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One of the worst words in marketing: “Huh?”

I am not a stupid person. I can connect the dots pretty well when it comes to concepts, ideas and images used in commercials or print ads. In fact, I bet I’m a lot better at it than the typical Superbowl fan.

And yet, as I watch commercials or read print ads, I  often find myself scratching my head saying “HUH?” What was the meaning of that?

What were they really trying to say?

What are they thinking?

That doesn’t make sense. Why should I care?

Here’s a good example from Sunday’s superbowl telecast… The Godfather spot for the new Audi R8. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_sshN-URJY]

Normally I wouldn’t waste my breath critiquing the commercials that debut during the game, but this one really got me because it’s a brand I adore. I’ve owned three different Audis now, and I love ‘em. Especially this time of year when the roads are slushy by day and icy by night. audiusa.com

But I digress. We’re talking about advertising that makes you go huh, not sports cars that make you go wow.

Some credit to Venables Bell & Partners of San Francisco for breaking away from the usual automotive cliches.  The spot in question is a take-off on the most famous scene from The Godfather, circa 1975. The slow-paced set-up gets your attention right away. And I’ve heard that Godfather fans recognize it immediately… dramatic music with an exterior shot of a gigantic Italian mansion.

Cut to a creepy old guy asleep in bed. He wakes up, pulls the sheets back and reveals, horror of all horrors, the front end of an unrecognizable car. His screaming is really, quite disturbing. Then, finally, they cut to a shot of the R8 zooming out of the driveway.

The tag says, “old luxury just got put on notice.”

HUH?????

I had to watch this spot three more times before I could identify the front end of the car as a Rolls. And the old man is covered in oil instead of blood. Talk about over the top.

In the advertising business that technique is called borrowed interest. Usually it’s reserved for me-too products in categories with low involvement and little inherent interest. Like non-aspirin pain relievers or feminine hygiene products. You have “borrow” interest from something that people will relate to.

But that’s definitely not the case here. Have you seen the R8??? It’s the coolest, meanest looking new car in years. Who needs to borrow an old movie scene to advertise such a great product? Couldn’t the creative team find any inspiration in the R8 itself?

And why, may I ask, is Audi positioning the R8 against an old Rolls Royce? The R8’s a sports car more comparable to a Lamborgini than a Rolls. Not exactly apples-to-apples.

I doubt I’m the only person who’s confused by Audi’s approach. And that’s my point…  why sacrifice clarity for an elaborate spin-off that leaves people feeling completely clueless? Nobody’s going to spend time figuring out the message like I did.

Besides, if I worked for Audi I’d want people talking about the car, not the commercial.

It seems like the R8 spot was conceived with no clearly defined message in mind. Like they said, “hey, let’s spend four million dollars and introduce the R8 at the Superbowl this year. Wouldn’t that be cool.”

Nobody took the time to figure out the strategic intent of the spot before the creative team sat down. In other words, Audi didn’t know what they wanted to say besides “introducing the new R8.”

Was it really their intent to scare Rolls Royce and Mercedes? I can’t imagine. Maybe someone thought the car was a little over the top, so they did a commercial to match. Who knows?

Chances are, you don’t have 5 million dollars earmarked for one, single commercial. But if you did, wouldn’t you want to avoid confusing people?  Wouldn’t you want the best ROI you could possibly get?  If so, then make sure your marketing messages have these three things covered: Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation.

There are thousands of ways you could tell your brand’s story, but the trick is to make your message relevant to the specific group of people you’re targeting at that particular time and place. Is the Godfather really relevant to football fans who’d seriously consider an Audi R8? Will that movie reference resonate more than the car itself?

That’s the trouble with borrowed interest. Super low relevance.

The second thing is credibility. Consumers these days are highly skeptical of any commercial pitch, and a claim that leaves them scratching their head will never pass the credibility test. Confusion’s never credible.

Finally, good old-fashioned differentiation.  I have to admit, the four-second shot of the R8 at the end of the Godfather spot is enough to differentiate it from any other car on the road. All the rest of it’s just Superbowl egomarketing nonsense.

