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What do doctor’s mistakes have to do with marketing?

I just ran across an article in the Wall Street Journal (see link below) about the biggest mistakes doctors make.  I was struck by the similarity to mistakes made by marketers.  True, marketing people aren’t in the life or death business — even if it seems that way sometimes.  However, recognizing pitfalls than can lead to bad outcomes should be a life-skill for marketers — as well as doctors.

The article cites 13 common mistakes.  Two of them are particularly useful reminders to marketers.  As you work to make good decisions, keep at least these two pitfalls in mind.


The article explains, “A tendency to act on incomplete information, institutions or hunches.  Too much faith is placed in opinion instead of carefully gathered evidence.”

So, who among us has not regretted an impulsive decision, one with reverberating effects?  For example, the marketer who authorized promoting the Nova compact sedan in Spain with great fanfare. Only to discover that “Nova” meant “No Go” in Spanish.  Oops.  Some carefully gathered evidence would have been a good thing.

I remember a bank client of mine once decided, without any advance notice to customers (this was before the TISA regulations), to convert all their free checking accounts to $4.99 per month.  This decision was made in reliance upon a profitability consultant with no consultation with anyone else — least of all the marketing department.  My client put the change into effect within 24 hours of the decision.  In the first 7 days, the bank lost 30% of those accounts, taking $7 million in deposits with them.  Did I tell you the bank was a $400 million bank?  Yes, a clear cut case of overconfidence bias.


This is defined as “The tendency for people on a medical team to believe and do certain things because many others are doing so.”

We’ve all seen this happen a bunch of times.  Most recently companies have launched major-big-time Facebook programs, mostly because one of their peers have done one.  So, off they go with not a scrap of strategy in sight.  Typically, the program bombs and all around the company you hear Facebook being roundly condemned.  (This is an example of the article’s “Fundamental Attrition Error.”  As in, the failure was Facebook, not us.)

What is needed is more careful, analytical thinking and less headlong decision making.  Before pulling the trigger, take a break and ask yourself, “Have I really thought through the implications of what I’m about to do?  Have I carefully considered all the outcomes?  Am I prepared to live with the consequences (loss of market share, wasted resources, etc.) that may ensue?

We have to make decisions every day.  Let’s take a moment and be sure we’re making a good one.

Want to talk over ways to make better marketing decisions?  Email me with MISTAKES in the subject line.  Remember, it never costs anything to share our experience.

SOURCE LINK: The Wall Street Journal (November 17, 2013).



Looking for an Ad Agency? Check out our First-Time-Free program.

Money always matters.

Almost nobody has the luxury of leaving money out of a agency decision.  No matter how good a deal looks, no matter how good the fit between the parties, money can be a deal breaker.  Speaking for ourselves, we don’t want money to be the reason we miss a great opportunity with a prized client.

So, we have a way to make it not all about the money.

For clients that look promising to us, we’ll make them this offer: first project we do, we’ll do for free.  How does it work?  It’s simple.  The client has to talk to us, give us really usable information, including a clear sense of mission.  We’ll respond with prelim copy and art (including images).  We’ll do that as often as it takes to until the client is happy.  Then, we’ll finish project by providing final deliverable.  When that’s done we’ll send a bill that itemizes all the fees and charges with a bottom line that credits the full amount.

Are we crazy? 

Nope.  At least, not about this.  It seems fair to us.  The client has the greatest business risk.  And, there are lots of advertising people out there.  So, to add some clarity, we’ll take the money out of the equation.  We figure clients will like it and come back.

What happens if a client screws us, takes the idea and never comes back?  Well, that could happen.  That’s our risk.  But, if it does happen, we won’t die, or cry, we’ll just move on.  After all, there’s some good that comes from the exercise.

There’s got to be a catch.

Yeah, actually there are two – but they’re little stuff.  First, out-of-pocket costs, like media, production, photography and stuff like that are on the client.  Second, we aren’t going down this road if the client can’t reasonably commit to a future relationship, even a modest one.

We’ve never lost a client over money.

Not in our entire 40 year history.  So, we think we understand this money thing :)

So, this sound good to you?

 Well, great.  Let’s get started.  Drop us an email with “FIRST TIME” in the subject line.  We’ll get right back to you.


Seven reasons we’re much more than an ad agency.

Your people + our people = a great team

Our clients tell us our ability to manage projects and convert insiders into effective  team members is a rare skill.  After all, almost no banking project is a solo exercise.  There are overlapping departments, and often some complicated IT issues, in play.  Our business wisdom, market savvy and great people skills provide what’s needed to get complicated projects over the goal line – on time and under budget.  When you introduce us into the mix, you don’t get hot air and out-of-date solutions.  You get effective leadership and up-to-date subject currency.

We’re a leader in inventing marketing niche technology.

