Archive for August, 2005
That’s one of the many question pondered by Lee Daly (C.E.O. Saatchi & Saatchi, UK) in his recent interview with Spark/CNN. Check it out.
Yeah, a bullhorn works, but it’s kind of limited. Still, much like any form of communications, having a captive audience makes a world of difference.
When you think about the nature of advertising, it’s interesting to note that very few people actually seek it out. With the exception of… well, me (and a few others, I hope) most people don’t flip through their TV channels to skip regular programming in favor of the latest advertisments. Likewise, most people don’t pick up magazines specifically to browse through advertising content either. Most people only are only “accidentally” exposed to advertisers’messsages… several hundred times per day.
Okay, sure, we make exceptions during the superbowl. The ads are as much a part of the experience now as what happens on the field, and that’s nice, but it’s the exception that confirms the rule. At least for adults. With kids, it’s a different story. Mine are captivated by toy ads on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. My kids know how to change the channel, but they don’t during “commercial breaks”. And that’s a point that I’ll come back to in a bit.
My point here is that we typically don’t seek out advertising. We don’t go to it. It comes to us. In the industry, we use the word “exposure”. Well, let me tell you about exposure: I don’t usually hear people say that they have been exposed to love or excitement or enthusiasm. When people use the word “exposure” it is usually in the same sentence as things like “virus” or “bad language” or “TV violence”.
Unless you’re a photographer, “exposure” is typically not a positive word. Yet we use it, because it describes the relationship between advertisers and the public fairly well. That tells you a lot about the nature of this business, or at least our perception of it.
As I’ve said before, advertising seeks you out. It comes to you. More and more magazines now offer more advertising content than… actual content. (Advertising is content now.) Every ten minutes or so, whatever show you’re watching on TV takes a break so that advertisers can get get some more face time with you. On your commute to and from work, you’re “exposed” to billboard ads. The ads come in on the radio, at the multiplex, at the amusement park, at the store and just about every time you access a website. It follows you everywhere, hence the advent of ad-killing technologies like TiVO, pop-up blockers and satellite radio.
You know how annoying those telemarketers are? You know, the ones who call you every five minutes while you’re trying to eat dinner? That’s the path that the advertising world is on with its blatant oversaturation. Instead of boring us to death, inspire us. Make us sit up and pay attention. Shorten your campaigns. Be aware that most of you aren’t as cool as you think you are. Don’t make yourselves a nuisance. Read the warning signs, guys. Your game plan needs to change.
A question you have to ask yourself is this: Assuming that advertising actually affects purchasing habits, can it be argued that more advertising and more repetition will actually translate into more market penetration and more sales? Well, it depends on whether or not you a) have a great product, b) have a captive audience, and c) have the right kind of ad to begin with.
Researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle University, and Washington State University recently examined consumers’ responses to advertising. They took into considerations a variety of elements like brand beliefs, responses to informational and emotional appeals, efforts to avoid advertising, attention to ads and reliance on ads versus other information sources. The test group was shown eight TV commercials, half of which were defined as emotional and the other half as informational.
For the sake of clarity Nancy Gardner (who publishded an introductory report on the study’s findings) explains that:
Emotional ads are characterized as providing an emotional experience that is relevant to the use of the brand.
Informational ads predominantly provide clear brand data.
The basic results:
Consumers who considered themselves highly skeptical of all ads were persuaded less by informational ads than they were by emotional ads.
In contrast, non-skeptics were more responsive to informational advertising.
Co-Author and professor of Marketing and International Business at the UW Business School explains that “Skepticism leads to less attention to and reliance on advertising, and generally a decreased chance that the consumer will purchase the advertised product.”
He continues: “Highly skeptical consumers have likely become skeptical over time, in response to numerous interactions in the marketplace that have led them to distrust ad claims.”
The study further concludes that “skeptical consumers like advertising less, rely on it less, and respond more positively to emotional appeals.”
Per Carl Obermiller, professor of Marketing at Seattle University and co-author of the study: “Those who are more skeptical respond to advertising in negative ways – they like it less; they think it is less influential and, they do more to avoid it–zipping past ads on recorded programs and switching channels during commercials.”
Furthermore, “Skeptical consumers also are inclined to need to validate the truth of ads by consulting with friends and family members.” (WOMM – see previous post)
“The advertising skeptic regards advertising as not credible, and therefore, not worth processing. (His) perspective differs from the consumer cynic. A cynical consumer is critical of advertising because of its manipulative intent and indirect appeals. Such consumers may prefer simple, direct, informative advertising. Skeptics, however, do not.”
In other words, skeptics can’t be sold on a product or brand through the use of informational appeals.
