Tag Archives for " ADVERTISING "

1 Bad puns, bribes and other branding blunders

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands recently revealed some reasons why advertising is so hard to do well. I won’t give them away, but I will share 4 common advertising errors that should be avoided.

4 common advertising errors But first, consider this… Advertising is hard for the corporate brand manager who has big ad agencies, market research firms, and millions of dollars at her disposal. It’s hard for the mid-level marketing manager who knows his consumer, his market and his sales pitch, really, really well.

Advertising is even hard for the hottest advertising agencies. They don’t always hit home runs.

So why do so many CFO’s, CEOs, sales guys, engineers and accountants think it’s easy? Why do they take it upon themselves to write headlines, choose photos, and dictate the direction of print ads, commercials and digital campaigns? This DIY mentality is rampant in small and medium-sized businesses.

C’mon.

Please, if you’re responsible for your company’s advertising — and ultimately, the perception of your brand — delegate the advertising to a pro. Not to the intern who’s doing social media posts.

Effective leaders know when to quit and how to delegate. They recognize their own limitations and they hire well-qualified employees and agency partners to fill in the gaps. I guarantee you, the leaders who attract great talent and build sustainable brands are not doing their own advertising.

Micromanagers repel talent. And when they try to do their own advertising, their brands repel customers.

Robertson says the best brand managers do two things: They keep great advertising on the air, and they keep bad ads off. So if you’re in charge, if nothing else, avoid these 4 common advertising errors at all costs:

1. Bad Puns

When the experts sit down to devise concepts for a new ad campaign, puns always come up. It’s a natural part of the creative process. Luckily, most copywriters have enough common sense to throw out the bad puns with all the other quickly conjured ideas.

4 common advertising errorsUnfortunately, those who should NOT be doing the ads — bosses, accountants, engineers and spouses — sometimes force puns upon us.

For instance, zoos have a lot of material for puns and adolescent humor. Otters, lemurs and baboons are just begging to end up in meme hell. “Come and visit our new ‘otter’ space.” (Sorry. See how quickly that can go south.)

Even banks have digressed into the land of punishing puns. Like this ridiculous one for Washington Mutual, when it was still in business:

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank.

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank

Puns are the low hanging fruit of advertising ideas, and should be picked quickly and spit out. Into the trash. A good writer will turn a phrase, craft the line, and have fun with some words, but he won’t give in to the temptation of puns.

I get paid to tell clients what’s on brand, and what’s off brand. I’ve yet to encounter a company where a bad pun would be on brand.

2. False and misleading claims.

This one should go without saying, and yet I recently read that a local car dealer got fined $28,000 for false advertising. Bait and switch is not a good branding strategy.

I’ve also seen this happen in the natural foods industry… there are still a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who want to make outlandish, unprovable claims about the healthiness of their products. Don’t do it. Let your tribe of like-minded, health-conscious adult customers come to their own conclusions. A talented team of advertising pros can find truth in just about any product or service. If they can’t, you better find a different agency.

3. Bribery.

A lot of companies these days want to provide discounts, promos and “incentives.” These come in many forms, from deal-of-the-week online coupons to Facebook promotions and new client referral deals.

Unfortunately, “offers” like that are like the crack cocaine of marketing. People get hooked. They’re not loyal, long-term customers, they’re just deal junkies looking for a fix. Next week they’ll be off buying from someone else with a better offer. It’s not a good, long-term strategy unless your prices substantially lower than your competitors. Are you out to build a “value” brand in your category? If so, go right ahead! Run discounts, sales and incentive programs all day long. Attract as many of those deal junkies as you can and be prepared to continuously court a whole new crew of customers.

If not, you better spend time devising a new value proposition. You need better reasons to buy than just price.

Bend Oregon ad agency blog post

Talking about yourself

Delete the words “we” “me” “ours” “I” and “my” from all your marketing communications. If you’re talking about yourself, listeners will tune you out faster than you can say “next station.”

Your insider information does not translate to relevance for the consumer. And cliches like “our friendly courteous staff…” will do absolutely nothing for your bottom line.

All the consumer cares about is “what’s in it for me?” So if you want to get through to customers and make sales, talk about them. Not about you, or your family, or your company, or your company’s processes.

I saw an awful commercial recently for a local golf course (The high-falutin’ kind that charges $85 bucks a round but isn’t as good as the local municipal course.) It was nothing but a family portrait of the pro/owner and his not-so-cute family. “Hey, look at us!”

The spot was based on the ridiculous assumption that “family owned” counts for something among golfers. To me it just means that guy and his family are getting rich by overcharging for a mediocre round of golf.

Talk about flushing money down the drain. Not only will that claim NOT attract golfers, the message will actually REPEL prospects and encourage them to call the neighboring golf course where there aren’t any little rug rats running around.

