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.

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)

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.

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.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

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

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.