So… it doesn’t really matter how many times you play the same ad over and over again. If your ad isn’t helping your intended audience to connect with your brand, you are wasting your time… and ours.
Once again, quality (or rather specificity) trumps out quantity.
Unfortunately, the report did not touch on what percentage of the US population might fall under the “skeptical consumer,” “non-skeptical consumer” and “cynical consumer categories.
Speaking of quantity and oversaturation, do you know what the average TV ad campaign’s life cycle is? 5 weeks. It should be more like 2-3. By week 5, it’s probably safe to say that we’re more than ready to move on.
But don’t take my word for it: Somebody is actually working on a study to validate the arguent. The ongoing test, called Project Wanamaker (in Omaha, Nebraska) has already shown some interesting results. Per Lee Weinblatt, CEO of The PreTesting Company:
“After two weeks of watching commercials, viewers generally become fatigued.”
And there you have it, folks.
“The things killing TV commercials are overexposure and poor creative,” adds Weinblat. “Give them more interesting commercials.” Wayne Friedman, the author of the piece, notes that one advertiser–Subway–kept changing its creative during the test, and experienced less weariness among viewers.
Right. (Note to self: If you aren’t going to be effective, at least be entertaining.)
A sad, sad word of caution, however: Erotic and violent images may cloud viewers’ ability to focus on the actual object of the ad.
“We observed that people fail to detect visual images that appeared one-fifth of a second after emotional images, whereas they can detect those images with little problem after viewing neutral images,” says Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald.
The effect is known as attentional rubbernecking.
“We think that there is essentially a bottleneck for information processing and if a certain type of stimulus captures attention, it can basically jam up that bottleneck so subsequent information can’t get through,” says Zald.
In other words, although a provocative or visually loud ad is likely to grab your attention, it also hinders your ability to focus on the brand or product it promotes.
The findings, however, do not seem to take into account the effect of such an ad over time. Through repetition, it is likely that we might become desensitized to the distracting elements of the ad and naturally begin focusing more and more on its actual message. Since the more interesting the ad is, the longer it will continue to attract our attention, no matter how distracting the ad may be, we’ll eventually get the point.
(And that is good news.)
So, look… after all of this yapping about this and that, I’m going to make it simple for ye of the advertising world:
1) Know what you want to say.
2) Know whom you want to say it to.
3) Ask yourself why you want to say it. (No, really. That one’s more important than you think.)
4) Once that’s done and the next question becomes “how do I want to say it,” remember to keep it simple, keep it true, and make sure it isn’t boring. (At the very least, be courteous enough to make your ads either entertaining or inspiring… or both.)
Remember the thing I mentioned about my kids not changing the channel when commercials come on? That’s all you have to do: Make ads for us grownups that won’t prompt us to change the channel. Simple, isn’t it? If you guys allow us to fall in love with your craft again, maybe you won’t need to work so hard to get our attention in the first place.
image copyright 2005 Olivier Blanchard
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the big buzzword in the marketing world this year is WOMM (word of mouth marketing), which emphasizes the value of a brand’s reputation rather than a prefabricated image sold through advertising.
Boiled down to its basics, WOMM targets the customer’s experience rather than the brand’s message. Those experiences range from their opinion of the products themselves, to how friendly (or not) the person who answers the phone at your company’s headquarters is. It argues that through WOM, a brand’s reputation can be made or unmade, because people trust WOM more than they do advertising and traditional marketing.
It’s all absolutely true… and it’s nothing new. It’s just that for the past decade or so, we have all been so focused on mass media and the internet (reaching as many people as possible) that we have slacked-off on building close-knit relationships with our markets. Well, we have pretty websites to show for it, and more sales too, but how is our reputation now compared to how it was ten years ago? Do we even know who to ask anymore? And is there value in getting down in the trenches again to find out what’s what?
Here’s an exerpt from Ian McKee’s (CEO of Vocanic) blog:
recommendations by phone.
spreading word-of-mouth, live discussions are still driving the trend.”
All they said was, “Your work blew us away.”
It really doesn’t get much better than that.
Inspiring a client to fall in love with their brand all over again (and helping their customers do the same) is nirvana.
Every day is a good day, but some days just rock my world something fierce.
- It’s Impossible to be Happy Without Momentum.
- Do What You Are.
- Invent Option C.
- Expressing your truest self is the ultimate competitive advantage.
- Make your memoirs worth reading.
“Could toilet paper actually be the next frontier in affordable luxury? The Europeans and the Japanese are already all over it,” writes Dale Hrabi in his latest article for Radar Online magazine.
