Skip to main content
All Posts By

Vito Labellarte

The Power of Personalization (within limits)

By Mark's Minutes

Is there anything more pleasant to one’s ear than to hear their own name? That’s why for years marketers have worked hard to integrate technology into their communication to make the consumer conversation more relevant.

At the most basic level, we want to feel like we are talking directly to the person. And they are listening to us. A true one-to-one dialogue.

How Much Personalization is Too Much?

With the growth of so much data warehousing and a seemingly endless source of “personal” information, the possibilities to customize messaging are many. But just because we can, should we?

According to Psychology Today (5/5/2021), surveys show that many consumers have reservations about targeted advertising that actually cause them to avoid such ads and resist their influence. Their review is published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

The research shows that personalized marketing may be effective, but can also backfire if not done correctly.

According to the study, the following issues were identified as causing consumer concerns.

1. Invasion of privacy. The most obvious way things backfire is when consumers believe marketers acquired or are using personal data they thought was or should be private.

2. Attempt at manipulation. It can backfire if consumers believe marketers are attempting to control or manipulate them in some way.

3. Unfair or stereotypic judgment. Rejection occurs when consumers view an ad as targeting them based on an unfair or stereotypic judgment about them, such as about their gender identity, age, race, or weight. Invasiveness, manipulation, and stereotyping should be avoided for obvious ethical reasons.

4. Already known content. This can make consumers tune out the message by signaling that they already know what marketers want to tell them (e.g., targeting superfans of a musician with well-publicized information about the musician’s upcoming album).

5. Weak arguments. Sometimes we believe that the consumer is interested in a product or topic and that is enough for them to engage. It backfires when the ad or message makes an unconvincing case to an interested user. This can probably be blamed on poor creative.

The key is to stay in your lane with respect to your product and its benefits. Respect the recipient and their desire for relevant, appropriate and helpful messaging. Use data that you are confident about.

Avoid politics, religion, and social topics as they can create a wedge between you and your customer.

Personalization Can Be Fun Too!

Don’t be afraid to have some fun and be playful too. Sometimes just knowing someone’s name is enough to solicit a smile.

Below are some examples of a campaign we are launching in conjunction with our trade show presence in Nashville at the MAC Conference this week. With our access to the attendee list, we were able to pre-print some great personalized concert poster souvenirs for each attendee.

And for those whose names we didn’t have, we created some “tongue in cheek” names to pick from.

Maybe one of these will end up in a real Nashville act!

When Marketing Projects Go Terribly Wrong – Part II

By Mark's Minutes

Last week we discussed how to avoid launching a marketing project that is destined to fail. Although we never have a perfect view into the future, some key steps to assuring success are:
• Plan Effectively – use a planning tool to careful estimate costs and benefits
• Assess your Return on Marketing Investment – Look at hard and soft costs
• Understand the long-term implications on your market
Even the best laid plans can go wrong.

Campaign Failure

Campaigns falter for many reasons. Some can be recovered and repaired. Others should be “taken behind the barn and shot,” to quote Mr. Wonderful from Shark Tank.

However, the important thing is to understand why the results aren’t in line with your expectations, so you avoid them in the future, or you correct what isn’t working and move forward.

Often there are a few typical reasons that cause a promotion to fail:

Good Intentions. Bad idea
This is one of those promotions that might have come from the boss himself and nobody told him otherwise. In a healthy environment, an idea like this wouldn’t stand up to a fair internal discussion. I remember a client that had a friend with an ice cream store and thought they would offer a free ice cream cone with a new checking account. Most people wouldn’t go through the trouble of opening a new account for a $3.00 incentive. Would you? Enough said.

This is usually the result of poor marketing research. Make sure the idea is relevant to the target market and has appropriate value for the product in question.

The Bud Light Campaign likely falls into this category.

Bad Timing
The promotion might not run long enough. It might not be at the right time of year. Or it might conflict with another event that draws attention away from the program. This can often be just coincidence. Still, it’s always important to evaluate all the other competing activities in conjunction with your planned schedule.

