Category Archives for "Tactical Marketing"

6 Predicting consumer behavior… Brand loyalty vs. the whacky, random ways people often buy things.

Corporations spend billions every year trying to predict consumer behavior. Market research firms have sophisticated modeling protocols, ivy league PHDs and multivariate analysis to help them make sense of what is, inherently, nonsensical behavior.

Take, for example, the time my dad decided to replace his rusting Ford pick-up. He drove two hours to the Big City so he’d have plenty of truck dealers to choose from. He spent the weekend kicking tires, braving the onslaught of old-fashioned salesmen and test driving every make and model.

Then he came home in a Toyota Matrix.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

Not exactly built for an over-70 demo.

He was 70 at the time! God only knows what possessed him to switch from a pick-up truck to an urban pocket-rocket. The Matrix is more suited to base-thumping car stereo blast-a-thons than my dad’s easy-listening coastal lifestyle.

No one could have predicted it.

In hindsight, I suppose you could say it was consistent with his car-buying history, which is even more erratic than his golf game. I challenge anyone to find a pattern in this list:

1968 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe

1970 Chevy Caprice Station Wagon

1973 AMC Hornet

1974 Chevy Vega

1976 Ford LTD 4-door sedan.

1984 Mazada 626

1991 Ford Taurus

1994 Ford F-150 Pickup

2002 Ford Taurus

2007 Toyota Matrix

Obviously, he has no brand loyalty. The only constant is a sedan of some kind for my mom. (I’ve decided he buys cars the same way he buys fruit… Whatever looks good, smells sweet and is on sale at that particular moment.)

You might think that’s a little weird, but research published by University of Iowa neurologist Antonio Damasio shows that most purchase decisions are almost as random as my dad’s car buying.

Damasio says marketing messages are processed outside the conscious mind. Emotions push us toward decisions we think are best for us, and we often bypass reason because experience endows us with what he calls “somatic markers in the brain.”

Somatic markers are the most likely biological basis for intuition. These pre-recorded behavior guides are based on inherited behavioral traits and formed by experience. When making decisions, somatic markers are triggered, often making reason irrelevant.

So it’s intuition and emotion that drives real life purchasing decisions. Not logic.

As Dr. Dean Shibata put it, “If you eliminate the emotional guiding factors, it’s impossible for people to make decisions in everyday life.”

On the other hand, when people are asked hypothetical questions about purchases, as in a focus group, the brain works on a much different, analytical level.

“Instead of the real reason for buying, researchers get a rationalization based on the respondent’s idealized self-image. If they don’t account for this bias, researchers are left with a model based on how people think they ought to be motivated, rather than their actual motivations.”

So beware of market research that demands a rational explanation for irrational behavior.

And here’s another thing that makes consumer behavior hard to predict… Many times we aren’t “qualitatively conscious” of our motivation. “Consumers have limited knowledge of their own values, needs and motivations that affect purchase decisions,” says Neurologist Richard Restack.

So my Dad probably doesn’t even know why he made that decision to drive home in a Matrix.

The point is, all purchases are emotional purchases.

So the next time you’re throwing together a sales presentation, you might want to spend more time trying evoke an emotional response, and less time building charts and graphs.

Reason certainly does play a vital role in the early stages of many buying decisions. But in the end, the actual purchase is entirely emotional.

Here’s an example from my own, personal experience.

I recently bought a new golf club. I’ve read a lot about the new hybrids, and I decided it was time to replace my 5-wood that was never quite right.

So I did some on-line research, studied the reviews in Golf Digest and formulated a short list of clubs to try.

All very thorough and rational.

Then I went to a demo event at a local golf course to see, feel and try them for myself. I ruled out a few right away on a purely subjective basis… what they looked like or how they sounded.

After an hour or so I had it narrowed down to three top contenders. There was very little difference between the three, that I could see. All things being equal, the brand was the tipping point.

After I went through the whole meticulous process, the somatic markers in my brain kicked in, and said “go for it. Get the Nickent. This is the right fit and a good, safe purchase.”

I didn’t choose the biggest selling brand, but one I perceived as being the more specialized upstart. The underdog with an impressive presence on tour. And the company I most admired from a business perspective.

Not exactly a rational decision, when all was said and done. It had nothing to do with the features they tout.