What’s interesting isn’t so much the concept of luxury TP, but the way some brands are going to market with their luxury brands. There’s obviously work to be done here when it comes to adding value to… well… toilet paper, but our European counterparts seem to have gotten a head start.
There, the logic of “if A=B, and A=C, then B=C” has been adapted to toilet paper: If luxury is sexy and toilet paper is a luxury, then toilet paper is sexy.
What’s interesting about Renova’s campaign is that the company isn’t afraid to come out of the (water-) closet when it comes to toilet paper usage: Their slogan (“the pleasure of being clean”) explores the value of toilet paper and hygiene far beyond the realm of simply taking care of #2. It’s also about getting close. It’s about feeling clean. Renova tells the story of their toilet paper’s value in a very unique way, which personally, I find clever and effective (but then again, I’m French).
The point is that the ad creates value, thereby elevating TP above its generic white roll commodity status. It also makes the brand sexy. Very sexy. For that portion of the market that responds well to cK ads, this brand could do quite well.
Are American sensibilities ready for this kind of fresh (and wide-ranging) honesty? That’s the million-dollar question.
Whether you find this approach offensive or clever, it works well in Europe… and I would venture to guess that it is just a matter of time before somebody takes a chance wit it in the US and gives babies and teddybears the proverbial boot. The thing is that if you don’t like this ad, it’s because it isn’t aimed at you, and that’s okay. The idea behind luxury TP is that it isn’t for everyone. It isn’t a generic product. It is meant to appeal to a particular segment of the market. You’re either in it, or you aren’t.
By the way, what does this ad tell you about who (men or women) Renova is primarily aiming their advertising at? (Who actually buys the toilet paper?)
Read all about it here. (It’s a short article.)
Don’t you wish you could turn back time every now and again? Take back that stupid comment you made during the last board meeting? Take back that promise you made that you knew you couldn’t keep? Take advantage of an opportunity that should have been obvious when it first fell on your lap… but for whatever reason, wasn’t all that obvious at the time?
I bet that right about now, FedEx does.
If you haven’t heard of Mr. Jose Avila’s little scrap with FedEx, here’s the short version: Avila (a software developer) found himself having to move to Arizona before the lease on his apt. was up, forcing him to cover two rents. A little short on cash, he decided to make furniture out of FedEx boxes until he could buy some real furniture for his new place. The results were kind of funny, so he posted his creations on his website.
When FedEx found out about it (the next day), their legal department threatened to sue him if he didn’t take down the site.
Whazawha? Hey, FedEx! What are you guys thinking? Wake up!
Didn’t anyone there think that maybe this was kind of a cool idea? That maybe you could use it to promote your company in some way? That a younger generation of future FedEx users might be positively influenced by a concept like this? Didn’t you think, for even a minute, that maybe you should put this guy in touch with your marketing team before throwing threats his way?
You could have turned this into so many opportunities, it boggles the mind.
The ad campaign, for starters:
Picture a shaky camera following Avila (or a FedEx-obsessed character loosely based on Avila) through little episodes of his daily life – At home, at the office, on a date… he incorporates and adapts FedEx packages and labels to every facet of his life. (His furniture is only the tip of the iceberg.)
Done right, it could have been a lot funnier than dancing chickens, talking monkeys or celebrities trying to be cool by driving FedEx trucks around the neighborhood, frankly.
You could have even taken it a step further and launched a contest to see what kind of stuff people could make out of FedEx packages: Cars, houses, boats, suits… whatever. The bolder, the better. It would have gotten people involved, it would have gotten them into FedEx locations to obtain materials… It would have increased points of contact and made your company seem more accessible (or at least easier or more fun to deal with). It would have added a whole new layer of brand ownership for them. This was an opportunity to get folks to actually make art out of your product. You could have helped them connect with your brand.
You could have used humor to explore some powerful themes… like rabid brand loyalty and service flexibility. (FedEx can help you in more ways than just sending packages.) You could have signed Avila on (like Subway did with Jarod) and either used him in your ads or paid him for the rights to his idea.
But instead, you threatened to sue him.
Ever heard of David & Goliath? Do you realize the role that underdogs play in the Western psyche? Do you have a concept of what makes people hate the “corporate mentality”? The little guy versus “The Man”? Keep that in mind when you consider how FedEx looks to the rest of us, going after a little guy like Avila for no good reason at all.
It’s too late to turn this around now. That train has already left the station, but the story is still gaining momentum. Decades from now, it will probably still be making the rounds of business and marketing programs around the country: The great FedEx marketing blunder of 2005. (Hey! Catchy!)
I know, I know, hindsight’s always 20/20… but this one really wouldn’t have taken a genius. You don’t sue people who bring good publicity to your brand with an original idea… at least not without talking to your marketing department first.
