Mar 29, 2007

What would you do with $780 Million?

Every time I see a marketing budget of a large American company, I have to pause and dream. Sears has $780M to spend on media this year. That boggles my mind. I wish I knew how much their total marketing budget is.

Anyway, here's what I'd announce if I were King of Sears and had $780M to spend...

1. New Name. Sears Holdings is now going to be a single brand known as "Smarts." It's an homage to both names Sears and KMart. And it symbolizes the smart new way to shop in our retail revolution.

2. New Stores. All Sears and KMart retail stores will be redeveloped into "Smarts." These stores will serve mainly as warehouses for our Smarts affiliate distribution, but will have front of the house retail space for browsing, choosing, buying and product pickup. Think IKEA on a smaller scale, and you don't roam through the warehouse to pick your own stuff.

3. New Convenience and Value. Smarts customers will be able to order online and have home delivery within 4 hours or an at-store Smarts pickup within 1 hour.

4. New Delivery Mechanism. 20,000 new Smarts affiliates will drive Smarts vans and deliver Smarts products to customers in their territory. From groceries to household goods, Craftsman tools to DieHard batteries, Land's End clothing to Martha Stewart dishware, a Smarts affiliate is going to be able to deliver within a couple hours to most homes. Think WebVan with assets in place.

5. New Vans. The Smarts vans are an important part of our program. They serve as billboards as well as delivery and service mechanisms. Current sales and product profiles will be updated on a weekly basis on the vans via large color print interchangeable panels.
By the way, we're buying 20,000 new vans from Ford, GM and Chrysler, keeping the investment in the U.S.

6. New (Great) Jobs. A Smarts affiliate will have a much better opportunity for income, security and autonomy than any Wal-Mart store assistant or manager ever will. The unique program will allow for ownership and performance-based growth and income. Smarts customers will come to know and trust their local Smarts affiliates. Think the milkman meets the UPS man meets the Avon Lady.

7. More on New Delivery Mechanism. If you're sending legal documents overnight to another city, UPS, FedEx and the USPS will still be the way to do it. But if you have a gift to send Aunt Erma, our Smarts distribution network will enable us to ship anything we sell cheaper than you could buy at your local Wal-Mart and ship yourself.

For most markets, especially those with a population of over 50,000, we will also cost less than ordering through Amazon or other online retailers who use a third-party shipping service.

8. New Advertising Strategy. We are discontinuing Sunday color inserts. Our newspaper advertising space will be much smaller, but we will advertise daily in every market, guiding local customers to contact an affiliate via web or telephone.

We will buy smaller spots in all print to promote the new Smarts brand and your local Smarts affiliate. We will not advertise individual products in our traditional media. We're moving all that online and on-street via the Smarts vans and affiliates.

We will use TV and Radio to promote the new brand and concept, but not with the frequency nor production costs of the past.

9. New PR Strategy. Our affiliates will be required to spend one hour of each working day providing a service or doing a promotion for the community. More than likely, it will be walking in crowded public areas, handing out samples, passing out coupons, and/or tidying up the area by picking up trash. Or they might help deliver donated goods in their van, participate as a volunteer at Special Olympics, or build a house with Habitat for Humanity. The choice is theirs; they just have to get in 6 hours a week of real Public Relations. Their goal is to create trustworthy relationships with our customers, and plan on delivering goods to the same customers for years to come.

10. We're going to crush Wal-Mart.


There... not bad for a quick plan. Don't think I could get it done for $780 M? Bet I could. I'm shifting the majority of the budget from traditional media to online and onstreet and onfoot. The future of online marketing includes humans too.

Mar 28, 2007

5 Lbs of Leads

AT&T, the mother of all bells, is back in control of the southern one. Today she sent us not one, but two phone books, a big one and a little one.

Wow, I wish I knew how much money went into these two books. Think of all the work at BellSouth/AT&T that went into the layout of these books, to get them print-ready... think of all the printers and delivery people involved. Think of all the sales people who sold the ads, and the marketing department that pulled it all together. That's a huge expense, even if you're really good at making phone books. Which, of course, I hope they are by now.

When I got my first phone book earlier in the month, I posted about how the advertisers can get a lot more out of their ad budget online than in a phone book. This time, I'm talking about the cost of the books themselves. What is this costing me, the consumer?

