Are You Marketing Like a Republican?

People in bubbles

People in bubbles (Photo credit: viralbus)

A few days ago, the United States re-elected our president.  Most media predictions were for a tight race.  Republicans were crowing that they would win.

On election night, Republican advisor Karl Rove was stunned when the statisticians on Fox News called the state of Ohio for Obama. It was a massive disaster for the Republican party.

The next morning, radio host Rush Limbaugh seemed dazed. Instead of talking crow, they were eating it.

What caused this disastrous marketing campaign failure?

They were in a bubble.   All they heard were their own opinions and the views of other people who shared the same ideas.  They called other outlets the “lamestream media” or “liberals” (their synonym for dirty rotten scoundrels).

The Republicans kept trying to appeal to a shrinking demographic of older white men.  They kept beating the drums, throwing “red meat” to their party base; and never stopped to ask anyone else for an opinion.

The growing minority majority of Latinos, women, and African-Americans were appalled by calls to deport themselves, attempts to restrict voting, and medieval views on women’s rights.

They all voted for Obama  in huge numbers.

The Republicans lost.

Staying in your own bubble can be dangerous for political parties.  It’s hazardous for businesses as well.

Research your market

Think for a moment about your own business.  We can get caught up in our own bubbles too.  We know our products and services cold.  Our staff and partners know it.  We believe we should be hired over our competition.

Know your “why”

Is it clear to them how your product works?  Do they know about your special expertise in say, business-to-government selling?  Or are they aware of the successful email campaign you ran?  The one you had to stop promoting because it was a fire hazard.

Have you reached out to them?  Listened to their concerns?  Or just passed your new app back and forth between your engineers and your friends? Have you created a bra dryer? or an Iphone?

Send a survey occasionally  Or call for no particular reason.

Stand for something your customers care about and stick to it

Instead of stooping to the lowest level, or switching views every other day, stand for something.  Be different, and follow through.  If you say you’re great at customer service, then show it.  Percolate that mindset through every level of your company.

True story: Google sent a popular blogger a new Nexus tablet to review.  When he asked them when he should return it, they told him to keep it (and wished him an early happy birthday!).

Fix their problems

Republicans spent a lot of time talking about voter fraud.  There isn’t much.  They wanted to make the tragedy in Benghazi a talking point.  Then they kept supporting men who said almost unbelievably stupid things about women, veterans, and non-heterosexuals.

The country didn’t care about those things.  We cared about jobs.  And the economy.  And getting help from our national government when a natural disaster hit.

Delight your customers

Look at your own marketing efforts.  What compelling story do you tell?  What big (or even small, but annoying) problem do you solve?

How do you delight your customers?  I know a graphic designer who sends coasters (with her own original artwork) to her clients each holiday season.  Her clients love them, and eagerly await the new ones every year.

Another example of both delight and great service.  I bought something recently from Bare Necessities, washed it, and it turned horrid colors (like a bruise).  I emailed the company, they apologized, told me to send it back, and sent me a new one (with free shipping).  And, they delivered in the middle of a storm.

Guts or data?

Republicans relied on “gut feelings”, big donors, and lots of money.

Democrats went for data.  Time magazine reported that the Obama campaign had a huge data-crunching operation.  They tested email marketing subject lines.  They micro-targeted specific populations and counties.  They checked to see which appeals worked best for different demographics, and used them accordingly.

The campaign bought ads the same way, ignoring conventional news programming and opting for commercials on programs such as The Walking Dead.  Instead of gut feelings, they used hard data to find the right message, get that message to the right people, and get out the vote.

When you market your business, test your assumptions.  Create the perfect landing page.  Use different channels.  Test new offers.  Change prices.  Don’t assume you know what works (unless it’s worked before). Obama’s data team had pools on what would work.  Their guesses were often wrong.

Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat, a chemical company, a store owner, or a graphic designer, you can’t succeed or stay in business without listening, researching, and testing.  Now go try something.

Is Your Business a Kite Builder or a Hamster?

Spherical Kite

Spherical Kite (Photo credit: Syntopia)

Last week, in a comment on my post How to Legally Steal Great Ideas,  Tom Bentley followed my suggestion to combine ideas and came up with “hamsters lecturing to an audience of kite builders.”

At first, I laughed.  Then, I thought about if for a minute and it gave me an idea.

So, Tom, this post is for you!

Spinning your wheels or growing a business?

Hamsters and kite builders would seem to have little in common with businesses.  But I think they can both teach something (at least metaphorically).