Competitive Response
The competition changed their price. This one you can’t always see coming but you can do your best to be prepared. Nobody wins in a downward price war. You’ve seen the cartoons with a sign of two competing retailers with lower and lower prices crossed out. Sure, you want to beat the competition, but you also want to do it profitably!

Price is often the easiest and most used form of competitive response. Frankly, it’s the most expensive. It doesn’t take much creativity to respond with price matching. Always explore alternatives to price where possible such as terms, additional benefits, bundled items, service, locations, availability, etc. It helps to differentiate on things other than price if you can.

Not Enough Resources Allocated
Great marketing ideas need fuel to launch and perform properly. If you are not receiving the support you need for advertising or staff, chances are good that your project will not reach its highest potential.

The marketing landscape is littered with great ideas that never reached their full potential. Make sure that you adequately plan for the support you need to ensure success.

Poor Communication
This is an easy one that tends to be overlooked in organizations. Marketing comes up with a great idea but never tells anyone on the front line. A consumer responds to the campaign and the first person they speak with from the company has no idea of what they are talking about!

This is generally the fault of an internal culture that has “silo” thinking. Information is kept inside and not shared out beyond the walls of the department. This is easily fixed with some form of bulletin system that updates everyone on the current promotional campaigns and where to go for additional information.

Looking Back to Look Ahead
Learning from these mistakes is part of the journey. It’s important to reflect on campaigns after completion to see where things might have been better. Post campaign assessments help you to objectively review the results to find out where changes can be made for next time.

When Marketing Projects Go Terribly Wrong

By Mark's Minutes

A lot has been in the news as of late covering what has become a terribly historic marketing fail for Budweiser and their Bud Light product. This promotion will likely go down in the history books alongside New Coke, Lawn Darts, McDonald’s Monopoly Promotion and other major marketing miscues.

My focus is not to unpack this specific campaign but rather talk more generally about avoiding mistakes.

Nobody Intends to Fail

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

You can never take the risk out of every decision. But hopefully you can weigh the cost/benefit of these decisions before you decide. Clearly, if the benefits don’t exceed the cost, the decision is easy.

Return on Marketing Investment

Years ago when I joined a large S&L as part of a marketing team, our boss introduced a planning tool that was mandatory for every single promotional campaign we ran. We called it the ROMI — Return On Marketing Investment.

In the ROMI we had to provide a three-page summary of the campaign. Why we were running it, expected results, revenue, costs, and a detailed return on investment calculation. We had to make sure we made at least $1.50 for every dollar we spent.

Every projected product sale had an associated profit margin attached to it. That way, we had some accountability established. We were spending real dollars to generate deposit or loan dollars (not a one-for-one relationship).

At the end of the promotion we would roll up all the numbers and determine how well we did.

You can actually download a copy of this form at our website. It’s now a part of our marketing planner: Marketing-Calendar.pdf

Does a Free Digital Post/Media Translate to a Great ROI?

The ROMI form is easy enough to use when you are rolling up costs from a variety of media. But what about the “free” media implications?

With the number of social media/digital posts ranging from 1 -2 per day to 1 – 2 per week, the opportunity for a miscue is higher than ever before. The more you post, the higher the likelihood of a miscue.

A vetting process is necessary now more than ever. Key questions to consider before distributing your post:

• What is the upside of this activity?

• What is the downside of this activity?

• Are we willing to take the risks for the reward?

• Does this post support my brand?

• Will this benefit the organization/product if the post showed up in the national media (TV/Newspaper)?

• Do I want to share this and why?

What do I expect my audience to do with this post/information?

Nobody on the Bud Light team saw this coming, that’s for sure. And certainly there is a high likelihood that many in senior management approved the campaign.

Nevertheless, in today’s world, a single action can spin a company out of control. The lesson here is to make certain that you look at your digital messaging from all angles and give yourself time to vet and reflect before hitting the “send” button.

Your action may not even be responsible for the pushback. It might come from a secondary or tertiary source.

And finally, most importantly realize that “cost” doesn’t mean the time you spend creating a post, but rather, means the true costs to the business coming from the negative implications from a poorly thought out campaign.

