"You're content-driven," a Web site designer recently told me, after soliciting my opinion of a banner ad, only to find out that I had never even noticed it. He explained that I'm one of those readers who scan quickly for information-thus, a content-driven consumer. But that doesn't mean that marketing and advertising are wasted on me. I'm as susceptible as anyone to fresh, creative advertising in print, radio and TV, and I'm always amazed at the number of ways companies find strategies-GEICO's gecko, AFLAC's duck, for example---to capture even hard-to-reach audiences.

As marketing professionals will affirm, businesses must find multiple ways to target their niche. For example, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse, which just opened in Sarasota, designed its interiors and menu-as well as its advertising-to woo women, traditionally a hard-to-reach customer at male-dominated steak houses. The company uses lighter woods in its decor, serves 100 wines by the glass and keeps its steak prices lower than many of its competitors, strategies that company co-founder Bill Allen say make women feel more comfortable. Another example: Rio Roses, a Miami-based grower and distributor of roses, wants to brand its product so we'll ask a florist for Rio Roses much like we'd ask a waitress for a Coke or Pepsi instead of a cola. To do that, the company's Lynn McCarron told me at SARASOTA Magazine and the Community Foundation's 25th anniversary fund-raiser at Lakewood Ranch Country Club, they donate flowers to high-profile events. The company's chocolate-colored roses adorned every table, banister and pedestal at the party. The idea is that the guests should walk away, asking, "Did you see the color of those flowers and those arrangements? Wow!" It worked for me.

This issue is all about creative marketing, with useful advice from a variety of experts, a showcase of award-winning advertising (p. xxx) and even a fun new way of networking called FastPitch! (p. xxx) In addition, international trade attorney Nancy Wollin, focuses on a trend that requires the utmost skill in creative communications-offshore outsourcing (p xxx).

Perhaps the best advice for companies looking to sharpen their message comes from Jack Wolf, (p. xxx), senior partner of Bradenton-based Lifelong Learning Partners, who counsels huge public companies. "It doesn't matter what you do," Wolf says, "every employee at every company has only one job: the accumulation and retention of customers. Period." And that's what marketing is all about.

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