Search Results for: differentiate

1 How to sell more stuff online.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My final choice: The Salomon with the custom fitting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Helpful.

Heroic.

Practical.

Luxurious.

Comfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

Fit.

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

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

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

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

7 Branding firm BNBranding

Effective Personal Branding — The corporate head shot is not the ticket.

Recently we had a client who didn’t like the photos we had taken for her website. She didn’t appreciate the fact that we had done something different than the usual, corporate head shot. She said they didn’t look “professional enough”  — didn’t think it was good personal branding.

The problem is, her idea of “professional” translates to invisible. Because everyone has a boring “professional” portrait. And doing the same thing is the worst thing for your personal branding efforts.

Just because you’re in a professional job, such as real estate, insurance or law, doesn’t mean you have to look professional in a boring corporate sense. That’s classic, rear-view mirror thinking… “well, that’s how they’ve always done it in my business, so I better do it too.”

Nonsense.  If that’s how it’s always been done, do just the opposite. Differentiation is the name of the game. Relevance, Differentiation and Credibility. Those are the fundamentals of personal branding.

truth in advertising BNBranding

You’d never differentiate yourself on Match.com with a stiff, corporate photo, so why would you sell yourself that way in professional circles? What sells on Match.com is the same thing that sells in the corporate world: Real life. Personality. Emotions. And Honesty.

Deceptive images might get you one date, but they won’t work in the long run.

Realtors are acutely aware of their personal branding efforts. And yet, they’re notorious for using crummy, outdated photos.

I rejected a realtor once because of her photo. I interviewed her because she had done a lot of advertising. Her face was everywhere! But when I met her in person I was literally taken aback.  She didn’t even look like the same person. She was at least 25 years older than she appeared in her photo.

I didn’t discriminate because of her age, I rejected her because she wasn’t honest with me. She purposely — knowingly — misrepresented herself. And for me, that’s a deal breaker.  It’s not a big leap to think she would also mis-represent my house, or my position in a negotiation.

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

So, no thanks.  Next candidate. There are plenty of other realtors waiting in the wings.

I suspect a lot of hiring managers think the same way. It’s human nature in a superficial world. We make snap judgments without even knowing we’ve made them. We are all biased, especially when it comes to looks.

So unless you’re super-model hot or as handsome as George Clooney, why would you want to show your face on every ad, every card, every page of the website? Besides ego.

A headshot does nothing to differentiate you from the rest of the realtors, lawyers, consultants or insurance agents with boring corporate headshots.

On the contrary.  It lumps you in with everyone else. All the bad moustaches and lousy suits on the guys make you look like you belong in a police line-up. And 90 percent of the women look like they’re trying way too hard. (Can you say “photoshop?”)

Successful personal branding hinges on authenticity, and there’s nothing authentic about most corporate head shots.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticSome have argued that Realtors should include a portrait because “they don’t have a product to sell. They are the product. “

I suppose that’s true to some extent. The problem is, they’re all “me-too” products.

That is, they all do exactly the same thing, in the same basic manner. There’s no difference in service from one to the other, and most head shots shot confirm that suspicion.

Realtors, dentists, attorneys, and millions of other “professionals” perform a service. How a head shot looks has no bearing whatsoever on their ability to provide a good, valuable service.

A head shot may, or may not, help establish credibility. Someone might say, “well she looked trustworthy,” but unless you look remarkably different than everyone else in your market area, it will not help differentiate you from the thousands of competitors.

Rosey is a symbol of strength for our client, Morris Hayden. Works much better than the client’s photo ever could.

Instead of showing yourself, why not find something that’s more meaningful…  an image, graphic or a logo that means something to you, and possibly even conveys a benefit.

Use a symbolic, conceptual image that isn’t so darn obvious. A bit of mystery is a powerful marketing tool.

Or better yet, devise a service that actually IS different, and then show that. Find a simple image the conveys that difference at a glance.

If it’s not a relevant photo, it’s not good personal branding.

If you’re selling your services as a bouncer, your physical looks are absolutely relevant. You have to look like a bad ass, so your portrait should be shot in dramatic, intimidating fashion. Black and white. Forced perspective. Arms folded and straight faced.

Same thing if you’re a personal trainer. A photo of your physique is proof that you know what you’re doing.

But that doesn’t work for realtors, lawyers or accountants.  No one says, “Wow, she looks like a great realtor!”  No one makes a purchase decision based only on your photo, but they will judge you, for better or worse.

So if you absolutely must use a headshot, here’s some advice for getting a photo that doesn’t look like it came from the Sears portrait studio:

1. Remember, image matters. Execution matters. If you use sloppy, poorly-lit photos on your website or your LinkedIn page, that’s going to reflect poorly on you. You’ll get judged for that, like it or not.

