Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. Said they didn’t look “professional enough.”
In other words, she didn’t like that we did something different than the usual, corporate head shot.
The problem is, in this case, “professional” translates to invisible. Everyone has a boring “professional” portrait with no personality. Doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts. Continue reading
There was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Web design is a waste of money.”
It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.
One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.” Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?
This is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.
The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.
This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every site is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.
As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:
Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.
But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean” and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”
That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”
So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.
We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.
If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.
One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.
I guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.
Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse. There’s absolutely nothing logical about.
Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.
The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.
So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.
Poor design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.
Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.
On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.
I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”
When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.
It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding. It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.
Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.
But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “web design.” In that case, balance is the key.
You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.
There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.”
If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.
On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.
I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it. The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.
One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.
There are two things you need in order to get a good site up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.
If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.
And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.
It’s a very pretty mess.
So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.
For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.
Together you might just find a great design that also produces spectacular results.
Sometimes, when it comes to copywriting, one word can be the difference between a marketing home run and a dribbling bunt.
Use a boring, expected word, and you’ll get boring results. Introduce incongruity into the word choice, and you’ll hit it out of the park.
Here’s an example:
I was doing a campaign for a commercial real estate concern, and the client was completely fixated on one word in a headline: “Precious.”
“I don’t like it. Babies are precious, not parking places,” she argued.
“Yes, that’s precisely why it works,” I countered. “Besides, diamonds are also precious. And what’s more valuable than diamonds?”
By using that one word I exaggerated the value of “free parking” and elevated a mundane product feature to an entirely different realm.
It was an effective use of incongruity in advertising copy, and she just couldn’t get her head around it. Just as most people can’t get their heads around the idea of disruption in advertising.
So I showed her some alternative adjectives that I knew would not work…
“Popular” just didn’t have the same effect. “Convenient” didn’t have the alliteration I was looking for. “Valuable” just sucks.
The more options I showed her, the better the word “precious” seemed. The incongruity of it was perfect for that context and purpose. Eventually the client relented, and the ad ran, quite successfully.
Incongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad and an existing frame of reference. (Elements being product photo, brand name, endorser, music selection, word choice, etc.)
Academic research on the subject has shown that “incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system”…
That’s precisely what advertising people are going for: a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand. That’s what good copywriting is all about. That’s what iconic brands are built on.
“Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with INcongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.”
On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all.
Here’s an example of bad copywriting from a Bed & Breakfast website:
“Welcome to our home! We invite you to look around our website and consider a stay with us on your next visit to or through Lexington. When we open our door to you, we consider you as welcome guests, but want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own home. Our mission is to provide you with lodging, rest and meals that are memorably special, to do so with the kind of Southern hospitality you expect and deserve, in tasteful household surroundings that carry the tradition of Old South charm. You will find something “extra” everywhere you turn during your stay, from the bedding, room amenities, complimentary toiletries, and more…Each area has its own entertainment system, open WiFi access, and, for each room, individual climate controls. We believe you will enjoy your stay with us so much that you will regret having to leave, but depart looking forward to another visit. We hope to see you soon.
No one’s going to stick with this copy beyond the first four words. And “Complimentary toiletries”… Really? I sure hope so.
Copy like that is, what I’d call, boringly congruent. It’s so expected and chock full of cliche’s no one’s going to hear it. Our brains are wired to weed out the mundane, like a triple speed fast-forward button on the TV remote.
In marketing, the opposite of incongruity is not congruity. It’s invisibility.
When all the elements line up in the same, old, expected way the message becomes completely invisible. Without some degree of incongruity, the copywriting fails.
But effective incongruity hinges on proper, relevant context.
Example: I recently used some nonsensical words in a campaign directed toward restaurant owners.
They know what babaganoush is. And Paninis.
The context made the incongruity of the words effective. If the target had been the general public, it’d be a different story.
If an element is totally out of context AND incongruent, it seldom works.
I recently saw a TV spot for a local realtor that was so wildly out of context and incongruent, it didn’t work at all. All you see are tattooed arms putting a puzzle together while the voice-over talks about “the real estate market is tearing families apart.”
If you’re a client who purchases advertising, try to embrace incongruity in the right context. It could be one word in a headline that seems not quite right, or one image or graphic. Chances are, if it seems just a little outta place it’s going to work well. It’ll stop people in their tracks and engage the creative side of their brain.
So next time you’re working on an email campaign, a powerpoint presentation, or anything… take time to throw in at least one unexpected word that will break through all the “babaganoushit.”
It makes all the difference.
For more on making your advertising messages more memorable, try THIS post.
I hate buzzwords. Every time a new marketing term shows up on the cover of a book I find myself having to translate the jargon into something meaningful for ordinary, busy business people.
Lately, it’s “Brand Authenticity.” Seems “keeping it real” has become a household term. And a branding imperative.
