Posts tagged “Branding”
The marketing automat.
With the introduction of the Mac (January 24, 1984), art direction and design changed forever. This was as big a change to civilization as the introduction of firearms. Suddenly, anyone with a Mac had a slew of tools for creating marketing and promotional materials that used to be the exclusive domain of designers and art directors.
But, to the trained eye, their work was always obvious. They were locked into a grid system, and it showed. (You can see evidence of that in this Web site, too.) The computer could only do its work within specific parameters. A blank page wasn’t really blank – it had to have defined column widths, borders and other elements that gave everything the computers produced a certain sameness.
Then something else happened. Anyone with a Mac (and not long after, anyone with a PC and the right software) could claim to be “a designer.” The automat had come to marketing and advertising. When Web sites entered the landscape – bringing design full-circle, from being created on computers to being delivered on computers – developers, coders and programmers were saying, “hey, I can do this, too.”
But they all quickly learned that technology and software could only take them so far. To be “creative” means to create something out of nothing, something captivating, fascinating, compelling. At multiple points in the creative process, one’s judgement is the critical element, not CSS (cascading style sheets), plugins, widgets or themes – those are merely the tools in the toolbox.
Our brains are the sexy thing. And our creative judgement is what sets us (writers, art directors and designers) apart from everyone else.
“Hey, I can do that.”
We are indeed in a brave new world where “design” has morphed into “build,” and “build” means software rather than the trained and educated aesthetics of true architecture.
My background is advertising. I’m a writer – not a designer or developer. But 80-90% of the business I get these days is Web sites. I need to work with designers to create those Web sites, because design is a critical element when creating a Web site. Anything “creative” needs a concept and a concept is something quite apart from “a build,” it’s a marriage of design and copy – images and words blended in such a way that a particular feeling is conveyed.
Let me say that again: a concept is a marriage of art and copy – graphics and words – to deliver a message. That goes for movies, brochures, ads, billboards … and Web sites.
The Web is strewn with ill-conceived bastard children of techies who have no clue about “design.”
(There, I’ve said it. And, yes, I feel better.)
What’s the point of all this “creative” work that we do if not to pass on a message? The message is not only key, it’s critical. It’s the reason we’re paid to do what we do. It’s why clients and corporations want marketing materials and Web sites. They want to get the message out.
So, what happens when bad or entirely missing creative judgement comes into play? The message is obscured, or perhaps buried. People – especially the target audience – may miss the message entirely. Then what? Why was the work done? Why was the money spent?
Let the buyer beware.
Sadly, this is where things get tricky. How do clients know they’ve chosen the right creative team? They often don’t until the work is done. This is no different than discovering we’ve chosen the wrong doctor. In both cases one might go through considerable physical pain and even agony before realizing that the person one has chosen has neither the skills nor the know-how to truly help us.
The best advice I can offer is: “look at the work produced by the people you’re considering and ask for references.” That’s the same approach we’d use when selecting an attorney – have they done the kind of work we need done? What’s their track record? What do their previous clients say? And creative services professionals are consultants, just like lawyers and physicians. The same rules apply, in how you choose them and pay them.
Even though technology seems to have made ”amateurism” the new “creative,” don’t be fooled. Just because someone produced a YouTube video doesn’t mean they’re a film-maker. And just because someone may have produced a Web site it doesn’t mean that they’re a designer, a real designer. Our instantaneous, ubiquitous displays of amateurism have engendered the “heck, I can do this stuff” attitude. So it comes down, again, to the centuries-old caveat emptor warning – let the buyer beware.
All of this comes back to our media-centric existence. The Mac, back in 1984, led inevitably to smart-phones that have also contributed to the absurd belief that anyone can be a photographer or movie-maker. Somehow we’ve gone from a society that dreaded being invited to someone’s home to view vacation slides and films to a society that can’t get enough of watching other people’s boorish attempts at movie-making.
What it all says is that we are in an age of rampant amateurism. And I have no idea when it will change or get better. The Web is growing exponentially along with the tools we use to create messaging. Everything is in flux. It’s up to brand and marketing managers to protect their marketing by choosing true professionals. And I fervently hope that they do.
Tag lines tell us who you are.
