A lot of people ask me about brand design and the graphics that accompany these blog posts.
They see the same visual cues on my website, in social media posts, in ads, on video and even on good, old-fashioned post cards, emails and invoices.
They comment about the work on LinkedIn and, yes, they respond to it. A few people have even said, “Wow, that’s really cool. Can you do something like that for my company?”
Because the fact is, bold graphics such as these stop people in their tracks. 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.
They only pause when they see something that “Pops.”
On 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.
Tom 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.”
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.
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.
Chocolate 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.
• 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.
Those are the visual cliches… the images that everyone expects. They are the path of least resistance for marketing managers.
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.”
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.
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.
It’s the age of information, and much of the marketing buzz these days revolves around content marketing. Especially for business-to-business marketers, it’s all the rage.
We have YouTube videos, webinars, blog posts, slide sharing Powerpoint Presentations, Facebook updates, LinkedIn articles, tweets, podcasts, websites, ebooks, and white papers coming out our ears.
In many cases, all that content just adds up to too much information. Or at least, too much of the wrong kind of information.
The model that’s emerging seems to rely on dry, analytical information. Curated data, not original stories.
Data, data and more data. Most of it is totally devoid of emotion.
Occasionally, when someone gets really creative, they take the data and spruce it up with an “infographic.” So it looks a little cooler, but that doesn’t make the data any more interesting or relevant. It’s still just boring, factual stuff written for 20 bucks by someone in a faraway land who doesn’t know your business, your audience, your market or your brand.
What’s missing is a compelling narrative. A relevant story. An inkling of copy that will touch a nerve, make an emotional connection, and persuade people to do something.
As the old saying goes, facts tell, stories sell.
For better content marketing, be novel – tell a story!
Nothing teaches more effectively than a good story. Stories suck people in and involve the listener/reader/user on a gut level.
The use of character archetypes, metaphors, plot and drama can bring any subject to life. Even if you’re in a highly technical, scientific market niche, you can still use narratives effectively in your content marketing.
And that applies to all forms of content marketing, from cheesy little YouTube videos to elaborate webinars. You need to forget about information for a minute, and think about entertainment. How you can involve the audience, so their eyes don’t just glaze over?
The trick is taking all that data, and pulling a story out of it that will resonate with the target audience.
There aren’t very many people who are good at that.
If you have a marketing staff of ten people, you might find one who can do it. If you’re a department of one, or a business owner/Chief Marketing Officer, forget about it. You don’t have time to research the articles and craft good stories.
So you better outsource it. Very carefully.
You need a good copywriter who can translate all your insider information, market research data, and “repurposed” sales material into something that actually engages people.
It doesn’t matter what type of content is is… could be a script for your next video production, or an investor pitch, or a trade show presentation. You need someone who can come up with a big idea and spin information into a memorable, relevant tale.
Nobody’s better at that than advertising people.
Many business people these days seem to think there’s no redeeming value in advertising. They think content is better, and that consumers will rail against anything that smacks of advertising. But people aren’t dumb… they know your “content” is just advertising in disguise.
Adman George Lois said it well in his book, What’s The Big Idea: “I think people are absolutely brilliant about advertising. They have a microchip in their heads that places any ad in marketing context in lightning speed, enabling them to judge astutely what they see.”
So if they know it’s really advertising, you might as well make it great advertising.
Ad guys know how to tell stories that originate from one big idea. We can synthesize a whole bunch of client input into 30-seconds of entertainment. We can engage an audience quickly and effectively with repeatable sound bites and compelling, memorable images.
“Advertising can crystalize, in a few words, what the client’s business is all about,” Lois said. “If you create both visual and verbal imagery, one plus one equals three. Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system.”
I bet your content marketing doesn’t do that.
Content marketing, like traditional advertising, needs both a strategic foundation and exceptional creative execution. It should be one part science & technology, three parts art.