I guarantee you, that was a do-it-yourself ad. (I think he committed three out of the 4 advertising errors.) He might as well just give his hand his competitor the money he spent on that commercial.

For more on how to do better advertising, try THIS post.

If you want advertising that’s well thought out, and well executed, 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.”

2 What you can learn from the Olympics. (Branding and the Olympic Rings.)

I’m a big fan of the winter Olympics. I got hooked as a boy when Franz Klammer made his infamous, gold medal downhill run at the Innsbruck Games, and I’ve been watching ever since. I’ve even watched some of the curling competition and ice dancing (yikes).

Franz Klammer on the edge of disaster.

 

 

 

 

The summer games are fun too, but they don’t have the thrill-factor of the winter games. Crews rowing in a straight line just isn’t as exciting to watch as downhill skiing. And a diver doing a twisting three-and-a-half into a pool just isn’t as edgy as a guy on skis doing a triple flip with five twists. But the Games are always inspiring, and for marketers, there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics. It’s one of the greatest branding case studies of all time.

Every two years there’s a massive new event to be planned, a venue to be marketed and a sub-brand to be designed. The Olympic rings are the enduring anchor.

In 2010 the Vancouver Games started on a sad note, with the death of a luge competitor. There have been other unfortunate mishaps in the Olympics over the years… Terrorism in Munich in 1972. The Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles games in 1984. The Tanya Harding thing in 92. A bomb explosion in Atlanta in 1996. But every time the games suffer a set-back, the Olympic brand bounces back stronger than ever. The brand is perched on such a high pedestal around the world, it’s almost bullet proof.

Here’s an example: In 1995, the IOC awarded Salt Lake City the Winter Games for 2002. As it turned out, the decision was fixed. IOC members had taken millions of dollars in bribe money. As a result, the top leaders of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee resigned. Ten members of the IOC were expelled and 10 more were sanctioned.

But the Olympics rose above the fray. By the time the Salt Lake Games commenced, the scandal was all but forgotten. Organizers actually raised the price of corporate sponsorships 30 percent.

In the last 20 years the price tag for an Olympic sponsorship has risen dramatically. NBC paid $775 million for the Sochi games alone, $4.38 Billion for the Olympic broadcast rights through 2020.

The summer games in Rio boasted more than 1,500 hours of coverage across six NBCUniversal platforms (NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBC Olympics.com) and more than 1,000 hours of live streaming coverage. Visa paid $65 million dollars just for the privilege of associating their brand with the Olympic rings for four years.

 what you can learn from the Olympics brandingNo other sporting event commands that kind of attention in the corporate marketing world. You could argue it’s the most desirable brand affiliation on earth. Companies are clamoring to hang their hats on those Olympic Rings.

Why? Because the Olympic brand represents something that goes way beyond athletic competition. It’s the intangible “spirit of the games” that makes it riveting for the audience, and desirable to the corporate world.

Every Olympic Games is filled with real-life stories of triumph and tragedy. Every night for two weeks there are new characters, new story lines, new scenic backdrops, new drama. It’s heroes and underdogs, great feats of strength and stamina juxtaposed with delicate dance moves and tears of joy.

As the San Jose Mercury News put it, “it’s the ultimate reality show.” And we eat it up. It’s human nature. It’s a two-week event, every other year, that has all the components of great brands:

wbWINTERluge_wideweb__470x325,0• The Olympics are authentic and unscripted.

At the Olympics you find ordinary people pursuing their favorite sports, not for the hundred million-dollar endorsement deals, but for the pure sense of personal accomplishment. Especially in the winter games. (Even in Canada there can’t be much money in curling.) There are track athletes who switch to Bobsled in the winter, just to have a chance at achieving their dream of competing in the Olympics.

The authenticity is obvious in post-event interviews… The athletes are less rehearsed and obviously passionate about their sports, and about the Olympics. You don’t get those canned, banal responses like you do in the NBA. For instance, Lindsey Vonn was riveting after her win in Vancouver. And Ashton Eaton, after his follow-up win in the Decathalon.

And when it comes to PR damage control, the IOC has handles things pretty well. When Olympic officials went on TV to face questions about the luge incident in Vancouver, the tears were genuinely heartwrenching. No spin whatsoever.

Corporate America could learn a thing or two.

• The Olympics are dramatically different.

Most notably, the Olympics are less commercial than other mega-events like the Superbowl or the soccer World Cup.

There’s no on-field branding allowed in the Olympics. Even though they paid $65 million, you’ll never see a giant VISA banner hung behind the medals stand or along the boards in the figure skating arena. And the athletes aren’t plastered with logos, ala-Nascar.

At The Games, the Olympic brand always takes precedent over any other type of branding, personal or corporate. So even when you have NHL and NBA stars competing in the Olympics, it’s not about them or their sponsors. It’s about The Games.