Hamsters are known for climbing into wheels and running in circles.  They expend quite a bit of energy too.  And all they do is go round and round and round. There’s plenty of activity, but not much forward progress.  They don’t look up or around much.  Just straight ahead, on the wheel, over and over again.

Signs you may be a hamster

If you’re a hamster business, you may be doing the same thing over and over just because that’s the way you’ve always done it.  You spend money traveling to a trade show, post updates to Facebook or Twitter, or do the same promotions every year.

Hamsters don’t test (they just run).  They also don’t check to see if they’re getting business from the trade show, or stop to change their strategies or product offerings.

Spending hours on social media without a particular purpose or strategy is like being a hamster. Just going round and round and round.

Hamsters do have one strong trait though.  They are persistent.  They’ll go on that wheel and keep going and going.  Use that persistence to your advantage.  Just don’t be as narrowly focused as the hamster.  Test new landing pages.  Try a different pitch at that trade show.  Listen to your current clients and find out if there are additional problems you can solve for them.

Signs you are a kite builder

Kite builders behave differently.  They have more “vision” than hamsters do.  They love new ideas and new designs.  They want bigger kites.  Or faster ones.  Or kites that are more complicated or difficult to fly.

Unlike hamsters, their actions are tempered with real-world testing, and lots of trial and error.  After all, if your kite design isn’t just right, you’ll find out pretty quickly when it crashes. They look up quite a bit (rather than concentrate just on what’s right in front of them).

Hamsters don’t have to worry too much about physics and structural engineering (unless they eat too much hamster chow and get too  big to run on the wheel).  A 900 foot kite may be a great idea, but it has too much drag to fly.  If a kite isn’t built solidly enough, a strong gust of wind can tear it to bits.

A kite builder’s downfall is focusing too much on the sky and not enough on that really big tree in the way.  It can be easy to get distracted by something bright and shiny…ooooh spherical!…and not see what’s right in front of you. Go for the big ideas, but watch out for that tree!

So, which are you?  Hamster or Kite Builder?


How to Legally Steal Great Ideas


Crackers (Photo credit: elhombredenegro)

Even creative people get stumped occasionally.  Somehow, your brain just runs dry.  There are days when you think you may never have another great idea again.

It happens.  However, if you’re prepared, you’ll never run out of ideas again.

In fact, there are great ideas lying all around you. Other people’s ideas.  Even your  own ideas that you’ve completely forgotten about.

All you have to do is look around for them, and then steal them.  Here are six of my favorite completely legal ways to do that.

Keep a swipe file

A swipe file is an old copywriter’s trick.  When an article, a blog post, a an email promotion, an ad, or a headline catches your eye, put in in its own folder (virtual or real).  When you’re stuck, pull the folder out and look through it.

Steal from yourself

When you produce something yourself, keep a copy of it in its own folder, binder, or box (I have stacks of these).  When you need inspiration, pull them off the shelf and sort through them.  With some tweaking, that promotion you used for client A might just work for client B too.

Rearrange existing ideas

If you can’t get a headline or a tagline to work, write each word down on separate slips of paper.  Then move them around on your desk. That’s how GE came up with “we bring good things to life.”  Take the ideas, words, or concepts you already have (that don’t work on their own) and mix them up.  Move the pieces around.  The red bar at the top might look better on the bottom.  I find this works best with actual paper (physically holding it my hands, rather than moving it around digitally.

This works with both design and words, even longer pieces of copy.  Sometimes the best idea in your sales letter or your blog post is buried in the second paragraph.


Scratching is what Twyla Tharp calls germs of ideas.  A few moves or steps that she files away for future use.  Since it’s hard to write down dance moves, she records herself on video.  When she needs an idea, she pulls out the file, runs through her ideas, and builds on them.

If you have a thought, an inspiration, or something catches  your eye, write it down, record it, send yourself a voice mail, or type it into a note file (I use Evernote for this).  When you need an idea, pull one out.


Take two seemingly unrelated ideas and put them together.  People ate meat and baked bread for years, but it wasn’t until 1762 that someone thought to put them together and create the sandwich. Write down a random bunch of words or concepts, don’t think, just write. Then move them around and put them together (cats and space, aliens and cheeseburgers, movies and the internet).

Institutional memory

Your long-term staff is full of ideas; they’ve been around long enough to see the good, the bad, and the really hard.  Go ask them for their input, rather than trying to figure out everything yourself.

Try these out.  You may never feel stuck again.

Which is the Best Direct Marketing Campaign Channel?

Direct mail is dead. No postcards are dead.  Wrong, wrong, wrong postcards are no good, use a letter in an envelope. No, that’s not right,  you have to be on the internet to get anywhere.  That’s the best direct marketing campaign medium.  The rest are dead.

