Guerrilla Research. NOT researching gorillas.

The ADwërkers recently viewed an informative presentation about running a small ad agency. One subject that was covered really stood out to me – guerrilla research.

I tend to be very open-minded and have an affinity for the non-traditional. So guerrilla research really intrigued me. Basically, if you have a question that demands an answer from your target audience or the general public, go to the street and ask. The way our presenters put it, “Be fearless. Overturn every stone. Ask the right people, the right questions, the right way.” Then take your results and apply them to your messaging, strategy, etc. Yeah, why not? Who says we have to get all of our research from some sterile lab on the east coast?

Well, in some ways it may be contradictory to the laws of quantitative scientific research, which definitely has its value. And guerrilla research is by no means a replacement for traditional/non-guerrilla research methods, but it still has plenty of pros, pros that traditional research can’t offer.

First of all, guerrilla research is personal. It involves human to human interaction rather than human to paper. So it can deliver deeper insights that can’t always be measured with a pad and pen. Secondly, it’s inexpensive and time efficient, which is beneficial for both the client and the agency. Thirdly, you can be creative with your methods. It’s not limited to simply walking up to strangers on the street and asking questions. The methods are completely open to experimentation, and with that come new opportunities for learning. Fourthly, this isn’t so much a legitimate pro but more of a personal opinion; I love the spirit of it. It carries with it the spirit of advertising. Advertising isn’t always conventional! Why should our research strategies be any different?

Guerrilla research at least deserves a try. Ask a question, and take it upon yourself to find an answer. What do you have to lose? And you just may learn something in the process.

What are your opinions on guerrilla research?

– Andrew

Brand Power: Heavy Eyelids & 44 miles

Recently I had the great pleasure of working as Ronald McDonald’s assistant at a couple McDonald’s stores in Sioux Falls. He was visiting for the 50th anniversary of two different stores, so he spent 4 hours at each entertaining customers with jokes, magic tricks, and just making people smile. Aside from entertaining the kids, he is also great at entertaining the adults. He’s genuinely funny and always had me in stitches. It was such a memorable experience that I’ve been casually telling the story to some friends and family.

Last weekend my girlfriend (Jenny) and I were visiting her parents’ home in the small town of Estelline, South Dakota. It was around 10:00 pm when I was telling my tale of “Ronald Wrangling” to Jenny’s sister Lindsay and her fiancé Dwight. They were amused, but were probably more focused on the question “What the heck does Andrew do for a living again?” Once I finished telling the story, Dwight exclaimed, “Man…I want some McDonald’s!” Then Jenny says, “Yeah, I want their fries!”

After everyone finished enthusiastically discussing their favorite McDonald’s entrées (all the while Dwight repeating that he wants some McDonald’s right now), Jenny and I go upstairs to say goodbye to Alice and Brody, our two cats. When we came back downstairs Lindsay and Dwight were gone, and we were still uncertain of whether or not they were serious about driving 22 miles to the nearest McDonald’s location in the dead of night. As we were traveling back to Brookings Jenny says, “I was serious about getting McDonald’s fries.” So being the congenial guy that I am, after arriving in Brookings around 11:00 pm we head straight for McDonald’s. We pull up to the drive-thru and lo and behold, Dwight and Lindsay are in the vehicle in front of us; they were serious after all.

Now Jenny and I live in Brookings, but Dwight and Lindsay live in Estelline. So they chose to drive 22 miles to Brookings late at night, and 22 miles back to Estelline, all to satiate what they were pining for. Heavy eyelids and 44 miles were not enough to stop them from their McDonald’s craving.

Think about how strong McDonald’s brand power must be. It is a testament to the concept of branding and illustrates what it is capable of, and I find it miraculous. In this demonstration, McDonald’s managed to make a sale by the power of suggestion and that alone. And with 44 miles of inconvenience in the way, late at night, the sale tenaciously succeeded. That’s not just brand power; that is powerful branding, and we all could learn a thing or two from McDonald’s.

Don’t be surprised if you are now craving McDonald’s.

– Andrew

A Boy Named Sue

A Boy Named Sue Sep 18, 2011

In my early years in advertising I worked for a company with a typical name for agencies of the day. Take the owners last names, put them on the door and presto! You’ve got an ad agency. The odd thing was, this is the same method accountants and lawyers use to name their firms. Consequently, when I would tell people where I worked they would often ask if I was a CPA or lawyer. Full disclosure, I used to wear a suit and tie everyday, and I’m sure that added to the confusion.

