Category Archives for "FEATURE ARTICLES"

2 Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post

Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

Marketing is a very judgmental business. Business owners and CEOs are constantly judging the results of their marketing efforts. Sometimes objectively, sometimes not.

judging your advertising agency's workAd agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.

When it comes to television advertising, everyone’s a critic. TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.

But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgmental.

Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. Critical thinking is a key to good judgement.

You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. But there’s no such thing as constructively judgmental.

For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgmental. Judgmental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgmental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice. When people jump to conclusions about a political candidate, they’re usually being judgmental.

Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgmental.

One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil shysters, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgment to the point of being obstinately ineffective. His poor judgment in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgment, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions. Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment. They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.

Many people who strive to be less judgmental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.

Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.” That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a media schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. They won’t approve any design work that involves IBM blue, blue-green, aqua, teal or any other form of that color. How rational is that?

Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program. In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.

At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypes of the target audience. One sentence cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a group! On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)

Here are three stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with…CMOs can’t possibly be creative. Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work. Art directors don’t know a thing about business. And advertising account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.

Nonsense. Ad agencies perpetuate the stereotype by segregating their creative teams from the rest of the staff, but great ideas can come from anywhere and the best campaigns come from collaboration.

And creative teams pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully and working with clients in a wide variety of business categories.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. It’s also ingrained in American culture. You hear it in post-game interviews… a ball player or track star or golfer comes in second, and immediately concludes that the winner was a “better person.”

No he isn’t. He just performed a little better that one time.

Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgmental.

Blogs are inherently judgmental. The whole idea of an on-line soapbox lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I addressed the soapbox syndrome in my very first post, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.

I urge you to do the same. Use good judgement.

Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.

Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project.

Oregon advertising agency blog post on stereotypesMake sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something.

Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution.

And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Do ads that break stereotypes, rather than reinforce them.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, try THIS post.

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo. I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

1 How to survive when the economy tanks.

There’s a lot of economic doom and gloom in the news these days; Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard about the housing market, the unemployment rate and the rising price of groceries and gas.

For many business owners, it’s frightening. The fortune-teller economists are predicting even more “belt tightening” as the year goes on, and if you let it, all the crummy forecasts might scare you into doing something totally rash. Like nothing at all.

It’s pretty common, actually. When the leading economic indicators start heading south, many business owners go into immediate survival mode. Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover!

The natural tendency is to adopt a siege mentality and hunker down until “things get better.” So they pull the plug on marketing and branding. Then P.R and charitable giving. Then training and customer service initiatives. They stop doing the things that helped them succeed in the first place.

It’s a strategy of inaction, and it never works. Not in the long run.

Studies of life and death survival struggles prove that action is the antidote for despair. You see it in cancer patients, in soldiers, castaways, mountaineers and disaster victims. Those who let despair take over, sit down and die. Survivors, on the other hand, take action.

Determination and a disciplined, almost clinical approach seem to be the secret. Survivors don’t place blame, make excuses or wallow in self pity. They accept their current circumstances and start working on a solution immediately by setting small, achievable goals. They don’t waste a lot of energy running around in circles, doing things that won’t get them to the goal.

For a climber in the Andes, it meant extricating himself from a crevasse and literally dragging his starving body and shattered leg 10 miles down a glacier. All the way back to camp. For one hiker in the canyonlands of Utah, it meant amputating his own arm with his pocket knife.

Makes surviving a recession seem like a cake walk.

Make no mistake about it, a significant economic downturn can be fatal to a small business. But businesses fail all the time, regardless of what the economy is doing.

The fact is, if you have a clearly defined strategy, and the discipline to stick with it, there’s no reason you can’t do much more than just survive a recession. You can thrive. You can gain ground on the competition. You launch new products and improve your entire operation. The history of American commerce if full of war stories that prove the point.

Post and Kellog’s were battling head-to-head in the breakfast cereal category when the Great Depression hit. W.C. Kellogg plowed ahead, doubled his advertising budget and even introduced the world’s first vitamin-enriched product cereal. Post cut back and Kellogg’s has been the market leader ever since. (Kellogg also cut hours in his plant for three of his shifts and added a fourth, just to spread his payroll among more workers. But that’s another story.)

But forget about the 1930’s. Here are some things you can do, right now, to survive the perfect, economic storm.

1. Use downtime to your advantage. Most managers have so many fires to put out they never get around to long-term strategic thinking. If things are slow, do it! Clarify your objectives and fine-tune your elevator pitch. Revisit your value proposition. Make sure you can communicate your strategy clearly and succinctly. (Few CEOs can.)

2. Get your bearings and refocus your efforts. In the woods, the last thing you want to do is wander around in circles. Same thing in business. Don’t waste precious energy and money chasing business that doesn’t really fit your model. (see item #1)

3. Renegoiate your media contracts. When it comes to print ad space and broadcast spots, you should be able to get a lot more for your money right now. So play hardball. Insist that your advertising salespeople work up innovative new schedules.

4. Get creative. Brainstorm new strategic alliances, sponsorship opportunities or marketing initiatives. Look for ways to leverage your existing partnerships. Do something! And keep this in mind: When times are tough even small initiatives can have a big impact. Because everyone else is sitting around waiting for the rescue helicopters.

5. Recycle one of your favorite, old ad campaigns. A lot of people kill campaigns way too soon, before the public has ever been thoroughly exposed to the messages. So instead of creating a whole new campaign, go through your archives and dust off the advertising that’s worked for you in the past.

6. Spend a little extra time listening to your best customers. Forget about you, and find out what their problems are. Then help devise a solution.

7. Take extra care of your people. They’re reading all the bad news in the paper too, and it’s unsettling. So step up, and be a leader. As the CEO, you have to be an optimist. Because nobody follows a pessimist.

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.