The point is, people are unpredictable. As marketers, the minute you start thinking you really know your audience’s hot buttons and can predict their behavior, forget about it. They throw you a curveball and go for the Matrix.

1 Garbage In, Garbage Out — How to get effective advertising from your agency.

Took a load to the local dump the other day. As I hucked yard debris and unwanted consumer goods out the back of the truck, I got to thinking about waste in advertising.

There are mountains of it, even in this age of informed metrics and marketing ROI.

As an agency copywriter I spent months — years even — working on poorly defined assignments and campaigns that went nowhere. More often than not, we simply didn’t have anything insightful to go on. It wasn’t a lack of creative juice… we always had lots of good ideas. The problem was lack of direction.

After a few rounds of constructive criticism and outright rejection, we either had to come up with a strategic nugget of our own, or continue throwing conceptual darts, hoping something would stick. Not a good arrangement, for either party.

So here’s some insider’s advice on how to work efficiently with your ad agency. It’s not rocket science. If you want the creative product to be effectively memorable, you’ll need to do your part. Most importantly, you should provide concise strategic input and stay actively involved in the planning phase of the advertising process.

Because it really is a case of garbage in, garbage out. And there’s already too much garbage out there.

yorba_linda_landfillAvoid the landfill with a good Creative Brief.

Every agency has its own version of the Creative Brief. Creative teams rely almost entirely on this document, so the only way you can be sure your ads will be on target is to agree on the strategy mapped out in the brief.

Jon Steele, Account Planner, account planner on “Got Milk,” says a good creative brief should accomplish three things:

“First, it should give the creative team a realistic view of what their advertising needs to, and is likely to, achieve.

Second, it should provide a clear understanding of the people who the advertising must address.

And finally, it needs to give clear direction on the message to which the target audience seems most likely to be susceptible.”

In a nutshell, he says the creative brief “is the bridge between smart strategic thinking and great advertising.”

Unfortunately, smart strategic thinking is often lacking in the small-agency environment. Agencies pay lip service to it, just like they pay lip service to doing “breakthrough creative.” In reality, most small agencies simply don’t think things through very well before the creative teams begin working.

Perfectly natural considering the creative product is their only deliverable. Everyone wants to get to the good stuff, ASAP.

Sergio Zyman, former CMO with Coke-a-Cola, says “ strategies provide the gravitational pull that keeps you from popping off in all different directions.” Likewise, the creative brief is the strategic roadmap that keeps all your agency people — the researchers, creatives, media planners, programmers and AEs — heading in the same direction.

Drafting a truly insightful brief is both a creative and a strategic exercise. Andrew Cracknell, Former Executive Creative Director at Bates UK, says “planners take the first leap in imagination.”

Steele says the brief should not only inform the creative team, but inspire them. Instead of just listing the problems that the creative team will face, a great brief offers solutions. In the case of “Got Milk”, the brief said ditch the “good for you” strategy and focus instead on deprivation… what happens when you’re out of milk. The creative team took it from there.

So if you’re a client, insist on staying involved until the creative brief is absolutely nailed down. Then sign off on it, and set the creative team free, in the right direction.

Then, when they present the creative product, you can judge not on subjective terms, but on one simple objective question: Does it follow the brief in a memorable way?

Don’t overwhelm them with data.

Advertising people don’t look at business like MBAs do. And as a general rule, they hate forms. So don’t expect your creative team to glean much inspiration from sales reports and spread sheets. And don’t assume they understand the fundamental metrics of your industry.

You need to have your elevator pitch and your essential marketing challenges nailed down in layman’s terms. Before you go to an agency or a freelance creative team. As Zyman said, “If you want to establish a clear image in the mind of the consumer, you first have to have a clear image in your own mind.”

Do a presentation for the agency… present your version of the facts, and then engage them in dialog. It’ll force you to focus on strategic thinking and it can generate tremendous team energy. But don’t be surprised if they question your most fundamental assumptions. That’s what they do.

Remember, advertising people are specialists.

Don’t expect your agency team to grasp all the nuances of your business. Even though agencies often claim to immerse themselves in your business, all they really care about are creative forms of communication. “What are we going to say, and how are we going to say it.”

If you want someone who understands balance sheets and stock option restructuring, hire a consulting firm.

