Best face, according to plan

Let’s be honest. Most of us will never hit the big time. I am not going to replace Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and you are not going to replace Ikea. On the other hand, I have never aspired to hit the big time. I have different goals, one of which is reputation. Would you trust Zuckerberg or Ikea with your reputation?

Every time you enter a marketing program, you trust your vendors with your reputation. We speak occasionally about how shippers and installers can damage our reputations, but marketing is even more important. In our next issue, we will focus closely on a marketing story. However, let me try to give you a graduate-level focus on marketing in 2,000 words or less. This will be academics in plain English, and I have certification to teach it at the university level. This is not the monkey-see/monkey-do, go-with-the-flow marketing that goes for 10 cents on the dollar in the consumer press. You can file it.

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

What is marketing? It’s approaching a market. This can mean politics, religion, self-creation or sales. In our case, it means sales. Marketing with no sales is … oh, let’s call it stupid. There’s nobody here but us chickens, and academics can use politically incorrect language without penalty.

On the street, marketing means advertising. However, it is useful to break marketing into three approaches: advertising, direct sales and public relations. In wood, PR is mostly overlooked, direct sales is preferred and advertising is viewed as a budget headache. Interestingly, direct sales automatically misses evolving niches. Also, most of us lump word-of-mouth in with direct sales, but word-of-mouth is actually PR with no control.

Whichever forms of approach you use, you are using the Basic Communications Model: audience, message and medium. The message goes through the medium to the audience.

In your case, you need to ask out loud who your audience is. Another word for audience is market. Who is your market? For some, it’s consumers in the U.S. For others, it’s cottagers. For others, it’s people that use hockey sticks.

Once you know who your market is, you should be able to see some useful media ideas. This is called targeting. Targeting is critical. If you miss, you miss.
Targeting encompasses three general types. First is broad-market targeting. It is designed to make the highest impact on the highest number of eyeballs for the lowest cost. Deodorant, beer and trucks target the broad market. Broad-market targeting typically has the lowest cost-per-thousand (CPM).

The second type of targeting is focused-market targeting. While deodorant, Ikea and Facebook use the internet, focused marketers often use magazines or special-interest television. Just as very few model-train buffs read Wood Industry, so very few wood-products manufacturers read Model Railroader. Focused markets also comprise local newspapers, sports teams, radio, store fronts and so on.

The third type of targeting is political. These are the people that advertise because their competitors do. They are talking to themselves. People may decide to market politically in a medium because of shared politics, religion or dreams of self-creation, but rarely for sales. Examples could include advertising because the medium is Lutheran, Grit, puts in lots of pictures of its supporters or does what it’s told. (See “propaganda” below). As defined above, the political approach is not really marketing, as it fails to approach the market as a first priority. It is equivalent to letting all your high-school buddies define your reputation. A medium is not a charity, and should not require “support.”

Importantly, you must get a response. It’s a cost:benefit game where irked customers are replaced by volume. Media are not created equal. You should familiarize yourself with the media in your target market and review their standards. You can see the standards that apply to trade magazines at www.woodindustry.ca under the Contact tab. Communications standards are not some arbitrary group of some guy’s concept of ethics. They are the time-tested, scientifically proven, best practices in media for long-term profits for advertisers, in an otherwise unregulated industry. Government can’t mess with media, so a professional media partner’s “certification” comes in market response.
Since we’re talking about reputations, let’s talk for a moment about public relations. Not the PR of trying to get free promotion disguised as news releases, although that is an element, but the PR of trying to manage your reputation with your market.

The “father of public relations” was an Austrian-born American in the 1920s named Edward Bernays. A fascinating read, Bernays was a nephew of Sigmund Freud and was instrumental in a pro-smoking campaign and the overthrow of the government of Guatemala. Disliking the word propaganda, Bernays invented public relations to fill in. Bernays’ philosophy was that people are goats and will do as they are told. Put another way, he believed the manipulation of public opinion by an elite governing class as critical to democracy. To a point, he is right, so his philosophy caught on. It especially caught on in the ‘30s in Europe, where he lived and consulted with people interested in communal behaviour — notably Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels.

In that case, Bernays was wrong. People can be manipulated to a point. However, once one offends their values at a certain level, they retaliate. People retaliated against the Axis, people retaliated against Coke and people retaliated against O.J. Simpson. While much of Bernays’ ideas have been discarded in North America, they still have currency in Europe. You may have heard Canada is 10 years behind the rest of the world. It is not. Our entertainment is not 10 years behind. Our technology not 10 years behind. Wood Industry is not 10 years behind. The only sector that is 10 years behind is the sector that won’t let go of failed marketing ideas. Customers in focused markets are not for abusing.