Skip, skip, skip…a Pay

By Mark's Minutes

The changing economic landscape has put many consumers on edge. The forward march of the Fed to continue increasing the interest rate has pushed up the cost of living for everybody.

Debt Continues to Rise
Recent data shows the average household debt growing with a very large change in the credit card environment. The credit card debt is like the canary in the coal mine. It is easy money to access.

Credit card interest rates are now hovering close to 20% and many households are maxing out on their balances. This forces people to take a hard look at what they own and what they buy.

Some experts, like Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate recommend the following to get a handle on the increased household debt load.

“Take on a side hustle, sell stuff you don’t need, cut your expenses,” he said. “A dollar saved is a dollar earned, and every dollar of credit card debt that you pay down has an average guaranteed tax-free return of about 20%.”

Consumers are looking for answers right now and financial institutions can help.

The Skip-a-Pay Returns
Skip-a-pay loans have been popular for years. It’s a simple concept with big benefits. And it’s one that consumers appreciate. Especially right now as things are tightening.

The concept is simple, and you can use with many types of accounts.

For instance, if you have an auto loan that you want to promote for your skip, simply allow the consumer to skip the next payment, and add that payment to the end of the loan. Some institutions add a small charge for the convenience which helps to offset the loss in the loan revenue.

An example might be a $600 car loan payment that you allow to skip for a $75 convenience fee. That $600 gets added at the back end of the loan so you haven’t lost it.

In most circumstances, this is a win for both you and your account holders as the small price they pay to skip a loan is a big benefit over the next payment they may have to make. That extra breathing room might be enough to help them avoid missing a payment and incurring late charges or start a downhill slide.

Here are some examples of skip-a-pay promotions that we have completed for our customers. Let us know if we can help you with yours.

Communication Domination – Managing the choices.

By Mark's Minutes

Communication channels have grown exponentially over the past generation. It used to be that we could turn on one channel or read one newspaper and get all the information we needed. As advertisers, we had fewer channels (TV/Radio/Newspaper/Mail) and created typically larger and more polished campaigns.

Today, the channel choices are mindboggling. Many of the channel choices are hyper specific. We can choose the type of information we want… when we want it… and how often.

Advertising has become hyper-personalized, just like viewing choices

The challenge with advertising is to be right there to fill a need when the consumer needs it. Right product. Right place. Right time.

Today that means you can send a message to the consumer when they walk on to a car lot reminding them that they already have a preapproved loan. Or you can text them a message when you discover they are trying to refinance their car at another institution. Your trigger program is always looking for a chance to reach out.

But consumers today feels like they are always under attack. Blocking, avoiding, ignoring and turning off the incessant marketing.

Where is the romance?

There was a process, long since passed, that we’d follow to move a consumer to buy. It started with product education and ended with a decision to buy. You got to know them a little before springing the buying opportunity on them. It was a courting process.

That’s why direct mail is making a comeback. It creates a connection.

Direct mail has never been the lowest cost advertising form. But is has been one of the best sources for delivering timely, relevant and targeted messages. And, the direct mail experience is one that can’t be duplicated in other mediums.

Facts about direct mail you didn’t know.

Direct mail delivers results. Just check out these 10 recent statistics about direct mail.

1. The average return on investment for direct mail is $4.09 for every $1.27 spent. (Global News Wire)

2. The average response rate is between 2.7% and 4.4%, compared to email’s 0.6% response rate. (Newswires)

3. 73% of American consumers prefer being contacted by brands via mail because they can read it at their own convenience. (Small Biz Genius)

4. More than 40% of direct mail recipients read or at least scan the mail they get.(Small Biz Genius)

5. 84% of the Gen Z have received a direct mail piece with a QR code to interact with a brand online (by watching a video, going to a landing page with sales copy, or to order by phone/action device). Nearly 40% of these campaigns used direct mail and generated a profitable ROI. (CDMG Inc.)

6. Nearly 90% of Millennials love receiving mail. This fits with their affinity for physical media — like vinyl records. The study also revealed that 57% of Millennial respondents acted on these offers. (USPS).

