Marketing: The Art Of Different


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Creativity in marketing has become mundane. 

Today's marketing creativity seems to have devolved into new twists on old techniques. The creative brains toil at better ways to restate old messages. A catchier print ad, a better letter, a more memorable commercial-the script may change, but it's the same scenario. Even with the new electronic ad media, such as computer networks and CD-ROM, originality and imagination seem to be sequestered in a closet. 

But every so often comes a breath of fresh air. Someone somewhere does something unique, which provides them with a marketing edge in their community. 'Every so often' became a reality in Clarksville, TN during the winter of '93. 

Enhancing the holiday spirit was the goal of the Clarksville area Chamber of Commerce's Christmas Decoration Contest, which had commercial as well as residential participants. James Dunn of Clarksville's Dunn Insurance, Inc. decided against entering a float in the Christmas Parade because of the immensity of the task-but he agreed to enter the less demanding commercial category of the decoration contest. 

Little did he realize he'd soon be getting Dunn Insurance's name on the front page of the local paper twice, plus a full front-page write-up-not to mention extra publicity from a contest within the contest and a new concept for the agency's Christmas card. In fact, from the grocery store to private parties, Dunn couldn't go anywhere without people talking about his agency's entry. 

Dunn gives most of the credit to his son, Jimmy Jr., who suggested a giant snowman in lieu of a more traditional outdoor Christmas tree. Based on Jimmy's styrofoam model, construction began the day after Thanksgiving and took a week to complete. Chicken wire, poly insulation, and other odd materials were bonded with glue onto the agency's front signpost. Soon the arms of a giant 15-foot-tall snowman reached up to hold both sides of the agency sign-seeming to wave to passers-by. To add a dramatic touch, more than 2,000 white Christmas lights were attached to the interior chicken wire, providing a warm, glowing effect. And, of course, 'Seasons Greetings' was added to the sign below the Dunn Insurance Agency name. Jimmy's design also featured a two-faced Santa, so each direction of traffic could have its own view. 

Dunn chuckles as talks about the calls he received even during the construction phase. They ran short of the poly insulation covering the chicken wire, leaving the lower section of the snowman exposed until more insulation could be collected. The phones soon began to ring about the Clarksville 'flasher.' 

The agency won first place in the commercial category, and Dunn Insurance won a publicity bonanza. 

That's not the end of the story, however. Rather than stopping at first place, Dunn built on the publicity with his own 'Name the Snowman' contest. With a $50 savings bond as the lure, the contest generated more than 400 entries. The winning name, 'Bondable Snowman,' was suggested by a 12-year-old girl who lived over 40 miles away. Of course, both the contest and the winner generated additional publicity for the agency. 

But the story's still not over. Dunn gathered his entire staff around the snowman for a group photo and turned that photo into the agency's Christmas card. 

Now that's what I call full-circle creativity in marketing. The Dunn Agency came up with an original idea and continued to build on it. The question most of us should ask is, 'Would we have stopped at winning the contest?' Unfortunately, I think all too many of us would have. 

The Art Of Creativity 

Marketing is designed to gain favorable attention for your company or product. Yet how often do we: 

    1. brainstorm for new ideas,      
    2. take advantage of creative opportunities, or      
    3. maximize the opportunities when they exist?      

Here are a few examples of what I consider creative marketing: 

A retail chain in New Jersey builds its image around selected community charities. It started with an annual reverse raffle co-produced with five local charities, involving community youth, shelters for abused women, and the local hospital. Although the raffle continues, the chain has gone on to produce two major concerts each year to generate additional revenue for charity. Co-sponsors include a local bank and a supermarket chain. During the promotion and ticket sale phase, every bank customer sees signs with the retailer's name, and every grocery shopper has a bag imprinted with the retailer's name, too! 

When running the car sales division of Hertz Corporation, I developed a program for leasing used rentals to augment sales efforts. Not only was this long before leasing became a popular alternative to purchase, but it involved used, not new, cars. Traditional newspaper and radio advertising was not acceptable-there was just too much to explain. It needed a one-to-one approach. Rather than resigning ourselves to just talking about this leasing to customers at our sales locations, we developed a quick training program on leasing for every Hertz rental agent. Realizing the trick would be to create an opening for the agents to discuss the leasing with rental customers and prospective purchasers, we ordered thousands of bright yellow buttons that said simply, ' Ask Me. ' We gave the buttons to all employees, the customers and prospects did indeed ask, and the total cost was less than a typical weekend's advertising in a major market. 

Business cards and agency brochures provide other examples of 'nice but mundane.' A few agencies around North America have gotten creative by producing short audio or video programs that tell their story. These marketing productions get the prospect's attention and allow an agency to really introduce itself and its lines. Granted, video can get expensive, but audio tapes are fairly reasonable and can be packaged in any number of ways -- depending on your budget and image. There's also an additional benefit to this type of creativity. Too many business cards, brochures, and letters end up in the prospect's wastebasket. Audio and video cassettes are valuable to the holder and are seldom tossed. I've received calls as long as a year after an audio mailing. The caller generally says, 'It's been sitting on my desk for a year, and I just got around to listening to it.' 

Sponsoring a local golf tournament is another great way to market your agency or brokerage. It's done wonders for Nissan and many other national corporations, so why not duplicate their efforts on a local level? Bring in an antique dealer as a co-sponsor, and buy some hole-in-one insurance to cover an antique giveaway. Local realtors and banks are also excellent co-sponsors who can help with the prizes. Not only is the publicity great, but the tournament affords you the chance to network with clients and prospects. 

Closer to the office, think about your telephone system. Does a client on hold hear silence or a radio station? If you answered 'radio station,' beware of a couple of facts: (1) that your clients and prospects may be listening to a competitor's commercial; and (2) that ASCAP and BMI can levy stiff fines if you haven't purchased a licensing agreement to rebroadcast the music over your phone system. Don't laugh! Some agencies have been caught and fined. This dilemma's creative answer is a message-on-hold service. For relatively little expense, you can have a message tape professionally produced that talks to your clients about your services while they're on hold. 

Do you fax information to clients and prospects? Do you use a cover page? 

You've probably answered 'yes' to both questions. Now comes the big one: 

'Does your cover page list all the services and products you provide?' If not, you're missing a creative opportunity to market your message. 

There are hundreds of ways to market your agency or brokerage creatively, and most of them are far less expensive than traditional advertising. Develop an opportunistic eye in your community. Brainstorm with staff members a couple of times per year. Maintain strong relations with the local chamber of commerce and other groups that cater to your particular market, whether commercial, personal, or both. Above all, get everybody involved. Many of the opportunities you encounter will come from unlikely sources, so it pays to have everyone keeping a watchful eye. Finally, like James Dunn, when you do have an opportunity, maximize it.

Jack Burke is the president of Sound Marketing, Inc., which specializes in audio and video productions for corporate marketing, communications, and education. He may be reached (800) 451-TAPE.
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