2. Get a life, and show it.  You’re not a robot. Get photos that are an accurate reflection of the real you. Use props or interesting settings. Do something that conveys your personality.

3. Save yourself a lot of time and frustration by using a pro the first time.There’s a HUGE difference between accomplished amateur photographers and professional photographers who can actually make a living from the images they sell.

4. Realize that women are almost impossible to please when it comes to portraits.  If you have a staff of 10 women, nine will be unhappy, no matter what. Show them 90 proofs, and they’ll reject every single one, out of hand. So if you’re running the show, don’t give them too many choices.  Trust the photographer and just show the top three. And whatever you do, don’t let them take the photos home for a consultation with their sisters, girl friends or daughters.

5. A good photo reveals your frame of mind. If you’re feeling confident, sexy and intelligent, it’ll come through. (Assuming you’re using a good, professional photographer)  If you’re defeated, depressed, or angry, that’ll show too. So do whatever you have to do to get in the right frame of mind for a photo shoot. Have a glass of wine. Loosen up. Have fun with it.

6. The camera is just not kind to some people. The minute the lens cap comes off, they freeze up faster than a popsicle in Nome. If that’s you, look for a photographer who has a photo-journalism background and let them do some candid, newsy shots. Don’t pose! Do something natural and let him capture the action.

7. Remember, photography is an art.  So be open minded and let the photographer be creative.  If you go into a photo shoot with very specific, pre-conceived notions, you’ll miss out on a great opportunity to shine.

Bottom line: There is a place for portraits in the marketing world. People like to know that they’re dealing with a real person, so the “about us” page of your website is a natural place for those head shots.

Anything beyond that is probably ill advised. Why show your face at all?  It’s brand recognition you want, not facial recognition. They can always just Google you if they want to see what you look like.

For more on branding fundamentals, try this post. If you want some help with your personal branding, give us a call. 541-815-0075.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

7 website design BNBranding

As long as first impressions matter, website design will matter.

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website 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?

website design BNBrandingThis 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 website design 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:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. 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.

website design BNBrandingI 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 website 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. “website 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 website 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 website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6 Small brands, big attitudes. How to create an XXL brand personality

BNBranding logoWhy do some businesses with relatively mundane products and services take off, while others stagnate? Often it comes down to brand personality. Or lack thereof.

Ben & Jerry's brand personality on the Brand Insight BlogWhen Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield started selling homemade ice cream out of a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont, it was personality and a little extra attitude that helped get the business off the ground.

Jerry said, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” Ben said “Every company has a responsibility to give back to the community.”  Those two simple ideas became the driving philosophy of the Ben & Jerry’s brand.

Over the years they’ve had a lot of fun with their crazy flavors: First it was Cherry Garcia, named for Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead.Currently, it’s Karmel Sutra. Imagine Whirled Peace. What A Cluster.  Magic Brownie.  Jimmy Fallon’s Late Night Snack. And Alec Baldwin’s Schweddy Balls, named after a Saturday Night Live character.

There’s authentic brand personality in every lick.

Needless to say, some people (including a few franchisees) were offended by the idea of Schweddy Balls on a waffle cone. But the company’s not shy. In fact, you could say that bravery is part of the brand personality.

Bend Oregon branding firm blog post on Ben & Jerry's

Controversial flavor of the month at Ben & Jerry’s

Ben & Jerry have never been afraid of a little controversy. In fact, they embrace it as a core brand value.

They decided from the get-go that the company needed to stand for something beyond just making money. So they built their passion for social and environmental issues into the business model. That, by itself, differentiates their brand from the competition — and from 90% of the corporations out there.

You don’t see Baskin Robbins doing Free Cone Day for local charities. Or buying environmentally friendly freezers. Or supporting Fair Trade. Or railing against military spending. Or even occupying wall street. You won’t find Haagen Daz supporting a local school fundraiser.

In their book, “Double Dip,” Ben said “Modern marketing is a process whereby faceless, nameless, valueless corporations hire marketers to determine what the consumer would like their brand to be, and then fabricate an image that corresponds. But they still only get a sliver of the market, because their made-up story isn’t any more appealing than the next. With values-led marketing you just go out there and say who you are. You don’t have to fool people to sell them your product.”

That’s what you call an authentic brand personality.

Most business owners seem to think they should keep their personal views and beliefs out of business. But for Ben & Jerry, their personalities and personal moral code created a corporate culture that’s become a model for value-driven businesses everywhere.