It’s unfortunate that so many ads are nothing but garbage. But if you have your act together from a strategic branding standpoint, and stick to the process, a good agency can be a tremendous asset. It’s a classic win-win arrangement: They can win awards, and you can win business.

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1 A lesson on the importance of logos – from summer camp.

Roll up the sleeping bag. Pack the bug spray and the spf 30. It’s time for camp… an annual summer ritual, for parents and kids alike.

Summer-Camps-HomeEvery year, when I part with my kids for two weeks, the memories come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song…

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.

What’s that silly old song have to do with branding?

The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, eentsy part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let any graphic designer tell you differently.

I love great design work. I’ve been collaborating with designers and art directors my entire career, and it’s often fun and rewarding work. But a new mark does not constitute a “branding effort.”

Many design firms and branding companies go to great lengths to deliver a new mark and type treatment. They’ll do research that proves you need a new logo, and they’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution. But that’s as far as it goes. All the other components of branding — the bigger issues — are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. So if you’re a designer designing logos, do your thing. By all means. Just don’t sell it as something more than it really is.

And if you’re a client, don’t kid yourself. That expensive new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

Actions speak louder than logos. It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this? Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

1 A new spin on the Pepsi logo.

The new Pepsi logo is generating hives of buzz in branding and design circles. It’s not surprising… whenever you start messing around with one of the world’s most recognized commercial icons, people are going to talk.

image_pepsi_newcan1But it’s not like grocery carts are piling up in the beverage isle while soccer moms wax eloquent about the new design aesthetic. The general public could care less. Nope, the initial armchair quarterbacking was limited to graphic design forums and beverage industry trade pubs.

“I love it.”

“I hate it.”

“It looks like the Obama logo.”

“It’s not young enough.”

“It’s static, empty and vaguely bland.”

“It’s demonic brainwashing.”

All the usual responses to a major branding makeover. But now, since the “rationale” for the new logo is circulating on the web, the debate has taken on a viral life of its own.

The 27-page design brief entitled “Breathtaking” reads like a scientific white paper loaded with marketingese and unprecedented levels of highly creative BS. In fact, Fast Company Magazine called it branding lunacy…

“Every page of this document is more ridiculous than the last ending with a pseudo-scientific explanation of how Pepsi’s new branding identity will manifest it’s own gravitational pull.”

The L.A. Times was equally critical:

“Behold, then, the scattered and burning debris field of one of corporate America’s most misbegotten image makeovers… According to the brief, the new Pepsi logo lies along a trajectory of human consciousness that includes in its arc the Vastu Shastra, a 3,000-year-old Hindu architectural guide; Pythagoras (the Golden Section); the Roman architect Vitruvius; the Fibonacci series; Descartes; and Corbusier.”

Oooookay.

Get a load of it at: http://drop.io/pepsipdf/asset/pepsi-gravitational-field-pdf

(Kinda reminds me of the rationale used to justify an empty blue rectangle for the Nationwide Insurance Logo. But in this case, the design itself isn’t that bad.)

Maybe the controversy is what the design firm, Arnell, had in mind all along. There’s talk of the whole thing being a hoax, that Arnell created the document after the fact just to poke fun at their critics and generate media attention. If that’s the case, the stunt has backfired, big time.

The brief makes Arnell look like corporate bandits. It makes Pepsi look bad for buying into the rationale. And it discredits the entire branding industry. It’s hard enough to get c-level executives to take branding seriously, without this kind of nonsense floating around.

Great design speaks for itself. You don’t need a physics thesis to explain it. It just works.

My 11 year-old daughter likes the new Pepsi logo. (Says it makes her happy.) And now that I’ve read the exhaustive brief, I know why…

pepsi-happy-facesIt’s a smiley face! An overanalyzed, underwhelming, million dollar smiley face. It even comes in a variety of grin sizes. (Apparently regular ol’ Pepsi gets a smaller grin than the newer versions of Pepsi, like Pepsi Max. Whatever that is.)

Pepsi’s going to spend more than a billion dollars redoing all their packaging, vending machines, trucks, POP materials and everything else. The new logo’s going to be EVERYWHERE!

So I’m kinda glad Arnell changed the old wavy logo into a smiley face. I’m just not sure about their methods.

Subscribe to my rss feed and get an alert everytime I post. Coming up… more on why ad agency execs and designers just can’t shut up when presenting work.

