A tribute to Bill Stewart: Country Roads Take Me Home.

While I sat at my computer today brainstorming an innovative new restaurant concept, I received one of the most heartbreaking texts from a fellow WVU alumni, Chris Schielzo. It simply read, “Bill Stewart died :(” With those 3 words, my heart sank as tears welled into my eyes and began to spring down my face. My first thought was of his young son; his father leaving him so early would no doubt be one of the hardest things he will ever experience. Then, memories began to pour like a floodgate had been opened. When Rich Rodriguez left WVU nation, the state and his players in a whirl-wind to coach a new team, Bill Stewart was there to pick up everyone’s faith and restore the West Virginia pride. He instilled a sense of pride for the state that I had never known before. He was the epitome of a truly proud West Virginian. After winning the Fiesta Bowl, he came back to lead the state, school and team with the biggest heart West Virginia University had ever seen…

No matter what happened on or off the football field, Bill Stewart ALWAYS stayed positive. His uplifting words, faith and wisdom allowed him to be one of the best things that ever happened to the West Virginia University football team.  I always defended Coach Stewart when our state, fans and college began to turn on Bill for not winning games; I will always defend him because it’s not/wasn’t about winning. Not to me.  Yes, college football is a sport – a very lucrative sport at that. However, college sports isn’t supposed to be a job – it’s a learning experience.  As a coach, you hold the job of being not only an ‘on-the-field’ coach, but also an ‘off-the-field’ coach to the players that are on your team.  Bill Stewart played that role very well. He was the best thing that ever happened to the men on the football team.  I remember when Jock got a DUI and was very down-and-out about being ostracized from the facility, team and football family, Bill stood beside him. He always had the utmost respect for Bill because he had been there for him and offered him wisdom, faith and hope. It always touched my heart to hear the amazing things Bill would say to his players; he was like a dad….a dad that many of them never had. I met him once when I worked at The Montmartre restaurant in The Hotel Morgan.  He was very kind, humble, gracious, and made sure to say hello to everyone at the restaurant.  It was like my grandfather was reincarnated right there.  Today, I feel like I lost my grandfather, again. You will be missed, Bill.

A mantra I hold dear to my heart describes Bill Stewart’s character to the ‘T': “How many people you bless is how you measure success.”  He blessed many people and will live forever in the hearts of those he blessed. May his soul rest easy in heaven among the hills. Blessings and prayers go to his family, son and the people that had the opportunity to meet the wonderfully sweet man.

 

I can hear him singing the sweet music as he makes his way to a well-deserved place in Heaven:

“Country Roads Take Me Home To The Place I Belong…………………West Virginia Mountain Mama, Take Me Home Country Roads”

Bill Stewart

1952-2012

Keep living and keep learning.

Throughout the years of living in a small, rural town of southern West Virginia, I dreamed of being able to move to a better place that afforded me with more possibilities to experience and explore my surroundings. While in high school I never “planned” on going to college – it was more of a spur of the moment whim that I had after returning from a fun trip in Morgantown: Home of the Mountaineers.  The college application was a pretty simple process and it never crossed my mind what I would do if I wasn’t accepted.  When the letter of acceptance came in the mail my heart overflowed with joy because I knew it was my “ticket” out of Hinton, WV.  After high school graduation, I packed up my car with my Shitzu puppy – Bella, and never looked back. Not knowing what West Virginia University had in store for me was appealing; I couldn’t wait to start my freshman year with new people, new surroundings, and most of all – a new life.

Four years later….

After all of the trials and tribulations, fun and rewarding experiences, and lessons I learned at WVU – it was time for me to pick up my life and make a move for the better. Never along the way did I imagine the things that I would achieve or the endeavors that I would accomplish or the hardships that I would overcome. However, today I CAN say that I am truly grateful for every experience I had – no matter if it was the hardest or easiest experience – I am grateful. As the old adage goes: you live and you learn. So I like to say, keep living and keep learning. After graduation in December, I packed my car – this time without my beloved Bella – and never looked back. Much like after high school graduation: I couldn’t wait to start my new career with new people, new surroundings, and most of all – a new life.

My childhood dreams and aspirations came true: I was able to move to Florida and live near a beach, start a career doing something I love with a college degree, and have many opportunities in front of me to experience and learn more throughout the years.

What I’ve ultimately learned while growing up is you have to keep moving forward. Always be thankful for the past because without it you wouldn’t be where you are now, but always move forward.

