Marketing & Public Relations Firm - Verasoni Worldwide

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Abe Kasbo

He is the Michael Jordan of the chest cavity…and a peddler of Pfizer’s cholesterol drug, Lipitor. For the past 2 years, this non-practicing MD, Dr. Robert Jarvik, has lent his name and his fame to Pfizer and now Congress wants some answers. So what?

For starters, this ad campaign is the equivalent of Gatorade’s “Be Like Mike” Campaign. “Be Like Mike Jarvik” that is…take Lipitor, you can run, row, hang out with your son…and if Dr. Jarvik, a heart expert, is doing it, perhaps you should too. Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist, but he invented the artificial heart. How he went from that to a pitching for the druggies is beyond me…a new low.

It’s time to stop. Hey big pharma and your pitch people, I am sure your research tells you that the majority of your audience did not go to medical school, so bombarding them with brand name drugs only puts pressure on the docs to subscribe, right folks? It’s makes a mocry of medicine and of the audience because now suddenly every dick, jane and harry (steve too), is talking about your drugs, and recommending to their friends like their favorite shampoo.

I find this amazing considering Americans are sold on the false perception that they have the best healthcare on the planet, and big pharma is spending billions on marketing. Don’t get me wrong, as a marketer, I welcome advertising and marketing, as long as we cut out the BS. There are other ways to market drugs, advertising is certainly one way, another would be by educating physicians on their benefits and side effects and providing consumer information on the web or in brochure form.

According to nytimes.com, since coming under fire, Dr. Jarvik recently stated on his website, “I believe the process of educating the public is beneficial to many patients, and I am pleased to be part of an effort to reach them.” [author's note - Que? What? Is this Dr. Phil?] Where do I start respond to that statement? What “process of education” is he talking about?

This is advertising Dr. Jarvik not community health.

Now it’s Pfizer’s spin mister’s turn…check out this quote from The New York Times Article: “Pfizer stands behind its consumer advertising for Lipitor and our work with Dr. Jarvik to deliver important information on managing heart health,” the company said in an e-mailed statement. “Our primary concern in all of our advertising is that the tone and content are appropriate for the intended audiences, and that it will ultimately result in encouraging valuable patient/physician dialogue that can lead to appropriate treatment.”

Allow me to interpret sil vous plais (that’s French for please for your non Francophiles)…Pfizer will sell Lipitor how it pleases. Pfizer shall use phrases like “managing heart health…encouraging valuable patient/physician dialogue” to ensure that you know that they care about you and to make sure that you buy Lipitor…Ask your doctor folks, ask your doctor…

Since coming under fire, Dr. Jarvik recently stated on his website, “I believe the process of educating the public is beneficial to many patients, and I am pleased to be part of an effort to reach them.” [author's note - Que? What? Is this Dr. Phil?] Where do I start respond to that statement? What process of education is he talking about?

Look, big pharma is not in the public health business, they are in business to sell drugs. There’s nothing wrong with advertising, and these guys are entitled to advertise and make money. But let’s keep honesty as a big part of the game…Consumers and marketers ought to demand it.

Oh and note to whoever makes that restless leg syndrome drug (see you haven’t advertised enough). My friends told about the upcoming restless leg syndrome epidemic. So I got worried the other day when I found my leg shaking a bit for no reason. So I ignored it, and it went away.

Whew, that was close!


By Abe Kasbo

This is the tale of 2 stores, or so it seems. The first has a first class integrated advertising campaign, both visually stunning and memorable campaigns across all media. The other isn’t quite that prolific with their advertising, it’s a bit more expensive and we get some direct mail from the place every once in a while. So when my wife and I needed some items last weekend, we decided to go to the former rather than the latter because of Cesar. Yes Cesar.

You see, brand recognition is no match for Cesar. And while Cesar laughs in the face of frequency and reach, because he can only help one customer at a time, Cesar prevails. Hail Cesar!!!