At first, I don't think I am paying a penny for these books because I don't use AT&T for anything. But then again, I use businesses who spend thousands and thousands on phone book advertising, and of course I'm paying more for their products and services because of it.

To these businesses: please drop the expensive phone book advertising, get online and pass the savings to us customers and clients.

Also, it's a pain and a cost to recycle these things. I hate recycling something that should not have been made in the first place. Especially when I didn't ask to receive it.

Hopefully phonebook season is over since we already have 5 pounds of them.

Maybe I'll dig through one and send nice notes to businesses without websites.

Mar 27, 2007

My Kind of Marketing...

Make your balls pink, donate a portion of proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and win a small niche that just might take your sales up a couple (big) notches.

Now, since Wilson's "Hope" brand makes it easy for me to donate to a great cause, advertise the cause in the process (people will see my dog with a pink ball in her mouth), and making my tomboy dog look a little more feminine... I'm sold as long as they put them on the shelf.

Mar 26, 2007

Before You Pay a Dime for Internet Marketing...

Seth is pointing out again some of the problems with today's top online / internet / SEO marketing plans. They want to take shortcuts. They'll do anything outside of their real business model to cheat a customer into choosing them.

Just say what you do and do what you say. That's one I have to work on every day, and maybe it's good for businesses to live by this too.

Don't pay a dime for marketing that spams or takes shortcuts. Just make it clear and easy for your audience. Seth calls it transparency and accuracy... you could also just call it "honesty."

Mar 22, 2007

Honesty Will Rise to the Top

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has become a big industry. A lot of dollars are being spent to make sure your site is developed and promoted properly to succeed in the search engines.

One of the SEO tactics is to have an employee call or email a "complementary" business to see if they would put a link to your website on their website. And it works better if someone links to you, but you don't link back to them.

This idea of sharing links on websites is a fine idea in some cases... for instance, let's say I'm the best guy in town who does custom auto paint jobs, and you're the only guy who sells a certain brand of rims. My cars always look great on your rims, so we recommend each other to our customers. We share coupons and brochures and send a lot of business to each other. We put each other's links on our websites.

But this is a case where real, honest business relationships and truly complementary products and services were involved. Having an SEO firm call you out of the blue to ask for a link is not an honest relationship, even if the products do go together well.

If I sell paint jobs, and you just call me out of the blue and say, "Hey we saw your site and it looks great! Will you put a link to our custom rim and tire store on your site?", then you're bugging me. You're interrupting my work.

And you're definitely not helping my business. What if my customer has a budget for a paintjob, but sees your tires and thinks "I'll put off the paint job and do new tires and rims instead."? You might say that's a stretch, but why would I send a customer from my website to your website when I'm trying to close a deal?

But this isn't really even the main point. As in Seth's blog today, it's really just spamming. And eventually it will go away, because honesty will rise to the top of the search engines.

By honesty, I mean your site will be designed with one thing in mind: your clear message to your audience. Google and Yahoo and Microsoft and future companies will do their part in organizing the web, making it easy to put your information and sales pitch into the hands of people who need your product or service. You're going to have to buy some PPCs or PPAs or what ever the next PP is.

The free searches are going to be improved by both the technology and the user preference and experience. Future web users will be better "searchers," they'll put in more accurate keywords, they'll know when to search locally (paint job) and when to search globally (car parts).

The engines will help you figure that out too. I have a pretty good feeling I'll go into a customized Google search interface and say "I'm looking for a new paintjob for my Rover, within 100 miles. I'm looking for four Big Phat Boyz Rims."

I believe then the software will be smart enough to seek the providers, get a proposal back (automated or manual), and within a couple days I have the best prices and proposals right in front of me. I didn't even visit any websites... it was all pulled into my Google (probably known as an "Omnipotent Operating System" (OOS) by then. We will need no OOS optimization (OOSO) for our websites.)

It's going to be fun to see how it really does play out... but spamming will die and honesty will rise.

Mar 20, 2007

Takin' it to the Bank

I have to get a local Bay County checking account. After using Bank of America's online banking system for a few (several?) years, I'm comfortable with it and must have online banking.

