What is The Essence of Hampton Roads?

Flag of Hampton RoadsMarketing within Hampton Roads is hard enough. But what if the task at hand is marketing Hampton Roads period? Or, to make things more complex, what if the task at hand is branding Hampton Roads? That’s the task that this year’s group of emerging community leaders in “LEAD Hampton Roads” has taken on as a class project. LEAD is a yearlong development program that is a part of the Hampton Roads Chamber, boasting more than 1,200 alumni in its ranks.

As an alum and a former board member, I’m pretty close to the LEAD mission. The group is very connected and passionate about building both a strong region and a strong leadership base for the region as it grows.

I was honored to sit on a panel with some esteemed friends and colleagues at a recent LEAD retreat to talk about the history and background of the market, the never-ending naming debate, and what it would look like to promote the “brand” of Hampton Roads. Each panel member brought a rich background of marketing inside, outside and aboutDelcino Miles, Mike Carosi, Joel RubinHampton Roads. I can tell you that in the hour-plus that we talked, we (see the sidebar for who “we” are) barely scratched the surface of what I feel is the real issue the group needs to grab hold of.

The group has to be clear about the objective of branding the region in the first place. There are two very-high-level targets and objectives: 1) those who live and work here, and 2) those we want to live and work here (for purposes of growing the region). If I were this year’s lead class, I would focus on point number 1 first.

I’ve written before of what a brand is and what it is not. It’s easy to get caught up in what it is not. A brand is not a name. It’s not a logo, or an image. It’s not a tagline or a spokesperson. It’s not the number of people that can recall the name. It’s not a product, it’s not a service. These are all elements of the brand. The brand is the embodiment of all of these elements (and more) and their ability to be linked together instantly and subconsciously in the mind of the consumer to conjure an impression. That brand impression is what creates a behavior, and marketing is all about creating behavior. More on that one in another post.

There is, already, a brand that is Hampton Roads. It defines where we live. It has attributes. It has features. It has strengths and weaknesses. It is compellingly different from other regions, cities, and areas of the country. For instance, the fact that our hometown is NOT identifiable with one specific major city (a la New Orleans or Charlotte or Cincinnati … all similarly sized markets) makes it unique. That lack of a central hub fosters geographic and lifestyle diversity different from any of those markets. There are brand impressions, created by the various symbols, cultures, geography, names, trades, communities and historical elements of the brand.

At the core of the brand: essence.

Brand essence. What does the brand stand for? How do the people who ARE the brand Project Achievability Testdefine it? What are the organic and emotional elements that make the brand unique and lasting? Why do people come here, live here, thrive here, STAY here? These are all impressions that exist and are deeply, justifiably rooted. When a marketer creates a brand strategy for an existing product, or in this case a region, he or she must define the core essence of the brand, starting with the legacy that already exists. From there you can imagineer a bold brand strategy that embodies new elements and begins to transition impressions over time.

Promoting the brand of Hampton Roads means both understanding the essence of what the brand is and creating a strategy for what we want it to be over time. That is a daunting task. There must be a lot of overlap. Consider the existing essence as a firmly planted pivot foot. If we know where it is planted, we can pivot 360 degrees, addressing all types of audiences and opportunities, without contradicting the true essence of the brand.

A brand core essence is very succinct, but it is not a tagline and it most likely will never appear in an ad. It guides both business development and marketing communication. It is simple, believable and defensible. Most importantly it is honest. All stakeholders need to understand it and believe in it.

What does a core essence look like for a market? Take a look at Las Vegas. I don’t know if the marketing team for the city has articulated a core essence, but to me it’s simple: “unbridled adult fun.” Vegas has always been about fun — the kind of fun you can’t have anywhere else. You can see why a slogan like “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” is so fitting. But that crazy experiment in the early 90’s to market it as a family destination? Clearly a pivot foot violation.

So my challenge to the class of 2016 is this: define the core essence of our region. Forget about the name. Forget about a tagline. Not important right now. Explore the work that Chris Bonney and the folks at Bonney & Company did in “Envision Hampton Roads” as a starting point. Help plant the pivot foot, and that alone will be a huge accomplishment. And call me if I can help.

Outdoor Stands the Test of Time

Outdoor stands the test of time–and technology.pic4

Billboard, the most well known facet of out-of-home (OOH) advertising, has long had a bad rap in Hampton Roads. Many communities have enacted and currently enforce strict signage regulations that severely limit the number of locations and their availability. Still, even with the seismic shifts in media consumption brought on by untethered Internet access, OOH remains an impactful and efficient medium for location-based and brand messaging. As more boards convert to digital signage, the limited space can accommodate more total advertisers in rotation. The future of buying that digital space – in fact, all OOH – will continue to get caught in the wave of technology change that is programmatic planning and buying, but that is a topic for a future conversation.

