Category Archives: Business Communications

Social Media’s Role in the News Cycle

SocialMediaNewsStats

Social media plays an important role in the news cycle   (CLICK ON IMAGE TO EXPAND)

It should come as no surprise that the way we get news today is quite different than in the last decade. Daily Newspaper circulation, which stood at 62 million in 1990, fell to 43 million in 2010, a decline of 30% (source: The State of the News Media 2011). There are many reasons behind this decline. One is a drop in advertising revenue, which has resulted in staff reductions, less content and reduced deliveries.

Another reason is a change in behavior. According to the Pew Research Center in Washington DC, news has a place in social media, on some sites more than others (source). See the chart at right.

We are still in transition as new online venues are experimented with. Today, it seems like everyone gets their news in a different way – from a Facebook post to an AP news alert (on a smart phone) to browsing an online news site such as Google News. Of course, some still watch TV, listen to the radio, and, some still read a newspaper.

Don’t confuse this transition with diminishing importance. This change is quite different from the fate of the buggy whip manufacturer … news is still actively sought. It is the delivery mechanism that is changing.

The Impact on Public Relations

Public Relations professionals are experiencing this transformation first hand, which has significantly impacted how they do their job. Targeting a single media channel is not a viable strategy anymore to effectively get the word out. Of course, budget dictates how far and wide your “net” can swing. Not everyone can afford to run TV ads. Regardless, communications strategies must now be multi-channel.

Not only has the medium changed, so too has the timeframe. News stories now can occur at nearly any time of the day or night, and seem to break instantly on a global scale. While this speed of access may be great for the general public, it can be a challenge for reporters, editors and PR professionals.

Given this new timeframe expectation, there often isn’t enough time for reporters to adequately research a breaking story – especially when the world is watching and wanting more info. We saw this occur in 2013 surrounding the breaking story of a bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. As a story from the Hollywood Reporter explained, “Questionable information from sources and a rush to be first contributed to a flurry of erroneous media reports.”

Lessons Learned

Since that event, the news industry has learned. Initial announcements, be it from a Twitter feed, blog post or other “real-time” source must first be researched before assuming true. Or, any conclusions based on these real-time media sources should be identified as such. In this way, every source can occupy a place in the hierarchy of how news distribution. As a PR professional, we need to be aware of each of these “roles” that social media plays as news breaks.

The Social Media Role of News – First Responder

Given the widespread adoption of smart phones, it is highly likely access to a live smart phone “feed” will occur as news stories break. It makes sense that the role of social media has become one of “first responder,” giving us the fastest access to a breaking news story. But, accuracy may not be 100%, given its speed. But, as long as PR professionals, news agencies and the public understand what role each communications venue plays, the system works quite well.

As a PR professional, it is important your organization has representation across each of these media, so you can contribute to the “conversation” as news develops and is reported on. In this way, social media plays a role as a communication venue – not one for lead generation. Most organizations now understand this, having invested in building a social presence online as well as continuing to maintain traditional PR network of reporters and editors. The consequence of not maintaining these connections is that over time you will lose credibility by not being part of the commentary as major news stories break, or new thought-leadership stories go mainstream.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in creating and executing marketing communications strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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5 Ways to Tell a Great Story with a Business Plan

Top_5_ways_to_tell_story_with_a_business_planIn my last post, I presented the concept that a business plan really needs to tell a story – if it does, then you are much more likely to achieve your objectives for actually writing the plan, such as to get funded, to get a new loan, to attract new employees, or whatever else your objective is for writing the plan.

Having many years of experience within the field of Public Relations, I can offer a unique perspective on how to accomplish this goal. Below are five strategies or approaches you can pursue to help best tell your story within a business plan:

  1. Start with a Great Title – every reporter that wants their story to actually be read knows the importance of having a catchy title. Newspapers, magazines and websites all know this and how important the title is … that is why they don’t delegate this task to reporters, and instead keep that responsibility with the Editor. Think like you are an Editor working for the NY Times … what are you going to include in the article of your business plan to get it read in the first place?
  2. Include an Executive summary – everyone is too busy to read every document and story we see that passes in front of us or in our inbox. We are simply inundated with things to see, read or participate in. If you have a great title and got my attention to make it to page 1, you best get me excited REAL quick, or else you might lose me forever. The executive summary should be hard hitting. The first paragraph or two should point out something new to me – some amazing fact, or stunning growth estimate that gets me engaged. Now I am primed to learn more about this market need and how your new business will address it, and do so with all deliberate speed.
  3. Provide Third Party Proof Points – at this point, once I have read your executive summary and I am now interested to learn more, you need to sell me that your story is legitimate. In other words, are you just making this sh@* up, or, have you done the diligence necessary to really validate that this need exists? Here your story can go into a bit more detail, as you have earned that privilege based on a great intro. Now is the need to document the market size and the challenge that now exists.
  4. Comparable Products or Services Don’t Work – here is where the story needs to explain that not only does a market need exist, but, no one else has figured out what you now know – the solution. Or, that you possess the unique skills and knowledge to address this market shortfall better than anyone else. The story needs to be why you are a “no brainer” choice, if your reader agrees that the market need does exist and that others haven’t yet addressed this need.
  5. Financial Model Supports the Story – here is where the “rubber” hits the road. You have gotten my attention as a reader, you have pointed out a market need and why you are the person best suited to address this need. Now, can you actually make money delivering upon this need? What do the numbers say? Here is where the financial model must provide the proof that an investor is seeking to see if your story really holds together. Based on the assumptions and market position strategies highlighted in the plan, does the financial model reinforce this story? If it does, then you have put all the “stars” into alignment and have best optimized your chances for success.

 

There you have it. Of course, they are no guarantees. You could have the best business plan writer with the best business plan, but it still may not get funded. But, if you have a great story to tell, can find suitable investors or other target audience members that are open to hearing your idea, and you keep at it, then your chances for success will go up dramatically! And, once you have heard all the “no’s” you will get to a “yes” in the end. Here is where the perseverance comes through and the “doing what it takes” mentality is needed to actually get your plan funded.

At that point, all the work will be worth it. Good luck!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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What Story Does your Business Plan Tell?

what_is_story_of_your_business_planMost people have a pretty good idea of what a business plan is, and what should be included in it. If asked, I would suspect that many people could also tell you that a business plan should include an overview of the business, what the product or service is, the markets being pursued, the competition, as well as some sort of financial model.

In the same way, if someone asked me how an airplane worked, I could tell you that lift was involved, and that the shape of the wings creates a vacuum, which that then helps the plane to get airborne. But, I don’t think you would want me actually building an airplane …

In some ways, this analogy applies to business plans. There are subtleties involved as well as a good deal of work, which might preclude your ever getting the plan completed. In the end, if your being funded is dependent upon having a plan, it might be worth reaching out to someone who has actually written one before.

As a business plan writer who has written over 25 different plans, I understand that each one serves many needs and provides content for different audiences. For example, one of the sometimes overlooked attributes of a business plan is that it must tell a story – about you, your idea and your vision – and how new funding will make your story come true. If your reader can’t quickly get the story, it is unlikely they will agree to fund your plan.

The Vision

Business plans sell a “vision” or a “dream” of what you see that a new business could be, could operate as and could deliver value to your target audience. Your initial audience are investors, potential partners and initial employees you will need to launch your vision.

In this way, a business plan is really a marketing document that is written to pitch your idea to this group and get them excited about the prospect of “getting in” on the ground floor. This sense of urgency of what a fantastic opportunity that awaits must be communicated. You need to tell a story of how your business can provide a greater good, or how it can help address a common challenge. And, if it is done right, your business could then earn everyone a nice profit at the same time.

If this sounds like what is driving you to prepare a business plan, then you should recognize you have a story to tell. Just like a great Public Relations campaign, you have a story to get into your prospects (i.e. investor’s) head. So, it is time to think like a PR professional, at least with regards to the structure and content you decide to put into your business plan.

In my next post, I’ll offer five ways to turn your business plan into a great story.

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Business Plan Writing vs. Advising

business_plan_advisor_or_writerOver the years I have had the opportunity to meet quite a few people eager to start a new business with ambitions to conquer a market, introduce a new product or to just start something new. Once the idea is born, the challenge is to pick the best path through to fruition. There are many decisions to make with regards to how to spend your time, where to focus your budget dollars as well as reviewing ideas with close friends and family. As part of this decision process, the source of capital for launching or expanding the business will inevitably come up. Can I fund this idea myself and retain 100% of control, or, do I need help via a capital investment?

Those that make it through these hurdles with the conclusion that outside funding is required must then face the task of best explaining their new idea in such a way that it can generate excitement without necessarily giving away all of the “secret sauce” of the venture. It is at this point that the topic of writing a business plan will emerge – do I need one now, or, can it wait?

