“Really?” he teased. “How long do I need to listen before I’m more affluent?”
When I was the advertising manager for a hospital holding company, I scheduled a radio spot to run on three stations. A guy from our research department asked why I had selected those three. I should have said, “Because their listening audience ranks above-average in affluence.” Instead, my answer came out this way: “Their listeners tend to be more affluent than the average.”
“Really?” he teased. “How long do I need to listen before I’m more affluent?”
When coffee magnate Howard Schultz learned that some Starbucks customers wanted nonfat milk in their coffee, he didn’t even try to hide his disgust. Since no self-respecting barista in Italy would profane coffee with nonfat milk, neither would Starbucks.
Then Schultz visited one of his stores, where he saw one customer after another leave—without a purchase—because they’d been told they couldn’t have their coffee the way they wanted it. Schultz realized that it would be more profitable to let customers profane their coffee than to stand his ground(s).
One of our restaurant clients wanted to produce a mini menu to include with to-go orders. It had space to list ten items, so I suggested featuring his ten most popular. He demurred. He wanted to list other, more obscure items. When I asked if these items sold well, he said, “No, my customers want burgers. But I want them to buy these other sandwiches instead, because they’re so much classier.” I said, “Sell your customers what they want, not what you believe they should want.” He pulled out a notebook, wrote that down, and my head swelled.
Smart marketers discover what customers want and provide it, even if it seems distasteful. If enough customers wanted a mix of marshmallow and hollandaise sauces on a Quarter Pounder, you can bet McDonald’s would serve it.
(Caveat: Market demand is no excuse to sell a product that doesn’t work or that harms people, even if the product is legal. Not that that stops every marketer from doing just that.)
Since this is a marketing blog, you may wonder how I justify using it to plug Phil Plait’s amazing new show on Discovery Channel. I dunno, but with enough time I’m sure I can rationalize it. (I am, after all, male. Rationalizing is one thing, so I’m told, that we do well.) Meanwhile, click here to watch a clip. Then be sure to watch the whole show tonight.
A good friend recently told me about a tough policy decision he implemented. The kind where, no matter what course he chose, not everyone on his staff would be pleased.
You would like him. He has enjoyed a well-deserved, meteoric rise within a substantial corporation without the slightest increase in or, for that matter, hint of, self-importance.
So, I was gratified and not in the least surprised that he cared about the feelings of his people. But, recognizing that it wasn’t possible to make everyone happy, he made his best decision, announced it and owned responsibility for it. How his people handled it would have to be up to them.
Good. While a management position is no mandate to disregard feelings, unpopular decisions are inevitable. Managers whose agenda is to be loved by all tend to deal with such decisions in one of two hopelessly ineffective ways: they use passive-aggressive behavior to avoid action; or they find a way to deflect the rap to someone else. Ironically, anyone who resorts to the first is no manager at all; and anyone who resorts to second is not at all the nice person he or she strives to appear.
The following, taken from My Musings on my personal website, seem to apply:
• Unwillingness to take a stand for fear of angering others is not a virtue. It is cowardice, and will sooner or later lead to letting down someone who deserves support.
• What you want others to think of you is a lousy way to make decisions. One is only free to choose the best course when acknowledgement doesn’t matter. Loneliness is a risk of making good choices.
• Manipulating people will catch up with you. Besides, you’re not as good at it as you think you are.
Read. A lot.
When the market forces the media to remove a spokesperson or abandon a message, small minds decry it as a First Amendment violation. I bring this up in a marketing blog because marketers need to be First Amendment-savvy. They do, after all, avail themselves of the same media used by the entertainment and news industries.
Respected scientist and author Dr. Michael Shermer (who was kind enough to write the Foreword to my book) recently explained the issue so well, I shall defer to him. I reproduce his comments in their entirety below. Click here to visit Shermer’s blog to read this and other insightful entries.
The Free Exercise of Stupidity:
Dr. Laura, the Ground Zero Mosque, and the 1st Amendment
by Michael Shermer
Aug 24 2010
Recently, two of the biggest media story brouhahas were Dr. Laura’s N-word gaff and the Ground Zero mosque, both of which commentators insist are First Amendment issues. They are not. Here’s why. First, let’s review the First…
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
(Most people forget that there are actually five freedoms protected in the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly, petition.)
