Category Archives for "Tactical Marketing"

1 content marketing for small business

Content Marketing – Finding and providing something genuinely worthwhile.

content marketing for small businessWhen The Cluetrain Manifesto was first published on the web back in 1999, Christopher Locke wrote, “the internet has made it possible for genuine human voices to be heard again.”

What do you mean, “again”?

Never has the average Joe been afforded unrestricted access to an audience any bigger than the crowd in a neighborhood pub. This giant electronic soapbox delivers a world-wide audience. Anyone can pontificate at will, on any subject, and potentially reach billions of people across the globe.

small-business marketing tips on the Brand Insight BlogHow cool is that?

The democratization of online publishing allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to post thoughts, opinions, photos and articles. It has inexorably changed politics and journalism. It’s a game-changing tool for small-business marketing. You could argue that it’s the greatest thing since the invention of the radio broadcast.

On the other hand, it’s also producing a cacophony of epic proportions.

Used to be, you had to have genuine expertise a in a given line of work in order to get “coverage.” If you wanted to get published you had to get past the editors in control, and they were brutally picky. You had to have something unique to say, and a unique voice with which to say it. It was not a particularly efficient element of small-business marketing plans.

Online publishing is a different story. There are no editors screening the content delivered on the internet. Any dimwit can start WordPress blog. Content farms are selling the same articles over and over and over again for $10 a pop. Regurgitation and plagiarism is now being touted as “content curation.” And corporations are hiring print and TV journalists to produce marketing content disguised as authentic news.

Probably not what the ClueTrain authors had in mind.

I frequently get solicitations (ok junk mail) offering pre-written “content” for this blog. For me, it’s a business proposition that just doesn’t compute. Most of the time the article offered is off-topic, as if my marketing-minded audience will suddenly be interested in a piece about overnight skin rejuvenation. Often these unsolicited articles are obvious plugs for a product or a company. They’re never well written, thoroughly researched, or authored by anyone I follow/respect in the business.

Why on earth would I run an article like that? How could that approach to content generation possibly be good for my brand? Or my audience? Sure, I could probably generate a little bump in short-term traffic, but it’s not going to produce loyal readers. In fact, it’s more likely to drive readers away.

Great brands are built on consistency and quality, not just clicks.

I also get a lot of questions from aspiring bloggers, so here’s a piece of advice… Think about your brand first, and clicks second. If you produce content of value — something you and your audience really care about— then the traffic will come eventually. There is no shortcut to success, and a genuine human voice will always play better than some anonymous article you picked up and reposted, along with a hundred others bloggers.

Also, always remember how much saturation there is. On most subjects it’s too much information from too many questionable sources.

For instance, you could never wade through all the online chatter about social media marketing. “Will it help my small business? Can I build a brand around it? How do social media marketing? Can I generate leads on Twitter? Where’s it all going? What’s it all mean for small business marketing?”

small business marketing advice I don’t know. It’s still evolving. But I know this: Just because you have a blog and a few thousand friends on Facebook doesn’t make you a social media marketing guru. There are a lot of young wannabes in that field who will gladly charge you for consulting, but few real gurus. It’s too new, too experimental. Guru status comes from wisdom, proven results and the perspective you can only get from years of experience.

So if you’re a brand manager, marketing director or business owner trying to figure out the social media thing, beware. Many of those purported experts or thought leaders are just good salespeople and tech-savvy online self-promoters riding the wave. When you’re scouring the internet for insight, pay close attention to the attributions and read the “about us” section to find out who’s really doing the talking.

Locke preached a sermon of hope for the digital pulpit. He predicted that the internet would forever shift the nature of business communications, and he envisioned a world where the consumer would have a voice and corporations would have to listen.

Pretty good crystal ball, he had.

Many big brands are embracing the online “conversation” and are getting better at communicating on a one-to-one level. They may not be the earliest adopters, but they’re catching on and beginning to respond to consumer wishes. If nothing else, they’re now painfully aware when people start spreading negative word-of-mouth.