Given the capital markets, it is likely you will need to make a bit of a time investment to achieve success … you will need to speak with many individuals before finally finding the right match of your opportunity with the investment profile of an angel or Series 1 investor. In the interest of efficiency, it is typical to arrive at the conclusion that another “venue” for telling your story is needed. In fact, you probably need a few different formats to best tell your story.

To start, a 30 second elevator pitch is critical. If you can’t tell your idea quickly with enthusiasm, then you venture will likely die. Add to this challenge the fact that everyone is totally overloaded today, being impacted by literally thousands of messages, images and other distractions all the time. Your communication must be crisp, unique and stand out from the crowd.

Those that you “hook” with this elevator pitch will then ask for more information. This is a good thing – you have their attention. So, the next step is what do you do? If you can arrange a future meeting in person, great. A presentation will be needed, at a minimum, to continue your conversation. I would propose that in addition, now would be an excellent time to have a business plan already prepared to send prior to your meeting. Access to a written plan can be well worth the time and investment to prepare, provided it demonstrates your commitment to the project and achieving success with your venture.

The challenge is that you can’t really wait for the next “chance” encounter to then sit down and write the plan. These documents need time and effort to be invested so they sound good, are well thought out and exciting to read. This type of writing doesn’t happen overnight, nor can you really put something together in just a few hours. You want to show that you have thought through this business opportunity quite carefully, and are ready to go once finding the right partner, employees, or other resources necessary to get started.

It is at this decision point when you must ask yourself: “Do I just need a writer to capture my thoughts, which I am completely confident are all correct?” Or, is it more accurate to consider that you have “pretty much” the idea for the plan in your head, but, there are definitely some of the details, competitive pressures and product / service differentiation that could do with some refinement? If the latter is the case, realize you need more than just a business plan writer. You need an advisor, a person who can help you with not only the writing to ensure it is understandable, but that it can withstand the scrutiny of an investor that is putting some of their own money into the venture. This type of reader will have very specific questions that must be answered before they consider proceeding further.

If you come to this point in your new business process, challenge yourself to really assess if you need a person who is skilled with what business models can actually be executed, or, do you want to hire a writer that will simply replicate what you tell him or her. If it is an advisor or modeler you seek, then look to see what marketing experience in planning and execution that they have. After all, the entire discipline of marketing is focused on planning, strategizing and executing the best way to achieve business plan objectives. Once the plan has been carefully thought out, it then becomes the responsibility of sales to actually execute upon it. Of course, this may be one and the same person for a smaller organization, but, the concept still holds true.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business model adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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The Public Relations Transformation

A transformation is underway with public relationsThe role of a public relations today has changed from what it was a decade ago. Interestingly, in the same way that the Internet has completely changed how we book airline reservations, execute stock trades and write letters, its impact on journalism and public relations has also been nothing short of phenomenal.  Those of you who have worked in public relations during this transformation might now think the industry has spiraled completely out of control! Some might even argue that it is now at risk of losing its relevance.

I come from a different perspective. To start, I wasn’t a journalist prior to my current role in the industry. Instead, I began my career in finance as an accountant. After moving my way up the corporate ladder, I found a passion for marketing, which is a discipline I have now been practicing for nearly 15 years.

From what I can gather about the “early” days of PR, strict lines were drawn between what news was published, how it was distributed as well as the role that the newspapers and magazines played in getting the story out to the general public. For example, press releases used to be written just for editors and others working at news publications. It was then at their discretion as to what was printed and deemed sufficiently “newsworthy” to publish.

The Internet changed all of that. Now anyone can post any press release on a website, and with a little effort, can get their release picked up by other aggregator sites. In the end, their target market can find out about their news by simply doing a Google or Yahoo! Search by keywords. This is a completely different news distribution model, and has transformed the role of today’s Public Relations practitioner.

Given the relative ease of publishing content, the value of a public relations professional has now become more about managing that content, driving the direction of what new stories can be told about the topic as well as getting the “right” placements that matter most in the eyes of the public. After all, not all placements are created equal.

It’s a New World

With the breakdown in structure of the “old” model, traditional news organizations have lost some of their power – many more approaches now exist to tell us the news, ranging from tweets to YouTube to a myriad of news aggregation sites and the search engines. But, as the dust settles, I would argue that the traditional news media still have a “trump” card that should be played, and that of trusting their experience and knowledge to report the news accurately and fairly. Unfortunately, it appears that some organizations are not able to embrace this philosophy or execute upon it with 100% success.