Like on the opposite side of the country, at McMenamin’s in Portland, Oregon. If you’ve spent any time at all in Oregon you’ll know the name McMenamin’s… Brewpubs. Historic, landmark hotels. Great microbrews. Movie Theaters. Restaurants. Music venues. Hidden, hole-in-the-wall bars. And did I mention the beer?

brand personality of McMenamins

McMenamin’s is a unique, regional brand that was started back in 1974 by two Portland brothers, Mike and Brian McMenamin. Like Ben & Jerry, they aren’t corporate marketing types or Silicone Valley entrepreneurs. They’re just normal, laid-back Oregon dudes with a shared vision and a taste for good beer.

brand personality from bend oregon advertising agency blog postFirst they had a small café in a run-down industrial area of Portland. Then, in 1985, they created the first post-prohibition brew pub in Oregon and ignited what is now a 22 billion dollar industry. Today they have more than 60 locations throughout the Pacific Northwest, many of which are undeniable destinations, in and of themselves.

One thing the McMenamin brothers have in common with Ben and Jerry is a quirky, earthy, anti-corporate attitude. In fact, there’s a conscious anti-branding ideology at McMenamin’s that, ironically, produces a distinctive brand experience.

Even though each property has its own unique identity, they all bear a striking family resemblance. Check into any of their hotels or just order a pint at any of their neighborhood taverns and you’ll know you’re at a McMenamin’s.

bend oregon advertising agency blog post on brand personalityThe vibe is distinct.  Appealing. Even irresistible.

Mike and Brian share a love of architecture, art, music, and good beer.  And they combine those elements in spectacular fashion at every location.

The brothers hate to see any cool old building go to waste.Their idea of fun is taking a dilapidated county poor farm in the unlikely town of Troutdale and transforming it into a 4 and a half star destination.

It’s not development, it’s historic reclamation.

At McMenamins, it’s not about the personality of the brothers, it’s about the personality of each property. The staff historian researches the story behind every property they purchase. Like the Kennedy School. The old Masonic Home in Forest Grove. The old Elks Temple in Tacoma, Washington. St. Francis School in Bend, Oregon. The history of the brand personality post from BNBranding, an oregon advertising agencybuilding and the neighborhood becomes part of the brand personality of every location.

The distinctive brand identity of every new property fits with the quirky look and feel of the overall brand. Not only that, when you walk into any one of their locations,  you’ll immediately notice the consistent identity and atmosphere in every little detail. The execution is amazing. Oregon is chock-full of brew pubs these days, but none can match the appealing atmosphere of a McMenamins.

You won’t find the McMenamin brothers doing publicity stunts or speaking engagements. They just stay under the radar and focus on doing what they do well… turning abandoned properties into thriving businesses. With good beer, exceptional experiences and a very loyal following.

brand personality post on the brand insight blogEveryday they get suggestions from fans across the country about properties that would be perfect for a new McMenamin’s.  And when one of their oldest taverns burned down, customers held a vigil in the parking lot. Brian McMenamin called the response “spine-tingling.”

brand personality

The artwork gives it away… obviously, a McMenamin’s project.

That’s brand loyalty!

And it doesn’t come from big, trumped up marketing efforts. It comes from doing things passionately. Consistently. And honestly.

As Ben & Jerry have said, “Only the quality of the product and the resonance a customer feels with the company can produce repeat business and brand loyalty.”

Big personalities resonate. But as the McMenamin brothers and Ben & Jerry prove, you don’t have to be Richard Branson to build a successful brand. You just have to be passionate about something. Because humans are naturally drawn to passionate people.

If you’re ever in Bend, Oregon, give me a call and I’ll treat you to a beer at the Broom Closet bar at  McMenamin’s Old St. Francis school. We’ll talk branding, business and personality.

For more on how to build a brand with personality, check out THIS post.

113 marketin strategy vs tactics BNBranding

The difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

BNBranding logoI’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 has an MBA. He’s gotta know this stuff.

So I started doing some research online and I’ve found the problem: The internet! And specifically, LinkedIn and other social media channels of misinformation.

marketin strategy vs tactics BNBrandingJust about every day there’s another misleading article about marketing strategy and tactics. There’s more misinformation than information out there. More nonsense than common sense.

For instance, I ran across one article that listed “search engines” as a marketing strategy and said “long-term strategies such as giving away freebies will continue to pay off years down the road.”

Freebies are NOT a strategy. Search engines are NOT a strategy. Digital is NOT a strategy.

Just the other day, one of the biggest gurus of digital marketing published a post about “marketing strategy” that was flat-out wrong. It was about media buying — specifically, choosing Facebook over Television advertising. I

That’s not Marketing Strategy, that’s tactical media buying.  Step 5 in the branding process, not the beginning.

