Tag Archives for " marketing help "

Marketing Leadership – Who’s really running the show?

Marketing is full of colorful characters… Data nerds, creative prima donnas, wordsmith poets, actors, spreadsheet managers, order takers, MBAs, planners, directors, programmers, guru tweeters and on and on. Successful marketing management hinges on the mix of these characters.

You have to choose carefully, decide who should lead, and practice good casting. If you put the wrong person in the leading role, you could be in trouble. And if the bit players are not well directed you could end up spending a lot of money for very little return.

It’s a common problem. Finding the right advisors is always difficult, especially when the owner or CEO is inexperienced, insecure, or just not very well informed about marketing.

In many companies there is one character lurking in the shadows who steals the show and becomes the defacto marketing director. Even though she may not have a lick of marketing experience, she controls the decisions that make or break the company’s marketing programs.

Her influence is disproportionate to her skill or experience.

untrusted marketing effortsIn mythology, screenwriting and literature, this character would be referred to as a “shapeshifter.” Shapeshifters are two-faced. They are pretending to be something they are not and it’s not unusual for them to change alliances frequently. These characters add uncertainty and tension to any story, and they’ll do the same for your marketing efforts. They’re not to be trusted. (Example: Severus Snape in Harry Potter.)

In real life business the shapeshifting character could be a secretary, an outside consultant, a hot-shit sales person or even the spouse of the owner. It’s always someone who has the ear of the CEO, and it’s usually someone who’s been around the company for a long time and “really knows the customer.”

When CEOs abdicate responsibility to a shapeshifter, things get messy. The brand story gets convoluted. Efforts get duplicated. Time is wasted. Morale throughout the company plummets. Money gets thrown at problems that don’t even exist. And, inevitably, the marketing programs perform quite poorly. There is no curtain call.

Here are four characters that I frequently find elbowing their way to the front of the stage:

The Social Media “Guru.”

Back in the 90’s many business leaders mistakenly equated sales with marketing. So marketing departments were commonly run by sales guys. Now it’s the social media girl who often becomes the defacto marketing director.

your social media guruBut anyone with a cell phone and opposable thumbs can dub themselves a social media guru. She might do a good job of “getting your name out there” on the various platforms, and she might even generate exceptional engagement with your core audience. But that’s not the whole picture.

I love this analogy from Peter Shankman, from the Business Insider: “Being an expert in social media is like being an expert in taking bread out of the fridge. He may be the best bread taker-outter in the world, but the goal is to make a great sandwich, and he can’t do that if all he’s ever done is take bread out of the fridge.

The Kid with a Drone and a Title.

Drones are all the rage right now. Many people seem to think that those epic aerial shots of their building and parking lot are all they need for TV commercials and a “killer” social media presence.

I even know one college kid who has a drone and the enviable title of “director of marketing.” And it’s not a small company. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in his marketing budget.

Hold that joy stick just one doggone minute. What’s missing from that equation?

Just because he can fly a drone without killing innocent by-standards doesn’t mean he can pilot a comprehensive marketing effort. If that same kid knew how to run the latest, greatest spreadsheet program would you make him CFO? I don’t think so.

The Wife/Secretary/CMO

This is a common scenario in family-owned businesses… The owner/CEO uses his wife to “do the marketing.” Which means she’s doing an occasional social media post, some fliers, and website updates.

Sometimes it’s the administrative assistant who fancies herself a marketing person. Since she controls scheduling and information flow to the CEO, she’s in the position to also control everything he sees regarding marketing. She can easily undermine the best efforts of the actual marketing staff or any outside agencies, especially when it comes to subjective decisions on creative issues. So it’s a recipe for disaster.

So here’s some advice…

If you’re a business owner make sure you find a genuine expert in marketing management to be your leading lady. Get a generalist who knows how to keep all the other performers performing. Once you decide who that’s going to be, structure your business so that person has real authority, and don’t let anyone undermine that.

