When Marketing and Politics Collide

America is politically obsessed right now. Each day there is at least one and often several news items that lead to a cycle of finger-pointing, name-calling and outrage. It doesn’t matter which party or candidate you endorsed, where you live or where you get your news — emotions are running high all across the land. What does this politically and emotionally charged climate mean for marketers?

Politics and marketingAmerica is politically obsessed right now. Each day there is at least one and often several news items that lead to a cycle of finger-pointing, name-calling and outrage.

It doesn’t matter which party or candidate you endorsed, where you live or where you get your news — emotions are running high all across the land. What does this politically and emotionally charged climate mean for marketers?

There have long been companies and business models defined by a cause or a philanthropic purpose. For instance, Tom’s Shoes is one of a host of buy one/give one modeled retailers that have a clear purpose built into their brand. But that’s different than consumer brands taking a stance on a timely and divisive political issue.

Well known corporate entities and brands like Starbucks, Nordstrom’s, Lyft and Amazon have all taken recent public, political positions — up to and including boycotts and legal action. Research from Morning Consult reveals the support behind that kind of activity — at least among young adults. Another study from J. Walter Thompson Intelligence further validated and quantified that finding, citing “Americans are […] overwhelmingly supportive of brands that take stances on issues: 78 percent agree that companies should take action to address the important issues facing society, while 88 percent agree that corporations have the power to influence social change.”

Does political activism help a brand with conventional brand metrics? Maybe. The Super Bowl LI ads that had a political message appeared to create more buzz, engender more sharing and had higher recall than non-political ads aired during the same game but reviews are mixed on whether these ads were effective at creating emotional connections, building brand favorability or purchase intent. Longer or deeper commitments to that strategy would presumably produce different results but that is not clear as yet and different, additional metrics must be considered when examining the effect of a political stance.

The decision to embrace a cause or take a political stance has potentially significant impact on market perception and brand performance. That impact could be positive or negative and requires a thoughtful approach to what must be a long term commitment.

Know Your Audience

We’re a nation split right down the middle on many critical issues so taking an action or position is a chancy endeavor unless your audience is well understood and unified on that particular issue. Even so, the threat remains that some will see a vocal and public position as unwarranted, in poor taste, or simply outside of the realm of a brand’s responsibility or authority.

For some niche or lifestyle brands it’s natural to take a stance on social or political fronts that relate to the brand’s value proposition. Their audiences accept and even expect it. That assumption should be validated with prior research of course, and be sure to factor in any potential backlash from broader populations exposed to ads. In general, the universe of active, political brands is expanding as consumers increasingly look for more than a transactional relationship with their favorite brands. If a consumer is going to emotionally connect to a brand, they want to know they are in sync on important matters. Social media has given both brands and consumers the tools to connect on multiple levels.

That deepened brand relationship tends to happen after brands have done the hard and time-consuming work of establishing a clear brand voice and messaging platform based on consumer information, insights and feedback. In the future, more of that work and messaging will likely be around issues, causes, and policies to help develop recommendations around social and political activism. This is not familiar territory to most marketers and they may need to reach out to consultants to help them understand and frame their options.

Corporate Responsibility

What is a brand’s obligation to enter the dialogue? There are a dizzying number of issues to consider as the link between politics and business issues is becoming more direct and more visible to consumers. The decision is unique to each company but colored by an inherent lack of control over the final message.

Brand messaging is picked up and replayed in both traditional and internet media outlets and then by consumers themselves. Consumer statements are often laced with approval or condemnation and then further exaggerated by the bubbles of self-validation that social media networks and news/opinion curation encourages. This generates an exaggerated reaction to any action or statement as the sling-shot effect of the Internet magnifies both the reach and impact within certain, connected populations. So a little potentially goes a long, long way but not always in a predictable direction. Corporate responsibility and communication officers have never been more challenged.

Why Facts Don’t Matter

Why do politicians and their followers dig in their heels and cling to their beliefs even when there is overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary? Everyone has, and is entitled to, an opinion. But what about facts? Most people aren’t going to change their opinion because now more than ever facts…

Triggering the Unconscious Mind for Unthinkable ROIWhy do politicians and their followers dig in their heels and cling to their beliefs even when there is overwhelming factual evidence to the contrary? Everyone has, and is entitled to, an opinion. But what about facts? Most people aren’t going to change their opinion because now more than ever facts don’t matter.