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. All over the place.

In any case, the easiest way to clarify the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is to go to the source…

marketing tactics vs strategy

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.”

Tactics:

CIA spies gather intelligence.

Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.

Paratroopers secure the airports.

Armored Divisions and tank battalions race in and divide the opposing army’s forces.

Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.

An overwhelming force of infantry invade.

Hand-to-hand combat.

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.)

In WWII, the generals spent more than six months mapping out the strategy to win the war in Europe before D-Day. They diagnosed the problem, researched the enemy,  pinpointed weaknesses and literally mapped out a plan of attack. Much of that strategic debate focused on what NOT to do… Where NOT to invade. What battlefields to avoid.

Here’s an example of good marketing strategy – from Under Armour.

A marketing tactic is an action you take to execute the designated strategy.

Strategic thinking. Tactical acting.

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.

classic marketing strategy and tactics on the Brand Insight Blog

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 have been 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. It’s iconic.

 

 

 

 

 

• 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

balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBranding

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 marketing 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:

Marketing strategy and tactics - the branding process at BNBranding

The top three circles represent strategy. All the activities in the blue circles are tactics. You can’t do it all yourself. Learn more about our proven branding process. 

“Create awareness.” “Overcome objections.” “Boost consumer confidence.” “Refresh the brand.” “Turnkey a multiplatform communications program.”

That’s just marketing industry jargon.

Those 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?”  Presenting people with entirely new ways to use your product is a  good marketing 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 the conflicting information you find.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

The fact is, even the sharpest marketing people need help sometimes. Even the most savvy entrepreneurs run into roadblocks on a regular basis. They crash and burn, pick up the pieces and keep on going!

BNBranding can help you navigate the world of marketing and take your business to the next level. We have a disciplined  branding process that produces a unique strategy that will differentiate you from all your competitors. And then we help you execute that strategy it in creative new ways.

It starts with an affordable test drive assessment of your current marketing efforts. We’d be happy to do that for you. It’s a simple, no-risk assessment that will point the way forward. No matter where you’re starting.

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. Copyright 2017 BNBranding.

3 1 Tough Mother, 2 marketing objectives: Image advertising AND results

BNBranding logoIt’s an old debate… can image advertising actually move the needle on bottom-line business objectives?  Ad agency execs say yes, of course. But marketing directors, C-level execs and direct response guys are often skeptical.

My humble opinion… absolutely. When it’s done well, “image” advertising certainly can achieve both objectives… move product AND cement the brand identity in popular culture.

There are many great examples of image advertising that has done exactly that…  The Got Milk campaign.  Absolute Vodka. Ipod intro advertising, to name a few.

Here’s a case study from my hometown, Portland, Oregon:

Meet Gert Boyle, the iconic matriarch of Columbia Sportswear.

Gert inherited the family business in 1970 after her husband’s untimely heart attack. At the time, Columbia was generating $650,000 a year in sales, but was teetering on the brink of insolvency. Although the company made a popular line of fishing and hunting apparel, profitability had been a problem for years.

To make matters worse, Neal Boyle had offered three family-owned homes and his life insurance policy as collateral for an SBA loan. The pressure was on.

After the first year Gert seriously considered selling. But when the deal fell apart she dug her heels in, made some tough decisions, and with help from her son Tim, turned the business around. By 1978 they reached $1 million in sales. By 1983, they were up to $12 million.

The first image advertising for Columbia touted the technical aspects of their product and said, “We don’t just design it, we engineer it.”

Ooops. It was a message more suited for the biggest competitors, like Patagonia or North Face, than Columbia.

Columbia’s jackets weren’t the most technical on the market, nor the most fashionable. It wasn’t a brand you’d see on an expedition up Everest or in a popular skiing film, so the engineering angle missed the mark. It was image advertising that didn’t capture the heart of the brand.

Columbia products represented functional practicality, not high-end technical features.

BNBranding use long copy to be authenticTheir jackets sold for half the price of their competitors, and were perfectly suitable for 95% of the population who are outside enthusiasts, but not extremists. The brand was more about braving the Oregon rain than assaulting the seven summits.

So in the fall of 1984, Bill Borders, Wes Perrin and the team at Borders, Perrin & Norrander came up with something completely different.

“All the competitors were doing campaigns with pretty outdoor photos and suitably attractive models,” said Wes Perrin. “Bill wanted to differentiate the brand, and establish more personality.”

At that time, there was a famous campaign running with Frank Purdue, for Purdue Chicken. “We thought we could could do something like that, because we had Gert Boyle,” Perrin said. “She declined at first, but she ended up being great to work with over the next 20 years or so.”

brand advertising columbia sportswearThey portrayed Gert as stubborn, finicky and overprotective. They showed the product and touted benefits, but always in context with a small, family-owned business and Mother Boyle’s strict quality control standards. Nothing gets by her.

