Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…
“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said. “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing. I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”
Under Armour’s marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on. It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own. And he kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to expand their product offerings.
That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That’s Under Armour marketing.
Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.
It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…
“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.” “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely… “Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”
Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy. The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.
Plank didn’t have to explain his value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.
When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.
Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses. They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer. The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.
Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.
Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.” Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.
Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.
So the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that… Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?
Go where the enemy isn’t. Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks.
I don’t know what it is about automotive advertising. No other category is so rich in promise, yet so void of inspiring insight and unique execution. But there is something any marketer can learn from the long history of mediocre automotive advertising. For instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad that’s running right now. But it’s nothing new… just gorgeous video of a sexy red Italian sports car doing its thing in the curves with a pretty good voice-over that nobody’s going to listen to.
That’s easy. It’s harder producing a decent spot for a mundane automotive product, like a minivan.
Chrysler single-handedly created the minivan market when the Caravan and Voyager debuted in 1984. Sales skyrocketed and imitators quickly sprang up, but only after Chrysler had firmly established itself as the segment leader.
Chrysler’s minivans moved the segment from niche vehicle to the pinnacle of the mainstream. Minivans have become part of the pop culture. And the marketing people at Chrysler/Dodge have a pretty good handle on what their target audience is looking for.
The advertising routinely features simple slices of family life: we see a baby sleeping peacefully in a car seat. Kids playing cards in facing rear seats. Kids watching videos. Moms & Dads reconfiguring the seats and loading up the endless volume of kid’s stuff.
That’s what minivans are all about: Lugging kids, looking for lost binkies between the seats, and running errands. That’s the reality of it. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not the least bit appealing to anyone who doesn’t have kids. But it’s totally relevant for parents who are carting three kids around everyday.
The main benefit of all minivans is practicality. Plain and simple. And Caravan advertising conveys the idea very clearly. They’re not trying to be anything other than that. Honda, on the other hand, once careened off the road with their spots for the Odyssey.
The Honda spot goes like this: There’s an attractive young couple driving along a winding, country road. In a mini van, for pete sake! The husband, who’s doing the driving, glances at his wife suggestively as she reaches up and grips the panic handle above her window. She gives him a quizzical, turned-on look. He gives the van a little more gas and grips the wheel tightly as he lugs into another corner with all the agility of a Winnebego.
She holds on even tighter and looks at him as if to say, “ohhhh yeah, bring it on big boy.” I almost expect them to pull over and jump into the back for a roadside quicky. Instead, she just holds on for the ride while the voice-over chimes in: “Just because it’s a minivan doesn’t mean you have to treat it like one.”
Oh, c’mon. There’s even a more blatant execution of that idea from Britain, where a couple are about to do it in their Honda Odyssey until they get interrupted by an elderly parent. The voice-over on that spot says “It doesn’t seem like a family car.”
First of all, sex and minivans DO NOT go together. No one gets turned on by a minivan. A corvette might help you get laid, but not a dual-sliding, seven passenger, Chrysler or Honda product. Curvy roads don’t go with minivans either. Put a minivan on a windy road and you here’s what you get: Puking children. Horrendous messes of vomit. Leave the windy roads to the Porsche commercials.
There’s no pleasure in getting from Point A to Point B in a mini van. Believe me, I’ve done it. There is some satisfaction in packing up both kids and the entire kitchen sink for a simple, cross-town play date. There’s satisfaction in changing a diaper on the side of the road without hanging your baby out on the tailgate. But not pleasure.
So Honda’s idea of promoting the minivan as something sexier than just a minivan, simply doesn’t wash. They could spend a billion dollars trying to convey that idea, and parents would still buy it for the cupholders. It’s like trying to kitten-up a milk truck.
So how did the message get so messed up, and what can we learn from Honda’s one-spot marketing blunder?
As a brand, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Minivans are not 450 horsepower Italian chick magnets. (Unless maybe Alpha Romeo decides to get into that niche)
Realize that technical specs and insider information is often irrelevant to consumers. The automotive press consistently ranks The Honda Odyssey above its Chrysler competitors in performance and reliability. It’s a great vehicle. Best in class even. And the Honda executives are fully aware of this.