To get a broader perspective, I reached out to Rob Smithwick, VP of OOH media strategy for EMC Outdoor, to answer a few questions about the comparative state of OOH in our market.

Q: How does Hampton Roads compare with other markets its size relative to billboard saturation?

A: Hampton Roads struggles with billboard coverage in its largest cities: Virginia Beach (containing about one-third of the market’s population), Chesapeake and Hampton. These cities’ laws governing locations are so strict that finding approved and available locations to build on is very difficult.  Many years ago, Virginia Beach created laws to remove all boards through attrition. As time passed, and roads were widened, boards were lost forever.  What good locations do exist in these cities are expensive due to demand. Coverage is “good” in comparison to other markets / cities in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News and Suffolk.

Q: What does the conversion to digital signage look like?

A: The space owners have converted their BEST locations to digital, just like they did when Trivisions were the newest option (mechanical, three-sided, rotating faces).  Those “best” locations provide more advertisers the ability to reach their targeted traffic / demographic by offering up to eight “spots” per complete rotation. Each spot stays up for eight seconds as a national average, in most cases nationally.  Some space owners run six advertisers at 10 seconds each. Both would allow each ad to be seen about once per minute.

Q: What percent of boards are digital?Kathryn Moore, Media Director for Seventh

A: On a percentage basis, the number of digitals may seem low, but keep in mind that the space owners are only converting those boards with the highest client demand and traffic, so their impression counts are good.  In Hampton Roads, about 4% of the total number of boards are digital. That percentage will certainly grow over time.  The cost of the construction and installation of digital faces is coming down with the national demand.

Q: What has that meant to the industry?  What should advertisers expect in terms of cost/exposure with digital v. static boards?

A: Digitals have basically expanded the quantity of “faces” in the best locations. There are no production or installation charges; you can change creative throughout each day, week, 4-week period or day-part, and much more. In my opinion, there are downsides.  You now share that space with other advertisers, so your Impressions are lower than buying a comparable static board, because of the increased number of advertisers. Additionally, the space owners have determined that they can charge a premium for each “turn” on each board.  While it is less than buying its static neighbor, per 4-week period, it is not one-sixth or one-eighth of the rate. If a static face in the same area has a cost of $8,000 per period, one digital turn, with the same traffic, would likely be $4,000 to $5,000 per period.

Q:  Any comment on overall spend – up or down here, and here vs. nationwide?

A: BilWonder what your billboard design wouldlboards in Hampton Roads are about 15% more expensive than other comparable markets, and evenly placed coverage is a struggle. You have to buy a little deeper (or more boards) to achieve your TRPs.  That is why we offer alternatives like trucksides, gas pump tops and transit in Hampton Roads, and other markets with similar challenges.

Q: Anything different about outdoor here that advertisers, big or small, need to know and be aware of in planning their advertising?

A: There are good billboard opportunities to be found.  Like most businesses, occupancy drives rate, so checking on availability often, buying at the right time and finding the best locations to reach your target audience is key. Don’t buy boards that you, your family and friends see.  Buy boards that your POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS see. Keep your target in mind.  Leave your ego out of advertising. Again, considering other Outdoor Media options may be helpful, and there are many in Hampton Roads.  Most advertisers stop at Billboards.

 

Bottom line, as a part of an integrated strategy, OOH is a traditional medium that bears strong consideration in your media mix. Digital conversions should continue to help provide inventory relief. While not comprehensive, these maps will give you a good feel for locations across the market.

Hampton Roads Poster Map-EMC

Hampton Roads Digital Map-EMCHampton Roads Bulletin Map-EMC(1)

Do You Get This Stuff Yet?

confused 1The three simple elements of Programmatic Buying and Real Time Bidding

On a daily basis I’m asked by advertisers in Hampton Roads and beyond  to explain what these huge buzz words really mean. The ad industry is still clamoring for a sexier and simpler word than “Programmatic,” but my money says it will never happen. (I remember Cable’s battle cry from the ’90s: “Someone find a better name than Pay-Per-View!”) Once a clunky name sticks, it sticks.


The important thing to know is that this system of targeting, buying and tracking advertising is transforming the industry.


The Journal of Financial Advertising reports that more than 50% of financial brands utilize it within their media mix. Some reports have more than 70% of major advertisers shifting significant portions of their digital budgets to programmatic and online TV (video) buys.

So how can you break it down? Well first, if you’re a seasoned media technician working in this stuff every day and you never have a reason to explain what you do, STOP READING NOW. What follows will seem way over-simplified. But what follows is proven “light switch” wording that has helped folks, from the CMO to the front line, understand how this all works.