Ashton Eaton on the brand insight blog bend oregonThe competitors even take an oath. They swear to uphold the tenets of the Olympic Charter and willingly pee in a cup after every event. They are required to put their own, personal gains aside for two weeks and compete for their countries “in the spirit of friendship and fair play.”

It may seem a little cheesy, a little old fashioned, but that’s a central element of the Olympic brand. It’s still relatively pure.

• The Olympics have remained relevant for more than 100 years.

The characters change and individual events evolve, but at The Olympics the narrative remain consistent: Lifelong dreams of glory. National pride. Individual triumph of the underdog.

With the fragmentation of TV viewing, live sporting events are becoming more and more important to the networks. And there’s something uniquely compelling about obscure sports that you’ve never tried, and that you only see during the Olympics…

Ski as fast as you can — cross country— then stop, drop and shoot. Plunge head first down an icy, serpentine track on a “Skeleton” sled, at 70 miles per hour. This isn’t Little League or typical, suburban soccer mom stuff.

For people who never ski it’s hard to appreciate the technical nuances of traditional, alpine ski racing. Same can be said for the skating events… The general public has no concept of the difficulty and physical demands of a 4-minute figure skating program. It looks too easy. Even though most people can’t relate, they still watch.

The Vancouver Olympics drew massive television audiences, even beating out American Idol in the Neilson ratings. Almost 35 million Americans tuned in to the last part of the gold medal hockey game. And in Canada, 80% of the population watched at least part of that game.

And hockey wasn’t the only big draw. Overall ratings of the Vancouver Games in the U.S. were up 25 percent over the 2006 games in Torino. That year, snowboarding, skier-cross and short track speed skating helped bring in record audiences among the 12 to 24 year-old demographic. In the Sochi games they added even more events designed to appeal to the younger demographic, including a half pipe competition for skiers and snowboarders as well as women’s ski jumping. In 2018 they’re adding the big air competition, which competes directly with the XGames.

• The brand is way more than a mark.

Five, multi-colored, interlocking rings. That’s the official mark of the games that dates back to 1920. As the Olympic Charter states, the rings “represent the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.”

That’s the literal interpretation of the Olympic logo. But it goes much deeper than that.

You’ll often hear brand managers and consultants talking about “core brand values” and the underlying meaning of great brands. Well, the Olympic Brand means much more than just medal counts and TV ratings. It’s not just winners and losers. It’s national pride and the triumph of the human spirit.

What you can learn from the Olympics is to define your own narrative and then stick with it.

When you watch the Olympics and get sucked into the story lines, you’ll see what I mean. In this age of Red Bull events and the XGames, maybe the Winter Games aren’t as relevant as they once were. But we’ll see. I’m betting that it will continue to inspire audiences. Just as I was enthralled with Franz Klammer, a whole new generation will be inspired by the latest Olympic athletes.

 

For more marketing lessons on brand credibility, try this post on the Brand Insight Blog.

 

 

2 branding blog by BNBranding in Bend Oregon

Paralysis by analysis (How fear and data can kill great marketing)

Everyone’s talking about “big data” and how data-driven marketing is the new wave. There’s no doubt, big companies have more data to work with than ever before. And that data often contributes to successful marketing initiatives.

But it can also be a drag. Here’s an analogy:

Branding firm in Bend Oregon blog postIn golf, over-analysis never produces good results. If you’re thinking too much about the mechanics of your swing, rethinking the last shot, regripping the club and worrying about the position of the left pinky at the moment of impact — you’re going to fail. (Ever seen Charles Barkley swing a club?)

Same thing happens in marketing departments and small businesses. People get stuck in a rut of over-analysis. They think things to death and worry about all the wrong details. When they finally pull the trigger on something, it doesn’t meet expectations because, perhaps, it was micro-managed. Which, of course, makes it even harder to pull the trigger the next time.

Blame it on fear. Fear, ego and insecurity. Most marketing managers are not operating in corporate cultures that encourage frequent failure. Just the opposite. So they’d rather do nothing than launch a campaign or initiative that might not produce stellar results.

Instead, they bide their time by gathering data, analyzing the situation, planning, second guessing things and making up excuses. “Well, as soon as we know exactly what the break down is of last quarters numbers and compare those to the previous fiscal year we’ll really know where we’re going. We can’t do anything till then.”

Continued analysis is just a form of procrastination. And procrastination is just fear and insecurity talking.

In small businesses you can’t get away with that for long. And there are times, even in a corporate environment, when you have to trust your gut and “Just Do It.”

Branding blog on data-driven marketing from BNBranding in Bend Oregon When Nike launched the famous “Just Do It” campaign in 1988, they had no market research data whatsoever. In fact, the top managers at Nike were absolutely anti-research. So the brief given to the advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy was pretty simple:

“We should be proud of our heritage, but we have to grow this brand beyond its purist core. We have to stop talking to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point.”