The problem is, in the minivan category nobody gives a hoot about “chassis refinement and driving feel.” By letting insider information dictate their marketing, Honda ends up with a message that’s relevant to their own executives and to the automotive cognoscenti, but completely irrelevant to the target audience. It’s a classic case of getting in your own way. Of knowing too much.
Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Maybe the ad agency creative team just couldn’t find inspiration in boring old minivan. Maybe there wasn’t any consumer insight or personal experience to go on. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or maybe they were just trying to steer clear of a technical, engineering message. Wise move, but they really blew it with the hot couple concept.
Somewhere, the process took a wrong turn and the end result is a waste of marketing dollars. In the scheme of things, one spot isn’t going to kill Honda. But in the meantime, Dodge is sticking to an approach that simply demonstrates relevant features. Their advertising is not going to win any awards, but at least it’s somewhat authentic. It hits the hot buttons of a specific target audience and it wins the head-to-head battle with Honda. In automotive advertising anyway.
Sometimes I just cringe when I see local TV commercials. Not because of the horrific script writing or the low, low, low production quality. Not because of the ill-advised choice of “talent,” or the mind-numbing jingle. That’s expected.
No. I cringe because many of those companies don’t belong on television at all.
I’m talking about those cases where the medium – TV – missed the mark completely.
I’m talking about real cases where a business owner is spending a lot of money to reach the wrong people, with the wrong message. That’s the most most glaring error in TV advertising… it’s a double whammy.
Here’s an example of TV advertising that misses the mark: There’s a retailer in my town that sells lavish, high-end patio furniture. It’s designer stuff, and it’s practically bullet-proof. One chair costs more than my entire living room full of furniture.
Guess what that business owner is doing for advertising? Yep. Cheap TV spots.
Talk about the wrong impression. Nothing in his advertising matches his product line at all. It’s a total disconnect… He says the ads are generating foot traffic, but it’s clearly the wrong kind of traffic. People walk into his patio furniture showroom (lured, no doubt, by the fantastic jingle they heard on TV) take one look at the prices, and hightail it down to Costco or Walmart.
One of his salespeople told me it’s not uncommon for them to actually cuss her out for wasting their time. So even if they win the lottery, they’re not coming back.
And the owner keeps doing the same thing, year after year. It falls into the “epic fail” category of advertising 101. It’s insanity. If you’re selling high-end, high-cost furniture you need high-end TV production a high-end audience, and a message that whispers elegance. Anything less will be a big whiff.
Here’s another example: There’s a company that offers jet charters for corporate and private use. If you own your own private island and want to sneak away to it for the weekend, you’re in luck. They’re literally selling to the jet set, and yet they’re advertising – on local TV – to Fred & Barney Rubble. It’s a total mis-match.
Think about it… The very best outcome the company could hope for is a steady stream of inquiries from people who can’t possibly afford the service. And sure enough, they’re getting a few calls…
“Well gee whiz, I didn’t think it’d be THAT much to fly to my cousin Ethel’s place outside of Winnemucca.”
Filling your sales pipeline with hopeless leads is a waste of money, and probably the worst advertising mistake you can make.
No matter how many spots they buy it’s not going to help sell jet charters. In this case, better production value wouldn’t matter either. They could hire James Cameron to produce an epic, 10-million $ 30-second spot, and it still wouldn’t move the needle. It’d just generate more phone calls from non-buyers.
Because the company is advertising where the prospects aren’t.
There are digital alternatives now that would deliver their video message much more efficiently than TV. Straight to people who have expressed interest in jet charters. And there are plenty of options that allow them to pay ONLY when qualified prospects actually view the ad.
Look, I am not a media buyer. I don’ t have the propensity for spreadsheets, number crunching and data analysis that’s required for that line of work. However, I know a basic, lousy media buy when I see one, and that is one of them. TV is not the answer in those two cases.
Just look at what the big boys are doing. The largest advertisers, and the most sophisticated media buying agencies, are shifting money away from TV and into digital. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, digital ad sales are expected to surpass all TV ad sales for the first time in 2016.
I’m not saying you should dump your entire TV schedule. You should just think about mixing in some other options that are more targetable.
Here’s one more example, from my experience in golf industry marketing… I have a client who was recently buying $35,000 worth of TV spots from the local cable company and he wanted my opinion on his media schedule. So I took a quick glance and saw, right off the bat, a whole bunch of time slots during daytime shows that skew heavily toward women.