Before you place your next ad, be sure to do the “Huh” test. Listen carefully to the feedback and if a lot of people come away saying “Huh, I didn’t get it,” then you need to rethink the ad. There are plenty of great, creative ideas that won’t leave people utterly confused.

But do your ad agency a favor and get that feedback early in the process.  Before you film anything and blow the production budget. And trust your instincts… if it feels confusing to you, it’s almost guaranteed to be confusing to people who aren’t as familiar with your product or service.

And while you’re at it, also do the “Duh” test. You don’t want that reaction either. It’s never a good idea to make your target audience feel like idiots.

Just say “NO.” How to build your business by bowing out gracefully.

Saying no is one of the most difficult, yet liberating things any business owner can do. You might want to practice at home, with your kids.

The most effective managers and executives say no a lot. For instance, they politely decline to pursue business that doesn’t fit their strategic objectives. They say no to employees who try to hijack their time. They don’t tolerate overblown financial projections and long, drawn-out presentations. They say no to new initiatives that doesn’t fit the brand personality or the corporate culture.

They even say no to their bosses and to their best clients sometimes.

The typical small business owner on the other hand, says yes, yes, yes to anything that comes along. In an effort to grow the business they make a habit of appeasing people. 

Just say no to being a yes-man.

“Sure, we can do that.”  Yes, we can do that too.”  I admit, I’m guilty of that. In professional service firms, it’s a common problem, because after all, it IS a service.

Unfortunately, this overly agreeable approach is often symptomatic of two glaring managerial shortcomings: A lack of courage, little or no strategic thinking and a brand that’s not very focused.

Strategy is all about choosing a specialty, setting goals, and turning away business that doesn’t fit with your core brand values.  The clarity that comes from a well-defined, well written brand strategy makes it much easier to say no when the time comes.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 the company was, in his own words, “in deep shit.” They had at least 13 new initiatives and product ideas but no direction. No strategic focus. No “gravitational pull,” as he put it.

Jobs killed all but two of the initiatives. One was the iMac and the other was the G4.

By saying no, he set the company in a specific, definable direction that’s still paying off today.

“Companies sometimes forget who they are.” Jobs once said.  “Fortunately, we woke up. And now we’re on a really good track. It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” *

Best-selling author Ken Blanchard, (The One-Minute Manager, Gung Ho) says without clear goals you will quickly be a victim of too many commitments. “You will have no framework in which to make decisions about where you should or shouldn’t focus your energy.”

Peter Drucker believes the only people who truly get anything done are monomaniacs – people who are intensely focused on one thing at a time. “The more you take on, the greater chance you will lose effectiveness in all aspects of your life.”

So I guess modern day multi-tasking isn’t the shortest route to success.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.”

As a Creative Director I say no a lot. Clients often make impossible requests at the 11th hour or float their own “creative” ideas in early strategy meetings. Sometimes, I swear, they’re just trying to get a rise outta me.

Here are some good things that come from saying no:

• You have more opportunities to say yes to the right customers.

• You have more time to focus on more important tasks, like long-term planning, strategic thinking and branding.

• Your operation will become more streamlined and efficient.

• You’ll have a better sense of balance in life — between work, home and play.

• Saying “no” expresses how you really feel. You’re not hiding anything, and you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings.

• Saying no actually increases your value in the market niche you’ve choosen.

At BNBranding one of the goals of our new business development effort is to say no more often. And not just to accounts that are too small, but also to businesses owners, marketing managers and entrepreneurs who might pay well, but don’t share our core values.

As the old saying goes, “values mean nothing in business until they cost you money.”

Fast Company magazine recently ran a great article about Jim Wier, the CEO who said no to Walmart. Wier gave up tens of millions of dollars in annual sales with one visit to Arkansas. But he was adamant that selling Snapper mowers through Walmart stores was incompatible with their strategy and their brand.

Now that’s courage. And focus.

Most large companies with a well-respected brand like Snapper would be tempted to launch a line extension strategy to accommodate Walmart. Just produce a cheaper mower oversees and slap the Snapper name on it. But Wier knew that would just dilute the brand and confuse people.