Advertising people are the only professionals who can bring those elements together. Journalists can report on what’s going on at your company, but they can’t deliver the missing ingredient in most content marketing efforts… art.
Advertising is an artistic mix of images and copy. It’s big, game-changing ideas based on savvy business insight. It’s craftsmanship in design, typography and copy. And it’s painstaking attention to detail.
If companies would apply those same standards to content marketing, we’d all be better off.
Every business needs photos… (Your brand image can’t be built on words alone.) Unfortunately, most people turn immediately to free stock photo sites. Doesn’t matter if the images are for the website, ads, sales materials, email campaigns, social media posts or powerpoint presentations, they go to the same source every time.
The problem with cheap stock photography, in most cases, is this: It bores people to death. The eyes instantly glaze over because the brain’s saying “I’ve seen this a thousand times. There’s nothing new or interesting here.”
How many times have you heard this cliché on a local radio ad… “our friendly, courteous staff is here to help with all your _______ needs, blah, blah, blah.”
Chances are, you changed the channel before they could finish the sentence.
Crummy stock photos have the same effect as verbal clichés.
Please, dear God, not another fake image of your “friendly, courteous staff.” The image above is the classic, customer service visual cliché, and it’s just as bad for business as the blather you hear on local radio commercials.
Unfortunately, stock images like that have become ubiquitous in the corporate world. ShutterStock alone has more than 100 million images to choose from, and most of them only cost a few bucks apiece. The internet has made it way too easy to drop-in mediocre images.
Advertising agency art directors work really hard to avoid the milk-toast visuals that are so prominent on low-cost stock photo sites. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time to sift through the stock libraries just to find something that’s sorta close to what’s really needed. Very, very rarely do you find the perfect image for the job.
Sometimes it’s more cost effective to just commission a great photographer to do it right. And it’s always a better creative product.
Unfortunately, clients often balk at the photography line item in proposed budgets. They assume that the perfect photo’s just waiting to be downloaded for ten bucks. At the touch of a button.
Mike Houska, commercial photographer and owner of Dogleg Studios, says easy access to so many images is both a blessing and a curse… he’s selling more stock photos (rights-managed) but the assignment work is harder to come by.
“The royalty-free stock images are so cheap and easy to get, it’s pretty much eliminated all the low-end and middle budget work,” Houska said. “Back in the day, buyers had to comb through a bunch of giant stock catalogs, then call the stock company to do a search that may or may not turn up something. It was a hit and miss proposition at best, and the stock shots weren’t cheap. Now you can easily find a hundred images that roughly fit your criteria. They’re not great, but they’re close, and that seems to be close enough for a lot of people.”
“Close-enough” may work out for the photographers selling their stock images online, but it doesn’t work well if you care about your brand image.
“When you’re selling stock images, it’s just a volume game,” Houska said. “Those photographers want their images to be uploaded a thousand times over, so they make them as generic as possible. In that case, a picture’s definitely not worth a thousand words.”
The question is, do you really want to hang your hat on a photo that’s already being used by hundreds of other companies, including your competitors? Or do you want a compelling image that will help differentiate you from everyone else?
“Close enough” means you’ll look just as boring as everyone else.
Let me pose this… does a “close enough” mentality fit with your corporate culture or your personal approach to business?
What would happen if the engineering department just said, “oh well, that’s close enough”? How’s that going to work out for you?
The fact is, your brand image should be just as important to you as the quality of your product.
I’ve been involved in many photoshoots for country clubs. (Now that’s a cliché just waiting to happen.)
There are thousands of decent stock images of golf we could use. And these days, everyone seems to think that drone footage is the answer. But stock photography or drone fly-overs are a dime a dozen.
There’s nothing that will lead the viewer into the experience or tell the authentic story of a particular club. The vast majority of stock photos won’t offend, but they won’t impress either.
So we don’t use any of them. Mike Houska at Dogleg Studios sets up every shot with the painstaking attention to detail that makes custom photography worth every penny.