In The New Marketing Manifesto John Grant says “Authenticity is the benchmark against which all brands are now judged.”
If that’s the case, we better have a damn good definition of what we’re talking about.
“Authentic” is derived from the Greek authentikós, which means “original.” But just being an original doesn’t mean your brand will be perceived as authentic. You could be an original phoney.
Most definitions used in branding circles also include the words “genuine” and or “trustworthy.” In The Authentic Brand, brand authenticity is defined this way: “Worthy of belief and trust, and neither false nor unoriginal — in short, genuine and original.”
I think it’s also useful to look at the philosophical definition of the word… “being faithful to internal rather than external ideas.”
In Philosophy of Art “authenticity” describes the perception of art as faithful to the artist’s self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.
The same holds true for brands.
The authentic ones are faithful to something other than just profits. They have a higher purpose, and they don’t compromise their core values in order to turn a quick buck. They are the exception to the corporate rule.
The Brand Authenticity Index says, “At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach; being totally clear about who you are and what you do best.” When a brand’s rhetoric gets out of sync with customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.”
I think the general public believes that marketing — by definition— is not authentic. We are born skeptics.
Guilty until proven innocent!
And if someone sniffs even a hint of corporate BS they’ll blog about it, post negative reviews and announce it to all their Facebook friends, Twitter followers and Instagram fans.
In a Fast Company article, Bill Breen said “Consumers believe, until they’re shown otherwise, that every brand is governed by an ulterior motive: to sell something. But if a brand can convincingly argue that its profit-making is only a by-product of a larger purpose, authenticity sets in.”
Nobody ever starts a company with the goal of becoming an authentic brand. Think back to when Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Apple were just startups. They were all authentic in the beginning. Each had a core group of genuinely passionate people dead-set on changing the world in some little way. And that esprit de core set the tone for the brand to be.
Patrick Ohlin, on the Chief Marketer Blog, says “Brand authenticity is itself an outcome—the result of continuous, clear, and consistent efforts to deliver truth in every touch point.”
It’s a by-product of doing things well. Treating people right. Staying focused. And not getting too greedy.
“Companies are under pressure to prove that what they stand for is something more than better, faster, newer, more,” said Lisa Tischler in Fast Company. “A company that can demonstrate it’s doing good — think Ben & Jerry’s, or Aveda — will find its brand image enhanced. But consumers must sense that the actions are sincere and not a PR stunt.”
Add the word “sincerity” to the definition. Sincerely try to do something that proves you’re not just another greedy, Goldman Sax.
In the age of corporate scandals and government bailouts, not all authentic brands are honest. If your brand values revolve around one thing — getting rich — it’s pretty tough build a genuinely trustworthy brand in the eyes of the world.
Amway, for instance.
Amway has an army of “independent sales associates” out there luring people to meetings under pretense and spreading a message that says, essentially, “Who cares if you have no friends left. If you’re rich enough it won’t matter. We’ll be your friends.”
The front-line MLM culture seems to revolve around wealth at any cost. Then there’s the corporate office trying to put a positive spin on the brand by running fluffy, product-oriented, slice-of-life commercials.
It’s a disconnect of epic proportions. The antithesis of brand authenticity.
But I digress.
Let’s assume you have a brand with a pretty good reputation for authenticity. How can you manage to maintain that reputation even when you’re growing at an astronomical rate?
Be clear about what you stand for. Communicate!
Your brand values need to be spelled out, on paper. After all, your employees are your best brand champions and you can’t expect them to stay true to something they don’t even understand.
That’s one of the key services at my firm… we research and write the book on your brand. We craft the message and then help you communicate it internally, so all your managers, front-line employees and business partners are on the same page. Literally. It’s a tremendously helpful tool.
Underpromise and overdeliver.
Now here’s a concept CEOs can get a handle on. If you consistently exceed expectations, consumers will believe that you’re sincere and will be more likely to trust your brand. It’s a fundamental tenet of brand authenticity. If you’re constantly disappointing people, it’s going to be tough.
Don’t try to be something you’re not.
Being authentic means staying focused and saying no once in a while. The more you diversify, extend your product line or tackle new target audiences, the better chance you have of alienating people.
It’s always tempting for successful small businesses to branch out. You take on projects that are beyond your core competencies, because you can. People trust you. Then if things go south you lose some credibility. And without credibility there can be little authenticity.
Align your marketing messages with your brand.
You sacrifice authenticity when your marketing messages are not true to the company, its mission, culture and purpose. You can’t be saying one thing, and doing something else.
Alignment starts with understanding. Understanding starts with communication. So figure out your core brand values, and then hammer those continuously with your marketing team. Every time they trot out a new slogan or campaign you can hold up that brand strategy document and ask, is this in line with our brand?