Like when Subway recently announced they’d be test marketing pizzas. How does that fit with their “eat fresh” healthy fast food strategy? Can you see Jared, the Subway spokesperson, losing 60 pounds while eating pizza?  I don’t think so.

Someone should have stepped up and said no to that idea.

* The Steve Jobs story is from “The Perfect Pitcth” by Jon Steele. 

 

1 Getting to the Point in PowerPoint Presentations

Every year at the Mac Expo, Steve Jobs used to unveil some fantastic new, game-changing technology from Apple. His presentations were always outstanding, both for the content and for entertainment value.

macbook_air_introFor instance, when he introduced the MacBook air back in 2009, he didn’t just talk about the specs of the new product, he demonstrated its thinness by pulling their tiny new laptop out of a 9×12 manilla envelope.

It wasn’t just passion and natural charisma that made Jobs an effective communicator. It was his ability to convey ideas in simple, concise ways. He used honest demonstrations. Stories. Theater. And yes, some Hollywood special effects.  Not Powerpoint.

PowerPoint is the antithesis Apple and the enemy of innovation.

Some time ago I attend a two-day branding conference down in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker was a notable pro who speaks and teaches professionally all across the country. He had an assistant with him, as well as tech support from the conference facility.

Three hours into it and he was still fumbling around with his Powerpoint Presentation… Lights on. Lights off. Sound’s way too loud. Sound’s not on. Sound’s out of sync. Slides are out of order. Video won’t play. How many times do we have to look at this guy’s desktop?  What a disaster.

But to be fair, even if the computer had behaved itself his presentation would have fallen flat. Because his ideas were totally scattered. His slides were loaded with text that he read verbatim. And his speech wasn’t really a speech at all. It was more of a walk-through of the slides. He would have been better off just speaking.

Thank God, I’m not a middle manager in a big corporation where I’d have to endure daily doses of that crap. Powerpoint, as it’s commonly employed, is a terrible form of communication.

In “The Perfect Pitch,” Jon Steele says, “most presenters start with the slides, and then treat what they are going to say simply as an exercise in linkage. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the presenter is reduced to a supporting role. To all presenters, I say this: YOU are the presentation.”

That’s easy to say if you’re as big as Steve Jobs. But you don’t have to be famous to put on a gripping and persuasive presentation. You just have to change the process and forget about Powerpoint until you’re three-quarters of the way through.

Instead, think of yourself as a storyteller — in the old-fashioned, verbal tradition of story telling.  Stories are way more compelling than slides. And no matter how boring the topic may seem, there’s always a story buried in there somewhere.

So tell the story. Write it down. Flesh it out and practice it before you ever open Powerpoint. Then use the software to create visual support for your main verbal points. Not the other way around! You’ll be amazed how focused your message becomes.

The first rule of communicating is to eliminate confusion. Make things clear! When you throw a bunch of data up on a slide, you’re not making things more clear, you’re just adding confusion.

AED1345115281_463_work_work_head_image_eepv1aBack in the day, before PowerPoint was ever conceived, you had to send out for slides. And they were expensive!

So you were forced to think long and hard about the content of each and every one. You had to plan the flow of the presentation. You had to know what the most important points were. And you were forced to boil it down until there was nothing left but the absolutely most powerful, relevant points for the slides. Then you’d cover the rest of the stuff in your speech.

Powerpoint makes it too easy to add slides and overwhelm people with charts and graphs. The technological tool has become a crutch that hobbles great communication. Got an idea? Just jump right into PowerPoint and start creating slides.

Another unfortunate side effect of PowerPoint is lousy, truncated writing. People think they have to limit their words to fit the slides. And what they. End up with. Is choppy. Confusing. Information. That doesn’t. Flow. Or Communicate. Much of anything.

221.stripIf you write the script first and then use PowerPoint slides as visual aids to drive home the main points, you won’t have that problem. You’ll be speaking from a coherent, human, story-based script, not reading random bullet points right off the slides.

