Interested in marketing, writing, and business?

I post ideas from crazy to great, share the best stories that I find on the net, and work hard to provide great content to my readers. From the practical business uses of social media to information on direct mail, I’ve probably written a post on it.

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The Toilet Paper Fallacy

Posted by on Oct 12, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

I stole this picture from their website – here’s the link


Everybody reading this probably (hopefully?) uses toilet paper. Every person that I know uses toilet paper. Those people encompass all ages, races, and genders. And yet, not everybody buys toilet paper.

Marketing is a business with a lot of questions. In fact, I think it’s a business driven by questions. It would be hard to decide what the most important question advertisers should ask themselves is, but one that I might vote for is “Who is going to buy this product or service?”

Some people might phrase that as “Who is my customer?”, which is fine too. The problem is, most business owners say something like “Everybody is a potential customer. Everybody can buy what I have to sell, therefore my advertising should appeal to everyone.” And that’s where most marketing plans go off the rails. Not in the execution, not in the social strategy, and not in the creative department. In the very first question that most people ask. Who is my customer? Everyone. BZZZZZZT!

There’s four people in my house, and all four use toilet paper. But only one actually buys toilet paper, and that one person is my wife. Oh sure, I buy toilet paper sometimes and there are all male households where men purchase the TP – but of course there are just as many all female households. The fact is that women account for between 70 and 80% of all consumer spending. That means, among other things, that women purchase most of the toilet paper.

For the most impact, your TP marketing dollars should focus primarily on women. But even that is not enough. You need to further drill down: Which age groups purchase the most bathroom tissue? Where do they live? What influences their purchasing decisions? Do they collect and use coupons? How do they pay for it?

Then, if you’re really serious, you break your marketing down even further. Most large companies use different creative for different markets. They write different copy for rural areas than they do for New York City. They hire Hispanic agencies to create content just for Hispanic consumers. This is a great idea, since you don’t want to end up with a horrible mistranslation of your campaign.

Of course, there’s also a downside to focusing too heavily on a specific market. Just because a certain demographic is the most likely to purchase from you, doesn’t mean that they are the only demographic to purchase from you. If I assume that 80% of all toilet paper purchases are made by women, that still leaves 20% of those purchases to men. If you ignore those men, you are potentially leaving billions of dollars on the table.

So, how do you decide how to spend your marketing dollars? At the core of that question is your brand. When Dollar Shave Club added One Wipe Charlies to their stable of products, they appealed to their mostly male members with the same type of irreverent video that launched their razor blade business. They focus on selling to men, and they aren’t after the entire TP market – just a small and profitable corner of it. They likely also end up selling to some women, even though that wasn’t their primary target. By focusing on a smaller niche market, they avoid the clutter and confusion of competing with the Charmins and Purexes of the world.

And what about you? Who IS your customer? Who is most likely to buy what you’re selling, and why?



Underestimating the Future

Posted by on Sep 29, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments,_WEF_2009_Davos.jpg

(Image: The World Economic Forum via Wikimedia Commons)

Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.

~Bill Gates

I’m going to change Mr. Gates’ quotes: most people underestimate the change they will encounter in one year, and overestimate the change they will see in 10 years.

Gates’ quote is, in my experience, completely accurate. Looking back on my past 10 years, I’m amazed at how quickly it has gone by and also wish that I had done more in various areas – that website I abandoned 7 years ago would be worth a fortune today had I kept it up, I’m sure 😉

Still, I think my modification also holds true. While individuals have the ability to move quickly, to adapt, and to make significant change, large complex systems have built in bumpers that resist change. This is one of the reasons that the iPhone was almost inconceivable 10 years ago, and also why we still don’t have flying cars.

In my business career I have been both blessed and cursed by technology. The first business I worked for after completing my post-secondary education – I managed a large chain’s electronics and appliance repair centres in both Regina and Saskatoon – was decimated by technology. In 1997, when I started there, people would gladly spend $400 to repair their 4-Head HiFi VHS machines. When I left 3 short years later you could buy a new DVD player for $49 at the Boxing Day Sale. My boss, one of my earliest mentors, told me that he had electronics technicians learning how to fix washing machines in order to keep their jobs. During that time we went from troubleshooting and replacing individual components on circuit boards to replacing circuit boards, to putting things in a box and sending them back to a factory. At the time appliances, such as washing machines or dryers, were mainly mechanical devices, though they are obviously much more technologically advanced now.

On the flip side, I owe much of my present success to the rapid upheaval in the traditional marketing world. As print and other forms of mass media became less relevant in the face of a growing digital world, cracks opened up that allowed sharp people with a hunger to learn the chance to make a big impact.

I don’t intend to predict the future with this post, but I have a few apps on my phone that, when I show them to people, tend to make their jaws drop. I also have some technology that I like to play with that does the same thing. You may know about these already – you may even know about newer versions of them than I do – but I present some of them here today as an example of how things may change quite quickly in the future.