This shot is a good example. It exemplifies everything that this club is all about. Sure, it’s a beauty shot of the golf course, but it’s also a story of friendly competition, camaraderie, social life and hope.
I believe that successful brands are built on three things: credibility, relevance and differentiation. Cheesy stock photos can hurt you in all three areas…
If you’re trying to convey a message of quality, your credibility goes right out the window with a cheap stock shot. If the shot’s used by anyone else, differentiation is out of the question. And there’s nothing relevant about an image that’s designed to appeal to a mass market of consumers age 25 to 54.
So the next time you’re thinking that another stock photo will help your brand image, stop for a minute and ask yourself this: Will this image add anything to the story I’m trying to tell here? Does it support a specific idea, or is it just beige window dressing.
Or worse yet, is it just another visual cliché, like the good-looking customer service rep with the headset? If it is, dump it.
The bottom line is, stock photos are a fantastic resource, but marketers and designers need to do a better job selecting the images.
The problem with stock photography isn’t the photography, it’s the judgement of the person choosing the image. There are great shots to be found, so either spend a lot more time refining your search, or hire someone to get the right shot for the job to begin with. Your brand image will be better for it in the long run.
Another option is to develop your own, proprietary graphics that actually tie-in to the brand identity. For instance, at BNBranding we use a series of images like this to help drive home our points, without resorting to stock photos that are nothing more than borrowed interest.
I’d like to hear about the worst clichés you’ve ever seen in marketing. Visual or otherwise. Post a comment, or e-mail me personally: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a common refrain these days… Doesn’t matter if the client is selling complex, business-to-business services or a simple impulse item, they often have the same idea when it comes to writing better web copy…
“This copy’s just too long. No one’s going to read that.”
“You can’t put that much copy on a website.”
“It’s just too many words.”
They probably just took some online advice a little too far….
“Less is more.”
“Keep it short.”
“Don’t bore ’em with the details.”
“Use just the facts, and do it in 140 characters.”
Call it the Twitter effect. Or maybe the Trumpification of corporate communications. Persuasion, emotional story-telling and word-smithing is being beaten down, tweet by tweet, and reduced to banal snippets designed to get clicks and “improve engagement.”
Writing better web copy isn’t just about shortening up the word count. There are many problems with that approach, but I’ll cover just a few:
If you’re going to limit your web copy to just a few words, they better be damn good words.
This, I’ve found, seldom rings true. A lot of web copy is short, but most of it’s just corporate cliches and a bunch of blah blah blah. I rarely find headlines, home page copy or even blog posts that are well-written. In fact, most web copy is more likely to be riddled with typos than ripe with juicy metaphors and well-crafted copy.
That’s probably because most web development firms rely completely on the client for “content.” They don’t help the client fine-tune his message and write emotionally-rich copy, they just regurgitate whatever they’re given.
Garbage in, garbage out.
I recently encountered a web development firm’s process that included a 91-page survey for their clients. 91 pages of questions designed to gather content, streamline the development process, and basically make the client do all the creative work for them. They literally took the responses from the survey and inserted those as website copy. Verbatim.
They went out of business.
When it comes to writing better web copy sometimes you absolutely, positively need more than just a factual headline and a quick blurb.
Federal Express became a household name when they launched a humorous ad campaign featuring a fast talking boss running a fast-paced business. They could have said, “when you need it overnight,” but the addition of those two adjectives absolutely, positively made it a better campaign. Shorter was not better.
Business stories need time to develop. They need dialog and characters and problem/solution scenarios that strike a chord with prospects, like the Fed Ex campaign did. It was a business-to-business pitch that humanized the package delivery business and became massive, mainstream success.
Prospects need to know more than just who, what, when and where. But also, why. As Simon Simek says, “always start with why.”
Website visitors need to see, hear and FEEL the “what’s in it for me” content that is amazingly absent these days.
I see it frequently in the natural foods industry… a company will have a delicious new product for sale on Thrive Market, Amazon and various other ecommerce outlets, but they use the same, truncated, incomplete product descriptions on every website.
