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The secret to success: Clarity in business communications.

BNBranding logoClarity 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 communications.

Business owners and marketing people face an ongoing war of clarity vs. confusion. Simplification vs. complication. Persuasion vs. nonsense. Straight talk vs. bullshit. clarity in business communications BNBranding

Doesn’t matter what form of business communications 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 and succinct about what you’re trying to say.

It takes discipline and creativity to maintain clarity in business communications.

It’s easy to confuse people. Eighty percent of my professional life has been spent helping clients clarify things. The message they have in mind is 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, and you have to find many different ways to say the same thing. Clearly.

The fact is, words matter. Images matter. Tone matters. A single misused word, photo or graphic can derail entire campaigns and leave your most important audience scratching their heads. You don’t want people saying “huh? or “wait, what?”

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 there’s very little clarity in business communications. In fact, fully 50% of all workers are unclear about what’s expected of them. And that lack of clarity 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:  What to 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. You need to be clear on both fronts.

The copywriter and the art director can’t create great advertising 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.

So before you start writing ads, speeches or web copy, be clear about the strategy for that particular assignment. Clear strategy leads to clear copywriting and clear communications.

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…”

41394 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.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsNot 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 with your writing and stingy with the slides. 

Powerpoint is one of the biggest enemies of clarity in business communications. The innate human desire to add more slides, more data, more words and 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 very clear 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.

Learn more about more clarity in your powerpoint presentations.

Need help clarifying your messages? Need better clarity in business communications in general?  Call us. 541-815-0075 Keen branding

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

TMI – How information is killing your advertising

brand credibility from branding expertsContrary to popular belief, information is the enemy of persuasion. Not the friend. In fact, too much information is the number one killer of advertising, presentations, speeches and brand messages in general.

Most people think they can convince, sell or persuade by piling on facts and stats. Well, it might make you feel smart, but it’s not going to produce results. In fact, the more information you stuff into an ad, the less you’ll get out of it.

Information is what web sites are for. You can cover all the nitty gritty details in the content of your site. That’s where you go deep with blog posts and white papers. Don’t try doing that in your advertising.

too much information in advertising and marketing

Lead them gently down that primrose path to conversion.

Effective advertising leads prospects to that information and moves them further down the primrose path to conversion. It doesn’t change minds, it simply gets people moving in the right direction… from ad, to website, to content, to store, to purchase. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Many people try the short cut, thinking they can do it all in one ad. There’s no thinking behind it. No strategy. No emotional hook. And worst of all, no story.

Just get the word out there. Load ’em up with product specs and features. Give ’em every detail of the coming event. Show ’em every product that’s on sale! Baffle ’em with the factoids.

 

 

Here’s an example: Several local hearing aid businesses run huge, full-page ads in the paper every week. It’s a wise media strategy, because the newspaper reaches senior citizens quite effectively.

Terrible execution though.

The ads are all type and hype… packed with nothing but facts, retail features and weasels. Someone could easily win that marketing battle simply by removing the facts and taking a less-is-more approach.

Because seniors don’t like being bored to death either.

If you ignore the emotional benefits of hearing well, and start droning on about the techno-wizardry of the latest, greatest hearing aid, you’re missing it entirely.

Advertising is an arena geared specifically for stories and emotional benefits. The imaginative part of the sales pitch, if you will.  Save the product features, details, proof points and testimonials for your website or for the sales pitch once they’re in your store. And even then, you need to use information wisely.

A Harvard Business Review study revealed the underlying problem with more information:  unnecessarily confusing paths to a purchasing decision.

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your ads

“Companies have ramped up their messaging, expecting that the more information they provide, the better the chances of holding on to increasingly distracted and disloyal customers. But for many consumers, the rising volume of marketing messages isn’t empowering—it’s overwhelming. Rather than pulling customers into the fold, marketers are pushing them away with relentless and ill-conceived efforts to engage.”

The study compared the online advertising of two digital camera brands. Brand A used extensive technical and feature information such as megapixel rating, memory and resolution details. Nothing about the beautiful images you could capture.

And guess what? All that information didn’t lead people closer to a decision. It led them down a frustrating rabbit hole and drove them to consider Brand B.

“Brand B simplified the decision making process and helped prospects traverse the purchase path quickly and confidently.” The approach focused more on the end results have having a great photo, rather than the features of the camera. Duh.

