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Business couple“What do you mean the customer went elsewhere? Are you kidding me? When did that happen? Why did they leave? I can’t believe it!”  Have you heard (or said) these words in the past few months or so?

How many times have you lost a family or other business to a competitor?

Well, as we all know, business comes and goes but the sad part about it is that more times than not it’s because we’ve lost track of them or taken them for granted.

Which brings me to the question, “Why do customers leave?”  Curiously, most business owners and managers have the exact wrong idea about why customers leave. Most people believe that customers leave because:

  • They found a lower price.
  • Their needs have changed.
  • (Drum roll please)…Wrong!

According to an in-depth study by the research firm CRMGuru, the reasons customers give for taking their “business down the road” are:

  • Bad customer service: 74%
  • Poor quality of product: 32%
  • Pricing: 25%
  • Functionality/Needs change: 15%

As you can see, when it comes to keeping your existing customers, customer service is three times more important than price–and five times more important than functionality. Which obviously means that if you want to keep the customers you’ve got, you should think about reversing priorities and pay more attention to customer service and quality – and, consequently, less attention to functionality and price. I fully realize that this runs contrary to 90% of what most people think is important, probably because price and functionality can play a large role in new customer acquisition.

Yet, many marketing plans are so focused on customer acquisition that they largely ignore customer retention, especially in the funeral business because it’s long-term. Even a tiny change in customer retention can have a large effect on long-term profitability and growth.  This shouldn’t be underestimated. The easiest way to grow your customers is not to lose them.  In fact, I recently read that 96 percent of dissatisfied customers never complain. They just take their business to one of your competitors, and the unfortunate thing is that you’ll never know why.  Even if you did nothing wrong, you might have simply lost touch.

Want to get an edge over your competitors? With a little attention, your business can be one of those which can negate churn and improve profitability. Here’s a  list of the five strategies (only limited by space) you can use to improve customer retention.

 Keep them on your radar screen

So many companies do an excellent job of making the initial sale, then start chasing other prospects and in the process forget about their current customer…ignore may be the case as well…or they just get complacent.  To make sure that future referrals and repeat business materialize from this customer, it’s important to make sure that you demonstrate by your actions that you really care and that everyone who has done business with you has made the right decision. This can be accomplished by putting a plan in place to communicate with them, and sell to them again and again, constantly proving that your firm was the right choice.

Build engaging relationships

With CRM programs all the rage, coupled with Big Data and predictive analytics providing marketers with in depth customer insights, the key to engagement is through personalization. In fact, as consumers ourselves, we expect and demand that companies personalize messaging and offers so they’re relevant to our wants and needs. You can do this by providing clients with ongoing communications that are personalized to them. Send them reminders, or offers or information that they’ll like at the right time based on when they might need your product or services. Do some A/B testing in order to see what catches the attention of your customers. And, even recommend products to them. Offers, timing and product recommendations all show that you know and care about your clients.

Share useful content/information

Customers buy from people. They buy based on trust. Building trust with new customers is the key to getting them to buy in the first place.  And maintaining and strengthening that trust is the key to keeping your customer over the long term, improving customer retention. In today’s marketplace, it’s not enough to have a wonderful product or service, you also have to help educate your customers on how they can use your product or service better.  Content must abide by three criteria: it must be expected, valuable and relevant.

Give Back

Going back to your own personal experience for a minute, what is your impression of a company that, out-of-blue, gives you something you could use….for no cost. Not as an incentive or ulterior motive to purchase or do something else, but rather “just because.” It probably left you feeling good about the company, maybe even made you happy. Using the element of surprise to your advantage is a good thing because people naturally remember when something surprised them in a good way. You see, winning customers over starts with winning their thanks on individual terms. And while technology allows you to offer up this surprise to whatever scale you want, the fact is people remember acts of kindness when it feels personal.

