6 Ways to Increase Your Competitive Edge

What makes you better than your competition and how do you maintain your competitive edge? Those that thrive are constantly asking questions like these to self-assess and improve upon their competition.

In advertising and marketing, those that don’t improve become vintage agencies no longer serving the needs of modern consumers and thus drop off the map. So how do we at Fraser Communications, an agency founded last century, not only keep up with but, surpass the competition? Individuals shared key tactics to increase their competitive edge:

1. Talk less. Listen more.

sculpture-1445167_1920“Mine is incredibly basic, yet in my opinion very necessary: Talk less. Listen more. Chiming in and adding your “two cents” isn’t so much about adding value – too often, it’s simply fulfilling a perceived obligation to contribute to a conversation. Don’t be part of the endless chatter. Listen, absorb, learn. And make your own contributions more meaningful (and ultimately more impactful).” – Melissa Miller

2. Say yes.

yes-1510054_1920“Not saying no to new challenges that are outside of what I know or  “normally” do as part of a communications company. This has helped me learn new skills and helped our clients shine in the faces of their executive leadership.” – Ilene Prince

“Say yes – enthusiastically take on new projects with an openness to learn and creative problem solve. Pull from a diverse array of past experience and projects.” – Elana Polan

3. Stay informed.

business-man-1031755_1920“I’ve kept ahead of the competition by reading industry blogs and newsletters. I review pieces on writing, branding, public relations, and social media marketing that analyze current trends, introduce time-saving tools, and showcase exemplary work. This habit strengthens my skill-set by familiarizing me with today’s best marketing practices.” – Risa C. Voss Jensen

4. Self improve.

light-bulbs-1125016_1920“I feel like an important part of staying competitive is constantly striving to better yourself; to learn more than you knew the day before. Complacency kills careers (and alliteration is awesome). Every day I try to absorb insights from brilliant colleagues, read articles, identify personal and professional growth opportunities, and attend events or seminars whenever I can. I think it’s also important to take yourself out of your daily routine or “bubble” on a regular basis. For the same reason that traveling helps you discover new things and experience different cultures, changing up your work environment can help you gain new perspectives and alter or strengthen previous perceptions. For those working in the social marketing arena, harnessing that range of empathy can mean providing clients with deeper, more meaningful work that truly makes an impact.” – Danielle Thouin

5. Work as a team.

“Keep everyone in the loop – our weekly status mteam-386673_1920eetings that include all departments are great because including everyone often leads to fresh perspectives and experiences that help solve problems.” – Elana Polan

6. Find balance.

“Work life balance… Log off when you are on vacation or even on the weekends and evenings. It’s important to have balance when we live in a world where we are reachable 24/7. We have to set boundaries, not only for our own personal health, but also to not set a precedent of being available any and every given moment.” – Caroline Lenher

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Caroline hiking in Sedona, Arizona

Why destination viewing works for advertisers.

Similar to a destination wedding, destination viewing is a media event that consolidates viewers to one location whether it be a platform or network. Examples of well known destination viewing events include the Super Bowl and the Oscars. These events offer large audiences for advertisers and are associated with a high price tag. This year, to air a thirty second ad, it cost a reported $5m for the Super Bowl and $2.5m for the Oscars.

Advertisers pay these prices in the hopes to be the most talked about ad. Some utilize hot button issues while others might use celebrity power or puppies to reach new fans. Although these destination viewing events aggregate viewers to a single location, advertisers rely on cross-platform conversation to compound interest. Given that an estimated eighty-four percent of smartphone and tablet owners engage with those screens while watching television, commenting on the content and the ads, they aren’t wrong.

“We take destination viewing into account when planning media by utilizing events for certain audiences such as sports, Dancing with the Stars, The Voice finale, and more. People want to see or hear the action as it happens. No one likes a spoiler.” – Renee Fraser, CEO, Fraser Communications

Advertisers even use these popular events to create ads broadcasted afterwards. Honda for example, although they did air an ad during Super Bowl LI, had a Super Bowl viewing party that raised money based on commercials with cliche advertising techniques. The donation drive was filmed and commercials aired after the Super Bowl. Strategies like this show that destination viewing events are being utilized far past the events themselves.

With content no longer king, and distribution taking over, it’s no wonder why advertisers are milking destination viewing events for all their worth.

