Sunday, April 29, 2012


A compelling story is easily understood by the audience.  They go hand-in-hand together. Marketers, or anyone with something to sell for that matter, should remember this.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Focus On Fuel

Earlier this week, I was watching television and I happened to notice a striking similarity in three different automobile advertisements.  The ads were for full or mid-sized luxury cars and each one was touting fuel efficiency as a unique selling proposition.

This Buick LaCrosse commercial with Shaquille O'Neal was one of them.  Although my memory has failed me, I'm fairly certain one was a Mercedes-Benz commercial.

However, the individual car brands are not as important as the focus automobile manufacturers are putting on fuel economy again, as fuel prices steadily rise.

But will car buyers buy what they're selling?  They're a couple of problems with their strategies.

First of all, using fuel efficiency as a unique selling point is decidedly less effective when everyone does it.  It was three different car companies in the span of one night that tried to sell me on the fact that their car was going to save me money at the pump.  But with everyone using the same selling point, the brands get confused and I only end up remembering one of the ads.

Interestingly, I can recall that a Toyota Prius is fuel efficient car though. The reason for this is that the only point Prius every drives home in their ads is that the car is fuel efficient- not stylish, fast, luxurious, or even safe.  They own MPG and everything a Prius does tries to improve our associations with Prius and saves on fuel.  A Prius is only a small car; there isn't a Prius compact, a Prius midsized and a Prius SUV.  Thus, it makes sense to the customer that a Prius will get good fuel economy.   

Another reason these other brands are getting lost in the noise is because their trying to communicate too much.  The car is luxurious and it's fuel efficient.  The idea that a big power-packed luxury car gets good fuel economy contradicts what most people believe to be true.   It's not by mistake that Toyota hasn't made a truly stylish Prius.  Interestingly, by not being stylish and luxurious, the association we make to the Prius and it's fuel economy is amplified.

It's the same scenario as diet soda versus regular soda - the ideas contradict in our minds and therefore product isn't consumed because it has low calories and great taste - which explains why most people only drink one variety exclusively.       

By not differentiating with one singular pitch, your brand risks rendering the entire message useless because it will wind up lost in the clutter or greeted with disbelief.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo's Beneath the Brand blog.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Don't Answer This

Do you spend more time and energy chasing what you don't have or loving the things you do?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Token Efforts

Marketers love to applaud themselves for doing a good deeds and being good citizens of the world, obviously, with the hope that the goodwill generated will generate more sales.  If sales wasn't a motive, marketers wouldn't promote the hell out of their goodwill efforts.

One of new favorite goodwill efforts being promoted is from Banana Republic.  The chic retailer will donate up to $1 million dollars to the Opportunity Finance Network's Create Jobs for USA Fund, donating a percentage of revenue from two special shopping events this year.  Already underway, the first event is running from April 19th through April 22. 

Starbucks and Google are also taking part in the special shopping events for the Opportunity Finance Network, donating up to $3 million to the cause.

I guess this is what the retailer considers doing their part for America.  After reading the press release, I went to my closet and dug out some clothes that were purchased at Banana Republic.  What I found was not shocking.  Made In China. Made In Vietnam. Made in Egypt. Made in China. And one older shirt, somewhat surprisingly, made in the Northern Mariana Islands, a second commonwealth of the United States along with Puerto Rico.

Jack Calhoun, President of Banana Republic said "our focus is on workplace style, and it’s our mission to help create opportunities for people to fulfill their potential personally and professionally. We are thrilled to be one of the first national brands to support the Create Jobs for USA Fund from Starbucks and OFN. Our brand’s goal of helping people to achieve aligns to this program, which supports the many entrepreneurs and community businesses that are generating employment opportunities for people across the country.”

Doesn't Banana Republic doesn't consider themselves a community business who shares in the burden of creating jobs in this country?  Or is $1 million enough money to ease a guilty conscience and enough to strategically "align" the brand name with the cause.

To be clear, I truly don't take issue with Banana Republic wanting to improve their bottom line - they're a for profit company with a obligation to their shareholders first and foremost.  However, it's the phoney goodwill spin tactic where marketers try to align a brand to a mission it doesn't truly live for that I stand against

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 16, 2012

April 16 is the day I was born. So yesterday, in the midst of all my birthday hoopla and the special attention from family and friends that I was feeling, I stumbled upon thinking how Facebook has left a big imprint on our special day.

The broadcasting of a birthday to social network always seems to glean well wishes from those we don't hear from nearly enough - which makes the day even more special.