Provide Proactive Customer Service

Of course, if you’re a funeral provider, you certainly offer the highest degree of hands-on care, right? Or if you’re a supplier, customer support is paramount, right again? But are you also being proactive with them?  Being proactive, or anticipating what the customer might need or addressing problems before they happen is both unexpected and greatly appreciated.  This could be as simple as calling and asking if everything is OK before the client calls you to say something is not. Or letting them know that the product they recently bought is being redesigned and will look different or is going to be sold in bulk versus single-product purchases. And lastly, there’s nothing like hearing from the customers themselves.  Some sort of a feedback system, such as a survey or speaking directly with your loyal customers, shows them that you really care about their recent experience with your company and will help identify any issues to address.

Think Long-Term Relationships

For funeral providers especially, once a family has made arrangements, or purchased a plot, or completed a memorial service, this should be only the beginning of your relationship, not the end. Too many cemeteries and funeral homes are too quick to move on to the next piece of business instead of “farming” old customers, keeping up their databases, and staying in touch year-after-year with the family.  Don’t dare let this happen to you!  Out of sight should never mean out of mind, where past business is concerned.  Make calls, send letters, send informational emails, and let the family know that your care is ongoing (as it should be).  And the same holds true to suppliers to the industry as well if you expect to be around next decade and beyond: your past customer is your best next customer.

Regardless of what you’re selling, your long-term profitability is largely dependent upon your ability to keep current customers, compared to acquiring new ones. While you must always try things to attract new customers to your business, don’t take for granted those who are already in your camp and are supporting your business.  Don’t forget, every now and then, to “dance with dem dat brung ya.”

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

newspaper clutterEvery time I open the morning paper or fan through the pages of one of the funeral industry trades (or practically any magazine, for that matter), I find myself wincing.  Ad after ad tells the same sad story: money spent leading to no results.  In fact, I’d venture to say that better than 85% – 90% of the ads lay the same leaden egg.  Oh, the humanity!

If you’re questioning whether your advertising is doing what you paid it to do, odds are it’s not.  And although there are master classes you might take in advertising creativity, marketing strategy and media planning, it’s very likely the problem falls within four main areas.  Checking off each point, you can estimate your ad’s effectiveness even before you place it.  I mean it.

Here then are the four fundamental concepts that can make a meaningful difference in how successful your next advertising effort is.

1)  Have a something compelling to say.  And by that, I mean not just compelling to you and your staff, but to a completely disinterested audience.  If you’ve followed my posts for any length of time, you know that I frequently observe that people don’t like advertising…and they really don’t like funeral advertising.  So whatever you have to say must go the distance to alter their indifference.  Don’t just tell your audience you’re caring and compassionate, or that you’ve been around for three generations. They already assume that of you and your twelve competitors around the corner. Tell them something they don’t know, something that might even surprise them.  (Such as, you package funerals with overnight accommodations at the Ritz Carlton, or you offer six theme hearses.  Anything that’s unexpected.)  You can tell when someone’s ad is truly compelling when you think, “Gee, I didn’t know that!”  We sometimes call that a “sticky” message, one that has staying power after the reader has turned the page or flipped the channel.

2)  Sell, don’t just tell.  One of the most egregious mistakes advertisers make is simply laying out all the features of their product or service and expect the audience to figure out why that’s important to them.  Often that’s done in the form of five or seven bullet points, such as:

  • 85 years of experience
  • Full banquet facilities
  • Large on-site parking
  • Exclusive bereavement support
  • Digitally-produced memorial videos
  • Multi-lingual staff

or in Business-to-Business ads (snatched from the pages of a recent funeral trade pub):

  • Proven Products
  • Superior Service
  • Implementation
  • Dedicated Staff
  • Customizable by end-user

Yikes! There’s no emotion in that.  There’s no selling.  There’s no story or connection.  Instead of praying that maybe one or two bullets might hit home with some member of the audience – or worse, trying to be all things to all people – why not focus on one point at a time and spell out why that point really matters.  People don’t buy bullets.  They don’t buy features.  But they do buy benefits and ideas that add value to their lives.  Always be thinking, from their point of view, “what’s in it for me?”

