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The Snake Oil Salesman (Marketer)

By Shane O’Neill, VP

There’s no doubt that digital is dominating the marketing landscape. With the right strategy, digital marketing is a powerful platform. Although many don’t use the media to its fullest potential, its tools are complex. Since a majority of retailers are in the dark with most of the sophisticated targeting options, it opens the door for the 21st-century snake oil salesman. 

The modern-day snake oil marketers like to wow you with marketing speak, that is to say, they confuse you with strong sounding marketing terms and claim they have the secret that can deliver results. Some of these pitches sound too good to be true and probably are. If someone is telling you they have a special system or product, which is really only using consumer targeting metrics available through the likes of Google, FB, etc., that can do what no one else can do, that’s the first hint to tread lightly. If you happen to know what you’re talking about, you can ask a couple of questions that usually will throw them off their game, or they could come back with something like saying their platform is proprietary. Now, let’s be clear, it makes perfect sense for a marketing firm to consider their approach or strategy to digital media as proprietary, but when it comes to an actual product that no one else has, that does what seems to be impossible, the word proprietary is probably just a clever way to hide a product that anyone can get or use.

Case in Point.

I once worked with an agency in the late ’90s that had a division for Fraternity and Sorority sportswear. The most profitable category was Date Party T-shirts. It wasn’t anything special, basically just a color copy onto a heat transfer sheet that we applied to t-shirts. People do that everywhere. However, we quickly found out that the quality of the transfer paper was of utmost importance in terms of how good the final product looked. Back then, everyone was ordering 1 or 2 color screen print shirts, which became rather expensive on orders under 40 shirts ($15+), but we could offer 40 shirts in full color for only $8.25…a steal! However, we weren’t getting a lot of calls. So, we changed our message, and instead of calling it a heat transfer we called it Photofusion. “Now you can get 25 full-color date party shirts for only $8.25, on quality t-shirts, with our new proprietary process called Photofusion.” They sold like hotcakes.

The point is that there is no magic bullet for marketing unless it revolves around sound strategy and industry knowledge. Make sure you understand what a digital firm is going to actually do for you and how. You’ll know when you’re speaking with industry professionals because they articulate their strategy on how they buy and deploy digital media buys.

Anything less is probably snake oil.

 

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