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.

TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Roads

Is your ad strategy on course?

If you’re a business in Hampton Roads weighing your advertising options, traditional TV (broadcast and cable) continues to provide huge reach and impact. But how people consume various media, and more importantly how their video viewing habits are shifting, is essential for you to know to effectively plan where your advertising dollars should be spent.

Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro

Nielsen numbers show that US consumers still watch over four hours of traditional (Nielsen calls it “live”) TV every day. But that number has dropped from four hours and 29 minutes per day in 2013 to four hours and 11 minutes over the past two years. The pace is precipitous and consistent. The amount of DVR viewing has held pretty steady, but the amount of time spent on smartphones has nearly doubled.

Three very important points to keep in mind here:

  1. The shift to online/streaming viewing is generationally driven. A recent report from ABC showed that 28% of TV watched during prime time by 18-34-year-olds is online streaming or video on demand, compared to 11% for those age 25-54. Microsoft Word - proofed_TV Viewership is Changing in Hampton Ro
  2. This shift will accelerate. Smartphones are already in the hands of 80% of US consumers, but the lion’s share of mobile online TV is viewed by only 20% of those folks. This is not an “80-20” rule that will stand. As network apps and “TV anywhere” gain awareness, that number will experience a hockey-stick effect. Add to that the fact that nearly 60% of households now have an Internet-connected TV, and the opportunities to stream video skyrocket.
  3. These are no longer individually unique media consumption behaviors. People don’t consume one medium at a time. Look around in a restaurant, airport, doctor’s office—or your own family room. Who is looking up, and who is looking down at their mobile device? Nielsen reports that 84% of smartphone and tablet owners use those devices while they’re watching TV. YOU NEED TO BE IN BOTH PLACES.

The graphs here are published data from Nielsen’s “Total Audience Report.” It’s a great deep dive to understand what’s going on in the world of media consumption. But to help understand what’s happening, and what will happen with TV viewership locally, I reached out to some local media experts for insight.

The bulk of ad spending for local broadcasters and cable still ties to traditional TV advertising: :05-:60 spots inserted into linear broadcast (that includes cable) programs. And, of course, the stakeholders feel that will continue. “Local newscasts (including weather, traffic and high school/college sports) remain some of the highest-viewed programming on local broadcast televisions in any market.” Says Doug Davis, president and CEO of WAVY. “Newscasts provide a daily, engaged viewer for local advertisers…a viewer who is watching the news…not DVRing it.”

Kari Jacobs, WVEC president and GM, agrees. “I believe TV viewing will remain strong largely due to locally produced news, live sports and big events (e.g., the Oscars). It will be interesting to see which (streaming) delivery methods (Netflix, Roku, etc.) will excel.”

But Gordon Borrell, CEO and president of Borrell and Associates and nationally recognized expert on local market media trends, is a bit more pragmatic. “The fact is, people are watching more ‘video’ than ever, but it’s the old model—broadcast TV—that’s in trouble. I wouldn’t recommend that a TV advertiser necessarily cut back TV. Rather, I think an advertiser needs to determine the appropriate mix of media available today that is needed to support whatever promotion they have at the moment.”

Local broadcasters, as well as Cox, have long offered digital advertising packages and online content to help you diversify your media mix and reach their viewers online. “We certainly recognize the impact digital has on traditional viewing patterns,” Jacobs adds, “and our digital options for content and advertising options reflect this change and will continue to evolve.”

But with the shift to streaming and on-demand viewing through Internet-connected devices, advertisers are clamoring for a way to measure their text boxvideo advertising investment that makes sense online and offline. That shift is underway. Sharon Fanto, vice-president of Cox Media, explains. “Most [advertisers] want to measure how they reach consumers with a metric of impressions rather than simply gross rating points (GRPs). Those impressions are found on multiple screens across multiple devices, which makes sense since consumers are spending more time with video on multiple devices. Our focus has to continue to be making it easier for our clients to reach consumers wherever they are, on whatever device they are using.”

This shift in planning and measurement from GRPs to impressions, cost-per-impression, and ultimately cost-per-conversion (sale) tied to your impressions are what ultimately open the door for effective cross-platform planning. Hopefully, all media reps, planners and buyers are headed in this direction because digital advertising options will drive it.