How much golf equipment do you think women buy? How many golfers do you think are sitting around during the day watching “Psycho Coupon Horders?”
Again, it’s a mismatch. Why would you spend your money running ads that are geared toward affluent men, during daytime TV? It’s just not common sense.
If you’re in the position of reviewing media schedules like that, use your head. Eliminate those time slots. Make the sales guy try again. It’s not rocket science.
And when those salespeople come knocking, always remember this: It’s demand-based selling that hinges entirely on their limited inventory. The popular shows are in high demand, and sell out easily. So the TV salespeople are left trying hard to sell the shows that are NOT in demand. The dogs. Sometimes I think they throw-in some dogs on the schedule just to see if you’re paying attention.
I’m not saying that all TV advertising is a waste of money. Not at all. With enough frequency, the right product or service, and a well-honed message, you can do very well with local TV.
If you have an airline that’s selling $49 round trip tickets to Disneyland, by all means! Buy a bunch of TV ads. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. But if you’re selling jet charters to Disneyland, don’t waste your time on TV spots.
If you’d like a review of your current advertising program, we can assess your strategy, your messaging, your value proposition and the creative execution.
We will also collaborate with a media buyer friend who can save you money on that side of the equation and make sure your buy is as targeted and relevant as it can possibly be.
In the end, you will get you fair, honest assessment from pros who have been in the business for 30 years. The cost is very reasonable, and based on the size of your budget, so rest assured, it’ll save you money in the long run. Call me. 541-815-0075.
I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach.
So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related. But someone has to speak out about all the exclamation points popping up in marketing circles. If I see one more boring marketing cliche punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.
Exclamation points are everywhere these days… in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.
“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”
I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.
Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of features is not going to make them more compelling.
Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)
Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…
You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!
The longest, straightest driver ever!
Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!
Your whole family will love it!!!
Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility. If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.
In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.
You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.
I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.
Clarity is the key to many things… relationships, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity. But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Business Clarity. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising marketing communications and management in general.
Doesn’t matter what form of communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.
Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. Complication. Cool persuasion vs. a lot of hot air. Straight talk vs. bullshit. And it starts with your internal communications.
Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.
A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity causes enormous frustration. So managers need to set clear goals for the company, the teams, and every individual in every department.
When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle. So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.
Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.
Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things: Whatto say, and how to say it. The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the copywriter and the art director. They can’t do their job if they’re not clear on the strategy.
Easier said than done. Most business owners are a quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics. If you need help with that, call me.
Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.
“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks. “Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…”
No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats. Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo.
Take time to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t! Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement.
Want traction for your startup? Find a name that’s clear.
Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name.”How do you spell that?” “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”
Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business – search.
Then there are these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli. That’s just confusion waiting to happen.
Want advertising that actually drives sales?Be clear, and overt, about the value proposition.
Not just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.
Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with the value proposition. Then go to strategy. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads.
Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.
When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer. and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear. There can be no confusion. You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.
Want a presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides.
Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies in the war against confusion. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor. Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.
The marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.
Most clients I know don’t stand a chance. They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one. Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.
Just look at all the “marketing opportunities” out there…
There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, article marketing, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding, blue ocean marketing, blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that doesn’t even get us through the first two letters of the alphabet.
It’s nuts. Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 20 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.
I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics… Those so-called marketing opportunities turn into time sucking nightmares.
Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.
Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.
Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.
Ecommerce information on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster ecommerce sales.
High dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!
A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely – who can’t possibly afford the product.
Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.
Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.
So what are you supposed to do? How can you find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?
First of all, you need a little knowledge on the subject. Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing.
Second, find someone you trust implicitly. There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time. So get references. Start small and test the waters before you commit to a long-term contract.
Third, accept their outside perspective as a positive. It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.” They may not know it as well as you do, but what he DOES know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring them for. He can learn the ins and outs of your operation as he goes.
Set clear goals, expectations and metrics. Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.
Start with strategy, not tactics. Social Media marketing is not a strategy. Digital advertising is not a strategy. If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to outsource your marketing. (Or at least read this post:)
Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.
I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me. He has, literally, read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and travelled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. And yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely. But he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him maximize every marketing opportunity that he actually chooses.