4 The heart of personal branding.

Personal branding is a hot topic these days. Seems a lot of people are rethinking their options, reevaluating their skill sets and reinventing themselves completely.

An advertising executive goes back to school and turns to teaching. A mid-level manager becomes a business owner. An accomplished professional becomes a resort-course caddy. The transitions are dramatic.

Career paths don’t follow the comfortable, upward path of our fathers. They zig and zag all over the place, often rising radically for a period of time, only to plateau, fall, and rise again. It’s the natural order of things, really. Much more natural than the old, corporate model of life-long employment.

re-imaginebkIn “Re-Imagine,” Tom Peters says the average career will encompass two or three “occupations” and a half dozen or more employers. A job for life is being replaced by a gig for now. Instead of working your way up the ladder you have to leap your way across changing terrain.

It’s a free-agent nation and Tom Peters is a good role model.

When Peters wrote his first book he was toiling away in a small, west coast office of the world’s largest consulting firm. His peers didn’t think the project would amount to anything. In fact, they laughed when Peters suggested he keep the royalties on sales over 50,000 copies.

It sold more than six million copies and established Peters as a rock-star among management gurus. Since then, he’s published a dozen books and transformed himself into a multi-million dollar brand. His fee for a keynote speech: $80,000.

Peters has made millions with his speaking engagements, consulting jobs and publishing contracts. He could retire, or rest on his laurels. Instead, he’s reinventing himself yet again as a blogger.

In a recent interview with Seth Godin, Peters said, “No single thing, in the last 15 years, has been more important, professionally, than blogging. It has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it’s changed my emotional outlook, it has changed my life.”

For Peters, blogging is much more than just another marketing tool. It’s a new skill that helps keep him sharp, and his personal brand relevant. I like Peters because he’s a bit of a rebel. He’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, he loves branding, he’s a great communicator, and he appreciates the power of good design. Our brands are strikingly similar.

I used to think if I just kept reinventing myself I’d get it right someday. Obviously, I was missing the point. It’s not the outcome that counts, it’s the process of reinvention that bears fruit. There is no right or wrong in the process of reinvention. As long as you’re learning and growing, it’s all good.

The chapter on branding in “ReImagine” is a must-read… “Branding is not about marketing tricks,” Peters said, “it’s about answering a few simple (and impossible) questions…

Who are you?

Why are you here?

How are you unique?

How can you make a dramatic difference”

Bottom line: “Branding is ultimately about nothing more (and nothing less) than Heart.”

Whether it’s a giant corporation or your own personal brand, if it doesn’t have heart, it’s not going to be a successful brand.

Southwest Airlines has heart, and it’s demonstrated dramatically on every flight.

Bono has heart, and it comes through in his music.

What is the heart of your personal brand, and how can you demonstrate that in your work? That’s the crux of personal branding. If you can define what you’re passionate about and then demonstrate that passion on a regular basis, you’ll have a successful personal brand.

And no matter how many times you reinvent yourself, the heart of your brand will still be tru

7 Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

It was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with an assortment of treats and trinkets. Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial planner.

First gift ever. The crux of most financial planner marketing.

46e19784-00075-06bdb-400cb8e1

Seven-story corporate headquarters of Longaberger's Basket Company, Newark Ohio.

Apparently, the stock market’s spiraling decline inspired her to do a little preemptive marketing.

Like most small, professional service firms, her marketing efforts are inversely related to her current cash flow. When the markets are up and she’s riding high, her marketing expenses are low. She’s too busy — and content— to worry about it. When things are tough, it’s time to turn on the charm. It’s human nature.

Unfortunately, her current clients see the effort for what it is. (Just buttering us up for the bad news to come.) And new prospects aren’t swayed because her personal brand isn’t strong enough to weather the whims of Wall Street.

Her brand has no credibility right now. No differentiation. And little visibility. The only good thing you can say is she didn’t work for WaMu or one of the big investments banks.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing plan for an independent financial advisor.

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

• Christmas card to all clients. (Gift baskets are typically reserved for only the top three or four clients.)

• One-page, off-the shelf website, never to be touched once it’s up.

• Annual guest speaker luncheon. (Bring in a so-called “expert” spokesperson, book a room at a local hotel, cater lunch and then bore us to tears. If I wanted to know all that stuff, I’d do my own trading.)

