Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Secret Ingredient - Caring About People


Most markets are populated with mature brands that struggle to maintain differentiation because it is easy for competitors to match any function, feature or service that is of value to customers. Most sources of differentiation don't last that long anymore. They quickly become "cost of entry" benefits.

But in working with more than 200 brands across a wide variety of categories I have discovered one differentiator that is difficult to identify and even more difficult to copy - genuinely caring about people. I have worked with several brands that have this as a differentiator. It works in every category that I have witnessed and it is real. These brands' customers will tell you how important it is to them to interact with people who really care. Friendliness, empathy and genuine concern are difficult to fake. And frankly, while leaders can intentionally design organizations to develop and nurture caring cultures, I have also found that organizations with those cultures tend to be clustered in specific metropolitan areas. I have been tempted to tell the economic development arms of those cities to add friendly, caring employees to their lists of regional strengths.

And as people become satiated with physical "things," the only thing left to sell them are services and experiences. Services and experiences are largely dependent on human interaction for their delivery. Again, caring employees matter.

Here are some of the employee attributes that contribute to a truly caring customer experience:

  • Genuine concern for others - narcissists need not apply
  • Good listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Intuition about human needs and emotions
  • Willingness to slow down and spend time with others
  • The ability to accurately read body language
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Emotional maturity
  • The strong desire to truly serve others
  • High acceptance of self and others
  • Meeting each person where he or she is without judgment
  • "Thick skin"
  • A positive attitude
  • A sense of humor

I have witnessed first hand how this differentiator directly results in increased market share, customer retention and profitability. This is a differentiator well worth exploring in this era of hyper-competition.  Good luck in pursuing caring, compassionate employees.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Sharing Your Brand's Values Through Storytelling



Sharing a set of values with customers is one of a brand's most important sources of emotional connection with its customers. I have written before about brands that do this well.

There are a variety of ways to communicate those values, but one powerful way is through brand storytelling, especially if the story is about the founder's vision or legacy. Often, this is found in the "Our Story" section of the "About Us" section on websites.

Here are some good examples of that:


I hope these examples help you think through how you might tell an emotionally compelling story about your brand highlighting its origins and its values. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Focusing on the Why


Another common error in marketing communication is focusing on the product or service description including its functions and features rather than focusing on the end customer benefit, the why. People will read further once you have gotten their attention. And you get their attention by speaking to one of their desires, fears or problems. Only after you have captured their attention in that way can you begin to talk about your solution to their problem.

Always begin by speaking to the customer's desires, fears or needs:

  • Saving you time
  • Saving you money
  • Making life easier
  • Simplifying your life
  • Reducing your stress
  • Keeping you safe
  • Increasing your comfort
  • Entertaining you
  • Strengthening your reputation
  • Getting you out of a bind
  • Solving a difficult problem

When writing marketing copy, always think from the customer's perspective, not your own. Further, organize the information from the customer's perspective, not your own. Often, internal departments, divisions, categories, programs or even product groupings do not make sense to the customer. Organize what you are saying into the categories that the customer understands. 

The bottom line is that you need to emphasize emotional, experiential and self-expressive customer benefits rather than product functions, features or attributes. Only address the latter (product attributes) when they can be used as proof points for how you will deliver the former (customer benefits). 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Less is More



A common mistake inexperienced marketers make is to cram too much information into marketing copy. I have seen this manifested in several ways:

  • Too much copy on PowerPoint slides - often full screen visuals with no copy are the most effective
  • Too much copy on product packaging, especially for products that are displayed at point of purchase
  • Too much copy in brochures and other collateral materials
  • Too much copy on outdoor advertising - consider how much a driver can read in one second or less
  • Websites cluttered with copy, visuals and click through buttons

Research has shown that the more information that is shared, the less people remember any of it. Always ask these two questions: (1) What are the one or two messages that we are trying to convey with this communication vehicle? (2) How can we communicate each of these in five words or less?

And if you are trying to make memorable points, think of doing it in lists of three things, each with its own bullet. It would be best if each thing was communicated with three words or less. And it is very powerful if each thing is communicated with one very simple and precise word.  It is an added bonus if all three words start with the same letter, creating an alliteration. But don't force the alliteration by choosing words that don't exactly convey each of the three concepts. 

Related to this, I find simple infographics are powerful communication sources. I like using triangles with three messages, five pointed stars with five messages or the intersection of three circles (a Venn diagram) symbolizing the combined power of three intersecting things. 

We are now living at a time in which people think in sound bites and communicate in Tweets. You may be offering a complex product or solution, but it is still up to you to break the message down into simple consumable parts. Think about what simple message needs to be conveyed at each step in the marketing process and then convey that and no more.

And remember, marketing copy is not about sounding smart. It is about communicating clearly. 