Another way you lose that sense of brand integrity or authenticity is when you change directions too frequently. I’ve seen this in start-ups that have new technology, but no clear path to market. The company just blows with the wind, changing directions with every new investor who’s dumb enough to put up capital. There’s no brand there at all, much less an authentic one.
Lead by example.
One of the best CEO clients I ever had was a master of management-by-walking-around. His authentic, soft-spoken demeanor worked wonders with his people. He was out there everyday, rallying the troops and reinforcing the brand values of the company.
So if you’re in charge, stay connected with your teams and don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. When sales, or marketing or R & D starts working in a vacuum, you often end up with an authenticity drain.
Hire good PR people.
Like it or not, the public’s sense of your brand authenticity often comes from what the press says. For instance, BMW’s claim of being “the ultimate driving machine” is constantly reinforced by the automotive press in head-to-head comparisons with Audi and Mercedes. According to those authoritative sources, it’s not a bullshit line.
Which really is the bottom line on brand authenticity. Don’t BS people.
It’s Masters Week — the biggest week of the year in golf, and a tide-turning event for several brands. Most notably, this one:
The Tiger Woods logo for Nike
Over the last 9 months the Tiger Woods brand has, shall we say, strayed a bit. The “indiscreations” of Tiger’s personal life have cost his brand millions in endorsement deals, and even more in public goodwill. As one sports writer put it, “it’s the most dramatic fall from grace in the history of sport.”
For Tiger Woods and company, The Masters represents the perfect venue for a comeback, and an ideal brand affiliation.
See, Augusta National is considered hallowed ground. It’s like the Sistine Chapel of the golf world and its annual invitational tournament is like Easter Sunday with the Pope. Every player and every “patron” out there considers himself blessed to be part of it.
Call it the halo effect… TW needs some of that sweet aroma of blossoming azaleas to rub the stink off of him.
So Tiger started the week in Augusta with a press conference. Every question was personal. Pointed. Charged. Every reporter wanted to rehash the events of Tiger’s private life. To his credit, Tiger’s responses seemed genuine and heartfelt. Not overly scripted. But it was obvious that his answers were thought out in advance. As they should be.
From what I’ve read, the CEO of Toyota, with all his PR advisors, didn’t handle things as well. Put the billion-dollar TW brand in that context for a minute… Toyota execs withheld information that put their customers at risk of death, and the press was easier on them than Tiger.
Different rules apply to our sports heroes.
In any case, Toyota has 50 years of dependable performance and customer loyalty to help pull it through this little bump in the road. And ultimately, when it comes to Tiger’s brand, performance will trump everything else.
As soon as he gets back to his dominant form and wins a few of these majors, like The Masters, people will begin to forgive and forget.
Keep in mind, his personal brand bordered on superhero status before all this crap came up. But every superhero has his kryptonite, and now we know what Tiger’s is.
The events of the last year have had a polarizing effect on the TW brand. The people who weren’t Tiger fans before really hate him now. And he seems to be universally despised by women.
However, among the men over 45 who make up 75% of the golfing public, he’s still more admired than despised. He still gets a standing ovation on the 12th tee at Augusta. Still inspires awe with his performance on the golf course. And that’s always good for business.
From a brand management standpoint, the other thing that TW and company did this week was launch a new commercial.
In classic, Nike fashion, the black and white spot features Tiger, just standing there looking stoic, while his father’s words hauntingly ask the questions that the entire world has been asking: “I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are… did you learn anything?”
The mainstream media and general public won’t recognize the voice and might see it simply as PR BS. Some have called it crass and creepy. Others are saying it’s “Exploiting his father’s memory.”
But the general public isn’t the target. Die-hard golf fans will know it’s the voice of Earl Woods, reaching out from the grave, and for them, it will have the desired effect.
It’s common knowledge that Woods and his father were very tight. One of the most poignant moments in golf history came shortly after Earl’s death… Tiger won the British Open and before he get off the 18th green he broke down completely in his caddy’s arms, grieving in front of the entire world.
So my hat’s off to the guys at Weiden & Kennedy. I think it’s fitting that it’s his father posing the tough questions. In fact, the whole concept hinges on it. Any other voice over and the spot’s not worth running.
Then there’s the look on Tiger’s face. They’re not making him look heroic. In fact, he looks like a guy in the doghouse, licking his wounds. Taking his medicine.
I believe the spot works from a damage control standpoint. And as far as brand personality is concerned, it fits. Tiger never was great at dealing with the fans. Not the most popular guy to get paired up with. Not the most forthcoming with an autograph or quick with a smile.
In other words, he was no Lee Trevino or Phil Michelson.
One thing’s for sure, the new commercial has a high buzz factor. And it makes you wonder, would all this have happened if Earl was still around, keeping an eye on his superstar son?
I was never really surprised by Tiger’s misbehavior. Dissapointed, sure, but not particularly surprised. He’s a rock star, after all. How many rock stars stay at the top of the game without a blemish for 15 years?