Cesar delivers excellent customer service, and time and again, he has delivered my business to his employer, Lord & Taylor in the Willowbrook Mall in Wayne, NJ. Yes, he’s a real person with a genuine approach to customer service that accompanies a winning smile.

At this store, Cesar is everywhere and in every department. While Cesar works in the men’s department, there’s a clone in every department. No matter when I go, day or night, sale or no sale, my experience with the people of this store has consistently been nothing short of excellent. And that’s what keeps me coming back. Talk about social marketing!

It is in the ability to replicate a great experience, through their people, that Lord & Taylor broke through my advertising obsessed biased. Consistent, excellent experiences at the store trumped any Madison Avenue cool, chic ad campaign…in my mind anyway.


By Abe Kasbo

What gives? While some outlets routinely provide make good for failing to reach guaranteed audience levels, The Tiffany Network is dolling out cash to the tune of $500,000 for each advertiser. This unprecedented move seems puzzling yet impressive.

While I’m still trying to make sense of this move, it makes me think about what newspapers have to say. Afterall, newspaper circulation is down significantly across the board. So why do their rates keep climbing?

It’s time for newspapers to adjust their ad prices to reflect dwindling circulation.


By Abe Kasbo

So I went to a magazine launch party tonight. I needed to eat…we arrived late and I went in search of shrimp. By the way, the food was great, the event was wonderful and it seems like these guys just might cut through the clutter in their space and produce a good product. I am rooting for them. While the food satisfied my hunger, there was something à gauche and I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I finally figured out that either something is strange in the world of networking or I missed something. I know all about the 30 second elevator speech deal, but I have never seen put into practice with more precision and speed like I had earlier this evening. I felt like I was in an episode of “business speed dating on steroids.” So after 5 or so of these business come-ons (roughly less than satifying 150 seconds), I headed for the bar, glass of wine, and a sanity check…and thought to myself “why are these guys telling me about themselves, how many clients they have, or how much business they have instead of telling me how relevant their business is to their clients?” After all everyone is in business because the market needs their service(s).

The success of any business relies on several elements, one of which is relevancy to the market and consumer. If you’re a small business ($5 Million to $250 Million in revenues), you must continuously strive to stay ahead of your clients. This can certainly be done through marketing, but it can also be done through other avenues such as innovation or new product role out and so on.

So how do we stay relevant? Here are some ideas. From a marketing point of view, craft programs that deliver the value of your business from the client’s point of view. Engage the clients through meaningful interactions, be it on or offline. And if you have not embraced the internet (Note: if you have a website, it does’t mean you’ve embraced the internet, it means you have a website) you may want to consider what strategies are available to either increase sales, brand awareness etc. How well do you utilize search engine optimization? What do you with social networking / online communities? Online directories? What about blogging? And there’s more…Offline, how are you competing and on what? Price? Service? Both? Are any of these relevant?

What other ways can you make your business more relevant? Well, if you can answer that, then you’re off to a great start!


By Abe Kasbo

Companies have been shying away from allowing users to generate content to represent their brand, and rightfully so. It’s perfectly rational that businesses ought not surrender their brand equity to the masses, or more importantly, the individuals who may have the ability to adversely affect their business by getting content out to the masses.

The arguments against user generated content range from lack of standards for the medium, to fragmentation of technologies and audiences, and measurement. But what if brands partnered with their customers to generate meaningful content? What if brands provided precisely enough guidance to users to generate content? You ask how? In many ways this is already happening on the medium side. Take Facebook and myspace et al, what they do well is allow the user experience – in this case – their social network to create user generated content relevant to both the user and his or her network. It’s the ultimate “it’s about me forever campaign.” The point here is that people don’t denigrate themselves on these sites. At least people that fall within the normal distribution curve. Not looking for outliers here. And with meaningful engagement, your customers will not denigrate your brand. Remember, your campaign has to provide guidance and control for your customers in order for your user-generated content campaign to work properly.