If you’re an outside agency providing marketing services, watch out for the shapeshifter who threatens to sabotage your work. Identify her early. Either make her your ally and work with her, or convince the CEO that she doesn’t belong in his cast of marketing characters.

1

How long should that copy be? Really.

“This copy’s just too long. No one’s going to read that.” “You can’t put that much copy on a website.” “How we going to do that on social media?

This is a common refrain these days. Doesn’t matter if the client is selling complex, business-to-business services or a simple impulse item in the corner market, they often have the same idea concerning copywriting… Less is more. Keep it short. Don’t expand on anything. Don’t meander into the story in a soft-shoe manner, kick ’em upside the head!

And do it in 140 characters.

Call it the Twitter effect. Or maybe the Trumpification of corporate communications. Persuasion is being beaten down, tweet by tweet, and reduced to banal snippets designed to “improve engagement.”

The fact is, there are times and places where you absolutely, positively need more than just a pithy headline and a quick blurb.

Business stories need time to develop. They need dialog and characters and problem/solution scenarios that strike a chord with people. Prospects need to know more than just who, what, when and where. But also, why. They need to see, hear and FEEL the “what’s in it for me” piece that is amazingly absent these days.

I see it frequently in the natural foods industry… a company will have a delicious new product for sale on Thrive Market and Amazon and various niche websites, but they use the same, truncated, incomplete copy on every site. Not a single one gives an adequate explanation of “why buy.” It’s an obvious, unfortunate, cut and paste job.

There are hundreds of delicious, healthy products languishing on those eCommerce shelves because companies simply don’t articulate the deeply rooted product benefits in an interesting manner. As they say in the venture capital world, “they just don’t have their pitch dialed.” Heck, they often can’t even convey how tasty their stuff really is.

My job is to dig up those pertinent story lines and deliver the message to a variety of diverse target audiences. Sometimes I have to go deep… I’ll find the real story buried in an old blog article or in a series of Facebook posts from the company’s launch. Or worse yet, I stumble across the meat of the message in some food blogger’s review.

How could that be? How could the owner possibly miss such an important marketing detail?

To be fair, those business owners are up to their ears in production challenges, ingredient procurement issues and sales channel headaches. Most don’t have time to craft their pitch because they’re busy solving problems that are more urgent and more understandable to a CEO mentality. It’s human nature… dive into the tasks we’re good at, and procrastinate on the other stuff.

So here’s some advice for all you business owners out there: Don’t put off your messaging. It’s more important than you think. And don’t “outsource it” to someone who doesn’t understand your target audience or the language of your business. Get some professional help from a well qualified writer, and when you do, don’t pester him about using too many words.

The fact is, engagement is guaranteed if you’re telling a good story in a creative way. (And believe me, no one buys without first being engaged with your brand.)

But let me answer the original question… “How long should your copy be?”

That depends on the context. You need to carefully consider the medium, the audience, the subject matter and the objective of the communication.

billboards like this one from bnbranding need short copy. brand insight blog

Billboards like this one from BNBranding need very short copy.

There are times when you absolutely have to be short and to the point. Billboards, digital ads and Facebook, for instance. In situations like that, when the character count is literally limited, every sentence needs to be creative and well crafted. Every word counts. No one’s going to flock to your landing page if you just slap up a product shot with a factual caption on Facebook. In that case, a photo alone does not speak a thousand words.

There are other times when long, explanatory copywriting is essential to making the sale and building your brand. For instance, a sales letter to a known prospect for a complex, business-to-business service proposition. Or the “about” section of a website in categories where credibility is huge issue.

The length of your copy is often dictated by the audience you’re addressing. Take trade advertising for instance… Natural food marketers need to reach the buyers at retail chains like Whole Foods, and the pitch for that group should be completely different than the copy directed to the end consumer. It’s a different value proposition, altogether. Yet most trade ads in that industry are nothing more than sell sheets, which is not a good use of media dollars.

Facts, data and product photos alone do not tell a compelling story.