Why? It’s less politics and more science about how the brain responds.

Let’s begin with this: You build your opinions to keep you safe. It’s the primitive brain. Psychologists call it “motivated reasoning,” “confirmation bias” or “cognitive dissonance.” Still, in an exchange with someone who has a mistaken belief about any topic, and when the facts are laid out to them thoughtfully and without being confrontational, the conversation often hits a brick wall.

It’s the same with any of us selling a product or service, or raising money. If there is a wall surrounding an opinion, it’s not going to move easily because most people resist changing their opinions.

Why? At an early age we start taking in information, all a part of life experiences. We takeaway feelings about many things. Remember the Maya Angelou quote? “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We accumulate life experiences. We turn raw, meaningless data into judgments, views and opinions.

And we’re stuck. Just like politicians and their voter followers. The other side is always wrong. Once something is added to a belief system, it is defended from change.

And as marketers, we’re stuck with the challenge of changing people’s opinions who haven’t drunk your Kool-Aid yet. The human mind instinctively, unconsciously and earnestly resists change.

What to do?

Remember: You’re trying to create new long-term memory grooves. Which means you may need to approach more slowly and deliberately, working your way through, first, glance-and-forget messages, then short-term memory, and finally, the most desired of all, the coveted long-term memory.

My recommendations:

  1. Understand underlying feelings
  2. Build trust
  3. Make it simple to understand
  4. Stories can help
  5. Stir emotion

Give your prospects plenty of opportunities to feel good about themselves and their decisions, and you may be able to open the door with enough facts to change an opinion.

Is It Ever Good to Be Bad?

If you were to ask Miley Cyrus the question in this headline, the answer would be “Oh, yeah.” But if you look at album sales for her chronological counterpart, Taylor Swift, compared to Miley’s since she went “twerking,” the answer is clearly “no.” It took a year for Miley’s most

Miley Cyrus vs Taylor SwiftIf you were to ask Miley Cyrus the question in this headline, the answer would be “Oh, yeah.” But if you look at album sales for her chronological counterpart, Taylor Swift, compared to Miley’s since she went “twerking,” the answer is clearly “no.” It took a year for Miley’s most recent album, “Bangerz,” to reach 1 million in sales, and Taylor Swift’s most recent one, “1989,” hit 1.2 million in just one week. That was Taylor’s third album to sell 1 million copies within a week.

So if positive personas, values and public behavior sell more records, why do the politicians keep upping the volume and intensity of negative campaign ads?

According to Wesleyan Media Project research from 2013, presidential campaign ads hit a record new high in 2012 for volume and for negativity. Interesting, given that further research by Dowling, Conor M.; Wichowsky, Amber, as printed in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015, shows that voters actually punish politicians for negative ads.

But do we really punish negative advertisers? Consciously, it’s fair to say that most people claim to reject negative ads, maintaining that we are not swayed by mudslinging personal attacks and we make choices at a higher intellectual level. Yet, unconsciously, those negative messages, repeated over and over and over, get into our heads and linger longer than we might know. Because 90 percent of our thought is unconscious, according to Gerald Zaltman, a Harvard Business School neuromarketing pioneer and author of “How Customers Think,” those lingering, and likely dormant thoughts might, have a different response to negative ads than the leftover 10 percent that guide what rolls off of our tongues.

Ruthann Lariscy, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia who focuses on studying political advertising, suggests those negative thoughts do linger in our minds and have a lot more influence on Election Day than we want to admit, to ourselves and especially to anyone else. As Lariscy, points out in a recent article she wrote featured on CNN.com, we process negative information a bit more to help us better understand the implications of the message and that longer contemplation time enables it to register deeper into our psyches. Thoughts that linger longer, even passively, often resurface at later times to influence our behavior, says Lariscy, who refers to this process as the “sleeper effect.” Per her article, we tend forget the negative things one politician says about another and move on. But come Election Day, when we are standing in the election booth with ballot in-hand, something triggers that negative energy associated with claims made in the past and, in a lot of cases, that is when we punish politicians by voting against that bad memory, even if we don’t recall all the details or the source.

