Emerging Platforms

Why The Coolest Things Often Aren't What Many Marketers Think

Posted by Jeff Hasen on April 6th, 2014 at 8:38 am

The effects of the South By Southwest flu have surely passed for those who spent early March sleep-deprived in Austin. But what about the malady that manifests itself in a marketer chasing shiny objects?

It happens every year. Pragmatism gets left at home, replaced by the expectation that the “cooler than cool” folks at SXSW will see “cooler than cool” technology and services. Then, they will bring those “solutions” to their marketing programs and all will be cool.

Except consumers are anything but cool early adopters.

So just what are our target audiences responding to in the real world?

Yard signs.

And messages on printed receipts.

Before you say that those are uncool, let me explain.

Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Square and co-founder of Twitter, is one of those cool dudes who you see in Austin. Of all things, he sees the printed receipt as underused and a next-generation point of engagement with consumers.

“What if we see the receipt more as a publishing medium — a product unto itself that people actually want to take home, that they want to engage with, be fully interactive with?” Dorsey said earlier this year at the National Retail Federation’s annual expo. ”What can we do with this everyday tool?

“What can we build into this canvas that’s actually valuable, that’s independent of the product you just sold? What can you give in this communication channel, this publishing medium, that people want to engage with?”

One answer is a text to win call to action on receipts that leads to more sales and additions to a brand’s mobile permission-based databases.

Here’s how it worked in practice:

A large quick service restaurant did a text to win contest in Los Angeles and New York (about 1,200 locations in each city). Los Angeles included a text messaging call to action via SmartReceipt and got approximately 17,000 entries. New York did not and had about 1,900.

The opportunity was there to invite engaged consumers into a mobile loyalty club for ongoing interaction.

Another wise use of receipts was by a restaurant owner in Orlando, Fla. whose problem was that he was “losing his shirt” when the location went to 24 hours of operation and few came in during overnight ours. By the third week of including the hours on the SmartReceipts, he was making money.

Here are marketing guru Mitch Joel’s views on the subject:

“Sales receipts may not be the next great marketing disruption, but thinking about better ways to blend a traditional form of communication that consumers are already accustomed to with technology is a surefire way to make marketing better, more interesting and, when done well, perfectly disruptive.”

Few would call yard signs disruptive, but those who use them to push a product or service have put a stake in the ground and made the tactic a keeper.

In an analysis that I did of a group of businesses employing yard signs to build awareness for their mobile VIP club, 96 percent saw increases in the number of opt-ins. All but two saw double-digit growth and one third saw a boost of at least 50 percent.

Interest in growing or rebuilding databases increased late in 2013 when changes to the Telephone Communications Protection Act (TCPA) forced businesses to ensure that they had “written prior consent”. This caused businesses to look to new – or old – ways to get a loyal following.

"Everyone should get a drive-thru sign," said Amanda Anderson, marketing director at Chick-fil-A Cornelia, GA.


Savvy marketers who I interviewed for my Mobilized Marketing book believe the key is to combine new technology and ideas with what has proven to work.

“You know, I am not smart enough to tell you about major game changers,” said digital marketer Mario Schulzke, who runs the popular IdeaMensch site offering useful insights from entrepreneurs and others. “But I can tell you there will be a revolution of incremental innovations that are about to take place.

“Do what feels right. Build a marketing program around tactics that make sense for you. I have many clients who are overwhelmed by Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and the like. But when we talk about creating content that provides value to existing and potential customers, they get that. Having a roundtable discussion on Twitter is no different than going to a networking meeting. Crafting a Webinar and capturing leads via email is no different than speaking at your local Lion’s Club.

“Do what makes sense to you, and always think about the value you provide to your audience. Focus on the fundamentals. Respectfully communicate with your customers via all channels. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not, and do the right thing.”

Added longtime Microsoft marketer Barbara Williams:

“I don’t know if innovation comes in new technology or combining what we have already in meaningful ways. People were throwing things against the wall. But when you think about it more strategically and think about the customer journey and that funnel or whatever shape you want to give it, you’re going to start combining things in different ways that ultimately will create something new but components of it are known and exist today.”

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