Part of the art of effective copywriting is knowing when to go long, when go short, and when to shut up. I know a company that had 700 words on the homepage of their website. It was a huge mistake… way too long for that particular location. And every powerpoint presentation you ever see has way too many words.

But there are far more companies that have the opposite problem; graphically-driven websites that don’t present a clear case for the product or service at hand.

So, if you’re trying to produce some effective ad copy, first consider the medium. Then the audience. Then the objective of the communication. And of course, the subject matter. Only then can you decide if less really is more.

I could go on and on, but for this particular post, this is the perfect length.

 

 

1

Enough, already, with the exclamation punctuation.

I’m an advertising guy. And ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach.

So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related. But someone has to speak out about all the excexclamation_mark1lamation points popping up in marketing circles. If I see one more boring marketing cliche punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.

Exclamation points are everywhere these days… in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.

“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”

I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.

Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Air bags!” Putting exclamation points on your list of features is not going to make them more compelling.

Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)

Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…

You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!

The longest, straightest driver ever!

Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!

Your whole family will love it!!!

Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into a boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility. If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.

In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.

3027633

You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy without adding exclamation points. Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest. Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write some micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test them on people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.

I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever. So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.

It’s not easy. If you need help writing better ad copy, call me. Or if you want more info on how to improve your advertising copy, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

5 too many marketing opportunities

Sorting through the endless “marketing opportunities”

The marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.

Most clients I know don’t stand a chance. They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one. Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.

Just look at all the “marketing opportunities” out there…

oregon advertising agency BNBranding

 

There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, article marketing, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding, blue ocean marketing, blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that doesn’t even get us through the first two letters of the alphabet.

It’s nuts. Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 20 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.

I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics… Those so-called marketing opportunities turn into time sucking nightmares.

Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.

Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.

Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.

Ecommerce information HATS1on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster ecommerce sales.

High dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!

A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely – who can’t possibly afford the product.

Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.

Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.

too many marketing opportunitiesSo what are you supposed to do? How can you find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?

First of all, you need a little knowledge on the subject. Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing.

Second, find someone you trust implicitly. There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time. So get references. Start small and test the waters before you commit to a long-term contract.

Third, accept their outside perspective as a positive. It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.” They may not know it as well as you do, but what he DOES know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring them for. He can learn the ins and outs of your operation as he goes.

Set clear goals, expectations and metrics. Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.

Start with strategy, not tactics. Social Media marketing is not a strategy. Digital advertising is not a strategy. If you don’t know the difference between strategy and tactics, all the more reason to outsource your marketing. (Or at least read this post:)

Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.

I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me. He has, literally, read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and travelled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. And yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely. But he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him maximize every marketing opportunity that he actually chooses.

For more insight on how to manage the complex marketing landscape, try THIS post.

If you want help navigating it all, call 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 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 The not-so-surprising failure of Sears.

The 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 nothing I can recall. 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 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.

They 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.

It was wildly successful niche marketing, for awhile.

Sears went public in 1901 and in 1925 the first Sears store opened, in Chicago. By 1933 they had 300 stores and the mail order business began to take a back seat to the retail business.

Mr. Sears got ridiculously rich. Industrialist, oil baron rich.

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.

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

One of many successful brands that Sears built.

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

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.

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 lost sight of the retail business, failed to convert their catalog into a successful ecommerce business, and let their wildly popular house 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!

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 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 Lambert. 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.

Crain’s Chicago Business summed it up: “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.

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.

2 Non-profit branding… a story of start-up success and failure.

In 2009 I called it “A feel-good brand in a bummed out world.” It was the type of organization that genuinely touched people, and put smiles on faces. For me, a few minutes at Working Wonders Children’s Museum was a sure cure for a crummy day.

WWLogo - smallOur story of success, and failure, is valuable for anyone who’s starting a new business or running a non-profit organization.

