Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Learning to be creative

We’ve all heard someone who’s being tapped for a little creativity say, “but I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” And we usually take them at their word and move on without much rebuttal to the more lampshade-wearing types in the room. It’s almost as if we believe creativity is a natural born quality—like red hair—either you got it or you ain’t. Even in the advertising industry, we tend to compartmentalize people into artsy, quirky, techie, salesy, etc. and assign in our head whether somebody is creative or not and, if so, where his creative strength lies—as in, “Sure, Juan can whip out a creative solution to a difficult website architecture in his sleep, but he doesn’t get a single ‘chicken crossed the road’ joke.”

While it’s true that some folks are creative and others aren’t, to just accept that you’re not is a copout. Anyone can learn to be more creative if they want to and here’s how to start:

To be creative, you have to first believe you are creative.
Positive reinforcement. Your inner voice. Mentally picturing yourself making the big play as opposed to dropping the ball. Everyone has the ability to be creative, but if you don’t believe you do, you won’t be. It’s no big secret. Just hold the creative vision.

Ask creative people about their process.
At Ryan William’s, we have weekly brainstorming sessions with the entire agency to hatch creative for new and existing clients. Some of the crew write down words and phrases and play with them on paper to get the juices flowing. Others sketch or doodle. Still others surf around on their laptop or smart phone. We’ve even got one guy who closes his eyes and looks like he’s nodding off, and then all of a sudden out will come an idea that rocks the room. These folks may not even realize that what they’re doing is a creative process, but indeed it is. Try them out and see what feels comfortable and natural.

Change up your routine.
Listen to a different radio station or watch a different show on television. Eat something you normally wouldn’t or eat at a different time of day. Hang out with someone new. Take a class. Read a new blog. Go to a stock car race if you’re an opera fan. You get the idea. Change is stimulating and promotes not only fresh individual concepts, but links those seemingly unrelated ideas and builds upon them.

Stay ready to be creative.
You never know when anything from a seemingly inconsequential fleeting thought that might come in handy later to an utter brainstorm is going to pop into your head, so you want to stay ready. Carry with you a pen and pad, smart phone or mini-recorder, etc. to immediately note these ideas when they come. It’s likely that a great many strokes of genius came and went in the middle of the night because there wasn’t a paper and pencil on the nightstand, but we’ll never know for sure, will we?

Take the learning process a step further.
A lot of data suggests that deliberate exercise of the brain—word games; learning a new language or musical instrument; solving riddles and brain teasers or any of hundreds of methods—improves overall brain function and helps develop creativity. Pick one and try it. Who knows, you may find yourself moving from the accounting department over to marketing, and although we’re sure we’ll hear about this from our right-brained followers, marketing and advertising is WAY more fun than accounting.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking to the future. Does your ad agency have a bright one?

One of the biggest challenges of the advertising industry is keeping pace with the many changes that span all types of media. Almost all advertising mediums undergo constant evolution as technology improves and creative teams find new ways to get more creative. However, with the onset of advertising and marketing through social media, not only is this exciting new medium itself evolving at light speed, but its influence on traditional advertising has effected more change in just a few short years than we’ve seen in probably half a century.

In an industry where speed records are being broken on a daily basis, is your agency keeping pace with this change? More importantly, is your agency equipped to adapt to future change that promises to come at a furious rate?

As the internet and mobile technologies continue to shape the future of the industry, advertising agencies must decide what they are going to be when they grow up. Some agencies will opt to stick with more traditional mediums, continuing to provide strong strategies and messaging in print, outdoor, direct mail, television and other long-standing media channels. Staying with the tried and true is fine, but any agency must recognize the power of the many new mediums whether or not they choose to offer marketing within them as part of their service offerings.

If you decide to venture into social media, mobile marketing or any other evolving medium, it is important to know that your current agency or a new firm you might be interviewing have a grasp on where the industry is today and where it’s likely going. Blogging, tweeting, posting on Facebook and YouTube, optimizing your website for search engines, or marketing via mobile phones not only takes a lot of time and know-how; like any other medium, it takes solid strategy and execution to succeed. The right choice for a marketing partner is a company that can combine the traditional aspects of marketing planning and strategy with the cutting-edge power of the latest technology.

