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Every so often I ride the L to work. And recently I’ve noticed several ads that have been highly targeted and speak to L riders. For example, this morning I saw an Allstate ad for renters insurance. What I really liked about this ad is that it spoke directly to the customer who was on the L. It said “while you’re on your way home from the L, a thief is leaving your home with your $1,200 television”. What’s great about this approach is that it really breaks through to the target. They can literally put themselves in the situation and relate to the ad.

Another example of how Allstate executed on this strategy was for their recent Mayham campaign. At some of the busiest intersections in Chicago with 6 roads connecting into one… They have billboards that say “Six corners… now that’s mayhem.”

So I’m sure we all agree this is an effective way to create advertising. It breaks through the clutter and creates a reaction from the viewer that says “now that company gets me”. But to me the real question is… what’s the formula for making this happen?

Before I provide my thoughts, let’s take a look at the old models of creative advertising that don’t lead to the experiences I describe above.

Most old school advertising worked using the following two basic approaches –

A) Start with a message, then find out where to place it

B) Start with buying the media, then fill in the placement with a messge

Unfortunately many companies and agencies are still using both models to create ads. Now I’m not saying these models don’t work… you can certainly create decent advertising by using either model. What I’m saying though is by combining both models into one process, you’re chances of creating effective advertising dramatically increases.

Here are some tips to get to a place where you’re combinining both models. These tips use the assumption that no one department leads… and no one department follows. It all needs to happen at then same time.

Steve’s tips on how to create better advertising that fits then channel…

1) Start with a focus on the customer – (i.e. ask yourself what are they thinking? What motivates them? How do they currently perceive your product or service?)

2) Next, determine what type of media your customer is engaging with (At Digitas we call this connections planning and it’s actually a unique capability). This is the opposite of an approach called 360 degree marketing that focuses on surrounding the customer with the same message in all channels. In connections planning, you only engage in the channels that index high with the participant.

3) Then, you need to understand how the media is being consumed – (i.e. what part of the purchase funnel are they in? What’s on their mind as they consume editorial or ad content?)

4) Ask yourself what is the ideal creative pallete to breakthrough to the customer (this is when you need an experienced media buyer to negotiate unique placements)

5) Craft your message in a way that specifically calls out the mindset and environment where the message is being communicated

6) Lastly, make sure you have the right tools in place to measure the effectiveness of the ad. These tools can include variety of metrics such as brand studies to measure lift in awareness or purchase intent, website traffic to a vanity URL, or # of calls directed to a customer service center.

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Last week I was at the Bulls game and noticed a great partnership the United Center has with Lexus. Now my brother drove me to the game… he has season tickets which is nice. He also has a Lexus which is nice. We pull into the parking lot and the attendant looks at his car and asks him if he wants to park in the Lexus lot. The Lexus lot is a parking row which is really close to the stadium where all Lexus cars can park next to each other. They even back in the cars in a special way so that they draw special attention to all of the cars.

So we walk up to my brother seats which are located in the club section. The club section is a nicer part of the United Center where you need a special ticket to access. It contains club suites, and normal open seating. Just before the entrance of the club level you see a new Lexus parked outside of the door along with the huge mural of one of their new cars. So instantly they’ve associated their luxury brand with the more expensive premium seats, which from a marketing standpoint is very smart.

Hear are the main reasons why I really like this partnership between the United Center and Lexus –

1) They position their luxury brand well with United Center suite owners and guests

2) Existing owners are taken care of by giving special parking privileges at no cost

3)The row of Lexus cars creates a special draw where people instantly look at all of the cars lined up

4) The partnership goes beyond just messages, and provides unique advertising opportunities

5) It’s a flexible platform since Lexus can change out the cars they showcase throughout the season

That one idea that I had to make this an even better partnership was to provide free car washes to owners while they were inside the United Center. And maybe even leave a thank you card on their windshield after the game letting them know that they had washed their car for free.

So hats off to the United Center in allowing Lexus to create a flexible marketing partnership.

So you may know I live in Chicago, and we happen to have what I think are the highest gas prices in the nation. I passed the gas station the other day and premium gas was just about to hit the five dollar a gallon mark. Now the funny thing about gas stations is very often you’ll see two competing gas stations across from each other. And what usually happens is one gas station will match the price of the other. This isn’t a shock to anyone, but really intrigued me to think about this from a product development perspective. So it got me thinking about the following question… How would I market a gas station to compete against the one across the street with the same price?

I guess the first thing I think about in any gas station experience is if gas is the only thing I need? For me, about 90% of the time that is the case. I pull up to the pump, swipe my credit card, pump my gas, and then I’m off. This is a pretty normal routine for me and I would imagine it is the same for you.

I then started to think about how often I buy gas. My gas station purchase is probably about the same frequency… about every three weeks. So then I started to think about what other things I do about every three weeks? And then it hit me. About every three weeks I drop something off at the dry cleaner. So then I asked myself why not build a gas station concept around the idea of having a dry cleaner in the store. I’m not suggesting that the dry cleaner is run by the gas station attendant, I don’t think that would go over too well. And I’m not suggesting that gas stations get into the dry cleaning business. But you could definitely build a new gas station model with a dry cleaner space that you could rent out to a dry cleaner.

Now I would imagine this whole concept would create a win-win scenario. The customer has access to a dry cleaner at the same time they’re filling up their car. The gas station is able to bring in more customers since they can do two things at the station, where in the past they could only fill up. And the dry cleaner has access to not only the normal people who use their service, but the new people who use the gas station.

So now that we have this dry cleaning/gas station concept, I thought more about the dry cleaner. Most of the dry cleaners I know are all local, family run businesses. But most of the gas stations I know are national brands, either franchised or owned by the actual gas company. Maybe there’s an opportunity for a national dry cleaning brand to be launched? I wonder if they would be able to achieve any economies of scale to compete against the local dry cleaner? Could they offer better prices, or faster turnaround time? I’m not sure, but I would think some benefit as a result of having a large dry cleaning company.

Lastly, I thought about how the two businesses could feed off of each other. For example, what if you created some type of rewards program where for every hundred dollars you spent at the gas station, you got five free shirts cleaned? Or for every hundred dollars you spent at the dry cleaners you got something from the gas station, maybe a free car wash, or maybe just a dollar off your next gas purchase.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this one. Do you think such a model would work?

There are three key ingredients to most marketing campaigns. The product or service that you’re selling, the consumer who you want to engage, and the brand experience that you provide.

Another way to think of this is imagine your marketing campaign as a three legged stool. Each leg of the stool needs to have equal weight, or this stool doesn’t work. If you spend too much time focusing on the product, but not having any type of brand engagement or customer insight acknowledgment, you run the risk of not breaking through to the customer.

Let me describe how this briefly plays out. You may look at an ad and think that it’s actually very successful because it’s exactly how you want to position the product, but the reality is the customer may never be engaged.

There’s a reason why I think this happens. I often refer to this as “conference room creative”. I think we’ve all been there before and can relate to this. We look at work for a half hour or an hour at a time, making sure that every product feature is messaged or positioned the right way. We sometimes forget the customer never will have the same attention span. Many times they’re only going to spend a couple seconds looking at it, if we’re lucky. And if they don’t have a reason to engage beyond that initial glimpse, they may never get to the details of the product.

So again, it’s extremely important to have a balanced approach. The next time you start developing or reviewing creative for your next marketing campaign, think about the three legged stool and see if you’re able to meet somewhere in the middle.