When we started Working Wonders we did a lot things right. It was “by the book” all the way. First, we thoroughly researched the market and determined that there was a gaping need. Then we wrote a mission-focused brand strategy, and built a business plan around that. We came up with a great name, designed a nice logo and put an operational plan in place based on our cohesive brand platform.

At first, it was just a concept. A “museum without walls.” We raised enough money to build some traveling exhibits and we went to every event in town to introduce kids, and their parents, to our brand of educational play. It caught on. Before the days of Twitter, it went viral.

Our bootstrapping strategy proved the concept. Parents and kids loved us! In less than three years we raised $400,000 and arrived at that crucial, “go or no-go” point.

The argument TO go: We figured it’d be easier to raise money once people could see a finished children’s museum. We knew we could spend years travelling around, raising more money. (Many Children’s Museums spend a decade doing that.) Or we could get the doors open, and go from there.

The argument to NOT go: We’d be undercapitalized. Cash would be tight, and there was no endowment safety net .

We chose to go. Damn the torpedoes!

A team of volunteers scraped up donated materials, did the heavy lifting, and created a children’s museum that was small, but delightful. We launched in less than one-third the time and for one-fifth the cost of most children’s museums. It was a labor of love. A thing of beauty. The biggest accomplishment of my marketing career.

It broke my heart when it had to close because of the economic tidal wave that hit our town. Despite our best efforts and exceptional marketing, it was not sustainable.

Some people contend it was actually too well branded.

Many people thought we were part of a national chain of some sort. Never mind that our marketing was done with volunteer labor. Never mind that our advertising was mostly donated space. The general public simply couldn’t conceive of a little, local non-profit doing things so professionally. They figured we had all the money we needed, from some, mysterious, out-of -town source.

But there was no endowment. By the time we identified the perception problem and started addressing it with overt messaging, it was too late.

Our lessons learned from Working Wonders tie-in directly to an online discussion that I’ve been following about branding for non-profit organizations. It’s an informative conversation between branding professionals that everyone can learn from. Profit or not.

One key question that came up:

1.What happens when the public image of a non-profit organization suffers because of commercial branding strategies?

One could argue that’s what happened with Working Wonders. However, there’s more to the story than that.

If not for commercial branding practices the children’s museum never would have opened in the first place. That’s how we were able to touch so many kids. In hindsight, the execution of our marketing was not the issue. We did a great job of reaching the parents of young kids. They came in — over and over again.

Unfortunately, in the non-profit world customer satisfaction and brand loyalty doesn’t always translate to financial viability. For children’s museums loyal, repeat customers aren’t enough. They also need loyal, repeat donors.

That’s what we missed… the big dollar benefactors. In a town of only 100,000 people those are hard to find, so we relied heavily on corporate sponsorships. And those dried up with the economy.

IMG_2391As the online discussion points out, nonprofits are often torn between two marketing objectives. But the biggest effort HAS to be directed at board recruitment and fund raising.We woulda, coulda, shoulda spent less time getting kids in the door, and more time on a grass roots effort to raise money and load the board of directors with wealthy supporters.

So if you’re working with a small, local-level non-profit, by all means, do a professional job with your marketing. But first and foremost, make sure you’re telling your story of need to the right people.

It’s always a delicate balance to demonstrate that dire need without looking desperate. That’s your challenge as a non-profit marketer.

And keep in mind, if the organization does not appear grass-rootsy, potential donors might jump to unfortunate conclusions about your funding sources.

If you’re in a for-profit venture, look closely at the passion and commitment of the people who help build non-profit organizations. At Working Wonders, we were all deeply passionate about the needs of our young kids. That cause is what fueled us.

What’s your “cause?” Every great brand has one, beyond just making money. Is it written down somewhere? Is your operational plan aligned with that? Does anyone really care? These are some of the key strategic questions you need to ask yourself, before you worry about executing your go-to-market plan.

And, of course, you have to balance that thinking with the practical, numbers and sense question of, “where’s the money coming from?”

 

 

 

6 Why most marketing videos miss the mark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just follow the boucing ball!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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