While Lariscy calls it the “sleeper effect,” I refer to it as the “survival effect.” Just like other species on this great Earth, we humans are programmed for survival and that deep-rooted and dominant DNA strand affects much of what we do in our daily lives, and has a lot of influence on our attitudes and opinions. Once something has negative energy associated with it, we unconsciously go into survival mode, and start to feel anxious or uneasy without really knowing why, in many cases.

We get a good example of how negative energy impacts our unconscious drivers from the Iowa Gambling Task. This task, which the University of Iowa originated in the 1980s, teaches us that our unconscious responds to negative energy and affects our behavior well before our conscious mind does. Participants in the study were given $2,000 and four decks of cards. The task was to play cards from the four decks, and earn money or lose money accordingly. Two of the decks had high risks for loss, while the other two had a greater chance of earning rewards. Participants were hooked up to monitor stress responses while playing the game. Among the healthy participants, signs of “unconscious” stress showed up after flipping over just 10 cards. It took between 40 and 50 flips for the unconscious mind to catch up! That implies that it takes our conscious mind four and five times longer to catch up with the attitudes, conclusions and drivers of our unconscious minds!

My conclusion from the above study is that our unconscious minds are wired to recognize stress and threats to our survival quickly and, as a result, put us in “survival” mode when we don’t consciously realize it.

How does this impact advertising? In terms of conscious statements about intent to vote or purchase from a brand, there’s likely not much change. But in terms of unconscious drivers that impact 90 percent of our thoughts and behavior, it suggests a great deal: Negative energy associated with your brand or products can impact sales down the road.

Negative energy can come from statements made by competitors questioning your integrity, ability to keep promises made and even financial stability. It can also come from using colors that create unconscious feelings of anxiety vs. those that put our minds at ease and create a sense of trust. And it can come from us, in the form of bad ads that leave one to question our values and our familiarity with what matters most to our customers.

GoDaddy, more known for its bad Super Bowl ads, perhaps, than its great customer service (which it has, by the way), is an example. For years, GoDaddy has tried to use shock value during Super Bowl games to get people talking about the brand. That goal is achieved, as the ads continue to pepper the top of the “Least Effective” ranks, in terms of generating persuasion, relevance, watchability and other results, as measured by Ace Metrix. In 2014, GoDaddy achieved No. 1 and No. 4 spots for the least effective Super Bowl ads with the “Body Builder” and “I Quit” ads. In 2015, the company went with one designed for even more shock value by having a beautiful top model sucking face with a quintessential unattractive nerd. GoDaddy claims that that kissing ad generated its best Super Bowl scores yet. And, per Mashable’s report on the ad’s results, its best sales day ever, with increases of 45 percent for a single product.

While “shock value, off-beat” ads might work great for short-term gains, in this case it clearly didn’t work for long-term sustainability. Forbes, on Oct. 30, 2015 — a few short months after the ad’s debut — reported that GoDaddy has posted a $71.3 million dollars earnings loss. Per prior years of running weird Super Bowl ads, GoDaddy reported a $200 million net loss in 2013 and, in June 2014, listed its total indebtedness as $1.5 billion. Clearly, there’s a lot more at stake here than advertising, but its fair to say that a brand’s persona and the energy it puts out does have an overall impact. Again, compare Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift. Two talented female artists who write and perform songs based upon their personal values and those they want to project to the world.

Recently, Bloomingdale’s released an ad that suggested “date rape” for holiday partygoers. After much backlash and media attention, which likely upped its overall brand awareness scores at the time, the brand apologized. Only time will really tell if this likely ploy for attention will impact sales, not just this holiday season but down the road when shoppers can choose similar products from other retailers who don’t engage in doing bad for others while trying to gain good for themselves.

Lesson Learned
What you put out in this consumer-driven world of ours comes back. Maybe not immediately, but eventually it does. Because our conscious minds might “sleep” on bad energy; but in time, our survival DNA brings it back to the forefront of our unconscious drivers of behavior, and often influences us to choose “good” over what feels “bad.” Because success for any brand, large or small, lies in long-term sales, not short-term spikes, it’s easy to see that in this world of ours, in politics and in business, good does and will triumph over bad!

Donald Trump Is Getting It Right by Doing It All Wrong

Ironically, breaking all the rules can sometimes get you way ahead. We all remember those kids who did things differently … dressed to represent themselves instead of the latest trends, took the nerdy classes, or engaged in other behavior that exponentially lowered their cool score. More often than not,

Ironically, breaking all the rules can sometimes get you way ahead. We all remember those kids who did things differently … dressed to represent themselves instead of the latest trends, took the nerdy classes, or engaged in other behavior that exponentially lowered their cool score. More often than not, these were the same kids who went on to become thought leaders in their fields, and pretty much out-achieved the “cool “ kids at the game of life.