First, several definitions (there are other important ones, but let’s just start here):

Programmatic means that, instead of picking up a phone and calling a media rep at a network or publisher’s office, I’m using a computer platform to scan, plan and buy available ad inventory that’s listed on other computer platforms. As much as 98% of Internet inventory is available in this world.

Real Time Bidding means each impression is identified, bid for and placed by the same computers each time the viewer loads a page where the ad is served.

A Demand Side Platform is the technology that lets a human media buyer pull it all together—look out across all of the available inventory, target consumers, schedule buys and measure performance.


The following three elements have worked the best for me in explaining the basis of how it comes together:

1) Target People, Not WebsitesProg 1

Almost everything you touch today leaves some type of data-based thumbprint behind. That “Big Data” you keep hearing about is a compilation of billions of activities, affiliations, purchases, friendships, likes—you name it. It’s collected, sorted and made available by data companies for programmatic planners to build profiles of targets that advertisers want to reach. Your “data thumbprint” is embedded in your browser, viewer or app. The Demand Side Platform sees the thumbprint or profile of the person and only serves your ad when it sees your target.

2Prog 2) Bid for Each Impression in Real Time

When the media buyer set up the plan, he determined how much he was willing to pay to serve your message to each person who matches one of your customer profiles. If the market is low, you pay less. If competition is high, you will have to pay more. It can vary by time of day, location of the ad, industry, DMA, zillions of variables. And the value you bid can change as well. Bid higher for customers that have bought from you before, or who live closer to your restaurant. The bids are entered into and managed automatically by the system, so it all happens in nanoseconds.

3) Continuously Optimize and Improve Every CampaignProg 3

The system tracks and reports every activity: ads served where and when; who clicked to where and when; how much impressions and conversions cost. Every day, technicians are sitting at desks looking at what worked well and shifting the budget to do more of it. They test and find what doesn’t work well and throw it out. Day after day they work to improve bid pricing, lower conversion costs and provide up-to-the-minute reporting.

Programmatic buys are placed across websites, video platforms and mobile apps using all sorts of static, animated and full-motion video messages. The system lives mostly in the online world today, but programmatic technologies are moving quickly into more traditional media—television and radio in particular. The ability to target a TV ad to an audience of one isn’t far away.


One thing is for sure: The more sophisticated advertising gets, the more we need to find ways to explain what’s happening. Hopefully this version helps. If so, pass it on. If you’ve got comments or additional thinking, please add it. Love to hear from you!

The Technology Is Pretty Simple

 It’s the Stuff That’s Complicated

Just ask a digital media buyer.Chevy Guy

Technology and stuff sure make us marketing executives sweat. The whole world found that out firsthand when Chevy’s Rikk Wilde crashed the MVP party with his now-famous #technologyandstuff description of Madison Bumgarner’s new Chevy truck. And of course it wasn’t the technology or the stuff that had Wilde beading up with sweat, it was the national stage.

But the Chevy exec and lifelong baseball fan drew national attention to a big topic, one the digital advertising and media world grapples with daily: finding a way to make high-tech advancements simple enough for everyone, even really high-powered people like marketing execs, to understand.

In local market advertising, even a fairly big local market like Hampton Roads, VA, advertisers grapple with the question of how, when and where to shift marketing dollars into digital media, and how to know when that strategy is working. While pay-per-click advertising can be pretty straightforward if the consumer is properly motivated to click, digital display advertising has fallen out of favor. Measuring response has been difficult, primarily because of the way it has been bought and tracked.

Enter #technologyandstuff.

The highest-tech, most cutting-edge system and tool within digital media buying is a sophisticated system called a Demand Side Platform (DSP), which allows an operator to buy media programmatically and bid on digital advertising inventory in real time.

Whew. See? Sweat beads.

You can read a great blog describing some of the DETAILS of the stuff that makes up programmatic buying here, but let me tell you that what the technology does is make sure that the advertiser’s ad only shows up when a targeted customer is actually surfing. And the advertiser only pays what he or she has bid for that targeted customer. And then all this stuff measures what is working best, and the buyer tells the technology to do more of that. The same stuff measures what is not working so well, and the buyer tells the technology not to do so much of that.

While I don’t exactly expect you to follow all of that particular technology and stuff explanation, I can tell you that as an advertiser you should gain an understanding of programmatic buying.

In one form or another, it will become the way advertising is bought and sold going forward.

It is automated advertising buying compared to manual buying, and it will drive the efficiency and measurability among all types of advertising. And that includes traditional forms like broadcast and cable, outdoor and print.

Even some of largest local advertisers will admit that, although they have a very diverse media mix and an ongoing focus in driving social as well as real-life connections to their brand, the plans are not very well coordinated, and they lack the ability to measure how effectively their digital advertising is working. Technology is going to continue to open up more media mix opportunities. Find someone to help you understand the stuff, and you’ve got the secret ingredient to make it work.

