Marketing Mistakes We Can Learn From, Part I

“...Did we just waste $2 Million?”

by Michael Cooney

Before tackling other’s mistakes, a famous CEO has given us an important reason to revisit the subject of my last column, What Are You Really Selling? There, we learned why this line of thought is so important to your profits, and why I told one client, a convalescent hospital, that what they were really selling was peace of mind.

I just came across this quote from Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of Federal Express, on my favorite subject -- out-doing the competition:

“I don’t think that we understood our real goal when we first started Federal Express. We thought that we were selling the transportation of goods; in fact, we were selling peace of mind. When we finally figured that out, we pursued our goal with a vengeance.” (April 2000 issue, Fast Company, p. 98).

That revelation lead to their now famous slogan “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” and to their system of allowing you to easily track your package from their web site. Why? To give you peace of mind, of course!

The concept of ‘discovering what you’re really selling’ was critical to the success of Federal Express. It is equally critical to your success.

Now, on to marketing mistakes

Sometimes, the most valuable lessons are those learned from other’s mistakes. Real money has been spent. Fortunes are on the line. Yet often the most basic rules of profitable advertising seem forgotten. Let’s look at what not to do.

Daimler-Chrysler recently showed poor taste in its headline for a business reply card (BRC). The BRC was tucked inside car magazines advertising the new PT Cruiser. The headline read: “It’s for real. Are you?”

There’s an insulting headline that questions the reader’s sincerity. Their ad agency’s copywriter was trying to be cute, but only succeeded in hurting Chrysler’s image. By the way, that arrogant headline lasted for just one issue before being pulled. The new headline: “Want to know more?” There -- much better!

Deception creates suspicion

That same BRC asks for your phone number too. Then, the card states: “To ensure that you receive your package, we may wish to follow up with you. What is the best time?" Really! They’re going to call you and 50,000 other people out of the goodness of their hearts, just to make sure the postal service delivered your mail?

This apparent deception creates suspicion. Instead, simply treat your prospects with sincerity and respect. The BRC could have stated “If you would like to be contacted by your local dealer, please write your phone number here.” Yes, fewer will give their number, but those who do are far better prospects!

How to blow $73,000 a second

The “dot-com” Superbowl ads cost $2.2 Million for each 30 second spot. Most of these “dot-com” companies were near-unknowns. How would you have spent the $2.2 Million? For your first contact, is it better to talk to 60 million of the general population (half of whom were running to the kitchen for more chips and dip) one time for 30 seconds, or address 1,000,000 of your hottest, most likely prospects, for 10 minutes? I’ll pick the latter any time.

For $2.2 Million, each company could have hired a direct response expert to create a direct mail package, hired a top list company to produce a finely-tuned, customized list of 1,000,000 of your best, most-likely-to-buy prospects, and mailed to them your most irresistible, compelling case for doing business with you. That would win hands down over the Superbowl ad approach, I guarantee you. One of those Superbowl ads actually ended with the statement: “...did we just waste $2 Million?” Here’s your answer, guys: YES!

What can we learn?

  1. Being “cute” is a poor substitute for salesmanship, and inevitably does more harm than good.
  2. Scrupulously avoid deception or manipulation. You may generate more responses initially, but when people find out they were tricked, their opinion of your company will instantly sour. Worse yet, you’ll offend many who were excellent prospects.
  3. Don’t blow your budget on what little you can cram into 30 seconds on TV. Instead, choose advertising formats that allow you to make a compelling case, focused on benefits.

If you stop and analyze the impact of every phrase you use, and cost-analyze all reasonable options before allocating your advertising funds, you can avoid many expensive mistakes.