We are all quite familiar with the recent events transpiring during the Boston bombing incident on April 16 where false news reports had to be retracted, based on the desire for CNN to be the “first” to break an angle of the story. Clearly this type of news reporting is less than ideal. But, on the upside is the fact that nearly anyone can write about a news event, or a story they deem as newsworthy. And, those with camera phones have given us unbelievable footage of news right as it is happening.

Meanwhile, from a marketer’s perspective, this changing of the guard brings new opportunities for “earned” vs. “paid” placements. It is amazing the amount of exposure that is now possible by applying Search Engine Optimization, cross linking and blog support. Alternatively, from an “end user’s” perspective, I sometimes struggle with how to best stay current with the day’s events as well as knowledge on my craft. But, I am getting better, and the proliferation of smart phones has certainly made it much easier to stay on top of the news that matters most to me.

The question to ask is what is your objective? Here is where my thinking like a marketer has helped my career in public relations. I continue to filter my actions into what can best support my client’s or company’s public relations objectives. If a goal is to position a company as a thought leader in a particular industry, then those are the only types of stories I should pursue. My “news” will then be focused on reinforcing that objective, be it through press releases, contributed articles or quotes in third-party stories, etc. In this regard, public relations is the same as it has always been. What has changed is the rules. The number of venues, distribution channels and publication options has increased exponentially, which is both a blessing and a curse. The complexity and volume of work has skyrocketed, but so too have the opportunities for success. Given all of this incredible increase in complexity, focus has instead turned on just getting a story out and getting it placed. The journalistic quality of articles has sometimes been given a back seat.

Is this a best case scenario? Perhaps not. For me, my goal is to strive to be better, including how I write and the quality of my stories. But, in the end, it is all about getting the word out there so my prospective customers have a favorable impression of my company, ideally just before being engaged with a sales representative from my company. Improved, positive familiarity with the brand helps to facilitate a better sales opportunity and a higher likelihood of closing. Those public relations professionals that embrace this new role and focus on achieving this objective will do well. Those that are frustrated with this transformation and still public relations as being more akin to being a news reporter might not be as well suited for the role of today’s public relations professionals.

Please let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other comments to add to this topic!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business model adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Saving Lives with Better Communications

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, The Talking Cure for Health Care, research has long confirmed that improving communications between Doctors and their patients can actually save lives. The news prompting the article is that healthcare organizations are now taking actions based on this knowledge as a way to improve how Doctors speak with their patients.

Some of the stats that came out of research conducted by Doctors Co. indicate the lack of effective communications issue is widespread:

medical_communications_failure_rates

 

Here is the point I found most intriguing: This type of communication should be the MOST effective, given the setting and subject matter. If you are a patient sitting in front of your Doctor who is explaining something to you that is as important a topic as your health – don’t you think that you would be really paying attention? Given this assumption, the fact that up to 20% of all malpractice claims were derived from communications problems tells me that there are probably even greater issues in communicating effectively on other topics, which are not life and death scenarios.

Take marketing communications, for example, written by professionals trying to convey a message about value propositions, promotions or other compelling cases why a buyer should perform an action. On has to now assume that a big part of the message will likely be lost!

So, next time you venture down the path of writing a webpage, email or sales collateral, think carefully on what can be done to improve the effectiveness by simplifying what you are saying, as most likely, a big number of your readers simply won’t get it.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Thinking Smarter Isn’t a Business Plan

think_smarter_business_strategyBy Gordon Benzie

 

Last week I read an interesting and well written article in the Wall Street Journal on the challenges that Alcatel is facing, titled “Alcatel Chief Is Out as Turnaround Stalls.” As you may recall, about six years ago France’s Alcatel merged with U.S.-based Lucent Technologies (former equipment division of AT&T) to create a telecom-equipment giant. Their ambitions to become a global telcom equipment leader have fallen short. Competition is tough. They compete in many lines of business, while at the same time, their revenues trail the competition, which has precluded their ability to make the necessary investments in research and development. These factors among others have translated into massive losses over the past seven years, and ultimately, CEO Ben Verwaayen’s job.

Alcatel-Lucent’s business strategy was to be an end-to-end supplier serving all telecommunications companies in the world, in virtually every markets. That means being everything to everyone, with a product line that includes everything from the submarine cables that wire together continents to the software that phone companies use to calculate and send out phone bills every month. Wow. That is a “big ass” strategic goal. In fact, I would argue it probably isn’t feasible, at least not within a high technology industry where product innovations are significant and competition is fierce.

