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6 research for branding strategies

Truth, Lies, and Advertising Honesty.

BNBranding logoI don’t comment on politics. However, the current political dialog has certainly inspired this post on brand authenticity, honesty and truth in advertising.

In politics, the standards for lying are lower than they are in business. You can sling mud and hurl half-truths at your opponent and get away with it. He’ll just sling it back. Or the populace will simply look the other way.

In business, it doesn’t work that way. “You suck, we don’t” isn’t a good messaging strategy.

Consumers are quick to call you out, via social media, if your advertising is BS. And if you say nasty things about your competitors, you’ll probably get sued. It’s actually illegal to blatantly mislead consumers, and if you live in a small town, like I do, disparaging a competitor will almost always come back to bite you in the Karmic ass.

truth in advertising BNBrandingIn marketing, advertising and selling, there’s a big, gaping grey area when it comes to the claims you make and the image you portray.

Many people believe “truth in advertising” is an oxymoron.

Burgers always look bigger and juicier in ads than they do in real life. All women are rail-thin and perfectly endowed. And it’s always clear skies and mai-tais in the travel brochures for Kaui. (No one really expects them to show the island in a downpour.)

So critics jump to the conclusion that all advertising is false advertising. That all marketers use dishonest “trickeration” to get us to buy things we don’t want or need. They say there is no truth in advertising. Alternate facts, maybe, but not truth.

Not so.

Great brands are built by business owners (and their agencies) who know how to tell good stories. And good story telling always involves elements of truth, plus a little “creative license.” Your brand stories don’t have to be literally true, but they must ring true to a particular group of people.

Even the most well-documented non-fiction stories are not 100% true. Ken Burns, the famous documentary filmmaker once said, “all story is manipulation. Truth is a by-product of our stories. And emotional truth is something you have to build.”

As marketers, that’s what we’re really after… emotional truth. Nothing works better.

When your brand story strikes an emotional chord that matches someone’s personal world view, you have a truth in his mind, and a winning campaign.

It’s more like suggestion than manipulation. In this age of instantaneous customer reviews, manipulation won’t fly. You have to be more subtle than that.

BNBranding truth in advertisingIn Seth Godin’s book, “All Marketers Are Liars” he reminds us that the brand story you tell isn’t really your story at all. It’s the consumer’s story that he tells himself that really matters.  You might try to “sell your story,” but in the end it’s the consumer who convinces himself why he wants or needs your product.

In a recent 60-minutes episode, the producers tried to paint the Italian eyeglass company, Luxottica, as irresponsible and phony because they make eyewear for dozens of different brands, including Oakley, RayBan, Prada, Polo, Coach, Vogue and many others.

60 Minutes says it’s misleading, that all those fancy brands are made out of the same factory. Perhaps, but I don’t think anyone cares. The factory that produces the glasses, and the parent company behind the factory, are not the story that’s relevant to consumers.

Sometimes truth just doesn’t resonate.

Regardless of the fact that all those glasses come from the same factory, consumers will convince themselves that their brand is better. Different. More desirable. That’s the power of great, long-term branding.

When you buy designer glasses from DKNY or Tiffany & Co. you’re buying into a different story than if you choose Oakleys. For some people, the Oakley story is more personally meaningful. More “true.”

For me, it’s not Oakley or any of the designer brands. It’s the Maui Jim story that rings true. Or at least, the most truthful for me.

As consumers, we constantly frame and reframe “truth” to fit our own values and beliefs. 

Marketing helps the process along, basically enabling us to continue telling ourselves stories that justify our purchases. Even ridiculous ones like $300 sunglasses.

The famous, old Avis campaign is a good example.  By adopting the tagline “we try harder,” Avis helped people reframe the truth… that Hertz is #1 in the market. Suddenly, that market leadership position didn’t equate with the best.

That long-running campaign rang true for millions of people, and helped Avis grow tremendously.  It was an idea that lasted more than 40 years.  Was it absolutely true? No, probably not. I doubt that every Avis employee actually tried harder than the guys at Hertz.  But inside the company it was a truthful effort.

brand credibilitySo here are some tips for truth in advertising, marketing and branding:

1. Facts are far less interesting than stories. If the facts are truly on your side, that’s great, your marketing job will be a lot easier. But you still need to find a creative way to present those facts.

