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4 common advertising mistakes — Bad puns, bribes and other branding blunders

BNBranding logoGuess what…  Great advertising is hard to come by. And advertising mistakes are much more common than home runs like “Got Milk”  or “Just Do It.”

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clients don’t always have the nerve to run the best spots.

Advertising is hard for corporate brand managers who have big ad agencies, market research firms, and millions of dollars at their disposal.

Advertising is hard for the mid-level marketing manager who knows her consumer, her market and her sales pitch, really, really well.

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

So why do so many small-business owners think they can do it themselves?

That’s where the most advertising mistakes come from… business owners with a DIY mentality who take it upon themselves to write headlines, choose photos, and dictate the direction of print ads, commercials and digital campaigns?

C’mon. That’s how we end up with so many awful commercials.

 

 

Please, if you’re responsible for your company’s advertising — and ultimately, the perception of your brand — delegate the advertising to a pro. Not to the intern who’s doing social media posts. Not to the sales rep at a local TV or radio station. Not to a graphic designer.

Delegate it to a real advertising professional. If you do that, you’ll avoid most of the most common advertising mistakes that your competitors are making.

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

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

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

1. Bad Puns

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

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

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

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

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank.

Chicken Checking for a has-been bank

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

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

2. False and misleading claims.

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

I’ve also seen this happen in the natural foods industry…  there are still a lot of snake oil salesmen out there who want to make outlandish, unprovable claims about the healthiness of their products.

Don’t do it. Let your tribe of like-minded, health-conscious adult customers come to their own conclusions. (for more on that check-out this post.) A talented team of advertising pros can find truth in just about any product or service. If they can’t, you better find a different agency.

3. Bribery.

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

Unfortunately, “offers” like that are like the crack cocaine of marketing. People get hooked. They’re not loyal, long-term customers, they’re just deal junkies looking for a fix.

Next week they’ll be off buying from someone else with a better offer. It’s not a good, long-term strategy unless your prices substantially lower than your competitors.  Are you out to build a “value” brand in your category?  If so, go right ahead! Run discounts, sales and incentive programs all day long. Attract as many of those deal junkies as you can and be prepared to continuously court a whole new crew of customers.

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

4. Talking about yourself

This has to be the most rampant of all advertising mistakes. It’s human nature… business owners want to talk about themselves and their products when they should be talking about the wants, needs and feelings of  the customer.

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

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

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

I saw an awful commercial recently for a local golf course (The high-falutin’ kind that charges $95 bucks a round but isn’t as good as the local municipal course.)  The commercial was nothing but a family portrait of the pro/owner and his not-so-cute family. Five kids in the clubhouse and on the course saying “Hey, look at us!”

The spot was based on the ridiculous assumption that “family owned” counts for something among golfers. That’s another common advertising mistake… NOT thinking at all about the real appeal of your product or service.

If that owner asked 20 customers why they play his course, not one would say “cuz it’s family owned.”

To me it just means that guy and his family are getting rich by overcharging for a mediocre round of golf.

Talk about flushing money down the drain. Not only will that claim NOT attract golfers, the message will actually REPEL prospects and encourage them to call the neighboring golf course… where the conditions are better, the rates are lower and  there aren’t any obnoxious kids running around.

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

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

If you want advertising that’s well thought out, and well executed, call me at BNBranding.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

Absolutely Better Branding Strategies (Lessons from a strong shot of vodka.)

dill pickle vodka BNBrandingbrand credibility from branding expertsChocolate vodka? Dill pickle vodka? Bacon flavored vodka? Cinnamon Roll Vodka? Smoked Salmon Vodka. I kid you not. When it comes to marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, fantastical flavors are all the rage.

Seems like there’s a new flavor-of-the-day every time I visit a liquor store. Ten years ago there were basically only four or five choices of vodka. Now there are 20 brands, and every brand has a dozen different whacky flavors.

Where’d the vodka flavored vodka go?

It’s great news for mixologists, but a bit overwhelming for the average consumer.  And it poses huge challenges to marketers who are trying to succeed in this newly crowded space.

Doesn’t matter if it’s vodka, gin, whiskey or rum, the marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages are getting more and more involved.

So here’s some advice, based on one of the classic marketing case studies from this category: Absolut Vodka.

The first rule of advertising is this: Never take the same approach as your closest competitors.

If you want to differentiate your brand, you have to think “different.” Contrarian even.

Everything that you say, everything that you show, and everything that you do should be different, to some extent than what everyone else in the industry is doing. Study all the market strategies of alcoholic beverages, and then choose a different path.

 

BNBranding can help you do that. ”Here’s how:

• Even if you’re selling the same thing, don’t make the same claim.

There are hundreds of different ways to sell the benefits of your product or service, so find one that’s different than your competitors. That often comes down to one thing: Listening. The better you are at listening to consumers, the easier it’ll be to differentiate your brand.

• Don’t let your ads or your website look or sound anything like competing ads.

Use a different layout, different type style, different size and different idea.

The last thing you want to do is run an ad that can be mistaken, at a glance, for a competitor’s ad. If all the companies in your category take a humorous approach to advertising, do something more serious. Find a hook that’s based on a real need of your target audience, and speak to that. Zig when the competition is zagging.

• If you’re on the radio, don’t use the same voice talent or similar sounding music.

Find someone different to do the voice work, rather than a DJ who does a dozen new spots a week for other companies in your market. Same thing for tv spots. (This is an easy trap to fall into if you live and work in a small market… there’s not enough “talent” to go around.)

Unfortunately, every industry seems to have its own unwritten rules that contradict the rules of advertising.