Thought I’d start the first post of 2013 with one of the first principles of truly good advertising campaigns: truly good tag lines.
Lots of people think of them as an after-thought. Not me. I’m always thinking about tag lines from the first moment I start thinking about a campaign or Web site.
Headlines come and go. Tag lines hang in there through campaigns and often for years after. Headlines are a flash in the pan. Tag lines have to sum up who you are, what you offer and how you think … sometimes in as little as two words.
For example, “Think different.” (TBWA\Chiat\Day, 1997-2002.) Even though it’s been one of the most enduring tag lines of the past two decades, I’ve always been bothered by its flagrant abuse of grammar. (see Grammar matters.) Despite that intentional flaw, one has to admit that those two words (in combination with the Apple logo) have truly defined Apple since the 90s. (Yes, it’s been that long.) Even though they’ve moved on from that tag line way back in 2002.
Copywriters, not clients.
Tag lines are also one of the most important things ad agencies bring to the party. Take military recruitment ads – perhaps the most tag line-dependent campaigns in existence. All those ultra-inspiring, “sign me up” tag lines (“Be all that you can be.” “It’s not a job. It’s an adventure.” “The few, the proud, the Marines.” “We’re looking for a few good men.”) were written by (ta-da!) copywriters, not the Army, Navy or Marines.
The same is, of course, true for every attention-getting and easy to remember tag.
What happens when clients come up with their own tag lines? Take a look at Mezzetta, a California company that makes our favorite stuffed olives, jalapeños, dill pickles, etc. Their tag line? “Don’t Forgetta Mezzetta.” (Are you reminded of the Marx Brothers? I’m reminded of the Marx Brothers.)
A tag line defines the brand.
Brand names tell us the rudimentary facts about a company or corporation: we know that Melitta makes stuff for making coffee; we know that Chevrolet makes cars and trucks, and we know that McDonald’s sells fast food. Those are the simple facts.
Add a tagline and you add an emotional message that makes those brands stand out and stick in our memories. Tag lines take the brand up a notch. (Did they cover this in Mad Men? I can’t remember.)
When Chevrolet wanted to convince people that they built really tough, reliable trucks, they did it with a tag line: “Like a rock.” (Campbell-Ewald, 1992-2004.)
When Avis wanted to take on Hertz, the number one car rental company, they did it with a tag line: “We try harder.” (Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1962-2012.)
When FedEx wanted to put its name on the map as an overnight delivery service (a breakthrough concept at the time) they did with a tag line: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” (Ally & Gargano, 1978-1983.)
When AT&T wanted to humanize the monolithic communications company that was euphemistically called Ma Bell (since they owned and controlled everything in U.S. telecom) they did it with a tag line: “Reach out and touch someone.” (N.W. Ayer, 1979-1983.)
When GE wanted to humanize its massive research, electronics and appliance manufacturing company, that did it with a tag line: “We bring good things to life.” (BBDO, 1979-2003.)
In my opinion, none of those companies would have become what they are without those tag lines. That’s why I call them crucial. Think about this: each of those tag lines accompanied hundreds of headlines through the years. Who remembers the headlines?
Great tag lines through time.
Many of these tag lines are classics, not even used any more. But we remember them. People even borrow them to use for our own purposes. Because they’re so often so pithy and convey so much, folks find they can’t help themselves. (“Betcha can’t eat just one.” – Young & Rubicam, 1963.)
Naturally, you know that none of those companies came up with those classic tag lines. It was their brilliant ad agencies … or to be fully precise, the brilliant creative department folk at their ad agencies.
Here’s a Wikiquote list of “slogans” and a Web site that lists the results of a survey trying to list the 100 Most Influential Taglines Since 1948. (FYI, can’t stand the term “slogan.” Only folks who haven’t worked in ad agencies would use that term. Almost as bad as “jingle.”)
That list of 100 includes tag lines chosen from a field of 400 candidates. Not a list I would have put together. For example, I can’t believe the UPS “What can Brown do for you?” was actually nominated in place of their short-lived and far superior (IMHO) previous tag: “Moving at the speed of business.” (Ammirati Puris Lintas, 1995-2002)
But that’s show biz.