Creativity, of course, is essential and awards for print ads, brochures, truck wraps, radio and television spots and more are great indicators that your agency can draw some attention to your business, but great creative in traditional mediums doesn’t always translate into the more interactive new mediums. Whether you’re using QR codes or mobile messaging, your agency must be able to marry provocative creative with a unique user experience to make a campaign successful. Tools like Twitter aren’t just for following Ashton Kutcher around Hollywood; they’re tangible marketing tools that if implemented and maintained correctly can raise to the first page of Google, right under “Dell Computers,” some one-man garage operation in Ocala, Florida, selling computer parts on EBay. An exaggeration? Okay, maybe a little, but you get the idea.

This isn’t to say that your ad agency has to have a team of ex-Google engineers running your social media or mobile campaign. Many concepts are more time-consuming than they are difficult to master, and although a lot of what’s going on in this arena is fast becoming common knowledge, it takes a lot of concerted effort to pull it off correctly.

The bottom line is that these new marketing mediums are powerful stuff that virtually every business needs to be doing now, in some way, shape or form, either itself or through an ad agency. If you do choose the agency route, however, we know just the one to get you well on your way to turning those virtual online messages that seemingly just flit around in cyber

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Subtle Sex Sells Too

We’ve seen splashier advertising, but once in a while something comes along with just the right blend of humor, sophistication, sex appeal and simplicity that it deserves its 15 seconds of fame. And, thanks to www.adweek.com/adfreak, we think this billboard advertising Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is one.

This brand of tasty creativity is akin to a Bill Cosby standup routine versus an Eddy Murphy gig. During their prime, each would leave you with a little pee pee in your shorts. But while Murphy’s brand of comedy involved language that would have death row inmates turning their heads like dogs deciphering Latin, Cosby could get across risqué concepts without using words any darker than … well … “pee pee.”

Is one a higher art form and the other lower? That’s a discussion for a different day. But in today’s world of advertising, there’s room for both kinds as well as for every shade in between, depending on your product and market. Sometimes, however, with all the obvious wordplays and creative advertising brainstorms that are generated today, we can forget how powerful a tool subtlety can be. Thanks for the reminder, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. We’ll keep that concept on the back burner.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How much should you spend on advertising?

Ahhh, the age-old question, and when the answer is being provided by an ad agency, you might feel a bit suspect. Wary or not, however, there are guidelines to advertising expenditures; the numbers are tangible and the concepts behind them more black and white than you might realize.

While there are, of course, many variables—including industry, business size, growth rate desired, etc.—both the Counselors to America’s Small Business (SCORE) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) define an adequate small-business advertising and marketing budget to be between 2% and 10% of sales.

Sound like a lot? It is. And frankly, most companies under-spend, believing that not to spend is to save. Unfortunately, this strategy can backfire. You’ve heard the old adage “you have to spend money to make money” right? Well, when it comes to your advertising and marketing efforts, the money you spend does directly affect your revenue. It’s a tough concept to swallow, but during lean periods like the recent economic downtown is not the time to cut back.

Too often businesses estimate their annual sales, subtract overhead and inventory, etc.
and then allocate anything left over to pay for advertising. When you consider that you must advertise to generate those sales to begin with, you can begin to see why this strategy may not be such a good plan after all. A better strategy is to consider your advertising or marketing a fixed budget item on the front end of your accounting, not a number that waxes and wanes depending on how business is going.

The key is to spend your money wisely and carefully tailor your campaign to fit your market and fulfill your goals, and that’s where your ad agency comes in. We can’t determine your budget. But we can, based on your budget, your market and your goals, determine the best way to allocate your marketing dollars to keep those sales high to pay for all that great advertising!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Preparing for the first meeting with your ad agency

If you’ve never enlisted the help of an advertising agency, you might not know the kind of information needed to properly convey your business message to your market. Here are some general guidelines for what you should be prepared to talk about during your first meeting.

Give us the lowdown
First, you’ll want to give a synopsis of what your business does and who your markets are, as well as what your goals are for growing your company. Usually, we’re pretty good at asking the right questions in order to fit your company into an advertising and marketing context, but don’t be shy. The more we know about your business and where you want to go with it, the better campaign we can develop.