These industry conventions aren’t based on any sort of market research or strategic insight. They’re not even common sense. Everyone just goes along because “that’s how it’s always been done.”

The problem is, if that’s how it has always been done, that’s also how everyone else is doing it. In fact, some of these industry conventions are so overused they’ve become cultural cliches.

• Don’t use the same images or advertising concepts that your competitors are using.

The rule in the pizza business says you have to use the “pull shot:” A slow-motion close-up of a slice of pizza being pulled off the pie, with cheese oozing off it.

In the automotive industry, conventional thinking says you have to show your car on a scenic, winding road. Or off the scenic winding road if it’s an SUV.

In the beer business, it’s a slow motion close up of a glass of beer being poured.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beveragesThose are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers, but they’re virtually invisible to consumers.

But if you go down that road, and follow your industry conventions, your advertising will never perform as well as you’d like. In fact, history has proven you have to break the rules in order to succeed.

Absolut Vodka won the market by winning the imagination of the consumer through brilliant print advertising.

In 1980 Absolut  was a brand without a future. All the market research pointed to a complete failure. The bottle was weird looking. It was hard to pour. It was Scandinavian, not Russian. It was way too expensive. It was a me-too product in the premium vodka category.

But the owner of Carillon Imports didn’t care. He believed his product was just different enough… That all he needed was the right ad campaign.

So he threw out all the old conventions of his business and committed to a campaign that was completely different than anything else in his industry. And he didn’t just test the water, he came out with all his guns blazing.

TBWA launched a print campaign that called attention to the unique bottle design of Absolut. It was brilliantly simple, and unique among marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages of any kind.

Needless to say, it worked.

The “Absolut Perfection” campaign gave a tasteless, odorless drink a distinctively hip personality and transformed a commodity product into a cultural icon. In an era where alcohol consumption dropped, Absolut sales went from 10,000 cases a year to 4.5 million cases in 2000. And it’s still the leading brand of Vodka in the country.

The moral of the story is this: When you choose to follow convention, you choose invisibility.

“To gain attention, disrupt convention.”

marketing strategy for alcoholic beverages That’s my own quote.

Instead of worrying about what everyone else has done, focus on what you could be doing. Take the self-imposed rule book and throw it away. Do something different. Anything!

Long before the days of dill pickle vodka, Absolute added a nice local touch to its ads in major markets such as LA, New York and Chicago. (ads at left)

They made the campaign timely and locally relevant by hitching onto well-known events, famous people and iconic places. It was a brilliant example of wise brand affiliations.

marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages

This disruption mindset doesn’t apply just to the marketing strategies of alcoholic beverages. It’s important for professional service companies or any other category where it’s tough to differentiate one company from the others.

Take real estate agents for example. Realtors are, in essence, me-too products. Flavorless vodka. In Bend, Oregon they’re a commodity. Even if a realtor has a specialty there are at least 500 other people who could do the same thing. For the same fee. That’s the bad news.

The good news is, even though there’s no difference in price and no discernable difference in service, you could still create a major difference in perception. If you’re willing to think different.

Like Absolut Vodka, a unique approach to your advertising is the one thing that can set you apart from every other competitor. Advertising is the most powerful weapon you have, simply because no one else is doing it. At least not very well.

But putting your picture in an ad won’t do it. That’s the conventional approach.

Remember rule number one and run advertising that says something. Find a message that demonstrates how well you understand your customers or the market. Run a campaign that conveys your individual identity without showing the clichéd, 20-year-old head shot.

Do what the owner of Absolute did. Find an approach that is uniquely yours, and stick with it no matter what everyone in your industry says. Over the long haul, the awareness you’ve generated will translate into sales. Next thing you know everyone else will be scrambling to copy what you’re doing.

Eventually your campaign just might become a new industry convention. Maybe not on par with bacon vodka or dill pickle vodka, but iconic nonetheless.

For more on marketing strategies for alcoholic beverages, try THIS post. 

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Advertising in a crisis: Shit happens, but brands endure.

brand credibility from branding expertsEvery entrepreneur experiences setbacks… Markets crash. Key team members leave with your biggest accounts. There are supply-chain snaffus, natural disasters, and now, a novel virus that slams the door on a robust economy. It’s hard to know what to do when you’re advertising in a crisis, but this is when your branding efforts can really pay off.

All the work you’ve done over the years to stay visible and be a responsible, authentic brand will pay off in spades when times are tough.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that a nicely designed logo is going to make you magically immune from the business fallout of the Corona virus. (Logo is NOT synonymous with Brand and everyone will be affected)

brand credibilityI’m just saying that iconic brands are going to be more insulated — and more likely to survive — than the companies that haven’t been paying attention to branding.

This is a time of unprecedented uncertainty, and when people are unsure, scared or threatened, they want to be comforted.

It’s human nature.

We cling to what’s familiar, and we want an escape from the UNknown. We narrow our choices dramatically and don’t entertain new options. We buy Campbell’s soup and make grilled cheese sandwiches. We re-watch lighthearted TV shows from by-gone days to make ourselves feel grounded. Better.

So being known — ie. maintaining top of mind awareness during good times — is crucial in this situation. The best brands know this, and maintain a presence all the time. In good times and bad. They don’t wait for disaster to strike, they’re communicating with people all along. That’s what breeds fondness and familiarity,

If you’ve been invisible in your market you need to be very careful about launching a knee-jerk reaction ad campaign right now. Especially if your ads start with “now, more than ever…”

Now, more than ever, you need a new Kia.
Now, more than ever, you need to refinance your house.
Now, more than ever, you need a financial planner.
Now, more than ever, you need a lot of Kirkland brand toilet paper.

