Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Deep branding

William Durden is the dynamic president of Dickinson College. I heard him speak at an American Marketing Association event in San Diego last year.

Durden, who isn't a professional marketer, probably understands how marketing works as well as anyone I know. He espouses the notion of "deep branding" -- getting every aspect of the organization aligned to express the brand.

He cited an example. Durden wears bow ties and is widely known on his campus for this practice. It's part of the culture of Dickinson at this point. So how to deep brand this aspect of the culture? Instead of the traditional Web site video of the college president waxing philosophical about the institution's lofty mission, do this:

Kill newsletters

When I was at my former company, MMA, our marketing department had developed a pretty standard response whenever someone walked in seeking help in developing a new newsletter: "Go away!" In fact, we actually kept score of the newsletters we had killed much the way the EPA must count how many polluters they shut down.

Paper newsletters are almost always a really bad idea. The same holds true for many of the e-newsletters I've seen. Why? Most newsletters have way too narrow an audience -- they're aimed generally at only one person, and that's the person creating the newsletter. The rest of us are merely victims.

I now work in an academic institution where learned people like to see their writing in ink printed on paper. Newsletters grow here like dandelions in an unkempt lawn. And yep, it's the same old M.O.:

"Why do you want to start a newsletter?"
"I have things to communicate."

"Who's your audience?"
"Uh, donors, alumni, students, friends of my department -- you know, everybody."

"What's your objective?"
"To communicate to these folks."

"How will you measure success?"
"If I send them all my newsletter."

And so it goes.

When I arrived in my present job, I started getting all sorts of newsletters from a variety of places across the university. There were big ones and small ones, glossy ones and photocopied ones, colorful ones and black and white ones. I started throwing them into a file labeled "Things I've got to change someday." But I've outgrown the file folder and now I just pitch the stuff.

All these newsletters have one thing in common: Nobody, and I mean NOBODY but the person writing each newsletter, cares at all about this dreck.

There's another characteristic I've learned about newsletters that are launched because of someone's personal whim rather than sound business objectives: The first issue is fun and exciting to create. The second one starts to be a real chore. The third one usually doesn't happen because the author has discovered that it's more work than it's worth.

I've often said that starting a newsletter is like getting married. The infatuation WILL wear off and one day you'll realize this is a long-term commitment and that long-term commitments take real work.

So if you're thinking about starting a newsletter, develop a solid business plan first. If you do, odds are the newsletter idea will be dropped for a more effective communication strategy. And if you run a marketing communication department, DO NOT under any circumstances accept an assignment from another department to "help them with their newsletter." If you do, I guarantee you by the third issue you'll be creating this thing on your own!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Is advertising really dead?

It's fashionable these days to point to interactive marketing as proof positive that traditional advertising no longer works. One of my own colleagues, in fact, is highly critical of our organization continuing to advertise in traditional media. Popular authors like David Meerman Scott (whose writing I admire, by the way) have locked onto interactive media, claiming that all the old communication forms are being eclipsed.

Not so fast, you guys!

I was a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in the 80s. It was a heady time -- Frederick Williams was on the faculty and "new technology" was all the rage. In those days, new technology meant cable TV, satellite delivery and a newfangled experimental thing call high definition television. The people developing this stuff, and the critics who were watching them, loved to claim this all spelled the end of beloved institutions like movie theaters. Man were they wrong.

Traditional advertising isn't dead and won't be in the foreseeable future. Sure, social networking is cool and provides an entirely new approach to connecting with people. Even this blog -- the fact that I'm writing it and the fact that you're reading it -- is a signal of pretty significant change in the way we communicate. But some people still sit at the breakfast table and read the morning paper. Some people still plop down in their recliners, remotes in hand, and watch TV. Some people still flip on the radio on the drive to work.

Marketers who claim traditional advertising is dead are not good marketers. They've forgotten that the point of their work is getting and keeping customers, not simply glomming onto the latest, greatest gizmo that's been invented. It's not about advertising at all -- it's about reaching people. And there are times and audiences that require using traditional media in order to be most effective.

The good news here is that the old ways aren't being replaced. Instead, we're benefiting from an expansion of channels and connection points that gives us more opportunities to effectively do what we're supposed to do best.