Nothing seems to have changed; especially when it comes to this year’s GOP primary race, at least for now. Breaking all the rules seems to have landed Donald Trump around 39 percent of the predicted GOP vote in key states during the week of Sept. 14, the biggest percentage ever earned by a candidate in any primary race in history, says CNN. Amazingly, this same week, a New York Times/CBS News poll showed Trump with the lowest rating for honesty and trustworthiness among the top six key candidates from either party.

So if no one trusts him, why does he have so many supporters? Historically, there might not be many explanations; psychologically, there are plenty. Here’s just a few.

Freedom to Be Politically Incorrect
For years, people have been shamed for intolerance of any kind. With jobs, reputations, political futures and even Facebook friends on the line, many people have feared expressing their true beliefs and opinions. So Trump is doing it for them. Expressing attitudes, opinions and insults society labels politically incorrect and thus giving others permission to do the same is just one aspect of Trump’s brilliant strategy that is defying all odds, all expectations and every political pundit’s imagination.

People seek to be part of a hive that thinks and feels like they do, and Trump’s followers are no exception. Just days before the second GOP debate, Trump drew a crowd of 20,000 in Dallas that cheered and clapped at nearly every breath he took. His position of feeling “just like you do,” seems to be securing a base of people whose so-called “wrong” feelings are suddenly being made “right.”

Real Winners vs. Phony Losers
While we might root for the underdog in a sports game, when it comes to our values, lifestyle, community and ability to control our destiny, we align with winners. Quite often in politics, we do so without even knowing what the current winner stands for and how he or she will really impact our lives. And we align even more with winners who we believe are real, “just like us” and transparent.

Here, Trump again is brilliant. The entire hour I watched of his Sept. 14 speech had two main themes: He is a real person with no canned persona or teleprompter speech, and he is winning the race. Unprovoked, he told how much money he makes and how much he pays in taxes. He showed he was real and had nothing to hide. But most importantly, he raged on about his place in the polls. I am winning here, there and everywhere was and still is his recurrent theme, and voters seem to be buying this line more than any position on any issue.

Winning the Attention Game
Trump has mastered the ability to get his name in headlines — a lot of them. Insulting any opponent who gets a headline seems to be furthering his strategy quite well. Google “Trump insults Fiorina” and see what I mean. The media and his victims support that strategy quite well by reporting and responding, both of which give him more headlines than even he would pay for. And I, too, fell for it, as I couldn’t resist writing about the psychological marketing tactics he uses quite well.

Regardless of what you think of Trump, his persona or his politics, there’s a lot we can learn from how he has risen from an “unlikely” status to the GOP contender who has succeeded more than any other politician this early in a presidential campaign, regardless of party.

Takeaways from Trump include:

  • Validate your customers’ feelings, not yours, and show them you are just like them when it comes to fears, hopes and values. This works in politics and in business. I helped a client change his rosy sales pitch for real estate investment to one of caution in order to validate how prospective investors felt. Once we got their trust by talking about their feelings and not ours, we got their business.
  • Be real and be transparent. Share your revenues, your profits, and contributions to causes and political campaigns. Open your books and hide nothing. Customers will forgive you for a mistake you apologize for but never for hiding a truth or a lie you crafted.
  • Brag up your victories, humbly, and let the world know you are winning at all that matters to them. Show customers and prospects that you are winning the game for customer satisfaction, loyalty, industry reviews, quality and more. Use customers and industry experts to help validate your successes.
  • Finally, create headlines beyond your website and social media pages. Do something others will write about, be it the media or customers. Take on a local cause, take a stand on a social issue and support it, highlight your exceptional talent, or do what Coca-Cola does on its coca-cola.com/happiness site and just share tips on living a happy life. To be newsworthy, keep it real and valuable to others, not just your brand.

In short, brands that learn to appeal to consumers’ psychological needs, show they stand for the same values customers do, and find ways to be top-of-mind for not just great quality but for supporting great causes, will win much more than 39 percent of customers’ loyalty, and gain far longer-lasting results.