For more insight on how to manage the complex marketing landscape, try THIS post.
If you want help navigating it all, call BNBranding.
Planning, creating, producing and managing an effective advertising campaign is not easy. There are details galore, many moving pieces, and an interesting array of individuals who all need to come together to make it happen.
When it does, it’s really quite magical. It’s a rare marriage of art and salesmanship that produces spectacular results.
So here is some insight on the process that will help you succeed in advertising, no matter what side of the table you’re on. This is how we can all work together to create more effective advertising. More memorable design. Better client-agency relationships. And ultimately, stronger brands…
When it comes to presenting ideas, advertising people love the preamble, or “pre-mumble” as a colleague once called it. We’re anxious to show off the thinking behind the work, probably because we’re a little insecure about the work itself.
We know that most business owners don’t have tremendous respect for advertising guys. (They judge harshly and pigeonhole us as “artists” and “whacky creative types,” rather than trusted business consultants.) We also know that no matter how great the work is, most people need to justify a good gut decision with some facts and data.
So we trot out the charts and graphs and point to the insight that we gleaned from all the market research. Then, in classic Don Draper style, we craft an entire speech to “set-up” the inevitable and brilliant creative solution that the client can’t possible resist.
But many clients won’t hear it. Their preconceived notions won’t allow it. They just want the sizzle, and if they don’t see it immediately no amount of preamble rationale will sway them.
In that case, “smarter” doesn’t necessarily sell. More research, better planning, and a sharply crafted creative brief count for nothing if the execution doesn’t tickle the client’s fancy.
Of course, just because it appeals to the client doesn’t mean it’ll work in the marketplace. So it gets complicated. Here are some tips on how to get more effective advertising
If you’re a client…
1. Make your new campaign a priority. Give the agency team plenty of your time and unrestricted access so they can be thoroughly prepared. Share everything. Put it all on the table, including the white elephants — if there’s something you absolutely won’t entertain or can’t stand, make that clear immediately. Remember, your agency team wants to help. They want to prove themselves. So as Jerry Maguire (aka Tom Cruise) once said “help me help you.”
2. Extricate yourself from the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, demands of your job. I know it’s hard, but to be fair, you need some perspective. Block out a few days to immerse yourself in your brand without the worries of your daily grind.
You’ll be working with creative people, so get into a creative mindset of your own. At the very least, when it’s time to evaluate your new campaign put everything else aside and focus entirely on the campaign in front of you. That’s just common courtesy and professionalism. The agency team is giving you their full attention. They deserve the same. If you’re answering calls in the middle of a presentation it’ll be painfully obvious that you don’t value their work.
3. Throw the rear-view mirror thinking out the window. Take a fresh new look at the marketing in your category. Think about the stereotypes that are hurting your business. How could you get past those? Make a list of all the industry conventions and cliches in your particular business. Review the “ways we’ve always done things,” and discard all that baggage for a day. Forget the old, and open yourself up to the genuinely new.
4. Be patient. There are plenty of brilliant designers and writers who aren’t good presenters. Listen attentively during the pre-amble, and be slow to criticize anything at that stage. It might not make sense at first, but wait until the presentation is complete. Only then can you judge fairly and delve into the inevitable questions that arise from an idea that may seem outlandish.
5. Embrace the discomfort. When you see a truly great advertising idea, it will NOT look like anything else you’ve seen. So yes, it’s going to be uncomfortably unfamiliar. Rest assured, you’re not alone in your squirming.
I once saw an amazingly effective, caring CEO get completely lost and befuddled by this. He really wanted to like the work — that much was obvious. But he could not get his head around the one, fundamental fact of advertising: UNfamiliar is GOOD! Familiar is bad.
If it’s NOT a novel idea, it won’t get noticed. As Advertising legend George Lois once said, “Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system. It should knock you out.”
So set your expectations accordingly… if they show you an idea that seems “way out there,” you’re probably on the right track. Lois says, “safe, conventional work is the ticket to oblivion.” If they show you something that seems “fine” and familiar, that’s when you should push back and say,” is that all you got?”
If you’re the agency account executive…
1. Make a genuine connection with the client. First, make sure you’re pitching to the right person. The one with the real decision-making authority. Then devote extra time to get to know that person.