Notice that headline didn’t say “you should get what you want?” The difference is not as subtle as it may seem. If I give you what you want even when I know it’s not what you need, I’m simply laying down and letting you roll over me. That’s not helpful, and it’s not professional.
When it comes to marketing, the client is not always right. Sometimes the client needs significant guidance to avoid major marketing mis-steps. This topic is often discussed among professional marketers: do you give clients what they want, or what they need?
It’s your business. But it’s our job.
No one knows your business better than you do, certainly not us marketing folk. So you wouldn’t and shouldn’t accept it if we started telling you how to do what you do. You probably feel that way about nearly every other profession and professional – they know more about their business than others. Let them do their job.
So what happens to clients when they start spending marketing dollars? Why does it sometimes turn into “it’s my money, give me what I want”?
If you think people who fold and do your marketing exactly the way you want are treating you properly, you may be stepping into a trap. They’re not doing you any favors when they don’t stand up to you if your ideas are off the mark. You’d be far better off with designers, writers and agency folk who have the gumption to say, “we can try it your way, but we’d like to also show you how we’d rather do it, and here are the reasons why …”
To spend your marketing dollars wisely, you need wise marketers.
People who are experienced, knowledgeable and self-confident will tell clients when something they want is not a good idea from a positioning, identity or branding point of view. It’s important to listen to them. They know what so many clients don’t: you don’t create marketing for yourself. Whether you like something is hardly as beneficial as whether your target audience likes it.
Business is business. And that means it’s about profitability. Running an ad campaign or building a Web site that pleases you but does nothing for your target audience is not a good marketing approach. Marketing is both an art and a science, and its ultimate goal is to produce results. To do that, marketers slice and dice the target audience by asking tough questions: How does your product or offering solve a specific need for your target audience? How do your benefits and claims set you apart from the competition? Is your marketing message relevant to your audience’s concerns? What moves the needle for your target audience? How do you know when your marketing is working?
Sometimes the client is right.
I had a marketing professor who liked to say, “a good idea doesn’t care where it comes from.” He meant, get your ego out of the way and solve the challenge with whatever works. Sometimes clients do have good solutions for their marketing challenges. And a true professional will see that and acknowledge it. If your ideas are better than mine when it comes to your marketing, then it would be very wrong to ignore them just because they came from you. That’s tough for some people to do because they’re convinced that if all the ideas don’t come from them, they’re not “adding value.”
But there is no hard and fast rule that only the marketing folk you hire can come up with the best marketing ideas. If you have good ones, they should be used. So here’s where things get fuzzy. How do you know whether your idea is really a good one or whether your marketers are merely rolling over? That comes down to your relationship. If you know each other and trust each other, it’s not going to be a problem. I’ve often had clients improve on my ideas. And I’m happy when they do, because the end product is better for both us. It’s a better piece of marketing for them, and it’s a better sample for me.
Ultimately, we’re a team. We’re all trying to achieve a common goal. If your ideas are a mistake, it’s my duty to say so, and hopefully you’ll understand why. If your ideas are an improvement, then it’s my duty to use them … even if you are the client.
One of my jobs is teaching effective story-telling to businesses.
Stand in my shoes for a few minutes and here’s what you’d see when a copywriter meets with new clients for the first time. We’re warmly greeted, offered coffee or water, then told in great detail about the product or service this new client wants to market. They’re truly excited about their offering and believe all we have to do is tell the world it exists and sales will tumble like the falls at Niagara.
But frequently they’ve missed a critical step: placing themselves in the minds of their target audience.
The effective use of narrative means, most of all, knowing (a) who your audience is and (b) knowing what they want to hear. This is a tough hurdle for many clients. This is the moment when they’re faced with a hard fact: we are not running ads for them. In fact, anyone who does an ad strictly based on pleasing the client is wasting the client’s money. (Dear Client, you run ads for your target audience, not for yourself.)
For example, a headline that pleases your client may bore the pants off your true target audience. Just because they think ‘thermal wrapping cloth’ is better than a moon landing doesn’t mean the people who actually need it will be as excited by it. You have to find out why it will interest them.
So here’s where the science and methodology of copywriting comes in. You have to understand both who will be most interested in what you’re writing about, and why. You have to become familiar with the specific marketplace and understand what the competition is saying and selling. You have to do a lot of homework before you even start writing.
