May 2013

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The two most important elements in marketing are claim and proof.  It’s how you build businesses. Simplified and organized, this claim and proof approach is the foundation of branding.  One claim, three support or proof planks.

One of my kids just graduated college and is on the interview circuit. Loaded for bear, somewhat unfettered, he believes a willingness to work hard, learn and focus on achievement are the qualities that will land him a job. He’s not wrong. But these things sound like your average cover letter. When shared face-to-face over a desk, they are a bit numbing.  My suggestion was “don’t forget the proof.”  Follow up each claim with examples. 

This is what marketers often forget.  More often than not marketers and their agents remove proof so they can shoehorn in more claims. It’s claim-apalooza out there. All theater, exposition, and context – no proof.

When a job seeker organizes what s/he wants the interviewer to know about themselves and sells it with stories about real event it can be indelible.  Same with brand building. When the dude jumped out of the capsule up in space and free-fell to earth while drinking Red Bull (JKJK), he evinced an energy rush second to none. 10 million media impressions be damned. That was a powerful moment of proof. Peace.

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Office Depot, according to Stuart Elliott the ad writer for The New York Times, will be conducting an anti-bullying, back to school campaign this summer, using a boy band called One Design (or some such, JKJK). The grab-all idea is: “Live. Love. More” — as in “Live kind. Love everyone. Move together against bullying.” I’m not into 3 word taglines or ideas and the ones that require 8 more words to explain are even more perplaxing but I do love causes. Unfortunately, using causes as a way to break through with your advertising is a fairly common mistake.  They are easy to talk about, easy to surround with quotes, advocates and a powerful narrative. Often though, they are off the brand plan and only slightly tethered to sales — if at all. Plus they are kind of transparent.

That said, bullying is bad so let’s hope this campaign works. The creative idea is a montage too far. It’s almost ad-silly. The idea would be best boiled down to “Live Kind.”  I don’t think Lance would mind (not Lance Stephenson).  You see, if you “live kind,” then you probably try to love all and shun bullying. Live kind is memorable. Familiar, yet unique. It’s also a baby step, not the whole enchilada.  

This campaign is more for parents then kids, I get it. And like aroma therapy, it may provide a nice glow for the brand.  Were I the brand manager, however, I’d do this through the PR group and use my ad dollars to de-position Wal-Mart, Office Max and Amazon.  With a kick-ass, 360 retail effort – trotting out some mobile and twitch point planning tricks. Peace.  

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There seems to be a trend in TV programs these days, especially heady police drama imports where directors use a good deal of white space during dialogue.  If a :60 radio spot contains, say, 120 words then a 47 minute TV drama probably contains a 3500 words of dialogue. Some of these new white space shows are quite powerful because of camera work, performance and real acting. What is left unsaid and anticipated can drive the viewing experience.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, there is very little white space.  White space is usually left to the art director – who becomes the only artist (ar-teest) in the room. Everyone else is piling on.  Strategists should be preservers of whitespace.  No unnecessary noise in the message to cover up the key selling points. Brand managers, too, can learn a thing about the power of white space. 

That which we do not say, allows what we do say to have more ballast.

White space.  Tink about it (as my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said.) Peace.

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One of my favorite advertising campaigns is for Frank’s RedHot Sauce.  It may be my only favorite ad campaign.  I heard if yesterday morning and had to remark about it to the lady at Ace Hardware.  The business strategy is to get consumers to put Frank’s RedHot Sauce on more dishes.  I use hot sauce on burritos and tacos only.  My brother in law from North Carolina likes it on his eggs.  (It’s not bad.) The more dishes Frank’s can get you to spice up with hot sauce the more sales it rings.

Now normally funny advertising for the sake of funny is not something I advocate.  Funny is rarely a brand plank. But the little old lady with the graggy voice who performs these spots is quite the star. But the copywriter is the true star.  Each ad repeats the line “I put that shit on everything.” Of course the word shit is beeped out. The bleeped word is the hero of the spot. Try not laughing. Try not understanding the strategy. Try not visualizing a little old lady putting hot sauce on her breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Some church people will be offended. Some parents with small children will have to explain to their kids why they are laughing. Some will want to protest.  Me?  I just love that ____.  The best ad campaign I’ve heard in a long time. Peace. 

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Readers have heard me speak of a marketing convention called Twitch Point Planning, a rigor which helps planners “undertand, map and manipulate consumers closer to a sale.” Twitch Point Planning is an outgrowth of today’s, multi-channel, always on media devices.  Today I was reading the NYT and came across an article about George Orwell and the town Katha in Myanmar where he wrote his first novel “Burmese Days.”   Before I had finished the article, I’d powered up the Kindle, logged on the new office WIFI password, and downloaded the book for $2.99.  That’s a Twitch and the newspaper story was a Twitch Point.

Now, had I only been half interested in George Orwell, or Burma, or Myanmar I may not have transacted business.  So what might sellers of this book put in my way, elsewhere, to move me closer to a sale?  That’s the $64,000 question.  Thinking about that, is thinking as a Twitch Point planner.

moors google maps

What will emerge from this model? Well, if the NYT shared it topics and content with the public in real time, or perhaps the day before publishing, Twitch Point Planners would know what searchable terms, pictures, Google maps, images might be worthy of content or advertising attachment.  When Fred Wilson (of  AVC.com) was reading the bio autobiography of Keith Richards on a device and fired up Google Earth to see what moors really looked like, that was a twitch (and possible place for a tourist ad). As more Twitch Point Planning exampled come up, I will share. Unless you beat me to it. Peace

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I recently had a big argument with a company in transition. They were known for one thing, with 75% of revenue tied to that thing. Problem was, their future was tied to the other 25%.  I was told “Get the old thing off the home page. Fill it with the new thing.” That was the easy part.  The hard part was I was instructed to “Create different doors for different kinds of customers.”  I argued “For a company in transition, without a lot of awareness and mindshare, the home page needs to deliver the brand strategy.”  Home pages that don’t convey brand strategy are often montages of pictures, products and navigation. They lack a POV. A heart.  Home pages are the one place in the online world where marketers have complete control of their brands. They can control the story, the claim and the proof.  The 3 door approach would have evicerated the strategy.