Lesson learned. (One can hope.)
Welcome aboard. Tickets please?
(photo ripped from source)
I came across this story and couldn’t resist sharing.
From Bumvertizing.com (via MIT’s Ad Lab):
Bumvertising™, or the use of sign holding vagrants to advertise, is a development of PokerFaceBook.com’s most recent advertising campaign. Homeless men are able to provide a valuable and tangible service to a company, while receiving an additional revenue stream in combination with their normal donations from begging.
Benjamin Rogovy, president and chief economist of Front Door Enterprises, developed this system after realizing the enormous potential in wasted homeless labor. Bums use a business model that takes advantage of high volume traffic, with the expectation that, on average, a certain number of people will donate to them in the form of cash, clothing, or food. Some people, by principle, will never give a homeless man money. Some will give food to them whenever they can. But what is the use of holding up a bum sign to 99% of car traffic that will only read but never donate to these vagrants? With such great exposure, Mr. Rogovy imagined that there had to be some value that was not being utilized. Through his own effort and the assistance of his marketing team, Mr. Rogovy developed signs and accumulated the resources that most bums would find attractive. Money, sandwiches, chips, apples, water, and other beverages have all been dispensed in order to compensate the homeless in the Seattle Bumvertising™ campaign.
It is also Mr. Rogovy’s belief that bums will incur higher revenues from donations after showing the initiative to seek out semi-legitimate employment. Many of the vagabonds of PokerFaceBook.com’s Bumvertising campaign remark that they are receiving more comments and questions than ever. “People are actually reading my signs!”, remarked Robert, one of PokerFaceBook.com’s most loyal derelicts. “I thought they just handed me a dollar but never read what I was saying.”
Disclaimer: Before I start, please note that all of the images attached to this post are meant to parody the concept of bumvertising. None of the companies whose brands are used in this post either endorse bumvertising, streetvertising or nunvertising. Please also note that due to FedEx’s recent trademark entanglements (and resulting busy legal schedule), I thought it best not to use the FedEx mark anywhere in this post. (You’re welcome.)
Okay, back to the topic at hand… So assuming that this bumvertising stuff works for Poker Face Books (let’s give Mr. Rogovy the benefit of the doubt), would this also work for American Express? Burger King? Trader Joe’s? Jiffy Lube? In fact, would it work for anyone?
I just made a case for basic exposure vs. strategic brand alignment in athletic sponsorship packages in which I argued that exposure could be at least, if not more effective… but I was rambling about Bissell’s decision to sponsor Lance Armstrong’s Discovery Channel team. Obviously, there’s a bit of a contextual difference between using Lance Armstrong as a human billboard for your brand, and… a bunch of homeless guys.
The question that comes to mind is… what kind of message does a bank or credit card company send by using a homeless person to (in a very real sense) represent them? How about a restaurant chain? How about a doctor’s office or a music store? How about Starbucks? Yeah, it sounds clever at first… but then the rest of the brain should kick in.
Homeless people holding “I’m hungry” or “I need money” signs usually make a point of looking miserable (I’m not saying they fake it… but they certainly don’t have much of an incentive to look happy and upbeat). So basically, your human billboard is going to tend to look depressed and weary. Wow… great. What a great way to promote your brand: Stick it on poor, depressed looking people begging for your loose change at red lights.
Now… the state of the service industry being what it is, bearded sullen faces aren’t much of a stretch from the bored, irritable cashiers you’re already forced to suffer at your local gocery store (and just about everywhere else)… but… well… you see where I’m going with this. How much crappier can things get? These aren’t costumed signwalkers we’re talking about here. They’re homeless people. Come on. What’s next? Old people? Renting advertising space on the backs of veterans’ wheelchairs?
Now, if they were advertising a charity… say a homeless shelter, a local program… or a church’s outreach center, even, then I could see the point. More importantly, drivers and passersby might too. The way I see it, the social context of the homeless person holding up a sign is so strong that it can only truly serve related themes. If the message of their ad were along the lines of ‘Don’t just help me, help your community. We’re doing something about poverty.” That approach might actually incite people to give money to the bumvertisers and look into the program they are promoting. From both marketing and a social activism standpoints, that strategy could be immensely successful. But that’s where I think the buck stops.
Personally, seeing a homeless person holding up a sign for Dairy Queen just five blocks from one of their locations might initially make me crave a Blizzard, but by the time I got there, I would probably feel too guilty about that poor guy back there holding the sign to actually buy one. And that’s advertising a product I already know and love. If what he’s selling isn’t even something I know, I just won’t care. I just don’t see this form of advertising being all that effective at all.