“Searching for posts with the hashtag #superbowl, Netbase used its Instant Search social analytics engine to mine 300 million sources (including social networks and blogs), and found that 2.7 million people authored 5.7 million original posts between noon Sunday and 1 pm Monday (all times EST), leading to almost 40 billion impressions.” – Nelson Granados, Forbes

This level of distribution has advertisers foaming at the mouth. Destination viewing events, with their distribution potential from the event as well as user authorship on social media, will continue to garner global attention of both fans and advertisers.

How a simple song has the power to get California to Talk. Read. Sing.

Remember jingles? Those hard-to-forget musical ditties that extolled the virtues of almost every product and service advertised in the 20th century? Remember “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz”? “You deserve a break today”? And that classic, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” revisited in the Mad Men finale and attributed to Don Draper’s EUREKA moment?

The American jingle was the most valuable concept in the communications toolbox for over 100 years. It was a simply brilliant way to cut through the clutter and brand a product or service. But with the advent of MTV, and the desire of recording artists to cash in on their extensive songbooks, jingles fell out of favor in the late 80’s. My generation of Mad Men and Women scorned them. “If you don’t have something to say, sing it” was the knock.

Today, Fraser Communications’ efforts with First 5 California to get parents to talk, read and sing to their children ages 0 to 5 has had us immersed in recent brain research. We discovered that, lo and behold, those ancient jingle writers were onto something: Human beings remember words better when they rhyme. And they REALLY remember them when those rhymes are set to music.

And so, we went back to the well, and wrote a jingle. Then because “Plop Plop Fizz Fizz” was made even more memorable by Speedy Alka Seltzer, we created three enthusiastic animated mascots to sing our song: The Smarter Birds – Parrot, Owl and Songbird.

Great music is hard to create. Great jingles even harder as there is less time to arrive at a melody and there are specific things you need to communicate. With Anthony Marinelli of Music Forever, we were able to access the most talented songwriters in Los Angeles, and compose a winning toe-tapping tune. Then, for our characters, we partnered with the inspired and skilled animators at The Mill.

We spent five months developing our Smarter Birds, writing their backstories, rewriting lyrics, listening to the melodies that could bring those lyrics to life, shooting, editing, and getting energized daily by our wonderful First 5 California partners, who were hugely supportive during this delightful journey.

There was a single focus to these efforts: We wanted the first-time exposure of the jingle to “stick” in the mind, and be hummable all day long.  And we succeeded, if the videos of children hearing it for the first time are any indication. Now, we’re taking our Smarter Birds on the digital and social media road. Our fingers are crossed and our toes are tapping that another generation of California parents will talk, read and sing (with our song in their repertoire!) to their children every day, exercising their brains, and helping them succeed in school. Did I tell you we’re also making Smarter Bird puppets? And writing a Smarter Birds activity book?

All these efforts fell into place beautifully, proving that even though a jingle is a simple thing, its power is enormous. Let the Smarter Birds fly.

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How digital killed the sales funnel.

How digital killed the sales funnel.

If you went to school for business or communications, you’ve probably heard of a concept from the 1800s called the sales funnel. If not, you’ve likely heard of a synonym such as the AIDA-model, sales pipeline, or purchase funnel. Recently, due to the development of digital sales and marketing, critics have come to suggest a modified version of the traditional sales funnel.

What’s wrong with the sales funnel?

1. The funnel assumes a linear buying process but in reality, buyers behave erratically. Customers bounce from one funnel stage to another, come in and out at various stages, and skip stages. This fluidity is contrary to the idea of a funnel which has only two openings at the top and bottom.

In both B2B and B2C businesses, customers are doing their own research both online and with their colleagues and friends. Prospects are walking themselves through the funnel, then walking in the door ready to buy. – Mark Bonchek and Cara France, Harvard Business Review

2. Marketing is separate from the sale. The funnel shows marketing leading a consumer to purchase and assumes that marketers aren’t part of the sale. However, in today’s world where customers are able to self-educate themselves, marketing and sales go hand in hand.

Marketers are providing content and resources to inform buyers before they contact sales. Both marketing and sales need to consider the complete end-to-end buyer journey and work together to close deals. – Mike Renahan, HubSpot

3. The end goal is a purchase. Before the internet and instantaneous communication, options were limited and places to purchase harder to find. Today, options and places are plentiful and comparison shopping is the norm. Due to this increased competition, companies are focusing on engaging customers through centralized marketing rather than a simple sale.