Not a single one gives an adequate explanation of “why buy.” It’s an obvious, unfortunate, cut and paste job.
There are hundreds of delicious, healthy products languishing on those eCommerce shelves because companies simply don’t articulate the deeply rooted product benefits in an interesting manner. As they say in the venture capital world, “they just don’t have their pitch dialed.”
Heck, they often can’t even convey how tasty their stuff really is.
Writing better web copy is a matter of digging up those pertinent story lines and delivering the message to a variety of diverse target audiences in a consistent, cohesive manner. The story needs to hit ’em in the gut, resonate in their hearts, and make sense in their heads.
Over and over and over again.
Sometimes it can be done in a few words, but often you have to go deep… You have to find the real story buried and elaborate on it. Sometimes the meat of the message isn’t even on the company’s site, it’s on some food blogger’s site, buried in a review.
How could that be?
To be fair, those business owners are up to their ears in production challenges, ingredient procurement issues and sales channel headaches. Most don’t have time to write web copy because they’re busy solving problems that are more urgent and more understandable to a CEO mentality.
It’s human nature… dive into the tasks we’re good at, and procrastinate on the other stuff.
So here’s some advice for all you business owners out there: Don’t put off your messaging. It’s more important than you think. Don’t let your web developers write it from survey results, and don’t “outsource it” to someone who doesn’t understand your target audience or the language of your business.
Get some professional help from a well qualified copywriter, and when you do, don’t pester him about using too many words.
The fact is, engagement is guaranteed if you’re telling a good story in a creative way. (And believe me, no one buys without first being engaged with your brand.)
So let me answer the original question… “How long should that web copy be?”
That depends on the context. You need to carefully consider the medium, the audience, the subject matter and the objective of the communication.
So the first step in writing better web copy — or better presentations — is knowing when to go long, when go short, and when to shut up.
I know a company that had 700 words on the homepage of their website. It was a huge mistake… way too long for that particular location. That particular company.
But there are far more companies that have the opposite problem: graphically-driven websites that don’t present a clear case for the product or service at hand.
Website homepages have evolved into online billboards. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention, so every sentence needs to be creative and well crafted. Every word counts. No one’s going to flock to your landing page if you just slap up a product shot with a factual headline. In that case, a photo alone does not speak a thousand words.
Billboards like this one from BNBranding require very short copy.
Thankfully, websites also accommodate the long, explanatory copywriting that’s essential to making the sale and building your brand. Facts, data and product photos alone do not tell a compelling story, but they are a required element. People need to justify the decisions they make, so you need both compelling, emotional copy and factual reasoning.
So, if you’re trying to write more effective web copy, first consider the medium. Then the audience. Then the objective of the communication. And of course, the subject matter. Only then can you decide if less really is more.
I could go on and on, but for this particular post, this is the perfect length.
I 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. For instance, there’s a nice Alpha Romeo ad that’s running right now 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.
Chrysler 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.
The 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 conveys the idea very clearly. They’re not trying to be anything other than that.
Honda, on the other hand, once careened off the road with their spots 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 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.”
There’s even a more blatant execution of that 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?
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)
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.
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.
Of course it probably wasn’t the Honda executives who came up with the idea of using sexual tension in their Odyssey spots. Maybe the ad 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. 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.
I just cringe when I see most local TV commercials. Not because of the horrific script writing or the low, low, low production quality. Not because of the ill-advised choice of “talent,” or the mind-numbing jingle. I expect all that.
No, I cringe because many of the companies paying for those crummy commercials don’t belong on television at all.
I’m talking about those cases where the medium – TV – missed the mark completely.
I’m talking about real cases where a business owner is spending a lot of money to reach the wrong people, with the wrong message. That’s the most most glaring error in TV advertising… the polar opposite of effective TV advertising
Here’s an example of TV advertising that misses the mark:
There’s a retailer in my town that sells lavish, high-end patio furniture. It’s designer stuff, it’s practically bullet-proof, and it costs a lot of money.