But corporations don’t control the bulk of the internet conversation. It’s the small-business marketing experts. It’s the average Joe on his soapbox with a big ego and a pay-per-click budget. It’s the stay-at-home baker who wants to brag about her latest batch of cookies. It’s the teenage entrepreneur cashing in on Youtube. Those little businesses are popping up faster than you can say, “what happened to Myspace?” And that’s great.

small business marketing tip from the Brand Insight BlogUnfortunately there also are many modern snake oil salesman peddling their wares with content marketing. Despite the advances of social media, (or maybe because of the advances) there’s more phony crap out there than ever before.

The self-help industry. The diet programs. The plastic surgeons. The get-rich-quick guys. And my personal favorite, the golf swing gurus. Every Tin Cup wannabe has an instructional DVD or downloadable E-book available on the web. And they’re all “guaranteed to shave strokes off your game.”

Golf Digest wouldn’t publish any of them on a bet. The quality is no better than the corporate spiel that Locke railed against in Cluetrain Manifesto. “The voice is like a third-rate actor in a 4th rate play reciting lines that no one believes in a manner no one respects.”

Yep.

Sometimes I long for the good old days when websites weren’t free and there was some barrier to entry on the internet. But not really. We’ll all put up with some noise in exchange for the freedom of speech that the internet provides.

Now I’m just hoping for a natural weeding out process.

For more on small business marketing and content marketing, try THIS post..

For affordable small business marketing help, call me at BNBranding.

 

Truth and clarity about Guerrilla Marketing

It’s 1810. Napolean’s armies have conquered all of Europe and are enjoying the spoils. But in Spain, small bands of dedicated freedom fighters wage their own war against the occupying forces. They strike. Move. Hide. And strike again. They involve the enemy in a long, drawn-out war, and ultimately prevail.

That’s how the term Guerrilla Warfare came to be. The literal, Spanish translation is “small war.”

Fast forward to 1983. Jay Conrad Levinson, an old-school, advertising guy from Chicago, borrows the term for a marketing book he’s writing. “Guerrilla Marketing” becomes one of the most popular business books of all time, with endless spin-offs and merchandise tie-ins.

1235585847_16010911_bgToday “Guerrilla Marketing” has become a cliche. The words stick, but few business people have any idea what it really means. They confuse guerrilla marketing with blow-up gorillas.

For some, guerrilla marketing is nothing more than a convenient catch-phrase; justification for poorly planned, seat-of-the-pants marketing efforts. They throw together a last-minute promotion and call it guerrilla marketing. They run a Facebook campaign to support the sale of the month, and call it guerrilla marketing. They print posters for telephone poles, and suddenly, they’re king of the guerrillas!

The problem is, many people don’t understand Guerrilla war to begin with. Guerrilla warfare might seem like a sporadic, hit and miss affair, but it’s not. Every attack is part of an expertly devised strategy. There’s always someone planning and orchestrating the attacks to make sure the guerrilla tactics produce the most damage at the least possible cost.

Levinson spells it out: “Guerrilla marketing enables you to increase your sales with a minimum of expense and a maximum of smarts.” Repeat, “maximum smarts.”

Levinson repeatedly stresses the importance of planning, especially for small businesses that have limited resources. His idea of Guerrilla Marketing involves wise strategic planning, big ideas and inexpensive but effective tactics.

“Entrepreneurs must govern tactical operations by marketing strategy,” Levinson said. “And all marketing efforts have to be weighed against that strategy.” Good advice, but the reality is way different. Most small businesses have all sorts of “guerrilla” tactics, but no strategy whatsoever. And here’s the catch: Guerrilla tactics won’t work unless they are strategic and sustained. Unrelentingly.

Levinson’s book stresses personal commitment and consistency, like those Spanish fighters had. But many business owners give up campaigns and change directions on a whim. They don’t plan, they react. They wait and see how much they can afford for advertising and then spend haphazardly. It’s a knee-jerk effort that seldom produces any lasting results.

Instead of a knee-jerk approach, guerrilla marketing consists of a continual advertising presence all year long. It may be small, but it’s a presence.

So the true essence of Guerrilla Marketing, according to the book on the subject, is an innovative strategy and unwavering commitment. Your tactics may be inexpensive to execute, but you have a plan and you stick with it like a track on a tank. That’s Guerrilla Marketing!