2. If you have a me-too product, you’re going to have to “bluff with fluff.”  That’s when your advertising messages are even more critical to success. You have to come up with something beyond the product or service to hang your hat on. That’s what Avis did. That’s what Allstate’s doing with the “mayhem” campaign. It’s an effective use of exaggeration.

truth in advertising anchored in truth BNBranding3. Make sure your marketing communications are anchored in truth. The premise of your campaign, and the meat of your message, has to hold water. Otherwise, consumers will tag it immediately as B.S.  The mayhem campaign for Allstate is anchored in a common truth… that trouble lurks around every corner.

4. Be consistent. Once you figure out what that emotional truth is, stick with it!  You can vary the execution, but the underlying message and the “voice” of the campaign needs to stay the same. The more you change, the less credibility you’ll have. Click here to get help from BNBranding.

5. Always portray your product in the best light possible. Being “authentic” doesn’t mean you should use crappy photos of your product, or cheap packaging. If you have to, leave out the facts that point to another choice. Steer the conversation your way.

6. Admit it when don’t know or can’t stack up. Admitting a true shortcoming of your company or your product is a great way to disarm prospects and build trust.  Be truthful about what you don’t do, and use that to your advantage.

 

7. Never pay people for “reviews,” and don’t write fake testimonials. Verbatim comments from happy customers carry a lot of weight, but people can tell if you’re writing them yourself.  There are subtle little language clues that give you away, every time.

8. Remember, your story is what the consumer believes it to be. And one person’s truth is another’s lie.  You’ll never please all the people… Just those who share the alternate reality of your particular market segment.

9. Business is about relationships. Relationships hinge on trust. So lying, cheating or doing anything that betrays trust, also hurts the brand. As Marty Neumeier said, “Trust is the ultimate shortcut to a buying decision, and the bedrock of modern branding.”

10. Remember that consumers are deeply, contagiously skeptical.  And if they feel they’re being duped, they’ll shout it out any way they can. In fact, there’s a small, but vocal, segment of the population that has nothing better to do than lurk around on Twitter just waiting for something to snark about.

11. Be Novel.  Great novels aren’t true but they reveal truths. They involve deep, meaningful characters and a storyline that grips, moves, builds. Brands should do the same.  If you’re staying static, you’re losing relevance. And great writing is a differentiator, all by itself!

Click here for more on truth in advertising. 

Click here to get help from BNBranding.

7 Branding firm BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

truth in advertising BNBranding

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

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

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

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

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

John Furgurson personal branding from BNBranding

That’s me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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7 website design BNBranding

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

BNBranding logoThere was a group discussion on LinkedIn recently that started with this statement: “Website design is a waste of money.”

It’s nonsense, of course, but that headline served its purpose by provoking quite a debate… Graphic designers and advertising people in one camp, web programmers and entrepreneurs in the other, arguing their respective positions.

One group believes web design should take a back seat to functionality, speed, SEO rankings and “traffic-building strategies.”  Besides, why spend money on design when there are so many WordPress templates to choose from?

website design BNBrandingThis is the paint-by-numbers gang. Just fill in the blanks and you’re good to go.

The other side argues that you should make sure the site is well-polished, on-brand, and memorably differentiated before you spend a dime driving traffic to it.

This is the color outside of the lines gang. Every website design is a blank canvas, with masterpiece potential. As a traditionally trained advertising guy, I side with them.

As “creatives” we’re trained to come up with attention-getting ideas and to polish every last detail before we deliver the work to a client. This mentality of craftsmanship applies directly to web design for several reasons:

  1. Because people are drawn to ideas, more than they’re drawn to companies or products.
  2. Because details affect conversion rates. It’s been proven time and time again.
  3. Because differentiation matters. And if you just paint by numbers, your site will look like every other site.

But I also understand the other side of the argument… In the entrepreneurial world, as in software development, “lean”  and “iterate” are the buzzwords. Their mentality is, “just get something up! We’ll add to it and fix it later.”

That’s a tough one for writers and graphic artists who always want to do great work. But as a CEO friend once said, “it’s not great work if it’s not done.”

So what we need is a high-bred approach to web design that combines the craftsmanship of old-school advertising with the rapid “lean development” that entrepreneurs favor.

We need to get web designs done quickly, AND really well. Quick and polished, not quick and dirty. Because first impressions will always matter. If you just fill in the blanks of another WordPress theme and insert your Instagram feed, your site’s going to fall flat on many different levels.

If you choose to cut corners and get it up quickly with cookie cutter design templates, you better be ready to circle back around quite soon to do the fine tuning.