Guess what that business owner is doing for advertising? Yep. Cheap TV spots.
Talk about the wrong impression. Nothing in his advertising matches his product line at all. Not the message, not the visuals, not the media schedule. It’s a total disconnect…
He says the ads are generating foot traffic, but it’s clearly the wrong kind of traffic. People walk into his patio furniture showroom (lured, no doubt, by the cheesy jingle they heard on TV) take one look at the prices, and hightail it down to Costco or Walmart.
One of his salespeople told me it’s not uncommon for them to actually cuss her out for wasting their time.
And yet the owner keeps doing the same thing, year after year. It falls into the “epic fail” category of advertising 101. It’s insanity.
If you’re selling high-end, high-cost furniture you need high-end TV production a high-end audience, and a message that whispers elegance. Anything less will be a big whiff.
Here’s another example of how NOT to do effective TV advertising:
There’s a company that offers jet charters for corporate and private use. If you own your own private island and want to sneak away to it for the weekend, you’re in luck. They’re literally selling to the jet set — the top 1% —and yet they’re advertising on local TV to Fred & Barney Rubble.
It’s a total mis-match.
Think about it… The very best outcome the company could hope for is a steady stream of inquiries from people who can’t possibly afford their service. And sure enough, they’re getting a few calls…
“Well gee whiz, I didn’t think it’d be THAT much to fly to my cousin Ethel’s place outside of Winnemucca.”
Filling your sales pipeline with hopeless leads is a waste of money, and probably the worst advertising mistake you can make.
No matter how many spots they buy it’s not going to help sell jet charters.
In that case, better production value wouldn’t matter either. They could hire James Cameron to produce an epic, 10-million dollar 30-second spot and it still wouldn’t move the needle. It’d just generate more phone calls from non-buyers.
Because the company is advertising where the prospects aren’t.
There are digital alternatives now that would deliver their video message much more efficiently than TV. Straight to people who have expressed interest in jet charters. And there are plenty of options that allow the charter company to pay ONLY when qualified prospects actually view the ad.
Look, I am not a media buyer. I don’ t have the propensity for spreadsheets, number crunching and data analysis that’s required for that line of work. However, I know a basic, lousy media buy when I see one, and that is one of them. TV is not the answer in those two cases.
I’m not saying you should dump your entire TV schedule. You should just think adding other options to the media mix that are more targetable.
Here’s one more example, from my experience in golf industry marketing…
I have a client who was recently buying $35,000 worth of TV spots from the local cable company and he wanted my opinion on his media schedule. So I took a quick glance and saw, right off the bat, a whole bunch of time slots during daytime shows that skew heavily toward women.
How much golf equipment do you think women buy? How many golfers do you think are sitting around during the day watching “Psycho Coupon Horders?”
Again, it’s a mismatch. Why would you spend your money running ads that are geared toward affluent men, during daytime TV? It’s just not common sense.
If you’re in the position of reviewing media schedules like that, use your head. Eliminate those time slots. Make the sales guy work a little harder to match his commercial line up with your brand.
And when those salespeople come knocking, always remember this: It’s demand-based selling that hinges entirely on their limited inventory. The popular shows are in high demand, and sell out easily. So the TV salespeople are left trying hard to sell the shows that are NOT in demand.
Yes, the dogs. Sometimes I think they throw-in some dogs on the schedule just to see if you’re paying attention.
I’m not saying that all TV advertising is a waste of money. Not at all. With enough frequency, the right product or service, and a well-honed message, you can do very well with local TV.
If you have an airline that’s selling $49 round trip tickets to Disneyland, by all means! Buy a bunch of TV ads. Everyone wants to go to Disneyland. But if you’re selling jet charters to Disneyland, don’t waste your time on TV spots.
If you’d like a review of your current advertising program, we can assess your strategy, your messaging, your value proposition and the creative execution.