JMathis or ADwerks

So when I started my own shop the last thing I wanted to do was put my name on the door. I wanted to stand out from the crowd. I wanted to be the boy named Sue. Something different, something unique. ADwërks was born.

But it wasn’t long until a new agency popped up in town who decided on the name AdMark. Hmmm… out of 6 letters, 4 are the same. To make matters worse, the owner’s name was Jim. Confusion happened fairly quickly and we wound up in litigation defending our name. Needless to say, we won and ADwërks lives on.

Now I find myself pondering the problem of how to make an organization stand out from the crowd when they share parts of their name with more than a quarter of their competitors. Imagine your company is called Smith Jones Chocolates and when you list your competitors they include Smith Candies, Frank Jones Confections, Nancy Jones Chocolatier and more…different enough to avoid litigation, but similar enough to confuse customers.

In this case, most of the players have long histories and their markets didn’t overlap until long after the name was well seated and the companies had already grown to substantial size in their micro-markets. That’s not the case with the next example.

As frozen yogurt swings back into vogue the two big new players are CherryBerry and PinkBerry. I don’t know which came first, but it looks like one is trying to play on the goodwill of the other. Or vice versa. God help them if the next player in the field has “berry” in their name.

Puzzling isn’t it? How can you stand out in the crowd when the names are so similar. For your customers it must be a little like “Where’s Waldo” only in this case everyone is wearing a red and white striped hat and shirt.

My advice, when naming a product or business, make sure yours is unique, like that infamous boy named Sue. And like his father, fight to defend that name. What do you think?

– Jim Mathis

The Learning Circle

The Learning Circle Jul 28, 2011

You start out in kindergarten, then finish 13 years later when you graduate high school. For some, you become college freshmen and finish as a college graduates. Fresh out of college, you most likely start out as a newbie at some kind of business or corporation. The circle continues.Circle

The learning process does not necessarily have a definitive beginning and end. And completed schooling certainly is not the end of our education. After graduation, the responsibility of learning becomes our own instead of our professor’s. Because the truth is, there will always be plenty to learn. Once we’ve become comfortable enough in our jobs, to the point where we’re just maintaining the routine, it’s easy to allow ourselves to go with the flow, instead of forcing ourselves to constantly push the threshold of our knowledge, skill sets, and definitions of success. The more we learn, the more we grow, and the better we can be at our jobs (and of course, life). Once we convince ourselves that we have learned enough, or become too arrogant or too proud to admit that we don’t have all the answers, that is when we stop learning. And when we stop learning, we become vulnerable to failure in the always changing world of business and advertising.

This is not to discredit the many intelligent, wise, talented, and highly acclaimed people in business, advertising, and the world in general, but it is a reminder to keep an open mind so we all can continue to learn and improve. That’s the beauty of The Learning Circle – with no true beginning or end, there’s always something new to learn.

– Andrew

Bandwagon Riding

Bandwagon Riding Jul 21, 2011

Technology QR CodeDuring a recent client meeting the discussion turned to putting QR codes in some of their ads. I thought it was a great idea. However, the client didn’t fully understand QR codes and how they work, which made me think of this cautionary message.

As the digital world progressively integrates itself into our culture, along with seemingly endless technology upgrades, more and more businesses are jumping on the bandwagon. I know that everyone is telling you to stay current with the web, but I ask you one thing.

When the next new social media site, digital platform, or any other new technology or digital trend surfaces, take a moment to think rationally about how it can or cannot apply to your business specifically. All too often businesses immediately jump on the latest bandwagon thinking it’s going to somehow magically save them or keep them afloat. Although our digital age can be very beneficial to business, don’t automatically think you have to ride on EVERY bandwagon. It’s not about the fun, cutting-edge technologies you’re using; it’s about how you use them while keeping your consumers in mind. Plus, haphazardly putting out an app or signing up for every social media site out there, without the understanding needed to use these technologies properly to further your business can sometimes be worse than not using them at all.

With our digital world, sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s all about the people behind the technology, and not the technology itself. We’re still communicating with human beings, no matter how you look at it.

