Direct Comparison Ads: Do They Work Best?

June 16, 2009

49d620c72962eAdvertising works when it is done right. There is no question in that.  Companies spend millions of dollars on ad campaigns trying to target the right market and convince them of something.

I have always been somewhat of a self-appointed critic of advertising.  Partially because of my fascination with the industry and partially because I have very strong opinions.  I love investigating what the ad is saying, where the message is coming from, and whether or not it is successful.

Sometimes you see an ad on TV and you think to yourself, how did this make it out of the original brainstorming discussion?  Other times you see something that blows you away and you wonder how someone could dream it up.

Lately there is an intriguing trend that I thought was worth analyzing.  Direct comparison ads are becoming quite popular, and companies are sticking with them for an extended period of time.  So one has to think that they see better results.

Direct comparison ads, for the sake of this post, are any advertisement that calls out the competition blatantly and says why one product is better than the other.  Some companies that are currently running these type of ads are Microsoft (vs Apple), Apple (vs PCs), 5 Hour Energy (vs Energy Drinks), Time Warner (vs Verizon Fios), Dominoes (vs Subway/Quiznos), and Total Cereal (vs Go Lean).  There are many others as well but that is enough to prove my point.

This has long been a popular style of advertising, going right after the competition and trying to lure away customers because of a claim that you are better.  That are rules and guidelines surrounding it, and you have to be careful about what you do and do not say about the competition.  But, if executed well, these companies have seen that the effects can be strong.

For a long time Apple ate away at the market for personal computers with their “Mac/PC” ads showcasing how easy Macs were to use.  Now, Microsoft has countered with ads featuring “real people” looking for new computers and choosing the more affordable, just as useful, Dell or HPs with Windows.  And those ads have resulted in a spike in purchased of those PCs over Apple Computers.

My only issue with this type of ad campaign is that you run the risk of sounding bad.  Personal attacks against other brands can come back to bite you if A) They are found to be incorrect or B) The competition changes something to top you.  Personally, I have found that Time Warner makes some useless claims in their direct comparison ads (such as comparing the ease of reading the bill with that of Fios).  I have Time Warner, and the bill is confusing.

What do you think?  Do you find direct comparison to be effective?  Let me know why or why not in the comments below.

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Looking for Inspiration? Do This

May 13, 2009

nicegraphIf you are an entrepreneur, or working in a company that needs to rethink or redesign processes or products in order to move forward, there are many places to look for inspiration.  In this post, I will name just a few things to look at/read/think about to get all the ideas you need.

  1. Visit a Pret-a-Manger Store. If possible, look up a local Pret and take a trip there during lunch time.  Take in the customer friendly servers, notice how fast the lines are always moving, read the displays underneath every item of food, and check out the unique seating area.  Pret has developed a fun, healthy, and unique brand of fast food.  They have a story to tell, and they tell it in a way the keeps customers coming back time and again.  They make it easy to be healthy, and they make the food buying/eating process fun.
  2. Take a look at JetBlue’s Twitter Page. Go to www.twitter.com/jetblue and read through a couple of the responses and conversations there.  They have fast become one of the better companies to use Twitter, and they do it through updates and customer service.  It is designed for anyone to ask their reps a question and receive a quick answer on flight times, delays, security information, and other miscellaneous facts you may need before a flight.  They are one of the few companies getting this right.
  3. Read an article on Zappos Corporate Culture. Zappos is fast becoming a prime example of how to run a company.  From the way employees are treated, to the initial hiring and training process, to the customer service, Zappos has built a company that people know is fun and generous.  Their employees are taught up front that customers come first, and everyone is in the customer service business, from top to bottom.  Their shoes are not the cheapest, but they have built such strong brand loyalty among existing customers, that the model works.
  4. Go into any TD Bank. TD Bank, after their purchase of Commerce, became “America’s Most Convenient Bank”, borrowing the motto from the bank they acquired.  And if you have ever dealt with one of the branches in any way, you know this is true.  If you belong to the bank, visit with a customer service complaint or question.  If not, visit because you are “thinking about opening a new account”.  And even if you don’t have time to visit, call up.  Recognize how quickly you are greeted and served, and take in the truly personal interactions that you experience.  Things are made easy, and everything you need to get done is done fast, and with a smile.  They make a name for themselves through service, and live up to it every time.
  5. Attend a MacWorld Conference. Apple has done an incredible job creating a following of cult-like loyal customers.  People hang on every word of every announcement they make, and people will buy into products long before they are even made available.  Visit one of these conferences, and even though Apple is no longer officially the focus, you will experience this first hand, and get a chance to hear about and try some of the newest innovations in technology.  It can be a very eye opening experience.

