Thursday, February 16, 2017

Simplified Brand Messaging

Al Reis was the first to state this clearly, "A brand should own one thing in the mind of its customer." When we work with clients to craft their brand promises, our guidelines stipulate that their brands should only promise one or two relevant differentiated benefits. Any more than that and the brand promise becomes too complicated and people's ability to recall it decreases substantially. Research has borne this out - simpler is better.

Blaise Pascal once wrote, "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter." Another version of this is often attributed to Mark Twain, "If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter."

I have taken numerous writing courses in high school, college and as an adult, however the most useful writing course I ever took was at Harvard Business School. We were given a topic on which to write a paper. Upon bringing our papers to class, we were instructed to cut the word length in half without losing any meaning. Upon doing this, we were instructed to cut the word length in half again...and again...until we got our thoughts down to one paragraph. 

Every manager at Hallmark was given a stack of 3x5 index cards. We were instructed to use those to communicate in writing with others. Our CEO indicated that if we can't communicate what we need to say on a 3x5 index card, we need to rethink how clear our thoughts are.

While I love eloquence and my vocabulary is extensive and I enjoy using parenthetical clauses in my sentences causing them to rival Faulkner's in length, I have found that shorter is better. Simpler is better. So I strive to use simple words.

Compare the power of the last two sentences in the previous paragraph to the first one.

I often interact with clients who put too many words in their brand promises and elevator speeches and on their product packaging and outdoor advertising signs. Too much copy confuses people. 

Have you noticed that people, especially younger people, are increasingly thinking and talking in sound bytes? Everything is a text message or a Twitter tweet. And we have a president who prefers to communicate in tweets. His brevity can be impactful - "Sad!" or "Disgusting!"

In marketing, simpler is better. And concise, powerful copy matters.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Marketers Benefit From Diverse Exposure

It is important for marketers to understand human motivations and the environments in which they operate. This helps fine tune their intuition. 

I had previously written a blog post on non-marketing books of potential interest to marketers. Beyond books on various topics, here are the activities and exposures that can help marketers increase their intuition about what marketing strategies and tactics could work best:

  • Living in different regions of the country
  • Traveling domestically and internationally, especially when you are able to interact significantly with the natives of those places
  • Cultivating a wide circle of friends and acquaintances across ages, genders, vocations, races, religions, political affiliations and socio-economic groups
  • Hosting and attending dinner parties
  • Joining a book club
  • Joining a wide variety of organizations
  • Serving on the marketing committees of a wide variety of not-for-profit organizations
  • Getting involved in civic and community affairs
  • Getting involved in the local PTA
  • Becoming a member of a coffee klatch
  • Consuming a large amount and diversity of of media from movies, television programming and radio talk shows to periodicals, blogs and other online media
  • Listening to a wide variety of music
  • Getting involved in social media discussions
  • Conducting a wide variety of qualitative and quantitative research
  • Spending time in new product development
  • Spending time as a salesperson interacting with customers and prospects
  • Driving for Uber or Lyft in your spare time
  • Moonlighting as a bartender

Don't underestimate the power of wide exposure. That is what leads to marketing intuition.

Hollow Brands

We had an interesting conversation on brands at this morning's coffee klatch. An unusual topic for us, we talked about men's clothing brands. It is clear from that conversation that consumers have gotten quite savvy about brands. One person who had previously been very brand conscious shared that a well-known upscale clothing brand had disappointed him on several occasions. When asked why, he said their $92 dress shirts last a year at best before they start to fray and fall apart. When he went back to the retail outlet to voice his concern, he was treated as if he was a persona non grata. When asked by his fellow coffee klatch members, he confirmed that the brand's shirts were not more stylish or fashion forward than any other brand's shirts and apparently their quality level was at or below that of other brands. So why then was he paying a premium for that brand of shirts? He indicated that wearing that brand of shirt had made him feel successful until he discovered its quality flaws. He no longer buys that brand of shirt because now it makes him feel like a sucker. 

On the other hand, we talked about brands whose quality and customer satisfaction guarantees are solid. One that we all agreed was rock solid is The North Face. One guy told the story of sending back a ten year old winter jacket whose zipper had broken. The North Face opted to give him a brand new jacket at no charge rather than replace the zipper. Another person recounted a similar story. I then told my The North Face story. I have three pair of The North Face cargo pants. The oldest pair has lasted 25 years so far. But the story gets better than that. That pair of pants had caught fire about fifteen years ago when a white gas camp stove exploded as I was lighting it in the Canadian back country. The lit fuel sprayed all over the pants and I had to roll on the ground to put the fire out. There is still not a hole or frayed thread in that pair of pants. 

So what is the point that I am trying to make? While strong brands can convey status or other self-expressive benefits, ultimately if they are not stylistically superior to other brands or more durable than other brands or of a higher quality than other brands, consumers eventually figure it out and they can go from brand advocates to brand detractors. 

