Commuting And Marketing

Submitted by Dmitri Davydov on Sun, 2007-04-22 10:42.
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There is a great article in the April 16 New Yorker magazine on commuters. The writer put in a few facts — which got my salesman’s mind reeling — and a lot of Studs Terkel-style “man in the street” profiles… which offer a psychological portrait of an increasingly average Americann consumer.

As a marketer, you should always jump on info like this. It’s priceless demographic knowledge, explained in a way that keeps the humans involved at the center of the story.

Here’s the gist: According to the Census Bureau, one of every six Americans now commutes more than 45 minutes each way to work. Over 3.5 million travel 90 minutes or more… each way. (That’s double what it was in 1990, when the last census was taken.)

That’s a LOT of time in the car, sitting on your ass.

My take: They can’t read, can’t watch DVDs, can’t watch TV, and have limited patience for learning while crawling through jams.

Still, a good percentage are going to be YOUR customers. A literally captive audience, potentially.

This used to get radio advertisers all excited… but radio ad revenue is plummeting, after years of cramming so many obnoxious ads into each hour that people just stopped listening to commercial radio. (Radio does this slow-suicide dance every decade or so — recently, the average talk radio station had more ads than talk each hour. They just push it until they lose listeners, and then scramble to become “relevant” again. Dumb. But it’s the way the biz is run.)

People learn to zone out, or jockey around the dial, or escape to commerical-free satellite radio and CDs. (Or NPR, which is hit-and-miss on being interesting.)

Think about it: Frazzled, frustrated people hating thier lives, forced to stay awake during a routine drive that is too unpredictable to lose focus while you’re suffering through it.

These are people with a problem — essentially, wasted hours that cannot be replaced. It’s purgatory. Quiet desperation.

For savvy marketers, this could represent an opportunity to be the most exciting part of your prospect’s day.

Back when I worked for The Man, I had opportunities to sit in “parking lot” traffic jams in Silicon Valley (on the 101 between Palo Alto and Santa Clara), and the 405 nightmare between the SoCal beach cities and the Sunset Blvd offramp (which includes LAX). Two of the most notorious and horrific commutes in the country.

If you have NOT experienced true traffic psychosis, you probably should go sample it.

Just to understand what it is many of your customers are going through.

Why? Because, for most information products (and even many services), you can and should be providing audio options. (There is also a place for audio with retail products… if you do it right. Most physical products — especially high-ticket items — are only purchased after information is digested.)

But there’s a caveat: You need to understand your prospect’s state of mind, in order to create a CD or mp3 that doesn’t create a disconnect in his head.

And this goes for both audio products, and for audio pitches.

Most smart direct marketers know that providing audio versions of their products can increase sales dramatically. Many people simply prefer audio over visual (whether it’s reading or watching video).

Very few entrepreneurs, however, have yet realized the opportunities for putting your pitch into audio format. That is changing, as test results come in.

But I know of few marketers who tailor their audio for commuters. And thinking about how commuters digest audio input will help you in EVERY effort to communicate clearly and effectively, regardless of the format.

Here’s the key: Your presentation must be in short, identifiable chunks – because your listener’s concentration will be constantly interrupted by sudden braking, the need for snap decisions, and occasional outbursts of road rage.

Keeping things in chunks means any rewinding is brief, and there are no long, delicate trains of thought to be shattered.

Most of the audio I’ve heard — both in products, and in the few audio pitches I’ve seen marketers produce (mostly via podcasts, but sometimes through downloaded mp3 or snail-mailed CDs) — make the outrageous assumption that your listener has the luxury to “sit back, relax, take the phone off the hook, and listen to a tale…”

I’ve actually critiqued a LOT of ads over the years that use pretty much that identical language.

So get straight on this: Online and offline, your prospect is never in a place where he can — or wants to — sit back and listen to you ramble.

Both pitches and products should be as long as necessary to deliver what is needed for your prospect or customer to get the desired result. So, yes, I still write very long emails, Web site copy, and print ads… but they never RAMBLE.

And I present very long workshop seminars, teleconferences and Web conferences. And this “never ramble” tactic is the key to making them all work.

It may require some time to make your point… but in all cases, you still need to GET to your point immediately. And stay there, without wandering off on tangents.

Even long-copy ads — when done right — deliver bite-sized chunks of info… tied together in fascinating ways that ensure your reader stays with you. (The “Bucket Brigade” technique of holding interest.)

But you do not want to overwhelm him with stuff. Give him a little bit of info, help him digest it… and smoothly segue to the next bit of info. Navigating your reader through a pitch (or the info in your product) is very much like running along uneven terrain.

Consider how you would run along a mountain trail next to a river. Lots of rocks, gopher holes, tree stumps, puddles… you can’t rush mindlessly headlong toward your destination, or you’ll quickly stumble.

You can still move quickly… but you’ve got to pay attention to each step.

In copy, each chunk of new info is a step. Present your point, make your point, tamp it down in your reader’s brain… and then smoothly transition to the next point.

That’s the key to making long copy work.

So when you create audio — which is just “spoken” copy — that you suspect (or know) is going to be consumed in the car… don’t construct elaborate arguments or points that require long-term memory. (The all-too-common “I’ll get back to that in a minute… but first, I want to tell you about…” tactic is a sure sign you’re dealing with a rookie copywriter.)

When you deliver your material in short, digestible chunks, you can go on for hours and never “lose” your listener. This is how master communicators command attention fro long periods.

The commuting culture — which ain’t going away anytime soon — is a target audience that hasn’t been fully tapped. These are people who are ripe for certain products and services… if only the info can be delivered in a way that doesn’t make their brains bleed.

Commuters listen to books, and sometimes attempt to learn foreign languages. There’s no reason why they can’t consume your info product, too… or listen to your pitch.

Here’s a nice exercise to do in your spare time: Consider all the products that could be put on audio for consumption in the car (or on an iPod during a train ride).

Audio is different than reading… but the tactics for delivering content are the same.

Okay, I gotta go pack.

Stay frosty.

John Carlton,

Further Reading

Advertising Secrets of the Written Word