An impressions-based video strategy can level the playing field in comparing costs for reaching TV viewers in a mass broadcast audience vs. an individually targeted and streamed insertion online. Add to that the efficiency that real-time bidding (the ability to set budget limits on how much you are willing to pay for each individual impression) online can bring, and you have the ability to make your video advertising achieve results that you could never afford in a broadcast-only world.

Your online-to-broadcast mix percentage will vary based on your objectives as well. In Borrell’s words, “TV is the number one medium for branding. No one can touch it.” But if your goal is to drive online engagement, having at least a companion digital video strategy is vital. The Virginia Dental Association, in a statewide campaign that has been running for the past three years, has been able to increase traffic to a targeted page from 200 page views a month to over 500 A DAY by integrating a targeted digital video campaign. That’s how effective it can be.

Bottom lines:

1. If you are a local advertiser whose ad strategy is heavily leveraged in TV, and you are not already consistently and diligently deploying a SIGNIFICANT online video component to your strategy, you are behind the times.

2. If you’re are a local business that has not been able to afford TV advertising because of budget or geographic scope, you could be losing ground to competitors who have learned to geographically and demographically target video messages online to your prospects and customers.

Video advertising is king. It carries more emotion and credibility than any other medium. Consumers will find it wherever they go. More and more, they are going online with devices in hand. Your media mix needs to recognize that.

Back to My Marketing Roots

Joe GenieMarketers go through a lot of stages and phases. Consumer Behavior changes. Technology changes. The economy, the competition, the demographics; they all impact the work we do, and what we focus on. But I’ve found, as I’ve added a new challenge to my marketing bucket list, that the fundamentals never change, and it’s important to get back to your marketing roots.

You see, along with my work with ad agency Seventh Point, I’ve added another business challenge–that of a local franchise owner. It’s one of the reasons this blog has seen a bit of a hiatus. In my search, I wanted to find a business that IS NOT technology driven, IS in-demand and will be for the foreseeable future. A stable business model that I can build through MARKETING. I’ve found that business and brought the first “Window Genie” franchise to Hampton Roads. You can learn more about the company by clicking on that link, but the focus here today is those fundamentals of consumer marketing that this whole initiative has reinvigorated in me. The five key pillars that are key to any business owner operating a small business in a competitive market place…which is 99.7% of all employer firms in the US, according to the SBA.

The same way a pro athlete practices the physical fundamentals of his or her sport on a daily basis, it’s important to stay grounded in these marketing fundamentals, evaluate your business and your plans against them and make course adjustments to stay on track.

My five key pillars of Business Marketing Success

Build a Memorable Brand5 Pillars

I love this oversimplified definition of brand: “The variance between your product and generic.” Everything that follows will contribute to your brand and what consumers perceive about you, but the important word here is memorable. In a hyper competitive world your brand look and feel needs to be something that sticks in the psyche of your target consumer. Working with (purchasing) a franchise operation can give you a huge leg up, and it was one of the key elements I searched for.

The brand look and feel has to differentiate your company, stimulate Top of Mind Awareness and inspire confidence in your company. It also has to be consistent in look and customer experience in order to build presence and over time.

Promote and Deliver Recognizable Value

Businesses can’t survive if everyone is the low-cost provider. Consumers don’t demand the lowest price, they demand the best value and perceived value is a huge variable from one consumer to the next. Marketing price, whether a retail product or a transactional service like cable TV or even window cleaning does not have to be the lowest price, but it does have to be competitively positioned and attractive enough to drive lead traffic.

Finding one key price point and driving it home can establish value, aid in recall, drive leads and protect your margins, all at the same time. Want a couple of examples? Watch for Stihl’s seasonal price point advertising. That same entry-grade blower is $149 every time. Looks like a sale, but it never is. Weber grills, same thing. Window World windows, home of the original $189 window. Price point advertising at an established value for a memorable brand does not have to put you in a race to the bottom.

Execute Persistent, Targeted Paid and Owned Promotion          

Diversity of promotion is the key here. Identify your target consumer, but now more than ever you have to reach them through as many channels as possible.