Obviously, everyday cannot be our birthday. We cannot always be at the center of our networks' attention.

However, that's exactly the social media strategy that many brands are trying to execute. They believe (or were sold on the belief) that the attention they receive directly relates to their revenue.

Even if this concept were to be true (and it's at best not that simple), the problem brands face is that our attention is fleeting - which maybe especially true when it's highly sought after. People just go away and tune you out.

And they won't be back for the birthday next year.

Bonus thought: Attention won't do anything for your brand because it needs fame to survive.

Double Bonus Thought: I'd like to thank all those who make each passing year so special - I am truly grateful.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Airport Security

Kip Hawley, the former head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who served from 2005 to 2009, wrote a very thought-provoking article in the Wall Street Journal in this morning's Saturday Essay.

In "Why Airport Security is Broken- And How To Fix It," he confesses that security at our nation's airports simply doesn't scale. Our current system of checking every passenger and their luggage for an ever-growing list of items costs billions of dollars in time and taxpayer funds is misplacing our resources when it comes to preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack. The fact that we haven't had a terrorist attack since September 2001 might suggest that the current system works; however, Hawley argues that a more efficient system would achieve the same results with fewer resources and hassles to American passengers.

TSA has frequently criticized as being the poster child for system that doesn't scale, yet these problems exist in most of the places that we all work at. If you would like, share your firsthand experiences in the comments section.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Junk Mail Marketing

I received a letter yesterday that was very obviously a piece of junk mail. It was sealed in a very familiar plain white envelope and was sent by someone who, as usual, would rather not identify their business or brand on the envelope.

But what actually stood out on this letter was the return address - The return address was only a couple blocks away, a highly unusual trait for most of the junk mail I receive. So I opened this one to discover that it was from a State Farm insurance salesmen with an office down the street and then, without hesitation, I threw it away.

I thought about the letter later and wondered why any brand would not identify itself on the envelope. I wondered why marketers would think anyone would listen to their message if they are first not proud enough to tell people who saying it?

So a quick Google search and I got my explanation from a Mr. Craig Huey, who according to his own bio, is one of the world's leading experts in direct response marketing. His website provides tips and insight on how to send people stuff they didn't ask for.

Tip number two says "Don't Give Yourself Away with a Return Address." According to Huey, "the very first thing your prospect will look at on your envelope is the return address; therefore, it’s always best to put just an address without a company name. This way, any preconceived notions your prospects may have about your company will not prevent them from reading your entire sales message before making up their minds. Important: Always list a street address—never a PO box."

First of all, Huey's tip makes a very large assumption that people will open a letter and read the entire message before throwing it away. Evidenced by my letter from State Farm, it was in the trash once I solved the mystery of who actually sent it.

Secondly, the fact that a business won't first identify themselves reinforces the notion that people have about junk mail itself... it's junk! Their message, whatever it may be, is not at all important or relevant because they immediately know that it's not coming from someone with whom they already have a relationship.

But for all the junk mail marketers, what better way is there to begin that relationship than proving to the prospect that you're willing to waste their valuable time and attention without ever receiving permission first, right?

Monday, April 9, 2012

New Management

This weekend I drove by a building I have never seen before and was welcomed with an over-sized sign hanging from it that read "Under New Management."

Although it may be well-intentioned, hanging a sign like this in front of your business is really a cry for help.

I think it would be better to just say, we know we screwed up before, so please give us another shot. The reason is a "new management sign" sends an unintended message as well. It says "We have new managers who think like the old ones."

How so? If a "new management sign" is the only recognizable difference to the business for a customer, which is often the case, then it's obvious they're not doing enough to differentiate themselves from the old ones.

Friday, April 6, 2012

E-mail Marketing

Is there really any situation when the best method for people is a mass email? A good rule of thumb: if the message is the same to everyone, then email shouldn't be the medium.

...and if your defense is that it's cheap, easy and everyone does it, then I'd say you just made my point for me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Questions Without Answers

Although some marketers won't ever admit to it, there are a lot of questions that often need answering but don't actually have one. Or maybe there are just too many. You could drive yourself crazy looking to pinpoint that perfect answer when, odds are, an "I don't know" is likely the most honest one.

How do you make an "I don't know" actionable? You believe in something.

An unwavering belief in specific principles that won't change with the tides is essential to building a successful brand because it's these core beliefs, not the zillions of questions without answers, that are the blueprint for a marketing strategy.

P.S. Your customers will share these beliefs.