Marketing-driven Highway Safety Signs Blocked by Feds

The marketing grades are in: “A” for the New Jersey Department of Transportation. “F” for the Federal Highway Administration.

The headline: New Jersey recently deployed clever road safety messages on electronic highway signs carefully crafted to connect with local drivers so important safety communications would be absorbed. The government’s response: STOP.

The beauty and marketing essence of the program is that the department of transportation team was able to effectively target drivers based on a strong understanding of the local population, including social and cultural norms and language (i.e., their customers). However, the federal government stepped in, slapped New Jersey’s hands and essentially told the garden state not to effectively communicate with its residents. While New Jersey may have violated some fine print in the federal transportation guidelines for electronic highway signs, the government has classically missed the forest for the trees.

Photos: NJ Department of Transportation via New York Post newspaper.

One of the most basic and critical fundamentals for business success is being able to effectively communicate and engage with your customers. That means truly understanding who they are, what makes them tick and how to talk to them to achieve desired influence, action and outcome. This includes using plain, direct language and humor if and when appropriate.

It’s exactly what the New Jersey Transportation Department did:

  • “The Department wanted to be more creative in how we present our safety messages. We are trying a few new messages that are both fun and catchy in hopes that people will remember the message to drive safely.”

Further, they optimized taxpayer dollars by utilizing in-house creative resources for the messaging. Here’s what the department’s social media manager said about the initiative in a LinkedIn post:

  • “Grateful for the opportunity to venture out of social media world and create new messages for NJDOT’s VMS boards. My team and I had a lot of fun adding humor (and sometimes sass) to these important safety messages.”

By the way, the Texas Department of Transportation takes a similar approach and they are now wondering if the highway sign police are coming for them next.

Photo: Texas Department of Transportation via NBC 5 News (NBCDFW).

So, when it comes to important safety messages on electronic highway signs, why not craft the messages to appeal to most of the drivers on the road? New Jersey had the right idea. The federal government crushed them. Are other states next?



Harvey Chimoff is a global marketing executive whose experience and expertise span consumer packaged-goods brand management, B2B manufacturing, and plug-in marketing leader consulting. He is a customer-focused leader who connects marketing across the organization to drive performance and achieve business objectives. Harvey is the author of the new book Strategy First, Then Tactics.® How Practical Marketing Discipline Provides the Winning Edge, available on Amazon. Contact him at harveychimoff.com.

Jersey Mike’s Manager Conducts Master Class in Humanity & Customer Relations

This is a true story from this week.

A woman who has technically been a senior citizen for some years now yet who is quite robust and spry for her numerical age, wearing a face mask, walked into a Jersey Mike’s sub shop in suburban Denville, New Jersey on a weekday afternoon shortly after lunch time.

“My husband hasn’t been doing well and we’re on our way home from a doctor’s appointment. I asked him what he’d like to eat and he said Jersey Mike’s. Done, I said. We’d like a number 7, Giant, with Mike’s Way, and if you can make it a good one I’d really appreciate it. Thanks.”

The man behind the counter listened, looked at this woman and responded: “This one’s on me.”

The woman did not understand. “What do you mean? The employee explained: “I’d like to treat you to your sandwich. It’s on the house. No charge.”

Clearly taken aback, the woman declined. “Thank you very much. That’s very kind and generous. I appreciate it. However, I’m able to take care of this. I’ll tell you what. How about you pay it forward. One day someone else will come in who’s truly in need and you can give them a free sandwich.”

When it was time to pay the bill, the woman noticed the total was much lower than what that sandwich would normally cost. “Excuse me, I think you may have made a mistake ringing up my order. This sandwich usually costs much more.”

He replied: “Yes, you’re right. Since you wouldn’t let us treat you to the sandwich, we took 25% off.”

Credit: Jersey Mike’s Facebook

It turns out that the man working at Jersey Mike’s is named Tom, and he’s the manager. This particular location has only been open a month or so, and perhaps he’s keen on building positive word of mouth. I’d like to think he’s just a good human being.

So why am I sharing this story? There is important meaning, both for business and in life.