The Tiger Woods brand is definitely tarnished. But no matter what they think of his commercials or his off-course antics, no matter what they write about him, Tiger’s brand will recover and thrive because he’s so amazingly good at what he does.
His performance will dictate the script of his brands success. It may not come this week at Augusta, but it will come.
Tiger Woods promises to light up a golf course like no contemporary player can. He’ll always be intensely passionate. He’ll give everything he has to every golf shot he hits, and leave nothing on the course.
But I don’t think the TW brand promise ever went much further than that.
The word for the day is Disruption, with a capital D.
In our society there’s a stigma against all things deemed disruptive. When I was in elementary school I learned to not be disruptive in class. Or else!
Sit still in church and don’t disrupt the service. By the 6th grade it was “don’t cause a scene or call attention to yourself.”
Don’t be different. Be the same.
Write like everyone else. Dress like everyone else. Behave like everyone else and you’ll get along just fine. That’s the message we got, and it’s the message our kids are getting.
Loud and clear.
Maybe that’s why so many business owners and executives flee from the idea of disruption like a fox from a forest fire. It’s ingrained in our society. Most business owners are deathly afraid that some new competitor with “distruptive technology” is going to come along and threaten their turf.
And yet, if you’re going for brand differentiation it’s disruption that separates the iconic brands from the ho-hum ones. And disruptive advertising is what gets the best results.
Jean Marie Dru, Chairman of the advertising conglomerate TBWA, has written two outstanding books about Disruption, but it’s still a hard sell. To most executives disruption is bad. Convention is good. And the results of this mentality are everywhere.
Brand differentiation is hard to come by.
As management guru Tom Peters says, “we live in a sea of similarity.” Social convention and human nature lead us into a trap of conformity where all websites have the same basic layout. All sedans look the same. All airlines feel the same. All travel ads sound the same.
And it works to some degree, because there’s comfort in conformity. (Vanilla still outsells all other flavors of ice cream.)
But in the long run, conformity is the kiss of death for a brand.
Great brands do things that are disruptive. Rather than shying away from the word, the executives embrace the idea of disruption and they make it a part of their everyday operation. They consider it productive change that stimulates progress.
But even when they succeed with disruptive products, disruptive technology and disruptive marketing campaigns, it’s tough to sustain.
When Chrysler first launched the Plymouth Voyager the Minivan was a groundbreaking idea that threw the auto industry into total disruption. It was a whole new category, and everyone scrambled to copy the market leader. Within five years, minivans were — you guessed it — all the same.
There used to be a Television network that was radically disruptive. MTV launched hundreds of music careers and shaped an entire generation, and now where is it? Lost in a sea of mediocre sameness.
When they first burst onto the scene in the 80’s, the idea of a micro brewery was very disruptive. Now, in Oregon, there’s one in every neighborhood and they’re all pretty much the same. Good, but IPAs are everywhere.
Successfully disruptive ideas don’t last because its human nature to copy what works. This process of imitation homogenizes the disruptive idea to the point where it’s no longer different. No longer disruptive.
So if you want to sustain a competitive advantage, you have to keep coming up with disruptive ideas. Not just incremental improvement on what’s always worked, but honest-to-goodness newness all the time.
Avatar is a disruptive movie that spawned numerous knock-offs.
The name “Fuzzy Yellow Balls” is brilliantly disruptive in the on-line tennis market.
The American Family Life Assurance Company was utterly forgettable until they changed their name to AFLAC and launched a campaign featuring a quacking duck. In the insurance business, that’s disruptive!
According to an interview in the Harvard Business Review, AFLAC’s CEO Daniel Amos risked a million dollars on that silly duck campaign.
Amos could have gone with an idea that tested incrementally better than the average insurance commercial, but he didn’t. He took a chance and went with that obnoxious duck. He chose disruption over convention, and everyone said he was nuts.
But it turned out to be a radically successful example of brand differentiation.
The first day the duck aired AFLAC had more visits to their website than they had in the entire previous year. Name recognition improved 67% the first year. And most importantly, sales jumped 29%. After three years, sales had doubled.
AFLAC’s success was based on disruption in advertising and naming. But for many companies, there’s also an opportunity to stand out with disruptive strategy. In fact, Dru contends that breakthrough tactics are not enough, and that the strategic stage also demands imagination.
Here’s an example… When Apple introduced the iPod, the strategy wasn’t just about superior product design. It was about disrupting the conventions of the music business. It was about introducing the Apple brand to a whole new category of non-users and establishing Apple as the preferred platform for all your personal electronic needs.
Of course Apple also has brilliant, disruptive advertising.