The first step is to begin thinking in terms of people, rather than platforms. Marketers need to be ready with a holistic message that can be seen by consumers wherever they are, at any given time, agnostic to the platform or device they’re currently using. Centralized marketing teams need to be able to look at campaigns across all touch points, identifying how each peg in the pinball machine contributed (or not) to the sale at the end. – Jason John, AdvertisingAge

4. Relationships are more important. In the digital age, people can experience brands through social media, virtual reality, live events and more. Gone are the days where you have to be a customer to be a brand advocate. Because of this, marketing has changed from leading directly to sales to being more about the relationships built along the way.

Consider a real world journey of a family’s trip from the U.S. to Mexico. Visa mapped out the entire experience, from where the family gets ideas on where to go (TripAdvisor), to how they gather input from friends (Facebook), to how they pay for their cab (cash from an ATM) or hotel (credit card), to how they share photos of their trip with friends back home (Instagram). Only a few of these situations are opportunities for transactions, but they are all opportunities for relationships. “When you change from decision to engagement,”Antonio Lucio, Chief Brand Officer at Visa says, “you change the entire model.”Mark Bonchek and Cara France, Harvard Business Review

What does the new sales journey look like?

The most important change in the sales journey is that buyers now research many options and move towards the sale at their own pace.

New sales funnel illustration.

How can marketers navigate the new sales journey?

In the digital world, marketers need a complex understanding of the sales journey and the many resources customers have at their disposal. To pursue relationships and experiences over persuasion and promotion, marketers need to turn to big data and analytics for help.

At Fraser, we study analytics to understand where people are in their sales journey. We recently conducted a program for our client using retargeting, where we tailored unique messages for different consumer segments. We were able to shorten purchase consideration time by half, therefore lowering our client’s CPA (cost per acquisition). – Renee Fraser PhD, CEO at Fraser Communications

Although the reliability and predictability of the customer’s journey has disappeared, marketers today have a valuable opportunity to connect with future customers and build ongoing relationships. Through analytics and tracking, marketers can develop holistic messages that engage customers beyond the traditional sale and foster a meaningful relationship.

Image from http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2017/02/03/2017-super-bowl-ads

Super Bowl LI: Touchdown Ads

There’s one thing advertisers can always count on for Super Bowl, a high price tag. This year, the price tag of a thirty second commercial hovered around five million dollars. Despite cost, our advertising firm weighed in on our favorite ads of Super Bowl LI. Below are the ads that inspired and entertained us, regardless of which team caught the last touchdown.

The Audi ad was bold – taking on equal pay and equal respect for women. Many ads like this stirred up a dialogue, making the audience engage and talk about real issues. Forcing ourselves to confront our own values and our differences. Despite disagreements, we still need to move forward together. – Renee Fraser

84 Lumber utilized ‘transmedia’ in the best possible way. They took advantage of the fact that everyone watches TV with at least one other mobile device nearby, and combined that with the power of storytelling to instill intrigue while sending a strong message of inclusion to many who are uncertain. And it worked – so well, in fact, it shut down their website! – Danielle Thouin

Honda had a very cool use of celebrity. I felt it accomplished the “inspire” message that others tried, but succeeded with humor rather than trying so hard with politics and sadness. – Mollie Bauer

I liked Kia with Melissa McCarthy. The combination of humor, a little politics, a great celebrity and tie in with the car made for a memorable commercial. – Erin Shinn

The Skittles spot for its levity – definitely got the biggest laugh at our party. – Ilene Prince

Bai – because Timberlake makes everything better. Walken AND Timberlake? Magic. – Mollie Bauer

Buick with Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr was cute, fun, and relevant. – Caroline Lenher

I loved the NFL family spot with little kids representing great players past. – Bruce Dundore

From Influencer Campaign to Product Collaboration: Going Beyond the Post

If you follow our blog, you’re probably already aware of Fraser’s stance on social media influencers – we believe they can serve as powerful messengers for many brands. And when done right, an influencer campaign can deliver far more than compelling content – it can bring in tangible results. Sometimes even unexpected ones.

For Jonathan Louis, a nationwide furniture manufacturer based in Los Angeles, influencers have not only helped transform their social presence, but their posts have translated into sales – and, most recently, sparked an entire new product line.

Flash back to summer 2015. Fraser was knee-deep in curating a powerful force of bloggers and Instagrammers for Jonathan Louis’ first-ever influencer campaign. Our goal was to identify and collaborate with leaders in the lifestyle, mommy and interior design sectors to authentically promote our clients furnishings with real people in real homes.