I may not know where I’m going, but I know what I have to do to get there. — Anonymous

Marketing communications gone wrong.

If you don’t know me, then let me warn you ahead of time that I constantly evaluate my surroundings – especially when it comes to anything related to marketing.  Maybe it’s my passion for the field or maybe my OCD surfacing. Either way, what I’ve encountered is worth discussing and sharing with anyone that is involved in the marketing ecosphere.

Confused Branding. Branding is extremely important when it comes to consumers. How else do you expect your audience to remember you/spread information about your brand?  Logos, especially, help to create a picture that the audience can remember or relate back to the specific brand. I pass a gas station everyday on my way home from work – if you live in Morgantown, W.Va. then you’ve heard of Dairy Mart – and recently noticed that Circle K has acquired them.  The first time I saw their large road sign with a new logo (you guessed it – a ‘K’ with a circle around it) placed over their Dairy Mart signage, I didn’t think much about it. Then I drove past the sign at night.  To my bewilderment, they had placed the new logo over the old and when the sign lit up you could see the words ‘Dairy Mart’ illuminated through the Circle K logo.

I chose to visit the store last night, and to my surprise (well, I wasn’t really surprised) they had not only confused customers outside, but had also neglected to remove the Dairy Mart brand decals from the wall before placing the new Circle K logo over them. In the marketing world, this slip in branding is a real faux pas. First, they have confused their customers – I don’t know if I’m visiting a Dairy Mart or a Circle K? Second, their branding screams, “I don’t care about appearance or accuracy.” It doesn’t make me respect their brand. Third, they can expect that when customers try to talk about their brand they’ll have no idea which brand they should reference or, if they do get it correct, they will probably talk or laugh about how amateur the brand looks.

My advice: If you’re going to acquire a brand, acquire it to its fullest extent. Plan it out…be precise…take the extra time and present the new brand in the most positive light possible. Your brand will suffer if you confuse customers, so avoid it at all costs.

Email Marketing Overkill. We’ve all had it happen. You’ve been so annoyed with email that you take a hiatus from it hoping that when you check it again all the spam and junk mail magically deletes itself. But it doesn’t.  Then you open it up to find 20 messages from the same brand or company that will not leave you alone.  How irritating?  Well, Victoria’s Secret you have successfully killed every retail brand’s hopes at marketing to me through email.  If you’ve ever shopped at VS and given them your email address, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s completely unnecessary to send me an email EVERY DAY telling me about your new product or deal. It’s also unnecessary to send me an email any time after 8 p.m. That’s my “chill” time. Believe me when I hit chill mode, the last thing I’m going to do is buy a product from your brand now that you disturbed my sacred time.

My advice: Email marketing involves strategy; without strategy, you can expect that the email campaign will fall flat.  Consumers are bombarded with junk mail all day, every day, so it is important to avoid sending too many branded emails.  Instead of ensuring sales, consumers are guaranteed to unsubscribe or ignore your brand.  A couple emails per week will be sufficient – depending on your business, unless there is a special occasion. The old adage, “Timing is everything,” is also central to email marketing.  There are certain times consumers are more likely to open an email and actually read it, and times that marketers must respect. My preference is no emails before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m.  It may take a few times evaluating the campaign to find an effective time that generates successful open rates, but it will be worth the extra work. Subject lines can make or break the campaign, too. Be concise and compelling to guarantee maxim interest. Remember: Strategy, strategy, strategy.

Spelling and grammar errors kill the brand.  There is nothing that ‘grinds my gears’ more than simple spelling and grammar errors. Some individuals may look past it, but others (like me) will remember it.  Spelling and grammar mistakes scream: Unprofessional.  They also scream: Careless. Lately I’ve seen a lot of these mistakes committed by brands and/or organizations.  There are far too many to discuss specifically, so I’ll just be simple and sweet. Take the extra time to ensure that all marketing communication materials are correct. Make your list and check it twice, because once that material is in front of an audience it can’t be retracted.

When innovation isn’t a sustainable marketing effort…

A company in Austin, Texas – Blue Marble – is starting to use QR codes in a novel approach to marketing and advertising.   The company will place a QR code on top of buildings that will show up on Google Earth and Google Maps – taking approximately one year to show up.  The service will cost $8,500 plus a recurring $200 support fee.