We saw thousands of fill-in-the-blank ads like that during the crash of 2009, and the same thing’s beginning to pop up on social media, in email campaigns, and on the airwaves. Cliches like that are NOT going to help your brand. They just add to the clutter and fuel the fear. So if you are going to run advertising during a crisis, it better be a complete departure from that.

So this is a good time to step back and re-evaluate the tone, content and context of your brand messages.

Advertising during a crisis should not be business as usual. It makes for bad optics.

Take Kia for instance, the automotive king of “yell and sell” advertising. They’ve established clear leadership in top-of-mind awareness, but it would probably be wise for them to stop running their current advertising that screams “Credit, come and get it.” “Credit, come and get it.””Credit, come and get it.”

More debt is the LAST thing people need right now. Sometimes the best ad strategy is knowing when to shut up!

It’s almost as bad as running TV spots for a “fire sale” when there are forest fires burning all over the West. It sounds dreadfully callous, given the current state of affairs. (I wonder who decided that predatory lending practices should be a key brand attribute for Kia, but that’s another issue entirely.)

Any advertising that attempts to capitalize on the world’s misfortune will be seen for what it is: Cheap profiteering. If you’re not careful, the public will forever associate your brand with the outbreak of 2020 and will never buy into any messaging you attempt in the future.

But when it’s done well, advertising during these “slow” times can help you reach more people and solidify relationships. Media consumption is up, while most companies are pulling back, ducking the exposure.

So if your message is human, heartfelt and kind you have a real opportunity to differentiate yourself. (And ad rates are lower than normal!)

But you can’t pull a Kia-style hard sell. In fact, you shouldn’t sell at all. This is not the time to persuade, it’s the time to reassure without asking for anything in return. Just stay aligned with your brand brand values and communicate what’s important, right now.

This is new territory…  even the most hardened business veterans haven’t faced anything quite like this. It’s going to leave a mark on us all, if not a festering wound.

So I’m not going to serve up platitudes like “It’s going to be okay” or “This too shall pass.” I’m sure as hell not going to say you need more advertising during a crisis or “now more than ever you need a branding firm.”

But I will share one of my favorite sayings… it’s an old Japanese proverb:

“Action is the antidote for despair.”

Do something. But stay safe.

If you don’t know how to proceed and would like some advice, even for the short term, give me a call. We can do a quick assessment and help you devise a smart response to all the mayhem.

BN Branding's Brand Insight Blog

 

 

 

Automotive Advertising: Another ride down that twisting, mountain road of tired clichés.

brand credibility from branding expertsI don’t know what it is about automotive advertising. No other category is so rich in promise, yet so void of inspiring insight and unique execution. But there is something any marketer can learn from the long history of mediocre automotive advertising.

Brand Insight Blog by BNBrandingFor instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad  for the Giulia… Gorgeous video of a sexy red Italian sports car doing its thing in the curves with a pretty good voice-over that nobody’s going to listen to.

That’s easy. It’s harder producing a decent spot for a mundane automotive product, like a minivan.

 

 

automotive advertisingChrysler single-handedly created the minivan market when the Caravan and Voyager debuted in 1984.

Sales skyrocketed and imitators quickly sprang up, but only after Chrysler had firmly established itself as the segment leader.

Chrysler’s minivans moved the segment from niche vehicle to the pinnacle of the mainstream. Minivans have become part of the pop culture. And the marketing people at Chrysler/Dodge have a pretty good handle on what their target audience is looking for.

Minivan advertising routinely features simple slices of family life: we see a baby sleeping peacefully in a car seat. Kids playing cards in facing rear seats. Kids watching videos. Moms & Dads reconfiguring the seats and loading up the endless volume of kid’s stuff.

That’s what minivans are all about: Lugging kids, looking for lost binkies between the seats, and running errands. That’s the reality of it. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not the least bit appealing to anyone who doesn’t have kids. But it’s totally relevant for parents who are carting three kids around everyday.

The main benefit of all minivans is practicality. Plain and simple. And Caravan advertising conveyed that idea very clearly. Chrysler was not trying to be anything other than that.

Honda, on the other hand, careened off the road with their automotive advertising for the Odyssey Minivan.

The Honda spot goes like this: There’s an attractive young couple driving along a winding, country road. In a mini van, for pete sake! The husband, who’s doing the driving, glances at his wife suggestively as she reaches up and grips the panic handle above her window. She gives him a quizzical, turned-on look. He gives the van a little more gas and grips the wheel tightly as he lugs into another corner with all the agility of a old Winnebego.

She holds on even tighter and looks at him as if to say, “ohhhh yeah, bring it on big boy.” I almost expect them to pull over and jump into the back for a roadside quicky. Instead, she just holds on for the ride while the voice-over chimes in: “Just because it’s a minivan doesn’t mean you have to treat it like one.”

Automotive advertising the brand insight blogOh, c’mon.

There’s even a more blatant execution of that sexy idea from Britain, where a couple are about to do it in their Honda Odyssey until they get interrupted by an elderly parent. The voice-over on that spot says “It doesn’t seem like a family car.”

First of all, sex and minivans DO NOT go together.

No one gets turned on by a minivan. A corvette might help you get laid, but not a dual-sliding, seven passenger, Chrysler or Honda product.

Curvy roads don’t go with minivans either.

Put a minivan on a windy road and you here’s what you get: Puking children. Horrendous messes of vomit. Leave the windy roads to the Porsche commercials.

There’s no pleasure in getting from Point A to Point B in a mini van. Believe me, I’ve done it. There is some satisfaction in packing up both kids and the entire kitchen sink for a simple, cross-town play date. There’s satisfaction in changing a diaper on the side of the road without hanging your baby out on the tailgate. But not pleasure.

