Mar 05

Attention publishing industry: The times they are a-changin’ – and there’s nothing you can do to stop it

Posted by Mandy Minor, marketing strategist and copywriter   Let me start by saying that I love publishing.  I’ve been mad about magazines since I was a kid; in fact some of my happiest childhood memories are of times it was just me, the radio playing 80s tunes, and a stack of magazines and catalogs.

But I fear for the publishing industry’s future.  Things just aren’t like they were in the 80s or the 50s anymore; people can get information just about anywhere, and for free.  And they do.  So magazines and newspapers are struggling to stay alive.

I know part of this has nothing to do with the industry their product at all.  There are hundreds of magazines and newspapers still producing great content with unique editorial perspectives.

But a large part of it *does* have something to do with them.  The big “fail” that is happening is, in part, their fault.  Here’s an example:

The Tampa Bay Business Journal has an annual Book of Lists, which contains data on area companies by rank and key decision maker names and contact details.  Really valuable stuff, no doubt, and a great add-on sale idea.

But here’s where it gets really 1950s: It’s $50 in print and $170 to download or get on CD.  Now I’m no supply cost guru, but it seems that after the cost of research the cost to print would be the second highest.  Meaning it would be better to drive sales to the version that’s cheaper to distribute, i.e. the download.

The print version is what costs them money to make, yet the pricing basically insists that you get it that way.  The download would be easier for them and for you but it’s over three times as much.  So it’s a lose-lose.

I say make the print edition a fancy affair in faux leather with a gold embossed cover – something companies with bigger budgets can buy and proudly display in the lobby, something that costs $399.  A real status buy, which naturally comes with the digital version.

Then make a one-time download part of each subscription and upsell the interactive version.  Now people have more of a reason to subscribe and many will likely buy the interactive version to get the frequent updates.

And more importantly, everyone is happy.

You just can’t shoehorn customers into your product anymore, whether that product is cars or graphic design or content.  You must give people what they want and need or they’ll get it somewhere else.  In publishing’s case, on the Internet.  For free.

No, I don’t have the magic bullet that will stop publishing’s creep toward total irrelevance.  But I have a few ideas, and lots of people out there have lots more.  It’s up to publishing to come to terms with the way things are, embrace change, and start doing things differently.

Like I ended a recent consulting gig with a statewide magazine, God helps those who help themselves, and fortune smiles on the brave.


Jan 30

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Or, a tale of two logos.

Two recent news items about companies that changed their brand identity got us thinking about the necessity of such changes.

One is Pepsi’s new logo.  Greeted with some admiration but mostly angry backlash over the million-dollar budget that produced a logo only slightly different than its predecessor, the new logo begs the question, Was this necessary?

The other is the new Tropicana packaging, which was also met with dismay by consumers and industry folks alike.

Interestingly, both of these projects were done by Arnell Group, and we’re really curious to know one thing: Did they ask Pepsi and Tropicana customers if they wanted a brand redesign?

To our thinking, both new product identities look generified and are in no way improvements over what had been in use for years.  But it doesn’t matter what we think, as design professionals.  What matters is what we think as customers – us and the millions of other Pepsi and Tropicana customers.  And we think Arnell Group didn’t bother to find out.

All too often companies want to change their look, get a new website, or update their logo “just because.”  Because they’re tired of looking at it.  Because their competition did.  Or because their ad agency suggested it.

But none of these are good reasons.  And in fact there is only one good reason to undertake such a task: Because your customers want it.

We’re all guilty of putting the cart before the horse and charging down Marketing Lane without first getting the input and approval of our customers.  Lucky for us smaller businesses such moves are rarely disastrous, because we can easily change back and don’t have a client base of millions to potentially piss off.  And make no mistake, people are emotionally invested in their favorite brands and get mighty pissed off about changes to them!

Regardless, now is a good time to re-learn the lessons of “look before you leap” and “if it’s not broken don’t’ fix it.”  And lucky for us, we can learn these lesson vicariously through Pepsi and Tropicana, rather than first-hand.