Based on this morning's coffee klatch discussion, I have decided that I will stick with the North Face and Orvis brands of men's clothes (among many others) and avoid the unnamed brand of clothing (initials - B.B.). 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Twelve Key Elements of Marketing

You have read about the 4 Ps of marketing and perhaps you have also read about the 5 Ps of marketing and even the 7 Ps of marketing. Though I am a fan of alliteration, I will instead share a non-alliterative list of the key elements of marketing. Here they are:

  1. Who is the CUSTOMER for this product, service or experience?
  2. What is the CUSTOMER NEED this product or service or experience fulfills? 
  3. How am I making the target customer AWARE of my product, service or experience?
  4. Why would the target customer choose my product, service or experience over that of the competitive alternatives? That is, what is my product, service or experience's UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITION?
  5. What KEY MESSAGES am I making about this product, service or experience?
  6. Have I created a compelling BRAND IDENTITY for this product, service or experience?
  7. Have I created a compelling BRAND STORY for this product, service of experience?
  8. Am I offering this product, service or experience at a COMPETITIVE PRICE for this target customer?
  9. Are the functional, experiential, emotional and self-expressive benefits worth the time, effort and money required to purchase the product, service or experience? That is, does it deliver a GOOD OR GREAT VALUE?
  10. How am I making it EASY for the target customer TO FIND AND PURCHASE this product, service or experience? What is my distribution strategy?
  11. What am I doing to create an EMOTIONAL CONNECTION between my product/service/brand and its target customer?
  12. What am I doing to encourage CUSTOMER LOYALTY and BRAND ADVOCACY?

Friday, February 10, 2017

How to Use a Marketing Consultant

It has been my experience as a marketing consultant that clients vary significantly in their ability to use marketing consultants effectively. The the success of a marketing consulting project is largely dependent on the ability of those inside the organization to use the marketing consultants wisely.

Here are the things organizations should do to maximize the potential for success of marketing consulting projects:

  • Don't waste the consultants' time if you are already committed to a certain path regardless of the findings, that is, if the findings will not make any difference in what you intend to do or how you intend to do it.
  • Carefully vet the chosen consultants to confirm that they have successfully completed similar projects.
  • Top-notch consultants should ask lots of questions and dig deeply to understand your unique problems. They should then be able to articulate those problems clearly and succinctly back to you.
  • Be very clear on the project objectives, the issues to be addressed and the deliverables expected from the project.
  • Insist upon findings that are actionable.
  • Provide the consultants with an abundance of background information and reports.
  • Allow for upfront interviews of key stakeholders to confirm the project objectives, issues and scope.
  • Allow for unbiased research with objective reporting of findings.
  • Trust the process.
  • Learn as much as you can from the consultants about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
  • Do not micro-manage the consultants or the project steps.
  • Allow for project modifications if interim findings warrant it.
  • Accept the findings and the implications without being defensive.
  • The other factor that affects the success of marketing consulting project is the organization's culture and the leader's leadership style. A sure way to diminish the impact of a consulting project is for the organizational leader to promise a consensus-building process and to hire a consultant to lead that process but then to impose his or her will on everyone, especially if it goes against the group consensus. 

I have found that the more sophisticated the client, the more they get out of a consulting project. They appreciate the consultants' expertise and can accept and address the findings. Less sophisticated clients may not fully understand the findings or the implications. Some don't want to hear bad news so they bury the findings rather than address them. And some accept the findings but then never take action against them due to budget or time constraints. There are several things consultants can do to mitigate these problems, but it helps if the client is a willing partner in the process.

The success of a marketing consulting project is the result of competent consultants with a proven process and clients who know how to best use those consultants. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Budweiser 2017 Super Bowl Ad

As I write this blog post, already more than 8 million people have viewed Budweiser's 2017 Super Bowl commercial "Born the Hard Way" on just one of many YouTube uploads of the ad. It is a rule of thumb in PR that if you can tie your story (or, in this case, ad) to a current popular (and especially controversial) topic, it has a much higher chance of being successful. Not only will the ad be seen by the estimated 189 million people who watch the Super Bowl in person and on television, but I would guess it will receive at least 12 million views on YouTube before that. And that does not count all of impressions created by the media that discussing this commercial as a news story, potentially creating tens of millions of additional impressions for the brand. This is a very smart way to extend one's advertising spending.

And, in case you have not already seen or at least heard about the ad, it is a well crafted one-minute story about how the immigrant Adolphus Busch came to America and met Eberhard Anheuser to found Anheuser-Busch.

Not only will this ad get additional impressions, but it will also create additional discussion online and offline. And, while the point it makes is subtle enough, it will create a greater emotional connection between the brand and a significant portion of the world's population because of the point that it makes. However, it is as much the story of a company's founder as anything else and it is produced in good taste.

Having said that, it will likely turn off some of its customers, but that will only create additional emotional discussion of the brand. It has been said that "all publicity is good publicity," especially regarding a soft approach to a topic like this in which the fallout is likely to diminish quickly and be of little consequence in the long run.

Here is the ad on YouTube is case you have not seen it.

My hat is off to Anheuser-Busch for crafting a Super Bowl commercial that is meaningful and will have legs that will extend well beyond the Super Bowl itself. Kudos!