During our quest, we identified Justina Blakeney – designer, artist and author of the New York Times best-selling book, The New Bohemians. With more than two million followers online and named a top designer by Harper’s Bazaar, NY Mag and Lonny Magazine, Justina is one of the leading design personalities on the web. In fact, her award-winning blog, The Jungalow, has been named one of the best design blogs by Domino Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Marie Claire Magazine and Refinery29. Fraser knew Justina’s style was the ideal fit for Jonathan Louis: edgy, playful, distinctive and completely unexpected.

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Our hunch was right – the two brands together created a truly authentic connection. Fraser worked hard to develop a strong relationship with Justina and her agent on behalf of our client, and helped identify the perfect piece of furniture that represented the artist’s unique aesthetic. Jonathan Louis delivered a bold, peacock blue sectional that screamed Jungalow Style, and once Justina published her living room reveal featuring her latest Jonathan Louis piece, her followers went wild. Thousands of likes, comments and shares later, plus a feature in House Beautiful Magazine, we realized we were on to something. Something even bigger.

A few months after Jonathan Louis’ highly successful campaign with Justina Blakeney, which resulted in a significant lift in both social followers and web traffic for our client, the concept of a mutual furniture line sparked as a “what if” idea over coffee. From there, it quickly grew to become an organic, hands-on collaboration between furniture manufacturer and designer. Our influencer strategy took on a whole new identity as our client and Justina embarked on a new project – namely, brainstorming patterns and hitting the fabric stores for their new line. Fraser documented the journey on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, piquing genuine interest and excitement among both Jonathan Louis’ and Justina’s followers along the way.

pillowsThis past fall, at High Point Market, the interior design industry’s most renowned furniture expo, Jonathan Louis and Justina Blakeney revealed one of the most highly anticipated furniture launches of the season: “Justina Blakeney Loves Jonathan Louis.” Following the unveiling of this striking collection of sofas, sectionals and accessory furniture, hundreds of new followers swarmed Jonathan Louis’ Instagram profile – many of Justina’s most loyal fans – and are eagerly awaiting the collection’s retail release in early 2017. Even weeks after the reveal, social media buzz and customer demand continues to grow, and both brands – and Fraser – couldn’t be more thrilled.

We always advise our clients to “go beyond the post,” when it comes to social media. That means “mingling” regularly on social media – engaging with customers, influencers and even other brands via one-to-one conversations and forging key relationships. Our successful work with Justina Blakeney is just one example of how an influencer strategy can go beyond content. Because when you find an authentic connection and nurture that relationship, the possibilities for a brand can be endless.

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How First 5 California and Fraser Communications are closing the learning gap and making the world a better place.

It’s been a long time coming, but we’re finally closing the gap in educational inequality.  Recent articles in both the NYTIMES and the LATIMES announced that the data is very encouraging: “Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990’s.”

The authors note that it’s not because the education level for high income families has fallen, but because a single idea has started to take hold: that the first years of a child’s life are vital in brain development.

Of course, you say?  Well, it hasn’t always been this way.

Less than a century ago, it was considered that intellectual stimulation of babies was harmful, and ideas, once planted, are hard to uproot. First 5 California and Fraser Communications have been at this uprooting for over eight years now, and our campaign- Talk. Read. Sing. It Changes Everything© is a pure expression of this effort.

Fraser has conducted over fifty focus groups on this subject with low income Hispanic and African American families.  Findings reveal just how difficult it was for these families and single parents to devote the time necessary to engage their children in the critical activities that would lead to strengthening their children’s brains, prepare them to enter pre-school, and prevent them from falling behind by the third grade. In realizing these difficulties, we knew we had to make the effort sound simple, and so we reduced it to the three pillars of parental activity: Talking with your child, reading with your child, and singing with your child. These activities are powerful in helping to increase vocabularies and just as importantly, self-confidence.

And it’s working.

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As the LATIMES article notes, “…skills that kids have when they enter kindergarten can be very predictive of how they’ll progress through school.” We knew that if these kids aren’t prepared, kindergarten could not reverse what wasn’t done with these children in their first 3 years of life.

The stakes are huge. Kids who fall behind in school increase their chances of dropping out. They wind up getting into trouble, filling our jails and mean streets and costing society billions. Business leaders worry that an educated workforce will not be available to meet their future needs. The income gap will increase more than it already has. This is the result of neglect and antiquated ideas. The new and ongoing early brain research and the subsequent awareness of this learning is helping reverse the trend.