“In working with small clients the greatest stumbling block is their inability to understand commitment,” Levinson said. “You must think of marketing as an investment. Not an expense. And you must see to it that your marketing program is consistent.”

True guerrillas are committed to the bone… they won’t give up until they’re dead, or until the enemy is defeated. Guerrilla armies are outnumbered, out gunned, and out-classed in every conventional way. That’s why they resort to unconventional tactics.

In some of his later work Levinson defines Guerrilla Marketing this way… “a body of unconventional ways of pursuing conventional goals.” Unfortunately, few guerrilla marketers qualify as unconventional. In fact, they do the same things their traditional competitors are doing, only cheaper. They cut corners on important executional details and chalk it up to their guerrilla approach.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

Guerrilla warriors use unconventional tactics.

 

For a guerrilla army, it’d be like launching an attack in broad daylight with nothing but but BB guns

Execution Matters!Levinson hardly mentions creativity in his original book, but creative, unconventional execution is crucial for guerrilla marketers. The biggest brands can throw money at a problem and run ads until a year from Tuesday. Guerrilla marketers can’t. They have to be smarter. Sharper. More persuasive. More creative!

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

Creativity is the key to Guerrilla marketing

 

Small businesses simply cannot afford messages that don’t resonate. Words that don’t inspire. Or photos that fall flat and impotent. Every element of every guerrilla marketing war needs to be honed and crafted, not thrown together at the last minute.

Levinson said, “many a hard-working, well-meaning business owner will sabotage their business with ill-advised marketing. Guerrillas market like crazy, but none of it is ill-advised.”

Giant, blow-up gorillas in the parking lot are ill-advised. Cutting corners on important executional details… also ill-advised. For example: A business owner writes his own radio commercial and doesn’t spend any money on talent, editing, or sound design. Then he places the ads on a busy station with lots of national ads and high production values. Two weeks later he’s wondering why the ads aren’t working. A week after that he’s ready to give up on radio advertising all together.

That’s not Guerrilla marketing. And not good business, either. A Guerrilla army would never give up simply because one little attack failed to live up to expectations.

History proves that guerrilla campaigns are effective in the long run. The Spanish against Napolean’s army. The French resistance against the Germans. The Afgans against The Soviet Union.

You might not defeat your industry’s superpowers, or even your biggest local competitor, but if you have the fortitude to stick it out, you can win enough little battles to build a great business.

“Confidence is your ally. Provided that your products or services are of sufficient quality, confidence in yourself and your offering will attract buyers more than any other attribute. More than quality. More than selection. More than price,” Levinson said.

Before Levinson’s book, marketing was something only fortune 500 companies could do. He was the first person to put marketing in context for small business owners and entrepreneurs. He put it in terms that common people could understand, and made it seem achievable. Even for underdogs.

“The guerrilla approach is a sensible approach for all marketers, regardless of size. But for entrepreneurs and small business owners who don’t have the funding of a Fortune 500 company, it’s the only way.”

In great advertising, God is in the details.

I’ve never heard such a hush fall over a Superbowl party. The commercial titled “So God Made Farmers” disrupted things almost as much as the Superdome power outage.

If you don’t think poetry has a place in business and marketing, think again. Just listen to these words:

“God said, I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to yean lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-comb pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark. So God made a farmer…”

Farmer image for Ram Trucks Superbowl ad

“I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from an ash tree, shoe a horse with hunk of car tire, who can make a harness out hay wire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. Who, during planting time and harvest season will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from tractor back, put in another 72 hours.” So God made the farmer.

The imagery is arresting. The pacing and rapid-fire alliteration, perfect. The details, unquestionably credible.

And that voice… The choice of using Paul Harvey’s original voice-over was a genius move. For 45 years Paul Harvey he was the Walter Cronkite of the radio… everyone knew him and every marketing guy in the country wanted him pitching their products. When his name appeared on the screen, every baby boomer stopped.

Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review wrote, “Delivered by Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force.” Listening to it can make someone who never would want to touch cows, especially before dawn, wonder why he didn’t have the good fortune to have to milk them twice a day. In short, it is a memorably compelling performance, and without bells or whistles (of most superbowl spots.)