Laura Schlessinger says that she is quitting her job as the biggest female radio show host in the galaxy because, she told Larry King: “I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what is on my mind.” Sarah Palin chimed in on Twitter that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights “ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence her.”
Wrong. The First Amendment applies only to what the government can and cannot do. No government agency is demanding that Dr. Laura step down. No laws are being passed to silence radio talk show hosts (at least not yet—recall last year’s cultural scuffle over whether liberals should be given equal time on all radio shows, including conservative talk radio). This is not a First Amendment issue in the least. Dr. Laura is free to exercise her First Amendment rights to say what is on her mind, including her stupefyingly ignorant opinion that blacks are being hypersensitive when called the N-word by whites. In turn, blacks, whites, and anyone else not from another planet are free to remind Dr. Laura what has transpired over the past half century here on Earth since she’s been away on Mars.
The Ground Zero Mosque issue is equally clearly not a First Amendment issue because, near as I can figure, it is not being built on government land, it is not being funded by tax-payers dollars, and it is not a public building. To that extent, it’s none of the government’s business what the owners and financers of the building want to do with their private property, so they are free to build a mosque near Ground Zero (it’s two blocks away, by the way, not “at” Ground Zero), and by the 4th right of the First Amendment, people are free to peacefully assemble to remind said private land holders and building builders what happened in that neighborhood a scant nine years ago next month.
The government is not—and never should be—in the business of regulating stupidity or making laws respecting the free exercise thereof.
* * *
If you appreciate Dr. Shermer’s work in promoting science and critical thinking, check out and consider joining and supporting the Skeptics Society. Shermer is president and founder. I have been a card-carrying member for better than six years.
A brief survey of attorney advertising creates the impression that the Bar requires law firms to brand themselves as either stuffed shirts or ambulance chasers.
Good news: there is no such requirement. There are plenty of other brands--respectable ones—available to the legal profession.
This is true for all practice areas, including bankruptcy, class action, malpractice and personal injury. Let’s not pretend there are no spurious cases, but let’s acknowledge the legitimate ones, too. And legitimate cases can do more than enrich plaintiffs and attorneys. They can perform a service, often halting abusive practices that law enforcement typically fails to address.
So there is a place, even a need, for solid attorney advertising. But sadly, many a good firm, fearful that advertising equals stuffiness or sliminess, opts to rely on Word Of Mouth instead. WOM may be the most credible form of advertising, but it is also the slowest. You can go broke waiting for it to perform.
If fear of the stuffed-shirt/ambulance-chaser dichotomy has kept your law firm from marketing, I’d suggest thinking a little harder. For now, set aside how you want to come across. Instead, begin with a look at the kind of client you wish to attract. That’s where you should aim your approach. If you’re not looking for snobs or greedy dirtbags, there is no reason to run advertising that appeals to such. When you truly aim your messaging at the market you wish to attract, the problem of “how you come across” usually takes care of itself.
I’d also suggest avoiding any advertising agency that thinks wild creativity is the solution to every marketing problem. You’ll be getting off easy if they only waste your money. More likely, they will also make you look silly. Instead, find an agency that understands the power of substance and clarity.
One more thing about working with an ad agency. Since a good deal of lawyering entails writing, many attorneys quite naturally fancy themselves writers. This can lead to obsessive editing or even rewriting. (Examples: “The word free is unprofessional. Let’s say without charge.” Or, “Professionals don’t use contractions.” Or, my personal favorite, “An English teacher would mark you down for using a preposition to end a sentence with.”) Presumably, you hire an ad agency because they can speak to your market better than you would do it yourself. If you don’t have confidence in them to do that, you have the wrong agency. (Or, you’re an awful client. For more on this, click here to read my column in Deliver magazine, “Why Clients Get the Work They Deserve.”)
Legal advertising is a strong interest area for me. I have advertised law firms I respect, and I have declined law firms I don’t. And I appreciate the attorneys I have retained to help me avoid getting into trouble, to ensure contracts were fair to all parties, to protect me from slimeball attorneys hired by someone else and, once, to represent me as a plaintiff in a malpractice action. I know, first-hand, the value of a good law firm. The public deserves to hear from them.
When a local paper hired a friend to write concert reviews, he bought a thesaurus. “I need some big words to make me sound smart,” he said. My advice to him, as it is to any would-be writer, was: stay far away from that thesaurus.