 

Will Your Customers Unlock the Door?

There are 728,800 potential problems every day in Hampton Roads.

Market a message of trust and deliver on it.

A man at your door with a van in your driveway. If you’re the consumer, as a marketer I know two things about you for sure: 1) you have a problem, and
creepy Guy With Shirt2) the biggest decision you will make is whether or not you are willing to open the door. If you’re a marketer in the home services category, everything involved with your marketing strategy and your advertising campaign has to deal with these two fundamental precepts.

The sheer amount of advertising weight aimed at this category would seem to indicate that a huge chunk of the 1.5 million adults living in 728,800 households across Hampton Roads must have a problem every day. The most popular broadcast-media dayparts in particular are chock full of HVAC, plumbing, pest control, kitchen remodeling, carpet cleaning (name your favorite problem) spots every day.

A man (OK, could well be a woman…I didn’t create the category name) at your door with a van in your driveway. Really, by the time the van is in your driveway, you’re most likely going to open the door. The decision was essentially made prior to or during the phone call you made to the company. According to Bill Day (@Bill_Day_) with consumer research company Frank N. Magid Associates, whether you will be comfortable opening the door and letting this company, or person, in your house is the first and most emotional decision you will make. The marketer and the business owner must project and establish a level of trust. When the consumer has a problem, he or she will make a decision to invite that company to his or her home based on an existing perception of trust for the company or brand.

That relationship, an urgent response based on brand perception, is at the core of why a company like Michael and Son, one of our market’s most persistent promoters, spends so heavily and so consistently. I talked with Eiman Bassam, founder of ESB Advertising based in Northern Virginia, and agency of record for Michael and Son. “We don’t know when someone will need us, so we have to stay top of mind,” Bassam said. For that reason, it doesn’t do any good for the company to focus on specials or sales.

“Price,” Day said, “is one of the least effective tactics for convincing consumers.” Magid’s Advertising Performance Research — a series of dozens of local studies done on markets from coast to coast with local consumers — bears out the most important attributes of advertising for this category:

What you say.

How you say it.

Where you say it.

“And production quality counts,” Day added. “Being your company’s own TV spokesperson is not for everyone.” Without naming names, I believe we have some in our market that could be putting themselves at a disadvantage on this point. It’s not hard to test commercials in a focus-group setting.


What you say, and how you say it.

Make no mistake, this is a business category driven by marketing. Think of 728,800 households with potential problems; the best marketer is going to win here. For a company that’s not based here and has only been operating here for about three years, I believe Bassam and Michael and Son have a winning formula. Maybe you didn’t know that Michael and Son isn’t locally owned. That “and Son” in the name makes it sound small-biz and local-yocal. The brand imagery and truck design is not over the top, and the advertising is well produced for the category but not expensive in look or feel. And even a highly recognizable voice talent, unique in sound, conjures an image of a helpful office person as opposed to a professional announcer. “Absolutely that’s on purpose,” Bassam said when I asked. “We have to look local from afar. When 70% of the decision-makers are women, we know we have to be trustworthy.” And consider the jingle/slogan, “If you can’t, we can.” Well at least they give me credit for trying.

Where you say it.

The most recognizable and the largest service-industry companies are fairly visible in traditional channels: @123bugfree, @MichaelandSon, @OneHourVirginia, @RSAndrewsinc, @VB_Plumbing (Atomic), and others. And most in the category spend a considerable amount on search marketing, which is necessary. But 2015 marks the point when advertisers will be spending more in online video and display marketing than search due to the advanced-targeting capabilities that behavioral data-tracking, ad exchanges and real-time bidding bring.

If you own or operate a business in this category, you should be considering what a more profound digital strategy could do. TV works well aDigital Advertisingnd will continue to work well in driving brand awareness. Not all players in this category can afford TV, but those who do should be looking to align their messages across all screens — TV, PC, tablet, and mobile. New data and technology advancements make that very possible and effective. If your budget doesn’t place you on TV, it’s even more important that you learn about new online-targeting tactics that can raise visibility of your brand. These advancements make it more efficient than ever to be top of mind for the right target.

So will the consumer unlock the door? It’s a matter of trust. Trust in you, and in what, how, and when you say it. And it all makes the assumption that the man (or the woman) at the door doesn’t look like Freddy Krueger.

If you have questions about anything in this article, feel free to post or contact me at jdelatte@seventhpoint.com

Let’s Make Good Things Happen

Helping United Way connect with young, impassioned and socially savvy citizens.

United Way South Hampton Roads

I’m beginning to despise the term “Millennial.” Members of this generation have been cast as spoiled and self-centered.