How to Neutralize the Risk of Backfire

The mid-term elections are over, where widely divergent points-of-view are on display. The political campaign season (which one could argue has morphed from a defined period to a never ending morass), is a reminder of the perilous risk of copy and messaging backfiring when you intended to convince people to take a new position and change a core belief. The backfire effect is especially toxic in politics, but it can blow up…

The mid-term elections are over, where widely divergent points-of-view are on display. The political campaign season (which one could argue has morphed from a defined period to a never ending morass), is a reminder of the perilous risk of copy and messaging backfiring when you intended to convince people to take a new position and change a core belief. The backfire effect is especially toxic in politics, but it can blow up in your face, no matter what you’re selling.

Attempting to change someone’s belief is a tall task. It’s true of you. And it’s true of your prospects. As we age and accumulate more information, and the memory grooves in our minds become more deeply etched, it is more difficult to change a mind. People will defend beliefs, even when there is evidence from credible research and studies that the belief is inaccurate. And sometimes, beliefs are built on ideology that has been molded by parents, religion, education, bullying, and other lifetime influences.

Consider these external factors that, as a marketer, you can’t change:

  • The human mind will instinctively and unconsciously resist change. Once something is added to a belief system it is defended from change.
  • When presented with information that is inconsistent with a belief system, beware of the backfire effect. It happens when an individual is defending information that they are seeking. Oftentimes people seek information that simply reinforces their original thinking.
  • For some people, it’s that they stick to beliefs no matter what. It doesn’t matter if there are facts refuting a position with an avalanche of data pointing to an obvious alternative conclusion. Some people will not change their minds.

So when writing sales copy, you are trying to create new memory grooves in the mind. One approach is to cite facts and figures, but when someone vehemently disagrees, you risk making them feel stronger about their positions. Your sales message can backfire. Worse, prospects can push themselves deeper into their own entrenched belief system.

More challenging is when your prospects are confronted with something counter to their beliefs—they pile on to support their already established memory. The unintended result: It grooves their memories even more deeply.

Today, easy Internet access adds even more fuel to this backfire, or pushback. As people selectively seek out information that supports their beliefs—even if it’s factually wrong—inaccurate beliefs can be bolstered by inaccurate claims. Look at newsfeeds on social media. Every minute on the wild wild Web of social media, people are reposting one-sided stories that support a particular belief, accepting it as proof.

So what can you do to dampen the risk of the backfire effect? Consider these five approaches when presenting your sales message:

  1. Know the Persona: Before you write your sales message, know the persona of your intended market or audience. A well-conceived persona will reveal what your prospect most likely thinks so you avoid the landmine of the backfire effect.
  2. Approach the Underlying Emotion First: Begin by gaining trust within an existing belief system. If you need to change your prospect’s mind, do it by understanding the underlying emotion of your prospect first, and gain empathy.
  3. Use Short Explanations: Your prospect is more apt to follow your thought process with explanations that take little effort to process. Keep it simple.
  4. Use a Story: Allow your reader to see themselves inside a story that makes a point and leads to a specific conclusion.
  5. Close With Emotion: Start with emotion, build your logical case, and then close with an emotional appeal. Emotion usually prevails over logic, even when the logic is flawed.

A Lie That Keeps You From Success (Part 1 of 3)

“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” The words of 19th centrury historian, Alexis de Tocqueville are even truer today. But not only in the realm of politics. What’s keeping you or your sales team from generating appointments and leads with social selling? Bold, eye-grabbing fibs told by technology vendors and sales trainers whose livelihood depend on adoption of their false inventions. All based on a social media revolution that does not exist.

“It is easier for the world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth.” The words of 19th centrury historian, Alexis de Tocqueville are even truer today. But not only in the realm of politics.

What’s keeping you or your sales team from generating appointments and leads with social selling? Bold, eye-grabbing fibs told by technology vendors and sales trainers whose livelihood depend on adoption of their false inventions. All based on a social media revolution that does not exist.

Get on board, the train is leaving without you! We’ve reinvented sales prospecting and you’re missing out!

But here’s what the gurus (cleverly) don’t tell you: Prospecting best practices remain the same. What works rarely changes. With social selling:

  • your cold calling tactics should evolve a bit—not reinvent themselves
  • LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and YouTube don’t replace cold calling—they advance it

Cold calling is alive and thriving. In fact, effective cold call tactics can feed your social selling strategy. Sellers have the chance to improve cold calling and social selling thanks to new tools.