Those are a just a few highlights of what some companies have to offer.  Notice how each one is about a couple of main things: customer service, brand awareness, and loyalty.  These companies have developed their brand through attention to detail and interactions with customers that are above and beyond our expectations.  There is a lot to be learned by experiencing the things that superior companies offer.  What can you do to match this type of success?

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If I Could Meet One Entrepreneur…

April 24, 2009

question_markYoungEntrepreneur is running a poll today for its readers.  The question, “If you could meet one famous entrepreneur, dead or alive, who would it be?”

For me, it’s an easy one.  I want to pick someone who built something from scratch, someone who challenged the system, and someone who continued to innovate all the way to the top.  And though it may seem somewhat obvious, I would not change my answer for anything in the world.

It’s Steve Jobs.

I have discussed the lifelong innovator before on this blog, and for good reason.  As an avid enthusiast of all things creative, I have to appreciate the work that he and Steve Wozniak did in creating Apple.  They saw something that no one else did in the area of computing.  They did what many people, even people in the industry, said was not possible and not “profitable”.  They created a personal computer that people could actually use.  And not only that, people wanted to use it.

Since then, Jobs has continued his journey with Apple at the speed of light, battling with Microsoft to gain market share over PC’s, adding the iPod to everybody’s list of must have gadgets, and successfully launching a smart phone with AT&T.

Through it all, Steve has fought his own battle with cancer.  I have great respect for Steve Jobs, and think that spending a few hours picking his brain on topics ranging from managing a growing company, to brainstorming new ideas, to successfully launching products, would be a great experience for any would be entrepreneur.

If you had to choose, who would you want to meet?  Share it with me in the comments section below, or hop on over to the real poll at YoungEntrepreneur.com and add your answer there.


Steve Wozniak is an Innovator – Are You?

February 6, 2009

wozniak_steveThere are a lot of innovators out there.  If you listen to what people and companies say, everyone is an innovator.  People like to toss around the term innovation because it gets people’s attention.  It makes you think of something new and amazing.

Steve Wozniak just took a job with Fusion-io, a startup focused on Flash memory devices to speed up servers.  Steve, co-founder of Apple, is a true technology innovator.  If you need proof, read his book.  He is an idea man, and he gets things done.  His mind just works in ways that other people’s don’t.

Really, at its base, innovation is change.  It is taking something, usually something that most people take for granted, and improving on it (or creating something completely different in its place).  And, truthfully, we can all innovate.  Every company, from the smallest of small businesses to the biggest of corporations, can make innovative strategic decisions on a daily basis.  So why don’t we?

Well, innovation can be hard.  It must be built into your culture.  It feeds off of creativity and ideas.  You need the people with those ideas to spawn innovative discussions, and you need leaders who listen and see the value in new ideas.

But the point of this blog is to show you that you don’t need a mind like Steve Wozniak’s to innovate.  Read his book, its inspiring.  In fact, read as many business books as you can.  Read the top business blogs.  Take in information, news, suggestions, etc. on innovation and business practice.

Let your mind wander.  Think of possibilities that are far out of reach.  It doesn’t matter what you do on a daily basis, after a while, things get stale.  And for a company that relies on putting out consistently good products or delivering consistently good service, staleness will kill you.

Suggestions: Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur, an employee, a small business owner, and inventor, or a CEO you can…

  1. Always be learning – read everything around you and find out what other people are thinking, doing, and saying.  Surrounding yourself with information leads to inspiration.
  2. Always be doing – don’t let yourself hesitate or put down certain ideas because you are afraid.  Don’t let a day go by where you are not experimenting with something physically or mentally.
  3. Always be talking – social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter have allowed for limitless conversation.  Seek out others in your field and communicate with them, this will bring new ideas to light.

But it doesn’t stop there.  Take advantage of the comment area below and add your own suggestions.  How can you foster innovation and creativity?

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Can You Innovate Yourself Out of the Game?