If you are selling a product or service that’s custom-made for college-educated women between the ages of 24 and 54, you have to know what they read, what they watch, what they listen to, and – most of all – what matters to them. By understanding the kinds of books, magazines, newspapers and broadcast media they care about, you can target both your media buys and your messaging to grab their attention. And that is ultimately the objective of all marketing.
Think about it this way: you know you won’t get the same audiences reading Car & Driver and Vogue. Use the right medium to reach the right audience with the right story.
Crafting the story: the real work in writing.
Many professional copywriters have had the experience of telling someone what we do only to have that person say, “oh, you write jingles?”
No, we don’t write jingles. (The days of jingles are long gone.) We craft stories. We make new cars sound impossibly enticing. We help you believe that new watch is something you can’t live without. We convince you that this new beverage will change your life. Etc. Are we lying? No, we’re doing our jobs through the effective use of narrative to promote products and services for our clients to the most appropriate target audience.
For narrative in marketing to be truly effective, it can seldom be just about the product or service. It must also be about a very specific target audience. E.g., if we happen to be writing about a high-end Mercedes-Benz, we have to understand the mindset of the people who could afford one and might want one. We have to know something of what their lives are like. And we have to do the very same thing for everything we write about. We have to understand the specific demographic for each specific product or service.
Take high-tech. The typical audience for high-tech products, such as computer networks and data centers, are people who are highly knowledgeable about their industry and profession. So you aren’t going to win points writing for them as if you’re describing a vacation in the Bahamas. Telling them their life will be “a walk on the beach” with this super-duper new wireless router will sound, to them, like someone’s trying to sell them the Brooklyn bridge.
Believability is key to effective narrative. And to be believable, you have to be knowledgeable about both your product and its true target audience. In the case of the high-tech example, the story you tell has to sound like a day in the life of an IT manager, or CTO. And that’s never a walk on the beach.
Everything is part of the narrative.
Every part of every marketing effort – down to the way ads, marketing materials and Web sites are designed – should be there to support the narrative. And a key part of that narrative should be a call to action. It can be a soft sell or a hard sell, but it ought to be included as part of the story.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being paired with designers who thought that how something looks is far more important than the lowly message. Fortunately, I’ve also had the experience of working with true professionals who understand that everything we do is about communication. We’re telling a story in words and pictures.
A key aspect of any design is where your eye is led. Really good designers understand that. They know that when you open a magazine to your client’s ad your eye should be led through it to the ultimate objective, whether that’s branding or a bold call to action. And when you open your client’s Web site it should be easy to follow how its constructed and how to get where you most want to get within that site.
When the opposite is true, when an ad or Web page is a jumbled mess of graphics that simply confuse the eye, the narrative falls apart. There is no story when there’s merely confusion. Lots of “off the shelf” Web sites create an impression of cohesiveness, but that will quickly dissipate if you’re left scratching your head, wondering, “what exactly are they trying to say here?”
The narrative must grab a viewer or visitor, it must pull you through, and it must leave you with a better understanding of the product or service as a result. That’s the job of story-telling in marketing. Now that you know, you’ll start to see when it works … and when it doesn’t. And you, too, will know the importance of story-telling in marketing.
I know, I know. Sounds like a “duh?” question but, really and truly, it’s not. While everyone will immediately tell you they’re selling their product or service in their ads, my question is “how?”
If your ad is all about price, then you’re selling on cost. That’s kind of like the burger wars. You know, when McDonald’s does their $1 menus? Do you really want to go there against your competition? Selling on price means you have to be willing to duke it out to the end.
Sometimes that can mean undercutting your profit … all your profit. I managed a record store long ago and far away in Santa Monica. It was a single retail location, but the owner wanted to draw people in with a loss-leader. So he’d run a full-page newspaper ad for the latest Stones, or Bowie or whoever album at cost … his cost. The problem was, Tower Records paid a much lower cost for their total volume so they always undercut my old boss. That was a battle he couldn’t win. (And a lesson I never forgot.)