Good writing isn’t about impressing people with big or little-known words. It’s about communicating. Short and simple always communicates with more power than long and complex.
Take that last paragraph. I could have written: Effective written communication eschews contriving to flaunt one’s abundant lexicon. A succinct, elementary endeavor invariably fosters more forceful intercourse than prolixity and intricacy.
Do not fall for the arrogant saw that you must aim at an eighth grade reading level. I don’t even know how to judge that, and neither do you. Simply aim for getting concepts into heads with as little work as possible on the part of the reader. This has nothing to do with how smart the reader is. It has to do with the fact that even the stuffiest Ph.D. would rather glide through an easy read than slog through a needlessly challenging one.
Using a thesaurus entails a couple of other risks. There is a danger of not quite getting the use of the wrong right. A thesaurus may suggest disingenuous instead of sneaky, but they are not quite the same thing. There is also a danger of inserting a word that is out of character from its surrounding text. For instance, the dog barked at the burglar works a little better than the dog vocalized at the burglar. For both reasons, my 10th grade Honors English teacher drilled into us 10 vocabulary words per week, yet warned when giving us a writing assignment, “If you use so much as one vocabulary word, you will receive an automatic F.” His name was Harry Walker, and he was a great teacher. If you went to Reno High way back when, you knew him, or at least of him.
There is nothing wrong with growing and using your vocabulary. But for writing, seek the best word, not the showiest. And don’t try to use words outside your normal reach.
There is one legitimate use for a thesaurus: when the right word is on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite get to it. In that case, by all means grab a thesaurus and hunt it down.
(I can’t resist adding this anecdote, written by a former bookstore employee, that appeared in Writer”s Digest some 30 years ago. A customer told the author that her son needed a specific dinosaur book for school. Of course, you have already guessed the outcome. After searching the Natural History section, the employee realized that the child had requested a thesaurus.)
For the first time, I used the feedback feature of my Amazon.com account to complain. A “like new” book, supplied through them by TextbooksRUs.com, had arrived looking not-so-new to me.
Less than 24 hours later, this note came from TextbooksRUs.com: “I am very sorry to hear that you received an item that does not meet your expected standards. In effort to extend our regrets I am issuing you a full refund, and you are welcome to keep the item. I apologize for the discrepancy and appreciate you contacting us. ” Amazon emailed me a refund notice as well.
Books are my vice. After the necessities of life, they are my biggest expense. I am the sort of customer that Amazon and TextbooksRUs would want to keep. And here’s the funny thing. Thanks to the prompt and utterly cool way they responded to my complaint, I am more impressed with both Amazon and TextbooksRUs than I would have been if the book had arrived in pristine condition in the first place.
The server said, “If you’ll call the toll-free number on your receipt and take a brief survey, you might win a free dessert.” I asked how many restaurants there were in this national chain, how many total receipts they handed out daily and, by contrast, how many free desserts they awarded. After weighing the answers, I said, “It seems that my odds of winning the dessert will increase only infinitesimally if I take the survey. Statistically speaking, I could skip the survey and attain the same result.”
OK, so I was being a brat, but the server laughed with me. If she was really thinking, “What an ass,” fair enough.
Some marketing observations:
1. When it comes to dreams of riches, few people let silly things like probability and chance get in the way. That’s why sweepstakes work and casinos make money. The free dessert prize will draw fewer numbers than the average grandiose sweepstakes prize, but in terms of economics (restaurant margins being slim), I suspect it works out about right.
2. In order to avoid an illegal gambling charge, sweepstakes cannot require you to make a purchase in order to participate. The restaurant’s tactic seems to exploit a loophole. You are, after all, invited to participate only after you’ve bought and paid for your lunch.
3. You have to wonder if customers who take the restaurant’s survey are representative. Callers may skew towards: people who really like dessert; greedy people looking for something for nothing who enter everything; angry people who want to vent (usually more motivated to call than happy and neutral people); and bored people with nothing better to do.
4. The most productive incentive offers reward every purchaser. For that reason (and because sweepstakes entail a legal morass), we steer direct response clients away from contests and toward a free gift* for every purchaser instead. (*Yes, “free gift.” I know it’s redundant. I use it because it sells more than, simply, “gift.” Apologies to your inner grammarian.)