Widen it they did! In “A New Brand World, Scott Bedbury said, “The unique brand positioning of “Just Do It” simultaneously helped us widen and unify a brand that could have easily become fragmented. The more we pushed the dynamic range of the Just Do It commercials the stronger the brand positioning became.”

“Just Do It” will go down in history as one of the most successful and memorable slogans of all time. It cemented Nike’s #1 position in a massive market and became the cultural soundbite of an entire generation of wanna be athletes and weekend warriors.

And they did it without “big data.” No one would have called it a data-driven marketing initiative.

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to jump-starting the creative process there’s nothing better than a veteran account planner with good research and a brilliant creative brief. But let’s face it, that scenario oData-driven marketing management fear of failurenly applies to one-tenth of one percent of all marketing efforts. Only the biggest brands with big ad agencies can afford that luxury.

Most business owners are only dealing with little bits of data, pieced together from various sources like Survey Monkey, sales meetings and customer comment cards. If they’re operating from a place of fear and insecurity, this piecemeal data is not enough to go on. They’ll always need more. Always hedge their bets saying “we don’t have enough information to go on.”

At some point, they just have to move forward, regardless.

And here’s another type of “data” that constantly sabotages progress: Institutional memory. Managers who have worked somewhere for a long time often say ” we don’t do it that way.” Or “this is how we’ve always done it.”

And how’s that working out?

Insecure marketing managers are often the ones who know, deep down, that they’ve been promoted beyond their level of competence. They’re afraid of being found out, and that fear affects everything they do.

data-driven marketing on the Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingThey fill their teams with sub-par talent in order to elevate their own status. They find their way onto teams that are led by other grade C executives, rather than A-grade players. They squelch initiative and kill great ideas at the drop of a hat. Avoid these people at all costs!

To the insecure over-analyzers I say this: Pull your head out of the data and Just Do It!

The best way to gather more data is to get something done. Then look at the results. At least your missteps and blind alleys can lead to insight about where NOT to go next.

If you do nothing you have nothing to go on. No new data.

One of my favorite sayings applies here: “Action is the antidote for despair.” If you’re stuck, do something besides more analysis and more stewing. Take action and keep in mind, failure is, ultimately, the key to success.

Creative types— the writers, art directors and designers who execute great ad campaigns — know this intuitively. Getting shot down comes with the territory, and we always have five more good ideas ready to roll. If only the client would just let go and pull the trigger.

So by all means… gather as much data as you can. Use all the information at your disposal to gleen some insight that will, hopefully, inform your marketing efforts. But don’t expect data- driven marketing to be the panacea. What’s much more important than big data is a big idea.

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

 

1 Marketing lessons from the not-so-surprising failure of Sears

Marketing lessons from Sears on the Brand Insight Blog from BNBrandingThe Sears store in my hometown recently closed its doors. Shut down after a 60 year presence in the market.

Can’t say I’m too broken up about it either. I bought a few tools there, once upon a time. And an appliance or two, but I certainly wouldn’t say I had any fond memories of the place, much less brand allegiance.

The recent demise of Sears, once the country’s largest retailer, is replete with valuable marketing lessons for business owners, entrepreneurs, marketing execs and brand managers. It’s a classic American entrepreneurial tale.

Sears dates all the way back to 1886 when Richard Sears started selling watches to his coworkers at the railroad. Alvah Roebuck was his watchmaker, and in 1893 the name Sears Roebuck & Co. was incorporated.

marketing lessons from Sears and BNBranding in Bend OregonThey grew the business rapidly by selling all sorts of merchandise through the mail at a price that undercut the local mercantile. The offerings were broad — everything from a Stradivarious violin to patent medicines and do-it-yourself houses — but the target market was narrowly defined: small towns where the general mercantile was the only real competition. Western settlers used the Sears catalog for everything under the sun.

It was wildly successful niche marketing, for awhile.marketing lessons from sears on the Brand Insight Blog by John Furgurson

Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago.Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.

By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.

Over the next 50 years Sears became a multi-national retail empire, with 2200 stores and the world’s tallest building as its corporate headquarters. The company obviously did a lot of things right over the years.

For instance, Forbes Magazine reported that “Sears successfully developed some of the strongest and most famous private-label brands in history, in any channel, in the U.S. Those brands include Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances, Diehard batteries, Weatherbeater paint, and Roadhandler tires.

Marketing lessons from Craftsman on the brand insight blog

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

Those are great names, and the success of those product lines is textbook branding. Someone at Sears was well advised to resist the line extension trap and NOT put the Sears name on a car battery or a paint can.

Some Wall Street insiders believe it’s those proprietary brands that could save Sears from its current “slow motion liquidation.” In fact, there have been rumors that Sears will begin selling some of those brands through other retailers, including Costco. Maybe there’s a future for Sears as a wholesaler???