  • Be where they are in a communication form they are comfortable with. Social media and content marketing, the types of information you can own (and earn) present a level of authenticity and engagement that fosters referrals.
  • Targeted disruptive channels, digital, direct mail, print, outdoor, etc. build awareness and drive leads.
  • Build your online presence so that you are easily found and well positioned.
  • Event, guerilla and sponsorship marketing create association and personality in the environments where your customer lives.

Develop a balance in all of these areas, track and be persistent. Advertising shouldn’t be looked at as something that just drives short-term leads. It is the road map that builds long-term business.

Focus on Customer Loyalty

Inevitably, a start-up business has to spend a disproportionate amount of time dumping new customers and leads into the top of the bucket. But nurturing customers and relationships is something that has to be done from the onset. It is critical to building loyalty and no matter what your product or service is, your success will be built on your ability to create loyal customers.

Every employee must know his or her role in delivering high quality customer service.

That means strong training not only in the areas of product or service performance, but also in understanding the expectations of your customer. The employee’s ability to see his or her performance through the eyes of the customer is vital to truly satisfying or delighting customers. It’s the only way to create repeat business, and the best way to develop referral business.

Have a Plan and Stick To It

Every new business, even a franchise operation in a new market, needs a strong, well-developed business plan. Identify the market, know the competition, project sales, seasonality, profitability, Build the plan that drives leads and plan for the resources to deliver top quality service. Disciplined business and marketing plans are critical to success. It’s easy to start second guessing, but one key, vital attribute for successful businesses is this:

Successful businesses plan for success.

That takes courage. It takes vision. It takes discipline. It takes effort and late nights. Develop your plan and follow it. Go back to your original plan. How far off are you and how did you get there? Track and allow for course corrections, but make them quickly and deliberately.

So those are my big five. There are thousands of marketing books and even more marketing gurus who will provide variations. I believe you will find these key elements inherent in most of that thinking. If not, I would propose that something big is missing.

Try an evaluation test with your company or business. Run an audit against these five pillars as sort of a tune-up. You’ll find that returning to your marketing roots is a healthy exercise; one that should be repeated regularly for your personal marketing health, as well as your business.

A Meaningful Brand for NSU

NSUNorfolk State University is at a crossroads as it charts a course to rebuild its “brand” in the wake of the image hits it has taken over the past few years. The discontinuance of the school’s associate degree in nursing program due to low passing rates on the national licensing exam; the firing of a president; and, most recently, being placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), an accrediting body that oversees NSU and colleges in 10 other states, are incidents that have had a profound impact on how prospective students view the school.

The university’s marketing team is in the process of searching for an outside partner to help create a “unified brand identity.” But the team needs to be careful and meticulous in how it goes about the process. “Brand” is an enormously dynamic thing. There are two vitally different areas of perception to deal with: those within the university’s control and those outside of its control.

Brand standards—the colors and designs, what is said and how it is said by the university—can be controlled. Brand position, how NSU identifies itself as different from or even better than other schools, can be controlled. The physical properties—academic programs offered, facilities built or being built, as well as which are promoted, can be controlled. But brand image, the perception that students, prospective students and even those not connected with the university have of the school, is beyond the control of any school or company.key to branding

Brand image is the perception that lives within people’s minds and is formed based on the individual’s experience with the brand (or school). Forget about what the brand is saying, what matters is the experience. An appliance dealer can scream all day long that they have the lowest prices in town, but if my experience in the showroom is one high price after another, my brand perception is very negative. And brand perception, the consumer’s image of the brand, is all that matters at the end of the day.

The university holds what I assume is a fairly comprehensive proprietary study detailing the perception held by prospective and current students. Hopefully it contains opinions from alumni and those not necessarily connected to the school as well. The new outside partner will be privy to the information in that study, and it will be critical in creating a successful plan to achieve growth, particularly since enrollment has dropped more than 15 percent since 2012.