Postcard wall

Postcard wall (Photo credit: eperales)

Some form of direct marketing or another seems to be declared “extinct” nearly every week.

Well, which is it? Which is the right direct marketing (or online marketing) channel?

Before you pick a format, decide what it is you want to accomplish.  Are you trying to sell something complicated (like building a web site)?  Or, just get people to attend a free Mac user group meeting?

Can you get your message across quickly?

If you can say what you need to say in just a few words, then postcards will work.  They’re great for “save the date” notices, reminders, and coupon offers to existing customers.  Since there’s no envelope, your message is more likely to be seen.

Is it easy to visualize?

We’ve all heard the one about pictures and thousands of words, but if you’re selling something with a clear result (a fit body, a car, or clothing), then a postcard can work well.  The picture will do a lot of the talking for you. Something less tangible like accounting services or inventory management software is harder to describe in pictures.

Is there a simple call to action?

If the purpose is to encourage prospects to stop by your booth at the comics show, then a postcard will do nicely.  Or, if you want them to call for a free sample of your organic cat food.

Is the product complicated?

If you’re selling something complex, or with lots of variables, such as auto insurance or web development, then a letter is probably a better choice.  You’ve got more space to spell out the benefits of your services, explain your offer, and ask for a response.

Can you tease the product?

Adding a teaser to the outside of the envelope (lower your heating bills by 45%, details inside) can help improve envelope open rates.  Or, make your envelope “lumpy” (put a pen or a pad of post-it notes inside).  Lumpy mail gets opened at higher rates than flat mail (because people are curious to see what’s inside).

What’s your budget?

Postcards are cheaper, but letters give you more room to make your case.  If you’re on a tight budget, keep it simple and cheaper and use a postcard.

If you need more room to explain your products and your offer, try sending a letter to a smaller group of people.  Test it.  Does your audience respond better to pictures and few words?  Or many words and fewer pictures?

Get Clients Without Negotiating


Money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

It can be hard being a small business. We’re afraid our numbers will be too low (and we get stuck with lots of work for low pay). Or, that we’ll bid too high and lose the project.

But what if you didn’t “negotiate” at all? And still got higher paying clients?

A recent post about negotiation on Copyblogger urged (among other things) to “build value”—spell out all the tasks you do to perform a job.  Build a picture of all your hard work in your prospect’s head.  This makes them more likely to agree to hire you and pay your fee.

I’ve seen advice like this before.  It’s not bad advice.  But, it’s not the best advice either.

Don’t “negotiate” at all

Building a step-by-step list of tasks focuses on the wrong thing.  It turns your knowledge and expertise into a long to-do list.  You check off each item, and get a reward in the form of an additional part of your fee.

It puts the emphasis on the work done, rather than the value received.

The real value isn’t in a list of tasks you do for the client. If your work can be reduced to a checklist that anyone can follow, then you’re not really providing something special and truly valuable.

What they get, not what you do

When you talk to a prospect, set aside the details.  Instead, ask what their goals are. That’s where the value really is.  Not in a new web site, or an ad.

The client doesn’t really want a new web site or an ad.  What she really wants is 5 new coaching clients.  Or an additional $50,000 in sales.  Or 20 new leads. Or a savings of $5,000.

The real value is in what the client gets from your work. They get more profits, save more money, or grow faster than they could otherwise. The value is in the impact you have, not the time you spend.

Results, not tasks

Say your prospect has a website.  She’s selling custom handmade embroidered silk nightgowns at $500-$1350 each.  She’s running a multi-million dollar business and sales are brisk.

Unfortunately, her phone system keeps crashing. It’s down for an hour a day.  Her staff of ten can’t answer all the calls.  Productivity is down, and the staff is frustrated.

Instead of spending time on new designs and building partnerships with new outlets for her products, she’s running around calming down her staff, calling the phone company, and even trying to fix it herself.

The solution to her problem is a $27,000 phone system.  Said that way, it sounds like an awful lot of money.

Reframe the price

Here’s how to make that large number look like a bargain.  Calculate all the money she’s losing in hourly wages, lost sales, frustrated employees, and her own time.  After you’ve done the math, you find that her broken system is costing her $425,000 per year in lost sales, plus another $115,000 in lost productivity.

Then, you offer her a brand-new system that would fix her problem and cost $27,000. Problem solved, and $540,000 reclaimed.  Do you think she’d take it?  Or quibble about the price?

$27,000 is a lot of money, but not compared to a $540,000 loss. Right?  What do you think?