“The spot stuck out for thoroughly how un-Super Bowl it was. It’s a wonder that CBS didn’t refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.

It wasn’t just a subtle tug on our heartstrings, but a two-ton pull that produced dramatic results. It’s been viewed over 10 million times in just one week. 10 million voluntary impressions, above and beyond all the eyeballs that were glued to the TV in the 4th quarter of the game last Sunday. And according to Bluefin Labs, which specializes in analytics for social television, the Ram spot was “the most social commercial” of the game, generating 402,000 comments in social media.

If you think the Superbowl is only for outlandishly juvenile spots full of big boobs and talking animals, there’s still hope. AdWeek magazine said it was the #1 spot of the year, with the Budweiser baby Clydesdale coming in at number 2. (Another heartwarming story)

But it was not a new idea. Truck companies have been using this sort of borrowed interest for years, leveraging the themes of hard work, craftsmanship, and salt-of-the-earth American values. But the details in the execution, this time, were far superior.

Paul Harvey actually wrote that riveting monologue back in 1978 for the national FFA convention. The words themselves pack such force, the pictures almost seem like an afterthought.

Kudos to The Richard’s Group for producing it. And to the folks at Ram who approved it. There are a million ways they could have screwed it up.

First, many marketing execs would never approve the use of the word “God” in a commercial, for fear of offending the 70% the population who don’t go to church regularly.

Many companies, in an effort to save money and maximize their media buy, would cut corners when it comes to photography.

Not this time. They didn’t opt for cheap stock images. Instead, the agency commissioned 10 photographers, including William Albert Allard of National Geographic and documentary photographer Kurt Markus, to create the images that form the commercial’s backdrop. Gorgeous.

The only problem is, the connection to the Ram Brand was a bit of a stretch for me. (But then, I’m not a truck driver, nor a farmer.)

Ram is a brand that’s attempting to reinvent itself. No more “Dodge Ram.” Now it’s just Ram, and they’re looking for things — themes and concepts — to affiliate themselves with.

Might as well be God, and country, and hard-working farmers. With great execution, during the biggest game of the year, it’s hard to go wrong with that.

4 3 Easy Resolutions For Better Branding.

2014 promises to be a great year for business owners and marketers who are willing to follow a few simple resolutions. I could have written a dozen or so, but that would go against the number one resolution:

• Resolve to be short and sweet.

There’s a proven paradox in marketing communications that says: The less you say, the more they hear. So stop with the generalities and the corporate double speak. Instead, try plain English. Hone in one specific idea and pound it home with powerful mental images and just a few, relevant details.

Behavioral scientists have shown, time and time again, that our brains are hard-wired to discard information. Malcom Gladwell touches on this “unconscious intelligence” in his book “Blink.” And Bill Schley spells it out nicely in his book on micro-scripts.

The human brain has a very active built-in editor, so if it sounds complicated or confusing, we just discard it.

The brain automatically defaults to the simplest, fastest, most understandable messages. So sharpen your pencils, discard all the superfluous nonsense and get the heart of the matter.

Use fewer elements. Simple words. And images that can be “read” at a glance. Because the message with a narrow focus is the message that’s widely received.

Resolve to stop boring people.

It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to convince you that boring stuff doesn’t sink in. Usually, if you follow resolution Number One, you’ll avoid this problem pretty easily.

The new year is a great time to refresh and rethink your marketing materials. That old Powerpoint deck you’ve been using… toss it out and start from scratch. Those tired stock photos… commission a pro to replace them. Those little pay per click ads you’ve been milking along… gone. That website that hasn’t been updated in years… don’t shed any tears over that.

Sure, you’re creating more work for yourself, or for a qualified marketer, but the process of re-inventing is well worth it. Without even thinking about it you’ll integrate what you’ve learned this past year and improve things dramatically.

Remember, you can only get their attention and hold their interest by using unusual, distinctive, and unpredictable stimuli. Just the opposite of boring stuff.

Resolve to tell stories.

Here’s another way you can avoid boring ’em to death: Tell good stories. Stop reciting data and repeating industry cliches and start using original narratives and colorful metaphors to get your point across.