You can get away with mediocre tactics if your strategy is disruptive enough. And vice-versa… if your advertising execution is disruptive, you can get by with a me-too strategy. But if you want to hit a real home run like Apple did with the ipod, start with a brilliantly disruptive strategy and build on it with a disruptive product and disruptive marketing execution.
It’s kind of ironic… In business, no one wants to cause a disruption, and yet they’re clamoring for good ideas. And good ideas ARE disruptive. They disrupt the way the synapses in the brain work. They break down our stereotypes and disrupt the business-as-usual mentality.
That’s precisely why we remember them.
Richard Branson said, “Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there.”
Steinbeck once said, “It is the nature of man, as he grows old, to protect himself against change, particularly change for the better.”
Ask yourself this: What are you protecting yourself from? What are the conventions of your industry? Why are are you maintaining the stats quo? What are the habits that are holding you back? Are you copying what’s good, or doing what’s new?
What are you doing to be disruptive? Are you really willing to settle for vanilla or are you really committed to brand differentiation?
For more on brand differentiation and how to create an iconic brand, try THIS post.
Magazine editors and TV journalists love year-end lists. And when it’s the end of a decade, there’s even more interest in rehashing the top 10 things in every category from celebrity scandals to the most trusted brands.
I prefer to look forward, and I suspect many of you are with me on that. So here are two — not ten — branding trends that will help you, right now.
• The crisis of confidence and the consumer’s ultra-sensitive, internal BS meter.
The last two years have not been good for consumer confidence. The banking collapse. Bernie Madoff. AIG bonuses. The automotive bailout. Tiger’s “transgressions.” No wonder people are more jaded than ever.
Consumers are singing a collective tune, and the refrain goes like this: “don’t bullshit me!” (It’s country western.) They’re more savvy than you think. They’re armed with information, and if they catch you trying to pull a fast one, they’ll blast their song to the entire world.
Negative word-of-mouth has never spread so fast, or so far.
Customer reviews on sites such as Yelp, Angies’ List, Amazon, and Citysearch have become so popular, the press is calling this the “reputation economy.”
The big brands are spending millions to monitor and manage the online dialog, but control is squarely in the hands of the consumer. They now have the power to preempt a major branding effort with a few bad reviews, blog posts or YouTube videos. (Remember Micheal Phelps?)
Entire industries have been buried in bad will. Take, for instance, the mortgage business…
If you’re trying to manage a brand in that turbulent mess, your single most important task right now is rebuilding credibility and regaining the confidence of your constituents.
And it’s not going to happen overnight.
Here’s the good news: When it suddenly crashed, that big wave you were riding wiped out more than half of your competitors. Darwinian capitalism at its best. The bad news is, all those failures tarnished your image too. As a survivor, you have to dig yourself out of a hole filled with bad press, misperceptions and tainted experiences.
It can be done if you focus on making the entire experience better than it ever was. During the boom, no one cared about service. It was just a race to see who could close the most deals. So the bar is very, very low.
Hurdle it by being honest with yourself and with your prospects.
Slow down. You’re in a service business, so focus on building a better process that will deliver an experience that far surpasses their expectations.
Do that, and you’ll have an authentic story to tell. Do that, and you can get past the skepticism and come out of this better than ever.
• The experience is everything.
Branding isn’t just about products and marketing messages. It’s about the real life experiences people have around the product. Directly and indirectly.
So the easiest way to generate authentic, positive word-of-mouth is to provide an experience that far exceeds that of your competitors.
Think of everyone who went to the movies in the last week or two. How hard would it be for Regal Cinemas to make the experience dramatically better for us during the busiest time of year?
Not hard at all.
Imagine if we didn’t have to wait in a long line, out in the freezing cold. Of if we did have to wait, imagine if someone was serving little cups of hot chocolate. That would warm us up to the Regal Brand.
Imagine if we didn’t have to wait in yet another serpentine line for the same old Skittles. Or what if they offered a Christmas special on popcorn and soda that didn’t cost as much as the movie.
Talk about a better experience. Talk about Tweetable differentiation… “No lines at the Regal Cinemas on 5th.”
We would drive out of their way for that. We would tell our friends and post positive reviews. And most of all, we’d remember that experience the next time. Given a choice — same movie, two different theaters — we’d opt for the theater that triggers some little reminder of a positive experience.
That’s great branding.
Here’s another example: Over the holidays I heard a couple raving about their experience with a Lexus dealer. They actually argue over who “gets” to take the car in for repairs. No kidding.
For that particular couple, the experience in the service department of the local dealer means more than more than the driving experience. More than all the luxury features. And way more than any commercial message the company could air.
It’s ironic when you think about what Lexus stands for: Dependable Luxury. Their cars seldom need work, so you wouldn’t think the company would put much emphasis on the repair experience. But they have.
Maybe they saw the market research that pegged “service after the sale” as the biggest problem for other luxury brands. Or maybe they just figured there was so much room for improvement, they couldn’t go wrong.