So Honda’s idea of promoting the minivan as something sexier than just a minivan, simply doesn’t wash. They could spend a billion dollars trying to convey that idea, and parents would still buy it for the cupholders. It’s like trying to kitten-up a milk truck.

So how did the message get so messed up, and what can we learn from Honda’s one-spot marketing blunder?

  1. As a brand, be authentic. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Minivans are not 450 horsepower Italian chick magnets. (Unless maybe Alpha Romeo decides to get into that niche)
  2. Realize that technical specs and insider information is often irrelevant to consumers. The automotive press consistently ranks The Honda Odyssey above its Chrysler competitors in performance and reliability. It’s a great vehicle. Best in class even. And the Honda executives are fully aware of this.

automotive advertising

The problem is, in the minivan category nobody gives a hoot about “chassis refinement and driving feel.”

By letting insider information dictate their marketing, Honda ends up with a message that’s relevant to their own executives and to the automotive cognoscenti, but completely irrelevant to the target audience.

It’s a classic case of getting in your own way. Of knowing too much, and putting that information in your automotive advertising.

Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Gotta blame that one on the ad agency.

Maybe the agency creative team just couldn’t find inspiration in a boring old minivan. Maybe there wasn’t any consumer insight or personal experience to go on. Maybe it was just wishful thinking. Or maybe they were just trying to steer clear of a technical, engineering message that the Honda execs really wanted.  Wise move, but they really blew it with the hot couple concept.

Somewhere, the process took a wrong turn and the end result is a waste of marketing dollars.

In the scheme of things, one spot isn’t going to kill Honda. But in the meantime, Dodge is sticking to an approach that simply demonstrates relevant features. Their advertising is not going to win any awards, but at least it’s somewhat authentic. It hits the hot buttons of a specific target audience and it wins the head-to-head battle with Honda. In automotive advertising anyway.

Learn more about comparative advertising.

For more on Brand Authenticity, click here.

For some expert help with your own advertising, call 541-815-0075.

borrowed interest advertising

Borrowed interest and other desperate attempts to attract customers

brand credibility from branding expertsEver notice how some companies are constantly scrambling to attract customers, while others enjoy some sort of magnetic attraction that keeps the customers flowing in?

The scramblers spend a lot of money on digital ads, social media posts and all sorts of promotional bribery.  Their marketing messages are all over the place, and they don’t ever seem to hone-in on the one thing that really matters to their target audience.

Instead, they borrow interest from somewhere else.

Borrowed interest is a common technique in advertising. I’ve been in those creative sessions where you realize there’s absolutely nothing interesting, different or even mentionable about the client’s product, so you start fishing around for something – anything – that IS interesting to borrow from.

It’s redirection… Riding on the coattails of something else to make your ads, emails or posts engaging and memorable.

Instead of pinpointing a really interesting idea that’s firmly rooted in a compelling consumer benefit, you get an idea that is loosely bolted on to the product.

BN Branding how to attract customers with cute babies and pets

Puppies and babies are the most frequently-used crutches in borrowed-interest advertising. You see it in local TV commercials all the time…

“Hey,  let’s show a baby playing with a cute little puppy on the floor of our auto parts store. That’ll be great!”

It’s not a good idea, and it’s not going to attract customers. Usually it stems from insufficient research or non-existent marketing strategy… Whoever’s doing the ads hasn’t spent enough time to find the story that’s buried in there, somewhere.

I’ve found that if you’re embedded with a company long enough, you can always find a good story that will attract customers. Even if it’s a mediocre, me-too product.

But when you’re lacking that insight, and when there’s nothing inherently interesting about the company’s product or story, you have to borrow from something that IS interesting, and attach your brand to that.

 

 

You can attract customers with borrowed interest advertising, if it’s handled wisely.

The key to using borrowed interest successfully is relevance. Whatever idea you’re borrowing from better be relevant to your business category.

For instance, Vivent home security systems is running this video contest, which usually is just a classic case of borrowed interest nonsense.

But in this case, it’s totally relevant to the product they produce… video security systems. It’s THEIR product that’s actually capturing the videos.

That works. It’s not borrowed interest. It gives their own customers another reason to engage with the product.

On the other hand, if it’s a random brand doing the same sort of contest, they’re just throwing money away. No one’s going to make the connection.

If you just jump on the bandwagon of an event, idea, celebrity or theme that’s current or trendy, it’s probably not going to work well.

2020 is the year of the pandemic, and a lot of small-business owners seem to think that’s a good thing to “leverage” in their sales pitches.  I’ve seen tons of unsolicited emails, LinkedIn pitches and local, borrowed-interest ads that go something like this…

“In these unprecedented times, blah blah blah… the new normal, blah blah blah… We’re all in this together, blah, blah blah… So this is the perfect time to come in to Frank’s auto parts for a new rear differential.”

attract customers by being honestBorrowing interest from a worldwide pandemic is NOT a good brand strategy.

Do you really want to affiliate your brand with death, uncertainty, sickness and social discomfort?

So stop using COVID 19 as an excuse to pitch your company’s products or services. Unless you’re selling masks, or home testing kits, or maybe jigsaw puzzles, don’t use the pandemic as your advertising hook.

Janine Pelosi, Chief Marketing Officer of Zoom, knows better. Even though the pandemic is actually relevant to her brand, they’re NOT running campaigns on the subject.

“When you’re going through a tough situation, when it’s a tough time for humanity, it’s not a time to focus on sales and marketing.” Pelosi said. “Early on we decided to focus on education, and provide resources to schools. We’ve provided free services for more than 100,000 schools in 23 countries.”