4 Business & Life Takeaways
from
Jersey Mike’s Manager, Tom

  • Listen to your customers. Okay, you’re not going to provide free products or services too often, if ever. That’s not the point. If you really listen and pay attention, you might learn something that helps your business. If not today, then down the road. You may also decide to take an immediate action based on what you’ve heard and how you assess the situation.
  • Lead and develop. Give your employees and team some operation and decision-making freedom and flexibility. Teach them how to apply the values and business practices important to you and your company.
  • Small things matter. This woman is going to tell the story to all her friends and family. She started doing it on the ride home from Jersey Mike’s. This is goodwill and super positive word of mouth for this Jersey Mike’s shop and for the Jersey Mike’s brand. It may not tally up as ROI on a spreadsheet, but it’s still good business.
  • Be a good person. Whether in business or in life, try to do the right things. We all make mistakes and none of us are perfect, yet over time it’s usually easy to tell who the good people are versus the “fill-in-the-blank adjective” people. When you try to do the right things, good things often happen. Plus, you’ll just feel better.

Thank you, Tom, for the kind gesture, providing an uplifting experience to someone who could use one and for being a good person! I hope your Jersey Mike’s store is a great success.


Harvey Chimoff is a customer-focused global business leader who connects marketing across the organization to drive performance and achieve business objectives. His marketing expertise includes B2B, CPG brand management and consulting. Contact him at harveychimoff.com.

Make it Easy (Easier) for Customers to Interact and Buy More

We’ve all been frustrated at times how hard it is to have a direct communication with the company we’re doing or trying to do business with.

This happens despite technology enabling all kinds of communication options.

Still, for many business entities, the question remains: how do you know what your customer really thinks, or wants?

There are many ways to understand customer sentiment, including mining social media activity, assessing inbound website questions, responding to call/contact center interactions, conducting research surveys, and establishing a net promoter score program. The approaches require different levels of commitment, investment and execution.

There is one thing that every company or organization should be able to do to increase sales potential and/or learn more about what’s happening with their customers: make it easy for the customer or potential customer to get in touch.

With so much of today’s customer journey happening during pre-purchase analysis and investigation, having a top-notch website is critical. Sometimes that’s not enough and the customer still has questions and/or needs direct communication. If you are not able to satisfy that information need, you may lose a potential sale or even worse, it may go to a competitor. In addition, the communication need can arise at some point after the purchase has been made.


Consider two action steps, one that is designed for both pre- and post-purchase interaction, and the other for post-purchase customer relationship maximization. Each should not be overly difficult to implement.

  1. Put contact information in an easy-to-find place on your website, be that a phone number, chat option, email address, contact form or social media account links.
  1. For post-purchase customer satisfaction, one tactic that impressed me recently was from Anker, the self described “global leader in charging technology.” Anker takes advantage of the product shipping occasion to deliver a simple and unexpected message.

Anker includes a small card with product purchases, with one side marked “Happy?” and the other “Not happy?”

The “happy” section says:

  • “We’re just happy that you’re happy. If you don’t know how to express your newfound joy, we’ve got a few suggestions …”
Photo: Harvey Chimoff

The suggestions are share the news (meaning be a recommender or influencer); write a review on Amazon; and connnect with Anker on social media platforms. Okay, if you think this part of the card comes across as overly playful, remember this: positive word of mouth is one of the most effective sales and marketing actions! There’s no shame encouraging it.

The “not happy” section says this:

  • “Our friendly customer service team will work hard to put a smile back on your face. Here’s how we can connect.” There are USA and international phone numbers, an email address, and a website support URL.
Photo: Harvey Chimoff

By the way, the “Contact Us” section on Anker’s website lists a range of USA and international contact options.

Whatever customer interaction approach you choose, have a ready-to-respond system in place and activated. This can be as simple as designating a member of the team to monitor, directly respond or coordinate a timely response. Otherwise, you may need the “Not happy” cards.



Harvey Chimoff is a customer-focused global business leader who connects marketing across the organization to drive performance and achieve business objectives. His B2B and CPG marketing expertise includes agribusiness, ingredients and food and beverage. Contact him at harveychimoff.com.