Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘branding’ Category

May 2012 finally sound the death knell for all things “personal branding.”

Here’s the thing: People are people. They aren’t brands. When people become “brands,” they stop being people and become one of three things: vessels for cultural archetypes, characters in a narrative, or products. (Most of the time, becoming a brand means they become all three.) Unlike people, brands have attributes and trade dress, slogans and tag lines which can all be trademarked, because unlike people, brands exist to ultimately sell something.

That core need to build a brand to ultimately sell something is at the very crux of the problem with “personal branding.” Can you realistically remain “authentic” and real once you have surrendered yourself to a process whose ultimate aim is to drive a business agenda?

Perhaps more to the point – and this is especially relevant in the era of social communications and the scaling of social networks – is there really any value to turning yourself into a character or a product instead of just being… well, who you are? And I am not talking about iconic celebrities, here. I am talking about people like you and me.

Think about it. Those of us who truly value attributes like transparency and authenticity (and that would be the vast majority of people) don’t want to sit in a room with a guy playing a part. If I am interviewing an applicant for a job, the less layers between who he is and who he wants me to think he is, the better. Those extra layers of personal branding, they’re artifice. They’re disingenuous. They’re bullshit. I am going to sense that and the next thought that will pop up in my head is “what’s this guy really hiding?”

You know what we used to call people with “personal brands” before the term was coined? Fakes. So here is a simple bit of advice for 2012: Don’t be a fake. Drop the personal branding BS. You don’t need it.

If you really want to brand something, focus on your business, on your blog, on your product. If your product is you, I hope your name is Lance Armstrong, Tom Cruise or Lady Gaga, because otherwise you aren’t thinking clearly about this. A brand is ultimately an icon. Are you an icon? No. You aren’t. And if you ever become one, you won’t need to worry about building a personal brand.

Have I seen your face  pop up on billboard ads for Nike, Ford or Chanel? Are you on Wheaties boxes? Do you have your own action figure? Do designers call your agent asking if you would wear their clothes to award shows? No? Then you aren’t a product or a brand.

Let’s walk away from the professional navel-gazing industry for a minute recalibrate things just a tad. If what you’re after is improving your image and your odds of being successful in whatever your endeavor is, drop the personal branding nonsense and give these little tips some thought:

1. Talk less, do more. Let your work speak for itself. Michael Jordan didn’t spend all his time trying to build a strong personal brand. He practiced his craft. He trained. He worked his ass off to be the best basketball player he could be. It doesn’t mean you should stop blogging or granting interviews or making videos. It just means that the ratio of doing vs. talking should clearly favor the former over the latter.

2. Be relevant, not just popular. I know Klout is all the rage these days, but nobody gives a shit. No, really. What was Steve Jobs’ Klout score again?

Go solve a problem. Go cure cancer. Go create jobs for people in your community. Go fight against modern day slavery or spousal abuse or childhood homelessness. Go help Nike or Microsoft or the small bakery across the street build or do something remarkable. I guarantee that the closer you get to doing something relevant, the farther your mind will be from the latest popularity metric.

3. Reputation is more important than image. With a little work, anyone can create an online persona that exudes success and brilliance. Anyone. Image is nothing more than marketing. Here’s something you need to know: The people who will actually be in a position to help you in life understand this. You won’t fool them with superficial image design. They don’t care about it and know how to see right through it. Be what you say you are. Build a reputation for yourself. See #1.

4. Speaking of image, find a good tailor. You want to look good in person? Take whatever money you were planning on throwing at personal branding seminars or webinars and spend it on a good tailor instead. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on clothes to look put together. Believe it or not, most of the time, H&M and Target will do just fine. The trick is in getting whatever you buy altered to fit you properly. A good tailor can make a $75 sport coat look like you spent $750 on it, so spend the $25 extra bucks on the alteration. Nobody cares how much you spent on your clothes, but they might care that you have sense enough to know how to wear them like an civilized adult.

What you should have tailored: Pants, dress shirts, jackets. Always. No exception. For men, everything you need to know about this can be found in Esquire’s Big Black Book of Style (usually released twice per year – in the spring and fall).

5. Just be yourself. If I have learned anything from Facebook’s new Timeline feature, it’s this: It’s fun to be yourself. It’s easy to forget that, especially when the “personal branding” industry would have you shift your focus away from the little flaws that make you… well, you. Remember that thing about authenticity and transparency earlier? The more you have of the first, the more you can get away with the second. If you’re an asshole, the solution is simple: either work on that, learn to be a funny asshole, or spend less time on Facebook. If you’re a kind, pleasant, remotely interesting person though, just be that and everything will be okay.