If your ad is all about a limited time offer, that’s kind of like a price ad, but with a limited lifetime. Not good. That’s a sign of a desperate retailer or service provider trying to convince folks that “now’s the time to shop at Crazy Crandall’s.” Now, not only are you trying to woo folks from your competitors with some price incentive, you’re telling them that they only have to care for the next week, or month, or whatever. That message usually goes directly to the delete file.
If your ad is about longevity, how long you’ve been in business, you’re getting warmer, but you’re still not delivering the goods. A message that tells people how long you’ve been in business is a feel-good message, especially for the business, but it doesn’t necessarily convince your true target audience why they should come to you. How you’ve stayed in business for that long is closer to what matters. Have you done it by being better than anyone else? Have you done it because yours is the only business of its kind in your area? Have you done it because you always treat people better? As in fairer and as in no-hassle returns? If that’s the case, that’s starting to look like the real deal.
Sell on benefits and you’re selling for the longterm.
An endless number of businesses have learned the hard way that conveying the benefits of doing business with you is the only way to get and hold onto new customers. Price is not a benefit – it’s too temporary and fraught with sand-traps. If the price is too good to believe, most folks don’t believe it. Meaning they don’t think they’re really getting quality goods or services when it’s “that cheap.”
Short-time promotions also only excite a certain kind of audience – the kind that’s only ever looking for bargains. Do you really want them on your mailing list? They’ll only come in when you’re having a super sale, so you’ll start thinking you always have to have them.
Selling on benefits is the only to have both loyal customers and customers who help you sell by convincing others that yours is the business to go to. Sell on quality, reliability, trustworthiness and fairness and then you can charge enough to make some profit and still grow your target audience.
Quality. Reliability. Trustworthiness. Fairness.
Those are not promises, they’re benefits. If you focus your advertising budget and message on those benefits, you’ll develop a loyal following of repeat customers.
Some years ago the packaged goods companies dug their own sand-traps: they started doing promotions. What happened as a result was not the simple blip in sales they’d hoped for. Instead, they had created a new kind of consumer: the kind that only bought their particular soap, or soup, or frozen goody when it went on sale. The “stocking-up while it’s on sale” approach to shopping changed everything, and the packaged goods companies were never able to go back to “the way things were.”
The “big box” stores were the natural evolution of that approach to shopping. They took the promotion from an occasional event to an all-year deal. And the packaged goods companies will never able to go back to “the way things were.”
The message here is simple: sell on benefits and deliver on the benefits. In today’s excessively price-conscious marketplace, it’s the only way to make your advertising dollars pay off – both now and in the future.
What are you talking about when you talk about branding?
Branding has been the marketing buzzword du jour since the 1990s. However, a great many people use it without understanding its true meaning.
In most cases, when people use the term branding, they’re really talking about USP – the Unique Selling Proposition. That concept was first presented to the advertising and ad agency client world in the 1940s by Rosser Reeves who worked at Ted Bates & Company, one of the biggest ad agencies in the world. It changed how ad agencies approached the business of advertising, as well as how ads themselves were created from then on.
The USP (which every agency claimed to create in their own version) was about finding and focusing on the unique benefit of the product or service that one was advertising. You couldn’t just say, “XYZ is the better detergent,” you had to say “why XYZ is the better detergent.”
The big bang.
USP was the real big bang in advertising. It changed everything and even helped ad agencies develop their reason for being. Clients often couldn’t come up with a USP on their own. Agencies, through diligence and in-depth research, could. The whole idea was to get to the point of differentiation that could be perceived as a benefit by consumers and customers.
One famous example was the initial positioning for Chivas Regal in the U.S. It was, ultimately, just another blended, 12-year-old whiskey from Scotland. The story goes that the agency of record at the time had trouble creating a true USP, so they finally asked, “what does the most expensive blended whiskey cost?” The client responded, “$12.98.” So the agency replied, “Fine, we’ll price it at $12.99 and use ‘it costs more but it’s worth it’ as the basis of our campaign – luxury, indulgence, prestige. Bang. There’s your USP.”