One approach is to embed yourself — like a war correspondent — into the client’s business. Camp out. Shadow your client. Listen to everything that’s going on internally. You’ll often pick up subtle cues about the culture and the kind of advertising they’ll embrace.
But it’s not just the business you need to know. I’m talking about the client’s personal taste in everything… political leanings, entertainment preferences, family situation, personality traits. Take a page out of Harvey McKay’s sales playbook, (How to swim with the sharks without being eaten alive) and learn that person inside and out.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
It does you no good to schmooze with client if you don’t share your insight on that person with the creative team. Many AEs hold on tightly to that knowledge, believing it’s power. But that relationship you’ve worked so hard to build is worthless if you don’t win or keep the business. That means close, constant contact with the writer, the art director, the planner and the media person. Share everything you know, and your odds of making that client happy will rise dramatically.
3. Know when to stop selling, and when to start listening.
When the client is presented with a campaign that does not resemble the recognizable, feature-driven advertising that he’s accustomed to, he might seize up. Not know what to say. Your job is to be comfortable with that uncomfortable silence.
Basically, shut up!Stop selling. Let the idea sink in and let the client lead any further discussion. Don’t be jumping in with superlatives of any sort. They’ll only weaken your case. And defer to the creative team on the executional details.
If you’re on the creative team…
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Yes, good teamwork hinges on communication in both directions. So keep the account person in the loop. Share your ideas early and often. Shut up and listen to the AE, the planner, and anyone else who can help.
Art directors and writers need to be willing to defer to the AE on some issues. If the AE really knows the client, and she says he’ll “never go for it,” you just might have to, for once, defer to her judgement and go back to the well. There’s always another approach.
You might also customize your pitch to the prospect’s personality… Most creative presentations reflect the personality of the presenter. Turn it around, and make the pitch match the personality of the client. If he’s highly analytical, then the preamble might be crucial. If he has Attention Deficit Disorder, you’ll want to shorten everything. Cut to the bone. If he’s a contemplative intellectual, build in time for him to think. If he’s funny and dynamic, then by all means, be funny and dynamic.
2. Nail the first 30 seconds. The first impression is everything, so start with the simplest execution. Hit them between the eyes with one sharp visual or winning line that sums it all up.
Digital ads are great for this purpose… they have to work like billboards on the information highway… you got three seconds to impress. Ready set go! Then show how the campaign has legs, and can extend into print, TV, long format video, content marketing and social media.
Think about reorganizing your pitch. Turn the preamble in the post-amble. AFTER you have their attention, and AFTER you’ve blow them away with unexpectedly brilliant advertising or design, then you can present the rationale behind it. But keep it short and sweet. Remember, you’re not trying to solve all their marketing problems in one meeting. You just need to win their confidence so you can move deeper into the creative process.
3. Try to put yourself in his shoes. Since the AE knows the prospect in and out, it should be relatively easy for her to empathize with the client. But the creative team needs to do the same. Forget about your own position within the agency, and put yourself in your client’s shoes. Realize that he has pressure from all directions, and do everything you can to alleviate some of that. Don’t forget, it is a service business, after all.
For some reason, many people think that “branded websites” won’t sell product or produce a steady stream of leads. And on the other hand, they don’t think “Ecommerce sites” will help their branding efforts.
As if the two are mutually exclusive.
Well, here’s the good news: You really can have a branded website that converts well AND presents a strong brand message. But you’re going to have to go beyond the template-driven who, what, when and where approach that’s so common these days.
Here’s what you need to build a branded website that works on both levels: The 4 critical elements of website design and effective web development.
1. A concept.
A concept is the foundation of every great site, and probably the single most overlooked element for all business owners. And let me be very clear…
A wordpress theme is not a concept.
A new logo is not a concept.
A photo of your product is not a concept.
A photo of the exterior of your building is not a concept.
A photo of your team is not a concept (unless they’re doing something rather unusual that conveys an idea about your brand.)
See, a concept is an idea.
In web design it’s an idea in the form of words, visuals and technical features that come together in compelling way. It’s image and presentation and persuasion and storytelling all coalescing to make a great first impression. So even the most casual website visitor says “hell yes, I want to know more about this company.”
A concept from the Mini USA website homepage.