Bay Bank shows up on the first page in a search for "Panama City, Florida Banks." I go to their site; they apparently have online banking, but no demonstration.

In a search for "Lynn Haven, Florida Banks," I find Regions Bank and Bank Trust.

Bank Trust doesn't have a demo, and their 3rd party online banking partner announces at the very front that they do not work with the latest Internet Explorer browser. Hmmm...

Regions has a fast site that takes me right into a clear demo. I don't even go through the entire presentation; at this point the fact that their site works means something.

I go to People's First, who were nowhere to be seen in the search engines but are everywhere you look around town. They have online banking, and there's a button for a demo, but every time I click "demo", it just keeps looping me back to the same page. Is that a demonstration of how frustrating my online banking experience will be?

I made my decision tonight, and unless I walk in the office tomorrow and get very poor service, Regions is going to have a new customer tomorrow.

Businesses must learn now that more and more customers will make a decision based on how easy you are to find online, and the information provided through your website. If you don't do it right online, how will you do it right offline?

Marketing a Travel Destination

There is a big debate in Bay County, Florida, home of Panama City Beach. Some might say it's an economic debate, some may say it's a moral debate.

It's really a marketing debate, in which morals and the economy are just part of it all.

The deciders -- politicians and an old local businessman who really runs the joint -- want to keep marketing to the Spring Breakers. These marketers believe that Panama City Beach is a town of seasons, and that they can effectively let the place be Sin City during the Spring and FamilyLand during the other times of year.

There are other marketers in the county who want to get rid of the party image and the college kids who go with it. They believe that you cannot appeal to vacationing families when your destination is known as Party Beach, and I agree with this.

I do not believe your product -- even if it's miles of sand beaches and gulf water -- can be everything to everyone. You have to find your target, serve that customer and stick to it.

Las Vegas doesn't have a "season" where it becomes like Opryland, Destin doesn't have a season that it becomes "Hedonism," and Dollywood doesn't try to be the French Quarter during certain times of the year. It just doesn't work.

When you see images like these below on the Travel Channel, the Wall Street Journal and even our hometown newspaper, it's hard to say "Hey Honey, let's take the kids to PCB!" Or even, "Honey, now that the kids are gone and we've got lots of money, let's go buy our second home where we're sure to have college kids puke over our balcony!"

As for the current leaders, they have a good point too... PCB has always been the party place, it's always appealed to the free-spirit and good ol' boys. Some locals say it'll never be a snobby place like "The Beaches of South Walton," and will forever be a party town. If this is the case, then embrace the image and market yourself 100% as a party town.

Start bringing in more big music acts and festivals, hand out liquor licenses like they're newspapers, make some really nice public transportation to dissuede drunk driving and start putting plugs in the floors for the one-armed bandits. Think "Las Vegas meets New Orleans with a heck of a lot prettier beaches and women than Biloxi."

Unfortunately for the local economy, that will probably never happen. We probably won't go one way or the other, and will continue trying to appeal to both Sinners and Saints, which means our economy suffers because we don't take advantage of either.

If our local leaders pull it off -- filling up with partiers part of the year and families/couples/Baby Boomers the rest of the year, it will be an amazing feat.

It's a marketing debate that might take years to play out, but I look forward to seeing the outcome.

When you think of Panama City Beach, FL, what do you think of? Most people in the Southeast would say, "PCB! Whoo hoo! Par-tay!"

It's generally known as the Redneck Riviera or Spring Break Central. But in Atlanta, it's known amongst the upper-middle to upper class residents as "Trash Central," amongst other derogatory names.

Panama City Beach takes 21% of its annual visitors from Atlanta, but being only 5 hours away, this number should be much higher. And while certainly many wealthy and successful Atlantans call PCB their vacation home, most of Atlanta's money goes west to other beaches in Walton and Okaloosa counties.

By the way, congrats to Ben Bollinger for getting in the WSJ. He and partner Lisa Anderson are tapping a fat market that's right in front of them. Smart!

Local Advertising

I think it's an exciting time to be a small business. Small is big.

You can advertise in small spaces in newspapers and magazines (and TV, radio and websites), and send the potential customer, voter, member, donor, subscriber or client straight to your website.