Here in Canada, all of PR comes back to reputation. That is why North American companies spend tens of billions of dollars on PR each year. Their goal? To maintain a positive image (profile) with their publics. And, as a critical function of a positive public profile, they strive, at all costs, to maintain a positive relationship with the press.
Since most of you don’t have a PR plan, here are a few ideas you can implement. Write down what you can use and call it a plan. It’s for locals.

First, know your local media, and be respectful. You don’t have to like them. If you have read this column occasionally, you know I am chronically irked with my peers in journalism. Nonetheless, don’t pick a fight with somebody that buys ink by the barrel. Be respectful. When you see him or her at a community meeting, introduce yourself. Remark that you read a recent story or heard it on the radio. Say something positive your company has done, or ask whether it would make sense, in your area, to implement a labour, environmental or social activity, but be specific. You might say, “I have been thinking about whether we should offer to help with the baseball field renovation. Are a lot of companies doing that?”
The point is, be somebody. Don’t let the media buzz cast you as an uncaring, faceless employer. Step in front and manage your profile in the community.
Conversely, if you are accused of being an environmental threat because of waste or VOCs, ask for an informal meeting with some of the faces across the aisle. At Tim’s or someplace, acknowledge that you share their concerns, but don’t see closing down or laying off as a good solution. Ask what they suggest, but then ask back if they can provide a cost analysis. Don’t let them say the costs are undefinable. Tell them you don’t disagree, but you need someplace to start.

I try to give credit where credit is due, and my best advice in PR came from Dean Simms, who was owner of Public Relations International in Zurich and Tulsa. He was instrumental in Tylenol’s recovery from its cyanide sabotage in 1982. According to Simms (and contrary to Bernays), you must tell the truth. You have no option. My job, as a PR professional, is to put the most positive spin possible on the facts, since the public will come to know the facts, irrespective of anybody’s best efforts to conceal them.
Stay in touch with your market. Tell it what you are going to do, do it, then tell it what you have done.

We have spoken of medium and audience. Message is more problematic. You must make a value statement. Branding is part of this, but a long-term part. What is your value? Is it quality? Is it cost? Is it availability or service? If you mess this up, you cannot blame the medium or the audience.  If you can’t say what your value is, it may be you don’t have any. Marketing with nothing to say will not work.

Under no circumstances should you pressure or bully the media. I am not saying this because I am a press guy. I am saying this to present a truth. If you bully the press, your customers will see it as bullying them. For example, a group of car dealers in the American Midwest got mad when the local paper came out in favour of a local sales tax. The car dealers did not want a tax, so boycotted the paper, causing a loss of revenue.

What happened? The citizens whipsawed like a diamondback. Car sales dropped to nothing overnight, and the dealers dropped the boycott. Consumers want the media to be the gatekeeper, even when it fails. Megacorps in the broader consumer market can sometimes get away with abusing media and customers, since others will be happy to fill in. In the smaller, wood-products markets, we need to work hard to retain both customers and reputation.

Most of this sounds like pure common sense. However, it is not. Bernays was certain common sense was one of his many strong points, and it likely contributed to world-wide travesty. Every failure by every country, by every region, by every religion, by every company and by every family is the result of poor leadership. Poor leadership means thinking you have common sense when the facts don’t support it.

Rather than rely on common sense, write up a plan:

    1.    Who is your market? Name it.
    2.    Is it a broad, focused or political market?
Name it.
    3.    Pick a medium or media that your market responds to. The operational word is “respond.”
    4.    Now, review for overlooked, or niche, market options.
    5.    Assuming yours is a focused market, what mix of PR, advertising and direct sales are you going to use, and in which media? “None” is OK, but say it. Then you will know.
    6.    List the costs.
    7.    Assess the costs.
    8.    Trim the list and set a budget.
    9.    Set a timeline.
    10.    Implement the plan!!! Your hands are not for sitting.
    11.    Follow up. More targeting, more research, more approaches and more spending. Be reasonable to your budget, but be fair to your reputation. In the end, that will be all you have.

As a reminder, this editorial has now been posted at www.woodindustry.ca under its new “blog” framework, and you are invited to comment in real time or ask questions. I will monitor the site and answer personally for any comments I make editorially or in the e-letter. It’s a matter of reputation.

Also, 1,931 words. Say what you are doing, do it and then say you did it.

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