“The research showed that customers considering both brands are likely to be dramatically more “sticky” toward Brand B… The marketer’s goal is to help customers feel confident about their choice. Just providing more information often doesn’t help.”

I’ve had bosses and clients who believe that every inch of every ad should be utilized to its fullest extent. In other words, pack it with facts. Leave nothing out. “White space is for people with nothing to say.”

The underlying reason for that is usually insecurity and/or inexperience. The results are predictably dismal… You end up with a frustrated creative team, confused consumers and lousy response rates.

So if you’re working on a new ad campaign, make friends with the Delete button. Embrace the white space. Learn when to shut up. When in doubt, take it out!

For more on this subject, check out THIS post

Under Armour marketing — Sailing into a big, blue ocean of opportunity.

BNBranding logoKevin Plank, founder and former CEO of Under Armour, likes to tell the story of his origin as an entrepreneur. And it always revolves around focus…

“For the first five years we only had one product. Stretchy tee shirts,” Plank said.  “Great entrepreneurs take one product and become great at one thing.  I would say, the number one key to Under Armour marketing – to any company’s success – plain and simple, is focus.”

Under Armour marketing strateg on the Brand Insight BlogThe Under Armour marketing focus on stretchy tees for football players enabled Plank to create a whole new pie in the sporting goods industry. He wasn’t fighting with Nike for market share, he was competing on a playing field that no one was on.

It was a classic “blue ocean” strategy… instead of competing in the bloody waters of an existing market with well-established competitors, he sailed off on his own.

Under Armour marketing strategy on the brand insight blog

And Plank kept his ship on course until the company was firmly established. Only then did they begin to introduce new products and expan

d the Under Armour marketing strategy. It wasn’t until years later that they entered the footwear business and the golf business and the fashion business.

That’s good branding. That’s a Blue Ocean Strategy. That was Under Armour marketing in a nutshell… Stretchy Ts for football players. 

 

 

Plank didn’t have to explain the Under Armour value proposition to anyone… From the very beginning it was ridiculously clear what the company was all about. Potential customers grasped the idea immediately.

Often the lure of far-away treasure is just too tempting for the entrepreneur. The minute they get a taste of success, and have some good cash flow, they sail off into completely different oceans.

It’s a common phenomenon among early-stage start-ups, where it’s spun, for PR purposes, into a strategic “pivot.” 

Every meeting with a potential investor or new strategic partner triggers a dramatic shift in the wind…

“Wow, that’s a great idea. We could do that.”  “Oh, we never thought of that. Yes, definitely.” “Well, that would be a great pivot for us. We’ll definitely look into that.” 

Those are usually the ones that burn through their first round of funding and then sail off into oblivion. Because there’s no clear purpose. No definitive direction. No substance upon which a brand could be built.

W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne wrote the book “Blue Ocean Strategy” back in 2005. They don’t mention Under Armour, but it fits their blueprint of success precisely…

“Reconstruct market boundaries to create uncontested market space.” “Use value innovation to make a giant, disruptive leap forward in your industry.”

Plank was sailing into uncontested waters with one simple, focused idea. Plus he had a well-executed brand identity that was perfectly aligned with his blue ocean strategy.

The name, Under Armour, fits perfectly. It sounds strong because it was originally targeted toward strong, burly football players in tough tee shirts. Plus, it’s under shirts, not outter shirts. It even implied safety in an inherently unsafe sport.

When it comes to branding, simplicity trumps complexity. The strongest brands are always built on simple, single-minded ideas.

Take Ikea, for instance. They have thousands of products, but they all revolve around one simple core brand concept: Furniture for the masses.

They figured out how to offer functional, contemporary furniture for a lot less money… by leaving the assembly in the hands of the customer.

The products themselves are cheap, cheesy and downright disposable. But that’s not the point. You can furnish an entire apartment for what you’d normally pay for a couch. Plus, Ikea created a shopping experience that makes you feel like you’re getting something more. And consumers eat it up.

Ikea has a cult-like brand following. People camp out for days at Ikea store openings. They drive hundreds of miles and devour 191 million copies of Ikea’s printed catalog. All because of two things: price and shopping experience.

Ikea didn’t try to compete with traditional furniture manufacturers who focused on craftsmanship and quality. Instead, they ascribed to the old saying, “If you want to live with the classes, sell to the masses.”  Every Ikea design begins with one thought in mind: How to make common household items less expensive.

