Advertising


In a recent post on his blog, Seth Godin shares the two-word new marketing concept:  First, Ten.

Here’s what he says:

Find ten people.  Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you…

Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it.  And if they love it, you win.  If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three).  Repeat.

If they don’t love it, you need a new product.  Start over.

Your idea spreads.  Your business grows.  Not as fast as you want, but faster than you could ever imagine.

This approach changes the posture and timing of everything you do.

You can no longer market to the anonymous masses.  They’re not anonymous and they’re not masses.  You can only market to people who are willing participants.  Like this group of ten.

Seth is describing marketing in the new world of social media.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain that phrase too.

In short, social media is any “advertising medium” that includes a social component.  When you build a MySpace page for your skateboard company, you’re taking advantage of social media.  When I write posts for my Twitter followers, I’m using social media.  When a company asks their customers for feedback via their FaceBook page, they’re reaching out through social media.

Social media turns the traditional version of media – I create and broadcast a message while you passively receive it – into a “conversation.”  In social media, the message receivers are active and help spread the word, either good or bad.

Mr. Godin thinks this is the wave of the future, and I agree.  To a point.

I think what he’s describing can also be applied to “word of mouth” advertising, which certainly can’t be lumped into the “new marketing” category.

In fact, haven’t all of us entrepreneurs felt the sting of negative opinion (“I don’t like it”, “this product stinks”, “it’s ugly”), whether it’s doled out by the news media, unhappy customers or, unfortunately, our closest friends?

Yes, Seth, people are always excited about products they love, but the “new” social media are just helping people fulfill a much older human compulsion to talk about what they like and talk really loudly about what they don’t.

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PEARL HARBOR MEMORIAL CEREMONY by escapedtowisconsin.
Photo by Flickr user EscapedtoWisconsin

Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day.  Don’t feel bad if you didn’t remember.  I didn’t turn on the TV all day and didn’t think about it until my head hit the pillow last night.

Reflecting on what Pearl Harbor means to me, I was struck by how far away (in time) the event feels, and yet, how relevant it all still seems.

The attack on Pearl Harbor helped push our country into the thick of WWII.  Those first bullets and torpedoes fired from a Japanese plane occupy such an important place in our history, as their effects reverberated through the lives (and deaths) of so many young men and women of the era.

Without the Pearl Harbor attack, my grandfather, who I wrote about in the post, A Death in the Family: Part 2, might not have enlisted in the Army and would not have been shipped off to England.  He wouldn’t have married an English woman and had two children before divorcing and returning to Michigan. 

How many others found their lives irreversibly altered on December 7th?

I thought about this because we don’t “commemorate” the victims of Pearl Harbor on December 7th the way we commemorate all military forces on Veteran’s Day.  Placing flowers or flags on the graves of those who experienced the attack firsthand might honor their memory, but identifying and locating the graves might be harder to do.

But so many others were affected by that day!  Why should we reserve the “commemoration” for only those who were in Hawaii that day?

So I thought I’d tell you blog readers to put some flowers or U.S. flags on the graves of all WWII veterans this week. 

But then I realized that I’ve already talk about this and many funeral homes already do that at other times of the year.  So I researched the blog (over 1,000 posts on lotsa topics, so it took some time) and realized that I’ve shared a lot about placing flowers on graves, like these posts:

Memorial Day: A Fistful of Flowers and Flags
A Trunk Full of Flowers

But then my thoughts took a wide turn toward a bigger idea (falling asleep really jumbles up my brain!).  Why should we restrict flowers or flags to military personnel?  And why do we have to put our name on the bouquet?

What if there were a “secret flower giver” who started putting beautiful arrangements on graves?  Would people start talking?

Better yet, what if your community were struck by a “secret memorializer” who placed a wreath, with a photo and life story, in public places every few weeks?  Would people talk, tell their friends, report it to the police?  Would the local news station run a story on the sitings?

What am I saying?  Heck, I’m saying that someone ought to be that “masked memorializer” and start sharing these life stories in places other than just the funeral chapel.

Want to do it?  First, you have to forget about publicity.  This isn’t about getting your name in front of every person who sees your work; your aim is to create a strong impression with those interested enough to find out more.  You’re also looking to create buzz.

Secondly, you can’t just memorialize people whose services you handled.  It would become pretty obvious that you were only looking to publicize yourself if you do that.

How would this work?  You’d select some people to remember.  They can be city founders or influential neighbors.  Why not choose some local teachers and church members who always worked behind the scenes?

Next, you get some beautiful wreaths made by your local florist.  But make sure you swear the florist to secrecy!  Heck, you might negotiate a good discount from the florist for the publicity he/she will get when the story breaks.