In any case, by completely reinventing the repair experience, Lexus turned a potential problem area into a branding opportunity. And according to the 2009 J.D. Powers study, it’s working. Lexus, once again, received the highest customer satisfaction ratings of any automotive brand.
So this year, find ways to improve the experience people have with your brand. Even if they’re not your customers.
And don’t just focus on your best product or service. Look at the weakest part of your operation, and see if you can turn it into a positive customer touch point, like Lexus did.
Go beyond your core competencies and see if there’s something you can do to make things easier, better, faster for your customers.
Lexus is in the business of building cars, not automotive repair shops. But they recognized the connection, and the opportunity. They built repair shops that are as good as the cars they make.
In branding terms, they aligned the repair experience with the Lexus brand.
How well does your service and your operation line up with your brand? This is the year to find out.
I’m appalled. A successful marketing guy asked me a question recently — a real no-brainer — which led me to believe he didn’t know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.
How can that be?
He’s held several high-paying marketing positions. He’s college educated in Marketing 101. And 301, for that matter. He’s gotta know this stuff.
So I started doing some research online and I’ve found the problem: The internet!
There’s more misinformation than information out there. More nonsense than common sense.
Even some of the biggest gurus in the industry have posted misleading information on the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.
For instance, I ran across one article that listed “search engines” as a marketing strategy and said that “long-term strategies such as giving away freebies will continue to pay off years down the road.”
No wonder the guy’s confused. Freebies are NOT a strategy. Search engines are not a strategy.
This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s negligence. Advice like that would never get past the editors of a brand-name business magazine, but you can find it on-line.
In any case, the easiest way to clarify the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is to go to the source.
I’m sorry if the war analogy doesn’t appeal to you, but that’s where these terms came from, some 3,000 years ago.
Here’s how it breaks down: Goals first. Then strategy. Then tactics.
Goal: Win the war.
Strategy: “Divide and conquer.”
CIA spies gather intelligence.
Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.
Paratroopers secure the airports.
Armored Divisions race in and divide the opposing army’s forces.
Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.
An overwhelming force of infantry invade.
A marketing strategy is an idea… A conceptualization of how the goal could be achieved.
Like “Divide and Conquer.” Another possible war strategy would be “Nuke ‘Em.” (They call them Strategic Nuclear Weapons because they pretty much eliminate the need for any further battlefield tactics.)
A marketing tactic is an action you take to execute the strategy.
But let’s get off the battlefield and look at a successful brand. In business, great strategies are built on BIG ideas. And BIG ideas usually stem from some little nugget of consumer insight.
Back in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their popular Arm & Hammer baking soda were slipping. The loyal moms and grandmas who had been buying the same baking soda all their lives weren’t baking as much as they used to.
Business Goal: Turn the tide and increase Baking Soda sales.
Strategy: Devise new reasons for their current customers to pick up that yellow box at the supermarket and use more baking soda. Specifically, sell Arm & Hammer as a deodorizer for the fridge. That’s a big, strategic idea that led Arm & Hammer in a completely different direction.
They’re now marketing a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Every current Arm & Hammer product, from toothpaste to cat litter, originated from that strategy of finding new ways to use baking soda. And in the process, an old-fashioned brand has managed to stay relevant.
Tactics: All the traditional marketing tactics were employed… TV advertising. Magazine ads. Digital advertising. Search engine marketing. Content marketing. Retail promotions. Website dedicated to all the various uses of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.
All great marketing strategies share these common traits:
• Thorough understanding of the brand’s status and story. Arm & Hammer has a strong heritage that dates back to the 1860’s. That yellow box with the red Arm & Hammer logo is instantly recognizable, and stands for much more than just generic sodium bicarbonate.
• A realistic assessment of the product’s strengths & weaknesses. Market research proved what Arm & Hammer executives suspected… that people don’t bake as much as they used to. But it also showed that people were using their baking soda for all kinds of things besides baking. That was the insight that drove the strategy.
• A clear picture of the competition. Arm & Hammer has always been the undisputed market leader in the category. However, when they decided to introduce toothpaste and laundry detergent, the competition became
fierce. Arm & Hammer’s long-standing leadership position in one vertical market gave them a fighting chance against Procter & Gamble.
• Intimate knowledge of the consumer and the market. The shift away from the traditional American homemaker directly affected baking soda sales. Church & Dwight kept up with the trends, and even led the charge on environmental issues.
• A grasp of the big-picture business implications. Good brand strategies reach way beyond the marketing department. When you have a big idea, execution of the strategy will inevitably involve operations, R&D, HR, finance and every other business discipline.
A great strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics for success. If the idea is strong enough, you can get by with mediocre tactical execution. (Although I wouldn’t recommend tactical short cuts.)
However, even the best tactics can’t compensate for a lousy strategy. You can waste a lot of money on tactics if there’s no cohesive strategy involved.
