Category Archives: Advertising Age

The switch to direct communication is definitely on

For most of the past five years I have made numerous presentations to many different groups. My message can be boiled down to the need for speed, directness and transparency. At times it feels like little progress is being made–that while the world changes quickly, communicators and their processes don’t. Now there is more and more evidence that communicators are understanding and beginning to change how they do things.

Evidence: During a recent major storm event one of our clients sent out simultaneous messages to over 39,000 individuals via text-to-voice phone, SMS, email and website. It took some major grinding on servers and bandwidth, but the messages got through. Not all on the list had submitted their cell phones to receive text messages, and an inquiry back from one complained he didn’t get the message and why didn’t he hear it on the radio!

That really got me thinking because before this day of direct communication, if you needed to get a message out quickly to 40,000 people, you didn’t even think about communicating directly. Mail? Besides being too slow, it would cost $30,000 or more. Phone? Yeah, right. Email? Maybe. But simultaneously through multiple modes? No. Most would rely on some form of “mass communication” like radio, tv or the like. Untargeted, no assurance of completion of message, and you reach a lot of people who don’t really want your message. But the only way.

A school district started sending weather related school closure information to parents who registered for the updates. In one short season they completed converted from waiting on the crawl on tv or for the radio reports, to getting those email updates and if they didn’t come when they expected, to pounding on the website over and over until it coughed up the answer.

The future, folks, is direct communication. Mass communication is now in the hands of people just like you who have access to the powerful tools that make that possible. Data management must be on the minds of all communicators.

Evidence 2: Ad dollars falling.  This story in Ad Age points out that paid media is declining, not just over economic worries but may be in permanent decline. Why? Direct. The competition is not some fancy new form of mass media. It is CRM–customer relationship management.

Consider this quote from the article: ROI-conscious marketers from Procter & Gamble to Jim Beam have been loud and proud about their efforts to cut back broadcast budgets and repurpose dollars to the internet and disciplines such as CRM and word-of-mouth, which don’t involve any media outlay. 

Advertisers, with a little help from Google specifically and the internet generally, are finding all kinds of ways to send much more highly targeted, highly specific and personal messages to individuals. Mass media. Sure–mass personal media.

In 2001 I started writing about the Post Media World. Direct communication rules and I doubt there is any going back.

The real pet food crisis…and it's not about dying pets

First, before I get hate comments on this, I have a dog and I love my dog. And dogs and cats dying from their very well known brand name pet foods is very serious business. But since I write about organizations in crisis, I am suggesting that the problem with the contaminated food will be resolved in due course, but the crisis of revealing that a great many different brands are coming from the same factory will hang around the industry for a long time.

Here’s an article from Ad Age that sheds light on this challenge.

Why is this a problem? Because the mantra of marketing has always been “differentiation, differentiation, differentiation.” It is pretty well known that fuel branded by a variety of different companies comes from the same refinery. After all, they all have to meet the same specs. However, the differentiation question is around the additives they add at the terminal. So the real brand differentiation question between Shell and Chevron for example is over the additives. If it weren’t for that, gasoline would be a true commodity (it is very close to that).

Pet food is a long ways from being considered a commodity. There are vast price differences and people paying much higher prices need to believe they are getting value. All the brands affected by this crisis are premium brands (which in itself a problem: Hey, I pay more, I should at least get a SAFE product!) but more importantly, any claims to differentiation have now been undercut by the realization that all these very different brands come from the same Canadian factory.

Here’s where crisis managers and heads of marketing or communication better get together. The crisis just undermined all kinds of brand strategy and brand building promotion. How will they deal with it? The additives strategy? Tell the world they opened their own factory? Of just quietly go back to business and hope everyone forgets that one big factory provides them and their competitors with the same products?

Wal-Mart's PR challenges

One of the most fascinating crisis management case studies going on is Wal-Mart. Yes, I think Wal-Mart is in crisis, in deep crisis. There are many facets–we love success stories until they become too much of a success. Wal-Mart does destroy many loved and valued local businesses. They are ruthless if legal in the pressure they apply to suppliers. They are not known for high pay and wages. They have stumbled in some of their PR efforts–such as the Andrew Young fiasco. And now, biggest of all, is that they have become a political lightning rod and football (mixing my analogies). That is something no business wants to have happen.

That’s why I find this article from Advertising Age so fascinating. For several reasons. Leslie Dach is heading up Wal-Mart’s PR battle. He’s a former top-level Democratic strategist. He is having to defend his decision to help Wal-Mart against fellow Democrats who want to politicize this situation. Perhaps most interesting is that Dach holds a position at the top level of Wal-Mart. It is what most senior communication managers want but seldom get. Perhaps you have to recognize, as Wal-Mart definitely now does, that the public franchise, or their public license to operate, is one of the most critical aspects of their future.

Good luck, Mr Dach, and I’ll be eagerly watching how you deal with your challenges–particularly those coming from your former friends.