To paraphrase French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal, "If I had more time, I would have written you a shorter letter." Take the time to write shorter marketing copy.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Brand Visual Style



Part of a brand's identity system is its visual style. So what are the components of its visual style? Here is my list:

  • Color palette
  • Typefaces and graphic styles
  • Types of images used (size, shape, subject matter, feeling, illustrations vs. photography, medium, special effects) 
  • Graphic symbols
  • Shapes
  • Texture
  • Distinctive patterns
  • Form
  • Layout and horizontal vs. vertical blocking 
  • Use of lines or borders
  • Sharp vs. soft edges
  • Value and contrast
  • Shading
  • Use of white space
  • Spacial relationship between elements

I recommend the following books for brand identity development: 

Brand Voice


Your brand's voice is comprised of its tone and its word choice among other components. Together with your brand's archetype, personality and visual style, your brand's voice helps you to personify your brand. 

Any or all of these might be components of your brand's voice:
  • Tone
  • Accent (socio-economic, regional or foreign)
  • Young or mature
  • Vocabulary (frequently used words and phrases and never used words and phrases, grade level of vocabulary)
  • Syntax - the structure of the words and other linguistic elements
  • Verbose versus concise (length of sentences, use of parenthetical phrases)
  • Use of slang, jargon or buzz phrases
  • Use of analogies, metaphors and other figures of speech
  • Coining a new phrase unique to the brand
  • Sense of humor
  • Sonic qualities (including volume, pitch, male versus female)
  • Tempo and cadence (lilting?)

When thinking about different brand voices, consider Faulkner versus Steinbeck. Or Alister Cooke (Masterpiece Theatre) versus Tom Bodett (Motel 6: "We'll leave the light on for you."). Consider GEICO's gecko or Ernie the pistachio-loving elephant. Or even consider Columbo the unassuming but shrewd homicide detective with seemingly incoherent circumstantial speech in the television series of the same name.

The following are different tones of voice that you might consider:
  • Friendly
  • Sincere
  • Accessible
  • Authoritative
  • Sophisticated
  • Professional
  • Erudite
  • Informative
  • Wise
  • Lively
  • Energetic
  • Laid back
  • Folksy or "down home"
  • "Every man" or "every woman"
  • Cute
  • Quirky
  • Soothing
  • Soft spoken
  • Nurturing
  • Aspirational
  • Upbeat or optimistic
  • Uplifting
  • Passionate
  • Self-depreciating
  • Terse
  • Poetic

And following are different tones of voice that you probably want to avoid:
  • Arrogant
  • Pompous
  • Sophomoric
  • Pedantic
  • Ignorant
  • Clueless
  • Distracted
  • Self-absorbed
  • Mean-spirited
  • Uncouth
  • Impatient
  • Ditzy

Sometimes, it is easiest to point to a well-known personality who embodies what you want your brand's voice to be. Perhaps you would use that person as a brand spokesperson or at least as a shorthand for what you want your brand's voice to be.

If you do not have one marketing agency presenting your brand across all media, you should consider  including a detailed description of brand voice as a part of your brand positioning statement. This may include a brand voice dictionary of frequently used words and phrases.

The more you are able to personify your brand in a unique and highly compelling way by defining its archetype, personality, voice and visual style, the more your brand will come to life as if it were a person. If you need more help in this endeavor, contact us about our brand voice (and visual style) worksheet(s). Good luck.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Brands and Habits



Habit:

  1. A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition
  2. An established disposition of the mind or character
  3. Customary manner or practice
  4. An addiction, especially to a narcotic drug
We all have habits. For instance, we order the same menu item every time we go to a specific restaurant. Or we purchase the same brand of soda pop. Or we start our day with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. Or we go to the gym and work out every morning. 

Some of our brands are habits for people. For instance, someone may smoke a pack of Marlboro Reds every day. Or maybe someone stops at Dunkin' Donuts every morning on the way to work. Or perhaps someone only goes to Hallmark stores to purchase her greeting cards. Someone may have a favorite peanut butter brand or a favorite brand of toilet paper, which she faithfully and habitually buys. Or maybe someone pours himself a shot glass of Tito's vodka after arriving home from work every evening.

Some brands have tried to increase sales by suggesting that their brands could be incorporated into daily rituals. A food brand might try to incorporate its use into the morning breakfast ritual. Other brands might try to incorporate their use into family picnics, happy hours, Thanksgiving celebrations or graduations. 

I recently interacted with an organization whose 9 month reconstruction project would create a brand interaction hiatus for that long. The organization is a cultural institution and the audience is composed of cinephiles. I suggested an ideation session to identify ways to engage the audience in similar brand-related habits until the theatre reopened with teasers to create anticipation of the reopening. 

For a while, Starbucks was encouraging its morning customers to purchase a second drink in the afternoon via a price discount offered on their register receipts.

If your brand interaction is habitual, congratulations. Focus on reinforcing that habit and be careful not to do anything that could break the habit. If your brand interaction is not habitual, consider how you can make it so. Habitual behaviors tied to brands create regular guaranteed frequent repurchases of the brands. 

As a side note, I would strongly encourage the establishment of healthy brand habits, such as working out at an LA Fitness club every morning, using a Waterpik water flosser every night or hiking with Merrell hiking boots every Saturday over more health damaging brand habits. 

To learn more about the ten habits of Starbucks drinkers featured in the image above, click here.