As it turned out, Gert embodied everything the Columbia brand is about. She was the most obnoxious, bullheaded, effective pitchman ever, and people loved her.

In her book, Gert said  “The impact of the ads was almost instantaneous. Sales quickly increased, and I was surprised when strangers came up to me on the streets and asked if I was the “Tough Mother.”

“The tall, thin, blonde models in our competitor’s ads may be easier on the eyes, but they don’t care about you like good old Mother Boyle. “The image created in the ads took hold. Instead of seeing us as just another outerwear company, our customers thought of us as the company where the cranky, crotchety old broad made sure they were getting a good product at a fair price.”

Once Gert and Tim realized they had a big hit they turned up the heat, outspending their competitors by a wide margin.

They started running TV spots where Gert used her hapless son as a product-testing guinea pig. She sent him through a car wash, dumped him unconscious on the summit of a mountain. Froze him in the ice and drove over him with a Zamboni. All with the tagline: Tested Tough.

Fun stuff. And spot-on from a branding standpoint.

How to differentiate your company - BNBranding“Our ads set us apart from the corporate pack. People related to us because they believe there is a person at Columbia who really cares. And the best thing about our ads is that they are true. I really do care.” – Gert Boyle.

Authenticity. Differentiation. Credibility. And increased sales. What more could you want from image advertising?

When the campaign launched in 1984, sales were $18 million. By 1990 Columbia hit the $100 million dollar mark. Today they’re the number one outerwear company in the world, doing $2.5 billion a year.

Unfortunately, Gert was absent from the brand advertising for ten years. While the company continued its growth, the advertising lost the edge that Borders had established. Columbia’s website and on-line marketing efforts didn’t have the brand personality of the old Gert Boyle ads, and began to look more like the predictable, stock imagery of all the other brands.

So in 2015, Columbia’s advertising agency brought Gert back for the “Tested Tough” campaign, proving that her appeal stood the test of time.

For more on brand personality and image advertising, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

6

Marketing for financial advisors – beyond gift baskets

BNBranding logoIt was one hell of a gift basket, piled high with a delicious assortment of treats… Not unusual for the holiday season, except it came from my financial advisor.

First gift ever from a planner who I’ve worked with for more than 10 years. Apparently, the stock market’s rise inspired her to do a little outreach. That’s one of the problems with marketing for financial advisors… it’s a fair weather affair.  (She stays conspicuously quiet when the market is tanking.)

marketing for financial advisors BNBranding

Her marketing efforts are being driven by outside forces, beyond her control.

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

Her brand has no differentiation and little visibility.

Here’s an example of the typical marketing for financial advisors…

• Monthly Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting.

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

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

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

It’s more of a tactical to-do list than an actual marketing plan. There’s no strategy at all. In the past it might have worked… She could get by on her good looks and good news from a bull market.

Not any more. There’s just too much competition on too many different fronts.

Compensation for independent financial advisors is typically based either on a flat fee, or on a percentage of the total assets under management (AUM). If it’s $100 million of other people’s money, they typically make 1% of that. A million bucks gross.

The problem is, when the market “corrects” itself, they might see a 30-40% drop in AUM, so they start scrambling to find new clients.

Choose one main thing BNBrandingMost just ratchet-up their networking efforts, hoping for more word-of-mouth. But it’s tough when they’ve been silent for years.

Some have discovered a new, more lucrative pipeline: Internet-based lead generation services.

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

Independent, third-party directories also fill a vital role for consumers: They help simplify  the search and match prospects with a financial advisor who fits.

It’s a vexing decision, choosing someone to handle your life savings. And most financial advisor web sites  have the same, stock-photo look, and the same brochure-style copy. Very, very few have any sort of specialty or market niche.

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

When prospects go on line to research “financial advisors” they begin with Google. But Google can’t sort or organize the category in a helpful way. That’s where directories come in…  they categorize advisors, provide details on specific services and nudge prospects along in the decision making process.

So assuming that you have some sort of specialty or differentiating featues, you can get a steady stream of very qualified leads and search engine optimization you could never achieve on your own.

In this day and age, marketing for financial advisors has to go beyond a static website and a Facebook page.

If you really are an expert financial planner, share your knowledge and your unique insight by writing a blog. Establish a presence for you and your personal brand in places where your direct competitors aren’t.

Do something, ANYTHING, that’s different from what you’ve always done.