3)   Be your own brand and not a clone of others.  All too often, within any given industry, I see ads in which the logos and contact information are interchangeable, one company’s with another’s. None stand out, all look alike, and thus all the players are perceived as a commodity. Here’s a question for you: If your logo was blocked out of your ad or commercial, would the audience still know it’s yours?  Take, for instance, Jack-In-The-Box. Their commercials are radically different from McDonalds’. BMW’s ads are unmistakably theirs and not Mercedes’.  It’s a matter of message but also a matter of style,  personality and consistency.  The more striking and distinctive your ads are, the stronger competitive impact they’ll make, while your competitions’ ads could be just anybody’s.  Dare to be Different!

4)  Tell the same story across all your platforms.  With all the buzz about Social Media, it strikes me as odd that most Facebook pages and outbound Tweets for funeral homes and cemeteries have little in common with their main marketing messages.  In part that’s because the marketing messages themselves aren’t that well-defined.  But it’s also because the marketers don’t appreciate the importance of speaking with the same voice at any touchpoint.  Good marketing is a collective enterprise and an erosive processes.  For instance, if your main story is about how your property has been around for over 100 years, use your Facebook pages to talk about the history of the area, the early days of your firm, the historic people you’ve served, etc.  Make sure your phone hold-message tells the same story.  Make sure you hold special events that support the theme. Even the business-card-sized ads you run in the church bulletins should be branded accordingly. If you don’t keep hammering away at the same selling proposition at every touchpoint, then each effort conflicts with every other.

While hardly a full compendium of marketing knowledge, if you make the effort to assure your advertising and marketing is consistent with these four points, you’ll be far out in front of 85% of your competition. And that’s the goal, to create ads your customers will react to and that your competition will hate.

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

business targetsWe recently did some work for a funeral home client who was always on the prowl for new business.  They were a frequent advertiser, and their PR program got them visibility far beyond the budget they invested.  In fact, they had – we’d like to think, with our help – massively improved their local visibility on so many fronts. But when it came to their own home front, they completely missed the boat.

What I mean by that is that they ignored the single greatest source of new business, and that’s old business…families and individuals who had done business with them in the past. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but every time we’d suggest a marketing program aimed at their own data base, the energy would drain right out of the room. Why so?  They felt that it was wrong to “pester” a family one year, two years or five years after the service.  They didn’t want to be seen as selling anything!  Besides, they had allowed their database of many years to become obsolete.  Only the last two years were even computerized.

Ah, what a missed opportunity.

There are so many reasons why existing customers are your very best prospects.  Here are a few statistics that drive the point home:

  • The probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 – 70%. The probability of selling to a new prospect is 5-20% – Marketing Metrics.
  • A 2% increase in customer retention has the same effect as decreasing costs by 10% – Leading on the Edge of Chaos, Emmet Murphy & Mark Murphy.
  • It costs 6–7 times more to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one – Bain & Company.

Why would you not want to focus your marketing efforts on current and older customers?  There is so much to be gained. Consider the following five reasons why they are your absolutely best prospects for future business:

  1. There’s more water in that well. Families like to stay together and tend to trust the services that other family members have used.  This is especially true with respect to a business that provides deeply personal family services, such as a funeral home or memorial park. You’ve developed your business around the values of trust, care, respect and service. These are the very things the family will want to rely upon from you in the future.  But if you let too much time slip away between contacts, that emotional tie will eventually fade, leaving the door open to competitors or other alternate solutions.  Stay in touch through newsletters, email, or even a personal phone call or letter.  Let them know that you have a new service or feature, what’s going on with your staff, how you’ve helped out in the community, and how important it is to make plans now for their future.