If you’ve ever interviewed applicants for a job or held open auditions, you know the drill: Some people walk into the room and show you only what they want you to see. Others walk into the room and show you something real about themselves. Guess who stands no chance at all of getting a callback. Fakes need not apply. Trust is far too important a thing to gamble away on personal branding schemes. The more honest about who you are around people, the  more they will respond to you. It’s that simple.

The worst thing you can do for your career (and your relationships) is to try and build a personal brand.  It will get in the way of real success, of real connections with people, of real opportunities. It will distract you and divert your focus away from work that matters. It will warp your sense of self worth. It will flip your values upside down until what you care about the most is what you should be caring about the least.

If you really want people to know your name and take notice, go build something. Make something good happen. Create. Invent. Help. Rescue. Solve. Improve. Apply yourself to any of those endeavors and in time, you will earn some measure of respect and even perhaps notoriety or fame. That’s how it works. Jules Verne is known for his stories. Steven Spielberg is known for his films. Richard Branson is known for his success in business. Author. Film maker. Entrepreneur. Compare that to “online personality” or “social media expert.”

So here is wishing “personal branding” safe journeys and a heartfelt farewell in 2012. Thanks for visiting. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

So what are you guys working on this year already? What’s your next project? What will this next 365-day chapter be about for you?

*          *          *

Oh, I almost forgot: Social Media ROI is now available in German! Check it out.

For the English-language Social Media ROI portal, click here. To buy it directly from Amazon, click here.

For the German edition of Social Media ROI, click here.

I’m kind of psyched about that.

Read Full Post »

Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

Vintage Coca Cola mural in Greenville, SC

The topic of “what is a brand” or “what do we mean when we say brand” comes up pretty often, so I am always on the lookout for a clear explanation of the term… or at least an explanation that can help frame it for people who aren’t 100% clear what brand really is. (Is it a logo, symbol or mark? Is it a promise? Is it a marketing gimmick?)  Depending on whom you talk to, you might get a completely different answer.

This time around, let’s have Tom Asacker share a few insights on the subject:

A brand is not a logo, and branding is not a communication strategy. A strong brand is a strong bond, and branding is your business.”“To those with a dated, mass-market mentality, branding is still all about image and awareness. It’s about tag lines, logos, cute little animal mascots or clever jingles. It’s about spending megabucks on Super Bowl commercials, hiring celebrities to sing your corporate praises, and covering cars with advertising banners. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that awareness is unimportant. (…) But, does well-known equal strong? Not any longer. The rise of the global economy [and] the rapid adoption of the Internet have ignited commercial innovation, and put an end to those days forever. Today, like just about everything else, brand logic has been turned on its head.”

“And please, don’t get hung-up on the word brand. Today, the word brand is shorthand for the gut feeling people have about something, some group, or someone. It’s a kind of Platonic Ideal, which stands for the essence of a business, school, organization, person, or even place. If you add up the tangible and intangible qualities of something – the gestalt – and wish to represent the meaning and distinctive character this greater whole conveys to its audience, today we call it . . . brand.

“Think of your brand as a “file folder” in your audiences’ minds (not a perfect metaphor, since memory is malleable, but stick with me anyway.). When they’re exposed to you (e.g., through advertising, design, a salesperson, word-of-mouth, etc.), a feeling is immediately filed away in that “brand file folder.” As time passes, much of what your audience has filed away – the details – will become inaccessible. However, they will remember where they stored the folder: in the front (positive feelings) or pushed to the back (negative feelings). Given the sheer volume of brands trying to find a place in your audiences’ overloaded “brand file cabinets,” you must not only get their attention and be relevant (a file folder labeled with your brand name), but you must also get it placed in the front of their file cabinet (elicit strong, positive feelings of intense personal significance).

“(…) Despite what the Madison Avenue folks may tell you, the strength of your brand lies not in the fact that you own a folder with your name prominently displayed on it. Repetition does not create memories, relevance does. The strength lies in your folder’s position in your audience’s file cabinet (the emotions that linger in their memory). The strength lies in the bond! So make your brand about feeling, not just familiarity. Make it about shared values and trust. About honesty, vulnerability and presence. A brand is not simply a promise. How can it be, with everything changing at breakneck speed? A brand is a living, breathing relationship. Revel in the messy world of emotions and create a brand that’s about leadership and differentiation; about customer insight and radical innovation; and about clarity of purpose, passion and a sense of humor.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wow. Is it really Friday already?

Technorati Tags: , ,, , , , ,

Read Full Post »

New York City street, by Olivier Blanchard 2005

Jack Spade’s words of brand wisdom from an old issue of Fast Company finally made their way to me again last week when I found a box of old issues in my garage. Jack’s advice is as relevant today as it was then:

1. The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.
Even if you have 10,000+ employees and offices on all seven continents, never, ever start thinking or acting like a big company. Once you become corporate, you become detached from your customers and there’s no interest in that.