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

But before you dive in, consider your strategy. Because tactics without a strategy is like a ship with no rudder. For more on Strategy vs. Tactics, try this post.

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

For more info, try this post.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

6

Comparison ads – From Cola Wars to Computer Wars

BNBranding logoA client recently asked me if he should run some comparison ads. It’s a good question, and the answer depends on a variety of factors.

There are many examples of successful comparison ads. Back in the 70’s and 80’s the most talked-about battle of the brands was between Coke & Pepsi. The Cola war is still popular topic of college marketing classes and business books. It even hit prime time TV on All In The Family and Saturday Night Live.

“No Coke. Pepsi!” John Belushi famously said.

Today the battlefield has shifted from soft drinks to smart phones, software and fast food. Taco Bell’s trying to compare its breakfast to a McMuffins and nerds all over the world are claiming “I’m a PC.”

It’s the war between Microsoft and Apple. A war that should never have been fought.

software wars on the brand insight blog BNBrandingEvery 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 and comparative advertising…

Never respond to an attack by a smaller competitor.

This is marketing 101 folks. If you control 90% of the market, like Microsoft once did, 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.

Apple started it all with the help of TBWA/Chiat Day’s brilliantly simple “I’m a Mac” campaign.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfv6Ah_MVJU Those spots work on so many different levels, it’s ridiculous… probably the most brilliant “talking head” advertising of all time.

comparison ads on the brand insight blog - BNBranding

If the Microsoft execs were smart they wouldn’t touch the subject with a ten-foot pole.

Duck and cover! Just let it go, and come up with something memorable of your own.

You’re the market leader, remember!

But noooo… 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 original 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 copycat 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 comparison ads gave Apple free airtime on the evening news, 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.

Next, Microsoft upped the ante in their ad war against Apple.They send out “real people” to shop for the best laptop they could find for under $1000. A cute, wholesome-looking actress pretends to visit an Apple store and says “I guess I’m just not cool enough for a Mac.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQOzNDZzZzk   

It’s a nice, authentic feeling spot. Probably the best spot ever produced for Microsoft. From an execution standpoint, it’s very well done. Unfortunately, it’s based on a no-win strategy. The Microsoft ad actually reinforces Apple’s position in the marketplace…

It’s the computer for cool people. The phone of the hip. The brand of creativity.

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 misguided Microsoft comparison ads, and Apple’s laughing all the way to the bank.

How to differentiate your company - BNBrandingSure, there is some low-hanging fruit in the market for 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 a perceived 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 “I’m a PC.”

Apple inspires great advertising because it makes great products. They can do comparison ads because the facts back-up the hype. They have superior products, in so many ways.

Microsoft… not so much.

So that’s the first criteria for comparison ads: If you truly, clearly have a product that’s factually better than the competition’s product, by all means, run comparison ads. Truth rules!

But if the product or service is just the same, or even just subjectively different, don’t do it. You’ll get sued.

Every ad, every social media post, every point of purchase display Apple ever creates is a comparison ad of sorts. Not overt, but a subtle comparison nonetheless. Because as consumers, we immediately categorize things.

ipod branding on the brand insight blog

 

When these ads for the iPod came out, we immediately thought “Wow… that’s cool. Microsoft sure doesn’t have anything like that.”

In fact, there were a number of functional MP3 players on the market at the time, but they weren’t cool looking. They weren’t branded. And they weren’t as well designed as the iPod.

These print ads summed it all up in one, simple graphic solution. They didn’t have to beat people over the heads with product features and mind numbing facts. They just showed the product in its jamming simplicity.

So here’s another criteria for comparison ads… You can do them when public perception is on your side.  Before Apple ever launched the “I’m a PC”  campaign, the whole world knew the score. The TV spots just confirmed what everyone was already thinking.

And finally, when it’s a David and Goliath situation, only David can throw out comparison ads successfully. Like when the little start-up burger chain called Wendy’s took on McDonald’s.

comparison ads BNBranding's Brand Insight BlogOne brilliant comparative ad — three words — solidified that brand and cemented Wendy’s success.

“Where’s The Beef?”

It was a brilliant, humorous twist on comparison advertising. Their hamburger patties really were thicker and juicier than McDonald’s, and the old lady just said it, flat out.

Watch it here. 

Notice that the word “McDonald’s” is nowhere to be found in that script. Doesn’t have to be… everyone knew that they were referring to the market leader. In that case, there’s no denying the success of that comparison advertising.

Unlike Microsoft, McDonald’s was smart enough to NOT respond to the humorous jab.

For more on advertising strategy, try this post. 

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

 

2 retail marketing strategy

Retail Marketing Strategy — Super Sales vs. Super Brands.