I also have a bit of a problem with the notion that seeing homeless people doing something other than just begging for money will incite more passersby to give them cash. First of all, they aren’t doing anything other than just stand there begging for money. They’re just holding a bigger sign now. Their prospects haven’t exactly improved. Second, many people have grown distrustful of “will-work-for-food” scams perpetrated by “fake” beggars (no, seriously), so I doubt that having what appears to be homeless folks advertise a business or product will actually generate much sympathy in potential donors. Contrary to the argument made in the article, pasting an ad on them will probably make people even less likely to give them money. Why? Because bumvertisers aren’t really beggars anymore: They’re getting paid to stand there. They don’t need more charity, do they?
Regardless of whether or not bumvertisements will actually benefit the companies they serve, I am tempted to salute Mr. Rogovy’s effort to provide the homeless in his area with ‘ semi-legitimate’ employment (if that’s what you call taping an ad to the bottom of a “Will Work For Food” cardboard sign), and it’s cool that he’s making them peanut butter sandwiches and all, but… it all seems to me to be a tad bit exploitative, doesn’t it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. www.bumvertising.com has a page that lets you report “hot” bum corners… and Rogovy features profiles of several of his “regulars” in which he describes their comings and goings as “business trips”. He goes on to state:
“Robert, the hardest working of the PokerFaceBook.com advertising campaign, shares the 45th street off-ramp, but prefers to market toward the left turning traffic. He has a penchant for vanilla wafers and sun chips. Robert doesn’t believe in drinking on the job. Robert works from dawn to dusk for himself, but always appreciates the additional income from advertising contracts.”
Sun chips? ‘Works for himself?’ Business trips? Come on. I smell a rotten egg here.
copyright 2004 Olivier Blanchard
I know, I know… using the homeless to hand out flyers at red lights or sell newspapers isn’t anything new and it’s a good way for them to make some quick cash… But it’s still kind of lame, perhaps because it is so short-sighted. There”s no real opportunity for them here. Not that it should be a prerequisite, but since they’re homeless and all, some thought towards that would be a nice touch. Don’t just exploit these people and talk about them like they’re children… Help them get out of their difficult situation by giving them real jobs (or at least real wages instead of sun chips and vanilla wafers). Use your brand’s power for more than revenue generation and publicity. It isn’t just an idealistic point of view, it’s also good business. It’s the kind of thing that makes people remember you in a positive light. Everyone loves a good corporate citizen. Nobody likes a fake. If you are going to market yourself as a social entrepreneur, be one.
(Kudos for trademarking “bumvertising” though. Somebody had better jump on ‘hobotising’ before somebody else grabs it. Pfffft.)
Unfortunately, boiled down to the basics of this strategy: These people are super-cheap labor and Rogovy is using their desperation to his advantage.
As a footnote though, I have to acknowledge that while the bumvertisements themselves may never amount to much in terms of ROI (vanilla waifers are holding steady at $60.32 a barrel), the 15 minutes of fame he enjoyed thanks to the news media’s penchant for the wackiness of his idea has probably resulted in some decent exposure for his company… and all for a few bills and some peanut butter sandwiches. (Not too shabby, even if it was a complete accident.)
PS: Don’t forget to check out the killer wine reviews at www.bumwine.com.
Okay, let’s segue from the big vs. small discussion for a few minutes because I need to address the subject of value; more specifically, the role value plays in presentations made by an agency to a client. (This came up at lunch today.)
If you are an ad agency (big or small), it doesn’t really matter how smart you think your strategy is. It doesn’t matter if you have the coolest ad concept in the world. It doesn’t matter if your superpowers have created the ultimate idea. No, none of that matters…
… unless you can $ell it.
It’s incredibly frustrating for creatives and strategic thinkers alike to bring to the table the ultimate plan for world domination… and watch it be ignored or misunderstood or trivialized in some way. No, let’s just be honest, it sucks.
(And yeah, we’ve all been there.)
Is it because the plan or the idea weren’t as good as we thought they were? Maybe… But if you’re reading this blog, it’s unlikely. (I have carefully targeted this site at ubbersmart creative thinkers… which is why only six or seven people in the world ever visit it.) So let’s assume that your idea is indeed the shiz and the nit. So what happened? Why didn’t everyone jump up and down at the thought of the happiness and success it will shower upon them?
Because you didn’t sell it. That’s why. You expected it to be so good that it would just sell itself.
Truth? A great idea + your enthusiasm aren’t usually enough. The people sitting in those chairs across the room don’t necessarily have your marketing or design savvy. They may not understand their own market the way you do. More importantly, they probably can’t connect the dots between your presentation and its many layers of positive outcomes. Not really. besides, at that moment, they don’t care how cool your work is. “Cool” and “smart” come later. (And yes, I’ll get to that.)