One comment in that LinkedIn discussion was, “I cannot think of a time when website design affected my decision to keep looking at a site.” Yeah, right. That’s crazy talk from someone who thinks everyone goes through life making decisions in an orderly, logical fashion. Like Spock.

website design BNBrandingI guarantee you, that person is affected by design EVERY time. He just doesn’t know it.

Of course he “can’t think of a time,” because great web design works on subconscious level that computer programmers don’t understand, nor acknowledge. It’s an instantaneous, subconscious judgment that leads to spontaneous click of the mouse.  There’s absolutely nothing logical about.

Before you know you’ve made a decision, you just stay and linger, or you leave. You don’t know why. You just do.

The latest brain research shows that humans can initiate a response to stimuli before the neocortex can even interpret the stimuli. In other words, we act before we think.

So the first impression is critically important, and that hinges on design and spot-on messaging.

Poor website design leads to confusion, and nothing drives people away faster than confusion. If the immediate, split-second impression is a little off, you’re outta there. There are plenty of pretty websites that don’t convert worth a hoot because of this.

Poor website design leads to all sorts of problems.

On the other hand, good design leads to clarity, and understanding at a glance, which is the litmus test for sticky websites. Instantaneous recognition of relevance.

I think part of the problem with this discussion is a limited definition of “website design.”

When it comes to websites, design is not just the aesthetic elements, as in traditional graphic design, but also the site planning, messaging, and user experience.

It’s a holistic approach to web development that I like to call Conversion Branding.  It’s a well-coordinated team effort between a copywriter who knows persuasion architecture, a talented graphic designer, a technically proficient programmer, and a trusting, intelligent client.

Remove any of those people from the equation and the website simply will not come together as you had hoped.

But back to that discussion… Much of the thread was about the importance of “web marketing” vs. “website design.”  In that case, balance is the key.

You don’t want to spend money to drive a lot of traffic to a website that isn’t enticingly relevant and and user-friendly.

There’s an old saying in the advertising business: “nothing kills a lousy product faster than great advertising.”

If your website is lousy, driving traffic to it will just speed your demise.

On the other hand, you don’t want to spend too much on design only to be left with no money for “web marketing” that’ll push traffic.

I agree that having something up and online is better than nothing at all. But be careful… If you’re Microsoft, you can get away with it.  The brand allows something that’s far from perfect. But if you’re not very well known, people are pretty unforgiving.

One lousy experience and it’s bye-bye. They won’t return for your website 2.0.

There are two things you need in order to get a good website up fast: a well crafted brand strategy which provides context and perspective, and a detailed website plan that spells out specific objectives, target audiences, paths to conversion and other critical elements of your site.

If you leave your web site production to the computer nerds, you won’t get the brand strategy, the site plan, or the great design. Programmers simply follow directions and program the site as it’s presented to them, in the fewest keystrokes possible. That’s why templates are so popular.

And guess what… designers aren’t very good at that strategy stuff either. I’ve seen designers obsess over the tiniest minutia and then miss the fact that the main headline of the home page is completely unrelated to the business at hand.

It’s a very pretty mess.

So we’re back to that idea of balance and a four-person team. Website design absolutely matters. But so does Functionality. Messaging. Conversion. Authenticity. SEO. Photography. And copywriting — don’t forget that.

For some reason, most business owners seem to think they can write web copy, even though they’d never dream of writing their own print ads or TV spots. Suffice it to say, most business owners don’t have the training or the craftsmanship needed to produce a good website. Unfortunately, neither do programmers. Neither do designers. You need the whole team.

Together you might just find a great website design that also produces spectacular results.

BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog

3 BNBranding brand insight blog example of incongruity in copywriting

How to make your copy more compelling: Mix up the words for better results.

BNBranding logoSometimes, when it comes to copywriting, one word can be the difference between a marketing home run and a dribbling bunt.

Use a boring, expected word, and you’ll get boring results. Introduce incongruity into the word choice, and you’ll hit it out of the park.

Here’s an example:

I was doing a campaign for a commercial real estate concern, and the client was completely fixated on one word in a headline: “Precious.”

“I don’t like it. Babies are precious, not parking places,” she argued.

“Yes, that’s precisely why it works,” I countered. “The inconguity of it. Besides, diamonds are also precious. And what’s more valuable than diamonds?”

By using that one word I exaggerated the value of “free parking” and elevated a mundane product feature to an entirely different realm.

It was an effective use of incongruity in advertising copy, and she just couldn’t get her head around it.

So I showed her some alternative adjectives that I knew would not work…

“Popular parking places” just didn’t have the same effect.

“Convenient” didn’t have the alliteration I was looking for.