Google Translate – This simple app has been around for a while, but it feels like magic to me and most of the people I show it to. Simply choose the source language and the language you want something translated into, allow the app to access your camera, and then point it at any sign. The app reads the words, translates them, and then superimposes the new language over top of the old. I’ve been using this app for over a year, and every time I open it I still get excited.

Google Cardboard – For less than $20 (sometimes WAY less) you can get a cardboard virtual reality headset that works with any relatively modern smartphone to create a decent VR experience. It’s not an Oculus Rift, but it doesn’t have to be. Technology prices drop dramatically over time, and Cardboard is a fantastic way for ANYBODY to get a glimpse at this new technology early. Once again, this technology isn’t really NEW – it’s been around for a little while. Think of Cardboard as the gateway drug into a Rift – which will have an ever-declining price in the coming years.

NYT VR – The New York Times is one of the oldest and most prestigious print institutions in the world. By all accounts they have also successfully managed the transition to the digital world. As new technologies come online – such as Google Cardboard – they have continued to adapt. Their VR platform is one such example. Will it be the future of the news media? Probably not. Are the 3 to 10 minute immersive VR news videos that they share on the platform incredibly well researched, thought provoking, and jaw-dropping? Yes. Will we all end up standing around our houses wearing VR headsets? I don’t know – but I think the NYT is doing a fantastic job of staying on top of the trends and staying ahead of the curve.

Electric Cars – I’m a car guy – I always have been. I had a subscription to Road & Track when I was 10 years old. One early story from, I would say around 1987, about electric cars speculated that it was high-end performance cars that would benefit from technology first. This would normalize the technology, the writer theorized, making it desirable to car guys (and ladies) who would ultimately embrace the trickle-down tech. Who’d want a regular Corvette with only 240 horsepower (it was 1987, after all), when the Z06 had electric motors and made 300? Based on the way the electric car industry floundered over the next couple of decades, the manufacturers didn’t take this advice. Rather than desirable hot rods, we were left with the Prius – a wonderful car that has never excited a single human being (except for maybe the folks over at Roadkill). It took Elon Musk and his Tesla Roadster and then the Model S, which is one of the fastest accelerating production cars in history, to get car people riled up about the possibility of EVs in their garages.  This technology is going to EXPLODE in the coming years, and in a very short-time frame there will be EVs all over the roads.

Self-driving Cars – It’s safer, faster, and better for the environment. It also probably won’t catch on in most of North America in the short-term because of stubborn people like me who insist on driving themselves around. Where it will catch on quickly is in long-distance trucking where removing the driver from the equation will halve shipping times, save fuel, reduce product spoilage, and reduce emissions. This is going to happen sooner than most people think, and it won’t be long before truckers drive only from truck stop (where the autonomous vehicles park themselves to avoid difficult city driving) to warehouse. This also means that most truck drivers will be home with their families a lot more, dramatically changing the lives of millions of people.

Instant Translation – Just today I downloaded an app called ‘Live Translator Free’ – which listens to whatever you say in your native language, converts it to text, translates it to a language of your choosing, and then reads it back in the new language. In my short few experiments with it today I was blown away at how quickly and accurately it was able to understand my speech, and how fast the translation was. I’m told the translation was also very accurate – if erring on the formal side. This technology will be automated into an earbud in an amazingly short time, and the benefits our entire species is going to see in just the next few years because of this will be incredible. We will either all finally understand exactly what we all mean when we talk to each other and end up in a lasting period of world peace… or become Cybermen. But my vote is on a huge increase in peace and understanding.

Print Media – I actually think that print is going to rebound from where it’s at now. Not that most newspapers will rebound – because I think that many markets will ultimately lose their daily print newspapers in the next few years – but that there will be a resurgence in high quality magazines, journals, and books. I like my Kindle, but I LOVE cracking the spine on a hardcover or shopping for magazines at the bookstore. There is a lot of opportunity for great local and niche content to be packaged and sold on a bookstand.

If these examples are new to you: enjoy. If you think you have something better – post it in the comments!

On Customer Service

Posted by on Aug 24, 2016 in Ryan's Thoughts | 0 comments

open engine

First, a quick background note: I work on cars… a lot. I repair them, modify them, and for some reason seem to like to torture myself with old vehicles. I’m telling you this because I have learned that, when repairing cars, things sometimes go wrong. Sometimes things go disastrously wrong. You break something unrelated to the original repair, you get the wrong parts in the box, or the new part doesn’t work, leading you to question your original diagnosis. This will become important later on.

I’m telling you this story because last week, while away on vacation, I dropped my wife’s car off at a shop to replace a leaking gasket that I really didn’t want to fix myself. The gasket was hard to get to, had a couple of probably seized bolts holding it in place, and I just KNEW it was going to be a pain in the butt to do. I was going to be out of town for a week, the car would be sitting – why not just have it fixed while I’m away?