Why do so many company make brochures out of the home page real estate? Brochure tables of contents, really.  Homepages are more and more important in marketing today and they are the least attended to.

For new or unknown companies the home page must communicate the Is-Does. For mature brands, it must move customers emotionally and rationally closer to a sale. Not closer to another page. Templates suck at this. Plants and trees that stay the same are either plastic, hibernating or dead. Your home page should be none of these. Peace.

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Apple has been on the front page of many metropolitan newspapers over the last couple of years.  The FoxConn story on manufacturing in China under un-American circumstances, the hard looks at Steve Jobs during publication of his biography and passing and now its tax avoidance.  It’s almost as if some in the media have an axe to grind with this darling of American commerce and technology.  Overdogs often are targeted. Yet with all this bad press, most consumers still love Apple.

apple

Microsoft used to be the overdog and all consumers used their products — but most skewered them. Many techies loved to kill them on message boards, in offices and around the digital coolers.  The only Microsoft advocates worked at Microsoft.

So how why does Apple get stink on itself and still maintain the love? Products. And proper brand management. Much of the latter is due to Lee Clow, TBWA/Chiat Day, Steve Jobs himself and the marketing Kool-Aid drinkers.  The Apple ads are fun, funny, sometimes biting, colorful and artful.  And clean like the products.

I’m hard-pressed to see how the latest tax image problem will be resolved by Apple, but I’m sure it will be. Samsung, Microsoft, HTC and Google Glass will fight Apple for share of wallet. But when it comes to the “love,” they will need to create and manage their brands with grace, insight and focus if they are to beat the overdog syndrome. (Google and it’s agency BBH have a clue. Eye on them.) Peace.

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Listening.

Socially awkward is a term I am hearing more and more these days. Usually it refers to people who are uncomfortable while with other people. The socially awkward, when they communicate, tend to lack social sensitivities. I would add to that definition a new behavior I’m seeing a lot whereby people don’t really listen to one another. That is more awkward.

A smart web and marketing company up in New Hampshire called First Tracks Marketing has posted about the ability to truly listen in business development and it has paid dividends.  NPR did a piece recently (the wifus mentioned it, think she was telling me something?) in which they cited how America Indians in tribal council allow a person to speak, but then make everyone wait a good amount of time before another speaker goes, creating time to think about what was said.

The problem with many marketing plans today (and brand plans for that matter) is that they are socially awkward.  They suffer from running their mouths, without really listening. Now I understand advertising is a broad cast medium but ads based-on listening and research score better. Connect better. Also ads that don’t kitchen sink the form. With the web, engagement scores go up as we listen to consumers. Polls were an early marketing winner on Facebook.

One of my greatest emails ever was to MT Carney, an early owner of Naked Communications. In it I told her I had a great ear. That was pretty much it.  Got the meeting.

So listen up marketers. It’s not an art – it’s a commerce.  Peace!

 

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Dell needs a facelift. But you don’t invest crazy money in a makeover before your facelift. (I’m projecting here. Hee hee.)  Michael Dell is trying to take the company from public to private and to do so must convince shareholders that $13.00 ish is a good share price.  Some say recent poor earning are a way to get shareholders to agree to sell. Duh. If Mr. Dell does get the company back, he will be able to make the bold moves needed to keep it alive. And perhaps even thrive.  He’s too smart, generated too much revenue and been around too long to stumble again.  And let’s face he, stumble he has. The company has sold millions of machines but still languished.

Name the last hero product Dell has launched. Describe it for me. The Adamo? Alamo? Whatevs.

Dell needs to design and launch a tablet that whistles.  Not something boxy with bells and whistles.  Something that whistles. It’s that simple. One killer, hero design will begin to refresh this stagnant brand.

Here’s a test: Get a bunch of teens and/or tweens in a room and have them draw pictures of a Dell laptops. Better yet hve them use Makerbot and create plastic prototypes. See what you get.  Then have the group do the same for a similar Apple product.  Have them talk about the differences.   This is where the brand is and this is what needs fixing. New product design and vision can fix the brand. It will be interesting to see the plan in action. Peace.

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One thing that seems to be a norm for my consulting business is what happens when I present the brand strategy.  (A brand plan is made up of one strategy statement and three support planks.)  Almost always there is one word in the strategy that makes the client uncomfortable.  Until recently whenever I remark about this phenomenon to clients, I feel a little defensive about it – almost apologetically so. Not anymore. I’ve grown up.  The objectionable word is usually the strength of the brand plan. The ballast (which is long for another word).

This “one objectionable word” notion echos things I’ve heard creative people say to clients about advertising.  “If it makes you feel a little uncomfortable, it is good creative.  It will be noticed and remembered” they say. 

The discomfort clients’ feel is because a good brand plan is not easy. It’s work. Born of the category, target consumers and the company DNA (sorry about the markobabble, but is is a good work sometimes), a brand plan is only a beginning.

Clients that want to slide into a brand plan with great ease and a sense of constant well-being are not ready to work. To innovate. To sweat the wins and losses. Those who are ready are prepared to live the strategy, to toil and feed it. To create life around the brand.  If your brand is a name, color palette and the ad agency’s new campaign, your brand is not alive. It’s not pulsing.  You don’t have a brand, you have a product. Peace.

 

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