Stories trigger emotions. Emotions demand attention.

Telling a good story is not that hard. Think about it…You’ve been telling stories your whole life, just probably not in a business context. Everywhere you turn you’re entertained and engaged by stories. Every game you watch is a story. Every YouTube Video and every comic you read has a story. Even email exchanges can become convincing stories.

Storytelling is a wildly undervalued in the corporate world. But if you look at the brands that have been most successful in any given market, they’re all good at telling stories. As are the leaders of those companies.

Think about the role your company plays in stories of your best customers, your key suppliers and even your biggest competitors. Are you the Ruler or the Reformer? The Maverick or the Mentor? The Guardian or the Gambler?

Those archetypes show up in every story ever told.

What’s your story this year, and how are you going to tell it? Do you have a David & Goliath story you could be telling? Or maybe a coming-of-age story. Imagine how well that would play, relative to another, boring Powerpoint presentation.

Resolve to stop throwing money at the latest, greatest deal of the day.

This is for retailers who are constantly barraged by offers to run more and more offers. Stop the madness!

Constant discounting is not going to help build your brand for the long haul, unless your brand happens to be WalMart, Kmart, or Dave’s Discount Deal of the Day Store.

Otherwise, it’s just another way of screaming Sale! Sale! Sale! All the time. It undervalues your product, attracts the wrong kind of customers and sabotages your brand narrative. Is that the story you really want to be telling?

If you’re going to do Groupon-style discounting, look at it this way: It’s a short-term cash flow band aid. Nothing more. If your business is very seasonal it can help get you through the slow months, but it’s not a long-term marketing strategy.

And most business owners are beginning to see that. According to Fast Company Magazine, the daily deal industry is in a “healthy period of reassessment right now.” In other words, there’s a big shake-out going on and even the big guys, Groupon and Living Social, are re-thinking their value propositions.

Most success stories in that business come from retailers who use daily deals as a loss-leader tactic… get them in the door with a discount coupon, then up-sell them into a much larger, more valuable product or service.

But remember, the people who regularly use Groupon are bargain hunters, so that upselling idea may or may not work. And if you’re an ice cream shop, upselling from a scoop to a sundae won’t really move the needle.

6 Why most marketing videos miss the mark.

These days, you can watch videos on any subject under the sun. Seriously. Just go to YouTube and search for “underwater basket weaving.”

I saw a guy playing ping pong the other day with a Go Pro mounted on his head. Stand in a lift line at your local ski area and you’ll notice that every other helmet is mounted with a camera.

The marketing brains at GoPro nailed it with their “be a hero” campaign.

Small HD cameras and simple video editing software have made video production as easy as doing a powerpoint presentation. So a lot of small business owners and marketing coordinators are jumping on the bandwagon. Many seem to think video is the be-all, end-all of their marketing “strategy” or branding. Just get some videos up on YouTube, and everything else will fall into place.

Unfortunately, most of the video branding efforts you see online are nothing more than crummy powerpoint presentations, transferred to a different medium. They ignore the fundamental benefit of video… that you can demonstrate the product and capture the action.

Video is supposed to be a visual medium, and yet most marketing videos that you find online these days are not visual at all. Usually all the audience sees is some guy’s face sitting in front of his laptop camera. If he really feels creative he might repeat important points by throwing the words up on the screen and underlining them a couple times.

Just follow the boucing ball!

The fact is, most marketing videos communicate nothing more than a few still photos and a little bit of text. They don’t capture the essence of the brand, or promote any sort of sound bite that people would likely repeat.

Here’s a good test… If you don’t miss a thing by walking away from the computer and just listening to the audio, you know it’s not a good use of the video medium. Could have been a podcast.

Eons ago, before the advent of YouTube, I worked on long fromat videos for big brands. We were constantly looking for ideas that did NOT involve a corporate talking head. Because they’re boring, with a capital B. And when we absolutely had to use one, we made darn sure the spokesperson was attractive, well spoken and downright great in front of the camera.

Because I have news for you… no one wants to sit and watch your lips move.