While that may be the most obvious reason, here are others you might not have thought about:

  1. They’ll tell you how you’re doing. While it’s not always comfortable to ask customers how they like or dislike your services or products, nobody can give you a better report card and the straight dope on your service delivery than those on the receiving end. Listen to them, but also ask them.  Whatever you hear, good or not, will guide you in what you bring to future customers.  At the same time, your seeking out their opinions tells them you’re interested in them, which can only strengthen those relationships.
  2. They’re your best referral source. But only if you are doing all you can to keep your firm in their sights. Once they forget about you, you’re back to square one, especially when it comes to their circle of contacts. Also, while they still have a positive memory of working with your firm, you should actually ask them to pass the good word along.  Encourage them to share their experiences on sites like Yelp, Google Places, Angie’s List, Yahoo! Local, and of course the Social Media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and so on.
  3. They’re models for others just like them. Pay close attention to who is buying from you, how they’re finding you, what their product or service choices are, and where you can find more of the same.  Remember the old 80-20 rule (80% of your business comes from just 20% of the marketplace).  Learn precisely who that 20% is and it will be easier to grow that segment.  But you can only do that by really understanding the customers you already have.
  4. They may actually turn against you if you ignore them. Funeral care is already highly emotionally charged, and if you did anything that wasn’t 100% to a family’s satisfaction, a little slip-up can fester becoming the source of negative social sharing.  By staying closely connected, you give the family an avenue to express any upset, hopefully diffusing any issues, but at the same time, you are reminding them that, for you, they’re not out of mind, even if they’re out of sight. Who doesn’t want to feel that they’re thought-about every now and then?  Customers are like teeth, ignore them and maybe they’ll go away!

So, the answer to “Who is your absolutely best new customer?” is of course…your old customer. Especially when marketing dollars are tight, prospecting to them is, without a doubt, the best money you can spend.

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

I’ve been out of school for (mumble mumble) years but I still consider myself a student.  I’m constantly learning about marketing and new ways to engage prospective customers.  The absolute best way to learn about marketing is to watch other people – your spouse, your kids, your friends – and pay attention when they react to an ad or a mailer or a referral.  For instance, I watch my wife at night, when she’s sorting through the stack of mail, to see what she tears open and what she trashes without first opening it.  I listen to my kids when they tell me about a cool new app or commercial they’ve seen.  As long as I don’t influence them with my opinions coloring theirs, they teach me a lot.

The second best way to learn about marketing is to catch myself in the act of responding to someone else’s marketing efforts.  I do it all the time.

Let’s say the mail has just arrived and I grab the newest magazines.  As I sit at my desk, feet up, I occasionally find myself reading an ad without thinking – and then I stop for a second and wonder why.  What caught my attention?  What stopped me from turning the page?  Was it a topic I was already interested in?  Was it a surprising photo or clever headline?  What exactly was the trigger?  And then, did the ad actually make me interested in knowing more about its subject?  Did it influence me to consider calling or clicking or writing down a note?  All these are the questions I ask myself only after I have been caught up in the ad – not before, or the “data” is invalid.

The same goes for when I mindlessly watch TV and catch myself actually focused on a commercial.  Usually, commercials are just background noise.  But then, something occasionally pulls me in and when I notice that I’ve been hooked, I stop to analyze what just happened.  OK, sure, I’m always attracted by a sexy model, but hardly ever enough to really listen to the sales pitch.  Yet, every once in a while a commercial sinks in without my intentionally intending for it to do so.  That’s when I go from being a viewer to being a student and thinking about it analytically.  I make a mental note of what happened…what hooked me and what drew me in.  On the occasions in which I actually find myself seeking out the product afterward, I again rewind to learn what made me react the way the advertiser wanted me to.

Often, the answer isn’t as simple as how effective the ad or commercial or website was.  Often, it’s a combination of things, including some desire or disposition I had already brought to the party; perhaps having seen other ads or commercials for the same or similar thing before but now, I suddenly noticed it; something other people have said about the product or brand recently that gave the ad new context; some news or article or review I may have read about it; and most potently, an immediate need that was answered by the ad or commercial or web page.  (As funeral professionals, we thrive on any “at need’ immediacy of the audience, but we dare not depend on it.)