Here’s the thing: You’re not giving any of this away. You’re selling it. That means they have to pay for it. Whether it’s in the form of a check for your services or an investment on their part, it’s going to cost them. They’re thinking about ROI. They’re thinking “do I really need to do this?” “Is there something else I could spend this money on?” “Should I spend this money at all?”
You’re selling something. So you’d better make sure they know it’s worth buying.
Your first mistake is probably to broadside your audience with an “unveiling” of what you’ve been working on. Classic. You’ve just asked them to completely switch gears at a moment’s notice (no matter how good of an intro you’ve put together) and they’re automatically going to be disconnected from it.
See, the many crossroads that have led you down the road to your idea, plan or concept are completely and utterly foreign to them. You’ve connected the dots over time. Even you, as smart as you are didn’t put this whole thing together in ten minutes… Yet you expect them to be able to do just that. Though possible, it’s kind of unlikely.
To overcome that, you have to involve your clients, bosses (or whatever) in the process of connecting the dots long before the presentation. You have to help them help you come up with goals, with identifying obstacles, with coming up with creative ways to get around them. While the cooperative environment you’re creating will help you a) narrow-down the best strategy possible and b) gain more insight into your client’s world, your main objective in terms of selling your solution is to prep them for the big day. By the time your presentation comes around, they’ll be ready for it, and they’ll be your champions inside their own organization.
You can’t just throw the whole thing at them at once. They’ll go into shock. They just won’t be able to relate.
Okay, that was part 1, in a nutshell.
Part 2 is all about building value… because guess what: If you don’t build value before you tell them how much it’s going to cost, you’re done. Dead in the water. Kaput. Finito.
People know value. That’s what they’re after. That’s what justifies the investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on the client side of a presentation which completely failed to build value… to generate excitement… to touch core motivators in the decision-makers. The plans, the strategies, the ideas were all great. Some of them were often fantastic. But you have to present them in such a way that everyone in the room relates to how great they are. You have to make people understand where they come from, how they will solve their problem(s) and what they will do for them. You have to make them want them. Crave them. You have to make people drool – not at the ideas themselves, but at the benefits they will shower upon them and their business.
Sales are emotional, boys and girls. You have to reach into every single chest in that room and make a connection with the beating hearts within. Some in your audience love revenue. Others love whooping the competition. Some just want to see you come up with something cool and inventive. Others don’t care as long as there’s no chance that your plan will backfire. You have to consider all of these things – expectations, motivations, fears – and then you have to find in your work the elements that will best address them.
Selling isn’t even about the product or the idea. You can sell a terrible idea. People do it every day. (Don’t get me started. It’s a pandemic.) You have to be aware of that before you go put your presentation together. Merit is irrelevant. Selling isn’t about dissecting and explaining what you have to offer. It isn’t even about how cool or original something is. It’s about making people see, feel and relate to the actual value in it, which is kind of a personal thing. It’s about conveying the promise that it will achieve not only results, but the results that matter to them. It’s that simple. (Well, easier said than done, but whatever.)
Wanna know how to do that? That’ll have to be another post. In the meantime, take a few steps back from your plan, squint at it until you can barely see its edges, and focus on the effects it has on your client’s world. Focus on the results. That’s really what you’re selling in there.
Look at it this way: People don’t buy cars. Cars are machines with axles and engine parts and undercarriages. What people buy are the elements of the car that will enrich their lives. They buy comfort, style, power, speed, safety, status, image, freedom. They buy the color red. This is no different.
It’s an art, this sales thing. It really is. So all of you frustrated geniuses out there, take my advice: Talk to sales professionals. Pick their brains. Learn their trade. Watch people you consider great public speakers. Study folks in your circles that people listen to and seek advice from. Learn to sell and close, Jedi style. You’ll be doing yourselves, your clients and even the world a huge favor. (Nobody else is going to save us from all of the bland, average, “good enough” junk that’s cluttering our airwaves and store shelves and billboards.)
The more good ideas you sell, the less bad ideas will make the cut.
They ought to give out medals for that.
PS: Wanna read more on the topic? Check out Kevin Hoffberg’s piece “The First Rule Of Selling“. His 11 lessons are as quick to flip through as they are dead-on.
So… what happens to great little companies once they reach a certain size? Why do so many of them stop thinking like the bold and creative little commandos that made them who they are? Why is it that the balance of power between risk and opportunity in the decision-making process shift from “let’s do it” to “don’t fix it if ain’t broke.”