The quote was for 4 hours of labour. The part was $15. It would easily be done in a single day by a professional mechanic with a vehicle lift, air tools, and years of experience. I dropped the car off on Sunday morning. I was coming back into town on Thursday, and it would be ready for me to pick up. Easy decision.

Wednesday was when I got the first call.

“Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve discovered that your car also needs part X, and it’s going to cost an additional $199.” Uh-huh.

Then on Thursday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. We’ve found that part Y and Z are on their way out, and we recommend replacing them for an additional $100.” Uh-huh.

Thursday evening. “Hello Mr. Holota, this is the repair shop calling. Remember part X? That part is no longer available and we have to replace it with upgraded part AA. But instead of $199, it’s $599, plus another $100 for part AA-1.Oh, and we can’t get it until Monday.” Hold the phone, please. 

I’m sure that most of you can relate to this story. You pay someone with specialized knowledge to perform a task for you – whether it’s a plumber, mechanic, lawyer, or god forbid – marketer – and they keep adding things onto the bill. You have a feeling that you’re being taken for a ride. This is the part where the tidbit of information about me being a car guy comes into play. See, I’m not a professional mechanic – but we’ve had this particular car for 9 years (my other car, the one I bought in high school – I’ve had it for 22 years). The car is considered an enthusiast vehicle, so there are web forums of dedicated fans who post detailed instructions on everything from how to change a headlight to how to remove an engine. And, there are online parts suppliers that can get anything under the sun for a tiny percentage of what you can get them for from the dealer or even the local auto parts store. So part AA and part AA-1? I know all about them. They’re common failure parts… and they are also readily available for much less than $700. At this point, I start to get a little bit mad. If I’d have wanted to spend a ton of money and wait several days, I could have just ordered a whole pile of parts myself. I need to think about this overnight.

Friday morning the phone rings again. “Hello Mr. Holota. We’ve found an alternative to part AA and AA-1 at a much more reasonable price. They’ll still be here on Monday.” Oh, okay. This calms me down a bit.

Monday the phone rings. “Hello Mr. Holota. You won’t believe this. The wrong part came in the box. We have to re-order it, but it will be here tomorrow.” At this point, I’m starting to believe that the garage is full of untrained monkeys and that I should have just paid a random person off the street to take care of the problem for me.

Then came Tuesday. This time, the phone call from the garage said that the car was ready. I headed down to the shop after work to pay the bill and get the keys. The service advisor shakes my hand, tells me how nice it is to meet me, and says they’re going to miss the car, because it’s been there so long it feels like family. A joke to ease the tension. He has trouble finding the keys, and while he’s looking the owner of the shop comes out to talk to me. It’s a very nice car, she says, especially given the age. We talk about cars. They’re both enthusiasts who genuinely LIKE cars (not all mechanics do). The talk drifts from the car that was just repaired to the car I pulled up in. “You’ve had it for 22 years? Wow!”

I leave with a smile on my face.

As I mentioned, I know all about the car that was being repaired. I KNEW the repair would be trouble, which is why I didn’t want to do it myself. I know that things can go wrong, that bolts get stuck, and that other things can get broken while trying to do a repair. I KNOW that you can get the wrong parts in a box. These things really do happen. Cars are actually incredibly complex machines, and Murphy’s Law most certainly applies to their repair – especially as they get old (sometime ask me about the February I took the bus to work because the two hour repair I started ballooned into a 4 week fiasco).

Here’s the important part: I completely understood the repair and even empathized with them about the repair, the difficulties they were having, and the problems getting parts. But even so, the situation was not made okay until I talked with them face to face, got to know them a little bit better, and had a good understanding of who they were and what their intentions were. This was a GREAT independent repair shop, and I would go back there again in a heartbeat. There’s a lesson here for anyone in business.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about medical malpractice. He notes that some doctors make tons of mistakes, and yet never get sued, while other doctors rarely make mistakes but seem to get sued often.

“…the overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. In other words, patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care – and something else happens to them.”

In fact, Gladwell concluded that the ‘something else’ was just bad customer service.

“What comes up again and again in malpractice cases is that patients say they were rushed or ignored or treated poorly.”

Imagine if the garage had taken my payment and then rushed me out the door. I would have felt badly about the experience. I would have felt taken advantage of, and I would have started to question other things. Sure, I know that part AA was a common failure item, but in this case, was it really? I would have felt ripped off. But because the garage took the time to chat with me and get to know me, I understood that the problems they were having were the very same problems that I would have run into had I tried to do the job myself. Furthermore, I likely would have broken even more stuff myself in my impatience and growing anger (see the February story, above).

Here’s the marketing lesson: If you spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to convince people to walk into your building and then treat them like dirt when they arrive, you’ve wasted all of your money. If, on the other hand, you treat them like they are the most important people in the world, they will reward you with patience, understanding, and kindness, even when something goes wrong. Customer service is a natural extension of marketing. Treat your customers right, and they will sing your praises to anyone who will listen. Treat them wrong, and they’ll tell everyone about that too.