Businesses indeed can partner with their customers on user-generated content while exercising control over the brand message. And customers already engage in “user generated content” off the net, it’s called word of mouth. So why not partner with your customers to deliver your messages to the masses? Here’s why it makes sense:

1. Video / audio technology is affordable if not cheap
2. Video / editing technology is easy to acquire or outsource
3. Plenty of online distribution channels – youtube, myspace, revver, yahoo video etc.
4. While Internet video represent a tiny subset of how brands are distributed, the medium is growing exponentially
5. In many ways, campaigns are measurable

And while measurement is a key issue, no media plan has a perfect measurement mechanism – no matter what your agency says. So start thinking about taking a position online and rethink how your brand can partner with you customers. Because the more meaningful engagement, the more ownership your customers take of your brand.


By Abe Kasbo:

We often advise our clients to strategically “own” media. In other words, develop a media plan within the overall marketing plan that allows enough frequency of your message in particular media to reach your audience. It’s also important to identify goals for each medium, for example: “call to action” in the papers, brand awareness for television, and brand interactivity for the web, etc.

Marketing and advertising media integration is the corner stone of media synergy. Media synergy allows your message and budget to work harder for you. Media syergy is the principle that allows different media outlets to work together in one campaign or several campaigns.

*Note – since this is a wide topic, I will write several pieces to address the issue, so be sure to come back.

But what if you’re invested in mediums in transition. OK, let’s stop beating around the bush – what I mean is, what if you’re investing in newspapers and radio. With these mediums are on the decline, what do you do?

That giant sucking sound you hear is indeed the Internet swooping away consumers from radio, newspapers, and even TV. Even so, my philosophy is that newspapers and radio are not going away. Newspapers may have wiped out the town crier, but radio did not kill newspapers when it was first introduced, and TV did not bury radio. And while the Internet is, to this point, a peerless medium, and will surely drive consolidation among regional newspapers and radio stations, but by-and-large newspapers and radio are here to stay.

So if you’re invested in these media, make sure that your message resonates. You may have a smaller audience pool for your message, that’s why the quality of you message is key in these unchartered waters. Also, consider offers and bounce your advertising message to another medium like the web or the phone. For example, if you have an offer in your magazine ad, drive response to the web or phone so you can measure better. Now, we’ve got two outlets working harder for you. And I am assuming your website is optimized to get even a larger bang.

In the meantime, consider negotiating harder with outlets in transition, they don’t want to loose your business.


By Abe Kasbo

A couple of days ago a report issued by Delloite’s Consumer Products group said that consumer online reviews strongly influence purchase decisions. Online consumer reviews are the “pimp my ride” version of “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile,” the highly effective, ever selective, never underestimated power of word of mouth.

So this report confirms what we know about how brands are created and built. By the consumer, and the internet is the ultimate word of mouth play, because it roars. It’s natural that “consumers are turning to online reviews in large numbers, and those reviews are having a considerable impact on purchase decisions,” said the report. It went on to say that 62 percent of consumers read consumer-written product reviews on the Internet, and of these, more than eight in 10 say their purchase decisions have been directly influenced by the reviews, “either influencing them to buy a different product than the one they had originally been thinking about purchasing, or confirming the original purchase intention.”

And just to confirm that is a human behavior issues, much like word of mouth, the report said that “seven in 10 of the consumers who read reviews share them with friends, family or colleagues, thus amplifying their impact.”

Not surprisingly, the survey also “found that reputation and word of mouth are the key factors that influence consumers’ decisions to purchase a new product or brand, many other factors also play a significant role.”

So it’s our job as marketers to provide our consumers not only with the products and services to keep them loyal to our brands, but also to provide them with the outlets and the opportunities to recommend our products and services, both on and offline.


By Abe Kasbo

We’ve all been there. hunkered down, coming up with names for our businesses, products, and so on. And let’s face it, some of us have come up with some good ones and other, well, not so good. But what’s the difference between the good and not so good? How do you know?

