I don’t trust financial advisors. It’s not that I see them as inherently bad people; I just don’t think anyone will care as much about my money as I do. Similarly, no one has as much at stake in marketing your company as you do. Your reputation, livelihood, and prosperity are on the line with every move you make. Your name is on the lease and line of credit; mess up and your kids will likely have to work at Burger King to cover college tuition.
It’s your baby
Once the ad guy from the local radio station sells you a spot, he’s gone. My guess is he’s not coming back until he thinks he can do the same again. This is fair, as he has his own livelihood to think about; nevertheless, you need to remind yourself that you’re the only one who really pays the price if the ad doesn’t work. There are plenty of people, ready to promise big, who won’t lose a wink of sleep if the ad returns nothing. So I ask, if you aren’t willing to take the lead on this, do you think they really will?
A few things can be secondary in your company, but your message and how you are perceived should never be. So I’m asking you to push past all of the people who want a piece of your marketing budget. I want you to take the wheel and hold it firmly. I’m certainly not suggesting that you do it all by yourself, but I do think someone needs to lead this thing. And who’s more suited for it than you?
You’re at the heart of your company and know more about it than anyone else. My bet is you bore your spouse by obsessing over all kinds of obscure details. Perhaps you even look upon your business as an extension of yourself. If there’s anyone that I, as a customer, want to talk with about your company, it’s probably you. So, you’d better be the person who shapes its messaging.
Show us the love
Love is easy to say, but it’s a misused term when it comes to marketing. Consider a few of the “lovey” taglines corporations use:
“Love it for life.”—Dannon Yogurt
“You’ll love the way we fly.”—Delta Airlines
“Sanka—everything you love about coffee.”—Sanka
Buy any of that? Me neither. I don’t love yogurt, I can’t imagine feeling affection for someone’s manner of flying, and associating love with Sanka seems a little like using silver polish on a plastic cup. Statements like these have as much to do with love as porn has to do with sex: an interesting fantasy, but not close to reality.
Why don’t we believe these statements? Is it just that they’re complete bullshit? That’s certainly part of it, but what else is common in all of these statements? Right—they’re pushing it on us. They want us to love their thing, but I have to wonder if even they feel that way. Do the people at Sanka (sorry to pick on you guys so much) love their coffee, or do they just want us to love it?
It’s one thing to say you love something, but faking love is kind of hard to do. Love isn’t just said; it’s shown through how we talk and act around the objects of our affection. If you want them to love your company, you had better love it, and there’s little use pretending. People can smell a fraud very quickly, so you’d best be the “real deal” or nothing at all. Problem is, most marketers are faking it.
As I said earlier, I’m quite enamored with espresso and think myself well versed on the drink. Recently I was proven a rank amateur. It all started with a visit to Genius Coffee & Espresso Equipment, which is close to our apartment. I’ve grown tired of having to leave the house every time I want an espresso, and reasoned it was time to buy a machine for the house (mine currently lives at our office). The fellow I met at Genius (whom I surmised to be the owner) was an espresso guru from a whole other coffee-centric galaxy.
He first explained every model in my price range and the differences between each machine. Around this time he realized my son needed some distraction, so he brewed up a hot chocolate to keep Oscar happy. Then he discussed how certain materials in the machine make a significant difference in the resulting beverage. He finally pulled a shot so I could taste it for myself. It was beautiful.
He continued by discussing his travels to Italy and the qualities of the coffees they were bringing in. He detailed the best methods for storing coffee beans, noting that a sealed bag with a pin prick at the bottom was optimal, as it avoided oxidization of the beans while allowing them to breathe just enough. I could continue, but I think you catch my drift. This guy doesn’t just want to sell machines—his passion is coffee.
You can advertise anything and speak about it in whichever manner you’d like. You can make truthful claims, misleading ones, or just outright lie. No one will take the time to stop you from doing any of this. What you can’t do as readily is make us love you, or even get us to believe that you love your product. The fellow at Genius, however, did exactly that. This wasn’t because of a claim, but rather, by being incredibly passionate about espresso.
I can’t guarantee Genius will make it. The premium price of their machines is aimed at those who are serious about coffee. I think that’s going to make it harder for them to sell a lot of volume. Still, I think that this guy showed me something Sanka’s ads simply can’t. Now he just has to show a few of the right people the same passion he showed me.
Why you might trip yourself up
Although I sincerely believe that you need to be the person who “drives,” owners of companies can be a pain in the ass when it comes to marketing. It’s not that they don’t care; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. They care so much their fear can get in the way. Many owners are so petrified of making a misstep that they suffocate campaigns before they even get out of the gates. I’ve seen it happen on numerous occasions: Clients once thrilled by the possibility of doing something sensible and effective start to fall apart as the launch date nears.