September 11, 2008

By now, you all know that I like to write about Apple from time to time. And why not? They are by far one of the most innovative companies of our time. But today, they bring up a different kind of question.

Can you innovate yourself out of the game?

Well this question should actually be worded slightly differently. They are not necessarily innovating themselves out of the game. But they are cutting sales of one of their core products to sell another. The story here is this, the introduction of the new generation iPhones, and their popularity, have significantly impacted sales for new versions of the iPod.

Why? Well it’s quite simple. Apple fans are buying the iPhone and using it for music. These same people who would be the first to buy the new iPod nano don’t necessarily need it anymore. Sales projections for the new line are way down from the numbers they had achieved last year with the nano model.

Obviously Apple is pushing the phones, and that is a business model that they see carrying them forward as a company. There are a lot of things that still need to be worked out as far as the iPhone goes and it seems that more of the company’s resources are being pushed in that direction. So what about the iPod? Apple’s revolutionary semi-core product for so many years is seemingly fading. And as iPhones get better and handle more, the iPod may be a part of the past.

Should companies be careful about innovating if there is a chance they will hurt themselves in the long run? Well, the answer isn’t quite as simple as yes or no. Apple is under the impression that in the long term, concentrating on the iPhone is the best option, even if it kills the iPod. In a similar position, other companies might hold off for awhile. But overall, if innovating can bring you to the next level and expand business models, it should lead to more growth opportunities than clinging to old products.


Can One Innovator Lead to Another (And does it matter?)

August 17, 2008

Companies founded on innovation and creativity have thrived in this world from the dawn of time.  It’s easy to see that, and easy to see why.  The world needs people and businesses to come up with the new gadgets, devices, products, foods, and services that take us to the next level.  What’s the next great thing, and when do we get to have it?

Sometimes it can be tough to tell, however, if the company is innovative, or just the founder or CEO at the time.  And there can be a big difference, especially moving forward past that individual person’s tenure.

The best example I can see is Apple.  I have mentioned them before, and they continue to stand out as a truly innovative company in every move they make.  And at the top of all of that is Steve Jobs, probably one of the greatest innovators of our time.  But we saw once already that without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple suffered.  They became less exciting, and created less change.  They became stagnant.

How can a company set themselves up for future success, even after their heralded leader has moved on?  This is a question facing companies like Apple.  And the truth is, there is no surefire way to make it happen.  Potential successors may all be extremely well qualified, bright individuals.  But to replicate successful innovation from one CEO to the next is never a guarantee.

It’s a dangerous game you play when an innovative company becomes boring.  Loyal fans and customers are sure to notice.  Shareholders run scared, employees may lose focus, and everything the company built is in jeopardy.  For a company founded on innovation, a life without innovation cannot exist.

Steve Jobs will not be at Apple forever, and where will they go when he leaves this time?  In my opinion, Steve Jobs last job at Apple will be to secure a successor that is not only qualified, but shares with him the passion for new technology. 

And if it hasn’t started already, the best time to start looking is now.  Build a relationship up with your potential successor and show him the way.  Lend him your vision and knowledge of the industry and allow him to be great.  Then sit back and see if it works out, because you can do all the preparation in the world, but performance will define the future.


Routine Busters

August 4, 2008

Apple builds it right into their tagline, Think Different. The quickest, surefire way to keep the innovator within from coming out is to get stuck in your routines. We all have them. Routines keep us going, they create our comfort zones, they make us get things done. But routines are dangerous, especially if you ever really want to change anything.

When we develop a routine, either as individuals or as an organization, we are limiting our experiences. We are creating an environment where things that are new and different have no place. We feel comfortable the more we practice this routine, and are therefore less likely to step back and challenge ourselves.

Here is an idea, break the routine. I am not saying get rid of it altogether, just change it up from time to time. Do things in the wrong order. Wake up 20 minutes earlier. Go for a walk. Forget about your email for a day. Though all of these things may be quite trivial, they will at least get you out of your comfort zone and thinking about things differently. That is the first step to creating real positive change.

Whenever you find that you are sleep walking through whatever it is that you are doing, wake yourself up. Step outside your comfort zone and see how things change. Don’t make it easy on yourself, because all you are doing is creating limitations. Challenge yourself to do as Apple says and Think Different.