7. Two-thirds of Gen X consumers say they have a positive impression of companies that send out relevant marketing mail. (USPS)

8. While overall mail rates declined, total direct mail volume increased by 28% from 2020 to 2021. (Sequel Direct Mail Trends Report: Q4 2021)

9. There was a 49% increase in sales and 125% in increase in customer inquiries who received both email and catalogs. (Harvard Business Review)

10. More than 70% of Gen X consumers feel mail is more personal than online digital communications and are more likely to read promotional mail than emails. (USPS)

Are you using the power of direct mail in your marketing mix? Now is the time.

Are you a product seller or a story teller?

By Mark's Minutes

These days the pace of our communication is shorter and faster than in previous times. It all relates to the pace of our world and the lack of time we seemingly have to consume information.

Everything is moving much faster than ever before.

Today’s media has changed our approach to content

Years ago, the art of copywriting was a revered and respected role in agencies. Effectve writing included content that appealed to the reader on a number of levels such as ratiional, emotional, or financial.

Good copywriters can write a story that answers all the buying questions while also allowing the reader to “feel” the story. Many of the best stories were a good balance of emotional and rational components and the story always led to the solution in which the product was presented.

The art of storytelling allows the reader to see themselves with the product as a solution, and/or playing a legitimate role within their life. Storytelling takes space and intention to ensure that it is done right

It’s a conversation. Not a pitch.

The writer introduces the product often only after making some type of connection. They also had a lot more space and time to tell their story. Often, they had a full-page, or a 30 or 60 second ad, much more than we have today.

But that was then. This is now.

Digital content introduced shorter copy and strategic links

As digital evolved, copy got shorter and more punchy. By its nature, it now had to accomplish a lot in a few paragraphs. Not much time to “romance” the reader.

Emails often features a structure something like this: Intro copy – link, body copy – link, offer/call to action and reminder copy – link, etc.

Longer copy is often discouraged and eliminated. Greater product focus and stronger selling language is incorporated. “Product selling” has become the norm.

Return to storytelling

How to bring back more storytelling? To tell a story you must have a story to tell.

It starts with a desire to capture what is either happening to motivate the purchase of your product/service; and/or what the outcome of the usage of your product and service (think “before and after”).

Newsletters: Many of our clients publish newsletters that are sent out to every account holder. These newsletters feature stories with a “feel good” result that supports both the mission of the institution and a collection of featured products.

Website: Add a section on the website that features testimonials, success stories, and “deeper dives” that generate interest and reinforces the core philosophies of the organization.

Staff Engagement: Featuring staff as problem solvers and knowledgeable resources helps in the collection of memorable stories.

Using more stories in your marketing will open up a softer, more approachable and relatable side of your business. If your “product” is a service, often the only way you have to differentiate from other similar providers is to show how that the outcome of your service is better than others.

Here’s to collecting many amazing stories to tell!

How can you leverage the little QR Code in your marketing?

By Mark's Minutes

The QR Code has blossomed into a legitimate marketing tool.

The humble beginnings of the QR Code started almost 30 years ago. It was created to use as a tool to track parts and inventory. The new code provided a faster scanning process than the traditional bar codes. The QR code quickly became adopted my many other companies, and the use of the code expanded into other applications.

Consumer use keeps growing

As the usage of the QR code increased, additional applications began using it. By 2011, roughly 14 million Americans had interacted with a QR code. However, it’s estimated that in 2022 approximately 89 million smartphone users in the United States have scanned a QR code!

The reason for the growth? Greater convenience in many applications. Over the past few years alone, we have seen how virtually every restaurant has a QR code for menu activation.

Using QR Codes in Marketing

The QR code has become more flexible to be used in more circumstances. For instance, today’s QR codes can be personalized to the company. Company logos and different colors can also be added to the QR code design, making it more memorable to the consumer.

We have seen QR codes on posters, TV Screens, Billboards, Business Cards, Busses, Direct Mail campaigns and even bathroom stalls! They really have become ubiquitous.