The brand message and the brand experience have got to align for NSU to be successful in building its image and building enrollment. Make no mistake, there are a lot of good things happening at NSU and a lot of truly positive momentum. The nursing program overall is vibrant, bolstered by a brand-new 140,000-square-foot nursing and classroom building. NSU will play the lead role in a $25 million effort to educate a new cybersecurity workforce at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the school is ranked among the top 30 HBCUs in the nation, and new facilities continue to energize the campus.

campus aheadSo with all of that, NSU has to continue to focus on delivering an experience that is relevant to prospective students and relevant to the Hampton Roads community. The University is an educational system that sees the need, for students as well as employers, and is building programs and facilities to meet demand. That alone is a strong focus on improvement.

Do the research within the market. Pinpoint and focus on the careers here in Hampton Roads that are in high demand. Then find the academic programs that Norfolk State has built and is delivering in excellent fashion (cybersecurity vaults to the top here.) Build the brand position and messaging around that, so that the experience is one of a high-quality, in-demand education.

The next step in ensuring growth and sustaining the experience for the future is to focus NSU’s academic development on those needs and careers that are in high demand, but where the university is not quite ready to claim excellence. Admit that. Chart the course to achieve excellence. Communicate the steps that are being taken and manage the expectations of current students as well as future students. Readiness for the future is what higher education is all about. NSU is at a pivotal point of growth, and it starts with aligning the message with the experience. That will build a unified brand for Norfolk State University.

The Crowded Higher Ed Marketplace

Zero to bachelor’s in 2.5. Bring a spark, light a fire. From here, go anywhere.Higher Education Marketing, Higher Education, Marketing, Hampton Roads

Those college taglines are comfortingly familiar to Hampton Roads residents. On any given day you’ll hear a radio ad with one, whiz by a billboard with another.

Which one are you most familiar with? If you answered #1, stay tuned.

With 5 traditional universities (including 2 historically black schools, Norfolk State and Hampton University), 2 colleges (including the second-oldest in the nation, William & Mary), the world-renowned Eastern Virginia Medical School, and a robust community college system, Hampton Roads is spoiled for choice when it comes to higher education.

But the competitive pressure continues to escalate from for-profit schools, most of which are based outside the region altogether. Perhaps the best-known locally is ECPI, which is HQ’d here in Virginia Beach—and who belongs to that ubiquitous tagline #1. (Recently replaced with “The best decision you ever made.”)

And that’s pretty telling. You know ECPI’s hook—but do you know ODU’s? Virginia Wesleyan’s? (It’s #2 above) NSU’s?

If you’re struggling, it’s not your fault. Chalk it up to market saturation.

When you add up ALL higher ed advertisers, including those outside the region, a staggering $25.4 million is spent on higher education advertising in Hampton Roads each year, with an additional $80.6 million spent on marketing and promotion. That’s to reach an audience of 718,820 TV households and 1.5 million adults in Hampton Roads. (Nielsen)

In 2014, regional schools spent close to $3 million on higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads (Kantar). More than half of that $3 million was ECPI. In other words, excluding ECPI, local schools purchased less than 15% of all higher ed TV advertising in Hampton Roads last year.

You see, it’s not just about competing for enrollment anymore. It’s competition for airtime, for screen time, for ears and eyeballs.

And in Hampton Roads, that’s some pretty fierce competition. In fact, if you add up the total number of colleges, universities, trade school and tech school locations within Hampton Roads the options total over 250!

So, higher ed marketers in Hampton Roads face big hurdles to break through the noise and capture the attention of prospective students.

Aside from having the deepest advertising pockets—how do you stand out in Hampton Roads’ crowded higher ed marketplace?

Higher education is a service-driven industry—just like health care, real estate or banking. Any lofty ideas about the Ivory Tower or historic campuses need to take a backseat to deciding what your school excels at, and how to sell it.

Maybe start with recognizing that the average local student looks very different from even 15 years ago.

Hampton Roads is home to one of the world’s largest populations of military personnel, many of whom earn GI Bill benefits. Those are adult students whose needs are very different from those of 18-22 year olds. Students, Hampton Roads, Higher Education, Marketing

Many of them are pursuing education while serving full-time, or they are retraining for a new career and want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible. They’re looking for shorter semesters. (Hence the appeal of “2.5,” brought to you by ECPI’s 6-week sessions).