In truth, the Millennial generation is a hardworking and passionate group, very committed to their personal causes and more than willing to participate and belong, if you communicate and engage in ways that are relevant to them. At the same time, this group is living with high student debt in a world of salary caps and escalating costs of things like health insurance. They want and need control over their time and treasure when it comes to charitable giving.

With roots dating back to 1923, the United Way of South Hampton Roads (UWSHR) has staying power. Its army of staff members, donors, and volunteers works with companies and agencies to “help solve problems too big for any of us to solve alone.” But, as with most non-profits, connecting with and engaging the younger (call it the future) generation of donors is a challenge.

For the past four months, my colleagues and I have been working with UWSHR to tackle the challenge of building a communication strategy that reaches this group and tells the United Way story through channels and in ways that connect.

A study conducted by Achieve and the Case Foundation and published by Stanford found four key insights about how this generation of Americans connects, gets involved, and gives.

  1. Millennial preferences are becoming more than just preferences; they’re becoming the norm for all donors. The Millennial style of communication involves authentic stories and visual presentations that are concise, mobile-friendly, and delivered online via social media and video platforms.
  2. Organizations must invest time and resources into helping Millennials feel and experience the cause. Millennials are consistent in their desire to see exactly how time, talent, and dollars translate into people helped. They want their contributions—no matter what type or amount—to achieve actual results for a cause.
  3. Organizations must inspire Millennials to work through and with their cause, rather than for their organization. Ultimately, they want to lend their knowledge, expertise, and time to help the people or issues the organization touches—not necessarily the organization itself.
  4. Millennials can be an organization’s secret weapon when it comes to spreading the word about a cause or issue. Tools such as social media and peer fundraising put cause-marketing departments in the hands of this group. Because they’re aggressively taking on this unofficial marketing role, they are contributing to grassroots-oriented movements.

Working through this initiative meant taking stock of current usage of social platforms. Three critical planning elements emerged here:

1) Be sure to utilize the platform or outlet to deliver the type of content (visual, connective, responsive) that is most relevant to that audience.

2) Deliberately plan outbound messaging to communicate events and successes, stay engaged, and encourage volunteers to engage during live events.

3) Monitor messaging to engage and reward those who spread the word of the organization’s initiatives.

To help all of this happen, UWSHR now has a social media strategy map and plan, an event plan to give its annual Day of Caring (#dayofcaring)

United Way Viral Video

Take look at the humorous side of giving.

a large social footprint, and, from the fun side, a series of tongue-in-check online-only (read “viral” here) videos that take its “Good Things Happen When You Give” campaign way over the top. All of this content gets shared and circulated via social channels to help connect and inform younger, more digitally savvy donors and volunteers, and you can find some of it on the UWSHR Facebook page, their YouTube Channel, or on their website at unitedwayshr.org.

The role of UWSHR is to “bring people and organizations together to solve problems too big for us to solve as individuals.” The challenge of connecting Hampton Roads’ passionate Millennial givers and volunteers with a mission as critical and impactful as that of United Way is a cause we can all engage in. Forward this note and like United Way wherever you are!

Read more about the United Way/Seventh Point partnership here.

 

Creating Demand

 How to gross people out and keep mattresses moving in Hampton Roads

I’ve often wondered just how many mattress stores a town needs. Seems more and more like mattress stores in Hampton Roads are competing with Starbucks and 7-Eleven for the title of “most stores per capita.”

Mattress Firm, which bought the locally owned Mattress Discounters stores in 2010, now lists 28 stores across the metro area and nearly 1,500 across the US. Sleepy’s took the market by storm starting in 2011 and now lists 21 stores across the DMA. The firm, which has over 900 stores, mostly in the northeast, purchased the Mattress Discounters chain (separate from the locally owned company) from RoomStore in 2012.Advertising with fear

Add to that a half-dozen Original Mattress Factory stores and large and small furniture retailers along with several other outlets and you’ve got a mattress dealer on every corner. So what drives all of this demand?

If you’re Mattress Firm, you don’t wait around until people are ready to buy. You create the demand. You tell them when and why they should buy their next mattress, even if the message gets a little scary, creepy or gross.

The execution of “Replace Every Eight” is the Mattress Firmperfect example of creating FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) in the marketplace and stimulating sales. People who buy a mattress with a 10- or 15-year guarantee expect the mattress to last that long, but hit them with a message that says your mattress is soaked in “gallons of sweat, pounds of dead skin and millions of dust mites” and they might just replace their mattress sooner. Eeeww.