Unless you’re a super model, or the world’s sexiest man, people aren’t going to tune in just to see your face. They might be interested in what you have to say, but they don’t care about seeing your face in lousy light, distorted and unappealing. Like Shrek.

Unless your brand hinges entirely on your personality, try something different the next time you sit down to do a video…

First, figure out what you need to communicate. THEN decide if video is the right medium for your message. Just because you have the ability to do a video, doesn’t mean you should. When it comes to presenting your product in the most favorable light, good still photos are often a better choice than low-budget video. Even if you have a nice, HD camera, the product won’t look as good as it would if a pro were shooting it.

Let’s say you’re launching a new service… often those are tough to show. You can talk about it, explain it, and do your pitch, but there may not be anything really to demonstrate on camera.

A new product, on the other hand, can be held, touched, and demonstrated quite effectively on video. So quit talking about it, and show it in action. Rather than rambling on about the features of the product, show the outcome of using it… the happy ending that comes from your products. Image always trumps information.

If you’re selling a new bike, focus on the sheer joy and freedom of riding. If you’re pitching a new type of sprinkler system, focus on families enjoying the lush, green grass.

If you insist on talking, cut away and show something, anything, but your face. Study how the great documentary filmmakers do it… it’s visual storytelling, not just audio.

The fact is, lousy videos can fail just as easily as any other marketing tool. So before you jump on the video bandwagon, take time to hone your message, and develop a story that’s worth telling. In whatever form.

 

3 How to sell more stuff online.

Awwwww, the traditions of autumn… Halloween candy, the first snow in the mountains, and holiday shopping. You’ve heard of Black Friday… the mayhem-loving bargain hunter’s favorite day of the year. And “Cyber Monday,” the online equivalent. They’re coming up quickly.

The Wall Street Journal predicts there will be ninety six million online shoppers. That’s almost one-third of America’s population Googling for bargains. And there are probably nine million shopping sites to choose from.

Every e-commerce site from Amazon to Aunt Matilda’s Potato Mashers will get their fair share of the buying frenzy. But most e-commerce businesses could get a bigger piece of the pie, if only they’d do something — anything — to differentiate themselves from pack.

You can’t just regurgitate the manufacturer’s product spiel. You need to customize your pitch, improve your copy, and mix up the words a bit.

Besides a ridiculously low price, what do online shoppers want? Most are looking for information. If they’re not quite ready to fill their shopping cart, they need facts, reviews, articles or some kind of credible content that helps them narrow their search.

Amazingly few e-commerce brands actually fit the bill when it comes to informative content and sharp, convincing copy.

Take ski shops, for instance. I’m in the market for new ski boots, and I can’t even get enough information to research boots on line, much less purchase them. After hours of work I know a lot more about boot fitting, but I don’t know which models are most likely to fit my feet. In fact, I’ve been to every online ski shop I could find, and only one – REI – provides anything more than just the manufacturer’s stock product spiel.

My final choice: The Salomon with the custom fitting

If you want to establish a successful on-line brand you have to do more than just copy your competitors. You can’t just cut and paste the same exact blurb, same photo and the same specs and expect more market share than anyone else. You have to differentiate your store. Somehow.

You could offer unique products. (Most niched e-commerce sites offer the exact same products as their competitors. But even if you could find something they don’t have, it’s not a sustainable advantage unless you have an exclusive arrangement with the manufacturer.)

You could offer lower pricing. (Tough if you don’t have the volume of Amazon or Office Depot.)

Or you can have better content presented in your own, unique voice. That, you can do!

I have to admit, I’m not even entertaining the idea of buying ski boots on line. (For me, it’s hard enough buying sneakers online.) But if I were, I’d want a retailer that obviously understands the pain ski boots can inflict:

Toenails blackened and torn. Crippling leg cramps. Wasted $90 lift tickets. Ruined vacations. Endless trips back to the ski shop.

Those are the honest-to-goodness repercussions of getting it wrong. That’s the stuff of compelling sales copy. Not bullets from the manufacturer’s spec sheet. But not a single online ski shop capitalizes on those emotional hooks. They’re all just lined up, offering the same brands at the same prices with the same pitch.

That’s not retailing. That’s virtual warehousing.