Goodwill is better branding than borrowed interest.

The insurance industry is famous for its borrowed interest advertising. The mayhem man, the Geico Gecko, and  the LiMu Emu are all characters conjured up to make an inherently boring category more interesting.

If your service is not differentiated or memorable, your advertising better be.

How Geico attracts customers with borrowed interest advertisingThe Martin Agency has been doing a great job with their advertising for Geico. They’ve had the account for more than 25 years, and they’ve stuck to a winning formula the entire time.

It’s borrowed interest, but they throw in some humor and stick to one “relentlessly consistent” message: “15 minutes could save you 15%.”

They recently did a very funny spot featuring a nosy neighborhood association lady. If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood with an HOA you’ll recognize the character immediately.

The spot has nothing to do with car insurance, but that’s okay. It’s purposely ridiculous.

It’s like they’re admitting that it’s unrelated, and that’s their schtick. It’s borrowed interest with a wink and a nod.

The problem is, people love the commercial but can’t name the brand that goes with it. That’s borrowed interest for you.

Geiko can get away with that because they have a media budget of a billion dollars. Literally. If you don’t get it the first time, you’ll get it the 100th time.

But most businesses can’t afford that much repetition — or advertising that’s completely unrelated to their product or service.

Instead of borrowing an advertising hook, and hoping that a distracted, ill-infomed public will “get it,” why not dig for a story that’s actually relevant to your customer’s feelings and needs? That’s how you differentiate yourself and attract customers.

Do the research.  Spend time in the field. Listen, listen and listen some more for that one little nugget of insight that can become the hook of your brand narrative.

Or better yet, build the advertising hook right into your product or service. That’s the easiest way to attract customers… develop a product or service that has the marketing baked in.

Seth Godin calls it a Purple Cow. Something genuinely unique enough to get everyone talking about it.

In almost every market category, the boring slot is already filled. So you have two choices; you can be one of those scramblers, who run borrowed-interest ads in an effort to compete in the boring space, or you can break out by building a product or service that naturally attracts customers.

In the case of video conferencing, the boring slot was filled by Skype. That was the big, leading brand. Then Microsoft acquired it, and fell asleep at the wheel.

Classic opportunity for a start-up. Perfect opening for an underdog brand.

Zoom’s platform was designed specifically to make video calls work well in low bandwidth situations, which gave them a buzz-worthy product long before COVID 19 hit. That was their purple cow.

Plus, Zoom invested heavily in traditional advertising in the past few years. Their visibility on billboards, in airports, on the radio and at sporting events positioned them for success when shit hit the fan.

Microsoft-owned Skype, on the other hand, was not on the radar.  The minute the press started writing about the work-from-home phenomenon, it was Zoom, not Skype, that got all the attention.

According to Wired magazine Skype will disappear completely by 2021, replaced by Microsoft Teams. I’m betting that Microsoft’s agency will spend many billions on borrowed-interest advertising trying to attract customers for that one.

If you’re struggling to attract customers, and need some help finding your one true story, give us a call.  Try this post if you want more on how to make your advertising more effective. 

 

 

new approach to website design

Brand design with a bang – Visual cues and consistency across platforms

BNBranding logoA lot of people ask me about our brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.

They see the same visual cues on the BNBranding website, in social media posts, in our ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.

brand design that produces resultsThey comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. Some people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”

Of course.

Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. It’s brand design that produces response.

It’s like direct response branding.

As prospects are scrolling quickly through a Facebook feed, they breeze right over all the stuff that looks the same as everything else… Stock photos, charts and graphs, head shots, even stupid cat videos get ignored these days.

They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”

The incongruity of the image or message, relative to everything else they see, creates natural human curiosity. It’s just the way our brains work.

a new approach to website design BNBrandingOn the other hand, we are wired to ignore the images, sounds and words that are familiar to us.

So familiar words, sounds and imagery do not belong in your advertising efforts.

Thanks to an increasingly fragmented marketing landscape, the need for consistently UNfamiliar visuals is on the rise. There are just so many different marketing tactics these days, it’s hard to get them all aligned into one, cohesive campaign. Most companies lose that “Pop” they could get by maintaining visual consistency across various platforms.

The same goes for sounds. The very best Radio, TV and video campaigns include unique sound cues that tie all the components of the campaign together. For instance, I wrote an award-winning radio campaign for a glass company, and the audio cue couldn’t have been more clear… the squeek of windex on a window.

It was an audible punctuation mark that proved very successful.

Visual punctuation marks, such as the images in our “Be” Campaign, can make small budgets look big. It’s one of the little things that small businesses can do to become iconic brands in their own, little spaces.

Brand design advice Tom PetersTom Peters, in his book The Little Big Things, says “design mindfulness, even design excellence, should be part of every company’s core values.

Because the look IS the message. Because design is everything.”

Some people seem to think that “branding messages” do not belong on social media or in digital advertising. And that you can’t design a “branding” website that also moves product.

That’s hogwash.

As Peters said, every message out there is branding. You can’t differentiate sales messages or social messages from brand messages. It’s all connected. You might as well make them look that way.

Consistent, unexpected brand design is the easiest way to improve the impact of your messages and leverage your marketing spend.

If you’re not thinking about branding and design aesthetics when posting something on LinkedIn or Instagram, you’re missing a huge opportunity. People will just scroll on by.

truth in advertising BNBranding

If you’re not thinking about design when crafting headlines for your website, you’re not seeing the big picture. People will just click right out.

If you’re not thinking about your brand image when choosing a location or decorating your office space, you’re missing the boat.