Most mattress advertising centers around getting a better night’s sleep, which is the top reason people replace their mattress, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Consumer Reports recommends changing every five to 10 years, and The Better Sleep Council (BSC) says every five to seven years. So replacing a mattress every eight years, as a benchmark, probably isn’t so far-fetched. But now I’m only worried about sleeping better (the number one reason the BSC says five to seven years). Mattress Firm’s creative team found the happy middle ground to capitalize on a great (no pun intended) alliteration opportunity. All that gross stuff will accumulate(8), so don’t procrastinate(8). Cute and clever.

But scary. Scary is motivation. It carries across media channels, it sticks in your brain: eight years’ worth of dust mites crawling around chewing on pounds of … well, you get the picture. FUD is a powerful, effective advertising tool (no product does this better than mouthwash). In many cases it’s based on fiction, not science or reality. So good for Mattress Firm in this case to at least have some real advocates to lean on.

TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

Hampton Roads–Is your TV advertising losing its edge(s)?

Make sure your spots are running as you expect.

Quick disclaimer: This is one of those posts with the true intention of helping all parties. High definition TVs have become mainstream, but merging all of the technologies involved means that sometimes commercials aren’t running as designed. Everyone involved wants the best result every time. More eyes, and more awareness will help.

Read on.

Here’s the quick math from Nielsen: 718,930 TV Households in Hampton Roads. Around 75% of those households have at least one TV that’s high-definition enabled (widescreen, 16:9 aspect ratio), and 77% subscribe to some type of HD subscription service (cable, satellite, Netflix, Chromecast, etc.). So if you’re a TV advertiser, the vast majority of households are watching your commercials in HD on a widescreen format.

TV Advertising Full Screen

Here’s the view when your image fills the HD screen.

But are your spots always filling the screen? Are you using the full real estate your spot was produced to fill?

According to some of the market’s most prolific videographers and producers, nearly ALL the video produced for commercial TV for the past several years has been shot in HD and produced in widescreen format for HDTV. Yet I find it amazing the number of spots that appear on HD channels that are either “clipped” on both sides, reducing the image to the smaller, standard definition (SD, 4:3 aspect ratio) image, or reduced in all directions, creating a “postage stamp” impact with a black frame all the way around.

Why does it happen? How do you avoid it? How can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you? Well, the bottom line is the only practical way to really know it’s NOT happening is to keep a human eye on your spot schedule as it runs.

Because cable and satellite providers still carry some channels in SD at the old 4:3 aspect ratio, advertisers either need to provide a version of their commercials that have been edited down to the SD width, or allow the broadcaster/cable

TV Advertising Center Cut

Image “Center Cut” to fit the 4:3, standard definition screen.

system to shrink the entire image to fit, which results in the “letterbox” black bars at the top and bottom of the image. Since some programs, and even some ads, run intentionally this way, you may well be conditioned to not even notice.

According to Mark Johnson, Chief Engineer at WAVY-TV, the problem can happen a couple of different ways. 1) Since all

commercials are digital files, they must be uploaded, labeled and encoded properly by the advertiser, production house, or agency. Then the directions or “tags” need to be accurate as to which version of which spot runs where. 2) The proper spots must be loaded into the commercial insertion systems with the proper directions. When a system finds a mis-match it defaults to “fill” the screen, top or bottom, with those black bars that, to me, symbolize wasted screen space and wasted ad dollars. The other factor that can affect how spots (and programs) look on air is actually how the viewer has his/her own screen formatted, which none of us can really control.

“All of the spots are looked at before they go on air” said Johnson, “but we can’t always tell how the advertiser intended the spot to look.” Cutch Armstrong, Director of Marketing and Client Solutions at Cox Media Virginia, says that each spot is uploaded to the Cox system in Atlanta and viewed by technicians before airing. With both Cox and WAVY, as well as most video providers, the file upload process goes through servers located centrally (national or regional locations) and are added to the schedule through an automated process.

TV Advertsing Postage Stamp

“Postage Stamped.” Full 16:9 frame, but reduced to fit the 4:3 width.

The bottom line is, if a spot is running counter to how the advertiser expects, the first time anyone notices may be when the spot runs live.

Armstrong says it best, “Everyone wants the best possible result. They want their stuff to run perfectly every time.” But the systems can create difficulties. “Cable systems and broadcast networks require certain ‘codecs’ [file types] in order to be compliant with the diverse format standards set by the networks.” Most stations or outlets post the requirements and codecs on their websites and can tell when a file is uploaded improperly (Armstrong sent me an 11-page document, as well as a one-sheeter that Cox Media uses.)

So preventing it comes down, quite simply, to attention to detail. The computer systems do not malfunction; they respond to incorrect inputs and the result is painful. Spots have to be produced, labeled, trafficked, scheduled and inserted properly. I’ve resisted the temptation to add actual examples to this post, because this is not intended to be a finger-pointing exercise. It does happen often, and if you want examples email me at jdelatte@seventhpoint.com.