“I often wonder … if the advocates to the ‘death of cold calling’ movement have mixed us a martini using battery acid instead of vermouth and somehow managed to make it pleasing to the palate,” says Kraig Kleeman in a lucid stream of thought on the Association for Talent Development’s LinkedIn group.

5 Signs Your Social Selling Strategy Is a Ticking Bomb
“The (cold calling is dead) argument appears delicious and intoxicating, but somehow its outcome creates a harmfully poisonous effect,” says Kleeman.

He is right. The tsunami of false claims about cold calling being dead can cause you to believe it is a factual reality—and act accordingly. Therein lies the danger.

Believing cold calling is less effective might cause you to rush into social selling and:

  1. Use LinkedIn as a replacement to cold calling—and be banned for using connection requests
  2. Fail to spark conversations with buyers via LinkedIn updates due to misguided tips
  3. Ask for appointments in “first touch” InMail/emails to prospects (big mistake!)
  4. Waste time trying to spark conversations in LinkedIn Groups because of ineffective scripts
  5. Teach ineffective methods to your entire team by hiring a misguided social selling trainer!

Let Social Filter: Trust Your Instincts
What works in cold calling works in social selling. Period. Don’t let any guru tell you otherwise.

An effective cold call produces raw insight on where the buyer is in the decision-making process. If they’re in it at all! It doesn’t set an appointment. It doesn’t ask for a meeting. It is discovery-focused. You’re filtering prospects and placing them in “buckets.”

An effective cold call is brief, blunt and basic. It facilitates to both sides: “Might there be a larger conversation to be had here? Why, when and how?” Done!

The buyer is in control and sets the meeting, demo or call date. Your job is to find the pain—uncover (or confirm) the reason why this prospect might want to talk to you.

Next, your job is to start a journey toward the buyer discovering (for themselves) why they want to talk more. It’s a process, a discipline. That’s why cold calling works so well!

This is the most effective way to approach social selling. First, have a system. Second, focus on the buyer so much they ask you for the next contact—or ask you to stop.

Let social media filter leads for you.

Don’t Do What You’ve Been Told
This may sound crazy, but it’s the best advice I can give. Stop using social media and LinkedIn to:

  • Make initial contact with prospects via LinkedIn connections
  • Send emails/InMails that ask for appointments—overlooking cold call best practices
  • Post updates on LinkedIn without a way to provoke buyers to contact you
  • Comment in LinkedIn groups without a means to spark curiosity in you (get response)
  • Message prospects on LinkedIn using a common group as a reason to speak

If you’re doing any of these, don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Otherwise good people who are looking to ride a wave have given you bad information. Unfortunately, they’re using fear and unbridled enthusiasm as weapons. Just say no.

Boldly Stand-up for the Facts
Kleeman wisely reminds us how the degree of sales productivity can be judged by observing. Take a look at what is going on around you. Notice who is adopting practices based on speculation versus the adoption of fact.

Take a look at the output each group is achieving. (How much money they’re making!)

In other words, are your sales peers being praised as “social selling leaders” simply for “being on” social media? Or are they being financially rewarded based on the facts—how much business they’re winning?

The Best of Both Worlds
Throwing out the old and implementing a very unproven new is hogwash. It’s a lazy strategy based on hot air. Tools like LinkedIn are providing a better way to identify and warm-up cold prospects … and finding “ready to buy” leads. Tons of value there. But …

“Try telling a broker of refurbished airplane parts that raw list cold calling is not a vital activity for revenue capture … try telling a manufacturer of plumbing, HVAC, and home improvement products that cold calling aimed at resellers and end users is ineffective,” says Kleeman.

“You just might need a degree in martial arts or unfettered access to the US military’s drone missile fleet to defend yourself,” he jokes.

Cold calling is alive, thriving and (surprise!) feeding winning social selling strategies. Today is your chance to improve cold calling and social selling thanks to new tools.

Forget about reinventing sales prospecting! Make sure your team has a prospecting strategy that exploits what already works using new social tools.