Sears is a good example of how success often leads to temptation and complacency. Temptation to expand and diversify into other businesses and complacency when it comes to the core of the brand. (I’m not sure anyone in the last 30 years could even define the core of the Sears brand. They were all over the place!)

Sears got into the insurance business with AllState, the financial services business by buying Dean Witter Reynolds, the real estate business with the purchase of Coldwell Banker and even the credit card business, with the launch of the Discover Card.

In the meantime, they missed an opportunity to dominate the direct marketing business, they neglected their retail stores, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular private label brands languish.

So much for a clearly defined Sears niche.

For 20 years Sears has been trying to re-position itself as a competitor to Macy’s, JCPenny, Kohl’s and Target. Remember the slogan, “The softer side of Sears?” That was an ill-fated attempt to sell clothing. Now they have the Kardashian Collection. Yikes!

Marketing lessons from The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

The Kardashian Collection. Does this look like Sears to you?

Forbes magazine reported: “Sears is relying mainly on inauthentic celebrity exclusives (does anyone really believe that Kim Kardashian would actually shop at Sears?) to attract younger, fashion-conscious consumers, and it is clear that Sears has lost its way.”

As Laura Ries put it, “When faced with a broadening of its category, Sears should have narrowed its focus and become a specialist. Instead of shifting to the “softer side of Sears,” the retailer should have further embraced its harder side.”

The department store niche is not the answer to Sears’ problems. Walmart has taken both the price and one-stop shopping advantage. Target is positioned as the aspirational trendy choice. Home Depot is the place to go for home improvement. Amazon has the online convenience advantage. Best Buy dominates in electronics. Lowes is succeeding with appliances. There’s just no room for a general purpose department store that’s trying to be all things to all people.

Even if there wasn’t all that competition, you’d still never convince people that Sears is a good place to buy clothing. That was never going to fly!

Sears Brand car battery

Not sure what can jump start Sears at this point.

It will be very interesting to see what becomes of the company now that it’s merged with Kmart and owned by infamous hedge fund manager Eddie Lampbert. The stock has lost half its value. They’re closing 120 stores this year. And there doesn’t seem to be a plan in place to revive it.

The company’s latest hail-mary strategy is “a free social shopping destination and loyalty rewards program called “Shop Your Way.” (Note to management: A loyalty program’s probably not going to work too well in all these towns where the stores have been shuttered.)

Even the most beloved retail chains have a hard time with loyalty programs. A recent study by McKinsey & Co. found that despite their general growth and popularity, loyalty programs actually erode margins and destroy value for their owners. Companies with them grew no faster than — and sometimes slower than — those without loyalty programs.

The latest update on the Sears saga has Lampbert borrowing a page from Donald Trump’s playbook, blaming irresponsible media coverage for Sears’ troubles.

According to the Business News, Sears has not shown a profit in the last six years. And talk about spin… Lampbert went so far as to liken that performance to Amazon’s early years.

That’s delusional leadership.

Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up the best: “If the hedge-fund mogul knew how to fix Sears, he’d have done it by now.”

There are only two things the company has going for it: massive real estate holdings, and some great brands NOT named Sears.

 

For more marketing lessons and insight on marketing leadership, try this post.

 

1 Fake Thrills — Another Automotive Marketing Misfire.

Automotive advertising, as a category, is notoriously bad. And the Toyota Camry is not an exciting car. In fact, some automotive writers contend that Toyota’s building nothing but toasters these days. Despite that, the Camry has been hugely successful and has been the best-selling car in America 15 of the past 16 years. (Camry was No. 1 from 1997 to 2000, lost to the Honda Accord in 2001, and has reigned since then.)

Apparently, there’s a huge segment of the driving population that does not care about horsepower or handling or sexiness. Just reliable, utilitarian, point-A to point-B transportation for this crowd. My father drives one, and he fits the demographic perfectly… white, suburban 80-year old male who only drives a few miles a month. The last thing he’s looking for in a car is a thrill ride.

7165c3f5dc0c28a95fd2723b16f34ec0And yet here comes an ad campaign for the Camry, titled “Thrill Ride.”

I was enamored with the TV commercial at first. What a great idea… a car as a high-speed turbulent thrill ride captured in a reality-TV format. All they have to do is build a super rad roller coaster style track and then race the car up and down the hills, around the high-G turns, and into consumer’s hearts.

Then I realized it’s a Camry commercial.

Classic case of a great advertising idea executed poorly for the wrong brand. Once again, we have an automotive brand trying to be something it’s not.

The whole idea is misaligned with the Camry brand. “Thrill Ride” is not the least bit authentic, nor is it relevant to the people who might really be interested in a Camry. (They might have fond memories of ancient, wooden roller coasters, but they don’t want to ride on one.)

And what’s worse, the spot doesn’t even deliver on its ill-advised promise of being thrilling.

The so-called “thrill course” features one little hill, a banked turn, and a tunnel. There are relatively young, hip people riding shotgun as the Camry inches its way around the course. It’s a reality TV on Geritol.