Interestingly, when asked what the management team was going to do differently to avoid continued year-over-year losses, one of the “official” responses was “they simply have to be smarter than competitors about where they place their technology bets.” I am sure this statement sounded good in the interview, and certainly no one would argue against it. But, I am not so sure I would feel comfortable with this response if I were a member of their board of directors.

There are a few things wrong with the statement “we’ll just have to be smarter.” First, if that is all it would take, then why didn’t you do it six years ago when the merger was first completed? My next concern is that of execution. How do you lead a company to change its decision-making and business strategy by just “being smarter”? Is there a course you can take to accomplish this goal? If so, sign me up … I could always use with being a bit smarter.

The reality is that you simply can’t expect a group of employees and their managers to “get smarter” so they can make better decisions. You can lead by example as CEO, providing insights as to where new market opportunities might be, as well as to show how to operate more efficiently as an organization. I am with the belief that people are probably already doing the best work they can, or least are making the best decision they know how to … the idea to simply “make smarter decisions” is not likely.

Is it possible to embrace a new strategy and take a different direction? Of course. In fact, that is exactly what is needed. The expression of “you can’t please all the people, all the time” comes into play. Perhaps taking a perspective to consolidate and further refine their business might work better here, as a way to be more effective and focused with both strategy and execution. However, this shift would likely involve closing down divisions, which might be difficult for a French firm where strict labor laws prevent such actions.

Sadly, I suspect that if something isn’t done soon, there will be a far worse situation than just a few divisions shutting down … the entire company may go under, which certainly would be a shame. Should the management team try to make the smartest decisions to avoid shutting down? Of course. Making the smartest decisions you can is always the best course. But maybe a bit more strategy is needed than simply making smarter decisions.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Did Labor Unions Really Kill the Twinkie?

The nostalgia world may never be the same after the events from earlier this month. After 88 years, Hostess, the makers of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Wonder Bread, is going out of business. According to the story that ran on NBC.com, the CEO blames the unions, which made the decision to go on strike as part of the latest round of labor negotiations. The company has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings for the past 10 months or so. Last week it was announced that all assets will be liquidated, resulting in about 18,000 employees losing their jobs – certainly an unfortunate turn of events.

When I first read this news story, it struck me as interesting how strong the focus was about the role that the Labor unions played in “bringing down” the company. Since the labor unions would not accept new lower salaries, the only choice CEO Gregory Rayburn had was to shut down the company.

That is one way to tell the story.

Another angle is that the company failed to adjust to the times. Over the past decade or so, eating habits changed – the focus today is on eating healthier foods. Given this trend, it is not surprising that a company such as Hostess began having problems, given its product line. I don’t think anyone will argue that the nutritional value of a Twinkie is not too high … according to info published on Livestrong.com. At 150 calories per Twinkie, it has 4.5 g of fat, 20 mg of calcium, 20 mg of cholesterol and 19 g of sugar, equivalent to almost 5 tsp. Double each of these figures for the typical way this product is sold, as a two pack. Other Hostess products don’t fare much better.

This brings me to my point. When you are crafting a story for the press to cover as a business communications or news announcement, there are many options on how to pitch it. Seldom is there just one story. In this case, perhaps the Hostess CEO and management team sought to blame the unions for the downfall of their iconic institution in order to deflect a different line of questioning – such as what were you doing about new product introductions a decade ago when this trend first became obvious? A few days later, more details began to emerge indicating that maybe there were other issues impacting sales. Clearly their cost structure was not well aligned to revenue. It might be that there is no business model that could work for these products today; however, a story focused on that theme wouldn’t do well to help the company find a new suitor. When faced with these alternative stories, portraying the problem on the unions was probably the best way for them to deflect blame while keeping the door open to a new buyer that believes they can address the labor issue.

When you have a business communication to address, sometimes you get to choose what the lead in story and news will be – more often if you proactively make an announcement or hold a press conference. If this is the case, best to take advantage of this opportunity. Other crisis communications, such as an oil drilling platform explosion and fire, can’t really be modified to give it a good “spin.” Over time, if your story has more to it, then it is most likely that the rest of the story will follow. But, it will be secondary to the original announcement, which might just buy you some time to get through your crisis, should you have to experience this type of announcement.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Color’s Role in Business Communications

Did you know that there is a blog entirely focused on color combinations, and that they have over two million different color palates listed? I am in awe! When I discovered this site, the first thing that I thought of was how much we take color for granted today, at least in business communications. It wasn’t that long ago that our business and home printers could only print in black and white. Just like the evolution of television sets, black and white was first, followed by color.

If you are not leveraging color to your advantage in your marketing communications, then I would propose that you are not using every available option to make your content stand out.