Rooftop QR Code Source: Mashable.com

Although this marketing effort is a unique way to use emerging media and technology, it does not seem to be a viable advertising tactic.  Blue Marble states that Google Earth is a popular phone application and that placing the code on buildings that show up on the app will allow users to receive rich content from it.  This advertising effort most often will miss its target and additionally not even be recognized by consumers. Consumers will mostly ignore the codes because it doesn’t engage them and it’s placed in an area that they’re not expecting.  The wait time for the QR code to show up on Google Earth and Maps will also prove to be a downfall for the unusual advertising approach.  If QR codes do not catch on to the general public or even if their usage slows in the next year, a company will have paid almost $10,000 for a useless picture on top of their buildings.

This idea is innovative, but does innovation always mean achieving objectives or effectiveness? No.  An ‘A’ for effort, but an ‘F’ for feasibility. 

Source: http://mashable.com/2011/10/05/rooftop-qr-codes-google-maps/

Is there ever a ‘RIGHT’ time for Grad School?

Grad School, Schmad School….right? Let’s all attend because it’s just an extension of your undergraduate education! I mean let’s face it, for the most part, my generation considers education as something you take up as a pastime until ‘you’re’ ready to enter the real-world of deadlines, low-pay, and kissing ass just to get to the next level. I, on the other hand, wanted to get a graduate degree because I was under-the-impression that I would be able to get a broader outlook on my field – marketing communications – since I didn’t feel like my undergraduate effectively prepared me for a successful career. Either I didn’t stay abreast on topics in higher education or my undergraduate institution didn’t equip me with the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision about graduate school.

During my undergraduate education I never thought about what ‘grad school’ actually meant, until recently. Last semester (Spring 2011), I received the McNair Scholarship – a scholarship put in place to honor Ronald E. McNair, an African American astronaut killed on the Challenger when it exploded.  This particular scholarship is for first-generation, low-income, minority students that express desire for pursuing higher education – specifically a Ph.D. At the time I applied, I knew I wanted to obtain a master’s so naturally I thought, “What’s the difference in taking it one step further and getting a Doctorate?’ My conception of the entire graduate school process and experience was off — way off. When we began the program as a Scholar, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.  Everyday we walked into our 4-hour class over the summer, there was a new task put in front of us. Hey! I’m up for the challenge! <— That was my initial thoughts.  Then came the hard-hitting truth about grad school – it’s NOT an extension of your undergraduate education. As a matter of fact, unless you choose a professional master’s, it is COMPLETELY different from your undergraduate. Now, after the McNair Program has schooled me, graduate school is synonymous with research, research, research…and guess what? You guessed it! MORE research!

Now as time passes into the culmination of my undergraduate degree (done in December – YAY), I wonder….”Is it the ‘right’ time for me to go to grad school?” I’ve taken most of the steps in preparing for grad school and have had an invaluable experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the McNair Scholarship.  But…am I really ready? Yes, I’ve taken the GRE. Yes, I’ve (almost) completed an independent research project – with the help & guidance of my wonderful mentor, Dr. Jensen Moore-Copple (who, by the way, has been my rock and biggest advocate thus far in college). Yes, I’ve attended a conference and will be presenting my research at a National McNair Conference at the University of Delaware. Yes, I’ve researched schools and have a good feel for what I should expect out of a top-tier program (Strategic Communications or something very similar). Still haven’t found one that says,”Hey, I’m the perfect fit.” BUT….am I REALLY ready to go to grad school? If there is one thing I’ve learned from anyone who has completed/is completing a master’s or Ph.D., it’s that you must be ready to give it everything you have.

I’m always up for a challenge; however, this time the challenge for me is deciding when the ‘right’ time to attend grad school is. I know I’ll get my master’s, as well as my Ph.D., because when I set my eyes on something, rest assured I will achieve it. Talking to Dr. Diana Martinelli, today confirmed my feelings about pursuing a graduate degree. “You’ll know when it’s time, trust your gut feeling.”  My gut feeling is currently telling me — I’m burnt out. I’ve been in school for 17 years. Yes, I said it 17 years!!! Hard to believe. I know that going to grad school is going to take every ounce of energy, perseverance, and determination that I have….and I’m willing to give it that and more. Just not right now…..

Pitbull is chosen to endorse…again.

Bud Light has chosen Pitbull to endorse the brand in its new multicultural advertising campaign expected to hit off in the next couple of weeks.   The beer powerhouse known for its entertaining, outgoing and humorous personality has been a major player in the Hispanic market, but has recently taken some hits from competition; these hits have stimulated the brand to take action.  This endorsement underscores the mounting pressure on companies to remain relevant to various cultures at one time.