“Valuable” just sucks.

The more options I showed her, the better the word “precious” seemed. The incongruity of it was perfect for that context and purpose. Eventually the client relented, and the ad ran, quite successfully.

tips for new logo design by BNBrandingIncongruity in advertising is a mismatch between an element in the ad and an existing frame of reference. (Elements being product photo, brand name, endorser, music selection, word choice, etc.)

Academic research on the subject has shown that “incongruity causes disturbances in one’s cognitive system”…

That’s precisely what advertising people are going for: a disturbance in your thinking that causes you to pause, consider or reflect on the brand. That’s what good copywriting is all about. That’s what iconic brands are built on.

“Empirical evidence suggests that individuals presented with INcongruity are more likely to engage in detailed processing than they are with congruity, and may even respond positively to the incongruity.”

On the other hand, ads, tweets, presentations and websites that contain nothing new or different will not be processed at all.

Here’s an example of bad copywriting from a Bed & Breakfast website:

“Welcome to our home! We invite you to look around our website and consider a stay with us on your next visit to or through Lexington. When we open our door to you, we consider you as welcome guests, but want you to feel as comfortable here as you do in your own home. Our mission is to provide you with lodging, rest and meals that are memorably special, to do so with the kind of Southern hospitality you expect and deserve, in tasteful household surroundings that carry the tradition of Old South charm. You will find something “extra” everywhere you turn during your stay, from the bedding, room amenities, complimentary toiletries, and more…Each area has its own entertainment system, open WiFi access, and, for each room, individual climate controls. We believe you will enjoy your stay with us so much that you will regret having to leave, but depart looking forward to another visit. We hope to see you soon.

No one’s going to stick with this copy beyond the first four words. And “Complimentary toiletries”… Really? I sure hope so.

Copy like that is, what I’d call, boringly congruent. It’s so expected and chock full of cliche’s no one’s going to hear it. Our brains are wired to weed out the mundane, like a triple speed fast-forward button on the TV remote.

In marketing, the opposite of incongruity is not congruity. It’s invisibility.

BNBranding brand insight blog example of incongruity in copywriting

When all the elements line up in the same, old, expected way the message becomes completely invisible. Without some degree of incongruity, the copywriting fails.

But effective incongruity hinges on proper, relevant context.

examples of copywriting from BNBrandingExample: I recently used some nonsensical words in a campaign directed toward restaurant owners.

They know what babaganoush is. And Paninis.

The context made the incongruity of the words effective. If the target had been the general public, it’d be a different story.

If an element is totally out of context AND incongruent, it seldom works.

I recently saw a TV spot for a local realtor that was so wildly out of context and incongruent, it didn’t work at all. All you see are tattooed arms putting a puzzle together while the voice-over talks about “the real estate market is tearing families apart.”

Creepy.

If you’re a client who purchases advertising, try to embrace incongruity in the right context.  It could be one word in a headline that seems not quite right, or one image or graphic. Chances are, if it seems just a little outta place it’s going to work well. It’ll stop people in their tracks and engage the creative side of their brain.

So next time you’re working on an email campaign, a powerpoint presentation, or anything… take time to throw in at least one unexpected word that will break through all the “babaganoushit.”

It makes all the difference.

For more on making your advertising messages more memorable, try THIS post.

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113 marketin strategy vs tactics BNBranding

The difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

BNBranding logoI’m appalled. A successful marketing guy asked me a question recently — a real no-brainer — which led me to believe he didn’t know the difference between marketing strategy and tactics.

How can that be? He’s held several high-paying marketing positions. He has an MBA. He’s gotta know this stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s negligence! Advice like that would never get past the editors of a brand-name business magazine, but you can find it on-line. All over the place.

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

marketing tactics vs strategy

I’m sorry if the war analogy doesn’t appeal to you, but that’s where these terms came from, some 3,000 years ago.

Here’s how it breaks down: Goals first. Then strategy. Then tactics.

Goal: Win the war.

Strategy: “Divide and conquer.”

Tactics:

CIA spies gather intelligence.

Navy Seals knock out enemy communications.

Paratroopers secure the airports.

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

Drone attacks take out the enemy leadership.

An overwhelming force of infantry invade.

Hand-to-hand combat.

A marketing strategy is an idea… A conceptualization of how the goal could be achieved.

Like “Divide and Conquer.” Another possible war strategy would be “Nuke ‘Em.” (They call them Strategic Nuclear Weapons because they pretty much eliminate the need for any further battlefield tactics.)