This happens in different ways. Mostly it’s the result of introducing unindoctrinated parties to the discussion. When you buy a new pen, you know what you’re looking for and how they generally work. There’s little reason to ask others for opinions on such a purchase. With most messaging related projects, though, there’s a deep desire to have one’s decisions validated by peers. Sometimes this is useful when relying on those who are fully briefed on the effort. Sadly, many seek feedback from people unfamiliar with the project goals and strategy. As a result these people tend to make uninformed and therefore less relevant observations.
Being asked for one’s opinion can feel strange. Few like to admit that they don’t have a clear opinion on a given topic—perhaps for fear of seeming unhelpful should they give no response. This kind of “say anything” reaction can be crippling. Feedback from those who haven’t considered the overarching objectives is bound to dwell on the wrong points. One of our clients changed the marketing direction for their highly technical offering as a result of a ten-year-old son’s feedback. They later admitted this to be a mistake, but at the time, this youngster’s opinion actually affected the presentation of the company.
This is precisely why you must establish lucid goals and strategy before beginning any messaging or brand related exercise... and involve only key parties from the very beginning. If your direction isn’t rock solid, it gets too easy to become sidetracked and make decisions based on misplaced emotion. We all want people to respond favorably to what we put out there, but not all feedback is equal. Choose your timing, questions, and those you ask them of, carefully.
Bringing in objective counsel
While you probably know more about your company than anyone else, there are times this can prove a liability. Have you ever asked a programmer about the problems you’re having with a system they’ve developed, only to be met with a befuddled “don’t you understand?” expression? You might be just like that programmer when it comes to your company. You’re so close to what you do that you know every aspect of it. This might blind you to things that would be obvious to an outsider.
We worked closely with a lighting company called illumivision in early 2008. They manufacture industrial lighting systems—the kind you see used on impressive buildings and public monuments. Before we started working with them, all of their marketing materials concentrated on the hardware they manufacture, with the visual impact of their offering almost entirely neglected. What would have been obvious to an outsider had evaded them. Their audience, while sometimes needing technical specifications, probably wasn’t going to be sold on such details. So we asked them to seduce potential customers with images of the end result: beautiful buildings, instead of just engineered casings. The magic is in the gorgeous structures that come to life as a result of illumivision’s systems.
Within 6 months of this change, the people at illumivision told us their international sales had increased by 225 percent, and they could directly tie this shift to their slightly-adjusted messaging. We hadn’t done anything that spectacular; we just brought a fresh set of eyes to their business. Often, a shift like this is all you really need.
Although I’m asking you to lead, I think wise leaders have to step aside from time to time and let others take the helm when it’s appropriate to do so. Establish clear goals, hire smart people, and listen to their input. At any time, it’s fair to ask your people—regardless of how impressive their credentials may be—to articulate the rationale behind their choices. Most will do so happily, as it shows that instead of just reacting, you want to understand their logic. It’s always fair to question a direction. Just ensure that you do so sensibly, having equally explicable motivation behind your decisions.
The time is right
As a marketing space, the web isn’t really as game-changing for established brands as it is for smaller organizations. The advantage that brand stables like Procter and Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever had prior to this time was massive. The barrier to entry in a broadcast media setting was colossal; smaller brands aiming to build awareness and loyalty with the audience were left to accomplish a Herculean feat. Sometime in the mid-‘90s, the seeds of change were planted. Although established brands may always maintain an advantage over small up-and-comers, the assuredness of this is less certain with every passing day.
Each and every vertical that an established brand operates within can be attacked faster and more effectively by a small company than ever before. Social media and the web in general are not native to multinationals. If these e-media favor anyone, it would be smaller, more nimble organizations that can take risks, disrupt the ecosystem, iterate and adapt rapidly, and build one-on-one relations with their audiences. It’s a good time for “little guys” like us to be in business—perhaps better than ever. Now it’s just a matter of getting down to work.
The process I suggest comes down to a few core steps. First, you’ll need to solidify who you are and what you offer—subsequently you’ll need to give people a reason to believe in what you do. (In Part Two of the book we’ll concentrate specifically on this.) After that we’ll look at how you can spread your message using both word of mouth and some of the web-enabled methods of communication that have more recently emerged. From there you’ll need to act consistently and adapt as necessary.
First things first: let’s look at brands.
Next chapter: What a Brand Is
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