We hear this a lot, “What’s a marketing firm doing creating program code to connect bank CIF with a web-delivered data request?”  Thing is, we’ve been creating technology solutions that accomplish marketing and compliance goals since 1980 when we jointly developed one of the first MCIF application in the US.  After that, we never looked back.  At least half-dozen times a year we fill a client need with a program interface to solve a thorny customer-facing problem.  In the past few years we have created: online Reg E Opt-In forms that were connected to the CIF, web-delivered Deposit Account Referral programs for customers to login and make account referrals 24/7, migrated paper-based membership data to an online, member-directed database – a neat little trick that saved our client $21K the first year and close to $50K in succeeding years.  What can our technology geeks do for you?  (If you’d like to see a a demo of our technology, please go drop us an email with TECHNOLOGY in the subject line.)

Concierge-level customer service.

We understand that a project has to be done when it’s supposed to be done.  Getting it done, on time and in budget is pretty much all there is to the issue.  We can pretty much take on and deliver solutions 365/24/7.  (There’s a story about a 10’ show booth that somehow went missing on the way to Las Vegas that we could tell you – there’s also a story about a website that was mugged on a Saturday night.)  If that means working on weekends or being in a client’s office on Saturday, well, that’s what we do.  From the beginning of the work scope we commit to a successful completion.  And we stick to the plan.  No matter what.

We don’t aspire to 100% billable hours.

Our client relationships are not all about money.  They are about earning respect and trust.  Sometimes we do ‘value-added’ projects at no charge (see a partial list here).  We like these opportunities to make human connection.  Besides, we always learn something valuable.  The most important result: our clients understand that we don’t look at them and see only dollar signs.

We’ve don’t charge for brainstorming.

We want to  be one of the first people you call when you want to do some spit-balling or brain storming.  So if you’re wrestling with how to get a project off and running — or trying to decide just exactly how to get your bank going in a good direction — call us.  There’s never any charge for you to call, text or email us and get the benefit of what we’ve learned since our inception in 1972.  If we have some research or history with your subject, we’ll provide it to you, no charge.  Next time you want to bounce something off us, give us a call, toll free, 800-521-0236.

We’re not hung up on our past success.

Our company has  been around since 1972.  We’ve seen a lot of things work; we’ve seen a lot of things fail.  In all that time, we’ve learned that the past counts for a little.  It’s what you’re going to be doing in the next five years that defines you.  We’re pretty good at knowing what’s coming and what it means for banks.  We figure we can give a community bank a minimum of two years head start on any given marketing, technological or compliance imperative.  That sound good to you?

We are obsessed with vertical integration.

We have a thriving business that runs along three tracks: marketing, compliance and technology.  We have learned how to weave those three business specialties into practical, affordable solutions for our clients.  We’ll provide some case histories that will give you insight into how our vertical integration makes our clients money — just send us an email with CASE HISTORY in the subject line.  We think a single knowledgeable source can save clients time, money and aggro.  (If you’d like to see a list of projects we’re working on now, please drop us an email with PROJECTS in the subject line.)


What is the best way to get your message to customers and potential customers? Electronic? Or, paper?

Everybody knows that electronic communication is faster, less expensive and reaches a greater number of people. So, of course, electronic communication is better than paper-based mail, right? Um, well, maybe not. graphic

Infographic source:
According to a study by branding agency Millward Brown paper communication may have some significant advantages. They used MRI brain scans to see how the brain processed paper-based ads vs. digital based ads. As it turned out, paper communication caused more emotional processing and left a deeper footprint in the brain. So using, for example, traditional direct mail can create a more “real” experience for the customer. Of course, paper ads do not have video, audio or interactivity, but then, those enhancements may not be necessary for every message.
There is also some the matter of how much email actually hits the Inbox and does it get read? Seems there are over 39.6 billion emails sent out per day in the United States alone. With the US Census showing a population of over 310 million, that is over 125 emails per person per day for every man, woman and child in the country. (Actually it seems like I get 18 million of those emails everyday.) With such staggering email volume, it’s hard to believe all email is getting read – and that’s what spam filters do anyway, right? Protect us from that incessant barrage of email. How many emails die a slow, agonizing (but thoroughly deserved) death in the collective Junk Mailboxes of the world?

So what is the best way to get your message out? Paper or electronic? There is no one “best” answer to this question. You should review your company, your message, your customers (and potential customers) and make the most balanced decision you can. For sure, there are no automatic answers.

Is your business relevant? Social Media can help you decide.

“Being relevant”  determines everything about a business — what it sells, how it sells, how it prices what it sells — but especially should it impose a discipline on customer-facing communication.  So, how are you doing with your customers?

Here’s how you find out if you’re relevant – or not.

Evaluate your company’s communication.  A majority of companies large and small fall into three categories listed below, each with an example from actual Twitter and Facebook posts: (more…)

A good thing your bank can do – for almost no money.