I can understand why the Brand Managers at Toyota would want to appeal to a younger audience. And I can even go along with the premise of being a little bit more fun. But why do it in a way that’s utterly fake and out of context?

Why leap all the way to “thrilling?” Consumers are too smart for that. As one YouTube viewer wrote, “So you’re basically saying that the only way your Camry will be exciting is to drive it on some mock roller coaster course.”

Why couldn’t they advertise the car’s popularity and reliability and resell value, but in a fun way?

“Among the boring sedans targeting people over 50, the Camry is the MOST FUN!” That, I could buy. But there’s no way Toyota will every convince people that the Camry is thrilling. They could launch one into space and parachute it back to earth, RedBull style, and it’d still be a boring brand.

But in this case, boring is good. People eat it up! Why are they trying to be something else? There are plenty of thrilling cars already on the market that don’t sell nearly as well as the Camry.

Bloomberg News reports that in 2014 the era of Camry dominance could run out. There’s a lot of competition in the midsize sedan segment from Kia, Honda, Huyndai and the Ford Fusion. Perhaps the Camry spot was a knee-jerk reaction to the Fusion, with Toyota execs saying, “we gotta be cooler and appeal to a younger target audience like they have.”

Good luck with that.

Assuming you built a thrill course worth its salt, the spot would work brilliantly for BMW’s Mini brand. The Mini is a car that runs on rails, delivers thrills and is genuinely fun in every way. The analogy works.

With the Camry it falls on deaf ears.

At the end of the commercial one of the actors says, “like maybe I’ll look at a Camry differently.” That sounds like a line stolen right from the creative brief under the header “objective.” I seriously doubt this spot will do it.

Camry commercial

And more importantly, why would Toyota want people to look at the Camry differently??? Seems to me, looking at it as the #1 selling car in the country with outstanding resell value and a super-high reliability rating would be plenty.

So here’s some advise for brand managers and business owners… if you’re lucky enough to have the best-selling brand in your category, don’t pretend to be something else. Don’t lighten your offering in order to appeal to a seemingly broader audience. Stick to your core. Resist the temptation to leverage your brand it into some other line of work.

For example, if you’re Guinness Stout you don’t start advertising an American-style lager.

If you’re Harley Davidson you don’t start advertising a new line of lightweight motocross bikes.

If you have the best selling sedan in the country that happens to be a bit vanilla, don’t try selling yourself as a spicy hot sporty sedan. You’re wasting your breath.

 

1 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

The ABCs of Branding: RCD

Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. These are branding fundamentals. When you look at companies — large and small — that have become successful brands, you’ll notice strength, consistency and often superiority in those three areas.

Branding Fundamental #1: Relevance.

Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone. My friend Preston Thompson painstakingly crafts high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound.

Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar. Duh! But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.

Wisely, Preston and his team don’t worry about that. The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and trying to be relevant to a broad audience of musicians, they’re staying esoterically focused. Relevant to few, but highly valued.

The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most.

Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target. Ten years ago Blackberry was a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.

Relevance in the restaurant business is also ridiculously fleeting. Foodies, who are the bread and butter of the trendy restaurant scene, suffer from a severe case of “been there done that” syndrome. So when something new comes along, they’re gone and the hottest restaurant of the year gets quickly supplanted by the next great thing. The restaurants that thrive in the long run find an audience after the foodies have left the building.

Sears is still relevant to a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years. It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of commerce. High school age girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.

branding fundamentals too many choices of beveragesSometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives. It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, or Kool Aid in the summer.

The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance. It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?

Being relevant equates to being meaningful. If your brand is meaningful, you’ll generate interest. People will desire it. And they’ll take action. That’s what you want: Interest. Desire. Action.

Many brands fail because they didn’t really mean anything to begin with. Others lose their meaning over time, often due to a lack of credibility. They haven’t mastered the branding fundamentals.

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down.

It’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)

Good sales people often gloss over the realities of delivery in order to get the sale. Like the famous line from an old FedEx ad… “We can do that. Sure, we can do that! (How we gonna do that?”) Every time you over-promise and come up short, your credibility takes a hit.

Instead, set realistic expectations. And if things do go wrong, don’t be afraid to say, “yeah, we really screwed up.” And do it quickly! In this world of social media you have to move fast to stay ahead of any bad news.

So let’s assume that you know yourself well and you’ve established a trusted brand. The easiest way to screw it up is to advertise something you’re NOT. Like a personal injury lawyer claiming to be friendly and honest.

And if you really want to compound the problem, try using a celebrity of questionable credibility. That’s a double whammy! Every brand affiliation reflects on your credibility.

Often what you’ll see is advertising based on wishful thinking rather than brand realities or customer insight. The ego of the business owner clouds the message that gets out and harms the credibility of the company. Ego is also a common culprit when it comes to differentiation… CEOs and business owners start thinking they can do anything.

