My dad was a coupon shopper. I grew up just outside Los Angeles and we used to get a magazine each week filled with local classified ads and tons of coupons. Well, maybe not tons, since a small newsprint circular is probably a few ounces, but it had a lot of coupons. My dad would sit at the kitchen table on Thursday night, weed through the mail and finally get to his one guilty pleasure - hunting for the best deal for our weekly Friday evening dinner out at a local restaurant, on-the-cheap.
I never understood his sensibility borne from his experiences during the Great Depression; our eating habits were dictated by the eatery with the best deal on free appetizers or bogo. The food may have been bad or the service poor, but he saved a dollar - that was a lot in the 70’s. Believe me, I lived That 70’s Show! My dad was Red and I was Eric, but there was no laugh track. I was constantly reminded how he begged for food door-to-door as a kid. I had no hot redhead for a girlfriend to compensate me for the pain of listening to my dad’s lectures. However, I was constantly aware of coupons.
Funny thing! My dad was loyal to coupon shopping and rarely went back to an establishment without one; he was not loyal to the business.
Sales gimmicks abound and they usually bring in the wrong kind of customers to a business. My dad was one of those customers. Its no secret to my friends and customers that I have a rather dim view of a lot of advertising techniques, for good reason; the wrong kind of marketing can bring you the wrong kind of customer or said another way, not all sales are good sales.
The Coupon Mentality for Brands and Viral Video
We’ve all seen a lot of video content or other content marketing that acts like those coupons my dad clipped. Its the kind of marketing that gives you the illusion of progress. An agency may Tweet a graphic touting the benefits of a snack cookie during a power outage. Cute. Imaginative. What benefit? Brand awareness? Maybe. Sales? Probably not.
Great content marketing is about building trust and long-term relationships with your customers. In my view, viral marketing is just like a virus, it's a sickness not a healthy approach to connecting with your ideal customer. Using content to generate a one-time sale or web site visit is of little use.
One great example of content marketing that actually drove sales was the 2001-2002 effort by BMW films which featured Clive Owen entitled The Hire. It was a long-term effort of well-produced entertainment that featured their products and was viewed by more than 12 million people and increased their sales about 12%.
Why does one method actually generate sales and one just stick in our minds as a gimmick? Here are just three of the principles we use with our customers:
1. Authentic Content – Some have estimated that approximately 65+% of sales are based on emotion and (perceived) relationship. Creating videos or content that generates a genuine emotional response and a trusted relationship is the goal. Advertising generates emotional responses, but the incorrect emotional response. Driving an emotional response that includes goats raiding your corn chip stash is kitschy, but no long term bonding. The BMW films built an authentic, emotional connection between the characters and the brand; it was definitely marketing but felt natural. (Further Recommended Reading: Journal of Relationship Marketing, Vol 1, #1, Sept 2002, Relationship Marketing in the New Economy, Auth Evert Gummesson New Accounting and Return on Relationships, ROR pp 46-48)
“But I don’t have that huge budget to make a movie!” You may not, but you can create content that actually achieves the same purpose. A talented screenwriter can create the same emotions around a product as in a story. I suggest hiring a good screenwriter that understands film story structure to work with you on creating your content - someone that understands how to evoke emotional connections around a product. Watch John Carpenter’s Christine and tell me that a good writer can’t create emotions around an inanimate object. Now take the leap, do the same thing in your marketing. (Assuming you are not selling homicidal autos, you may want to adapt the concept to your own products.)
2. Make Your Content Matter - Creating content marketing that means nothing to the consumer is a recipe for failure. The Hire actually showed the product in action and demonstrated the value proposition and differentiated the product in the context of a story. AT NO TIME did BMW jump into the content with a sales pitch! Advertising can’t resist a pitch and overt call-to-action. Content marketing is not advertising, treat it differently.
The most talented sales people never sell! A really great salesman will get to know you, make a friend, gain your trust and you walk out of the store with more than you ever wanted. Some department stores give you a personal shopper. Be that personal shopper on video! Learn to sell without selling.
Part of what our company does is experiential marketing or live events. Years ago, when I started out we worked with several large real estate companies creating charity events. It was comical to watch realtors - who are always selling, even in their sleep - to take off their blazer and name badge and just shake hands. It’s an old and cliché statement, but its true: people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Translate that into your videos. Its okay to pitch without being pitchy. If you are selling BMWs it is actually okay to create a video on how to change a tire or a travelogue and never mention the product. I’d create more of that content over marketing videos. Make people care and make your content matter. Better yet, make sure people know your brand cares about them, even if they never make a purchase.
3. Long Haul Marketing - Everyone today is abuzz about viral videos. Cute videos during the football playoff games may get brand recognition, but the sales generated by the gimmicks on game day don’t get a great return. I chuckle each time I see agencies talking about brand recognition, it's their way of ignoring actual sales results. While I see firms touting the ability to create effective viral videos to drive traffic, I want to see proof that traffic turns into new, long-term customers. Hitting a target of millions of views means nothing without eventual results to your balance sheet.
The BMW films did this really well; rather than a gimmick they built viewership with a long term commitment to many videos and increased sales. Creating quantities of video content that people want to watch, connect them to your brand over time and driving sales is your goal. If you can do that by being entertaining, great. One shot wonders are not the basis of a business. Resist the pressure for having instant success with one video that gets you nothing more than video views, but no other results.
Full disclosure: The last research I could find found advertising agencies very upbeat about viral videos, while almost all their clients were questioning any results and demanded better accountability. It's no doubt that the people selling the service are pushing it, companies have been guilty of pushing all sorts of things that have questionable ROI. Where are the results? Do gimmicks work? Yes! No! Depends.
Certain markets successfully use sales gimmicks (i.e. groceries or consumer electronics) and you can drive sales with gimmicks. I should be a bit cautious, because someone will comment “But, I hit it huge in outer Mongolia with a viral video.” Great. Good for you! Knock yourself out. Sometimes I’m wrong.
Oddly, the other thing about my dad was he was a great contradiction. He would buy the best tools for his business, he had a 1940 Chevrolet that looked and drove like a tank; lasting much longer than any modern car he purchased. He was actually a really smart guy and he taught me a lot and a really good guy. He did the best he could during some really hard times, he worked hard and did what he could to stretch a dollar.
One of my mentors used to tell me that the cheapest and fastest way is usually neither cheap nor fast. I’ve found that to be true in almost everything. Hopefully, in some way I’ve inspired some thought and helped you on your way to greater success.