And, best of all, they are now trackable!

How Westamerica has been using QR codes

We like QR codes for all the same reasons the marketer does. They work because they minimize the effort to get to information. QR codes are the one-click solution in the analog world. They create a simple bridge between the old media and new technology.

The trackability of QR codes can now provide input on where leads and contacts may be coming from. We have been using trackable QR codes in our direct mail efforts and are now able to report to our clients on what engagement looks like though the mail channel.

Trackability of QR codes provides valuable information on engagement.

Not only can we track engagement, we can also identify time of day, device used, and location. Are you using and tracking QR code activity?

Now is the time to start.

Thanks for joining me today!

Promoting Financial Safety and Security

By Mark's Minutes

The recent events of Silicon Valley Bank and then Signature Bank failures have brought the topic of financial institution security and safety to the forefront of consumer’s minds.

Although the issues are very different from the 2008 mortgage meltdown, the consumer emotions are the same – fear, concern, wonder and worry.

Educate the Consumer to Reduce Concern

Much of the concerns that many consumers have come from a misunderstanding of how the financial insurance programs work, as well as what determines the safety of a financial institution.

Truthfully, not much is discussed about this topic in traditional marketing any more. The further in the rear view mirror we are from major events, the less it seems to be promoted.

The consumer is likely assuming that all is well.

Practical Marketing Opportunities During this Period

Here are some practical ideas that you can put to work quickly. These approaches will serve to both calm your account holders while also providing opportunities for business growth if done correctly.

Outbound Letter to Existing Accounts

Make sure to publish a letter from your CEO to all your existing accounts reinforcing your safety and secure financial position. Remind them of their insurance coverages. Keep copies of your company annual report at the ready.

Prepare to Welcome New Business

During this current season, consumers will be reassessing their current account circumstances because of either concerns with their current provider or an under-insured situation that have to rectify. That means they are going to be looking for a new place to put their funds. Make sure that you are ready with:

• Competitive Deposit Rates

• Increased Advertising Spend

• Expanded Merchandising and External Signage

• “New Accounts“ Messaging and Info Packets

Sharpen Training for Staff

Make sure that your front line team is up to date on their knowledge of insurance and account vesting. You want to instill confidence in all front line communicators.

Strategic Retention of High Deposit Accounts

Do you have some clients that exceed the deposit insurance thresholds? Now is a good time to identify those clients and invite them in to review their current account selections and account vesting. You want to ensure that they are covered adequately lest you run the risk of losing them to another institution. With different account vesting, account holders can actually cover their accounts well in excess of the $250,000 limits.

Remember, there is always opportunity amidst chaos. This topic will be front and center for weeks and possibly months. Be prepared.

Thanks for joining me today!

Making Good Marketing Decisions and Avoiding Bad Ones

By Mark's Minutes

Any Marketing practitioner knows that good ideas and creative thinking are the lifeblood of a brand and business. Effective ideas delivered in a creative manner can be the difference between life and death of a company.

Years ago, I worked in the Marketing Department of the Pepsi-Cola Company. If you are over 50, you might remember the Pepsi Challenge in the 1970s. It was a blind taste test that compared Coke vs. Pepsi. Consumers actually picked Pepsi over Coke a majority of the time. That simple idea led to a national advertising campaign and ultimately major decisions by Coca-Cola that were very costly.

Finally in the mid 80s, after the Pepsi Challenge reached virtually every market in America, the pressure Coke felt led to them making one of the most disastrous decisions in Marketing history. They decided to change the flavor of the legendary Coca Cola formula to make it sweeter, and more like Pepsi Cola!

They called it New Coke.

New Coke was a legendary marketing mistake. (Truthfully, in the Pepsi offices we were “high fiving.”) Pepsi even put a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming, “The other guy just blinked.”

At some point, the Coke team looked at the research and decided that the formula should be changed to be more like the competitor. You can bet that they researched the outcome hundreds of different ways. And yet, the results were disastrous.