The campaign highlights the importance of multicultural advertising and its long-term benefits. Multicultural advertising is becoming increasingly important because the population of minority cultures is growing at an exponential rate.  Companies and organizations must seek ways to engage diverse audiences with single messages to decrease costs and drive sales.  Bud Light made a strategic move to employ Pitbull as their product endorser because he appeals to multiple audiences – the Hispanic culture and the millennial generation.  Previously, Pitbull has endorsed Kodak – and still does in his ultra-successful raps – and more recently has endorsed Dr. Pepper.   He oozes a charming appeal that the diverse audiences find relevant and meaningful to their lives. Advertisers and marketers alike should take a page out of Bud Light’s marketing book…. it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one success.

Advertising appeals…is there a correct dosage of sex, humor & fear?

Advertising appeals such as sex, humor and fear can have numerous effects on audiences – some bad, some good.  As the old adage argues, “Sex sells.” With modern advertising containing countless sexual appeals, it can be presumed sex does sell.  Humor, just like sex, can have positive effects on audience attitude and may lead to sales in the long run.  However, advertisers must be cautious when using sex and humor as it may have an adverse effect on the audience.  Humor can create a relationship with consumers, which can enhance their thoughts and feelings toward a brand or product.  When using humor, however, it must be done in a balanced manner – not too much, but not too little.  If a high/extreme humor appeal is used, it may alienate the audience from the message and they may not remember/recall the brand or product advertised. Advertising that creatively incorporates a product or service in moderate humor appeals will be more effective as it relates the message to something entertaining that an audience may later recall. Moderate humor will allow a relationship between the audience and advertiser, while increasing the likelihood of the viewer to decode the message more effectively.

Fear appeals can be somewhat different from sex and humor appeals and must be used cautiously so as to not create too much arousal or anxiety.  A moderate level of fear can motivate an audience to seek ways to alleviate the fears that may be caused by the message.  For example, if a girl watches a commercial about HPV and is afraid that she may get HPV if she doesn’t receive the Gardasil vaccine then she may seek more information about vaccine to assuage her fears. If excessive fear appeal is used, however, it may cause too much arousal or anxiety and the audience will employ defense mechanisms such as ignoring the message altogether. Advertisers and marketers must be wary of the amount of fear they inscribe in their marketing communications because they may alienate their audience entirely.

In terms of effectiveness, gender differences exist – as they most always do – in the manner an audience will respond to an advertisement.  Men may interpret humor that uses more competitive or vulgar appeals better rather than humor that contains less.  While women, on the other hand, are less likely to enjoy raunchy humor.  If an ad makes a jab at another’s expense, women are more inclined to feel emotions and interpret the ad as distasteful. The same goes for sexual appeals used in advertisements.  Vulgar and excessive sex appeals may be repulsive to women, while men tend to welcome escalated sexual appeals.  Biologically, men and women are wired differently in relation to arousal and anxiety.  Therefore, when faced with messages incorporating fear women tend to have a lower tolerance and higher avoidance than men.  Men tend to have higher coping ability with fear-based messages.

Largely, advertising appeals are tricky.  To be used effectively, many aspects of appeals must be considered carefully.  There is not a one-size fits all approach, so advertisers must adjust accordingly to each specific audience involved.

‘Jersey Shore’, lay off the bad publicity!

A couple weeks ago ‘Jersey Shore’ was awarded a $420,000 in a tax break that New Jersey residents will have to pick up the cost. (Note: Governor, Chris Christie, veteod the tax credit a few weeks after the news broke stating, “As chief executive, I am duty-bound to ensure that taxpayers are not footing a $420,000 bill for a project which does nothing more than perpetuate misconceptions about the state and its citizens.”)  New Jersey residents and other outsiders have given harsh criticisms of the show and its reputation. Shows such as Jerseylicious, Jersey Shore, and the Real Housewives have spread awareness about the state, but it has also come with negative stereotypes and degrading jokes.

The reality TV show, ‘Jersey Shore’ has been a phenomenon of its own.  The cast has fascinated fans and audiences since 2009 with its outrageous fist-pumping and “Gym-Tan-Laundry (GTL)” lifestyle. (By the way, I ‘defriend’ anyone that has embraced the GTL lifestyle.)  It has brought widespread awareness to the small, densely populated coastal state.  However, that awareness has been a bad PR nightmare for the state’s tourism marketing department.  Not only have the show and others of its like brought publicity, but they’ve also given the state a bad stigma.