That’s my understanding of how 12-year-old Chivas came to be perceived as “a really fine whiskey” – it was positioning based on a pricing strategy. Similarly, Volvo became “the safe car” even though it was never the safest. (That distinction could likely have gone to Saab or Mercedes.) It was a self-fulfilling prophecy since Scali, McCabe, Sloves’ positioning it as “the safe car” (an extension of their “durability” campaign) meant that people who drove safely preferred buying Volvos, so insurance companies noticed that Volvos had better accident records … which was really not about the car but about how its owners drove.
The branding differentiation.
Branding is not something completely new and different, as many folks believe. It builds on and expands the concept of USP. What branding has added to that proposition is that you must “consistently say the same thing to all people all the time.” What does that mean? It means that a company or organization must recognize that they have an internal as well as external audience. Whatever the USP is, it must be stated first to the internal audience (your entire staff) so that everyone is passing on the very same message to the external audience (your target audience).
It may not sound like a big deal when you break it down, but it has value. I have seen more than one company roll out an advertising campaign or promotion without letting the troops know it was coming. What do you get when that happens? People answering the phones saying, “huh?” Not good.
The consistency dictum.
Branding also dictates that everything – from business cards to stationery to signs to ads – be identical. And that raises the game somewhat that was started with USP. Every message (according to branding gurus) that comes out of an organization, in any way, needs to look the same and sound the same. That, in a nutshell, is branding. The really good agencies have always done that instinctively – now it’s a rule.
I’ve always though that “branding” was created by someone who decided they needed a new tool to compete with ad agencies. There are certainly some smart and sensible ideas behind the branding concept, but it’s not enough – on its own – to build the kinds of great campaigns that USP has consistently brought us. Think Volkswagen, Absolut, Nike. Those were all based on the concept of USP.
Bottom line: branding is the cart, not the horse. You have to start with a USP in order to end up with truly effective branding.
When a good advertising idea appears, it goes on and on. Example: those brilliant MasterCard commercials that ended with “priceless.” They’ve been copied so often that it’s impossible to keep track. But that just proves how good the idea was.
The “got milk?” campaign was equally brilliant, and even more frequently copied. But how poorly great campaigns were imitated proves why it takes a very good writer to turn a good idea into a great idea.
Locally, some real estate outfit has put up “got space” signs all over the place, complete with black background and the same font as the “got milk?” campaign. Except, he/she/they never understood the meaning and importance of the original “got milk?” campaign since he/she/they left off the question mark … or any punctuation. That little bit of punctuation makes all the difference. (Writers know that.)
Example: does the “got space” rip-off mean this advertiser a) has space available? b) wants to know if you do? c) only has space where the sign appears? So much unknown … because of such a little thing: punctuation. Even a period would convey clarity and help make the sign more meaningful.
Much of what it means to be a very good writer is understanding the importance of choices and what those choices will mean to anyone who views the communication you produce.
Example: knowing when you’ve got something original, distinctive and memorable; knowing how to talk about it so that it will attract the right target audience and produce the desired effect.
The “got space” signs are a nod to greatness, but ultimately a pointless waste of “space” – both on the landscape and in any viewer’s mind. And also proof that this particular advertiser never really understood the original “got milk?” campaign. Such imitations abound and are painful to see because of the lack of clarity. They’re not just wasted opportunities; they’re wasted dollars.
Clarity in communication is vital, critical and necessary. Without it, who really knows why you’re saying what you’re saying, or to whom?
Branding baby steps.
The idea of “branding” may sound formidable to many companies. A daunting new task for marketing to add to its plate. I can make it simple for you. A company’s brand is ultimately defined by three things:
- Competencies – what you do
- Standards – how you do it
- Style – how you relate to your marketplace
These are things that need to be both defined and agreed upon before any creative work starts.
Once they are agreed upon, they need to be maintained with consistency across every form of communication – from e-mails to business cards, and from one-on-one conversations to a major marketing campaign. Without that consistency, there can be no brand.
To put it into simple steps, you need to determine: your message, your target audience, how your product or service benefits them, what the competition is saying, and how you’re better or different. And that, folks, is what branding is all about.
Tag lines rule.
This may raise a few hackles: to me, a tag line is the heart of any brand. Headlines come and go. Vision and mission statements are useful when you can’t fall asleep. But to know what an enterprise’s brand is really about, look at their tag line.
