Hope and change

We are only hours away from blissful silence, such as we have not seen since 2010. The Americans are nearly done electing a president. However, at the moment, Romney and Obama are running neck-and-neck, or so say the polls. We’re not done, yet. It’s a horse race.

Think about that. What can it mean? I’m not lobbying for one or the other, here, I am wondering how it can be. On the one hand, it could mean Romney and Obama are so close in their ideas that people simply cannot tell the difference so the split falls equally on either side. Both would deny that. On the other hand, it could mean both are so far apart there is no hope of cooperation, and yet the divide is equal. It doesn’t make sense.

Personally, I don’t think the vote will be close, but I have a record of being wrong on U.S. presidential contests. We will see. One group, however, that seemed not split at all is the Wood Machinery Manufacturers of America (WMMA). At its recent committee meeting in Baltimore, it seemed 100 percent are worried about the future, should Obama win a second term. At risk are capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, Obamacare premiums and penalties, the loss of depreciation allowances for their customers – thus reducing sales incentives – and so on. Serious stuff.

In fact, one prominent WMMA member I will not name said he will reinstate his marketing program only if Obama loses. The unspoken alternative is that he may not be able to survive in the face of the new taxes and costs of compliance with regulations. That is the news from our supply side. However, recent articles in our own consumer media predict a heavy hit on our own economy in the event of an Obama win. That means a threat to Canadian readers.

We have suffered enough at the hand of the American economy, so I have a proposal to catch the whipsaw effect if Romney wins tonight. If he does, Wood Industry will extend its ad sales deadline for 48 hours so people such as our WMMA friend can get ahead of the markets and recovery curve by the two months they would otherwise lose by waiting until January.

Self-serving? Not exactly. I have seen the preliminary results of our annual Readers’ Survey, and I want to thank everybody that filled it out. The results are both humbling and encouraging, and we look forward to reporting them in our November issue of Wood Industry.

For a sneak-peek, those of you that responded will recall after the main part of the survey we asked for comments on what we can do to improve. Two particular comments come to mind: 1) you want a thicker magazine, and 2) you want to see, “more advertising of things I would buy.”

We would love to provide a thicker magazine. Our editorial staff has prepared several, brand-new departments and features, waiting only for the economy to kick in. As you know, advertising pays the freight in trade publishing, and we have been expecting the lagging wood industry marketing sector in Canada to catch up with national averages. The fact is, the Canadian economy is chugging along.

As for the reader that wants more ads of things he would buy, that is a complex issue. The only thing advertisers can legitimately want from advertising is market response. Other reasons are sometimes cited. There are four: Cost of exposure (often described in cost per thousand, or cpm), breadth of exposure (saturation), depth of exposure (targeting) and political, or the desire to be affiliated with some person, party or issue, even if it costs you. Market response relies in varying degrees on cost, breadth and depth. Political reasons often bypass the market and achieve profit by caveat. In that case, the media and the politicos trade cheques and services without regard for the market.

Let’s be serious. Information is important. Nothing is more important. In fact, we invented communication solely for the purpose of keeping information organized. Good information is like gold: people don’t trust others with its care.

Back to market response. Legitimate advertisers want market response. Market response, however, is famously difficult to gauge, so every possible means is devised to find out your opinion. Polls, as described above, are popular. These show up as television and radio ratings, political polls, consumer surveys and Wood Industry surveys. In the day, “circle numbers” were used to track interest; if you wanted information from a magazine, you would circle a number on a card, and the owner of that number would both send you the info and feel his ad dollars were well spent.

Like every other method, circle numbers were manipulated. One of my first failures in advertising occurred decades ago when my “supervisor” ordered me to assign the same circle numbers to two products – one high-end product and one low-end product, so each advertiser would get twice as many responses, but the deceit would not easily be discovered by competing, high-end products hitting the same advertisers with the same numbers. Anyway, I quit, so I don’t know how it turned out.

Circle numbers morphed into website “hits,” and I am convinced my erstwhile supervisor morphed and multiplied with them, and lots of people with integrity quit. It is no secret that credibility is hard to find in advertising sales. It’s not that credible people are scarce. However, golden information is scarce, and those without it have to make it up.

Back to the question … if a consumer wants something of a supplier, he has to let his wants be known. For the many of you that responded to the survey, you have done your part in supplying information, and it will be reported in a few weeks in the magazine. However, because of circle-number fraud and other stunts, some suppliers may not believe the report is true, or may not believe the questions were fair, or whatever.

Therefore, on some level you need to report to advertisers that sell things you would buy that you don’t see them in Wood Industry and would like to. Again, this is a self-serving statement, but is also the right answer. If advertisers think everybody reads everything that lands in their mailboxes, they can’t choose.

I have always used the example of People magazine. In People, suppliers to the wood industry would get a much better breadth of market and a much better cost per thousand than with a targeted trade publication. Unfortunately, the overall cost would be huge, the depth of market would be totally lacking and it is possible not one wood-products manufacturer in a thousand reads People.

The U.S.-led recession, as well as the election, is nearing its end, and it appears there will be a new leadership and a new direction. Much of what worked for us in Canada four years ago is over. Importantly, we will not be manufacturing goods into a $.62 currency advantage in the near future. We have to change. We will need information and we need a strong hand on the communication dial. Not everybody has the interests of the manufacturers at heart. Wood Industry is in the process of change, and is ready to move quickly; the thicker the magazine, the faster and farther we can go. The thicker the magazine, the more ads there will be with things you want to buy. It’s the best of all worlds when the advertisers know where you get your information, the information is credible and the industry can move in an informed manner on issues of economy, regulation, politics and work.

Note: I did not say “together,” but informed. Like Obama and Romney supporters, some folks just plain use information better.

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