This case is particularly significant to advertising, public relations, and marketing that have attachments to the state of New Jersey.  Brands will have a challenge breaking the schemas individuals have of the state after viewing or hearing about the various reality TV shows encompassing New Jersey.  It will be increasingly important for them to differentiate themselves from the reality shows and the portrayals in them.  The mayor of Seaside Heights mentions that the show brings in a lot of business, which helps their economy. However, it is important for the town and state to think of the future ramifications of the TV shows.  This case is a perfect example of over-positioning. Once tourists and outsiders have a schema on New Jersey it will be hard to change their thoughts on the state. Long after the ‘Jersey Shore’ is finished fist-pumping their way into our flat-screen TVs, we’ll still remember the obnoxious and ill-mannered ‘GTL’ clan and relate it to anything affiliated with New Jersey.

Traditional media metrics are just that. Traditional. Time for new metrics!

First of all, existing media metrics were introduced decades ago when traditional media such as TV, radio, and magazines were the main mediums for advertising.   Reach, frequency, GRP, and CPM are still used in the way that they were first introduced and used – imagine how ineffective the may be now!  In recent years new media has broadened the advertising medium landscape and there are many more options for advertising placement. There have been no updates to these aforementioned traditional media metrics, but new media have been added and the metrics simply do not function in the same way as they would in traditional media.

Reach and frequency metrics are also problematic because they are only an estimate of exposure opportunities, not an actual calculation of message exposures to target audiences.  These calculations are then multiplied to give you an estimated Gross Rating Point for a campaign; however, GRP is nevertheless only an estimate and not an actual total amount of exposures.  Although it is important to have a good idea of how many exposures and the amount of reach a campaign can have, it is increasingly important to understand the reality of the situation. Since media has fragmented exponentially and multi-tasking has soared in the past few years, it is hard to know exactly how many of a target audience actually consumed a message for a product/service.  In reality, there are multiple screens and mediums in our lives from day-in and day-out, so it is increasingly harder to determine when consumers tune out one and tune into another.

Impressions are also a weak media metric because they do not consider important aspects of online activity.  This particular media metric only counts the amount of times that an online page is viewed with a certain ad on it.  It does not take into consideration the amount of time a person stayed on a web page, if the user actually viewed the ad or if it was just a hit and they left the page immediately after it loaded, or multiple page views by one user.   The previous mentioned problems hinder the usefulness of traditional media metrics and do not allow for accurate measuring; thus they are futile ways to determine the effectiveness of a campaign.

As mentioned above, the traditional media metrics were not developed for measuring new media such as online and mobile. Thus, reach, frequency, GRP and CPM cannot be used on the Internet.  Impressions can be used for the Internet; however they are not an effective measurement as demonstrated previously.   Reach, frequency, and GRP are not effective for Internet measurement because the Internet is extremely fragmented and it does not measure the actual amount of times an audience has been exposed to a message. One must consider the amount of time a person spends on a page or if the page was just uploaded and immediately left before viewing anything on the page, and the actual conversion rate for the ad.  CPM is also an ineffective measurement for Internet audience because you are charged for impressions even if your target audience did not view the ad.  Banner blindness, a phenomenon where visitors to a web page ignore ads, hinders the measurement of CPM and impressions.  All of the metrics were simply not developed for new media use and therefore do not give accurate portrayals of the effectiveness of a campaign.  Time for innovation in the metric world!!

Hacking is the new pastime.

On Friday, September 9 a hacker group called “The Script Kiddies” took control of the @NBCNews Twitter handle posting false reports that Ground Zero had been attacked days before the 9/11 ten-year anniversary. Though this was not the first time that a news agency’s Twitter account has been hacked, it is the first time that the hacking was considerably alarming due to the significant terrorist attack 10 years prior.

Recently, hacking groups have targeted organizations and the government to spread false information and/or hacked confidential information.   These hackings underscore the importance of social media security.  A brand’s and/or product’s credibility and reputation can be greatly affected if hackers are able to take control of their social media feeds/accounts and post malicious statements. It is increasingly important to maintain a secure online presence as to not jeopardize brand equity.  Advertisers/marketers must keep in mind that social media is a great way to engage their audiences, but if it falls into the wrong hands it can damage a brand’s entire reputation in a matter of minutes.  The take-away: Brands must be selective when allowing access to their SM feeds and must monitor them regularly to be abreast of any unusual or malicious activity.

Mashable:  Hacked NBC News Twitter Account Issues False Reports of Ground Zero Plane Crash