Pop Culture, News and Politics in Content and Direct Marketing

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in

On a recent marketing team conference call, someone asked if everyone was happy. I said, “sure!” and remarked how a recent song, “Happy”—the infectious hit by Pharrell Williams—had been playing in my mind all day. “What’s that?” was the reaction from the team. Those on the call agreed that they don’t pay attention to or care about hit songs. Which, by extension, suggests they are missing what’s going on in pop culture.

Now, some of you may disagree that “Happy” is a song that merits the description of being pop culture (the definition being “cultural activities reflecting, suited to, or aimed at the tastes of the general masses of people”). But this is a No. 1 song from the hit movie “Despicable Me 2,” and it was showcased on the Oscars, which was the first time I heard the song and experienced its energy. The official Happy music video has been viewed over 200 million times on YouTube.

Listening to this song, which energizes my creative juices, got me thinking about the use of pop culture, news and politics in content and direct marketing messages.

The fact is, when properly and responsibility used, pop culture icons, news headlines or politics work to get attention. Why else do you suppose you find the names of political leaders in promotional headlines?

Feel-good pop culture at one end of the spectrum, and negative headlines, at the opposite end, are proven to work. It’s all a part of the way our brains are wired, with the left amygdala reacting to positive messages and the right amygdala engaged with negative messages. So as you look for ways to make content and direct marketing work for you, consider the possibilities:

  1. News Headlines: Borrowing from the news shows your audience that you’re timely. Headlines can be either positive or negative. Marketing and PR guru David Meerman Scott, calls this effective technique “newsjacking.”
  2. Politics: Be careful with this one, but you can grab attention when you put a political spin on your story. This is usually negative, and why negative ads during campaigns are used (and work—it’s how our brains are wired).
  3. Pop Culture: Feel-good happy moments are few and far between. People embrace positive news, especially in social media. Pop culture can be a big winner when you need to grab onto something positive (even if possibly outrageous).

Obviously, the hard news/politics/pop culture combination doesn’t work for everyone or every product. But, if you want attention, consider how you can ramp up your content and direct marketing messaging with pop culture, news or politics.

A Possible USPS ‘Exigent’ Rate Increase – Playing Politics on the Backs of Ratepayers?

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again? Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years, it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again?

Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years—from uncertain prospects of postal reform legislative efforts, to what any emerging postal reform effort might contain or not contain in cost savings, to short-term financial viability and this past year’s default—it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

Tying postage increases to the consumer price index and giving USPS the latitude to implement such increases annually (as is now the law) has helped give the business community certainty about postage costs, so they can plan and budget accordingly.

Allowing an “exigent” or additional postage increase to happen when there are extraordinary circumstances (as is also now the law) was intended as a “last resort” to make Postal Service finances whole. Let’s be honest: An extraordinary circumstance happens when there is an absence of postal reform efforts moving forward, and, possibly, when there is an absence of U.S. economic growth and an exhaustion of wise cost containment initiatives inside the Postal Service. All three of these latter scenarios don’t exist—so why even consider an exigent increase?

It’s a bad idea. First, USPS customers would detest such a rate hike, as they do. It’s an uncertainty.

Recently the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in its Direct from Washington newsletter reported:

With reason to believe that the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors may vote on a potential exigency rate increase in early September, the Affordable Mail Alliance (AMA), including the DMA, sent a letter to the Governors voicing their opposition of such an increase. The letter expressed concern about the negative effects that would come with such an increase, especially for the mailing industry and its suppliers. The letter recognized the continued financial struggles that confront USPS, but also stated that an exigent rate increase is not the solution to those struggles. With recent progress toward comprehensive postal reform in Congress, along with steady improvement in the USPS balance sheet, the letter stated that an exigency filing ‘at this point would be premature.’ The letter additionally requested a meeting with the Board to discuss the issues at hand and to ensure that USPS is fully informed before making a decision of such great magnitude.

Second, if the architects of an exigent rate hike think that such a case is what is needed to convince lawmakers that postal finances are indeed a mess, and that a reform law—now in discussion—is desperately needed to fix them, then how dare play politics on the backs of ratepayers? An exigent rate hike is unlikely to move best-case legislation forward (and may even help move a bad bill, from customers’ perspective) and will saddle mailers with even higher costs than budgeted. Thus, there would be more uncertainty and more mail dollars flowing elsewhere in advertising.

As the Affordable Mail Alliance contends, any exigency scenarios are at best premature and, might I add, most likely non-existent. So USPS, please listen to your customers and just don’t go there.