Archive for October 29, 2010

A Tribute to the Underdog

As a tribute to cute costumes and a way to help you consider a possible branding message, we want to share some highlights from Harvard Business School professor, Anat Keinan.

The weaker party is often more attractive to many people. The reason might be due to consumers wanting to identify with the underdog. In today’s economically difficult times, it appears, underdog brands are gaining power in the marketplace.

Stories about underdogs overcoming great odds through passion and determination are resonant during difficult times. They inspire and give hope when the outlook is bleak. They promise that success is still possible. Throughout history Americans have embraced the American Dream, which proclaims that through hard work and perseverance anyone can be successful.

Underdog brand biographies (that highlight the companies’ humble beginnings, hopes and dreams, and noble struggles against adversaries) are being used by both large and small companies and across categories. Even large corporations, such as Apple and Google, are careful to retain their underdog roots in their brand biographies.

The common themes that link these brands’ underdog biographies are

  1. a disadvantaged position in the marketplace versus a “top dog,” a well-endowed competitor with superior resources or market dominance, and
  2. tremendous passion and determination to succeed despite the odds.

Marketers can use underdog narratives to positively affect consumers’ perceptions of and purchase of brands. “Underdog narratives are often delivered to consumers through the rhetorical device of a brand biography, an unfolding story that chronicles the brand’s origins, life experiences, and evolution over time in a selectively constructed story.”

Many contemporary brand biographies contain underdog narratives. Product packaging, corporate Web sites, direct mail advertising, blogs, and marketing communications tell the biographical stories of brands.

  • Avis’s classic slogan “we’re number 2” emphasized that it was playing second fiddle to a giant in the rental car business.
  • Brands such as Google, Clif Bar, and Apple celebrate their garage origins. Hewlett-Packard recently bought, and has a whole section on its Web site dedicated to, the garage in which it started. It is now a historical landmark.
  • Starbucks, in an effort to reverse declining sales, recently launched Pike Place Roast, which emphasizes the brand’s humble Seattle coffee culture beginnings.
  • Adidas’s “Impossible Is Nothing” campaign emphasized the underdog stories of famous athletes.

Marketing Power

We attended a seminar that suggested that 80% or 90% of people believe posted consumer reviews. The Harvard Business Review’s Daily Stat stated that each year, consumers make more than 500 billion online impressions on one another about products and services.

These WOW numbers reinforce the idea that once your potential customers find you or know about they may start looking deeper for more information about you. Can we help you boost your trust score by sending some mail to your treasured customers to ask them to post something nice about you? Once you have accumulated some great reviews, send a postcard to your warm prospects to put your name in front and suggest they see for themselves comments from your satisfied customers.

Genetics Affects Survey Response

Genes are responsible for 45% of the variance in people’s response to surveys, according to a survey of more than 1,000 sets of twins. “There is a pretty strong genetic predisposition to not respond to surveys,” says lead researcher Lori Foster Thompson of North Carolina State. The paper, “Genetic underpinnings of survey response,” was co-authored by Dr. Zhen Zhang of Arizona State University and Dr. Richard Arvey of the National University of Singapore.

It will be interesting to learn if genetics plays a role in other types of response, including response to direct mail.

Business Database Differences

BtoB Online summarized a study on Sources of B-to-B Data that reveals an evolution in how business data are collected and offered.

“The background for this study is the lack of confidence business marketers have in publicly available prospecting files,” said Ruth P. Stevens, a customer acquisition and retention consultant, Columbia University business professor, and co-author of the study. “We did find that data from these compilers was more accurate, in terms of names, addresses, company name, ZIP codes, etc.” Stevens said. “But what we found is that there are a lot of business buyers names whose records are not in these databases.

Compiled lists for use by direct marketers are assembled from a variety of sources, including directories, contacts from trade shows, public records, social sites, credit reports and even by “scrubbing” business or other special-interest websites for information about business executives.

To increase the likelihood that marketers get the data they want, the researchers advised them to develop a detailed list ordering methodology. They also urged marketers to understand what vendors mean by “complete” information, a definition which can vary; to be specific about industry selections; to watch for vendor specialization by industry; and to choose between breadth of companies, or breadth of contacts or both.

We can help you evaluate multiple direct mail list choices, we are neutral and will do research for you to find the best alternative to meet your needs.

Planned Retirement Age is Going Up

A Gallup poll found that the number working Americans expecting to retire at 65 or older has risen from 44% to 61% over the last 15 years, while the number predicting retirement before 65 has fallen from 50% to 29%. The reasons may be related to shifting views on the rewards of working, as well as on the shrinking value of investments.

expected retirement age

Expected Retirement Age

Details from France Provide Signals

The Harvard Business Review’s Daily Stat republished information from the McKinsey Quarterly about how people over age 55 will drive two thirds of all growth in consumer spending in France over the next 20 years. These findings can offer implications for other developed countries.

French Consumers

French Consumers

Consumers do respond differently to different types of media. While most of us still prefer direct mail, older consumers prefer it even more.

The Power of Typefaces

One of our favorite authors, Pat Friesen, discussed fonts in a recent issue of Target Marketing Magazine.

Select typefaces and fonts for their readability. A typeface is a set of fonts in the same family, such as Arial or Goudy. A font is a single kind of typeface, whether it is Times New Roman bold or Times New Roman in 10 point. For readability in print, this generally means using a serif typeface for body copy and sans serif for headlines, subheads and smaller pieces of copy, such as callouts or captions. Why? Serif type has thick and thin lines with horizontal serifs that pull your eye across the page. Eyes love serif type for denser copy such as books, brochures, ads and magazines.