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

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

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

Strategic thinking. Tactical acting.

But let’s get off the battlefield and look at a successful brand. In business, great strategies are built on BIG ideas. And BIG ideas usually stem from some little nugget of consumer insight.

Back in the 70’s, executives at Church & Dwight Inc. noticed that sales of their popular Arm & Hammer baking soda were slipping. The loyal moms and grandmas who had been buying the same baking soda all their lives weren’t baking as much as they used to.

classic marketing strategy and tactics on the Brand Insight Blog

Business Goal:  Turn the tide and increase Baking Soda sales.

Strategy: Devise new reasons for their current customers to pick up that yellow box at the supermarket and use more baking soda.

Specifically, sell Arm & Hammer as a deodorizer for the fridge. That’s a big, strategic idea that led Arm & Hammer in a completely different direction.

They’re now marketing a whole line of environmentally friendly cleaning products. Every current Arm & Hammer product, from toothpaste to cat litter, originated from that strategy of finding new ways to use baking soda. And in the process, an old-fashioned brand has managed to stay relevant.

Tactics: All the traditional marketing tactics have been employed… TV advertising. Magazine ads. Digital advertising. Search engine marketing. Content marketing. Retail promotions. Website dedicated to all the various uses of Arm & Hammer Baking Soda.

All great marketing strategies share these common traits:

• Thorough understanding of the brand’s status and story. Arm & Hammer has a strong heritage that dates back to the 1860’s. That yellow box with the red Arm & Hammer logo is instantly recognizable, and stands for much more than just generic sodium bicarbonate. It’s iconic.

 

 

 

 

 

• A realistic assessment of the product’s strengths & weaknesses. Market research proved what Arm & Hammer executives suspected… that people don’t bake as much as they used to. But it also showed that people were using their baking soda for all kinds of things besides baking. That was the insight that drove the strategy.

• A clear picture of the competition. Arm & Hammer has always been the undisputed market leader in the category. However, when they decided to introduce toothpaste and laundry detergent, the competition became

balance your marketing strategy and tactics with BNBranding

fierce. Arm & Hammer’s long-standing leadership position in one vertical market gave them a fighting chance against Procter & Gamble.

• Intimate knowledge of the consumer and the market. The shift away from the traditional American homemaker directly affected baking soda sales. Church & Dwight kept up with the trends, and even led the charge on environmental issues.

• A grasp of the big-picture business implications. Good brand strategies reach way beyond the marketing department. When you have a big idea, execution of the strategy will inevitably involve operations, R&D, HR, finance and every other business discipline.

A great strategy does not depend on brilliant tactics for success. If the idea is strong enough, you can get by with mediocre tactical execution. (Although I wouldn’t recommend tactical short cuts.)

However, even the best tactics can’t compensate for a lousy strategy.

You can waste a lot of money on marketing tactics if there’s no cohesive strategy involved. Some people confuse marketing strategy with marketing objectives. They are not synonymous. Here are a few examples of “marketing strategies” from seemingly credible on-line sources:

Marketing strategy and tactics - the branding process at BNBranding

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

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

That’s just marketing industry jargon.

Those are NOT strategies, they’re goals. (And not even very good goals.) Remember, it’s not a strategy unless there’s an idea behind it.

Any number of strategies can be used to achieve a business goal. In fact, it often takes more than one strategy to achieve a lofty goal, and each strategy involves its own unique tactical plan.

Unfortunately, a lot of marketing managers simply throw together a list of the tactics they’ve always used, and call it a strategy.

If you’re still wondering about the difference between marketing strategy and tactics, try the “what-if” test…

At Dominoes, someone said, “Hey, what if we guaranteed 30-minute delivery?” Dominoes couldn’t compete on product quality or price, but they could compete on speedy delivery.

So a strategy was born.

After that, their entire operation revolved around the promise of 30-minute delivery. They built a hell of a strategy around a simple, tactical idea.  That strategy worked well for more than 20 years until a lawsuit forced them to abandon it.  Now Jimmy John’s owns the “Super fast delivery” niche in the fast food industry.

At Arm & Hammer someone asked, “What if we could come up with a bunch of new uses for baking soda?”  Presenting people with entirely new ways to use your product is a  good marketing strategy.

On the other hand, “What if we do search engines?” doesn’t make sense. Must be a tactic.

“What if we increase market share?”  There’s no idea in that, so it must be a goal.

What if we could screen all web content for factual errors and eliminate some of the conflicting information you find.  Wouldn’t that be nice?

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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