Let me give you an example. About 18 months ago, we decided to change the name of my firm from Integrity Worldwide to Verasoni Worldwide. Why? We were getting exposure to larger and more international clients and needed something to reflect that growth and international exposure. Also, we wanted a unique name, and name that stood on its own as a URL. Our old URL was long an cumbersome. The name change was a fundamental strategic decision for us. A key part of the change is communicating the name change to our clients and the market. So we developed a strategy on how, when, and what we were going to say, to whom, how often and by why media. And excuted that plan so every client was clear on the name change and new clients at the were aware of the name, for due diligence purposes.

When looking at branding and messaging issues, businesses must look at several factors, including:

1. What do you intent to convey to the market?
2. How will you do it?
3. How will you distribute the message?

The fact is, businesses like Google and Yahoo! did not spend thousands of dollars doing market research to get the perfect name. They understood the culture, technology, the space and their potential impact on the market. In fact, by all measures, they were ahead of the culture on this, committed strategy and budget to brand distribution (and delivering for their clients too)…and now Google is a verb.

Google and Yahoo!’s names are much more about their customers and the culture than about their techical businesses. Imagine if someone at Yahoo! when sitting around coming up with the name for the business said, “I got it! We’ll call it Associates Search Specialists.” After a colleague checkout the acronym, they decided against it. Meanwhile in meeting at Google before it was Google of course, someone said “I got it! Let’s call it, SirChing! And our mascot could be an English gentleman holding money…get it? Got it.

It seems like businesses worry too much about the development of logos and spend a ridiculous amount of resources mulling over logos and colors. It’s perfectly understandable that businesses want to project the right image, at the same time, this imperfect process is often injected with personal biases rather than market driven decisions. As long logos and marks and messages are appropriate for your market, provide your business with a sense of clear and distinct identity, you are on the right track. Think about it, no one drives by McDonald’s and says “boy, I really hate that logo!” And that is why, you get the biggest bang for your buck when your market messages are shaped for the market and driven by a thoughtful brand distribution plan. You can have the perfect message for the market, misplace it, and now your marketing investment is effectively wasted. And the converse is true here too.

More to come…


By: Abe Kasbo

I’m a subscriber to Verizon Wireless. Been with them for about 8 years, and for the most part, I am very happy with the company’s services. I often recommend the service to family and friends. So when I got a wireless data card from them two months ago, I expected the same level of service. I got it. Feels good. Their brand equity in me spiked. I was happily up-sold. Should make their marketing and sales folks break open a bubbly. After all, that’s the goal. Get the customer, keep them happy, sell them more, keep them happy, and the cycle goes on…until????

Until, I began to fill out the rebate form. So here’s the deal. They advertised the data card for $50 with a $50 rebate. I was determined to beat the stats and get my rebate. According to PMA (Promotion Marketing Association), “rebate payments in the most recent 12-month period totaled nearly $486.5 million. And “redemption rates averaged 21.1% when calculated as a percentage of total sales, and 67.6% when calculated as a percentage of incremental sales.” While filling out my rebate, I remembered when last year, I purchased two phones from Verizon and each had a rebate. I redeemed both, but received a rebate for only one of them. I was a bad consumer, I didn’t follow-up about my the one I did not get…too busy! Not this time though. This is my hour of redemption – or sort to speak.

For this rebate, I had to peel the original SKU sticker off the box and mail it back with the original receipt. So the sticker was fixed on a hard plastic box, when I tried to peel it off, it began to rip. It rips, I can’t send it in. Can’t send it in, no rebate. Not feeling the love for Verizon here. I called the company, and the well-trained client services rep advised to cut the label off the box. Went into the garage got a box cutter and did just that. Not feeling the love again. As I was clumsily resculpting the box, I thought, I’ve been with these guys for let’s say 8 years, averaging let’s say about $160 per month…the life of this client to date is about $15,000. And I have to go the garage to get a box cutter to make sure I get my rebate? Ridiculous! Definitely not feeling the love.