BNBranding logoIt’s discount days in the retail world right now. Everywhere you turn there’s a super sale, an inventory reduction, a seasonal clearance event or some other equally banal form of discounting.

retail marketing strategySign of the times, I suppose. With all that pressure from online retailers, brick and mortar store owners are desperate to get people in the door, even if it causes long-term damage to their brand.

But does discounting really hurt your brand?

That’s a question that often leads to heated debates between ad agency folks and their clients. The creatives are quick to condemn anything that involves a price point. But clients want to “move the needle” and “get an immediate ROI” on every advertising dollar. They often claim that any sort of “image” advertising is a waste of time.

Then there’s the agency Account Executive, trying desperately to bring the two sides together in a sort of middle-east peace accord that will save the account for another year. Not a good scenario for a lasting client-agency relationship.

But I digress.

The question is, where does discounting fit into your retail marketing strategy? Does it hurt a brand to run a half-off sale? It depends on the brand and the strategy behind the sale.

So before you hire that sign painter to emblazon your front window with “Everything Must Go!”  ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does the sale or promotion complement your brand promise or contradict it?
  2. Who would the sale appeal to? Are you luring only your best customers, or is a sale a good way to introduce new folks to your brand. And will you ever see those people again?

retail marketing strategyNordstrom has the right answer to both those questions.

When it comes to brand integrity, Nordstrom is the bellwether for the retail industry. It’s a chain known for high prices and bend-over-backward customer service.

Bargains are NOT part of the Nordstrom brand ethos. So yes, frequent discounting would definitely hurt that brand.

If Nordstrom had a Super Bowl sale and a Valentines Day sale and an Easter sale and a Mother’s Day sale and a Father’s Day sale like most department stores, consumers would slowly but surely begin to question the entire premise of the business. They’d begin to doubt Nordstrom’s stature as the industry’s service leader and wonder if the chain compromised the quality of the merchandise.

Might as well go to Macy’s.

So here’s how Nordstrom handles discounting without compromising their brand promise: They only have one store-wide sale a year: The Anniversary sale. (Plus an annual Men’s Sale and an Annual Women’s Sale.)

retail marketing strategyTo manage the inevitable department store inventory challenges and discounting pressure, they opened The Nordstrom Rack. If you like Nordstrom’s outstanding merchandise, but don’t want to pay standard Nordstrom prices for the service, go to the Rack. It’s like a sale all the time. Same stuff, but a totally different shopping experience.

So here’s the final answer: If you have a retail brand that emphasizes customer service and outstanding quality, use discounts very sparingly. Because every sale will send mixed messages to an already skeptical audience.

Contrast that with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart shoppers aren’t going to Nordstrom for the annual men’s sale. They’re going to Wal-Mart every Saturday where a constant barrage of markdowns is always expected, and perfectly “on brand.”

Wal-Mart’s corporate culture takes frugality to an entirely new level, and it shows up on every isle in every store. Wal-Mart’s brand promise demands big, loud sales, or at least the perception of sale prices all the time. That’s why they have spend more than $800 million a year on advertising… it’s a constant state of “Sale.”

For both Wal-Mart and Nordstrom, the retail marketing strategy delivers on the brand promise. Their sales appeal to core customers as well as those who are looking for a bargain. And there’s a good chance they’ll come back again after the sale.

Unfortunately, most business owners can’t answer the question, “is this sale consistent with your brand promise?” Because they don’t know what their brand promise is. When pressed, they can’t pinpoint what their business is really all about, beyond making their quarterly numbers.

They’ve never thought about it. They’ve never articulated it. And they certainly haven’t communicated it to the public in a clear, compelling, consistent manner. They’re too busy advertising “value.”

The Gallup Organization has done extensive research regarding brand promises and have found that the vast majority are poorly defined and poorly communicated.

retail marketing strategy

Sometimes it takes nerve to resist the “big sale” temptation.

“Rather than attempting to convince a skeptical audience that their brand offers something truly meaningful and distinct, some companies have found it easier just to bribe their prospects (with sales) … Repeat purchases that are driven solely by brand bribery, however, are not the same thing as a brand relationship.”

In other words, sales might increase short-term transactions, but they don’t improve your brand loyalty.

Successful brands like Nordstrom have lasting, loving relationships with their customers, not one-night stands. And the more Amazon pushes its automated, efficient-but-impersonal approach to retail, the more valuable Nordstrom-like service becomes.

So think twice about your retail promotional strategy. If your brand’s promise is to consistently deliver the cheapest goods and services in your category, then go ahead. Run sales every month.

But if your brand promise is to deliver value or service or anything else beyond low price, then find another way to drive traffic.

Your brand will be better for it.