I live in Lynn Haven, Florida, and as I approach 40, I'm finally becoming interested in the local government. We have a city election coming up, and here's what a candidate puts in the paper:

He's honest and qualified and will sincerely appreciate my vote. No agenda. No platform. No issues. No Solutions.

How easy it would have been to include a website address with full biography and reason for seeking the seat. Do a Google search for Neil C. Jones, and there's nothing about a man from Lynn Haven. Wait a second...

There once was a man from Lynn Haven
His head was brilliant and shaven
He posted his blog
He patted his dog
And asked "does this make me a maven?"

Anyway, I just can't believe that a politician today would not say everything he wants to say on his website, and spend all his money on little local ads sending people to his website.

And here's another local ad that does something almost worse than not having a web address... having a web address that doesn't work.

Mar 16, 2007

Adobe - even the best aren't always the best

Adobe, definitely the most important company in making the web graphically beautiful, does just about everything as close to perfection as can possibly be done. Their software is magnificent, and thanks to their recent merge with Macromedia, they provide us all with fantastic services, which most of us receive for free through their Flash Players and Acrobat PDF Readers.

Why Adobe does not merge with Apple and Google and completely take out Microsoft, I don't know. (I'm not really a Microsoft basher... I'm just saying the Gorilla can be taken down.)

Anyway, they are great, and today one of their email ads grabbed me in (I do subscribe to their newsletters and let them advertise to me. Like most great companies, every now and then they'll email you something that you're really happy to see, like a new product, an upgrade, or a huge coupon.)

This email has intriguing and beautiful design and ... boom! A t-shirt! Who doesn't like a cool t-shirt. So I thought quickly, "Ah, what a cool idea. Give out about 10,000 t-shirts to your rabid fans with a little online game and then let them start spreading the word for you."

So I took their presentation of Creative Suite 2.3, found the answer to qualify me for a shirt, and submitted it. (Click "Brainteaser" at the bottom of their page if you want to play too.)

I thought, "How smart! They just got me to interrupt my work, spend 10 minutes learning about their products... in a way that made me want to upgrade (BUY) as quickly as possible... and now they're even going to give me a cheap t-shirt to help them advertise on the street. So simple, so done-before, but oh so brilliant!"

And then they let me down.

Instead of a screen asking for the address to send the shirt, I got a screen that said something like "we'll notify you by April 12 whether you get a shirt..." April 12! That's almost a month away! Why couldn't you just go ahead and give it to me if my answer was correct?

Not a big deal, but I just wanted to point out that you can do something very well and then at the very end ruin the experience for your customer. I guess I'll still be happy if I get a shirt 6 weeks from now... I'll let you know if it happens.

Mar 15, 2007

Apple needs to make an affiliate program for iTunes

Updated March 20: They actually do have an affiliate program that pays 5% commission (you have to sell a lot of songs to make any money). And it's hard to join, it's handled through Linkshare and the site interface is a nightmare.

They wouldn't let me have an affiliate link to sell their music because "my site has content unrelated to iTunes."

No Duh! I'm not going to write about iTunes on my site until I put my affiliate link up there that says "Kirk recommends these songs from iTunes..."

Again, even the best ain't perfect.
End update -

Not that they need more sales, but affiliate programs are a GREAT way to sell your product online. Apple should create an iTunes affiliate "dj" program. The "dj" composes a play list, as long or short as she wants, and lets her "fans" purchase the entire playlist in one click. Then Apple puts an affiliate commission in her pocket on each sale.

Hooray for the Little Guy

My online marketing experience began with a web hosting company. Back then, all the web hosting companies were small operations, trying to look bigger. Now, most of the ones that have survived are actually bigger, and can't provide the customized and experienced service that independent online marketing consultants can. What they're charging for below - Pay Per Click "starting at $125/mo"... the little guy can do better and save you money and time in the long run.

Mar 14, 2007

A Great New Service Called AOL

It's been over 10 years since the techies at work started teasing me about my AOL account. It was then, and still is, considered the beginners' area of the online world. I ended my 56K account with them around the turn of the century. My excuse to hold on to it as long as I did was for "market research," which in the late 90s, it was, since it was by far the most popular way to get online.