Their single-minded focus on cost-conscious consumers is their “Blue Ocean” strategy and the cornerstone of their success. They design products and a retail shopping experience to fit that core brand concept.

Uner Armour marketing on the brand insight blogSo the next time you walk into one of those giant, blue stores for some Swedish meatballs and bed linens, think about that…  Are you trying to slug it out with bigger competitors in the bloody waters of a red sea, or are you charting your own blue ocean strategy?

Take a page from the Under Armour marketing handbook and zig when everyone else zags. Go where the enemy isn’t. That’s how you’ll create a brand, and a business, that sticks. 

For more on effective marketing strategy, Try This Post.

 To put this idea to work for your company, give us a call. Our branding process starts with a simple, affordable brand assessment test drive.  541-815-0075

a new approach to website design BNBranding

 

Working together for more effective advertising. (11 helpful tips)

BNBranding logoPlanning, creating, producing and managing an effective advertising campaign is not easy. There are details galore, many moving pieces, and an interesting array of individuals who all need to come together to make it happen.

When it does, it’s really quite magical. It’s a rare marriage of art and salesmanship that produces spectacular results.

more effective advertising from BNBranding

So here is some insight on the process that will help you succeed in advertising, no matter what side of the table you’re on.

This is how we can all work together to create more effective advertising. More memorable design. Better client-agency relationships. And ultimately, stronger brands…

If you’re a client…

1. Make your new campaign a priority.

Give the agency team plenty of your time and unrestricted access so they can be thoroughly prepared. Share everything. Put it all on the table, including the white elephants — if there’s something you absolutely won’t entertain or can’t stand, make that clear immediately. Remember, your agency team wants to help. They want to prove themselves. So as Jerry Maguire (aka Tom Cruise) once said “help me help you.”

 

2. Embrace the strategy behind the work.

When it comes to presenting ideas, advertising people love the preamble, or “pre-mumble” as a colleague once called it. We’re anxious to show off the thinking behind the work, probably because we know that most business owners don’t have tremendous respect for advertising guys. (They judge harshly and pigeonhole us as “artists” and “whacky creative types,” rather than trusted business consultants.)

We also know that no matter how great the work is, most people need to justify a good gut decision with some facts and data.

more effective advertisingSo we trot out the charts and graphs and point to the insight that we gleaned from all the market research. Then, in classic Don Draper style, we craft a speech to “set-up” the inevitable and brilliant creative solution that the client can’t possible resist.

But…  Many clients won’t hear it.

Their preconceived notions won’t allow it. They just want the sizzle, and if they don’t see it immediately no amount of strategic rationale will sway them.

In that case, “smarter” doesn’t necessarily sell. More research, better planning, and a sharply crafted creative brief count for nothing if the execution doesn’t tickle the client’s fancy.

Of course, just because it appeals to the client doesn’t mean it’ll work in the marketplace. So it gets complicated.  It has to be strategically sound, AND it has to appeal to the CEO.

3. Extricate yourself from the day-to-day, minute-to-minute, demands of your job.

I know it’s hard, but to be fair, you need some perspective. Block out a few days to immerse yourself in your brand without the worries of your daily grind.

You’ll be working with creative people, so get into a creative mindset of your own. At the very least, when it’s time to evaluate your new campaign put everything else aside and focus entirely on the campaign in front of you. That’s just common courtesy and professionalism. The agency team is giving you their full attention. They deserve the same. If you’re answering calls in the middle of a presentation it’ll be painfully obvious that you don’t value their work.

4. Throw the rear-view mirror thinking out the window.

Take a fresh new look at the marketing in your category. Think about the stereotypes that are hurting your business. How could you get past those? Make a list of all the industry conventions and cliches in your particular business. Review the “ways we’ve always done things,” and discard all that baggage for a day. Forget the old, and open yourself up to the genuinely new.

5. Be patient.

There are plenty of brilliant art directors and writers who aren’t good presenters. Listen attentively during the pre-amble, and be slow to criticize anything at that stage. It might not make sense at first, but wait until the presentation is complete. Only then can you judge fairly and delve into the inevitable questions that arise from an idea that may seem outlandish.

more effective advertising BNBranding6. Embrace the discomfort.

