We're #18. We Try Harder
By Lois K. Geller
Do you remember the Avis No. 2 campaign? "We're #2, We Try Harder." It was brilliant. Hertz's reaction also was brilliant. In an article I read a few years ago, Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer of advertising agency TBWAWorldwide, recalled that the president of No. 1 Hertz told his ad agency something like this: "I don't want us to talk about efficiency, clean cars, price, anything like that. The competition can duplicate all those things tomorrow. What I want our advertising to do is to make people like us."
Make people like you. What a concept. By the way, Hertz stayed No. 1.
I figure Mason & Geller is probably the 18th biggest direct marketing agency—so we have to try harder.
I thought about this when I came across an article in The Wall Street Journal titled "Marketers Shop For Fresh Creativity: Ad clients tap smaller, cheaper agencies for ideas in a competitive market." The story focused on Sun Microsystems. It's not happy with its big agency, and executives started asking smaller agencies for new, fresh ideas.
I love the idea of big companies going to smaller agencies. It underscores a challenge I've noticed for years: Many agencies take clients for granted, put junior people on the accounts and don't give clients their best thinking.
This happens in other big companies, too. For instance, I'm writing this column on a Delta ComAir flight. The flight attendant is unfriendly, and she was just flat-out rude to the woman sitting behind me. It's a shame. Most of the time, Delta is pretty good. It got me to Russia and back, and the people were great. A few weeks ago, it helped me get home three hours earlier than my scheduled flight. But customers forget all the good stuff when they run into the bad stuff.
On the flip side is Jet Blue. The Jet Blue staff always is pleasant and accommodating. They seem to have fun doing their jobs, and they have a nice informal attitude that puts people at ease.
Jet Blue is a small airline, so it tries harder. It can be innovative, because it doesn't have layers of bureaucracy to hammer every nail until creative, personality, attitude and pleasantness are all merged into a boring mush.
I suspect big clients often are partly to blame for the lack of creativity they get from big agencies. My favorite example is an ad agency that asked my firm to handle a project for a major client. We came up with a solid package and recommended testing letters ranging from conservative to slightly edgy. When we got the letters back from the client's committees, they were all the same letter, almost word for word.
At the same time, a small bank asked us for some creative ideas, and the client, a one-person committee, immediately leaped at the edgiest approach. It ran, and it broke all records for response.
Some big agencies chop account service teams into smaller, detached groups that don't have to report upstairs for the deadly agency "point of view." They are free to go all out to keep their clients happy. Big clients might benefit from the same approach.
The big client/big agency relationship in direct marketing often results in boilerplate stuff or "hipper than thou" advertising creative slapped onto a direct mail package. Neither approach is going to make any headway.
So here are a few reasons to "think small." It might help you get some breakthrough work and make customers and prospects like you:
>Technology lets you tailor direct marketing creative to smaller segments on your database. Speak to them directly and in a human, down-to-earth way.
Remember that great direct marketing creative feels like one-to-one communication.
>Thinking small will always give you a perfect answer to the naysayers on your team who react with idea-killing remarks such as "I wouldn't respond to that." You can say something like "That's great, but this is designed for the small number of women about to give birth who will be interested in offers for our diapers. You're a guy. I bet you'll agree that it doesn't really matter if you would respond to this or not."
>Small direct mail packages can be fabulous. I just received a small format book club mailing from the Quality Paperback Book Club. It really stood out among the bigger envelopes.
>Little things mean a good deal, such as making it easy to contact you. For years, Columbia House never included a phone number on communications, because it didn't want people calling to complain or ask questions. That was unfriendly.
You want people to like your company, so always include an 800 number and a Web site address. Encourage prospects to visit the Web site and receive a gift.
>Stand out from the crowd. November may be a good time. Christmas is coming, and there'll be lots of goodies being given out. Think small gifts for Thanksgiving this year, e.g., a note of appreciation to your customers with a chocolate turkey.
>Short "we want you back" notes with incentives can reactivate past customers. I recently received a note from a gift company I used to order from often. I'd forgotten about the company, and when I got the note, I immediately ordered. Maybe some of your past customers simply have forgotten you, because there is so much competition today. Ask them back.
>People appreciate some of the little things we do for them. So, try small notes or gifts. Send a birthday card, a gift certificate or an e-mail, just to say "hello."
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing" and other marketing books, and she's a popular speaker on the subject. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.