– Andrew

The Naming of Restaurants is a Serious Matter

My name is ______Much of our company’s work is for restaurant clients, mostly national chains that you all know; McDonald’s, Applebee’s, Carino’s etc… so they all had well known names long before we started working for them. But as our fair city is growing and new restaurants are opening up, there seems to be an epidemic of new eateries with truly awful names. Having started my own small business more than 12 years ago and since then helping others create names for their businesses, I feel that I have some expertise when it comes to creating a memorable name.

But this skill seems foreign to many new business owners. And it seems they are unwilling to seek help. With that in mind, this post is a plea to those who are thinking of opening a new business; please think twice before the signs are made!

The owner of Pappadox, a well known drinking establishment here in Sioux Falls recently opened a second establishment, calling it The Other Place. While Pappadox may get misspelled occasionally, it is at least memorable, which is more than I can say for The Other Place. And in an interview with the Argus Leader, the owner said of how he came up with the name, “People are always saying we should have went to the other place.” So the moniker is based on poor grammar. Nice.

Another team of budding restaurateurs opened “212° The Boiling Point” in Brandon a few years ago. Know what, I know the significance of 212 degrees without adding “the boiling point.” If they had stopped at “212°” it would have been a clever name, but like a joke, if you feel you have to explain it, you know it isn’t good. Now the same folks have opened kRav’N. Not just a mixed up spelling of a word (no, that would be too simple), they felt the need to throw in some odd caps, just to confuse the subject.

Poo Restaurant... yikes...Other examples; the venerable drinkery Smoe’s sold their liquor license to The Other Place and became Old Skoolz. Perfect for people who didn’t finish—and thus can’t spell—school. The Lie’brary was named after a bad old joke, while it’s sister pub The 18thAmendment was named after the legislation that banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol. If I didn’t know better I would think that was an alcohol-free establishment. Perhaps a better name would have been The 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition.

An old favorite downtown location on Phillips Avenue has seen many names on the door from Sanchez Taquitos to The Fat Duck to Café 334; all fine restaurants in their own way. Now the location holds Bros Brasserie Americano. It’s a nice restaurant, run by two really accomplished chefs, but in the short time it’s been open, I’ve heard it called Brother’s, Brassieres and “that place where Kristina’s used to be.” But most of those who get it right don’t know what a brasserie is or what kind of food to expect there. Sorry guys, I love your pork sandwich, but the name leaves something to be desired.

If someone would just ask before the menu is printed and the sign is on the building, there are a lot of really smart marketing minds in Sioux Falls who would help you come up with a good solid name. Who knows, we might even be willing to trade our services for food and drinks. What do you think?


Photos by Poppy Thomas Hill and Benjamin Vander Steen. Thanks!

Why Clarity Is Key

Why Clarity Is Key Jul 06, 2011

Crazy Traffic LightsMy wife and I recently made a road trip down to Springfield, Missouri. Unfortunately, we left from Sioux Falls around 8:00 pm. And it’s a 9+ hour drive.

The night we left, we ran into a problem. To make a long story short, some misplaced and incorrectly-marked detour signs added about 50 minutes to our already-9-hour drive. And since this all took place around midnight, our options for getting help were extremely limited (and I’m not even the stereotypical, never-asks-for-directions male that is portrayed in every travel-related movie).

All it would’ve taken was one or two more clearly marked signs. A few guideposts to ensure that we were on the right path. But there we were, wondering why the detour signs for I-29 S were pointing BOTH directions at a T-intersection.

However, even amidst all of the intense frustration and confusion, I realized that this scenario fits perfectly in the business world. Because, when it comes to sharing your message with your customers, it’s amazing how much a little extra clarity can do. Whether it’s encouraging them to pay for your product or service or simply asking them to support you on Facebook, giving your target audience clear, defined ways to accomplish a goal is essential.

If your Facebook page isn’t growing as quickly as you’d like, have you considered adding a “Like” button for your page on your company website? If your online sales are down, have you been sure to include a prominently displayed “Buy Now” (or similarly-messaged) button on your site? Small guideposts can make a big difference when it comes to keeping your customers on the right path.

Eventually we found our way, but it would’ve been much easier if things were clear the first time around. Make sure your customers aren’t suffering the same fate my wife and I suffered on our road trip. I can tell you from personal experience that clarity is, in fact, key.

-Mike B.

Is Your Business Prepared for the Changing Times?