(I know… I know… I’m just quoting.)
As with many initially broad questions like this one, you kind of already glimpse the answer before you’ve had time to finish asking it… and in this case, my mind kind of flashed back to my childhood and some of the wonderful little lessons that a certain Mr. Lafontaine was kind enough to drive deeply into the French psyche. Let me explain.
Most kids here have never heard of Lafontaine’s Fables, but in France, that’s basically how most kids are introduced to both poetry and philosophy. From a very young age, you start learning some of these fables, and they follow you well into high-school with all their lyricism and valuable life lessons. To this day, I can still recite verses from “Le Corbeau et Le Renard” and “La cigalle et La Fourmi”. In every poem (or fable, as it were), the characters are animals. Not to get too Jungian or anything, but each animal represents certain archetypal aspects of human personality. Every poem also tells a story, and each of these stories ends with a moral. Very simple but relevant stuff.
And yes, if you’ve studied your classics, you’ve probably figured out that Lafontaine completely ripped off this old dude by the name of Aesop. But I digress…
So. Lafontaine. The Fables. Complascent companies. I’m actually going somewhere with this, although probably not where you think.
When I asked the question earlier (and this was before I started writing this post), my mind flashed back to Lafontaine’s work… but more specifically to one of his favorite characters: The fox. Now, in case you aren’t familiar with Monsieur le Renard (Mr. Fox to the rest of you), he’s the shady little furry guy who can smooth-talk just about anybody into giving him what he wants. When that doesn’t work, he can usually trick his mark into letting their guard down long enough for him to rip them off. And incidentally, the fox doesn’t always win. Sometimes, he gets sloppy… because on those occasions, he just isn’t hungry enough to make sure he’s 100% in the game.
So, let’s leave Lafontaine to little French schoolchildren for now, and let’s consider the fox for a bit: He’s small. He’s swift. He’s cunning. He knows he can’t fight off a dog or a barn cat. So he has to be creative. He has to be nimble. He has to be confident. The fox is a renegade. He’s a guerilla fighter. He thinks his plan out, easily improvises when he has to, takes chances, and more often than not, he gets away with it.
Even when the farmer tries to keep the fox out of his henhouse or rabbit hutches, the fox figures out a way to get in there. If things get too tight, he moves on to the next farm. He’s an opportunist, he’s a survivor, and he’s wicked clever.
Why? Because his life depends on it.
Now… given two foxes scoping out the same farm, one having just eaten a nice juicy chicken and the other being hungry… Which one do you think will come home with dinner later that day?
Okay… you never can tell. Fair enough. But I’d be willing to bet that the fat fox isn’t going to take the kinds of chances his hungry counterpart will. Why? Because he doesn’t have to. He’s already eaten. He’s comfortable. He doesn’t have to put out today. (And that’s where I’m going with this.)
All right, fine. I know. It’s an overly simplistic way to look at the question… but I haven’t really gotten to the meat of it yet. I’m only just scratching the surface here. This whole diatribe is about the first impression my mind conjured up when I asked (in a very broad way) what happens when small companies get BIG. Why do they often become (for the lack of a better term) ‘corporate’? Why do they so often become watered-down versions of their old selves?
(We’ll get to other more specific aspects of what happens a little later.)
At its core, the motivation to drive business and innovation really boils down to necessity. Sure, you have other elements like vision, ego, greed, ambition, imagination, passion… and I’ll get to those eventually (oh… deja-vu). But first, you have to recognize the importance of necessity. You do. Really. No joke.
If a business needs to be aggressive in order to survive, to grow, to overcome obstacles, then it will be aggressive. It will take more chances when it comes to creative and strategic direction. It will pay greater attention to detail on every project. It will treat its customers and clients with particular care. It will do what it has to to compete against the big dogs. It’s a matter of survival. It’s a matter of necessity. If it doesn’t do this, it will become a statistic. Another failed business… or possibly worse: a mediocre one. So, okay. Aggressive. Nimble. Creative. Fearless. Confident. In complete control of its game.
And let me let you in on a little secret about the fox: he gets a kick out doing his thing. He loves it. It is his nature. (Remember that, boys and girls, because this topic WILL come up again.)
On the other hand, the big company with decades of growth and huge resources, the big brand name that people know by reputation before even doing business with them… well, for them, all is well. There’s no need to take chances or push the envelope… or test the waters beyond their market’s comfort zone. Any risk it takes, any change it makes to its current formula carries with it a serious risk. Something could flop. The balloon might get deflated. The brand could suffer a terrible blow. All it takes is one black eye. Definitely two. Why risk it when there’s no need?
Fat fox vs. hungry fox.
Risk vs. opportunity.