So for a $50 rebate I am now thinking about what it would be like to be a customer of Verizon’s competition. That’s a dangerous thing. There’s a certain psychological and practical line that consumers should never cross, and that’s the line that separates your business from your competition. Even though I’ve been with Verizon for years, my journey from not feeling the love to thinking about the competition happened in about a half-hour. Even though, deep down I know I may have the same experience with the competition, it doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that my account represents a significant source of revenue to Verizon, but I’d like to think like I matter as a valued customer. I’d like to think that all of their customers matter. With all the sophisticated metrics, including customer relationship management software, couldn’t they just give me an instant rebate? That would have made the entire process more pleasant, I wouldn’t have had to get the box knife from the garage, and I could still be feeling the love. For a $50 rebate, Verizon chose the following results:

1. Brought their competition ever closer to their customer.
2. Brand equity erosion.
3. The possibility of my bleeding to death from cutting my finger while using the box cutter (I’m not the handiest guys on the planet).

I don’t mean to pick on Verizon here, because rebating is such a wide spread practice across many industries. Rebate strategies may have lots to do with pricing and market strategies, but they represent serious marketing and public relations issues to companies which may ultimately lead to market share loss.

So while companies may still find it necessary to inconvenience their customers with rebates, they ought to at least put in place a tiered approach to rebating based on what they know about their clients. This approach will represent opportunities for additional client touches, which may lead to additional sales, and an increase in brand equity to say the least.


By Abe Kasbo

There are certain tendencies in almost every industry to communicate to the market in sector specific lingo, and actually believe it will deliver results. This lingo usually leaks into advertising, marketing communications, and worse, the language between the business and its customers. This isn’t good for both the business and its clients. Let me explain by giving you an example from health care. (Not singling out health care here for any reason, and this practice is pervasive in many business sectors).

In hospitals, people speak differently. They refer to Mr. Johnson as a patient. To physicians as “providers.” People who come in for a particular test or procedures and leave the premises the same day are known as “outpatients.” Similarly, people who stay in the hospital over night are referred to as “in-patients.” Out if you go, in if you stay. Seems simple enough, yet there’s something about these terms that are simply not “patient-friendly.”

If you work at a hospital or a large medical practice, it’s fashionable, if not a must to speak hospitalese to your your peers. While this language is certainly as young as western medicine itself, it is pervasive. Hospitalese, like a bad virus, quickly spreads from employees, physicians, nurses to the patients, and general public even though usually, both the patients and general public the lingo confusing.

Take for example my favorite word from that comes from that foreign language known as hospitalese – “Ambulatory.” Hospitals name some of their “outpatient” (there’s another term that drives me loopy) services as “Ambulatory Services Centers.” Like “Westmount Ambulatory Imaging Center,” or “Westmount Hospital Ambulatory Surgery Center,” or the Ambulatory Care Center of Westmount Hospital.” My question here, isw what does “ambulatory” mean? So I looked it up. Here’s an official definition from the Random House Unabridged Dictionary

am·bu·la·to·ry [am-byuh-luh-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation adjective, noun, plural -ries. –adjective

1. of, pertaining to, or capable of walking: an ambulatory exploration of the countryside.
2. adapted for walking, as the limbs of many animals.
3. moving about or from place to place; not stationary: an ambulatory tribe.

Hmmm…Having said that, let’s look at the operative or key terms that will resonate with the market. If you’re promoting surgery, then focus the message so there’s less distraction. “Westmount Hospital Ambulatory Surgery Center?” or ” “Westmount Hospital Surgery Center?”

Simply put, diluting your message with industry lingo adds to confusion and confusion is enemy number one to your brand and brand equity. With the downward pressures on hospital budgets, one can ill afford to loose focus of communicating more directly to the market. So speak directly and let your message carry a big stick.