Early in my career I wrote copy for the Norm Thompson catalog. Before J. Peterman ever became famous Norm Thompson had a unique voice that resonated with its mature, upscale audience. We wrote long, intelligent copy that told a story and filled in the blanks between technical specs and outstanding photography.

When the product called for a technical approach, we’d get technical… I remember writing a full page spread on the optics of Serengetti Driver sunglasses.

For other products we’d turn on the charm and use prose that harkened back to more romantic times.

Helpful.

Heroic.

Practical.

Luxurious.

Comfortable.

These weren’t just adjectives thrown in to boost our word count. They were themes on which we built compelling, product-driven stories. The narratives explained why the product felt so luxurious. Where the innovation came from. How a feature worked. And most importantly, what it all meant to the Norm Thompson customer.

It was the voice of the brand, and guess what? It worked. The conversion rates and sales-to-page ratios of the Norm Thompson catalog were among the highest in the industry.

It’s tough to find anything remotely close in the on-line world. And unfortunately, Norm Thompson hasn’t maintained that unique voice in the e-commerce arena. (If you know of any brilliantly different online retailers, like Patagonia, please let me know. I’d love to add a positive case study.)

Ski boots don’t exactly fit into the category of top on-line sellers. They aren’t impulse items that you need on a weekly basis. They’re heavy to ship. And returns on ski boots must be astronomical.

But on-line retailers could cut down on those returns simply by explaining the single most important thing:

Fit.

Most boots don’t even come close to fitting my feet, so no technical feature is as important as fit. And yet no website that I’ve found provides the simple problem-solving content that says: If you have a D width foot, try this make and model. If you have a high instep, try these. If you have a narrow foot, try these.

It’s not rocket science. It’s just simple salesmanship . The kind you’d get if you walk into any decent ski shop.

And I guess that’s what I’d like to see more of on line. Better salesmanship. At least for the product categories that require more than just a quick glance at the price. Like ski boots.

And one other thing… If you choose to sell like everyone else, at least make your site convenient to use, and functional from a usability standpoint. I visited one online shop that didn’t even have a working search function. I typed in “Soloman Ski Boots” and got dozens of Soloman products, but not one ski boot. I’ll never go back. Online shoppers often know exactly what they want. Might as well make it easy for them to find it.

6 Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

I don’t comment on politics. However, the recent political dialog has certainly inspired this week’s speech on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll simply sling it back.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. If you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass. Continue reading

7 The corporate head shot vs. good personal branding.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”

In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.

The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible. Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality. Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts. Continue reading

9 Cheap logo designs – Getting literal for little.

These days, any business owner can get a logo design online. Just answer a couple, very basic questions and voila! A week later you’ll have dozens to choose from. Most of which will be painfully literal.

If you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Continue reading

10 Yes, when it comes to websites, design matters!

There was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Web design is a waste of money.” It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline provoked quite a debate.

It’s interesting to see graphic designers on one end, and web programmers on the other, arguing their respective positions. One group believes web design should take a back seat to web marketing and functionality. After all, what good is a website if you’re not driving traffic to it. The other believes you should make sure the site is well polished before you drop a dime to drive traffic.

I’m pretty well stuck in the middle.

As a traditionally trained advertising copywriter, I tend to side with the designers. As “creatives” we’re trained, from birth, to make sure every detail is perfect before we deliver the work to a client. Because we know details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean” is word of the week. Their mentality is, “just get something up, and we’ll fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

So what we need is a high-bred approach that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” approach that entrepreneurs favor. We need to get web designs done quickly, AND do them really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty.

One comment in that discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.”That’s ridiculous crazy talk from someone who thinks we go through life making decisions line by line in an orderly, logical fashion.

I guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse. There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design.

Poor design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is that you don’t know what the site’s about or what to do next, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites out there that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “design.” When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and usability.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding. It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows conversion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “web design.” In that case, balance is the key…

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and professional.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.” If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just increase your bounce rates, which indicate how many people abandon you in favor of some other, more appealing site.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it. The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving. One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good site up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. HTML programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting, don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads. Or video script. Or TV spot. But that’s a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the skills they need to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great design that also produces results.

 

1 2 3