Design is just one element of your overall branding efforts. But it’s an important one. Too important to ignore. Because every time you hammer home those visual cues, you move one little step closer to your objective.

If your business needs a stronger visual presence across all marketing channels, give us a call.

Or click here for an inexpensive yin/yang assessment of all your marketing efforts.

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Same with sounds.

 

 

7 a bend oregon branding firm

Brand strategy: Put some meat in your marketing messages.

BNBranding logoEvery year, millions of dollars are wasted on advertising that is well-produced, but not very well thought-out. Like the stereotypical supermodel… pretty to look at, but with no brand strategy, there’s just no substance there. All sizzle, no steak.

A few years ago I was talking with a restauranteur about this very subject.

He had retained an ad agency to help promote the multi-million dollar launch of his new restaurant. They produced a nice looking website, some digital ads, a radio advertising campaign, some social media posts and a slogan.

brand strategy for small business from the Brand Insight Blog

And amazingly, they did all that without having a single, meaningful conversation with him about his business.

If they had, they would have realized that this particular business owner didn’t understand his own brand.

He had an exquisite restaurant in a perfect, high-rent location with an impressive interior and outstanding cuisine, but he had no story to tell.

No clear idea of what his core message ought to be or who his audience was.

He could not articulate anything noteworthy about is idea at all, beyond the details of the architecture and specific menu items.

He was passionate about making money, and that’s about it. He and I did more quality thinking over coffee than he had ever done with his ad agency. After our conversation he was convinced he needed to start all over.

It was an expensive lesson, and an all-too-common false start with his ad agency.

 

 

Here’s where many small ad agencies go wrong, especially in the world of digital advertising: They rely on the client for strategic insight and a cohesive brand strategy. Once they’re told what to say, they do a nice job of figuring out how to say it.

But in this case, they were following the “lead” of the restaurant owner, so what he ended up with was a campaign that he admitted “looks nice, but doesn’t really fit this place.”

He should have hired someone to help him define his brand strategy before diving into an ad campaign.

Before he pulled a name for the place randomly, out of his hat.

Before he paid a top-name architect to design the restaurant.

Before he ever developed the menu or arranged the seating, he should have known what his establishment was “all about.”

That’s the difference between a strategic branding company and most small ad agencies. With us, branding starts earlier — further “upstream” — and  goes much deeper. It touches all facets of the business, not just the outbound advertising messages. It goes beyond the sizzle to the meat of the business.

a bend oregon branding firm

That particular restaurant owner was not unique.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shows that the majority of VP and C-level execs don’t know their company’s strategy. Or at least they can’t verbalize it without launching into long-winded corporate mumbo-jumbo.

Companies that DO have a clear sense of their brand  strategy have a huge leg-up on the competition.

Little branding bend oregon brand strategyCaesar’s is a classic example. Their brand strategy was simple: Sell value and compete with Dominoes on price. How? Sell two-for-one pizzas, to be exact.

That was the strategy they took to their ad agency, and it was spelled out quite nicely: “Two great pizzas for one low price.” Then the creative folks at Cliff Freeman & Partners figured out how to communicate that simple strategy in a provocative way:

“PizzaPizza.”

 If you’re old enough, I’m sure you can still hear that quirky voice in your head. The chain used that line for almost 20 years, and then went back to it in 2012. The tagline actually outlived the promotion… they’re not offering the two-fer deal any more, but the line still works.

According to Ad Age, “They’ve been able to grow the brand with a price point that was affordable option for most Americans… They really stand for value more than any other brand. A recent Sandelman & Associates survey rated Little Caesars the best value for the money.”

That’s their story, and they’re sticking with it.

The benefits of a clearly defined and well-written marketing strategy are clear: You won’t run pretty ads in the wrong publications or on the wrong websites. You won’t change directions every year, just to be fashionable. And you won’t have digital advertising effort that doesn’t jive with the rest of your branding.

Bottom line… you’ll be more focused and efficient in everything you do.

But how do you get there? In most small ad agencies strategy is not a deliverable. Account executives do it by the seat of the pants based on information provided by the client, and on gut instinct. Then they’ll just jump right into the sexiest part of the project… the creative execution.

bend branding firm bend ad agencyThat fits with the prevailing perception: Most business people think of strategic planning as a left-brained activity, but ad agencies are enclaves of right-brained, creative thinking. Therefore, you can’t possibly get a brand strategy from them.

Right???

Traditional thinking also says you need a consulting firm for strategy.

What’s more helpful is a sensible combination of both services from one team: Strategic insight and disciplined execution. A left-brain, right-brain, one-two punch. That’s how my firm approaches it… insight first, THEN execution.

No amount of creative wizardry will save a marketing campaign that lacks a strong, well-defined sales premise. That’s why we put so much emphasis on message development and front-end strategic issues.

Setting aside time for some productive strategic thinking is the most valuable thing you can do for your business. And it’s not about spreadsheets, it’s about story telling.

Chances are, you’ll need help. You’re too close to the situation. Too consumed by the quarterly numbers. Or just too darn busy.

So find someone you trust. Block out a day, get out of your office, and think it through with your most trusted advisors. Look at everything you’re doing, and ask yourself this: what is this company really all about? What’s the message of substance behind your marketing? Is your brand all beauty and no brains?

BTW… That restaurant I referred to in the beginning of this post has since gone out of business.

Need help pinpointing your brand story? Shoot me an email or a LinkedIn Message. John Furgurson. Johnf@bnbranding.com.

 

 

 

Want more info on brand strategy and strategic message development? Try this post.

1 branding fundamentals in the guitar guitar business

Branding Fundamentals – The ABCs of Branding are RCD

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

Branding fundamentals begin with Relevance.

