Is It Time to Upgrade?

Is It Time to Upgrade?

Harcharek, Jon

You’re driving down Route 1 and see a promotion for a local car dealership. Much more than a billboard, it’s a “thrill-board” inviting you to tune your radio to a private screening of the latest models. On a side street, you notice homes for sale with special codes on the builder’s sign. Type them into your cell-phone and within seconds, a text message tells you the asking price, square footage, and more.

At a railroad crossing, the Riverline coasts by, artfully wrapped in murals depicting area businesses and destinations. Pressed for time, you call ahead to your bank for a complimentary lunch while they help you with estate planning. Back in the car, you listen to a podcast from your lawyer about new legal issues affecting your business.

Welcome to Marketing 2.0 – which could also be called Mercer Marketing, because all these next-generation strategies are in use now throughout the county From the innovative use of new media and on-demand information, to targeted guerilla tactics and personalized messaging, today’s area businesses are ahead of the curve.

Like Lawrenceville law firm, Stark & Stark, which has published weekly podcasts on its website for several years, each downloadable program highlights a recent legal update, with topics ranging from identity theft to eminent domain. “It has definitely helped build our practice,” says Richard DeLuca, Director of Business Development. “Both clients and nonclients have access, and it’s a great supplement for our new business efforts.”

Princeton-based ad agency, Winning Edge Communications, regularly counsels marketers with farforward campaigns such as the launch of NJ Transit’s Riverline.

To remind riders how easy it is to get “picked up” by the light rail service, an interactive website was developed inviting visitors to submit their favorite pick-up lines. Players could try flattering a virtual man or woman by typing their best line, and then receive instant feedback. Thoughtful entries get you to a new level; rudeness gets you slapped online.

Engaging your audience with such innovative approaches is key to capturing customer’s attention. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “Consumers have become harder to reach as the array of media options has broadened. At the same time, they are often unmoved by traditional mass marketing.” As a result, breaking through clutter in the TiVo-age requires extra creativity.

Don’t outspend the competition. Outsmart it.

Tri-State Consumer Insurance recently took a bold “underdog” approach, daring to challenge the industry leader, Geico. In humorous ads and posters, the muchsmaller firm asked, “Would you rather have cuddly cartoon characters, or lower rates?” A radio commercial also depicted drivers running over the ubiquitous gecko mascot.

“We uncovered a growing sentiment online that people were tired of that lizard,” says Tri-State Marketing Director Kathy Casale. “So we leveraged this consumer behavior with ads that made everyone smile.” Everyone except Geico, which sued. When Tri-State alerted the media about its “David vs. Goliath” struggle, a local grassroots campaign was born. Bloggers spread the word voluntarily, creating an “I hate Geckos” site. “The bottom line?” says Casale. “Our call center reached an all-time high for new applications.”

Involving loyal customers in the creation of your goods and services is another aspect of Marketing 2.0 called “Customer-Made” marketing. Sites like Epinions, YouTube and Planetfeedback along with thousands of forums, bulletin boards and blogs – have all empowered consumers to publish their views about brands.

Smart marketers are listening. OceanFirst Bank, with branches in nearby Jackson and Freehold, knew busy customers worried they didn’t have time to plan their finances So the bank launched its “Let’s Do Lunch” program, treating customers to Panera gourmet sandwiches while estate planners helped each investor one-on-one.

When Converse asked fans to submit homemade videos expressing what the brand meant to them, they received hundreds of customer-made submissions. The chosen films were broadcast on Converse’s website with the possibility of airing on MTV. Cadillac also asked amateur filmmakers to submit five-second commercials illustrating the 0-to-60 acceleration speed of its latest model. Winners got the keys to a brand new CTS-V.

Unleash the guerilla.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia anyone can edit, (another customer-made example), defines guerilla marketing as an “unconventional way of performing promotional activities on a low budget.” Several New Jersey businesses have achieved success with such tactics – like the legal services supply company that tucks business cards into books at the NJ State Law Library in Trenton. Lawyers who find the cards while researching cases often assume a colleague, providing an extra-implied endorsement, left it there.

The NY Waterway Ferry from Hoboken applied guerilla tactics to lure commuters away from its main competitor, the PATH train service. Riders could hardly ignore the larger-than-life floor graphics of water puddles “splashed” throughout the terminal. Each one contained a different sales message extolling the advantages of ferry commuting.

NJ Transit riders also had their curiosity piqued when colorful spots began appearing on rail station floors, walls and windows. Each day, more spots appeared, causing increased interest – until finally, a large banner revealed the good news: a much-needed parking lot was about to be expanded, so riders could look forward to more “spots” coming soon.

To TV or not TV.

Many local companies avoid doing television commercials because they believe it’s too expensive. Yet with the proliferation of cable networks and improvements in digital technology, targeting your customers on TV has become more affordable. (See sidebar.) Cable companies will sometimes assist with the production of your commercial, but working with an ad agency that specializes in TV will yield more professional results. Their specific expertise also helps your message stand out, which ultimately creates a greater return on your investment.

Tri-State Insurance is currently running a high-impact yet inexpensive TV spot showing the firm’s President on a busy street corner. Behind her is a 12-foot sign inviting drivers to “Honk if you want to save on car insurance.” As expected, the enthusiastic response of passing motorists drowns out the spokeswoman’s dialogue. But the point is dear: From now on, whenever someone honks his or her horn, it’s a vote for Tri-State Insurance.

While area companies like these obviously hear their customers loud and clear, staying ahead in today’s marketplace requires continuous listening and learning. Marketing 2.0 practitioners recognize their audience is always changing, so the methods for reaching them must evolve too. In many cases, Mercer businesses are already upgrading, leading the way towards Marketing 3.0.

What’s on TV tonight? You.

Almost everyone knows the price of airing just one TV commercial during the Superbowl can exceed a million dollars or more. And since New Jersey is sandwiched between two of the nation’s most expensive media markets, the cost of broadcasting state-wide commercials can add up quickly as well.

But just as niche publications like Mercer Business are ideal for reaching specific target audiences, today’s many cable options let you “narrowcast” your message more affordably than ever before.

“It’s possible to reach most of Mercer County for just a few hundred dollars per spot,” says Sheila Smith, Media Director at Winning Edge Communications in Princeton. “Depending on the demographics of your customer base, you can run a primetime TV commercial – on programs like CNN, Fox News, and the History Channel – for under $250 each time it airs.”

Smith notes the most effective approach is to carefully match your media buy with the viewership that reflects your core audience. After analyzing all networks, their programming, the number of viewers, and demographics of who’s watching at what hour, “we can segment down to your best potential customers in the area, and reach a lot of them at once.”

Being creative with the placement and length can also stretch the media dollars of your commercials. For example, although most TV spots are usually 30 seconds long, one area hospital is currently airing a series of 15-second spots which run as “bookends.” So if ESPN typically shows four spots during its commercial breaks, the first and the last one will be for the same sponsor. The effect is essentially getting two spots for the price of one, with twice the opportunity to reach viewers including those who tend to channel surf.

As with all integrated marketing efforts, it’s best to have a balance of mediums, including proven vehicles like print, direct mail and brochures. Now that TV commercials can be targeted so efficiently, they are a truly viable option for Mercer businesses as well.

Copyright Mercer County Chamber of Commerce Sep 01, 2006

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