Branding Fundamental #3: Differentiation.

The best brands take the conventional thinking of their industry and throw it on its ear, disrupting everything that came before. They discard the age-old excuse; “Yeah, but we’ve always done it this way.”

You cannot differentiate your brand by watching the rear-view mirror or by following the lead of others in your industry. Instead, try the convention-disruption model… Think about the standard operating procedures and practices of your industry – the conventional approach – and do something else.

There are three key areas where differentiation can produce some dramatic business gains:

branding fundamentals product differentiation
Product/Service Differentiation

The best marketing programs begin with products designed to be different from the get-go. There are plenty of ice cream brands out there, but only one with the crazy, mixed-up flavors of “Late Night Snack.” Ben & Jerry’s continually differentiates itself with its creativity in the flavor department.

Operational Differentiation

If you have me-too products you can still differentiate yourself through operational innovation. Be more efficient, more employee-friendly, more environmentally conscious, whatever. For Walmart procurement and supply chain management was the differentiator. That’s what enables them to keep prices so low.

Business Model Differentiation

This is a good option that applies mostly to start-ups. If you can find a better business model, and prove that it works, investors will notice. But keep in mind, consumers might not know the difference, so you still have to do other things well.

Marketing Differentiation

In crowded markets with many similar offerings it’s often the advertising and marketing programs that push one brand to the front of the pack. Additionally, in advertising circles there are three areas where you can differentiate yourself: Strategy, media, or creative execution.

Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation. The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.

RCD. Relevance. Credibility. Differentiation. Most companies are lucky to get one or two out of three. The greatest brands are three for three.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Who reads long copy these days? The hungry ones.

I’m really tired of people telling me no one reads anything anymore. “Copywriting doesn’t matter.” “Long copy is dead.”

A client recently said he didn’t want professionally-written web copy because, “no one reads it anyway.” He insisted that “People go to a site looking for something very specific. They don’t want to read, they just want to find what they’re looking for and move on.”

Begs the question… what ARE they looking for?

bend ad agency blog post about long copyIf a user has found your site, and has gone to the trouble of clicking in, they’re obviously looking for something they think you have… Information, products, services or insight of some kind. They’re hungry, and they’re following a crumb of promise, and you darn well better feed them something tasty.

When people are serious about a purchase, they read plenty!

It’s self-selected relevance… ONLY people who are interested in your product, company, or niche will feast their eyes on your copy. There’s absolutely no need to address anyone else. And it’s been proven, time and again for more than 100 years, that people will read long copy if it’s relevant to their needs.

So to that client, I suggested he think of his website as a catering gig… The home page is the appetizer. You can’t just tease them with the first course and then leave the party. At some point, you gotta give them the meat.

And guess what… When you do give them substantial, well-written copy, your website will perfoLong copy sell the sizzle and the steakrm better from an SEO standpoint. (Google it!)

Many companies invest big money on the design and programming of a new site and then insist on using free,“factual content” from inexpensive third party sources. Or they have an intern cut and paste “keyword rich” copy into the site.

But the faulty logic of “free content” leads to a detrimental, self-fulfilling prophecy… A couple months later that business owner will look at his Google analytics and see that users aren’t spending any time on those pages of the site. Inevitably, he’ll say, “told you so. Long copy doesn’t work.”

Of course no one read that free content. It has no flavor! There’s no connection to your brand, your company’s culture, your product or your unique selling proposition. It’s the exact same tasteless corporate blah, blah, blah that everyone else in your niche is saying.

It left a bad taste in their mouths, and they went elsewhere. You had them at the table, and you left them hungry and disappointed.

The argument for free content reminds me of the business owner who says, “Oh, I tried radio and it never worked.” How many times have I heard that one? My response is always the same: “Uh-huh. Let’s hear it.”

Inevitably, the radio spot used to prove the point involved two on-air “personalities” and some inane dialog that’s about as natural as botox on a Pug’s face. Boring, vanilla flavored crap. Or worse yet, a locally produced jingle.

The fact is, people will respond to a well-written radio spot if it’s relevant to them. If it’s not relevant, or incredibly entertaining, they’ll simply change channels.

Same with web copy.

long copy still works brand insight blog from BNBranding bend oregon

long copy still works

People have been debating the benefits of long copy since Claude Hopkins made millions writing ads in the early 1900s. Later, David Ogilvy, the grandfather of modern advertising, was a big proponent of long copy.

He understood the need to do two things:

1. Strike an emotional chord that resonates within the deepest, reptilian recesses of the brain.

2. Back it up with enough proof to hurdle the objections of the analytical mind.

There’s abundant A-B testing that proves long copy outsells short copy. But it’s not that simple. Crappy long copy won’t work better than well-written short copy. It’s not the word count, it’s the quality of the message, the concept, the story and the choice of words that really matter. It also depends on the product, the category, the value proposition, the context and many other variables. It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition.