And isn’t that the job of your website? Make a great impression. Engage people. Impress them. Leave them wanting more. That’s marketing 101.
If you have a concept behind your site all the other elements will come together seamlessly. The problem is, most website builders don’t have the creativity, or the sales skills or the knowledge of your market, or the necessary budget to actually develop a cohesive concept for your site. That’s just too much to ask of one person. They can’t do all that, and then write the code to boot! That’s like asking the architect of your new house to also pour the foundation, do the framing, the plumbing, the electrical and the heating system, all by himself.
You need a team to do a good site. But let’s look at the other critical elements of web development, and then come back around to who’s going to do all these things.
2. A clear call to action
This one’s pretty simple, and it’s not just a big ass button that says “buy now.” Every page of your site should have an objective and a preferred action for the consumer. Think of it as leading them down the primrose path. You want to take their hand and show them the way…
Click here. Read this. Watch this. Listen to this. Order that.
Give the user something to do that leads them deeper into the site, and further along in the sales process. They will seldom behave how you want them to, but the alternative is a hodge-podge of pages and elements that lead nowhere.
3. Differentiating elements
A good story is your best differentiating element.
As the old saying goes, facts tell but stories sell. Narrative, characters and plot twists are universally appealing, and very few companies present compelling stories.
So find an interesting way to tell your story. Maybe it’s animation, or video, or a prezi-style slide show, or even a game.
A game can be a differentiating element as well as a concept. Can you transform your web experience into a relevant game? Would that be appropriate for your brand?
Differentiating elements: Concept, photo, copy, call to action.
Photography can also be a great differentiator. The human brain skips right over familiar images, so don’t settle for the $10 stock photos that everyone else in your category is using. Hire a pro and make your stuff look better. Sexier. More graphic.
Copywriting can be the difference between a boring branded website and a lead-gen machine.
Don’t let anyone convince you that great web copy is only about keywords, search engine optimization and factual “content.” Every sentence is an opportunity to stand out — or be thrown out. (One quick click and they’re gone to the next site.) Your copy should be sharply crafted. Persuasive. And convincingly genuine, so it doesn’t sound like any other brand.
Here’s a test for you… pull up your branded website and the site of your biggest competitor. Side by side. Then imagine that the logos are swapped out. Are the sites interchangeable? The images the same? The copy comparable.
Are you saying anything they cannot say? If not, you better go back to the drawing board and get a differentiating concept.
4. Reasons to believe
Stories, concepts and images are important, but you also need some facts to back them up. That’s where some branded websites go wrong… they’re all fluff. You need proof that your brand delivers, as promised.
For instance, post some testimonials or reviews from your happy customers. Release engineering data. Competitive reports. White papers. Market research. Anything that’s credible that backs up your value proposition.
People make emotional decisions, but they often need facts to justify what they’ve already decided. So give them what they need, and do it in various forms on multiple pages. When they’re checking out, remind them that they’ve made a great decision.
A very clear brand message… this is Mini Cooper in a nutshell.
So this is all great, in theory. But how do you get it all done?
Part of the problem is who’s doing the work… If your web developer doesn’t have anyone to collaborate with, you’re not going to get an big idea, or great imagery, or well-crafted copy.
You just get code.
It might be great code and a functional site, but it’s not going to contain the five critical elements of effective website design.
You need that programmer, but you also need a writer who can devise the concept and write the copy. Then you need an SEO specialist, a project manager and a designer. That’s the team. (Sometimes the writer or the designer can double as the project manager.)
The team approach may cost a little more at first, but it’s cheaper in the long run because you won’t have to re-do your site 9 months later when it’s not performing as you had hoped.
These days your site is a critical part of your business infrastructure. It’s your storefront and your main form of advertising. You can’t do without one, so you might was well invest in a website that builds your brand AND sells product.
Note… this is NOT a paid post for Mini Cooper, just a nod to their agency and their web design team. This is great work. Plus, it’s a cool brand.
I need to stop being surprised by managerial incompetence. Honestly. I need to reframe my expectations and just be pleasantly surprised when I encounter an exception to the rule. Because everywhere I turn, knumbskulls, nuckleheads and nitwits rule the managerial world.
Witness the retail store owner who has no handle on her inventory or her labor costs.