Whatever the influencers, this I know:  I wouldn’t have been moved to act, having just seen the ad, without having seen it to begin with.  Woody Allen has said that 80 percent of success is just showing up!  So you gotta show up.  I also know that clever creative isn’t the end-all, but I more regularly notice ads, billboards, direct mail, radio spots and TV commercials that have some imagination and freshness – on top of a strong selling message, and I most typically ignore anything and everything that seems old or familiar.  And I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much more by paying attention to my own unintentional behaviors, as I learn by watching those around me.

I encourage you to be your own best marketing teacher in the same way.  Every time you buy a new brand of paper towel, or call a new plumber, or visit a new doctor, or make an online purchase, stop, rewind and consider all the factors that drove you to that specific buying decision.  Every time you inadvertently find yourself paying attention to an ad or commercial or recall a billboard you passed, stop, rewind and reflect on what was it that grabbed you and pulled you in.  Once you’ve gone through the day’s mail, notice which unsolicited mail you didn’t throw out and critically think about why.

Then take what you’re learning and measure that against the marketing your firm is doing.

There are a ton of books on marketing and lots of marketing theory classes at the local colleges, but you can acquire a great deal of knowledge on your own by simply watching yourself and others around you reacting in the real world…just like your prospective customers do every day.

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

headliner_logoBrown Funeral Home is running an ad that says “Our Family Caring About Yours.”  Down the street, White Funeral Home has a commercial that says “When Compassion Counts.”   The neighborhood budget competitor, Gray Affordable Funeral Care, is airing a series of radio spots that say “All the Care but not the Cost.”  Oh, and just across town, Green Memorial Gardens, the combo cemetery-funeral home-crematory is advertising “Delivering Dignity 24-7.”

Do you notice a common theme?  Yes, they’re all saying the same thing!  They’re all trying to prove how caring and compassionate they are.  As if any one of them is more caring or compassionate than the other!  As if care and compassion are the only things there are to say about one memorialization establishment or another.

I’m here to tell you that caring, dignity, compassion, respect…they’re not unique attributes.  They’re just the opening ante!  It’s like saying, our cars have four tires!  Or our buildings don’t leak!  The public expects a funeral home or cemetery to provide their services with the utmost in care and compassion, or the firm wouldn’t be in business.  There’s absolutely no value in placing that “sales point” up in the headline any more than a bank should say “Your money is safe with us!”  Frankly, it darn well better be, so what else have you got?

That’s why it’s doubly, triply, quadruply important to say something the public doesn’t expect or already know about you.  They become interested only once you tell them something they don’t expect to hear.

For instance, for one funeral home group, we discovered that one of the top directors was a Shriner Clown on the weekends.  That was different, and it also demonstrated his commitment to that generous organization.  So we featured him in his clown get-up and the ad said “Part Time Shriner Clown, Full-Time Human Being.”  We later showed what other directors also did – Choir Director, Naval Officer, etc.

Another funeral home we worked with had five different “theme” hearses  –  from a Harley to horse-drawn to a ’39 Rolls – so they could customize the funerals to meet the personalities of their “honorees.”  This resulted in each commercial featuring a different hearse illustrating the range of personalities the funeral home could creatively accommodate.

A large cemetery had been burying generations of the same families for many years.  That’s nothing new, but by dramatizing the nature of the “tradition,” it told newer families that they could start a new tradition for their own families at a place whose roots go back generations.

There’s always something fresh to say, always an original point of view.  Here are some ways to start to uncover your unique story:

  • Interview the top management and see why they entered this business. Find out their passions.
  • Read through recent thank you notes to see what was particularly of value to your families.
  • Who founded the establishment and what was his or her mission? (The further the history goes back, the more interesting the story might be.)
  • What is your vision for the future of your company? Where do you see the business headed?
  • What’s interesting about your directors or staff? Do they have outside interests worth talking about?
  • Are there truly unique qualities to your building or property? A peculiar archway or entry monument or artwork in the chapel can inspire a headline and become part of your branding.
  • Do you offer packages and promotions nobody else has? Can you put together unusual packages?
  • What are the most memorable funerals or life celebration events you’ve held? Talk about your ability to serve families in extraordinary ways.
  • What services or products do you offer that most people don’t expect when you show them? That’s a story.
  • Do you have great case stories that demonstrate your special capabilities and expertise? Examples of solving problems outside the box?  How did you go above and beyond in a way that helped make a family whole again?
  • Have you helped a family get on with their lives? How did you do that?  Talk about it.