CarHop Mobile SiteAccording to a recent Advertising Age article, tablet users are expected to double by early next year. While the number of current tablet users may not seem outrageously high now—only 12% of American internet users (28 million people) are accessing the web through tablets today—a study by the Online Publishers Association and Frank N. Magid Associations predicts that roughly 54 million Americans (23%) will be using tablets for internet access by early next year.

So what does that mean for your business? It means you should seriously be considering the next steps for your online presence. If tablet growth continues at the rate it’s going, it won’t be long before tablet devices are a staple of the internet browsing experience for your customers, not just a rising trend. So there’s no better time than now to get ahead of the curve.

And keep in mind that it’s not just tablet use that’s growing. At ADwërks, we’ve seen a similar trend with mobile website usage. One of our clients, CarHop, has seen huge jumps in the number of visits to its mobile website over the past few months. From 3200+ visits in December to 5700+ visits in February up to 7500+ in April and May, the mobile site has seen an increasing number of visits each month and it looks like that trend will only continue moving forward.

It’s not hard to see that internet use on tablets and mobile devices will continue to grow in the future. As our dear friend Bob Dylan said, “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” It’s up to you to decide if your business wants to evolve with the times or stay stuck in the past.

Stop Annoying Your Target Audience

Annoying Noises ProhibitedThis post is a could-have-been complaint turned into a business lesson on keeping your target audience in mind.

You see, there’s this music news website that I visit pretty regularly. The reason I check it regularly is because they update the site daily with newly-released music. Unfortunately, this site has been using ads on its music pages that play noise when you roll over them. And sometimes rolling over those ads is nearly unavoidable.

This means that while I’m in the middle of listening to a song (which, as I mentioned, is the only reason I visit the site), I’ll suddenly hear a random assortment of talking/singing simultaneously playing from an unavoidable banner ad for Cherry Dr. Pepper.

Let’s put this into a business perspective. You have a meeting with John. You go to your meeting and start talking with John. Then, mid-meeting, John pulls out his cell phone and starts another, totally unrelated meeting with someone else. And John expects you to be completely ok with that.

This is what happens to me almost every time I try to listen to new music on this website. And, as you can expect, it’s really starting to turn me off of that site. I’m just about ready to move on to new places, simply because they can’t use a noise-free banner ad on their music pages. Probably not the result they were going for.

My point is this – in any aspect of your business, it’s important to consider what your target audience wants. Not what you think they want. Not what makes you the most money. But what will keep your target audience returning as loyal customers instead of driving them away over time.

Because if your product or service is annoying to your customers, that alone could be the difference between someone choosing your product/service or instead choosing an option that doesn’t annoy them when they try to use it. All in all, it’s for you to decide. But in my experience, the happy customer option is usually a pretty good choice.

-Mike B.

Photo by Patrick Fitzgerald. Thanks Patrick!

What Macho Man Randy Savage Taught Me About Business

Macho ManAs a childhood fan of professional wrestling, I was more than a little sad to hear the news a few weeks ago that “Macho Man” Randy Savage had passed away. One of my all-time favorites growing up (as my multiple Macho Man action figures can attest to), Macho Man brought a flair and excitement to his matches that other wrestlers just didn’t have. He was more than just “a pro wrestler.”

After thinking about what made him more than just a pro wrestler, I realized what made Macho Man so unique (and how it can apply to the business world).

Plain and simple, Macho Man had personality. Lots of it. Whether he was flying through the air in neon green tights or “snappin’ into a Slim Jim” in a loud and over-the-top Slim Jim commercial, Macho Man capitalized on his entertaining personality in order to make his footprint in pop culture history.

The question is, does your business have a personality like that? A personality that puts a smile on people’s faces and gets them excited about what gets you excited? And if it does have that kind of personality, how are you showing it off to the world?

That’s the beauty of smart advertising. It gives you a chance to highlight your business’s personality in a way that draws a customer in and makes them want to be a part of your passion. Advertising shows them what makes you unique, and it does so with a purpose.

Having a personality sets you apart. It makes you memorable. Don’t let the opportunity to show off that personality pass you by. You may not need to show it off with pink and green tights like Macho Man, but you’d be surprised at how well you can share your business’s passion and personality with just a little bit of advertising.

Oooohhh yeahhhh! Dig it!

-Mike B.