These are deep societal risks, dangerous ones, and the campaign and outreach First 5 California and Fraser Communications continues to do is chipping away at these risks and closing the educational gap between rich and poor. Our Talk. Read. Sing. © effort has lead to, “The pattern of parents increasing their support for learning…”

And now the work begins again.

Implementing new tools and tips, organizing community activities and outreach programs, creating uplifting and empowering communications, creating a movement, a mantra, changing behaviors, empowering parents, enriching our kids, and yes, making the world a better place.

Rarely do you have a chance to make a big, meaningful and timely societal impact in the “advertising” business. But with First 5 California, Fraser Communications is doing just that, and the feeling is wonderful.

Click on some of the commercials we’ve done for the effort below.

First 5 If We Don’t
From the Moment They’re Born

How working with women taught me what works

wonder-woman-1016324_960_720 A recent NY Times op-ed called Sisterhood is Not Enough,” sheds light on the reality that though many women have cracked the glass ceiling, it gets patched up pretty quickly.  A plethora of women’s groups proliferate to create a sisterhood of strength and support to deal with the possibility that on top of that glass ceiling, there might be yet another one, even thicker, reducing opportunities and pay equality in upper management roles. But many of these like-minded women’s groups might be falling short in creating true opportunity and income equality. Why? Because men aren’t in them, and it’s men that need the enlightenment.

As a guy, I can say this: Men are dogs, jerks, sissies, hormonally challenged, oh, what’s the right word for my wayward brothers? The fact is that men just don’t want to accept that women can do things in the business world better than they can.  In the investment world, they are both wiser and more patient, and often outperform men. Yet, they make up only 12.4 percent of executive officers. Wouldn’t their wiser, less testosterone driven approach to money be welcomed? After all, I’m pretty sure derivatives cobbled together from subprime loans and sold into retirement funds was not a woman’s idea. And don’t get me started on startups, where they hold only 9 percent of management positions and the Venture Capital Boys don’t venture out of the testosterone waters much.

women-investing-780x439The reality is that women might be the most qualified for top management roles due to their having dealt with men personally and professionally. They’re superb at risk assessment. They’ve had years handling angry, volatile, insulting, leering men who say sexist, misogynist, and job threatening things every week. These are some pretty desirable business skills.

As a guy who works in a senior position for a woman owned agency (Renee Fraser/Fraser Communications) and who is primarily surrounded by women co-workers, here’s what I’ve come to know: They made me better at my job (I hope they agree, and this isn’t the testosterone talking). Previously, at my other management jobs in male dominated agencies, I was a stroppy mutt, thinking it was my way or the highway, and that intimidation was the sincerest form of flattery. When surrounded by women co-workers, I had to change that monkey-knuckled approach or suffer castration by a thousand glares.  But it wasn’t easy. Essentially, guys can be the proverbial bull in the China shop when it comes to working with women.

Here’s what I know as a man, from studies, articles, anecdotes, and in focus grouping some of the women I work with:

  • Men are linear thinkers. Generally, they move in a straight line from point A to point B, with a “Let’s get it done now,” aggressiveness, regardless of consequences.
  • The women I interviewed said you always know where you stand with a man. I have to say they might have encountered Enlightened Men, as I have suffered being unexpectedly upended by my share of male sociopaths.
  • Women care about inclusion and collaboration.
  • Women care more about feelings.
  • Women evidence more empathy but are also more guarded.
  • Men compete in an obvious fashion, and usually do a dance in the end zone when they win.
  • Women care more about the ‘good of the group’
  • Women may be more passive aggressive, and expert in subtle manipulations. (“Game of Thrones” definitely gets this)
  • Women connect on a deeper level than men do.
  • Men like to take the credit for everything. (“Game of Thrones” gets this too)
  • Men, with all they have, all they hoard for themselves, are hilariously insecure. (Woody Allen gets this)
  • Male execs with daughters are better execs. And males.

Working for and with women has made me a much better manager. More inclusive. More encouraging. More nurturing. More collaborative.  I haven’t yelled at anybody at work in over 4 years.  But if the situation is going to change, women are going to have to enlighten men, and bring them into their club. Demanding inclusiveness to The Men’s Club is not enough. That Club has to be shut down. And it’s the men who have to grow a pair, shut it down themselves and say goodbye to their boyhood ways.  Women will love them for it. And businesses will be better run, more fairly managed, more socially responsible, and the economy wouldn’t periodically gag on male greed.  And maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t rush off to so many damned wars.

With more women at the helm, we all might become better managers of the planet and our lives.