Brand relevance is closely related to specialization and niche marketing. Because you can’t be relevant to everyone.

My old friend Preston Thompson understood the importance of branding strategies and the need for a niche. He painstakingly crafted high-end guitars for discerning bluegrass musicians who are looking for a very specific, classic, Martin-like sound. It’s only relevant to a very narrow, niche audience.

Obviously, the Thompson Guitar brand is not relevant to those of us who don’t play the guitar.

But it’s also NOT relevant to most guitar players. NOT relevant to pop stars or young, smash-grass musicians. Not relevant to classical guitarists. Not even relevant to most blue grass guitarists.

Wisely, Preston doesn’t worry about that.

The Thompson Guitar brand IS relevant to the tiny, narrow niche of customers they’re looking for. Rather than casting a wide net, and trying to be relevant to a broad range of guitar players, they’re staying esoterically focused.

Relevant to few, but highly valued.

 

 

The more focused you are, the easier it is to maintain relevance among the prospects who matter most. Relevance is not an absolute. In fact, it’s a bit of a moving target.

Blackberry was once a highly relevant brand among young, upwardly mobile, hyper-busy professionals. Not anymore. Technological advances from Apple and Google wiped the Blackberry off the map. Such is life in the world of high tech… if you’re not innovating quickly your brand relevance will fall faster than you can say Alta Vista.

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

The demise of Sears demonstrates a dramatic loss of relevance. There’s still a very small audience of elderly consumers who have been buying appliances and tools there for 50 years, but the brand can’t survive on that.  It’s NOT relevant to younger consumers who represent the future of retail. High school girls would rather be shot than caught shopping at Sears.

too many choices the importance of branding BNBranding Brand Insight BlogSometimes entire categories experience a dip in relevance. Like what’s happened in the soft drink industry… bubbly drinks like Coke and Pepsi are not as relevant to young consumers who have taken to Glaceau Vitamin Water, Gatoraide, SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea, Kombucha and more than 50 other alternatives.

It’s a function of choice, really. When I was growing up, we didn’t have all those choices. Just milk, Coke or Kool Aid in the summer.

The more choices there are in your category, the harder it is to maintain relevance.

It’s tough staying “on the radar” when there are so many new products, new companies, and new offerings being unveiled. How many of the 50 brands of flavored water do you think will be around ten years from now?

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

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

Branding Fundamental #2: Credibility

Credibility begins by knowing yourself, your brand, and the core essence of your enterprise. You can’t stay true to yourself if you don’t know what you’re really about… your passion, your purpose and your promise. Write them down. That’s one of the things that all great brands have in common… They live by their brand values.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsIt’s been said that branding is about promises kept. That’s how you build trust and loyalty. So don’t bullshit people about what you can do or deliver. (That’s another, very basic, branding fundamental.)

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

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

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

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

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

brand differentiation BNBrandingBranding Fundamentals: Differentiation.

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

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

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

Product/Service Differentiation

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

Operational Differentiation

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

Business Model Differentiation

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

Marketing  Differentiation

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

Take AFLAC for instance… Before that obnoxious duck came along, no one even knew what supplemental insurance was. That’s creative differentiation. And no one else in that niche was running television. That’s media differentiation.

The famous “Got Milk” ad campaign utilized a disruptive new strategy for the category, as well as exceptional execution.

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

Call us to find out how Relevance Credibility & Differentiation matter to your business. 541-815-0075.

WantMore on the importance of branding and branding fundamentals?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Definition of digital marketing — 3 things you HAVE to know

BNBranding logoSurely you’ve heard the online chatter about “digital marketing.” There are a million platforms, channels, systems, software programs, “strategies”  and agencies that are guaranteed to help you “kill it” online.

Every month it’s something new. (You using Facebook Messenger as an ad platform yet?)

If you’re a business owner you have better things to do than follow the scuttlebutt about the shifting landscape within various specialties that fall under the banner of digital marketing.

It’ll make your head spin.

So here’s a little advice… If you’re choosing a digital marketing firm, or thinking of hiring an in-house “digital marketing specialist,” read this post all the way through.

At least you’ll get a handle on the definition of digital marketing. That’s the bare minimum you need to know before diving in. You can’t manage their work effectively if you don’t know the basics:

1. Know the definition of “Digital Marketing.”

You have to understand that the term itself varies dramatically from one firm to the next. Depends on their niche… Some say it’s SEO. Some say it’s web development. Some says it’s pay-per-click advertising. Some say it’s lead-gen. Some say it’s all of the above.

Here’s a definition used by one of the big players in that business:

 

 

“Digital marketing is data-driven and targeted brand promotion through technology.”

“Data Driven” and “Targeted” are popular buzzwords these days. But guess what… Marketing consultants, direct response agencies, media-buying specialists and market research firms have been “data driven” since the early 1950’s.

Even Advertising Agencies… They use hard market research data to devise creative campaigns, and then they use sophisticated media targeting to deliver the message to the right people.

This is NOT a new concept in the marketing world.

Digital marketing firms are just using new tools to do the work. And for the most part, it’s good, valuable work that should be part of every marketing plan. But it’s just a part.

Note the use of the word “promotion”.

By definition, promotions are transactional, tactical tools that can boost short term sales. But they do not build brand loyalty. Don’t confuse promotional tactics with marketing strategy or brand building.

And wait a minute… That same firm also claims: “We have the means to take over your marketing from top to bottom, evaluate your brand’s needs and develop a powerful strategy that maximizes profits.”

That’s where they begin to overpromise.

I don’t know any small digital firms that have account planners, market researchers or brand managers on staff who can help you with a brand strategy. Digital marketing people are detail-oriented, technology-minded specialists. They’re not trained — nor wired — to see the big picture.