There’s a great opportunity to help hundreds of people in your market.  Some of them are likely your customers. What’s that?  Head off a mortgage loan scam in your market.

People who prey on the  uninformed are vile. There’s a simple, cheap way your bank can help: allocate prominent space on your website home page to (1) warn about mortgage loan scams, (2) link to a page where you clearly outline the dangers, (3) make available an email address and phone number to give more information, and finally, (4) link to government sites like the FDIC, FTC and similar pages where more help can be found. What an OUTSTANDING way to help customers, help yourself, and not spend very much money.

Once you’ve got your web page together, perhaps you could tweet your customers (and the media) every time you update the information. Make sure you let customers know about your page with statement notices and across the teller line hand outs – things you’re already doing, right?

Remember, it doesn’t always take a ‘grand gesture’ to do your customers some good. Often times, little things count just as much.

Here are some links to get you (or your compliance people) thinking:

Featured Articles from the FTC:

FDIC Tips on Avoiding Mortgage Foreclosure Scams:

One more thing to hate about big banks

Recently, a Bank of America branch manager insisted that a man, Steve Valdez, born without arms and who wears prosthetic devices, provide a thumbprint before it would cash his proffered check.  He had two forms of identification, both with pictures; the check he wanted to cash was written by his wife.

Nevertheless, the bank still required Valdez to give up a thumbprint.

Why does this happen?  Three reasons, and every bank CEO, SVP and Board Member should think seriously about about how their bank stacks up:

Reason number one: the bank cut the training budget because they needed to generate as much profit as possible — likely to satisfy Wall Street.

Reason number two: the bank was preoccupied with other “more important stuff” so they simply were not paying attention to customer service.

Reason number three: most banks are “rule” oriented, not “people oriented”.  They train their staff that it is better to follow a rule to hell than stop, engage brain and think.

Now, you say, “No, no, this was just a happenstance.  Any bank can have a bad day.”

OK, you say that if it makes you feel better.  But, I don’t believe it.  I spend a big part of my life in and out of big banks, surveying and researching customer service.  Big banks don’t really believe in customer service.  Why? Because they don’t have to.  If they lose a customer, no big deal.  They’ve got plenty more.

What can your bank do to stay out of the paper with kind of disastrous publicity?

SWOT your bank’s customer service. Here’s how you do that: (1) Institute the changes your SWOT uncovers; (2) Set up mystery shops and customer surveys; (3) Incent your staff in a meaningful way for positive customer experience; take the incentives back for negative experiences.

This is simple ‘blocking and tackling”.  But, you’re probably busy, so call us.  We can help you get it going.


“Doing well is the result of doing good. That’s what capitalism is all about.”

What do you do when your ad budget is in tatters, but you need to get the word out?

You reflect on Mr. Adnan Kashoggi’s comment above: Doing well is the result of doing good.

And, to help stimulate your thinking, I have a press report about the E-ONE Company and how they did well by targeting a give-away at a market segment closely tied to their  business.  (The entire release appears below.)

Here’s the story

E-ONE manufactures fire fighting equipment. To promote themselves at a recent fire equipment convention, it came up with the idea to give away a fire truck to the fire department that got the most votes as the “most deserving” department in the country. Of course, getting the most votes would take a lot of work and a lot of conversation about E-ONE’s equipment. So, E-ONE was smart about their give-away. The interesting things to me about this promotion is:

  • The winning department was from Powellsville, NC, population 259!  (Powellsville is located in the middle of nowhere, about 50 miles west of Elizabeth City, NC.)
  • The Powellsville VFD managed to get 7,000 votes – out of the 16,000 (yep, 16,000) total. That’s a lot of buzz about E-ONE.  (I’d say the Powellsville VFD has some pretty plucky friends who love them intensely.)
  • There were 650 fire departments that entered the contest.  I don’t know how many VFDs there are in the country, but I do know that 650 prospective fire truck purchasers is a LOT of prospective fire truck purchasers.

So, what do you think? Did E-ONE get a bunch of publicity? Yep. Did they get publicity on the cheap? Well, the fire truck they gave away was “valued” at $170,000, which, I think, means that E-ONE has less than $100,000 in the deal. Based on what I know about advertising costs, I’d say E-ONE  got maybe $250,000 in press for $100,000. Not too shabby. (And there were other sponsors involved and they may have cut E-ONE’s cost even more.)

So, is there a lesson here for a banker?

Would any of you like to talk about it? Maybe, you’d like to do something similar? Call me. We can help you do this.


Now might be a really good time to re-brand the bank. Here’s how to start.

Many financial institutions find themselves mugged by circumstances. The recession has tried men’s souls.  In turn, those men have concluded “the banks” must be responsible for all their problems. Even long-standing customers have become suspicious.