Some colors clearly have a connotation tied to them. Take “green” as an example … we all know what it means to be green with regards to sustainability and recycling. As a marketer, your use of green should not contradict any pre-conceived notions your target audience already has about what green means.

I have always been puzzled why so many businesses believe that “blue” is the best color to use in logos and other communications. The belief is that blue is a color that indicates being serious about your business. Maybe this is an evolution from IBM being portrayed as “big blue,” and that the largest stocks in the NYSE are considered “blue chip” companies. I have read that from a psychological perspective, the color blue connotes a feeling of warmth and strength, and can indicate confidence, reliability and responsibility. These seem all good attributes to be part of a successful business brand.

“What has brown done for you?” is one of the more memorable ad campaigns that UPS has executed upon, which was clearly focused on associating their brown trucks to their business. This was a brilliant communications program – it could not be copied, had an element of humor and reinforced their brand. In fact, the phrase was a tagline at one time. Sadly, it appears they have ventured away from that phrase to something more generic and boring. Here is a link to one of their better ads.

For those of you selling to the women’s market, “pink ” has to be one of your favorite colors. It is the international color of girls, and is quickly recognized as representative of products and services tied to this market. In some respects, “blue” is also associated to boys, at least as infants or toddlers, but, once we grow up, not so much!

For those of you who are interested, here is a link to a great color blog post that talks about all of the other psychological color connotations and meanings, which will let you gain better perspective on what non-spoken communications are tied to your choice of color.

What is important to understand is that each color has a reference point and a connotation that already exists in your target audience. As a marketer, it is our responsibility to be aware of these pre-conceived notions to be sure we leverage the right color for the right business communication.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Measuring the Value of Outdoor Advertising

As a marketer, you must make many choices on not only what your primary message should be, but also on what medium is the best to communicate your vision. I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about a nice win that the NASDAQ just pulled off – getting Kraft Foods to drop their big board listing on the NYSE to go instead with a listing on the NASDAQ (see article here). I can only image what the lead time and typical sales cycle is for such a decision, as it is clearly more than just a simple administrative change such as switching banks. Beyond the logistics of such a change, there is clearly a message at play – Kraft wants to be seen more as a company that is closer aligned with the technology companies that now dominate the listings on NASDAQ.

Stepping aside from that whole decision process and what was involved in closing the deal, the point that got my interest was when I read about what was publicly stated as the key reason that Kraft made the swap. According to the article, it was “the prospect of cost savings and the marketing visibility afforded by NASDAQ’s landmark advertising billboard in New York’s Times Square.” Cost savings in today’s economy is certainly justifiable and reasonable. What was interesting is the reference to the billboard that NASDAQ has in Times Square, which I am sure each of you has had the chance to either see either on TV or in person.

Wow. So, what Kraft is essentially saying is that this outdoor advertising venue was the tipping point that pushed them to close the deal. A couple of questions and comments come to mind here. First, what benefit is Kraft really envisioning? Increased brand awareness? I think that pretty much everyone in the world has now heard of Kraft Foods, so that clearly can’t be the case. How about awareness of what Kraft stock can be purchased for? In today’s digital world of price tickers, I have a hard time believing that it is this type of awareness that they are talking about.

I would propose that the awareness they seek is being viewed as part of the NASDAQ’s group of more tech-heavy, startup type of companies that are more typically on that exchange versus the NYSE. But, this message simply wasn’t part of the article. Maybe NASDAQ is trying to expand their positioning to be more than just a home for tech firms, and this was a way for them to point out other reasons for making the swap? If any of you have any background info that can help explain this decision, your comments and feedback would be most welcome!

So, there you have it. The decision to pay millions (?) of dollars a year by NASDAQ’s marketing team to keep that lease or own that real estate with its prime placement in Times Square actually led to a sale, which can now be tracked directly to that investment. The next question is: “Did the marketing team put this into their ROI calculation to help justify the expense?” There probably was some sort of awareness factor, which then translated into some sort of increased branding … but, to actually get a sale as almost a direct impact from the billboard / outdoor sign? I am guessing “no.”

In concluding, first, I hope that the marketing team at NASDAQ saw the article and is now pointing it out to their executive team. Second, I am not endorsing a marketing campaign composed entirely of outdoor advertising – an integrated approach covering multiple channels and awareness media is best. Third, to those thinking that there isn’t really any value to brand advertising and that any quantifiable new sales are not really possible from such expenditures, maybe that assumption isn’t quite always the case!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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