I suspect that much of the problem stems from the fear of public speaking. And that’s understandable. People with that fear like to hide behind the PowerPoint slides. They can become almost invisible.  But that’s not how you’re going to make a sale, further your career or build a successful business. You have to suck it up, and put yourself out there.

Truth is, if you want to improve your presentations you’re going to have to get comfortable with public speaking. Join Toastmasters. Watch some YouTube videos and watch how the pros do it. Find a good mentor… Salespeople are usually the best at it, so if there’s someone really good at your company offer to be an audience as they practice. Watch, listen, and learn. And forget about mastering all the technical bells and whistles of PowerPoint. That will just distract you from the main objective.

So here’s the final word:  If you want people to remember your words, translate them into a picture. Put the picture up on the screen, then speak the words. Don’t put the written words up there, just to be repeated from your trembling lips. It’s redundant. It’s boring. And it’s unimaginative.

Steve Jobs didn’t put the words “thinest laptop on the market” up on the screen. He showed us the product. He demonstrated how thin it was while he talked about the details.

Another option is to hire someone like myself to write and produce the presentation for you and coach you through the delivery. Do that a couple times, and you’ll either catch on, or you’ll decide that it’s just best left to professionals.

Either way, you’ll end up with an effective, engaging presentation, even if you’re not introducing the latest, greatest invention from Apple.

3 To Blog, or not to Blog.

john furgurson branding blog authorThis post is from the archives… John Furgurson’s first official branding blog post from 2007. There’s some insight here on why it’s still a good idea to start a blog. Especially if you’re in the professional services business.

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I have to admit, I’m a little slow when it comes to embracing the latest, greatest technology. Like this whole blogging thing… the internet is littered with the remains of some 200 million abandoned blogs. And here I am, crafting my first post.

So why bother? Why dive into a time-consuming new activity that’s already lost its novelty?  Well, there are all sorts of good reasons to start a blog. Here are my top five:

1. I believe in the old idea that you reap what you sow. I’ve learned a lot since I started my professional career. And I’ll never forget some of those early lessons from that little print shop in Gresham… like why the two-buck customer at the counter is more important than the big job you’re running in back. Or what a great corporate identity feels like on paper.

I’ve written, studied and compiled many great stories that can help you succeed, and I believe in sharing my insight. I think it’s good karma. And good business. In fact, we’ve made it a core value at BNBranding, so I’m using this as an opportunity to walk the talk.

2. I love to learn. Sounds trite, but it’s true. New creative outlets like this provide endless learning opportunities… I’ll learn how to start a blog from scratch. I’ll learn from the comments I get. I’ll learn from the process of writing every post. I’ll learn from my role as a business reporter, and the new perspective that provides. And I’ll learn from working in a new medium. (New to me, anyway.)

This persistent longing to know more affects everything I do… the shows I watch, the websites I visit, the sports I love and the causes I embrace. It’s no coincidence that I helped launch Working Wonders Children’s Museum. The whole point of that charity is to nurture curiosity and instill a life-long love of learning. It serves me well.

3. I believe in the commercial power of a few, well-chosen words…  Words move people, and blogs are perfectly suited to the written word. If you can write well, and you’re in business, you should start a blog because it’ll differentiate yourself from those who can’t write.

Inspiration for the words I write will come from many sources, but the take-away will always be the same: practical, marketing-driven advice that will help you succeed in business and in life.

Some of the material will come from articles I’ve written and published in the past. I’ll deconstruct some of the best — and worst — marketing programs around and share those “lessons learned.” I’ll do personality profiles of inspiring clients, companies and acquaintances. I’ll share much of the reading I’ve done and provide a handy executive review of the latest, “must-read” business books. And I’ll always have stories that will help you build your brand.

4. I believe it’ll help build my brand. Yes, there is a self-serving component to all this. But most of all, because I love writing.

This is not a personal, electronic soap box. I’m going to avoid topics that derail family gatherings, like politics and religion, and stay focused squarely on business. Specifically branding, advertising and marketing.

John Furgurson bend oregon branding expertHowever, I do reserve the right to digress occasionally into my favorite related subjects like the golf industry or skiing or anything related to life in Bend, Oregon.

Enjoy.

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