If all else fails, bring in an outside marketing consultant to help you find your unique story.  An outsider, by definition, will provide an unbiased and fresher point of view.

However you attack the problem, by saying something your competitors aren’t, you’ll move your messaging into a better, more productive place that lets your company stand on its own identity instead of settling for the industry default. Take a fresh approach and show how your company proudly speaks just for itself.

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

Living in Los Angeles, you can’t avoid lengthy commutes, and with lengthy commutes comes lots of opportunities to see billboards.  Oh, we’ve got lots of ‘em…of all sizes…pitching everything from auto lube centers to Hollywood blockbusters.  Yes, even a few funeral homes and cemeteries use this tried-and-true medium, which as it turns out, is a great vehicle (no pun) for local advertising.  After all, done right, billboards can stand out; if you’re stuck in traffic, you’re a captive audience; they’re a great “reminder” medium supporting other marketing efforts; and they can be located strategically, even across the street from a competitor!

Outdoor – or out-of-home – advertising, which includes billboards, bus benches, bus sides, bus shelters, subway panels and even entire sides of buildings, can be hugely effective if the creative is done correctly.  That’s the rub, because there’s a whole lot of outdoor that blows and the marketers don’t even know it.  Their messages are practically invisible, even if positioned at the best intersections of the city.

Here are just two examples of boards nobody sees.  Simply, they’re just too much work to read while zooming down the highway at 60 miles per hour (or even 30!).

Board Bad 1Board Bad 4

And yet doing it right isn’t all that difficult as long as one follows some basic guidelines.  Here’s my top ten pointers that can lead to much more effective outdoor advertising.  Interestingly, the same pointers also apply to just about any medium that is either small or a quick read, such as online banners, yellow page ads or tee-shirts.

  1. Respect the medium. I frequently see boards that appear to have been designed by someone with the luxury of staring at the art close-up for hours.  Remember, people are rolling along the road with no real interest in seeing your message. A good way to visualize this is to hold your own thumb at arm’s length (that’s roughly the size people will actually see the billboards from their cars).  Then glance at your thumb for only about 5 seconds.  If you can’t read a message that size for that tiny amount of time, redesign the artwork so you can.  Another way is to print out the art on an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper, place it on the wall ten feet away and look at it for only about three seconds.  That’s your litmus test.
  2. Focus on single, simple message. Don’t make the viewer have to work for it.  Have one thing you want to say, say it well and say it quickly. There’s no time for a headline plus multiple bullet points, a phone number, a website, and a clever tagline.  K-I-S-S is more important here than in just about any other medium.
  3. Don’t bury your product or brand. Similar to the previous point, but it’s important to call it out, that when all’s said and done, people must know who or what is being advertised. I see plenty of boards that only after I’ve driven past them a couple of times, I know who’s the sponsor.  Especially when your brand isn’t Coke or Target, make the logo or product a major element.
  4. Complex visuals don’t work. Advertising photos often have lots of elements in them: people, product, scenic background, other props – and that’s fine for a print ad, but it all gets lost on a highway. The best boards show only one image big and close up.  If you’re a cemetery, for instance, a sweeping landscape is harder to read versus showing just the entry monument.  For a funeral home, showing an entire chapel or your eight key staff members is harder to grasp visually compared to the sign outside your door…or one person hugging another.
  5. Keep type simple & BIG. I’m a typography nut.  I love decorative faces, serifs and descenders, and I can spend hours tweaking the kerning between the letters.  But for a billboard, big and bold is beautiful.  That also means keeping the headline down to as few words as possible, ideally eight words or less.  Similarly, having a logo that’s elegant and refined is great for print ads but risks getting lost on a freeway board, so bold the logo up as much as you possibly can without it getting horsey.
  6. Keep the Call-To-Action simple. Give your audience something to do, such as call your number or click on a site.  But speeding down the road, it’s hard to remember a phone number much less write it down. So consider having a simple-to-read-and-remember “vanity” number such as 800-4-Burial or a simple landing page such as SmithBros.com. A website like SmithBros.com/special-offer-2015.html isn’t going to do you a lot of good reaching people on the go.  And question whether or not your key ad message is compelling enough to warrant a response in the first place.
  7. Boldness, surprise and humor work best. The drive to work is boring, and so are most of the billboards decorating the roadways.  So, as we often implore our readers, Dare to be Different!  One of my favorite outdoor boards is for Chick-Fil-A because it’s sooooo different and fresh and funny.   You can’t mistake this board for anyone else’s.  Getting people wanting to see your next board and talking it up to others is the marketing equivalent of attained the Holy Grail.