When you see a truly great advertising idea, it will NOT look like anything else you’ve seen. So yes, it’s going to be uncomfortably unfamiliar. You’ll feel like you’re really out there on the edge. Rest assured, you’re not alone in your squirming.

I once saw an amazingly effective, caring CEO get completely lost and befuddled by this. He really wanted to like the work — that much was obvious. But he could not get his head around the one, fundamental fact of advertising:

UNfamiliar is GOOD! Familiar is bad. That’s the secret to more effective advertising. If it’s NOT a novel idea, it won’t get noticed.

As Advertising legend George Lois once said, “Advertising is like poisonous gas… it should bring tears to your eyes and unhinge your nervous system. It should knock you out.”

So set your expectations accordingly… if they show you an idea that seems “way out there,” you’re probably on the right track. Lois says, “safe, conventional work is the ticket to oblivion.” If they show you something that seems “fine” and familiar, that’s when you should push back and say, is that all you got?”

If you’re the agency account executive…

1. Make a genuine connection with the client.  First, make sure you’re pitching to the right person. The one with the real decision-making authority. Then devote extra time to get to know that person.

One approach is to embed yourself — like a war correspondent — into the client’s business. Camp out. Shadow your client. Listen to everything that’s going on internally. You’ll often pick up subtle cues about the culture and the kind of advertising they’ll embrace.

But it’s not just the business you need to know. I’m talking about the client’s personal taste in everything… political leanings, entertainment preferences, family situation, personality traits. Take a page out of Harvey McKay’s sales playbook, (How to swim with the sharks without being eaten alive) and learn that person inside and out.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

It does you no good to schmooze with client if you don’t share your insight on that person with the creative team. Many AEs hold on tightly to that knowledge, believing it’s power. But that relationship you’ve worked so hard to build is worthless if you don’t win or keep the business. That means close, constant contact with the writer, the art director, the planner and the media person. Share everything you know, and your odds of making that client happy will rise dramatically.

listening for more effective advertising3. Know when to stop selling, and when to start listening.

When the client is presented with a campaign that does not resemble the recognizable, feature-driven advertising that he’s accustomed to, he might seize up. Not know what to say. Your job is to be comfortable with that uncomfortable silence.

Basically, shut up!

Stop selling. Let the idea sink in and let the client lead any further discussion. Don’t be jumping in with superlatives of any sort. They’ll only weaken your case. And defer to the creative team on the executional details.

If you’re on the creative team…

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Yes, good teamwork hinges on communication in both directions. So keep the account person in the loop. Share your ideas early and often. Shut up and listen to the AE, the planner, and anyone else who can help.

Art directors and writers need to be willing to defer to the AE on some issues. If the AE really knows the client, and she says he’ll “never go for it,” you just might have to, for once, defer to her judgement and go back to the well. There’s always another approach.

You might also customize your pitch to the prospect’s personality…

Most creative presentations reflect the personality of the presenter. Turn it around, and make the pitch match the personality of the client. If he’s highly analytical, then the preamble might be crucial.  If he has Attention Deficit Disorder, you’ll want to shorten everything. Cut to the bone. If he’s a contemplative intellectual, build in time for him to think and process.  If he’s funny and dynamic, then by all means, be funny and dynamic.

2. Nail the first 30 seconds.

The first impression is everything, so start with the simplest execution. Hit them between the eyes with one sharp visual or winning line that sums it all up.

Digital ads are great for this purpose… they have to work like billboards on the information highway… you got three seconds to impress.

Ready set go!

Then show how the campaign has legs, and can extend into print, TV, long format video, content marketing and social media.

Think about reorganizing your pitch. Turn the preamble in the post-amble. AFTER you have their attention, and AFTER you’ve blow them away with unexpectedly brilliant advertising or design, then you can present the rationale behind it. But keep it short and sweet. Remember, you’re not trying to solve all their marketing problems in one meeting. You just need to win their confidence so you can move deeper into the creative process.

3. Try to put yourself in his or her shoes.

Since the AE knows the prospect in and out, it should be relatively easy for her to empathize with the client.

But the creative team needs to do the same. Forget about your own position within the agency, and put yourself in your client’s shoes. Realize that he has pressure from all directions, and do everything you can to alleviate some of that. Don’t forget, Advertising is a service business, after all.

Is content marketing your idea of more effective advertising? check out THIS post.