We will also collaborate with a media buyer friend who can save you money on that side of the equation and make sure your buy is as targeted and relevant as it can possibly be.
In the end, you will get you fair, honest assessment from pros who have been in the business for 30 years. The cost is very reasonable, so rest assured, it’ll save you money in the long run. Call me. 541-815-0075.
I’m an advertising guy… a writer from way back. Here’s the fastest, easiest way to get better ad copy: Forget about the exclamation marks.
Ad guys are not nit-pickers when it comes to grammatical details like sentence structure and punctuation. (“Got Milk?” is not proper english, but it’s brilliant advertising.) We write how normal people talk, not how english teachers teach. So it’s pretty unusual for me to take issue with anything grammar related.
But someone has to speak out about all the exclamation points popping up in marketing circles.
If I see one more marketing cliche or list of features punctuated with three of these !!! I’m going to scream.
Exclamation points are everywhere these days — in social media posts, on home pages, in emails, ad copy, and even in straight-forward product descriptions.
“All natural! Gluten-free! GMO-free! Vegan!!!”
I have news for you… There’s no correlation between the number of exclamation points and the effectiveness of your copy. Just the opposite, in fact. The more exclamation points, the less believable it is.
Yelling never works, and that’s the effect of all the exclamation points. Like a hyped-up used car salesman, in your face…”Seating for four! Steering wheel! Brakes! Air bags!”
Putting exclamation points on your list of standard features is not going to make them more compelling.
Give me a break. (See how I did NOT use an exclamation point right there. I could have said, “Give me a break!”)
Nothing says desperate, amateur writer faster than a bunch of exclamation points at the end of a sentence…
You’ll love the new John Deere riding mowers!
The longest, straightest driver ever!
Better comfort! Better feel! Better performance!
Your whole family will love it!!!
Really? Those punctuation marks transform simple statements of fact into boisterous, unbelievable claims. It’s just not a normal tone of voice, and it’s going to affect your credibility.
If you want better ad copy, just shut up and use a period.
In business communications, credibility is critical. Your message needs to sound believable. Professional. Sensible. When you add the exclamation mark it sounds like your pants are on fire. Be understated instead.
If you have to use an exclamation mark, you’re not using the right words. Go back to the well. Find words that punctuate the point in a dramatic fashion so you don’t need the extra punctuation.
You can add excitement and immediacy to your advertising copy and social media posts without adding exclamation points. Or worse yet — emojis.
Just try saying something meaningful. Different. And honest.
Start with a value proposition that holds water and resonates with your target audience. Then write micro-scripts that cement that idea in their minds. Test the microscripts on real people. Get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to re-write. You have to be patient and persistent if you want copy that really sells.
I’ve never seen a great headline with an exclamation mark after it. Ever.
So here’s a good rule of thumb… if your headline has one, throw out the whole thing and start over. Try crafting a headline that is relevant and intriguing on its own, without all the grade school punctuation.
Clarity is the key to many things… Marriage, international relations, politics and parenting would all benefit from more clarity.
But let’s stick to the subject at hand; Clarity in business communication. Specifically, clarity in branding, advertising, marketing communications and management in general.
Business is an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. complication. Persuasion vs. nonsense. Straight talk vs. bullshit.
Doesn’t matter what form of business communication we’re talking about — from a quick tweet or a simple email to an in-depth webinar or long-term TV campaign — you need to be clear about what you’re trying to say.
Business clarity, delivered creatively, is the holy grail of marketing.
It takes discipline and creativity to continually provide clarity in business communication.Eighty percent of my professional life has been spent helping clients clarify things. The message is almost always clear in their own heads — and maybe to a few insiders — but it’s seldom clear to the outside world. A lot gets lost in translation.
The fact is, words matter. Images matter. A single misused word, photo or graphic can derail entire campaigns and leave your most important audience scratching their heads.
Want to avoid low morale and high turnover? Be clear with your people.