Board Good 1

Oh, and yes, this works for funeral advertisers too.

ms bench

  1. Use either white space or vibrant colors. One of the best ways to jump out of the clutter is to be cleaner than the clutter, utilizing lots of white space.  That keeps the eye focused on the subject and copy. Alternately, you can use bold fields of color that separate your board from everyone else’s, especially when the color is part of your brand.  With a solid field of bright yellow, for instance, clean black type blasts out.  Or against a darker field of forest green, bold white lettering practically shouts.
  2. Drive before and drive after. Don’t just design the board to sell, make sure the location does its job too.  Get in your car and see exactly where the board or boards will reside.  Are trees blocking the prime view?  Can you get a location that every car has to see as the road curves?  How much visual clutter or open area surrounds each location?  Does the high rise across the street cast its shadow on the boards exactly at peak traffic times? Don’t just take the outdoor company’s word for it, trust your own eyes.  And then, once the boards are up, drive the sites again and make sure you’re happy.
  3. Rotate for even more exposure and value. Not every location will be prime, and not every budget can afford massive exposure. So consider the benefits of moving your boards around town.  One of the advantages, aside from covering more real estate that way, is that every time a new board goes up on a familiar route, people see it freshly.  By rotating your locations, you “cheat” the deal in your favor by including more eyeballs within the same business footprint.  Not a bad way to go when the budget’s tight.

And as I said, most of these strategies also apply when thinking about banner ads, bus benches, and sponsorship banners at the Little League field.  A great out-of-home campaign can be the very backbone of your advertising program if you approach it both strategically and creatively. I once waited in a half-hour line just to get into the parking lot of a new retail store all due to its outdoor-only advertising.  Yes, this stuff really does work if done right.  And you can do it!

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

Thumbs Up

Come on now, doesn’t it feel good when you receive an email or letter from a client saying how much they enjoy buying your products or working with your company? Or when your boss tells you a customer just shared a positive experience of your company’s service, thanks to you?  It comes across as some version of Sally Field’s famous Oscar speech… “You like me. You really like me!”

Which brings me to the most powerful persuader in the marketplace, apart from a customer’s own experience, and that’s the opinion of someone they know.  In fact, in today’s world, the majority of prospective customers, both B2B and B2C, spend time researching online or through social media before they buy. They depend more than ever on word-of-mouth references from people who have used those brands or products – even when those references are from people they don’t even know.  (Think Angie’s List, Buzzillions, Google ratings, or Yelp.) According to a the marketing group, ODM, about 90% of consumers trust the word of people they know and 70% of consumers trust the word of people they don’t know!  That’s why so much effort goes into viral marketing or “word of mouth.”  That’s why social media has suddenly emerged from nowhere in the past couple of years to what it is today.

And that’s also why genuine testimonials are so effective. A testimonial is third-party endorsement at its best. There is much more credibility in the words of other unbiased people than in your own words of self-promotion.  Heck, you’ve probably asked for and have probably written a recommendation (testimonial) for someone on LinkedIn, right?