Alternately, you can use an artificial wreath and change it every time you change the person being remembered.  If you plan to continue this even after you’re discovered, it would be nice to lower your recurring costs.

You should print a photo of the person (if available) and their story.  You might include relevant sources for more information about their life or the work they did while alive (“To donate to Johnny’s favorite charity, contact Hospice at…”).

Now, choose a popular local place to situate the memorial.  It should be on public property, unless you can swear another local business owner to secrecy.  Just make sure that wherever you put it, it won’t be easily removed by a code enforcement officer.  Hopefully, the sacred nature of a memorial will make any public officials think twice before removing it.

And don’t tell anyone that you’re the person doing this!  It should be a quiet gift to your neighbors.  In fact, humans are so curious, if this is a truly interesting project, they’ll work to find out who did it.  You will probably have more trouble trying to keep  your identity hidden!

Make sure you change out the wreath at an appropriate time when no one is expecting it.  You want to create buzz over a few weeks before it’s revealed that you’ve been the one working to remember so many fine people from your community.

Hopefully, this type of random, unmotivated sharing will encourage others to see you as someone who truly appreciates your neighbors and their important life stories.

Of course, if you try this, let me know how it turns out!


Photo by Flickr user Nettsu

I spent the last few weeks getting stuff ready for the Eustis Fire Department’s first annual Fire Muster in the Park.  For the uninitiated, a muster is an event that brings together firefighting teams and antique vehicle owners to compete in old-fashioned firefighting games (bucket brigade, hose cart race, etc.).

We held our event in Ferran Park on the waterfront in downtown Eustis.  We shared the park with the 7th Annual Lake Eustis Chili Cook-off – a natural partnership, in my mind – and then braced for a really wet day, as the forecast called for 60% chance of thunderstorms.

We knew the event would be enjoyable for the participants who bothered to show up in the bad weather, but we had no idea how good the events would be for spectators.  So we made a difficult decision:  we didn’t push a lot of advertising.

We ended up with about 600 visitors to watch the games, check out the antique fire apparatus and buy our famous 1/2-pound hamburgers.  And the rain held off until an hour before we expected to finish up.

Had we expected better weather, a greater amount of participants (we had just four teams this time) or more antique trucks for display, we’d have advertised a lot more and tried to turn out thousands of visitors.

So why didn’t we?

Because if the event had been disappointing (bad weather, few teams, only a handful of trucks) we would have done more damage to our fledgling “brand” than not holding the event at all.

Every new or relaunched brand needs “early adopters,” the folks who take a chance on a new product or give the new funeral director in town the opportunity to provide services.  These people can become great evangelists for a new product or refer friends to the funeral director who did an awesome job, boosting a product or service to success.

But they can also do a WHOLE LOTTA DAMAGE to a company that does a bad job or provides a crappy product.

Movie producers know this, so they like to give sneek peaks of their good movies to film buffs.  These are usually advertised in entertainment magazines and occur a week or two before the movie’s general release date.  The bad movies generally get a big bunch of advertising without screenings for buffs and critics.  The really awful ones are sent straight to video.

But what if your product is bad?  What if getting more customers just means disappointing more people?

Truth is, advertising only helps if you have a decent product/service in place.

A good/decent funeral home can survive without traditional advertising, because satisfied client families will tell others.

And for most products, advertising can’t save a bad/awful company. 

Interestingly, funeral homes serve a different kind of customer:  one who reluctantly buys services only when they’re needed, every 5-10 years.

That may be why some bad funeral homes – the ones that never serve a family more than once – can survive on a heavy advertising campaign.  But they can’t rely upon word-of-mouth, since their service is atrocious.

So yes, you can advertise before you’re good enough.  But only if you’re willing to advertise A LOT and not care how bad your services are.  Otherwise, advertising before you’re ready will just destroy positive word-of-mouth and cause you a whole lot of pain.

 

When we first started to get serious about selling our cot covers to the general public (before that time, we sold through a traveling salesman – you can read that whole saga in the post, “Crippling Challenge + Determination = Business Reward/Failure (Part 1)“) I decided to try eBay as an option.

 EBay allows a seller to setup either auctions or “Buy It Now” links for products for a set fee.  Adding pictures or text to a listing costs a little extra, but for people selling similar items, pictures and enhanced graphic text can be the difference between a sale and wasted money. 

I found the eBay model compelling, since we had no provision for taking credit cards or checks, an eBay store would prevent us from having to build a website and auction-style selling would allow us to sometimes make a lot more for our product.

So we tried it out.

