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Marketing 101: What not to do

I got a press release today in the mail that was a great of example of how not to run an advertising campaign. The release in question was expensive, hard to understand and not very memorable (except insofar as it was unmemorable).

When I researched an article last year on how to develop a marketing campaign, one of the tips VARs had was to keep mailings simple. Gimmicky mailings are expensive to produce, and if the message isn’t readily evident, there’s a good chance it won’t get through.

So, let’s take this release as an example: I got a bottle of liquid soap along with a one-page press release. The postage was $4.59, and the soap — I looked it up online — costs $5.75. Even with bulk pricing, this vendor probably paid about $15 per unit including the box, copious bubble wrap, and labor.

The press release itself tried to tie the software to this bottle of soap, but the gimmick ended up obfuscating the message. “Why soap?” the release asked. “Simple, [software name] is to SOA what [soap name] is to soap.” Huh?

soap, with PR in the background
Lost in the clutter

The letter went on to explain that both products were all-in-one, pure, clean and fair-trade. For each adjective, the release started out talking about the soap and then tied it back to the software. Not only was the metaphor a bit of a stretch, but I came away knowing more about this soap than the software. As I type this, I can’t even remember the SOA vendor’s name, though I do remember who made the soap.

If it weren’t interesting as a case study in what not to do, I’d have thrown the letter out halfway into the first paragraph. I’d have kept the soap, and maybe even used it, but by tomorrow I wouldn’t be able to remember what the vendor did, let alone its name, let alone its compelling features.

If you do a mass-mailing campaign, keep it simple. One of the VARs I spoke to said that his company’s more successful mailing is a three-page package: a cover letter, an info sheet about the company, and an info sheet about its services.

Much more than that, and you’ll lose the lead’s interest before he even knows what you’re trying to pitch.

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This is such bad advice. In a world of hundreds of VARs all sending out plain cover sheets and letters, why would another one raise you above the clutter? Maybe the SOAP didn't execute properly but if I look at your desk photo, it does stand out from a stack of papers. I think computer folk think the world is full of left-brained buyers. A good marketing campaign has to have different strokes for different folks. In the commodity PC, folks are just as bad. They think (in historical chronology) a price sheet, a fax price sheet, an e-mailed price sheet constitutes marketing. A VAR who sends a sheet listing services is no better off. Especially when they all send a similar list and only the logos vary. DIFFERENTIATE instead of CONFORM.
You're right, the soap does stand out from the stack of papers. Notice what's not standing out, though? The stack of papers -- including the press release. That's the problem. It's a tricky balancing act. As you say, you do want to differentiate yourself. On the other hand, it doesn't make sense to pay several times more for a campaign that doesn't actually get you any brand recognition, as this one didn't. The VARs I spoke to said that in their experience, it's better to differentiate based on services, in a clear and straightforward manner, rather than on the toys that come along with your mailings. Of course, your mileage may vary... and we're always interested in hearing from you VARs on the ground what works and what doesn't.