For more on brand strategy, try this post. 

marketing strategy BNBranding

 

 

 

For more on how to differentiate your store without resorting to bribery, try this post. 

Or call us! 541-815-0075

2 polishing your pitch for venture capital

Pitching to potential investors… Gone in 60 seconds

It didn’t take long to get through the wildcard round at the Bend Venture Conference. Each presenter had exactly 60 seconds to do an elevator pitch. The best short pitch won a chance to do a 10-minute presentation later in the day. The ultimate prize: $110,000 in venture capital.

help polishing your pitch for the bend venture conferenceNothing tests an entrepreneur like a one-minute limit, and conference co-founder Karen Fast was right there, enforcing the 60-second rule with her wind-up kitchen timer. Low tech, but highly effective.

“Time’s up!”

It was fun to watch, especially from a writing standpoint. Presenters really had to polish the pitch, and hone it down to a short little spiel that captured the imagination of the audience. Plus, they had no PowerPoint slides to use as a crutch. Clearly, some were out of their element. A couple people blew it completely and every presenter was seriously challenged by the brevity of it.

So here are a few tips for for anyone who’s trying to convey a big idea in a really small amount of time. These are good guidelines for any entrepreneur who needs to craft a tight elevator pitch.

• It’s not so much what you say that makes a difference, it’s what choose NOT to say. The objective of the one-minute pitch isn’t to close the sale, it’s to open your audience up and leave them wanting more. Don’t educate them, just tease them. Withhold some really important bombshells for the next meeting.

• Don’t try to condense your 20-minute slide deck into one minute. About half of the wildcard presenters did this… they just cherry-picked what they thought were the most important bullet points from their 10-minute PowerPoint presentations. But a one-minute elevator pitch is a completely different animal. You need a script that’s conceived, written and honed down specifically for the purpose or dramatizing your big idea.

• Tell your story, starting with the problem and solution. Get to the value proposition immediately.  In radio, 60 seconds is enough time to establish a plot, develop memorable characters and introduce a touch of humor. So you should be able to convey the gist of your business idea in the time allowed. The other thing you can learn from advertising is this: Great print ads work on a 3 second level, a 30-second level, and a 3-minute level. Your pitch should work the same way, if you have time.

•Whatever you do, don’t start with numbers! It doesn’t matter that your market is 39 zillion dollars, launching into your pitch with a big number will not differentiate you from all the other presenters. Besides, the stats just won’t resonate with 99% of the people in the audience. You can address the market size later, if you make it to the next round. It’s way more powerful to show how your product will solve one person’s problem.

• Get the right guy up on stage. A tightly edited script is crucial, but you also need a good, credible pitchman. The best presenters engage the audience with some charisma and deliver the message with passion and clarity. They have just the right balance of bravado and business sense, so they don’t come off sounding like a used car salesman, on one hand, or an engineering geek on the other. It’s not always the CEO or the person with the most experience. One of the presenters on Friday had a good script, but his demeanor was just too laid back to get people’s attention. Another, who had an impressive track record of start-ups, bumbled it completely.

• Forget about introducing yourself. You don’t have time to be cordial. In his book, The Art Of The Start, Guy Kawasaki puts it this way: “ Unfortunately, entrepreneurs still believe a pitch is a narrative with an opening chapter that must always be autobiographical.”Don’t talk about yourself or the management team. That can come later. Instead, get to the gist of your idea right away.

• Remember, the voting audience is judging the presentation as well as the idea. If your business idea has a major WOW factor then you can let the idea carry you. But you still need to verbalize the idea in a compelling way. For instance, there was a company at the Bend Venture Conference that has potential to cure Malaria. Seriously. Unfortunately, the presenter completely missed it and bored the audience to death. They may have had the biggest big idea of all, but they got beat out on style points.

polishing your pitch for venture capital• Step out of the businessman mode for a minute, and think like an advertising guy. How would a classic pitchman dramatize your idea in a 30-second spot? Can you demonstrate it? Showing is always more powerful than just telling. Everyone remembers the “Will it Blend” series for Blendtec.

• Don’t underestimate the power of a good, old-fashioned product demonstration. Guess who won the wildcard round… The one guy who could demonstrate his product right then and there. He showed the audience what his product does, and didn’t waste one second explaining how it does it.

Writing your one-minute pitch is one of the hardest things you’ll do. You have to put aside your businessman hat, and think like an entertainer. It’s not for everyone.

If you want to learn more about how to polish your pitch for venture capital, click here.

If you want to save yourself a lot of pain and agony, dial this number: 541-815-0075.  It doesn’t cost much, but it can pay off big time.

Chat with a branding expert: (541) 815-0075