And I thought we had failed miserably.

First, the new “Funeral and cremation merchandise” section on eBay was still quite new, so only a handful of funeral directors were on it.  Second, I listed our product with a $75 opening bid, which was the only bid we ever got.  A funeral home in Oregon got a great cover for a fraction of the regular retail price.  Thirdly, and most importantly, auctions listed with a “buy it now” link cost a lot more than a standard auction, meaning eBay was not, at the time, a viable way for us to build an online store.

So we abandoned it as a platform.  I categorized our time and our single eBay sale as a waste of time and money and promptly forgot about it.

Until last week, when the funeral home that won our only eBay auction called to order another cover.  Suddenly, the $4 we spent to list the item and the $100+ in lost revenue turned into a $225 order.  In fact, the young lady who called indicated that they were getting ready to place an order for several more, just as soon as they saw the new lining in person.

Who knew our failed eBay experience just needed 4 years to turn into a moneymaker?!?

I’ve never lamented our eBay experience, just as I don’t regret the hundreds of dollars I spent mailing postcards to Stewart firms and the time I invested in trying to offer a group discount to SCI’s main office.  None of those efforts paid off, but all were successful, since they taught me what didn’t work.

I’m often asked why I am successful, when so many businesses fail.  I can only say that while I’ve failed plenty, I also know when to quit and go for the next thing and I never give up.  Imagine if I’d let our eBay experience convince me that there wasn’t an online demand for quilted mortuary cot covers?  Imagine if I’d let 200 unanswered postcards discourage me against direct mail selling to funeral homes?

I always get nervous when I place an ad in one of the industry trade magazines.

I just published ads in The Director, Funeral Business Advisor and ICFM.  And they’re already working.

I just took three orders from folks who saw our ads in one of the magazines and checked out the website.  I took another order this morning from a man who did an Internet search for covers, but only after he remembered that he had seen them recently in a magazine.

Does magazine advertising always work?  Of course not.  Our ads in Mortuary Management had an impressive effect the first time (we sold 9 covers from the first ad) but offered diminishing returns the next four times we published it, until we got nothing on the final try.

We also don’t spend huge money on these ads (I have an obligation to keep my covers competitively priced!) so we don’t get the “full-page” effect that some might expect.

Except, our covers don’t really need a “full-page” push.  How much can you write about quilted cot covers?  They’re covers, they’re quilted, they’re the best on the market.  End of story.

Of course, this message is for other product/service makers out there.  Ads in the trades do work.  Just make sure you can afford them.  And then measure their effectiveness.

I always ask our clients how they heard about us and what made them order today.  During our first few years, the answer was “Internet search.”  Now, the answer is more often “we knew there were quilted covers out there, so we searched the Internet” or “we heard about them and saw an ad for your website.”

Even better, some say “we used to buy ones from your competitor, but we think yours have better patterns and features.”

Here’s the ad we put in the December Director Magazine: final_embrace_nfda_dec_2007.pdf

Our friends at Funeral Business Advisor (including Michael Manley, a regular contributor to Final Embrace) have been enjoying continued success.

 In fact, the success is so… well, successful, that they’re increasing their page count for their January/February issue.

In a private email (don’t worry, I got permission to share this with you), Michael told me how increased advertising demand is forcing him to expand his magazine by four pages!

But it gets better for you, my readers.  Michael’s new plan calls for 56 pages, but because the printing company only charges a miniscule amount to go four more to 60 pages, he wants to offer something special to our readers.

FBA has a limited amount of additional advertising available at full-, half- and quarter-pages.  He’s also adding content, which means you’ll see some an editorial from me in those extra pages and an ad from COTCOVERS.com.

Michael has given me the ad rates (they’re quite attractive!) and has allowed me to share them with any interested readers.

Want to know more?  Call Tim (that’s me!) at 321-287-0628 or email me at finalembraceonline@gmail.com.

Time’s short, so call or email ASAP.

Tomorrow will begin the (shortened) week of our newest sponsor, COTCOVERS.com.

If you’ve been paying attention to this blog, you’ll know that we own both COTCOVERS.com and Final Embrace.

And yes, while I love to talk about our quilted mortuary cot covers, I also want to make sure that ya’ll know that revenue from our cot cover sales help keep Final Embrace running. 

But the real reason I’ve picked this week is that it’s quite a short one, since Thanksgiving falls right in the middle and most of you will be very un-faithful readers for the next five or six days (don’t worry – I forgive you!).

So tomorrow I’ll say goodbye to our very first sponsor, Connecting Directors, and welcome our newest sponsor, COTCOVERS.com.

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