For that, you need a real a marketing consultant or a strategic branding firm. Even an ad agency would be a better choice for strategy work than a digital marketing firm. Let the digital guys stick to their own definition of digital marketing, and use someone else to oversee the strategy.

2. Know where digital marketing firms fit into the overall marketing landscape.

Naturally, all digital marketing firms contend that “digital is the future of marketing.”  And a lot of business owners are buying into the idea that a digital marketing firm is all they’ll ever need.

But the world’s greatest brands, and the fastest growing small businesses, recognize one old-fashioned business school fact: The best marketing is a MIX of things.

You need a rich mixture of marketing tactics, marketing perspectives and marketing talent — both generalists and specialists.

You also need a mix of different media outlets to keep your brand visible and relevant. Not just social media posts or paid Instagram ads.

A healthy marketing mix means that some of your marketing efforts will be designed for a short-term bump in sales, while others will be designed for building long-term brand loyalty.

Some will be creative, design-oriented, “feel good” efforts like what you get from design firms and ad agencies.

Other tactics will be analytical and numbers-driven, like what you get from digital marketing firms.

Both can move the needle for your brand, but all those pieces should be aligned under one, coherent, overarching marketing strategy.

Digital Marketing Agencies are constantly promoting themselves on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. Which is perfectly on-brand, because that’s their wheelhouse. They commonly boast that they “manage $x millions in digital media spending”  which tells me they fit squarely in a specialized niche within the bigger niche of media buying services.

They don’t tout their strategic prowess or creative thinking. Just their ability to manage your social media posts and paid ads on all the various digital channels.

The business model that’s taught by all the digital marketing gurus is based on mass scaleability. “Just follow this model and you’re going to crush it,” they all claim.

It’s true. Media planning and buying always has been a highly profitably business model. (That’s how advertising agencies made their millions.) But there’s a dirty little secret in the new model that digital agency owners don’t want clients to know:  When they “scale” the clients pay a price.

The mindset is this: We managed a facebook campaign for a natural foods company that worked well, so we’re going to replicate that and run the exact same thing for a bunch of clients in the same category. All we have to do is change out the logos.

It’s an efficient cash-flow generator for the agency owners, but it’s not necessarily good for your brand. Do you really want to be saying, showing, and doing the same thing as your competitors?

Seth Godin posted this recently:

“Online marketing has become a messy mix of direct marketing, seo, tricks, tips, code and guesswork. It’s an always-moving target and it’s mostly focused on tactics, not strategy, because tactics are easy to measure.”

3.  Know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

Digital marketing firms will tell you how “strategic” their social media work is, and they’ll claim that everything they do is based on “strategic targeting.” Sure, targeting is important, but do not expect marketing strategy from a digital marketing firm.

Mark Ritson, a world renown brand strategist and Professor of Brand Management puts it bluntly: “‘Digital Strategy’ is a contradiction in terms. What’s happening all the time now is tactics are getting perverted into ‘strategies’. What you really need is a marketing strategy.”

Strategy first, THEN tactics. That’s what we do at BN Branding.

I know it’s confusing. And don’t feel bad if all your efforts have been tactical. Ritson says that 80% of all British companies don’t have a coherent marketing strategy. Everyone’s fixated on tactics these days.

Here’s a good post where you can read more about the differences between marketing strategy and tactics. 

definition of digital marketing by BNBranding

 

Strategy first. Tactics second. 

The old 4 P’s of Marketing still apply.  You should  pay attention to all four, not just the one that’s covered by digital marketing firms.

There’s “Place” which has to do with distribution strategy.

There’s Pricing. 

There’s Product. (A great product makes all the other elements of marketing much easier.)

And finally, there’s “Promotions” which is a catch-all phrase that includes all marketing communications and tactics, including every specialized facet of Digital Marketing.

So you see, the tactical work that Digital Marketing firms do well — SEO, SEM, SMM, CPM — and all those other confusing acronyms — is really just a small part of the overall tactical marketing picture.

Digital marketing firms like to compare themselves to “traditional advertising agencies” because the old, Mad Men model is an easy target.

But digital agencies are actually more similar to Direct Response agencies than they are to traditional ad agencies. Direct Response firms always have been driven by quantifiable data and measurable ROI.

I believe it won’t be long before the term “digital marketing” is dropped entirely from the industry jargon. Because everything’s digital these days. Even traditional old things like radio advertising and print are delivered digitally. The lines are blurry, and the terminology continues to confound many people. (For a primer on marketing terms, try this post from the AMA.)

4. Know who’s really doing the work.

The business model for many Digital Marketing Firms is pretty simple: Scaled Outsourcing. They exploit and monetize multiple sources of cheap labor such as crowdsourcing websites, freelance markets like Upwork or “white label” firms from Asia. Then they mark it up. Dramatically.

It’s a good business model for them because it’s easily scalable, but it’s not designed with the best interest of the client at heart.

There’s no synergy to those efforts because every little marketing tactic is being executed by a different person who knows nothing about your business. Plus, in most cases there’s no strategy to guide the efforts. The right hand seldom knows what the digital left hand is doing at any given time.

So before choosing a digital marketing firm, just know that they cannot help you with the big picture strategy work that’ll build your brand in the long run.

So you have two choices… Become your own, best brand manager and get really good at strategy, OR hire a brand strategy consultant to map things out before you ever jump on board with a digital marketing firm.

Without it, your digital tactics will not be as effective as everyone would like.

If you’re still confused about the definition of digital marketing, give us a call. We’ll coach you through it, from a strategic perspective. 541-815-0075.

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