Since then I have used AOL's instant messenger from time to time, and that was just about the last service I thought I'd use from my very first ISP. But then I found myself Monday night watching the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame show live online, compliments of AOL. It was a clean stream, very good quality video being delivered for free online. Good for AOL!

It's going to be interesting to see how media brands will rise and fall and rise again. AOL could have some really good services like this one come up, put a unique spin on media delivery and climb to the top again.

For instance, I've said for years that one day I'll be able to get online to watch David Letterman and have a choice to pay for the viewing (minimal... perhaps $.50 per show) or have an advertiser of my choice pay for the episode. If I choose to buy the show commercial-free, then I am either billed via credits to CBS or one of their online vendors (such as a YouTube or other online property).

If I choose to have an advertiser pay the $.50 for the show, then I am given the option of the willing advertisers. It could be anyone from the local merchant to a national brand.

Let me give you an example. I know I need a new pair of jeans, so I enter "jeans" in my search field. My results brings me 3 options: Target, Levi's and Sears. I choose the Sears ad because it promises an automatic 15% discount on any pair of jeans. Then, a video "player" opens up that is branded with Sears' logo and web link, and a 1 minute commercial starts streaming. Depending on how advanced Sears' marketing department is, you'll probably see the video customized based on the "jeans" search. Or, maybe you'll just see an all-inclusive Sears commercial. Regardless, they're paying for your Letterman show, and you're going to see at least a few more Sears "blips" (5 sec. commercials) during the broadcast.

There are a lot of companies - local and national - who are willing to spend $.50 for you to see a one minute presentation, especially if you chose that advertiser based on what you are looking to purchase.

AOL could have had me in the palm of their hands the other night. I would have either purchased or selected an advertiser to bring me the live feed of the RnR HoF ceremony, but they gave it to me for free. If they are to rise again as a Great New Online Service, then they'll have to start inventing new ad strategies like this.

Mar 10, 2007

Panama City, Florida Restaurants

The realization that search engines are replacing phone books for advertisers has not quite reached every market.

Do a search in Google for "Panama City restaurants," and you will find that this popular beach town does not have a single restaurant advertising directly. Sure, they may be in some of the travel content and local business chamber sites, but they're not right there in your results, saying "Come eat at Flamingo Joes, the best restaurant on the Beach!" (which it is, in many categories.)

Once these small businesses realize how affordable it is to be listed right there in Google, Yahoo, MSN (or Live... whatever they're calling themselves now), they can't say no.

Google has not peaked. Wow.

google results for panama city restaurants

The Difference A Keyword Can Make

The way people search is as unique as people themselves. No one does it the same way. One might type in "Panama City Restaurants" to choose where to eat, while another may be a little more detailed and type in "Panama City Florida Restaurants."

By adding "Florida," Google adds one of their newer services, local search. It includes their outstanding Google Maps at the top to let you know where you're going.

The point is, you need have many different keyphrases and keywords in your PPC campaign in order to reach the different "searchers" of your market.

Online vs. Phone Book

I walked outside yesterday to find a big ol' phonebook in my driveway. "This is the year I'll find out how to make sure we don't get one!" I told myself for about the 8th year in a row.

I looked up and down the street to see shiny plastic bags holding yellowed-paged books as far as the eye could see. It's a sight you won't be able to see in the future. I don't know how far into the future, but the printed phonebooks are going to die.

I have a Legal / Accounting client in Atlanta who had been spending over $8K per month advertising in the Bell South Yellow Pages. $96,000 per year-- for years! This was his major marketing/advertising channel, and the yellow pages brought a fine return on investment year after year. His office grew and prospered in Midtown Atlanta.

Then, in 2005, he saw a drastic decline in business. He could not figure out why. I suggested that perhaps it was because people were getting away from using the yellow pages. After all, if you're online, you've simply become accustomed to getting the information you want, immediately, often with photos, full product/service information, and even video demonstrations. Why go pick up a huge phone book, page through to your appropriate category, and then browse all the options that only give you contact information and a few service descriptions at best?

This client now spends about $1K per month in Google, Yahoo and MSN, and is having the most prosperous year in his company's history. He did not renew his contract with Bell South. For about a thousand dollars, he paid me to set up an online pay-per-click (PPC) campaign that is giving him a $15K+ per month increase in his bottom line. Not bad.