Incentivize military and adult students. Spotlight any benefits unique to military. Explain how your school can help with any red tape. Bear redeployment in mind: is the coursework portable? What are you willing to do to retain students or help them transfer? And what about those shorter sessions—can your school compete?

Student veterans seek out degrees in business, criminal justice and intelligence studies. Promote these programs if your school offers them. If they don’t, start a conversation.

Norfolk State is leading a $25 million effort to educate a new cybersecurity workforce. That’s a massive opportunity to connect with military and veteran students and help them on the path to a future career with local defense contractors.

Beyond the military community, consider the growing adult student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2011, enrollment of students aged 25+ rose 41%. From 2011 to 2021, NCES projects a further 14% increase.

Hampton Roads has over a half-million adults with “some college” education, and over 194,000 say they plan on going back to school in the next 12 months.

These students enroll for a variety of reasons—to join growing industries such as health care and technology, retrain for a new career after job loss or retirement, or to enhance their current career. Those goals don’t typically translate to a 4-year undergraduate degree. More students are seeking 2-year degrees and certifications, while many professional students want graduate certificates or master’s programs.

Find out what adult students want—and let them know you’ve got it. Don’t forget most of these students are working while in school, too. Regent University’s grad program just switched to two 8-week terms for spring 2015. That’s a good sign it’s listening to the needs of its MBA-seeking students, many of whom likely work full-time.

The smart higher ed marketer is also engaged with Hampton Roads’ top employers and tying those opportunities into their messaging.

Help prospective students envision themselves in a future career. Share real-life success stories (Regent University and ECPI have done this for years), or show that your school positions graduates to land the “hottest jobs” in “growing industries.”

According to Sonya Schweitzer, University Director of Marketing at ECPI University, “We’ve been using real graduates or students for our TV ads for quite a long time—testimonials.” She added, “Every effort is made to show graduates who represent different demographics, as well as making sure their stories are believable and represent the average student.”

Make the most of integrated multimedia marketing. Seventy percent of prospective students go to the college website first. But remember, the path to enrollment is long and winding and needs to include traditional media as well as integrated digital methods (online and social media marketing).

Schweitzer explained ECPI’s perspective: “Even though most people will have seen an ad or a billboard in this market, they will convert through our website, or search [marketing], at a much higher rate. We use social media to have a conversation with our prospects, as well as our current students and grads. It is a very strong selling tool for prospects who are researching who we are. They can hear it from people other than ourselves—unfiltered. That is powerful.”

Meet these prospects where they are, through targeted marketing such as programmatic buying, and through artful social media marketing. Aim for a conversation, a relationship—not just a one-size-fits-some banner ad campaign.

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So, ready to graduate with honors from the Hampton Roads school of higher ed marketing? Look over your campaigns and make sure you’re not overlooking any of these opportunities. If you are, take some time to regroup, reimagine and revitalize. With any luck you can still enhance your efforts for fall 2015 recruitment.

And bear in mind that statewide, Virginia public college enrollment declined in 2014—for the first time in 20 years. Things just got a little more competitive.

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

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.

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.

So Now What Do You Name Your Business Hampton Roads???

The latest salvo in the “Name Your Region” battle has been fired, and it’s game on. By constantly referring to our hometown region as “Coastal Virginia” during his recent State-of-The-City address, VirgiCoastal Virginia Signnia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms re-invigorated the name change initiative.

It wasn’t hard to spot; in fact I mentioned it to people as I walked out of the VB Convention Center following his speech. The only time we heard the words “Hampton Roads” was in reference to another bridge tunnel across “the Hampton Roads.” A good reference to the history of the name can be found here. The Pilot and Virginia Business were quick to pick up on the topic, and coverage spread across the state.

“Coastal Virginia” is a tourism-driven name. It’s born out of a desire to find something more easily identifiable to people outside of our region. To me, tourism does seem the right driver, considering the three economic pillars of our region: tourism, defense spending and the ports. I don’t believe either “Defense District” or “Port Place” are going to be very well received (I made those up.) The name change gained real steam when the Southeastern Tourism Alliance changed its name to The Coastal Virginia Tourism Alliance.