A Gallup Poll on the State of the American Workplace showed that fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity in business communication causes enormous frustration.
When confusion runs rampant, it costs a bundle.
So don’t just whip out that email to your team. Take time to think it through. Edit it. Shorten it. Craft it until it’s perfectly clear. You’ll be amazed how many headaches you can avoid when you just slow down, and make the extra effort to be painfully clear.
Want to stop wasting money on advertising? Be clear about the strategy.
Think of it this way… Effective advertising is a combination of two things: Whatto say, and how to say it. The “what to say” part means you need to articulate your strategy very clearly. The “how to say it” part is the job of the creative team.
The copywriter and the art director and programmer can’t do their jobs if they’re not clear on the strategy. Unfortunately, most business owners are quite wishy-washy on the subject of advertising strategy. And, unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers can’t spell out the difference between strategy and tactics.
Want to build a brand? Be clear about what it stands for.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock did a great documentary about product placement in the movie industry called “Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” There’s a scene where he’s pitching his movie idea to a team of top executives of a well-known natural food company, and they’re concerned that his spoof is not really right for their brand.
“So what are the words you’d use to describe your brand.” Spurlock asks. “Uhhhhhhhh. That’s a great question…”
No reply. Nothing but a bunch of blank stares and squirming in their seats.
Finally, after several awkward minutes, one guy throws out a wild-ass guess that sounded like complete corporate mumbo-jumbo. They were in the spotlight, on national TV, and they had no business clarity whatsoever.
One thing you can do to encourage clarity in business communications is to write and produce a brand book that spells out exactly what your brand is all about. And what it isn’t!
Boil it down to a microscript your people will actually remember, rather than the usual corporate mish-mash mission statement. Then make sure that it becomes an integral part of your on-boarding procedure.
Because if your own people don’t know what your brand stands for, how will the customer know?
Want traction for your startup? Find a name that’s clear.
Start-ups are hard enough without having to constantly explain your name. Like these internet inspired misses: Eefoof. Cuil. Xlear. Ideeli. That’s just confusion waiting to happen…
“How do you spell that?” “What’s the name of your business again?” “How do you pronounce that?” “Wait, what?”
Instead, go with a great name like StubHub. It has a nice ring to it. It’s memorable. And it says what it is. Digg is another good example. In that case, the double letters actually work conceptually with the nature of the business… Search. Deeper.
Want advertising that actually drives sales?Be clear and overt about the value proposition.
Not just a description of what you do or sell, but a compelling microscript of the value experience that your target audience can expect. It’s a sharply honed combination of rational and emotional benefits that are specific to the target audience, and not lost in the execution.
Creativity is the lifeblood of the advertising industry. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, especially in categories where there’s no other differentiation. But sometimes you have to put clarity in front of creativity. So start with strategy. Then be very clear about the value proposition. Then a tight creative brief. And finally, lastly, ads. That’s how you can achieve clarity in business communication.
Want funding for your startup? You need overall business clarity.
When you’re talking about your amazing new business idea, be very, specifically clear about what’s in it for the consumer and how the business model will work. It all needs to be boiled down into a one minute elevator pitch that is painfully clear.
There can be no confusion.
You also need to be very clear with potential partners, employees, investors and especially yourself. If the idea’s not clear in your mind, it’ll never be clear to the outside world.
Want a powerpoint presentation that resonates? Be clear and stingy with the slides.
Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies of clarity in business communication. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more bullet points just sucks the wind out of your ideas and puts the audience in a stupor.
Next time you have a presentation to do, don’t do a presentation. Write a speech. Memorize it and make ’em look you in the eye, rather than at the screen. If nothing else, they’ll get the message that you’re willing to do something radically daring.
The marketing landscape isn’t really a landscape anymore. It’s more like a fast moving landslide, snapping trees and engulfing unsuspecting business owners up to their ears in muck.
Most clients I know can’t possibly wade through the complex maze of choices.