Arial is commonly used online it is a classic sans serif typeface. The typefaces being used online are changing. Other popular sans serif typefaces for print include Franklin Gothic, Futura, Frutiger and Avant Garde. Online you’ll see Arial, Verdana and Calibri, to name a few.

Two typefaces are usually enough. When you look at typefaces (a.k.a., font families), you quickly see there are “relatives” within the same family—italics, differing weights, condensed, etc. These are good for differentiating copy elements, such as callouts, captions, body copy and sidebars. Your job as a nondesigner is to help your designer understand what needs to be emphasized so he can choose the most effective type treatment.

Use reversed-out type with caution. Be selective about using white type on black or a colored background, because it can be difficult to read. This is especially true in point sizes smaller than 10 point, serif typefaces with thick and thin lines, and in large quantities. While senior eyes may be OK with reversed-out headlines, it’s a no-no for body copy.

How big should type be? The answer varies by typeface, application and audience. But here are guidelines.

12-point font for e-mail marketing messages and at least 12-point for Web page design. He says the most common error in Web page design is using a font that’s too small.

At least 11-point font for body copy; and, if there’s any doubt, go up a size. Letters should be in 11-point or 12-point serif type. Online, he agrees with Bly—11- or 12-point minimum.

Typography is about pacing and message mapping. It’s important to use type as a visual guide for scanners and readers. Eye flow is, in large part, a function of typography.

Ask yourself, “Where do I want the eye to go first?” Using the choices within a typeface encourages readership and controls eye flow. For example, put benefit headlines and subheads in a bold sans serif font for easy scanning and added emphasis. Use italics for customer testimonials to make them stand apart from unquoted words. Create a hierarchy of type used for headlines, subheads, captions, sidebars, bullets and callouts to guide your reader to your call to action.

On the Web, vertical rhythm—the spacing and arrangement of text as the reader scrolls down the page—is influenced by font size, line height, and margins or padding. All must be calculated with care to keep the reader scrolling.

Many marketers think typography consists of selecting a typeface, choosing a font size and deciding between regular or bold. For most, it ends there. But there’s a lot more involved in good typography. It’s these details that often go neglected and take their toll on both readership and response.

Small Business Failure Rate is 90% Wrong

The 90 percent failure rate statistic is a myth.

BNET posted an article to share some truth about this American legend. 70 percent of new firms that have at least one employee survive for at least two years. Roughly half go on for five years.

And even the 30 percent failure rate after one year may be an overstatement. That’s because other studies have shown that most firms that close their doors were profitable at the time.

One alternative to starting a business is getting a job. It turns out that going to work for someone else is roughly as likely to be short-lived as going to work for yourself. The Bureau of Labor Statistics looked at American workers’ average tenure on the job and found that, even when considering only more stable, older workers, 31 percent of the jobs they took ended in less than a year.  Not only that, but 65 percent of the jobs ended in fewer than 5 years. The future seems equally uncertain.

Foster Creativity

Newsweek published an article titled “Forget Brainstorming”. Brainstorming  became popular in 1953 with the publication of a business book, Applied Imagination.  But it’s been proven not to work since 1958, when Yale researchers found that the technique actually reduced a team’s creative output: the same number of people generate more and better ideas separately than together.

In fact, according to University of Oklahoma professor Michael Mumford, half of the commonly used techniques intended to spur creativity don’t work, or even have a negative impact.

So what does work?

Tell people “Do something only you would come up with—that none of your friends or family would think of.”

This can double the number of creative responses.

Get moving.

Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.

Take a break.

This is not multi-tasking. More projects get completed on time when you allow yourself to switch between them if creative solutions don’t come immediately.

Reduce screen time.

According to University of Texas professor Elizabeth Vandewater, for every hour a kid regularly watches television, his overall time in creative activities—from fantasy play to arts projects—drops as much as 11 percent. With kids spending about three hours in front of televisions each day, that could be a one-third reduction in creative time—less time to develop a sense of creative self-efficacy through play.

Explore other cultures.

Those who have lived abroad outperform others on creativity tasks. Creativity is also higher on average for first- or second-generation immigrants and bilinguals. Just studying another culture can help.

Follow a passion.

Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness. “Kids who have deep identification with a field have better discipline and handle setbacks better,” she noted. By contrast, kids given superficial exposure to many activities don’t have the same centeredness to overcome periods of difficulty.

Ditch the suggestion box.

Formalized suggestion protocols, actually stifle innovation because employees feel that their ideas go into a black hole of bureaucracy. Instead, employees need to be able to put their own ideas into practice.

The Value of Touch

The Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day talked about how powerful an appropriate pat on the back can be with employees. They reminded us about an abundance of studies demonstrating the power of touch on everything from Rhesus monkeys to students in a classroom.

A pat on the back or a brief touch on the shoulder can express support and reassurance, making the recipient more willing to take risks and improving his decision making. Often times, contact can be more powerful than words. Use touch sparingly though, and don’t linger; it only takes a brief moment of contact; any longer can feel creepy.

This reinforces how powerful touch can be in other areas too, especially marketing. Can we help you to maintain a tactile relationship with your customers by sending something in the mail?