Think local

Kerry Knudsen

Kerry Knudsen

I was explaining some of the realities of “social media” to a fellow attendee at a recent meeting, when he stopped me dead in my tracks. “I agree,” he said, “but you will never convince the younger members of that.”

He had me. I had no way to disprove it, I doubted it was true, but I was had. Somewhere back along the road, youth worship replaced reason and nobody looked back.

Of course, a few pockets of resistance remain. Automobile insurance companies, for example, increase rates on the young. While the young are often convinced of their superior driving skills, the statistics don’t bear them out.

I make a point of watching riots. I don’t “like” riots, but I worry about them. I may as well not like riots, because I would not fit in. There are no sober people over 30 in the lot. And, like limpets, the harder you try to pry the youngsters off, the more surely they hang on. Passion, not perspective, is the purview of youth.

The issue of social media is critical to manufacturers, if not the practice. Put simply, the purpose of business is revenues. For manufacturers, that means sales. Sales can be accomplished in two ways: direct sales and marketing.

That is where things fall apart. Direct sales is where most of us start, but, if we’re lucky, we expand beyond our ability to speak directly to every prospect. That is where marketing comes in. We all know we should market, but many of us have little personal experience or training, and the noise is deafening. “Buy print. No. Go digital. No. Social is where it’s at. ‘I use word-of-mouth.’” And so on. You can also use chalk on a building or skywriting to speak to the market, but there is the larger question of market response. The medium is not the answer; the response is.

Among other holdovers from my younger days, I subscribe to Advertising Age – a trade magazine for advertising. One recent issue pointed out a fact about election ad spends: the best market response is delivered by local media. Political spending matters. Advertising matters. Local media matters.

What about intergalactic, universal social media? Another recent issue of Ad Age shouted: “Sell Facebook; buy Amazon.” Think about that. Amazon can target its ads based on spending where people are buying. Another article bemoans the move from print dollars to digital dimes to social pennies as the market broadens, impact lessens and value decreases.

(Aside: be careful what you buy on Amazon. I recently bought a couple of left-wing manifestos, including Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, and I cannot seem to get the ensuing raid of communist adherents to “Unfriend” me. My intentions were purely malicious.)

Remember MySpace? Everybody thought it was dead, but it is attempting a resurrection. In media, they call that a “redesign.” As if, like in Hollywood, looks can replace content.

A story moved on the wires last week that Facebook, in its application for its IPO, told the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) its ads were effective because of its Nielsen Ratings reach. Not seeing documentation, the SEC demanded Facebook provide confirmation from Nielsen or drop the claim. Facebook dropped the claim. This raises the question why an apparently gang-busters property that will “own the future” would make a circulation claim that was not supported. Lies won’t hide poor performance, although media still try.

Concurrently, The Drudge Report, a conservative-leaning news site, was recently outed as a multi-hundred-million-dollar property flying happily under the radar, apparently wholly owned and operated by Matt Drudge and staffed with a workforce of three. If you look at www.drudgereport.com, you will see there is no design to speak of – just content. Its circulation is close to that of the New York Times.

I am NOT down on the internet or social media. I think they have a place. In marketing, they currently are interesting for selling broad consumer products, and I doubt they will ever find a way to get market response from such refined niches as wholesale wood products. Still, you never know.

I do a bit of shopping with a local farmer. He has the best summer sausage I have found (and most expensive), he sells beef by the side and is trying to run some consumer-oriented events on the side. He has brought in a high-profile Australian consultant and is jumping from one project to another, absorbing the costs of each failure. His “plan,” such as it is, aims at the high-end market and relies on the internet.

I asked him if he shouldn’t aim, instead, at being a high-end treat for the broader, local and regional market, and I am building a print ad campaign for him to place in the local weeklies, backed up by a substantial information page on the ‘net. I am not charging him, but I expect the program to work, and I expect to report back on its success in this spot next year.

Obviously, I sell print. However, it would be nothing for Wood Industry to “go digital.” We have original content, we don’t pimp the readers, we have credibility and we know our business. On any day, we could launch the newest magazine app under Cloverleaf, start blasting hourly on Twitter (@knuk), horsewhip Associate Editor Dennis Furlan into daily updates on our Facebook page and start sending “alerts” by e-mail four times a day. However, others are already doing that, and I have heard nothing positive about it. Smart people aren’t always known for the volume they put out. Still waters run deep.

My experience in the wood industry and the internet says there is too much bogus advice from consultants on commission, too little hard information for “blasted” recipients and too much consensus on that which is doomed to fail. Consensus does not build a business.

Look up Dot-Com Bubble on Google if you want to see the business results of the social young, or look up Facebook debacle. So far, the only “success” I can find related to social media is the flash mob. Profit without investment is not a new dream. Neither is working as a gang to take what is not yours. Call it a flash mob if you like, but if the object is to steal, it’s not business.

The fact is, I only started this e-letter under pressure, and I would dump it in a minute if our subscribers were not increasing every year, in an environment where most of us hit Unsubscribe as a matter of reflex. One reason people like this letter may be it only arrives once a month.

From my perspective, marketing is not complicated, although it is famously hard. The best start is to identify your market, find a medium that specifically addresses that market, develop a program that makes your message a familiar friend throughout the year, then find a way to budget for it. The objective is sales, not research, so the money should be there. For most of our readers, this will mean looking at local broadcast media (radio and, maybe, TV), and local and regional print. (This is called targeting.) It will also mean listening to a professional, even if it costs.

In case it’s not clear, Wood Industry listens to its readers. Please be alert in the next several days for our annual Readers’ Survey. The purpose is to find out what interests you, especially on the “controversial” side, before we jump into a time-wasting discussion. It is short, it is not for sales, but editorial, and unlike faux Nielsen claims, it is important.

Let’s see, folks are always responding positively (or at least strongly) when we make political comments. A month from today the biggest story of the last two years will be resolved. Who will lead the U.S.?

Americans interest me. They start as kids splitting the world in two: boys/girls, primary/secondary, Catholic/public, my school/your school. They end up with two of everything, and an instinct to go opposite. Ford/Chevy, Crest/Gleem, suburban/urban. It gives one the impression if the American presidential race were between Abraham Lincoln and Alfred E. Neuman, the polls today would show a 49/47 split with four percent proudly declaring they don’t know wtf.

Come to think of it, that’s a good place to stop.

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