They are wearing so many different hats, they can’t begin to sort out all the “marketing opportunities,” much less make sound strategic decisions regarding each one.
Quite frankly, it’s silly to even try.
There’s affiliate marketing, agile marketing, advertising, analytics, ambush marketing, B to B, B to C, B to P, behavioral marketing, blackhat marketing, branding, blog marketing and buzz marketing. And that’s just the first two letters of the alphabet.
It’s nuts. This is one area where delegation and outsourcing are the only paths to sanity.
Even the biggest brands in the world, with massive marketing departments, can’t make sense of it all. Bob Liodice, President and CEO of the Association of National Advertisers summed it up at a recent conference in Orlando.
“Yes, there’s been substantial technological progress. But is that progress getting us anywhere? The answer is no,” Liodice said. “We should not accept this byzantine, non-transparent super complex, digital media supply chain. No one can understand it. ”
Unless you have a background in at least one major marketing discipline, or unless you have time to devote 30 hours a week learning this stuff, your business will be better off if you stay focused on what you know, and turn to a savvy marketing pro who can dodge the landslide altogether.
I’ve seen what happens when business owners try to forego that marketing help, and try to tackle too many tactics…
• Sloppy, ineffective websites go live, simply because the owner has more important things to do.
• Value propositions go undefined and miscommunicated, both to the sales staff and to end users. Ask 100 small business owners “what’s your value proposition” and at least half of them will be stumped.
• Trade ads get printed in consumer magazines because the “marketing person”/executive assistant doesn’t know the difference.
• E-commerce sales copy on umpteen online retail sites is unproofed, uninspiring and untrue, leading to lackluster E-commerce sales.
• High-dollar digital campaigns directed to teenage gamers pop up on Our Time – a dating site for people over 50. Re-targeting gone wrong!
• Marketing tactics and strategy get completely out of alignment.
• A company that provides private jet services spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on schlocky local TV ads. The phones ring, but no one buys. Big surprise. They’re shouting to the wrong audience entirely – one that can’t possibly afford the product.
• Social media posts go viral – but they’re so off brand and out of left field, no one has any idea where they even came from.
Yep, the good, ol’ American do-it-yourself mentality dooms many marketing efforts, and even ensures the failure of thousands of businesses every year. For every new tactic, and every variety of marketing, there are a hundred different ways to screw things up.
So what are you supposed to do? How can business owners find the right marketing tool for the job and quit wasting time on marketing opportunities that go nowhere?
First of all, you need to have a general grasp of the complex marketing landscape.
Reading this blog and other credible sources is a good start. You need to know just enough to manage the process. It’s no different than managing lawyers or accountants or programmers… you can’t be totally in the dark about what they’re doing
Second, find someone you trust implicitly to help you wade through all the marketing clutter.
There are thousands of capable consultants, agencies, firms and freelancers who would love to help you. They will pour heart and soul into your marketing efforts, if you just treat them fairly and pay them on time and accept their outside perspective as a positive.
It’s easy to say, “yeah, well you don’ t really understand my business.” They may not know it as well as you do, but what we do know is marketing, That’s what you’re hiring us for. We can learn the ins and outs of your operation as we go, just as you can learn the basics of marketing and branding.
Third, set clear goals, expectations and metrics.
Demand some accountability. The last thing you need is someone running around spending all your marketing dollars with no clear direction.
Don’t expect a specialist in one little marketing niche to understand the entire marketing landscape. It may take one person to set the strategy and another group to execute all the tactics. After all, there are a lot of them.
I have a client who has spent 10 years studying marketing, just so he could “talk intelligently” with people like me.
He has read hundreds of marketing books, attended conferences, and traveled the country to hear the big-name gurus speak. He’s learned a lot, and yet he freely admits he could never do what I do. Because learning it from a book and actually doing the work successfully, over and over again, are two different things entirely.
But now he knows enough to manage the process. And he has someone he trusts to help him choose his opportunities wisely, and maximize every one.