Friday, March 25, 2011

Put a Little "Magic" in Your Marketing

   We recently took a trip to Disney World and I wanted to share some of my observations about what is arguably the biggest marketing machine in the history of the world, and how you, too, can borrow some of Disney's magic formula.
   We stayed on property, so as soon as we landed at Orlando Airport, we got on the Magic Express and our "magic" Disney experience was under way. Actually, it began long before we left home on the awesome and thoroughly informative web sites Disney has developed. We didn't have to touch a suitcase - everything was delivered right to our room. On the way back home, you can check your luggage right at the resort. All your travel arrangements are made extremely convenient.
   The first stroke of brilliance about Disney's marketing is that everything is "magic." Of course, it's not really magic but the inner child in all of us wants to experience magic. Right away, they capture our imaginations.
  Everything at Disney World is geared toward making your experience as easy, comfortable and "magical" as possible. All the transportation is a piece of cake to navigate and seamless. The food - even the burgers and pizza - is great, the service is first-class, the atmosphere is relaxing, fun and constantly captivates the senses. There's always something to see, look at, watch, ride, eat or listen to. It's all about "the show." That's why staff are called "cast members."
   When you arrive at your resort - in our case, Pop Century - the Disney branding is everywhere and there are constant reminders of half a century's worth of Disney magic - so maybe you'll remember how much you loved "Jungle Book" and buy the DVD. The Disney experience is also skillfully tied into the American experience. In Pop Century, for instance, each section of the resort is themed after a particular decade - in our case, the 60s, so we were surrounded by images of my childhood - bellbottoms, hippies, lovebugs, Beatles, etc. At the entrance to Magic Kingdom, you walk down "Main Street USA," which includes all the quintessential elements of a typical American Main Street - City Hall, the firehouse, the Chamber of Commerce. The inescapable message - the branding - is that Disney is as American as baseball and apple pie. And, of course, it is.
   The other thing you see on Main Street USA are shops - lots of shops. Everywhere you go in Disney World, there are abundant opportunities to part with your money and everything is expensive. But somehow, caught up in the magic of the experience, you find yourself gleefully reaching in your pocket for your debit card.
   When you get on the bus - any bus - the video monitors strategically located throughout the bus start the spiel, and the spiel is always geared toward your destination. If you're heading to Animal Kingdom, it's all about the many sites, attractions, rides and restaurants you'll find when you arrive. At every park, there's something for every age and every taste, so your kids and your parents can have an equally magical experience.
   And the merchandising - oh, the merchandising. At the exit to every major ride, before you can get back out into the park, you are routed through a gift shop with all manner of merchandise from the ride you were just on. I admit, being a guitar player, on the way off the Rockin' Rollercoaster (which is based on the music of Aerosmith and includes a welcome from the guys themselves - on video, of course) I had to buy a very cool t-shirt with a Fender Stratocaster on it - for the bargain price of $39! Interestingly, many of the shops also cross-stock merchandise from other popular Disney movies, characters, rides, etc., so in just about every shop you can find something you might want to buy.
   Aside from the great time I had with my family, the Disney experience, for me, was pure total integrated marketing magic. I always tell my clients that everything you do is marketing. In other words, advertising will bring people through your door, but what they experience when they get there is what keeps them coming back. Disney gets that - in spades - and they have spared no expense in making their guest - sorry, their audience - experience as special as possible. You can do it, too - at far less than what Disney spends.
   So take a page from the Disney's playbook and put a little magic in your marketing. And remember, the magic is in you!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Preparing for Media Interviews: Part 1 - Know Thy Interviewer

Your PR campaign has paid off and you've been asked to be interviewed by a newspaper / magazine reporter or appear as a guest on a TV or radio program. Congratulations! The following information should help you prepare:

Gather Background Information
  1. Learn all you can about the reporter or interviewer. What's his/her style?  Is he/she experienced or knowledgeable about your field of expertise? Do they have a political leaning to the right or left? Do they have an apparent bias on your issue or topic of discussion?
  2. Learn all you can about the publication / program. What is the publication/program's reputation? What kind of journalism is the publication/program known for? What are the demographics of the audience? What's the format (news, talk show, opinion, variety show, etc.)? Is the program a call-in show? Is there a studio audience?
Knowing what to expect will go a long way toward helping you prepare for the interview and will help calm your stage fright. Ask the producer, reporter or interviewer – whoever is setting up the interview – the following questions prior to your appearance:
  1. What's the topic of the interview and why was it chosen? Most producers choose timely topics or topics of general interest to their audience. (A timely topic is something that's in the news now or in sync with the season. A topic of general interest may be interesting at any time, such as cooking tips for those who are interested in gourmet cooking.) Make relevant suggestions to the producer, reporter or interviewer to highlight your latest accomplishments or activities. For example, if the topic is entrepreneurs and home-based businesses, let your contact know about a recent acount you landed that you will be servicing from your home office.
  2. Will the interviewer pull relevant information from other sources during the interview? Prep yourself on what the interviewer will know and what types of questions will be asked. Understand from whom and from where they'll obtain information. Make yourself a source of information. Provide the interviewer with your biography and company information (promo kit, brochures, etc.) well in advance. If possible, include any public relations information your company has already produced, such as videotapes or publicity photographs for TV, and audio tapes for radio. If you'll be part of a panel, find out who the other panelists are and the points they will be making. Research their backgrounds online beforehand. Keep abreast of relevant current events.
  3. How long will the interview last? Knowing the length of the interview will help you better prepare your answers to anticipated questions. Will you be interviewed for three or 20 minutes? The shorter the interview, the more critical it is that you condense your main messages into sound bites of 10 to 20 seconds.
  4. Is the interview live or taped? Live interviews may require more practice and preparation on your part. There won't be any “retakes” if you stutter, misspeak or fail to make your point. If the interview isn't live, will the recorded interview be edited? If it is recorded but not edited heavily, prepare as you would for a live interview.
  5. Where will the interview be conducted? If the interviewer or reporter is coming to your location, create a visually enhancing environment to help project a positive image and emphasize your message. Use props, or stage a working environment or situation to illustrate your professionalism and expertise. For example, if you own and operate a flower shop, you might choose to be interviewed in front of your best flower arrangements.
  6. Don’t think of how many people are watching or listening. While you should be very careful what you say, try to focus on the interviewer and think of it as a one-on-one conversation. But remember, a good interview is not a good conversation. Prepare your message carefully, make your points succinctly and stop talking. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Truth, If You Can Handle It: Why People Continue To Believe Lies in the Face of Contrary Evidence

There's an old adage in politics that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. History's most effective propagandaists - Hitler, for instance - understood this principle well. As a PR professional and student of mass communications, I am forever fascinated by the pervasiveness of lies in public discourse and the percentage of people who believe them.

I have often tried to counsel my trial lawyer clients that the truth will not set them free - that a majority of Americans believe our civil justice system is awash in frivolous litigation and no amount of evidence is going to convince them otherwise. Because they are trained to rely on evidence to prove their cases, it is a difficult concept for most attorneys to accept.

For example, in Pennsylvania, which was at the epicenter of a nationwide debate several years ago over limiting lawsuits for medical malpractice, the number of malpractice lawsuits has actually dropped by 40 percent over the past eight years and the compensation being paid to victims is down 50 percent. Meanwhile, physicians' insurance premiums have skyrocketed. If we can just get that information in front of people, trial attorneys believe, we can win the public debate over tort reform.

In a courtroom, maybe. But in the court of public opinion, whichever side in a particular debate frames the issue and gets their message out most effectively wins, regardless of the truth. Once a person adopts a particular position based on "what they've heard," it is very difficult, if not impossible, to change their minds. Why? Because people basically hear what they want to believe. A viewpoint that hews most closely to their own politics or worldview is most likely going to be the position they adopt.

An op-ed from the June 27, 2008, New York Times by two college professors, Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, sheds some light on the question. Here are some excerpts:
"The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.

With time, this misremembering only gets worse. A false statement from a noncredible source that is at first not believed can gain credibility during the months it takes to reprocess memories from short-term hippocampal storage to longer-term cortical storage. As the source is forgotten, the message and its implications gain strength ...

Even if they do not understand the neuroscience behind source amnesia, campaign strategists can exploit it to spread misinformation. They know that if their message is initially memorable, its impression will persist long after it is debunked. In repeating a falsehood, someone may back it up with an opening line like “I think I read somewhere” or even with a reference to a specific source.

In one study, a group of Stanford students was exposed repeatedly to an unsubstantiated claim taken from a Web site that Coca-Cola is an effective paint thinner. Students who read the statement five times were nearly one-third more likely than those who read it only twice to attribute it to Consumer Reports (rather than The National Enquirer, their other choice), giving it a gloss of credibility.

Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we recall is the way our brains fit facts into established mental frameworks. We tend to remember news that accords with our worldview, and discount statements that contradict it.

In another Stanford study, 48 students, half of whom said they favored capital punishment and half of whom said they opposed it, were presented with two pieces of evidence, one supporting and one contradicting the claim that capital punishment deters crime. Both groups were more convinced by the evidence that supported their initial position ... 

Journalists and campaign workers may think they are acting to counter misinformation by pointing out that it is not true. But by repeating a false rumor, they may inadvertently make it stronger."
Obviously, why people believe misinformation defies easy explanation. Some theorists believe people are most effectively motivated by fear - that the reptilian part of the brain (the part that contains the survival instinct) is the part you have to activate if you want to persuade people. There is certainly ample evidence to support such a theory.

Whatever the reasons, the truth is you can get at least some people - even a majority - to believe almost anything.