The only way you know it happens is if you see the spot run. I guarantee, if it happens the broadcaster or operator wants to know. Cox (who also handles commercial insertion for Verizon in Hampton Roads) has set up a specific inbox, VAStopClipping@cox.com, for customers to notify the operator of any problems. We’ve actually created systems to monitor and spot check schedules for clients. It is possible to receive actual air-checks of every spot that runs from third-party services such as Kantar Media or Media Monitors, but the cost could obliterate the ROI of your campaign. Instead, have someone set up spot checks of your schedule on various channels using a DVR, then scan the spot breaks and verify that the spots are running correctly.

Of course human error happens, and a spot that runs in the wrong aspect ratio is not a wasted spot. But until HD formats completely replace SD and until one universal codec becomes standard, the potential problem will exist, and as an advertiser you want to maximize every inch of the screen.

How Are Your Customers Shopping For You?

I touched on something recently during a Hampton Roads AMA panel that really bears repeating, clarifying and driving home for anyone responsible for running a business.

The concept of a purchase funnel is obsolete. Consumers search for information and make decisions based on what they find. Managing what they find, how they perceive your product and how they engage with you is what content marketing is all about.

The goal of content marketing is to facilitate the purchase decision. Over and over again. Your content must be aligned and keep your customer constantly  engaged or your customer will disconnect.

Search for “Purchase Funnel” and you’ll find millions of images and explanations dating back to the dawn of time showing how people move from awareness of a product to purchase. Almost all of them bear a strong resembMarketing Funnellance to the one at right. The consumer or target enters at the top and moves vertically–and in one direction—through the funnel to purchase. Greatly oversimplified of course, but still representative of how marketers viewed the marketing and sales process. In a world where a brand has strong control over the words and the impressions delivered to an audience, the funnel is fairly accurate. Keep delivering messages that build on each other and move the consumer through the funnel. But technology, the availability of big, real-time data and the consumer’s ever-increasing thirst for on-demand product information has made this thinking completely obsolete.

The Audience Has Shifted

No longer can we consider an audience to be a static force that we can “impress.” Even though we still count exposures to a brand or message in terms of “impressions,” the content of that message, the perspective from which it is delivered and the consumer’s ever-increasing lack of desire to “be sold to” have greatly shifted where and how we reach the audience.

Technology is the great enabler here, providing on-demand access through hand-held devices faster and more powerful than the computer systems in spaceships that went to the moon. Social media platforms, blogs, and comparative shopping platforms bombard the consumer with information and opinion (valid or not), that consumers find ten times more believable than “advertising.” The structure and strategy of how well a site is optimized to be found by search engines, or links to the information sources mentioned earlier, now are important to a marketing strategy as the overall brand position. All of these areas of influence affect the consumer in various ways, at various times. None of it happens in a single direction, and none of it happens vertically.

What once was a funnel is now a convoluted path through an almost endless list of information sources.

Information about…

  • You
  • Your product
  • Your competition
  • What your customers think about your product
  • Even what people who’ve never TRIED your product think about it

I describe this experience, rather than a funnel, as a sphere. Consumers enter the sphere through any kind of external influence, advertising exposure, need, life event; anything that could first cause interest in a product or service. But here’s where the behavior shifts. Once inside the sphere, the consumer embarks on a totally unpredictable path of information absorption. Consumers continue to experience the brand, gather information and form opinions based on information they either seek or are exposed to.

Once inside the sphere, the job of content marketing is to keep them inside the sphere and facilitate purchase. The content marketing platforms you manage to keep them inside your sphere, before during and after the purchase, include:

  • BlogsMarketing Sphere
  • Social Media Posts
  • Social Media Advertising
  • Product Ratings
  • White Papers
  • Infographics
  • SEO
  • Paid Advertising
  • Website Engagement
  • SMS Texting
  • Word of Mouth
  • Earned Media
  • Customer Experience

All of these are touch points, and the consumer can experience any of them at any time within the sphere. It’s a three-dimensional journey that requires a consistent, rewarding and aligned experience in order to stay engaged.

If you don’t already do it, you should audit the content you manage as well as the content your current and prospective customers are exposed to. Do you provide information about your product and your product experience? Is the information comparative? Fresh? Relevant? Do you engage your customers, provide insight and seek feedback? Most importantly, do you have multiple paths to capture contact information, and even more paths to use that information to keep them moving within your sphere? Look for all of these principle action points and you will be well on your way to a sound content marketing strategy.

What’s a Sponsorship Worth in Hampton Roads?

Five Key Elements to Valuing a Sponsorship.ODU

Of course the big question here is, “What’s a sponsorship worth ANYWHERE?” One of the hardest things to do in marketing is place a tangible, measurable value on a high-profile sponsorship opportunity. Whether you’re talking a single event, seasonal series, fixed venue, even spokesperson or celebrity visit, the variables and intangibles make pricing and measuring return on sponsorship extremely squishy.

