Who's afraid of the big bad print ad?

Since I started my freelance writing business, I’ve found that most people don’t share my love of marketing. That’s fine — I know not everyone walks around singing the “Quilted Quicker-Picker Upper” jingle — but I’ve been amazed at the number of small business owners who seem to fear promotion of any kind.

For those Columbia entrepreneurs who still tremble at television, balk at brochures or falter with flyers, I’d like to share a case study with you. Whether you’re working with wood, growing a business or catering to a unique clientele, you can learn a thing or two from Deck Finishings Unlimited, LLC.

Deck Finishings Unlimited (DFU) is a homegrown business based on hard work and word of mouth referrals. If you happen to catch owner Ken Brown at Home Depot between his day job and his community commitments, he’ll tell you about the latest deck trends with a twinkle in his eye. That’s Marketing Rule #1: Let your enthusiasm shine through in your daily conversations. You are always a representative of your business!

Ken’s real talent for marketing Deck Finishings Unlimited comes on the drive home from the hardware store, though. If he sees a new house with a deck, he’ll literally pull over and leave the owners an eye-catching flyer. Ken knows that with a deck-sized investment, new owners will eventually need a good pressure washing or a long-lasting stain. It may take them five years or so to call (and Ken has certainly honored his share of coupons from 2001), but DFU always makes initial contact.

That leads us to Marketing Rule #2: Make strategic contact with your customers. For a few cents per flyer, plus a couple dollars of coupon incentives, Deck Finishings Unlimited catches the attention of homeowners who need his services. He doesn’t plaster neighborhoods with reams of paper or strain to accommodate expensive direct mail campaigns. No, DFU subsists on a targeted trail of neon flyers, coaxing return business like a modern day Hansel and Gretel.

Each new flyer builds on the last one, which brings us to Marketing Rule #3: All effects are cumulative. Maintaining a database of tens of thousands of potential customers, Deck Finishings Unlimited sends in-depth brochures to high-yield prospects. They’re not printed on the fanciest paper, but they showcase the company’s work and highlight its local ties. They draw additional attention to the flyers, which are complemented by the mutual links on the Deck Finishings Unlimited website, which are enhanced by the LLC’s expansion into pressure cleaning, which are overlapped by the owner’s diligent requests for referrals.

And when Ken takes you on a slow drive through Lake Carolina to see his portfolio of high-end decks, you can tell that inventive local marketing gets results. In its simplest form, marketing is a business process, and it’s something that local entrepreneurs should embrace with the same fearless attitude as QuickBooks and Chamber of Commerce meetings. Regardless of trendy jingles or creative awards, the purpose of marketing is to share a message, connect with customers and inspire action. And if I didn’t live in a second-story condo, I’d be drawing up my deck specs right now!

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Laughing it up in the ER

As I was endangering drivers on I-26 last week looking at billboards, one actually made me laugh out laud. And I’d seen it before. For months.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a good billboard.

I love Lexington Medical Center’s simple Urgent Care series, which features familiar quotes that often precede daily bumps and bruises. My favorite is “Oh, it’s not THAT heavy,” which you can catch on I-26 or Sunset Blvd. near the hospital. Its makes me think of poor Uncle Bobby icing his back after a gamely attempting to lift one of my overloaded suitcases.

Lexington Medical Center is no stranger to Addy Awards and other accolades from the advertising community. But what makes this campaign brilliant is its use of humor.

C’mon, people, we’re talking about an EMERGENCY ROOM. Think of the marketing challenges of creating positive associations with an urgent care center! The last time I was at an emergency room, I was in the throes of an allergic reaction. Time before that: food poisoning. With its garish lights, needles, antiseptic and atmosphere of sickness, this is not a place where I like to spend my time. And still, they’ve won me over.

The natural tendency in marketing an urgent care center would be to rely on fear. After all, following an ambulance to the hospital is a parent’s worst nightmare. I can see the commercials now: slow-motion shots of ambulance lights, followed by an exchange of worried looks between parents, and ending with a dramatic shot of a child’s mangled bike in the road. Tagline: “When it counts, doesn’t your family deserve the best urgent care? Lexington Medical Center.”

Horrible, isn’t it? To pull people around like that? Oh, I’m sure parents would notice. They’d go running after their children with bike helmets — maybe encourage them to come inside and play a nice board game. The call to action is the same, but everyone feels bad in the process. And quite frankly, I think there’s enough fear in the world today without marketers adding to melee.

Instead, Lexington Medical Center opted for humor. Another great billboard in the campaign says something along the lines of “Hey, watch this!” It captures the spirit and triumphs of childhood, while reassuring parents that their kids will bounce back after learning the lessons of gravity. These quick messages complement the billboard medium and allow drivers to fill in their own memories. For me, “Hey, watch this!” elicits images of elaborate trampoline flips. These gymnastic feats are great memories — literally some of the highest points of the my sixth grade year — and I’ll always be glad that my parents swallowed their fear and let me embrace them.

After all, odds are that someone we love will end up in the emergency room with a broken arm or a need for stitches. And most of them hobble out, a little wiser, to continue vibrant lives. Emergency rooms don’t need to be the den of drama we see on TV — they can help us through the physical setbacks that come with being human … and even make us smile, apparently!

Mel's apology lacks braveness and heart

“FREEDOM!”

While everyone else is dishing about temple visits and the alcoholism that plagues Hollywood, I’m transported back to the mantra of 1995. After all, who can forget Mel Gibson’s famous cry at the end of Braveheart?

Doesn’t seem like such a great concept now, huh, Mel?

Of course, freedom propelled Mel to greatness in the first place. And I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet he even ate his share of freedom fries while directing The Passion.

Yet, that same freedom allowed Mel to stumble behind the wheel of a car with a .12 blood alcohol level. It enabled him to release an insincere apology and create a spectacle of both Judaism and Christianity with his plans to find ‘an appropriate path for healing.’ I’m sure even alcoholics could find reason to be offended by Mel’s behavior!

Mel was brilliant in recruiting churches to help him market The Passion, so he should know that sincerity is the biggest pre-requisite for persuasion. After all, the best salesmen are not sleazy showboaters but good listeners who believe in their products. It’s probably the only reason why Paul Newman was able to open a packaged food business!

Instead of ringing true, Gibson’s initial apology was “self-pitying and verbose,” according to Christopher Hitchens’ article in Slate magazine on July 31. OK, so maybe his publicist overdid it, but the man at least took a positive crisis communications step by admitting fault. He could have accepted the consequences and recovered.

Then on Tuesday, Mel released a second, more dramatically contrite statement. I won’t reprint the whole AP transcript (there’s also AP video), but the phrases “vitriolic,” “blurted” and “moment of insanity” all made appearance.

Instead of exuding the humble sincerity of William Wallace, the statement was riddled with excuses and embellishments. To regain the public’s trust, Mel should have clung to a simple, straightforward message. He should have meant it. And he should have started living his life according to the doctrine he preaches. But he’s obviously quite free to lead a desperate charge in the opposite direction.

The handling of a crisis reveals hidden truths about people, businesses and even movie stars. Generally speaking, you want to avoid lifting your kilt to the public. Instead, crises are a time to think of others, accept responsibility and somberly fix problems. Even Maverick Mel can’t act his way out of the situation or harness it for his own publicity.

I, for one, feel like I’m skewered on a slab screaming, “TRUTH.” What about you?