One of my favorite, short-lived tag lines of all time was from UPS: ”Moving at the speed of business.” When that came out, I thought, “boy, now they’re going to give FedEx a run for their money.” But what did they do a year or two later? Changed it to: ”Trust brown. ” Trust brown? Their rationale (if there is one) was that they didn’t want to frighten off their non-business clientèle. Umm, no matter what you’re shipping, or to whom, wouldn’t you want it moving as fast as possible? ”At the speed of business” sounds pretty darn fast, doesn’t it? Alas. (Imagine a FedEx did me-too … that might be “Pick Purple.” Ugh.)
And only a tag line can consistently appear in ads, commercials, on stationery, at trade shows … heck, you can even answer the phone saying your tag. (Although I don’t recommend that since those scripted greeting are long enough already …) The bottom line – in my experience – is that tag lines are the hook for everything you do that’s marketing. Choose one carefully because you don’t want to be changing your tag every six months.
There are many “super-brands” in our marketplace today – Coke, Kleenex, Xerox, FedEx, etc. They are super-brands not just because of how they define their product or service, but also because they define their category. That means, in part, that we refer to Coke when we mean most any soda, or Kleenex when we mean any tissue, and Xerox when we mean any kind of photocopying. (It’s good to be a super-brand.)
While UPS is a huge company with a well-established brand, it still needs to distinguish itself from FedEx, even though they are in the same category. We, the people, have given FedEx a significant branding edge by making it common to say “FedEx it,” regardless of how we’re actually going to overnight a package. “UPS it” just doesn’t have the same catchy feel.
I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that the only people who say “UPS it” are the ones who mean just that and only that, while “FedEx it” has become ubiquitous, no matter which company we ultimately use to overnight something. We’ve done the same with Kleenex for years, which was why some years ago they changed their actual product name to “Kleenex brand facial tissues” in order to protect their brand. (Thank goodness for lawyers.)
Branding is not new.
While some “marketing folk” may try to beguile you with their branding acumen, know this: branding is a repackaging of “USP” – Unique Selling Proposition. USP was invented by Rosser Reeves in the 1940s at Ted Bates & Company.
USP became the standard by which all advertising and marketing agencies would judge themselves and their work: ”Are you selling the benefits? Are you making empty claims? Why should people care?” Little things like that. Every agency came up with its own nomenclature for the USP process, but it was all thanks to Rosser Reeves.
The key differentiation that branding brings to the table is the concept of companies having internal and external audiences. To put it simply, you have to market to your own troops before you market to the world at large. This means creating an awareness of your branding and an esprit de corps within your firm while pushing the message out.
Some will go so far as to encourage companies to “live the brand.” I draw the line there, recalling what my European father always said, even after moving to America: ”we work to live, we don’t live to work.”
Now you know enough to cause some serious damage. Go forth and brand.
“An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Box? What box?
Everyone in marketing communications earns their bread by being “creative.” We are measured by the level of “creativity” that we bring to the table. It’s a constant challenge. But one develops a habit of not being linear; of “thinking outside the box.”
And yet it’s enormously challenging to explain to non-marketing people exactly what we do and how we do it. There’s a story that keeps circulating among us on Web boards about a writer who was hired to do an ad. He did it; he brought it to the client along with a bill, and the client said, “That’s not very long, is it? How long did it take you to write it?” The writer responded, “About 25 years.”
We develop our craft over time.
I can write far more quickly today than when I first began. A lot of that is the result of an evolving ability to make better and better judgement calls – we learn to more quickly recognize what works and what doesn’t the more we practice our craft. We also know how to jump-start our thinking to put things in motion.
Many people think that “creativity” is some kind of voo-doo. That we’re selling snake oil. Alas, there are far more who misunderstand us than those who recognize and appreciate what a good copywriter can do.
“Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.” – Jules Renard
Sometimes creativity is genius.
J. S. Bach wrote The Brandenburg Concertos as a kind of job application – a job he never got, and the concertos remained in some drawer for a couple of hundred years before anyone even played them. To me, he’s still the pinnacle of human creativity, and yet I can’t help thinking that in his own mind he always saw himself as a church organist (orgelmeister) who had to write a new cantata every week to support himself and his very large family.