Core deposits are stagnating. In some cases, a bank may have had to disclose bad news, bad earnings, bad loans and, shudder, even the dreaded ‘capital impairment’.

One way out of this is to re-brand the bank. Change the name. Change the look. Re-decorate the building, inside and out. For many financial institutions, this may be a really, really good idea.

But, before you pull the trigger and call in the design consultants, you should do four things first:

1. Survey your employees. You need to know where your institution stands with your employees. So, find out what they know about your customers you don’t; take the pulse of their concerns. Ask them “who is the competitor in the market you think is better that our bank, and why?

2. Survey your customers. Segment your best deposit customers, your best loan customers and your best commercial customers — the customers who pay you the most fees, or provide the cheapest balances. Find out where else they bank and why. Ask them, straight out, these three questions: (1) What is our institution doing that bugs the heck out of you? (2) What are we not doing that we ought to be doing? (3) Would you recommend our bank to your best friend? Close family member? If you would not recomend our bank, which bank would you recommend? Why?

3. Survey your competition. Take a long, hard look at all the banks, thrifts and credit unions that compete for your customers. Figure out where they are (literally and metaphorically). Make solid, sensible and realistic estimate of their strengths and weaknesses.

4. Do a SWOT. Now that you know all the above, figure out where you are Strong and where you are Weak. Determine your Opportunities and the imminent Threats to your success. Decide how you are going to change. Formulate a road map, a strategic plan and the implementing tactics to leverage your knowledge into a successful re-invention of your institution.

Now, and only now, after performing those four steps, can you re-brand the bank. Until you know (1) where you stand, (2) how you need to improve and (3) how you’re going to get there, re-branding isn’t going to be possible.

Oh, yes, you can do a new logo.  And, yes, you can come up with a catchy slogan.  You can also redecorate.  Even bring in a hot shot motivational guy to pump up the troops.  But, none of that is re-branding.  Customers won’t buy it — and it’s very likely they’ll be offended because you tried to fool them, putting a new dress on an old pig.

Lao-Tzu said it best, “The way to do, is to be”.  George Self says, “You can’t “brand” if you can’t “be”.

We know branding. We know SWOTs. We can help your institution re-invent itself. Call us, 800-521-0236.

Offshore call centers. They're so cheap you can't afford one.

According to the Saturday, April 18 Wall Street Journal Delta Airlines is shutting down its use of India call centers.

In what I like to think of as a rare outbreak of common sense, Delta said “it stopped routing calls to India-based call centers over the first three months of the year. Customers had complained they had trouble communicating with Indian agents”

The article also quoted a certain Ben Trowbridge, chief executive of Alsbridge Inc., a Dallas-based company that advises on outsourcing.  Mr. Trowbridge delivers a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious when he says, ”It is fundamentally cheaper to do it in India, but there’s also the question of whether it’s better to do it cheaper or better to do it better in terms of the relationship with your customers.”  Fortunately, it is now obvious to Delta Airlines.

It reminds me of the sign over the cash register in my grandfather’s shop (he was a gunsmith, knife sharpener and an expert on cheap bourbon) which said, “We’ll do it for you cheap, good and fast.  Pick two.”

OK, in our modern day, Indian call center iteration, the pitch to modern business space cadets (and their boards of directors)  is, “I’ll answer your customers’ phone calls for one-sixth the cost you’re paying now.  I’ll answer the phone on the second ring and if I don’t, nobody will have to be on hold for more than 90 seconds.  But, whether or not I know how to use your customer’s language, or whether or not your customer will have any idea what the heck my call center people are saying is (entirely) another matter.  And by the way, I can’t guarantee you my call center staff will know the difference between “idiom” and “idiot.”  But, don’t forget, I’m CHEAP and your company will SAVE A LOT OF MONEY.

Good grief, when you think about how much it costs to actually GET a customer you wonder just how much CFO Kool Aid it took to convince management that it would be a great idea to save money by letting a bunch of idioms talk to their customers and, worse yet, make decisions that have a big impact on how customers were treated.

Fortunately, for all those who fly Delta, somebody has finally concluded that some things are worth whatever they cost.

Of course, there is the whole political issue.   For banks — PARTICULARLY banks who have taken TARP money — sending jobs overseas, or keeping  jobs overseas, is a needless risk to its public and political reputation.  Just imagine the flack that would ensue if a bank, headquartered in a state where unemployment was north of 10% — and that’s a lot of states — had to announce some “employee cutbacks” and were later discovered to have a call center outside the US.  Ouch!  Truly, there are some things that are so cheap they can’t be afforded.  Period.

Most of you won’t know Pogo, nor will you know his creator, Walt Kelly.  But, you will readily grasp this famous proverb, penned by Mr. Kelly: “We have met the enemy.  And, he is us.”

SIDEBAR: want to know more about Pogo and Walt Kelly?  Go here.


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