Some people confuse marketing strategy with marketing objectives. They are not synonymous. Here are a few examples of “marketing strategies” from seemingly credible on-line sources:
“Create awareness.” “Overcome objections.” “Boost consumer confidence.” “Refresh the brand.” “Turnkey a multiplatform communications program.” That’s just marketing industry jargon!
These are NOT strategies, they’re goals. (And not even very good goals.) Remember, it’s not a strategy unless there’s an idea behind it.
Any number of strategies can be used to achieve a business goal. In fact, it often takes more than one strategy to achieve a lofty goal, and each strategy involves its own unique tactical plan. Unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers simply throw together a list of the tactics they’ve always used, and call it a strategy.
If you’re still wondering about the difference between marketing strategy and tactics, try the “what-if” test…
At Dominoes, someone said, “Hey, what if we guaranteed 30-minute delivery?” Dominoes couldn’t compete on product quality or price, but they could compete on speedy delivery.
So a strategy was born.
After that, their entire operation revolved around the promise of 30-minute delivery. They built a hell of a strategy around a simple, tactical idea. That strategy worked well for more than 20 years until a lawsuit forced them to abandon it. Now Jimmy John’s owns the “Super fast delivery” niche in the fast food industry.
At Arm & Hammer someone asked, “What if we could come up with a bunch of new uses for baking soda?” That’s a strategy.
On the other hand, “What if we do search engines?” doesn’t make sense. Must be a tactic.
“What if we increase market share?” There’s no idea in that, so it must be a goal.
What if we could screen all web content for factual errors and eliminate some of this confusion? Wouldn’t that be nice.
Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war was a popular topic of college marketing classes, sit coms and even Saturday Night Live.
“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi once said.
Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to software. From free-spirited young people who’d “like to teach the world to sing” to nerds all over the world claiming “I’m a PC.”
It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.
Every since 1984, when Steve Jobs launched the Macintosh with one of the most famous superbowl commercials of all time, the folks up in Redmond have been paranoid about Apple. So paranoid, in fact, they’ve ignored one of the most basic tenets of marketing…
Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.
This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft does, don’t give a puny little competitor like Apple the time of day. Don’t get suckered into a fight, and don’t design an ad campaign that directly mimics the competitor’s campaign.
I don’t think there’s ever been a more overt, tit-for-tat advertising war. (If you can think of one, please, send a comment.)
Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign. Those spots work on so many different levels, if the Microsoft execs were smart, they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole. Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own. You’re the market leader, remember!
But nope. They played right into the enemy’s hands and produced a knock-off version of the Apple spots. They hired an actor who looks like the guy in the Apple spots, and gave him this opening line: “Hello, I’m a PC, and I’ve been made into a stereotype.”
All that did was shine the spotlight back on Jobs & company. Microsoft’s copy cat spots gave the Apple campaign a whole new life. Every time one ran, the audience was reminded of the original Apple spots. Not only that, the media coverage of the marketing battle gave Apple free airtime, effectively extending the smaller competitor’s media budget.
I’m not sure if Apple was purposely trying to get a rise out of Microsoft, but they sure did. And every time Microsoft responds in kind, they dig themselves a deeper hole.
This week Microsoft launched yet another Apple war ad. They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they can find for under $700. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”
It’s the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. Very honest and authentic feeling. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace… Apple has always been a premium brand that’s not for everyone. That’s not news. So why does Microsoft continue to run ads that help cement that message?
In the Laptop Hunter spot they’re basically admitting that a Mac is what everyone aspires to. If you can’t afford one you settle for a second-best PC. The spot flat-out encourages people to compare Windows-based laptops to Apple laptops, and the more that happens, the more market share Apple will steal.
Fox News did a nine-minute segment about the spot the other day, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Sure, there is some low-hanging fruit right now in low-end laptops. But that’s just a short-term message that hinges more on the economic climate than any genuine brand strategy. Not the type of message a #1 player should even consider. Tit for tat works for Apple. Not for Microsoft. The market leader should lead, not follow in its advertising. Besides, you can’t take pot shots at the underdog, it just doesn’t look good.
The fact is, Microsoft’s never had a decent ad campaign before landing at Crispin Porter. On the other hand, Apple has a long history of groundbreaking advertising, from “Think Different” to the iconic iPod spots and now “I’m a PC.”
Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. Microsoft… not so much.
I’m particularly amused by the Apple spots that directly pick on the dreadful, Vista Operating System and Microsoft’s response to the problem. As long as Microsoft keeps responding to this type of advertising, and escalating the war, Apple can’t lose.
Every year at the Mac Expo, Steve Jobs used to unveil some fantastic new, game-changing technology from Apple. His presentations were always outstanding, both for the content and for entertainment value.