All of this begs the question of what things you can do to improve the ideas you explore, as well as limit the downside of a potential bad outcome. I believe that there are a few key tenets to follow to end up with a good outcome.

Think of your process as a funnel with a lot of ideas early on that get whittled down to a few good ones:

Clearly define what you are solving for – What is the true goal? What impact will this have on your business? Why are you seeking to implement this?

Engage many opinions early on – Use a classic brainstorming approach to come up with as many ideas as possible. No criticisms at this stage. We’re going for volume.

Sift and assess – After you have secured a reasonable number of possible options, sift the number down to those that have a reasonable chance of success. These will be evaluated on a deeper set of metrics and a higher level of scrutiny. Understand the financial implications of each option and the potential for sales and other market goals.

Review with stakeholders – After you have identified these several ideas, pull those players in that will have a learned opinion on the decision. Be ready to accept constructive criticism in areas that will make your ideas better. The purpose of this is to ensure you do not move forward facing any major unforeseen issue.

A final thought
There is inherent risk with everything you do. You can analyze possibilities until you run out of time. You will not be rewarded for what you do not do. Make your best decisions and make them quickly. The marketplace rewards the leaders. If you make a mistake, fix it quickly and move on.

In fact, that’s exactly what Coca Cola did. They brought back the original, just months after New Coke was introduced. New Coke is now just a memory. (However, I personally think it is the basis for Coke Zero!)

Now get in the game and make some bold decisions!

What to Do if Your Brand is Not on the Right Track

By Mark's Minutes

Last week we talked about the key components of your brand and the importance of your ability to stand out from the competition. The goal of your brand is to separate yourself from other similar service options.

You want to be the primary choice for those looking for your product or service.

You Can Please Some of the People Some of the Time….

You know how to finish this sentence: You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Your branding and messaging should be focused on those that you can serve effectively and profitably. If you are not bringing the right consumers in, you may be sending the wrong signals to the marketplace.

Your brand may not be on the right track and ready for a refresh. Where to start?

Start at the Beginning

There are many approaches with all covering many of the same steps. I like what marketer Frank Schab has suggested in these seven steps below.

Unpacking these topics should be an exercise over days and weeks. Here are some conversation starters for interaction with your team.

1) Discover/Develop Your Brand Purpose

Why do people buy your products? Why should they buy from you? What are the reasons you are in business? What is your mission? Why you over someone else?

Can you find the points of difference among your service and products?

2) Know Your Competitors

How do you stack up in terms of process, products and preference? What do people say about your company, products, people and service? What do they say about your competition?

Answering these questions honestly will tell you where you have work to do and/or where you are strong.

3) Determine Your Target Market

After solving for your purpose and your competitive advantages/challenges, you can objective identify where you can compete. Who are the consumers that you can attract and keep? Which market segments fit with your goals for growth? Which segments might your competitors be ignoring?

4) Build Your Brand Strategy

Key strategic questions to address include your brand promise and why buyers will believe in your brand. What are the pillars that your brand and business are built on? What is the “personality” of your brand?

5) Developing a Compelling Brand Story

The best brands build an emotional connection with the consumer. What are the key things in your story that help you relate to your target market? What elements do you have that no one else has? Stories of customer success and accomplishment with your brand as a support are good places to start.

6) Create a Brand Identity

If you are starting from scratch, you’ll want to build an exhaustive list of options for consideration – logos, colors, themes and even a name. If you are refreshing your brand, you can take the best elements from your current imagery and turn that into a new and improved version. A brand refresh can be anything from changing fonts to a complete makeover of color, style and feel.

7) Live the Brand

This is the essence of the brand. The experiences that your customer takes away from their interactions with your website, your staff, and your management. It becomes your reputation. Remember that EVERYTHING is part of your brand: your pricing, your hours, your store layout, your signage, on hold time, on hold music, chat bot personality. EVERYTHING.

If you are planning to make changes to your brand, make sure to build enough time and finances to do the job properly. Estimate how much you’ll need and then double it. It will always cost more than you think.

The goal of branding is to help you differentiate from others. It is important to be different.

However, I believe it is more important to be desired!