So how are you using testimonials, or are you using testimonials at all, to keep current customers as well as acquire new ones?  What are you doing with all those “Thank You’s” from families after the funeral? It’s surprising to me still how few funeral homes, cemeteries or industry suppliers don’t harness the power of their customers’ good words. On that last point, help me understand why you wouldn’t want to strengthen the bond between you and current customers by reminding them why they chose you and not “the other guy,”as well as having prospective families see you as viable recommended option for their needs? Testimonials help overcome buyer skepticism. Which leads to trust. Which leads to sales. Just look at what Mark Zuckerberg says: “A trusted referral is the holy grail of marketing.”

With that in mind, there are times when testimonials are incredibly powerful, and times when they might actually hurt you. For example, testimonials are powerful when:

They’re specific

Specific testimonials say things like: “When I needed to find music selections for the funeral that uniquely captured my dad’s qualities, Bob had a list already drawn up, ” Or, “Your receptionist was so helpful every time I called and asked how I was doing.” Specific testimonials work for two reasons: First, they sound more credible. Second, they speak to a specific benefit or address a situation or question that may help persuade prospective customers.

They overcome objections.

Some companies shy away from these type of testimonials, yet they are arguably the most powerful tool you have. Testimonials from former skeptics stand out because they come across as credible. And by addressing and voicing what many perspective customers may be feeling, these testimonials are powerful persuaders. These type of testimonials sound like: “For years, I’ve been wary of cemetery salespeople thinking all they want is my money. Somewhat reluctantly, I spoke with Jose and was surprised how everything he did made me and my family comfortable.”  Use testimonials that bring up natural objections, where customers admit to being skeptical. These are the most powerful testimonials out there.

They substantiate your claims.

If you say your service goes the extra mile and beyond, and you get people saying that it does, then these type of testimonials are as good as gold. Like you and I, people want to hear that your marketing claims aren’t based in hype. If you have some unique feature or service, let your customers be the town crier.

A good testimonial is comparative.

Did your family use another service before they found yours? You want your customers to know how your firm is head-and-shoulders over the competition. Testimonials that set your product apart from your competitors (even mentioning their name) provides that comparison factor that people remember.

But as powerful as testimonials can be, there’s also the time when they’ll not work well…so beware.

They’ll not work well when:

They’re fake.

Once a lie is discovered (and one way or another, it will be…call it business karma), you’re discredited and anything you say from then on just falls on deaf ears.

 They’re obviously edited.

People usually provide feedback in a certain way, sometimes wordy or even slightly inarticulate. The more edited, the more businessy oe more “perfect” the testimonial, the more likely the audience may distrust the speaker.  Therefore when you find a customer that uses a fresh and genuine language, take full advantage. Also, please don’t exclude a comment or add information you want to hear. As readers, all of us can sense when words have selectively been added or deleted. Anything that sounds vague or cliché can smack of insincerity. Out with the bragging and in with the sincere personal thoughts.

They’re vague.

Vague testimonials that tell the reader almost nothing and lack detail are pretty much not worth posting. You know the ones I’m speaking of: “I was really satisfied with your customer service,” or “The cemetery grounds were well maintained,” or “I liked the funeral director.” Like you, when I read these type of kudos, I’ve learned nothing about why the speaker chose this particular company versus someone else. It’s a good waste of ink (or digital space).

They’re anonymous (e.g., “Satisfied Customer”; P.M. – Scranton, PA).

I don’t know about you, but I just can’t identify closely with testimonials that could just as easily be fake. It’s not just a matter of trust – though certainly that is a factor – it’s a matter of emotional connection. And while we’re at it, don’t use a customer testimonial without permission!

As I noted earlier, most people would rather act on a referral than make a purchase based on a sales pitch alone.  Third party endorsements matter.  Just remember, the only thing better than saying the right thing at the right time is when your customers do it for you.

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Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedInSee agency work via this link.

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