marketers who created the campaign should have thought it out more completely and realized that this offer is going to bring in a lot of false leads to their salespeople who make a living off of commission. It was their responsibility to take their campaign a step further and sell it to the sales teams at the dealership. Tell the salespeople the reasoning behind the campaign and why you think it will work. Educate them on the marketing aspect of driving sales and get everyone on the same side.

The sales teams concerns should have then been addressed. They need qualified leads to have a better chance at making a sale. So, what's another way to offer this deal to consumers? Maybe have a certain day for the offer to be valid, or only during certain non-peak hours. Perhaps they could have designated certain employees to be the ones to handle those responding to the mailing - people whose income is not commission-based. However, because the details clearly were not thought of prior to the execution of this campaign, the direct marketing offer was a failure on the day I went in to the dealership, and more than likely a failure all around for the same reason.

As a final note, one of my associates received the same offer and did the same thing that I did. They never received their gift card in the mail. Follow-through is vital for any campaign if you plan to build a positive brand image in the minds of consumers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Building & Maintaining Relationships Through Direct Marketing

In order to keep my marketing skills sharp, and because I am just generally interested in the topic of marketing, I try to read books, blogs, and news stories on the subject whenever possible. It keeps me busy and helps me to view things through a marketing lens. Currently, I am reading a book on direct marketing which I discovered in a pile of giveaways at school in the late summer. Due to my current reading material, I imagine several of my upcoming posts will center around this subject, as I will be thinking of experiences I have had with this specific type of marketing.

As I began reading this material I thought back to a few examples of direct marketing that I'd like to share. Two of them involve birthdays, and the other my preparation for the future.

For many years, my mom has been a Pontiac owner. I remember the day she brought home her brand new blue 1988 Grand Am. My older and brother and I had a great time climbing through it for the first time; discovering and opening each of the compartments as if they were secret. I cannot remember what she owned before that vehicle, but ever since it has been Pontiac - at least two more Grand AMs, a Transport, and a Grand Prix. And, if the Pontiac line hadn't been cut, she would have been a lifetime customer without question.

My mom likes everything about Pontiacs. But, what came to mind for me when thinking about direct marketing is something which she mentions all the time, and has nothing to do with the performance or aesthetics of the vehicles. She tells me that the first birthday card she gets each year is from her Pontiac dealer. Each and every year before any friend or relative can wish her a happy birthday, she opens a card in the mail from her Pontiac salesman. This direct marketing tactic can be very effective. Not only does it allow the dealer to keep in touch with their past customers and stay on their minds for future deals; it also allows for a human touch to the marketing piece. It gives the impression of a more personal relationship with the customer than just buying a car. Some may think that this kind of thing is not a big deal (in fact, some recipients of the birthday cards may overlook it as well), but for my mom - and many others, I'm sure - this gesture means something. Like I mentioned before, my mom would have been a Pontiac customer for life. Of course, she had to like the vehicle she bought, be confident in its quality, and happy with the deal she made when purchasing it. But, I can't help but think that the birthday card, if only in some small way, played a part in her being so loyal to not only Pontiac, but to the specific dealership she went to when it was time to buy a new car.

My brother actually has a similar story to share with regard to his State Farm agent. He too receives a birthday card every year. In most cases, insurance is something you only deal with when you have to. How many people speak to their agent unless they need something? However, this agent is taking important steps in fostering lifetime customer loyalty because his customers can feel like they have more of a relationship with him. He doesn't only come around when times are bad. The agent is establishing this connection absent of any kind of immediate need (i.e. a claim to file when something like a car accident or fire occurs). So, because he feels like a valued customer at State Farm, how likely do you think he would be to consider switching to another provider? Not very likely, I would guess. And, even if he is offered a better deal somewhere else, he most likely feels comfortable actually discussing his rate with his agent now before he decides to switch, giving his agent a chance to keep the relationship. And relationships are a big part of what direct marketing is all about.

The issue of relationships (establishing, nurturing, and keeping them) is what brings me to my last example where I act as the direct marketer, in a way, to market my product - Me. I am currently in the market for a new job, and while I am applying at many places and networking wherever I can, professional jobs are pretty scarce right now. A while back, I found a marketing position at a new company with a good business plan and applied.

I was interviewed and things were going well. Ultimately, they were not able to provide me with what I was requiring of an employer at the time because they were such a young company. Certain things were just not put in place yet. Although I was unable to accept a position with them at the time, I told the manager that I really liked their company and what they brought to the marketplace, and that I would like to keep in touch if things were to change on the future. After all, I thought that the company would find great success in the future, and would like to consider being a part of its continued growth a little further down the line.

I did keep in touch with their dealings through their website and through professional networking online, and contacted them again several times to follow up. I spoke to a new manager in the marketing area a few times on the phone, and even came in to visit with the company's owner for a while. Things went well, and there has been some talk between us of developing a position within the company where I could be of great use. While nothing concrete has happened yet, had I not been willing to continue to remind them of who I am and what I have to offer, they may very well forget me when hiring new talent. The relationship I am nurturing may lead to something great for me in the near future. If it happens, it will be because of direct marketing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Standing Out In The Crowd

Differentiation holds a lot of importance in the business world. What sets you apart from the pack is often what gets the attention of others. That differentiation should also be a strength of yours - one that is not easily duplicated by the competition, and thus can be used as an advantage. The same holds true for the individual as a job applicant, salesperson, and any other situation relying on a personal brand image.

I was thinking of this issue today and was reminded of an experience with a salesman of sorts which I will never forget. Several years ago (most likely before I even took to marketing as a career path) I was at a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with my family. We were enjoying the game, when along comes one of the beer vendors. He marched up and down the aisles like the rest of them. But, instead of just shouting out what he was selling to the fans, he came up with a clever way of differentiating himself...he sang.

While the rest of the vendors just faded into the background and became nothing more than a small addition to the noise and atmosphere, this guy was impossible to ignore. He stood at the foot of the aisle, and looking up at everyone with a beer in each hand he belted out popular songs which he changed slightly to include the fact that he was selling beer. I wish I could remember them all today, perhaps my dad will if I ask him. But, one was to Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" He sang, "If you want my body, and ya think I'm sexy, come on baby buy a beer!!"

It went on like this for the entire game. A different tune each time. Because people noticed him, and were enjoying the show he was putting on, they bought beer. Most people probably wanted a beer anyway. But, they weren't buying from the other guys as much. I heard a woman behind me mentioning to her friend that she wanted a beer just as a vendor was about to pass by the row. She wanted to wait for the singing guy though. He was fun.

Fifteen minutes or so passed, and he showed up again singing another song as loud as he could while dancing around. I looked around and saw more hands go up in the air with cash in them than I had when any other vendor came through. It took him another fifteen minutes or more just to serve everybody! The woman behind me bought two. This guy was taking sales away from the other vendors and also creating a desire for his product just by being creative and fun. It didn't matter that he was a beer vendor at the baseball stadium. He was a salesman and he made sales. He probably got some tips too.

I never had an experience like this one at a stadium ever again. I never saw that vendor again. But, I'm pretty confident that his willingness to think outside of the box and make himself a success no matter what he was doing took him places in life. And, I use this experience for inspiration in branding myself.