Rather than debate the name, let’s focus on the impact of changing the name at all. If you’re a marketer in Hampton Roads, and you’ve tooled your company or business to reflect the place where we live, the impact can be huge. Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Alliance, Naval Museum, Convention Center, United Way — the list is almost endless. And if you’re starting a new company, what name do you bet on?

David Mele, publisher of The Virginian Pilot, including responsibility for all of their specialty and online properties, acknowledges that his enterprise is heavily invested in the name Hampton Roads. “We actually raised the question from our editorial side when the name Coastal Virginia first surfaced and have had a lot of people weigh in,” he said.

Asked what it would take to truly consider changing the names of websites or sections of the paper, Mele said, “The region is heavily invested in the name ‘Hampton Roads.’ The prevailing thought right now seems to be that we should put more marketing support behind the current name before we consider a change. If we found that it was really the right thing to do,” he added, “if it truly improved our (market) competitiveness, we would get on board.”

But the degree to which local businesses are invested in the name is huge. From small businesses like Hampton Roads Termite and Pest Control, founded in Chesapeake in 1986, or Hampton Roads Harley Davidson, operating under that name on the Peninsula since the ’70s, to Hampton Road Transit, whose name symbolizes the creation of a truly regional transit authority, the impact would be huge.

My prediction is that the true coastline will embrace Coastal Virginia, which makes sense. The farther to the left you go on the map, the more it makes sense to stay the course. And if you’re starting or renaming your business today? “I’d stick with Hampton Roads,” Mele suggests. I agree. But I did just purchase a new URL: MarketingCoastalVirginia.com.Hampton Roads

CMO. The Best Job in Hampton Roads?

If you want a nice, stable job in marketing, run out and find yourself a position as chief marketing officer. The average tenure for folks in that position has nearly doubled since 2006, from 23.6 to 45 months, in a study released last year by executive search firm Spencer Stuart.

And if you’re lucky to find one in an industrial company, of which Hampton Roads has many, that average tenure shoots up to 111 months — a little over nine years! That’s double the average time a U.S. worker stays with his or her current employer, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On average, CMOs in the healthcare, automotive, restaurant and communications/media sectors have the shortest tenures, at 28 to 32 months.

The role of the CMO, and its importance to an organization, continues to shift with evolving technology. Marco Pescara, CMO of Toano-based Lumber Liquidators, agrees. “Technology and changing consumer interaction makes it essential that a CMO not simply understand who they serve — but how the customer is interacting,” he tells me.

CMO Tenure

From CMOsurvey.org

Pescara has been in his role at Lumber Liquidators for a little over two years, although he has been with the company for almost eight. He says the number of “personal touch points” continues to increase, and feels the CMO must guide the organization in understanding how customers are interacting through those touches.

Spencer Stuart’s Tom Seclow says, “More and more, these are meaty and more satisfying roles, which in some cases may include general management responsibilities. As they gain credibility among their C-suite peers and find more challenges in their current role, many CMOs are staying in their positions longer.”

Let’s talk career path. The data would indicate that, on average, you can look to rise to the position of CMO in an organization, as Pescara did. CMOsurvey.org reports that the average length of time that today’s CMOs have in any position with their current employer is 8.8 years.

The report indicates several things are driving the importance of the CMO role, among them the continuance of emerging technologies along with the need to develop more intricate analytics and ways to leverage huge amounts of customer data.

Eric Lackey, CMO of Hampton Roads–based JES Foundation Repair echoes that sentiment. Lackey, who has an agency background as a co-founder of Meridian Group, now has six years under his belt as head of marketing. Technology is such a driver of business leads and success that the company has developed a cloud-based business planning and tracking platform, “Biz Wiz” used by over 100 network partners nationwide. “It helps us be much more efficient in planning and in tracking results,” he says. Like many long-term career marketers, he finds a big challenge now to be continuing to learn and adapt online and digital advertising tools to his lead-generation needs. An in-house staff helps keep Lackey and JES on a solid growth curve.

The downside — the tracking study says that as the tenure increases, the number of CMO positions is decreasing. So, as I tell my middle school son: math rules, technology is king. Stay ahead of both if you want to compete for a secure job in one of these key hometown roles.

Read the Spencer Stuart article

Read the CMO Survey