Identify the players
Who’s your competition and how do they brand and market themselves? Have samples of their advertising on hand for reference if you can. Be prepared to discuss what you like or don’t like about their campaign.

Determine why you rock and they don’t
What makes your company different from the competition? What are your strengths and weaknesses compared to theirs? Differentiation is one of the most powerful tools in marketing, and determining yours allows us to highlight what you do better and work on what you need to improve upon. Think about how brands like Harley Davidson or Apple stand out from their competition. Now think about your company. Is there a clear differentiation from your competitors?

Let’s see whatcha got
What advertising have you done already? Did it work? If you had to do it over again, would you know how to attract those customers you already have? Again, having samples of your advertising on hand for reference is helpful in giving us a look at the whole picture.

Who do you wanna be when you grow up?
Are there companies you would like to emulate? Do you have samples of their ads and branding strategies? While differentiating yourself from the rest is a critical strategy, having a good perspective on what has made others successful can often provide an idea of the right path to follow.

Don’t let us go hungry
Lastly, remain in regular contact after that initial meeting. While we’re experts in getting your business message across to your market, we rely on you to provide the message itself. Quality advertising campaigns don’t just make a big splash and cease. They’re maintained and renewed on a regular basis. Feed your agency often with all the news coming out of your company, from the seemingly trivial things like new hours of operation to the major info like new products and services. If the agency doesn't call you, call them. If they don’t call you back, call us!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Got a smartphone? Google knows how you use it.

No, this isn’t another editorial about smartphone tracking. This is a little on the lighter side … or is it? Google recently commissioned a survey to determine what smartphone owners primarily use their phones for and how they use them in terms of consumer searches, online shopping and response to mobile advertising.

Here’s the gist of what the market research firm, Ipsos OTX, found and what the Google spies uncovered:

1) Smartphone users are talented multi-taskers. Here’s the gruesome truth about what else they’re doing while using their phones.

a.72% of smartphone users use their phones while consuming other media.
b.70% use their smartphones while in a store.
c.33% of smartphone users use their phones while watching TV.
d.39% of users admit to having used their smarpthone while going to the bathroom.

2) Smartphone users are looking for you on their mobile devices.

a.95% of smartphone users have looked for local information.
b.88% of users who seek local info take action within a day.
c.77% use their phones primarily to search (57% of whom search primarily for news; 51% for dining; 49% entertainiment; 47% shopping; 32% technology; 31% travel-related info; 26% finance; and 17% automotive).
d.61% of those seeking local info were searching for a phone number to call a business.
e.59% of those seeking local info were searching for an address to visit a business.
f.45% use their phones to help plan activities.
g.44% of those seeking local info were searching to actually make a purchase.

3) Smartphone users use their phones to purchase the things they want.

a.90% of those who use their phones to search have take action as a result of a mobile search, with 53% leading to a purchase.
b.24% of users have recommended a brand or product to others as a result of a smartphone search.
c.79% of the survey respondents use their smartphones to help with shopping.
d.74% of smartphone shoppers wind up making a purchase.
e.35% purchase via their phones.
f.27% of smartphone purchases were made through a mobile website.
g.22% of smartphone purchases were made through apps.

4) Smartphone users will become customers in-person and online.

a.76% purchase conventionally in the store.
b.59% purchase online via a computer.

5) Smartphone users respond to traditional and mobile advertising.

a.71% of users search on their smartphones because of an ad they saw, whether from traditional media, online ads or mobile ads.
b.82% of users notice mobile ads.
c.42% of those who notice mobile ads click on the ad.
d.27% of those who notice mobile ads contact the business.
e.35% of those who notice mobile ads visit the website.
f.49% of those who notice mobile ads make a purchase.

6) Smartphone users LOVE their phones.

a.20% report that they’d give up their cable TV in order to keep using their smartphones.

So what does this all mean for your business? Well, these are only the results of a survey, but the trend is clear and certainly impressive. Coupled with what we reported in an earlier blog—that smartphone ownership has tripled in the last two years and that by the end of 2011, it’s expected that nearly a third of all U.S. cell phones will be smart ones—the argument for mobile-friendly websites is nearly inarguable, or will be soon.

Smart marketers are looking at how to reach their customers on smartphones. Just sayin’.