Unfortunately, there’s a trend right now toward one size fits all web design. It’s a move away from anything wdon't settle for plain vanilla copy. Bend Oregon ad agency.ritten to a more visual approach with a lot of boxes, buttons and clipart info-graphics. It’s a template-driven, paint-by-numbers approach that guarantees a big, homogenized playing field of similar-looking sites.

Most companies are trading differentiation and persuasion for the convenience of off-the-shelf execution. And they’re getting lost in the process.
If you’re making a complex, business-to-business pitch, your site should not look, feel or behave like a site selling a simple impulse item. The higher the level of involvement, anxiety or skepticism about your product, the longer the copy should be. In that case, the old-school idea of “the more you tell, the more you sell” still applies.

Let’s say you blow out your knee and you need ACL surgery. Chances are, there are several knee specialists in your market to choose from.

If you’re an orthopedic practice you could load-up generic medical info about the statistical outcomes of ACL surgery. Or you could provide the facts, wrapped with some emotional reassurance. Call me a whimp, but if it were me, I’d want a friendly little pat on the back that says, “It’s going to hurt, but it’s going to be okay. Here’s what you can expect. Here’s the PT you’ll have to do. Here’s what others have said about the experience.”

You can’t do good beside manner in one paragraph. Plus, in that scenario, facts just don’t cut it. The tone of the copy and the overall presentation need to do more than inform, they need to put the patient at ease. For that, you need well-written copy not vanilla flavored content.

Here’s another example… I have a client who has a very involved, do-it-yourself product sold exclusively online. It involves a long selling process and full weekend of yard work after the purchase.

Do customers want the facts about installation and detailed instructions? Of course. But they also need a friendly nudge to actually get the job started. They need reassurance that they won’t get stuck in that Ikea-like hell with a half finished job and lots of left-over parts.

In that case, it’s customers who will be hungry for the long copy. And if you don’t provide it, they may end up paying for a product that’s just collecting dust in the garage.

These days, you can’t just tell them. You also have use every modern marketing devise to demonstrate, illustrate, persuade and prove your case. Long copy still sells, it just has to be served up a little differently.

There are more tools at our disposal than ever before. Use video for presenting meaty customer testimonials — they’re proven to move the needle, especially in B toB applications. Use white papers to present deep, elaborate arguments that prove your value proposition. Use YouTube, Twitter and everything else in your power to deliver the appetizers. But don’t forget the main course.

There HAS to be some meat on that bone, somewhere. You can’t just keep leading people through a site, deeper and deeper and deeper, without ever delivering the whole story. It might only be a small percentage of users, but there ARE people who hungry for that.

For more insight on copywriting, check out this post.

For examples of great copywriting, click here.

craftsmanship of great advertising on the Brand Insight Blog

Craftsmanship of great advertising (God is in the details.)

I seldom write about superbowl advertising. (Too many other commentators offering their expert insight on the latest crop of outlandishly juvenile spots bulging with big boobs and talking animals.) Besides, for most small business owners there’s no worthwhile takeaway from those big-budget productions. No marketing lesson to be learned. Spending millions to air one commercial just doesn’t compute.

But in 2013 I had to share this piece about the craftsmanship of great advertising. The Ram truck spot from that superbowl exemplifies everything that’s good about advertising… Powerful story telling. Authentic voice. Arresting drama. And painstaking attention to detail.

Even if you don’t have the money for a big-budget TV spot, those rules still apply.

If you just slap your business name onto a digital ad and blast it out there, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for. If you neglect the production details, and the wordsmithing, and the design, your advertising will fall flat. If you settle for mediocre ads you’ll get mediocre results.

Anyone who’s handling any little slice of the marketing pie can learn from this superbowl spot… It’s the perfect example of how the craftsmanship of great advertising can move the needle for any brand.

Here’s the original post:

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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 no place in business and marketing, think again. Just listen to these words:

“So on the eighth day, Good looked down on his planned paradise and said I need a caretaker. So he made a farmer… God said, I need somebody to call hogs and tam cantankerous machinery. Someone strong enough to clear trees and heave bales, yet gentle enough to wean lambs who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the leg of a meadowlark. So God made a farmer…”

craftsmanship of great advertising on the Brand Insight Blog by BNBranding

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.

Watch the long version HERE.

 

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 Paul 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.)”

craftsmanship of great advertising on the Brand Insight Blog“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. 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.

AdWeek magazine said it was the #1 spot of the year, with the Budweiser baby Clydesdale commercial 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 to the typical down and dirty truck ad.

Paul Harvey actually wrote that riveting monologue back in 1978 for the national FFA convention. The words themselves pack such force, the video footage 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.

craftsmanship of great advertising Branding Blog by BNBrandingNot 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.

For more on how to create more effective advertising, try THIS post.

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.