Barry Callen’s job once depended on the kindness of Johnny Cash. One of Callen’s first marketing gigs was to get the “man in black” to participate in a TV commercial for a blood donation telethon in Texas.
“My whole job hinged on it, at a time when you couldn’t buy a job,” Callen recounts of the day decades ago when he met the music legend at the Houston Astrodome before a show. “I would be out of a job if this commercial didn’t work.”
The only problem: Callen had never made a television commercial before. He didn’t know the required length or that he was supposed to bring a script. He ended up writing one on the spot. “I didn’t know anything,” says Callen.
But Cash graciously agreed to do the ad anyway, Callen kept his job, and the future marketing consultant, author, and teacher learned an invaluable lesson about humility that would guide his career.
Over the course of his entire professional career, Callen estimates that more than 160 clients—from Coca-Cola to Famous Footwear—have invested about $500 million in his ideas. Even so, Callen is confident he doesn’t, and never will, know everything about marketing.
“I think one of the traps for people like me is to think we know,” says Callen, who teaches at CUNA management and marketing schools, oft en helping students avoid marketing pitfalls.
He also is the author of “Perfect Phrases for Sales and Marketing Copy” and “Manager’s Guide to Marketing, Advertising, and Publicity.”
Callen offers these “words of wisdom” for credit union marketers:
►Effective communications relies on a set of highly dependent variables. Each market is different. Each credit union is different.
►General principles apply, but finding out what your audience wants and testing the message are critical.
►Zig when others zag. Dare to be different. This takes a lot of guts to do because we all have a sense of what a professional credit union ad should look like.
►Psychological trumps logical. Aim for the heart, not the head. The heart beats up the head and takes its lunch money every time.
►If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you’re lucky and have a winner, stick with it. It’s not easy.
►Always throw out multiple ideas for testing. Sometimes good ideas are dead wrong. It’s detective work.
►It’s easy to unintentionally market to yourself instead of your audience if you’re passionate about a cause, surrounded by true believers, and have spent your entire life working for that cause.
►One of the most dangerous things you can do is to think you know what your target market wants. It’ll surprise you every time.
►Accept and respect your audience. Don’t force your ideas on them. Changing people is hard to do.
“If you want to be an effective marketer,” Callen says, “you have to say to your audience: ‘Yes, you are that way. I am unlikely to change you. I just need to find a way to build on the way you are, to connect to what you already care about and believe.’”
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