Big vs. small.
… in a nutshell.
Don’t worry, this discussion is far from over. Next, we’ll look at inefficiencies that are inherent to large organizations, and we’ll discuss the scourge of antiquated hierarchical models.
(ooops… big words. Sorry.)
Let’s see… instead of foxes, next time howzabout we use… dinosaurs and toy soldiers? Wanna?
Co-branding can be fun… Especially when it kind of happens by accident. We were at the BMW test track in Greenville to shoot some winter speedskating images, and the friendly folks there generously offered to dress up our shots with some cars.
“Um… How about that fast looking red one there?”
It was really more an issue of art direction than anything, but the implication of having a well-known quality lovebrand get into the shot and… In essence… Become an extension of the product, wasn’t entirely lost on us.
There are worst things in this world than having your line of performance skates get associated with a brand like BMW. The image doesn’t actually suggest a connection, but it does (on some level) suggest a parallel: Quality, performance, style, dependability, power, speed, comfort… You name it. It’s a powerful association.
Anyway, it worked. This isn’t one of the happiest shots from the shoot (it was bitterly cold and windy… And it started to sleet about twenty minutes after this photo was taken… So no big bright smiles that morning), but it’s one that usually grabs peoples’ eye. The red and black contrast is a big eye-catcher, especially with the car in the background. The overlapping skaters create a bit of a trompe-l’oeuil, which is kind of interesting to dissect. The beauty of speedskating form is expressed through a series of basic angles, at either end of which are a) the human element of speedskating (intensity, focus, confidence), and b) the product itself.
And of course there’s the whole suggestion that the skaters may be racing the car… And winning.
By the same token, BMW’s image can be reinforced by the notion that, like speedskaters, their cars are sporty, fast, strong, built for performance, sexy, adventurous, etc. Looking at the car (and brand) through a different keyhole, as it were, forces the customer to re-examine the many value strands that link him/her to BMW. Forget specific car features for a second. Put aside the leather seats and the steering and the all-wheel drive. Consider the actual connection between the customer and the brand. This indirect approach allows the customer to consider BMW’s meaning within the context of his/her lifestyle, dreams, core values and even self image. The car becomes a metaphor… in many cases, it may even become a vessel. The skaters create the vehicles for the thematic language that links the customer to the brand.
The cool thing about this is that two companies with absolutely nothing to do with each other, completely different markets and customer bases, for starters, can still find this kind of visceral common ground. The simplicity of it might even be the best part. Although I just made an (arguably ill-fated) attempt at doing just that, you really don’t have to explain it… It just kind of works. Whether reinforced by the matching colors, implied continuity of motion or by the basic context of the image, the connection is both instinctive and immediate.
Co-branding doesn’t usually benefit both brands in the same way, but does almost always benefit both brands. It’s good stuff, guys. You need to try it. (Just don’t overdo it.)
Oh… and I did mention it was fun, right?
1. The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.
Never, ever start thinking like a big company. Otherwise, you become corporate, and there’s no interest in that.
2. Never believe anything you have done is successful.
Challenge it every second, every day.
3. Brand consistency is overrated.
The brand doesn’t have to look the same, but it has to feel the same. An element of newness and surprise is important for any brand.
4. Brands should have some mystery.
Customers should never understand the whole picture of a brand.
5. Your people are your product.
They are the vehicle through which everything happens, and they define what you put out.
It probably isn’t the sort of thing being taught in most business schools. On the contrary, if the subject is even addressed, I would be willing to bet that in most cases, the exact opposite is still being preached as gospel: Brands have to be consistent. Capitalize on your successes. Brands should be crystal clear. Yadayadayada.
The truth is that there is no cookie-cutter methodology. All you can do is build up your toolbox with old and new ideas, with conventional and unconventional wisdom… and learn how to use the right tools in the right circumstances in the right way. The rest is just about inspiration, vision, and fun.
There used to be a post here.
I removed it because the company it was about (which the post praised, by the way) asked me to. Actually, they asked me to remove a lot of stuff from this blog that pertained to them. Logos, images, etc.
This kind of reminds me of FedEx’s deal with the furniture, only worse, because while Jose Avila’s brush with FedEx had to do with an “alternate” uses for FedEx boxes, I only said nice things about this particular company. I presented them and their products in a positive light. I encouraged readers of this blog to find out more about them.
So much for that.
So here you go. All images or your products have been removed. all marks and logos have been removed. Any links to your sites have been deleted. I did this gladly because to be featured on this blog is a privilege you obviously do not deserve.
Some companies get it, and others don’t.
Update: hey look, I am using this post as a mule for this image. (Now it serves a purpose again.)