“The fact that there is not one standard measuring stick across our industry nationally is very frustrating,” says Chuck Gray, general manager of ODU Sports Properties. Gray works with sponsors at every level for ODU Athletics opportunities. “You can find three or four models” used in various places he added. “We look for ways to create value multiples, as much as 2-1, for the dollars invested in a sponsorship.”

Velvet Marshall is sales director for IMG in Hampton Roads, handling sponsorships for the nTelos Wireless Pavilion in Portsmouth and Beachevents at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. “Every package we Virginia Beach Ball 2put together is customized based on the sponsor’s budget and needs,” she says. According to Marshall, ”We always meet and exceed what is required by the city of Va. Beach for the Beachevents program. And while a good portion of revenue generated does go back into the program, we always maintain the quality of the acts we have regardless of sponsorship revenue.”

Fine. But when you’re faced with the decision of committing six-or maybe even seven-figure line items in your marketing budget to a major sponsorship as opposed to increasing your online or offline media weight, how do you decide? Sarah Marshall Elliott, director of marketing and brand strategy for Virginia Farm Bureau, says the company looks for several kAmphitheaterey elements, including audience compatibility and fit, statewide reach, strong digital/social media aspects, and category exclusivity.

“When the Farm Bureau Live sponsorship was created four years ago”, Elliott says, “the company’s marketing strategy was largely built around raising general awareness for the bran  d.” It was important to capture the loud promotional voice and leverage digital as well as traditional reach and frequency to bolster Farm Bureau name recognition. “Today,” she says, “we develop consumer-facing promotions which drive prospects into our local county offices for an insurance quote. We have also ramped up our digital marketing efforts via our sponsorships which provide real-time data.”

A Little Structure, Please.

As a corporate marketer and as a consultant I’ve had to find ways to help make sponsorship investment decisions. The challenge led me to develop a model of my own that has proven successful over time. One major caveat; the key steps below assume that you have already done your homework and determined that the audience you will be positioning your brand or product in front of is a good “fit” for your brand and overall strategy. Here are the five key elements of the model:

1) Discovery. Put boots on the ground. You’ve got to attend the venue, see the audience, see how they move and act.

2) Measured Media Analysis. Calculate the real value of the impressions based on a valuation for your market. In my model I’ve created a valuation based on several local-market, multi-media CPM figures. Add in frequency based on number of events, attendance at events, media coverage, insertions and reach of paid spots inserted in broadcast or exposed on websites. After that, add a quality score to each component of the package; for instance, a :30 TV spot or feature position on a home page is a much more valuable impression than a static sign in a concourse. The grand total of this analysis gives you a real-dollar value.

3) Qualitative Analysis. What is the emotional value to your company or brand? Rarely will the quantitative, real-dollar value reach the actual cost of the package. In every case you will have to assign a value or multiple to your analysis that attaches a value for associating your brand with the promoter, event or product. Expect the real-dollar value to equal at least 50-75% of the asking price for the package. The subjective value has to get you the rest of the way.

4) Negotiation. Once you know the value to your marketing plan, you’re ready to negotiate a fair value price. Two choices here: Present the venue, promoter, or agent with your price based on the package as it exists, or (usually more successful) negotiate for additional value in either reach or frequency elements.

5) Activation. This may be the most critical element, and it cannot be an afterthought. The whole purpose here is to promote your brand and engage with the audience. Plan for and budget to leverage your sponsorship. Invest in creative concepts to make your signage stand out. Plan to staff events and make personal connections through creative promotions. Brainstorm and identify unique ways to present your brand to make you stand out from the sea of other sponsors.

ODU’s Gray says he values inventory and packages based on three key elements; attendance, location and availability. Scarcity and demand of particular inventory will drive the price up, as with any other product. The key is to understand the value, budget for it appropriately, and activate in unique and engaging ways.

Seem like a lot of work? Well it is. You can do most of it in your head if you’re talking a $2,000 golf tournament sponsorship. But when you’re looking at a six-figure naming-rights or premier sponsorship that may span 3-5 years, you need to know what to expect.

Elliott councils others to carefully consider the term of the contract, as strategies can shift over time. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if more ‘mature’ companies, those who already have relatively high brand awareness, are looking for a more traditional return on their investment these days,” she adds. Velvet Marshall is faced with that kind of big hole right now, filling the name and title slot for the American Music Festival at the beach, vacated when Verizon Wireless decided to pull all of its event sponsorships.

Bottom line on sponsorship evaluations? When the money is big, there’s no such thing as a no-brainer. Find a way to engage the quantitative structure and measure it against your primary business objectives. It can be done.