It’s more of a tactical to-do list than an actual marketing plan. In the past it might have worked. She could get by on her good looks and good news from a bull market.

Not any more.

Compensation for independent financial advisors is typically based either on a flat fee, or on a percentage of the total assets under management (AUM). If it’s $100 million of other people’s money, they typically make 1% of that. A million bucks gross. The problem is, they’ve all seen a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they’re scrambling to find new clients.

Most are just ratcheting-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

It’s pretty simple. Advisors sign up with an independent web directory and they pay only for highly qualified referrals. Very little effort for financial advisors. Very big ROI.

Independent, third-party directories also fill a vital role for consumers: They help simplify the search and match prospects with a financial advisor who fits. It’s a vexing decision, choosing someone to handle your life savings. And most financial advisor web sites have the same, stock-photo look, and the same brochure-style copy.

On-line directories have been done successfully in the education market, travel, real estate, and the auto industry. So why not financial advisors?

When prospects go on line to research “financial advisors” they begin with Google. But Google can’t sort or organize the category in a helpful way. That’s where directories come in… they categorize advisors, provide details on specific services and nudge prospects along in the decision making process. So independent advisors get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization they could never achieve on their own.

In this day and age, having a web presence beyond just a static website is a marketing no-brainer. If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge by writing a blog. Create a Facebook page. Join a social network like Linked In or Triiibes. Establish a presence for you and your personal brand in places where your direct competitors aren’t. Do something, ANYTHING, that’s different from what you’ve always done.

Most professionals who run small service businesses believe networking is enough. But that’s not the case right now for financial advisors. There’s no gift basket big enough for the job ahead. It’s time to start employing some new marketing tactics.

If you want an idea that will dramatically differentiate you from all the other hungry advisors and help you retain clients without the use of lavish gifts, send me an e-mail: johnf@bnbranding.com.

2 Learning from Mad Men: Old-school advice on choosing the right message for your ads.

Life in an advertising agency makes for great TV drama. And sometimes the powerful men of those fictitious agencies can even teach us a thing or two.

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Donald Draper in Mad Men

Take Donald Draper of Mad Men. That character is based on a real-life ad man of the 50’s — Rosser Reeves. As chairman of the Ted Bates Agency, Reeves produced some of the most memorable slogans of all time, like “M&M’s… Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Creatively, Reeves’ TV ads were formulaic and boring. He had a blatant contempt for public intelligence and many of his spots were banal and insulting by today’s standards. But by God, they worked.

If you ever find yourself staring at a blank screen wondering what to say in your next ad, Reeves and/or Draper are not a bad source of inspiration. See, even though the media landscape’s changing faster than you can say “Twitter,” the fundamentals of good message development still hold true — 50 years after Reeves coined the phrase “Unique Selling Proposition.”

He defined the USP as “The quality by which a given product is demonstrably different than all others.” He could look at a product, size up the research, and extrapolate a USP that no client had ever considered. He was an expert at positioning, 30 years before the term was ever invented. Strategically, his work was brilliant.

Here are the rules that Reeves lived by:

• Stick to one idea only. Reeves was adamant about adhering to one simple sales message the viewer could easily absorb. The U.S.P.

Back then, his unique selling propositions really were unique. For Colgate Reeves devised the claim “Cleans your breath as it cleans your teeth.” In reality, every toothpaste does that, but Colgate was the first to make the claim. Reeves hammered that idea home over and over and over again on network television. He never deviated from that message, and it worked.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to a USP, less is more. Your pitch needs to be honed down to seven words or less. Like you’re doing a billboard… You can’t have two or three ideas on a billboard.

images-1• Leverage the drama of television. Back in the 50’s product demonstrations were a required element of almost all television advertising. Reeves understood that, and he used Television quite effectively.

The whole idea of a USP was to be demonstrably different. If it couldn’t be demonstrated for the world to see, it wasn’t a USP.

Takeaway For Today: Don’t just tell people about your product, show them. Take a lesson from Reeves and demonstrate something! Find the drama in your business, and feature that in your ads, on YouTube, or wherever you have an audience.

• Be Relentlessly Repetitive. Back in the Mad Men days, ad agencies got paid on commission. More frequency translated to more revenues, so their media budgets were generous to say the least. They never abandoned a campaign that was working.