Jun 29

Accentuate the positive

You know how people come up with solutions to problems in the shower?  Mandy comes up with questions – specifically, questions about marketing and why companies present their marketing the way they do.

And since this pontification occurs in the shower, the subject matter often revolves around personal care items – soap, body wash, shampoo and the like.

Some of her questions are plainly weird.  To whit: “Is this razor really supposed to make me feel like Venus?”

But other questions are quite good.  Like this one: “Why are hair care products marketed so negatively?”  Her query is simple.  Why, when most products and marketing messages focus on the positive, do hair car products focus on the negative?

Diet pills proclaim “We’ll shed those pounds!” not “You’re hopelessly fat, you really should take these pills.”  Yet hair care bottles advertise their contents for “weak, lifeless, or dull hair” or say they are “lengthening for hard-to-grow hair.”

Wouldn’t it be more customer-friendly to say something like “Luxurious formula for the length and sheen you crave,” rather than “Hey you with the pathetic mop, over here!”


Mar 19

Manipulation for Profit?

Copywriting is more than putting words on paper. It’s really reaching someone with the written word – so much so that they want to do what you suggest. So naturally it involves a basic knowledge of human motivators and using those motivators to elicit a response. If copywriters aren’t careful, this can become manipulation – something we at J Allan Studios do not condone.

Unfortunately, there are marketers out there who have no problem manipulating people, and in fact are quite proud of doing so. To whit: in a recent Target Marketing magazine article about using emotional drivers to improve response, the author recounted how Bob Hacker of The Hacker Group told him direct marketers are really psychologists whose job it is to manipulate readers into responding – without getting caught.

For us, the “without getting caught” part screams foul. We may be marketers, but we’re also consumers. And as consumers, we don’t want to be manipulated. Sure, we want to be informed of products or services we might want or need, and even enjoy being entertained in the process. But then leave us to make a decision; don’t play mind games or grossly exaggerate just for the sake of a sale.

Of course marketers need to make their offers attractive, but to go so far as to claim manipulation tactics? That’s sleazy. Mandy wrote as much on the article’s discussion board.

The article I got this link from (Dec. issue) says the copywriter’s job “is to manipulate readers into responding – preferably without getting caught in the act.” I have to say I don’t like this approach, don’t agree with it. If you’ve got a relevant, quality offer and are presenting information that readers want, there’s no manipulation involved. I am a copywriter, and never, EVER think of myself as a manipulator. I take on jobs that I believe in and do the best I can to get people to respond. But manipulating them into responding is never on my mind; providing value – to them and my client – is. I think of it this way: I am not just a marketer, but also a consumer. I do not want to be manipulated by anyone, so why would I take that approach to my work?


Jul 30

We need a new mark

Trademark (TM), registermark (RM), and copyright (“circle c”) are all well and good for their respective intentions, but they no longer meet the needs of sales and marketing messaging.  Sure, common phrases can be used very effectively to sell/market, but does that mean no one else, ever, can use them?  It’s like the Happy Birthday song; they should be public domain.

Of course, Donald Trump should be able to trademark “The Donald,” because he is the object of that particular phrase; there is no ambiguity about who The Donald is.  But trademarking “You’re fired!”?  Please!  It’s a phrase that’s been in use forever, and is used daily.  No one person/company should “own” it.

But wait – then that means other businesses will use it, piggy-backing off of The Donald’s immense success and diluting his brand.  So he has to trademark it, right?

Not if there were a messagemark, or MM – a protection that allowed only the registering person/business to use that phrase in their sales and marketing efforts.  The key to a MM would be that the phrase is still fair game at your family gathering or company party, but no other business or person could use it in sales and marketing.

So, The Donald is the only one who gets to say “You’re fired!” in a commercial, the only person who can say it to promote his businesses.  But Mr. Magoo in Human Resources can say it when cutting staff without worrying about a lawsuit.  Doesn’t that make sense?