For instance, when he introduced the MacBook air back in 2009, he didn’t just talk about the specs of the new product, he demonstrated its thinness by pulling thin new laptop out of a 9×12 manilla envelope.
That’s great showmanship. And salesmanship.
It wasn’t just passion and natural charisma that made Jobs an effective communicator. It was his ability to convey ideas in simple, concise ways. He used honest demonstrations. Stories. Theater. And yes, some Hollywood special effects.
PowerPoint is the antithesis Apple, the enemy of innovation and the world’s biggest communication crutch. If you really want better Powerpoint presentations, just go without it!
Some time ago I attended a two-day branding conference down in Austin, Texas. The keynote speaker was a wise old pro who speaks and teaches professionally all across the country. He had an assistant with him, as well as tech support from the conference facility staff.
It was a disaster. Three hours into it and he was still fumbling around with his computer…
Lights on. Lights off. Sound’s way too loud. Sound’s not on. Sound’s out of sync. Slides are out of order. Video won’t play. How many times do we have to look at this guy’s desktop?
For him, a better Powerpoint Presentation would have meant no computer at all.
But to be fair, even if the computer had behaved itself his Powerpoint Presentation still would have fallen flat. Because his ideas were totally scattered. His slides were loaded with text that he read verbatim. And his speech wasn’t really a speech at all.
Thank God, I’m not a middle manager in a big corporation where I’d have to endure daily doses of that crap. Powerpoint, as it’s commonly employed, is a terrible form of communication.
In “The Perfect Pitch,” Jon Steele says, “most presenters start with the slides, and then treat what they are going to say simply as an exercise in linkage. The unfortunate consequence of this is that the presenter is reduced to a supporting role. To all presenters, I say this: YOU are the presentation.”
That’s easy to say if you’re as big as Steve Jobs. But you don’t have to be famous to put on a gripping and persuasive Powerpoint presentation. You just have to change the process and forget about Powerpoint until you’re three-quarters of the way through.
If you want to deliver better powerpoint presentations, think of yourself as a storyteller, not a presenter.
I’m talking about the old-fashioned, verbal tradition of story telling. Stories are way more compelling than slides. No matter how boring the topic may seem, there’s always a story buried in there somewhere.
So tell the story. Write it down. Flesh it out and practice it before you ever open Powerpoint.
Here’s another way to look at: Concentrate first on how you sound and what you say, then use the software to create visual support for your main verbal points. Not the other way around.
You’ll be amazed how focused your message becomes.
The first rule of communicating is to eliminate confusion.
Make things clear! When you throw a bunch of data up on a slide, you’re not making things more clear, you’re just adding confusion.
Back in the day, before PowerPoint was ever conceived, corporate presentations were done with slide projectors. You had to send out for slides, way ahead of time!
So you were forced to think long and hard about the design and content of each and every slide.
You had to plan the flow of the presentation. You had to know the most important points and you were forced to boil it down until there was absolutely nothing else left. Then you’d cover the rest of the detials in your speech.
We were forced to be good speakers.
Powerpoint makes it too easy to add slides and overwhelm people with charts and graphs. The technological tool has become a crutch that hobbles great communication. Got an idea? Just jump right into PowerPoint and start creating slides.
Another unfortunate side effect of PowerPoint is lousy, truncated speaking. People think they have to limit their words to fit the slides. And what they. End up with. Is choppy. Confusing. Information. That doesn’t. Flow. Or Communicate. Much of anything.
If you write the script first and then use PowerPoint slides as visual aids to drive home the main points, you won’t have that problem. You’ll be speaking from a coherent, human, story-based script, not reading random bullet points right off the slides.
The difference is dramatic.
I suspect that much of the problem stems from the fear of public speaking. And that’s understandable. People with that fear like to hide behind the PowerPoint slides. They can become almost invisible. But that’s not how you’re going to make a sale, further your career or build a successful business. You have to suck it up, and put yourself out there.
Truth is, if you want to improve your presentations you’re going to have to get comfortable with public speaking.
Join Toastmasters. Watch some YouTube videos and see how the pros do it. Find a good mentor… Salespeople are usually the best at it, so if there’s someone really good at your company offer to be an audience as they practice. Watch, listen, and learn. And forget about mastering all the technical bells and whistles of PowerPoint. That will just distract you from the main objective.
So here’s the final word for better Powerpoint presentations:
If you want people to remember your words, translate them into a picture. Put the picture up on the screen, then speak the words.
Don’t put the written words up there, just to be repeated from your trembling lips. It’s redundant. It’s boring. And it’s unimaginative. Words up on the screen do not make great visual aids.
Steve Jobs didn’t put the words “thinest laptop on the market” up on the screen. He showed us. He demonstrated how thin it was while he talked about the details.
That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
If you need help writing better Powerpoint presentations, give me a call at BNBranding. 541-815-0075. If you want more on how to be more concise, try this post.