Takeaway For Today: With today’s fragmented media environment, it’s harder than ever to get your message across consistently. So its even more important to define your core brand message and stick with it. If you have your value proposition (USP) nailed down, and a campaign that’s working, don’t quit. Milk it for all it’s worth.

• Make your ads sound good. The human ear is an amazing thing. The latest brain research proves what Reeves knew intuitively… that audio mnemonic devices aid recall. He used sound cues and catchy jingles to help people remember the product. His slogans would repeat certain sounds or words, to great effect. Like this: “Only Viceroy gives you 20,000 filter traps in every filter tip to filter, filter, filter your smoke while the rich, rich flavor comes through.” (Bad example, but you get the point.)

Takeaway For Today: Pay close attention to how your spots sound. On TV or on the radio, every syllable should be scripted for its sound quality. Is there anything in that 30 seconds that’s memorable, or does it sound like everything else out there?

• Credibility. At the Ted Bates agency most TV spots featured official looking men in white lab coats demonstrating products and proving product claims. It was authoritative salesmanship. It was science. During that period in American history, it worked.

Takeaway For Today: Credibility is still tremendously important, but now it’s about transparency. People want honest, user-generated reviews and third-party testimonials. Not pseudo-scientists or celebrity spokesmen.

Reeves focused exclusively on product-oriented USPs, like all those filter traps in the Viceroy cigarettes. But these days, we usually have to dig a little deeper to find a pitch that resonates with people.

Case in point… When Goodby, Silverstein started working on the California Milk account, they learned that the health benefits of milk didn’t resonate with anyone. Just because healthiness is a benefit of milk, doesn’t mean it’s THE benefit to put in your ads. “Milk. It does a body good” simply wasn’t doing much good for milk sales.

Instead of focusing on what happens when you drink milk, the account planners at Goodby decided to take the opposite approach and focus on what life would be like without milk. Much more provocative.

This insight was based on two universal truths revealed in the research. One, that milk is hardly ever consumed on it’s own. It’s always milk and cookies, or milk and something. And two, that everyone has opened the fridge at least once only to find the milk carton empty. So the idea was this: Stay stocked up on milk, or else!

No other organization was taking this approach, and the creative teams at Goodby did a superb job of executing the seemingly negative idea in fun, memorable ways. “Got Milk” will certainly go down in advertising history as one of the all time great campaigns.

Takeaway For Today: When it comes to your advertising messages, don’t settle for the obvious. You can’t just take your sales presentation and put it in a 30-second radio spot. You have to dig deeper than that. You have to step out of the bottle and approach it from an entirely different perspective. You have to take time to sift through all the trivial little details that come up in focus groups and sales meetings and hone in on one resonant truth.

One main benefit. One compelling message. One thing you can — and should — hang your hat on. The Donald Draper, Rosser Reeves USP.

Once that’s done you have to find a way to communicate the USP more creatively than Reeves ever could.

2 Now, more than ever, you need to quit running those recession ads.

I pay attention to ads. When I read the morning paper or one of my favorite magazines, I notice who’s running what and I thoroughly study the ads that catch my eye. For better or worse. Lately, a lot of headlines lead with the preamble: “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need this new Ford.
Now, more than ever, you need to put your money in a little, local credit union.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a vacation to warm, relaxing 5-star resort.
Now, more than ever, you need to support your local non-profit.
Now, more than ever, you need this coupon for pest control services.

Arghhhhhhh! What do carpenter ants and termites have to do with economics? Do pests eat more wood when times are tough, or do they diet? I just don’t get the connection.

Seriously. Why do so many companies want to remind us of the recession? Why would anyone want to associate their brand with lawbreaking bankers, government bail-outs and the desperate plight of laid-off workers?
It’s just not a good idea. Everyone knows about the economy, so don’t waste your ad space on the topic. Do us all a favor and delete all copy that reads like this…

“We know that times are tough right now, but”…

Not long ago I saw a full-page newspaper ad for a small local bank (that shall remain anonymous.) They used the “open letter to the community” approach. Put the bank president’s sorry-looking mug shot in the ad too.

Wow. What do you think the 10-second take-away was from that ill-conceived effort? More bad news about the economy. Local bank in dire straights. Another shady banking executive trying to sell us a bill of goods.

Nothing good can come from that knee-jerk approach to advertising. The minute you start letting circumstances beyond your control dictate your marketing messages, you’re in trouble.