The non-profit executive who has a revolving door of talent, going only one direction.
The managing partner of a professional services firm who constantly, habitually, over- bills his clients.
The director of communications who doesn’t communicate with anyone internally.
The CEO who can’t pull the trigger on anything more meaningful than which consultant to hire.
Failures like those are rampant. One leading consulting firm reports “with solid empirical justification, that managerial incompetence across all levels is 50%.” (Of course, their study didn’t include the companies that went out of business due to managerial incompetence.)
So the bad news is, there’s a 50-50 chance that your boss or your manager is incompetent. The good news is, half of companies you compete with are also chock full of managerial incompetence.
And here’s more good news: It’s well documented that strong brands can weather all sorts of managerial miscues.
Strong brand affinity can help companies weather a price war. According to the International Journal of Business Research, a brand acts as a buffer when the company fails on the customer service front. And beloved brands can weather PR storms that would make most companies melt.
Look what happened to Toyota.
In 2009 and 2010 Toyota recalled 8.8 million vehicles due to safety concerns with accelerator pedals. Time magazine ran a feature story titled “Can Toyota ever bounce back.” One industry expert told CBS Anchor Harry Smith, “We’ll be seeing major problems with the Toyota brand for at least a decade, maybe two.”
Toyota’s CEO quipped that he was not Toyota’s top executive as much as the company’s chief apologizer for blunders, mishaps and overall sluggish business. It was a PR disaster, and another example of managerial messiness.
Business Insider reported “The company failed miserably in its initial crisis management, but that’s what makes Toyota’s case so intriguing. Despite its monumental mistakes early on, Toyota still bounced back. Why? It didn’t take long for the public to remember Toyota’s previously stellar reputation.”
Contrary to all the doomsday speculation, the Toyota brand made a quick recovery, recapturing its status as the #1 selling car brand in America. (In 2016 they had the #1 and #2 selling car in America.) Not surprising really, given the consistency and long-term track record of the Toyota brand.
“The Toyota brand showcased its resiliency, with its positive reputation built up over decades of good performance. The company leveraged this, focusing its marketing once again on safety and its proven track record. It had to show that this disaster — including its own horrible mishandling of the situation — was an aberration.”
Toyota has been one of the world’s most beloved brands for over 30 years. People absolutely love their Land Cruisers, Corollas Camrys and Civics. AdWeek magazine puts Toyota at #67 of the world’s top 100 brands, the highest ranking of any automobile company. (Volkswagen is the only other car brand that makes the list, at #89. Forbes reports that Toyota is the 9th most valuable brand in the world.
So what does this all mean for the typical small to mid-sized company? Here are a few lessons:
1. It pays to consistently deliver on your brand promise. Toyota’s resurgence proves that branding is a process of consistency and endurance. Year in and year out they keep delivering on the idea of reliability and resale value. So when the company hit that bump in the road, it didn’t really slow them down. What’s your brand promise, and are you delivering on that promise every day?
2. Managers make monumental mistakes. CEOs come and go, often in a flaming blaze of glory. Products sometimes fall drastically short. But if you’ve built a strong brand your devoted fans will cut you some slack. The emotional connection they have will prevail over any short-term disappointment.
3. A solid brand platform is critical to the success of your management team. They gotta know what you stand for, and they’re not necessarily going to get it unless you spell it out for them. You have to communicate your brand promise all the time, and promote it feverishly with your team. How else are they going to understand the culture, the core values, the expectations of consumers, and the business goals? Don’t assume anything.
4. Great managers are hard to find. No one has the childhood wish of becoming a great manager, so if you have some on your team, keep them there! Reward them handsomely. Treat them like Gods. Transform their relatively mundane, under-appreciated work into something truly valuable.
5. Create an atmosphere of forgiveness, where failure is rewarded rather than punished. They’re going to make mistakes — remember the 50% incompetence stat — so you might as well embrace it. Encourage action and let your managers know that doing something wrong is better than doing nothing at all.
6. Make every manager a die-hard brand champion. If they’re not, get rid of ’em.
Contrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. Too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.
Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.
Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.
Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.
Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.
Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the bullshit.
Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively. Terrible execution though. The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.
Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.
If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.
Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will. Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.
A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information… unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision. “Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”
The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.
And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.
“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.
“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”
I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”
The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.
So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!