And wasn’t Einstein exceptionally creative? The mere ability to think of light bending in space means that one’s mind is not bound by existing knowledge – one “creates” new ideas as one comes to a kind of enlightenment.
Then there’s creativity that borders on magic in all the technology we see coming into being on a daily basis, such as more and more functional flat-screen applications.
I will leave you with two quotes on this subject:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
“The real technology – behind all our other technologies – is language. It actually creates the world our consciousness lives in.” – Andrei Codrescu
The most important element of marketing campaigns is effective communication. Marketing, after all, is all about communication. Effective communication is the only way to produce positive results.
How can you produce effective communication? By understanding that communication is a science. What’s more—as in any scientific field—there’s both a methodology and a sequence that need to be followed in order to achieve a stated goal.
The methodology for marketing is a sequence of steps based on critical questions. The people handling your communications need to know which questions to ask at each step.
The answers to those questions are essential for the people who write, design and execute a finely-tuned marketing program.
“If you build it, they will come” has led to many a business failure. The rule that businesses have learned the hard way is “if you create awareness, they will come.”
STEP 1: Define your message.
- What is it about your product or service that needs communicating?
- What sets your product or service apart?
- What specific need does your product or service fill in the marketplace?
- Who else is out there offering a product or service like yours; how are they doing?
This can’t be a haphazard attempt: this is your USP, your brand. The message needs to be clear, concise and compelling. And, most important of all, you’re not producing the message for yourself—you’re doing it for your target audience. So it’s not about what you like or what folks in your company like; it’s about what your target audience likes and will respond to.
STEP 2: Define your target audience.
Once you’ve defined your key message, you need to know to which audience it will be directed.
This is not based on whimsy. The only way a product or service can succeed is if:
- It fulfills a specific need for a specific target audience
- You make the specific target audience fully aware of the existence of that product or service (which, by the way, is the key role of any communications effort).
These are the questions that need to be asked in order to arrive at your true target:
- Who’s the key audience for your product or service?
- What’s the key benefit to that audience?
- Is your product or service something they’ve been wanting, or is it entirely new?
- Who’s the competition? What’s their track record?
- What’s different about your product or service?
- What will it take to win?
STEP 3: Determine an adequate budget.
A base rule of thumb is to assign at least 5% of gross sales to marketing communications. But, remember, the most successful companies are spending an average of 15%.
The key here is to realize that it’s not enough to create great advertising—it needs enough exposure and time to be seen and assimilated. For advertising to work and build, it needs to be a sustained effort.
STEP 4: Establish an effective tracking system.
Most sales people in most companies typically ask the marketing people, “How will I know the advertising is working?”
One way is to have a “response mechanism.” For example a business reply card (BRC) in a magazine, or an 800 number in broadcast and web site advertising. In all cases, however, it’s essential that leads be tracked from their origins.
The BRC, for example, would be coded so you’d know which publications are pulling the most; the 800 number should be a dedicated number that makes it easy to track the source of calls. The Web site should have a response field for “How did you hear about this site?”
Another way to track the effectiveness of your communications efforts it to track sales for a measurable increase.
Once again, advertising is a slow-building process. It may take several exposures of an ad or commercial before results are seen. But once the momentum is established, the speed can be maintained.
STEP 5: Plan an on-going campaign to maintain ongoing sales.
Advertising is not just a kick-start for sales. It can actually be the engine that drives sales cycles by creating and maintaining awareness .
The way to convince those who doubt its effectiveness is to ask, “How many additional sales people would it take for us to match the kind of exposure our marketing communications are giving us?” A single ad can expose your product or service to thousands or hundreds of thousands of people at one time.
Once you’ve seen that what you’re doing works, you need to understand how to keep up the pace and—if you’re ready—how to increase it. Important caveat: don’t increase demand when you can’t match it with supply. Advertising works. If you’re not ready to meet the demand it can create, you can do more harm than good.
There are multiple ways to get the word out, including online. Ad placement is a science and needs to be carefully considered, preferably by media placement professionals who understand demographics and target audiences. Allowing yourself to be persuaded to advertise by a sales rep at a publication or media company most often turns out to be just like the definition of a boat: a place in the water where you throw money.