Instead, stick to the message that you had developed before the bottom dropped out. If it was working then, it’ll work now. If you feel compelled to add a discount offer of some kind, fine. Do it tactfully. Don’t dwell on your motivation behind it. Don’t remind a guy that he just got laid off, and then ask him to shell out for a new pick-up truck, no matter how good the terms may be.
There was another full-page banking ad not long ago that featured a scary-looking photo of a dead tree and its root system…. “Now more than ever, you need a bank with long-standing roots in the community.”

Sometimes the best advertising strategy is to just shut up.

One company that has leveraged the economy in a reasonable way is the Korean car maker, Hyundai. Hyundai didn’t abandon their core message, they added to it.

The Hyundai Assurance program is a sincere and substantially different offer that no serious car buyer can ignore… if you lose your income, they’ll make your car payments for 3 months. Hyundai can pull it off because it fits with their brand. They’re the underdog. They have momentum right now. They can do stuff like that.

If GM tried the same thing, it’d be a disaster.

One other ad that’s worth mentioning… a small-space ad that said, simply: Now What? Great headline, and relevant question for a financial planning firm.

So now, more than ever, think twice before you start running ads that are reminders of our current misfortune.

1 Just a little trim around the ears — How to cut your marketing budget without hurting your brand image.

By John Furgurson

When it comes to belt tightening, most marketing managers have it all wrong. At the first sign of an economic downturn they go to the list of tactics and start trimming off the bottom of the spread sheet. Or worse yet, they go for a military-style buzz cut and just chop it all off.

images4First thing to go is ”image” advertising”… anything that doesn’t have a coupon or a response vehicle of some kind is out the window. Brand building, it seems, can wait for better days.

Next is community support… those feel-good event sponsorships that help non-profit organizations but don’t return any discernable ROI. (It’s too easy to say no to those poor beggars.)

Website upgrades are also on the chopping block. As long as the site still comes up when you type in that URL, it’s all good. Right???

Wrong. The website should probably be the most sacred of all cows, but that’s another story.

What’s needed is a more strategic approach to cost cutting. You need more than just the bosses’ orders to “cut 20%, but don’t touch this, and don’t cut that.” You need to eliminate dangerous assumptions from the process and work with objective criteria of some sort.

Here’s an idea… why not start with the message?

In my experience, it’s often the message, not the medium, that’s the problem. Print ads say one thing, the web site says another. Sales presentations go off in one direction, while promotions head somewhere else. Radio commercials, new media, good old-fashioned direct mail… it’s all scattered around with no coherent theme.

So before you do any budget cutting, use the opportunity to think about what you’re saying. Reevaluate every marketing message and every “touch point” in terms of consistency, clarity and brand worthiness.

Then scalp all the wild hairs. If you can just quit saying the wrong thing, you’ll save a ton of money.

Most marketing managers assume the budget was allocated in a logical manner to begin with. But that’s simply not the case. Most marketing budgets are handed down, year after year, and are based simply on “how we’ve always done it.” No one ever questions the underlying assumptions.

It’s also easy to neglect the messaging process. In my Feb. ?/ post I wrote about an ad for Wales. A classic case of saying the wrong thing. As one British reader commented… “Golf Wales is an oxymoron.” Even if you accept the strategy of selling Wales as a golf destination, the message was all wrong, so cutting that ad is probably the smartest thing they could do.

The fact is, Wales probably needs a lot more than just a quick trim. They need to rethink the entire hairdo. But who’s going to do that?

Any decent marketing person can choose tactics that will drive traffic and buy media that will reach the desired target audience. But revamping the strategy and nailing down that core brand message is something else entirely. Strategy and message development are the hardest parts of the job, and unfortunately, many marketing managers aren’t up to the task. And even if they were, many bosses wouldn’t listen.

A well-crafted, comprehensive brand strategy book eliminates that problem and makes cost cutting a lot more logical. It’s like a brand bible that provides guidance and inspiration on every decision. So when push comes to shove, there’s no doubt about what should stay, and what should go.

That’s what my firm does… We help clients flesh-out their brand story and we put the strategy down on paper. Once it’s sold internally — and all the department heads are on the same page — then we help execute on it.

And by keeping that brand book close at hand, our clients eliminate waste and save money, without sacrificing their hard-earned brand image.