2. Never believe anything you have done is successful.
Challenge yesterday’s assumptions every second, every day. Understand that no matter how good they may make you feel, last year’s successes are in the past. Your job is to build your company’s next successes. No company stays relevant long by resting on its laurels, so don’t.

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.

These five points probably aren’t the sort of thing being taught in most business schools. On the contrary, if these subjects are even addressed, I’ll 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. Look around. How many major brands are crashing and burning even though they play by the rules? (Perhaps BECAUSE they play by the rules?)  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.

Act small. Look forward, not back. Know exactly who you are. Make sure to always keep things fresh. Don’t lay all your cards on the table. Care. Focus on human needs.

Not a bad start.

Now take these little bits of advice and see if they apply to your company. Which ones apply? Which ones are you missing the mark with?

Welcome to a whole new work week. 😉

Read Full Post »

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes for business managers and CMOs to come to accept that their brand is in trouble. We also discussed why it is often difficult for them to admit that they need help, and how to get over that fear-driven reflex.

Today, we are going to look at the next step in fixing a broken or distressed brand: Diagnosing the problem – which usually involves hiring a specialized firm, agency or individual with the skills, insight and experience to help you navigate through this crucial step. (If you screw this one up, everything that comes later is based on either false or incomplete assumptions – or both, so this isn’t a part of the process you want to entrust just anyone with.)

Priority Number One: Securing the right partnership.

How do you find the right person or firm? Well, once you’ve established that they aren’t in the yellow pages, you ask around. If that doesn’t work, hit the marketing and brand development blogs. Find out who the practitioners are. It’s a small community. There may only be 100 such individuals or organizations in North America, so you won’t be overwhelmed with choices. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to this level, read their blogs and e-books. Look into what they have done for other companies, who they’ve worked with, and what they are saying. If they strike a note with you, then it’s time to make contact.

Ideally, they will be in your part of the country, but if they aren’t, that’s okay too. Business travel is a part of life nowadays, and collaborative tools make it easier than ever to work remotely as well. As the world keeps getting flatter, distance becomes less relevant each day. What is most important is finding the right fit.

Speaking of fit, here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself during the interview process:

  1. Does this person or firm know what they are talking about? Do they know what they’re doing?
  2. Will this person be able to work with my staff, my bosses, and our outside agencies (PR, ad, etc.)?
  3. Does this person or firm fit into my budget?
  4. Does this person or firm have a specific method for measuring R.O.I. right from the start?
  5. Does this person appreciate the importance of delivering short term results, not just mid-to-long term results?

I can’t stress this enough: You want every question to be answered by a resounding YES. If your brand is in distress, 3 out of 5 won’t cut it. Not even 4 out of 5. You can’t afford to settle for “good enough” with this type of project. Not if you want to get your brand back on track now and… well, actually save it.

This is your litmus test for separating a good firm, agency or practitioner from the right one for your current situation.

And if you’re lucky, the one you pick won’t already be booked solid for the next six months. (Cross your fingers.)

Beginning the diagnostic process: Finding out what is actually eating away at your brand.

Okay. Now that you’ve partnered with the right talent and everyone has gotten acquainted, it’s time to get busy. The process typically begins with an immediate 360-degree analysis of your business and of your industry: Who buys your stuff and why? Who buys your competitors’ stuff and why? Who loves you and why? Who hates you and why? How do you engage with your customers? How are you not engaging with your customers? Which marketing tactics work for you and which ones don’t (and why)? If you used to be the market leader once, what changed? What do your employees think about your company and your products? How does this impact core aspects of your business like innovation, talent retention and sales? The list goes on, but you get the idea.

The trick here is two-fold: 1) You have to know what questions to ask, which isn’t always obvious when you are knee-deep in running a business every day, and 2) You have to understand exactly how to measure R.O.I. and put the data in the right context for each one of these elements. This type of brand mapping is one of the key components of the diagnostic step. We’ll get more into some of these in Part 3 of the series. (Like a puzzle, the analysis is composed of MANY parts, but don’t worry: It isn’t that hard to put it all together fast if you know how.)

For now, let’s tackle the first layer of the onion. The question here is simple: If you could boil down your brand’s problem to a thirty-second assessment, what would it be? To make it easy on you, I have listed the four most common answers below. (Most people nowadays respond better to a multiple choice format.

Here, then, are the four most common scenarios that lead to the distress and eventual death of a brand:

  1. Fading brand Relevance: Many companies either go through severe downturns in relevance. Maybe you were the “it” company in your market ten years ago, but fresh newcomers have shoved you aside. Maybe you’ve grown too big and complacent. Maybe you have lost touch with your customers’ needs and fans’ expectations. In these cases, a weakened brand can drag a business down and kill it.
  2. Failure to achieve brand relevance: Many companies simply never manage to transition from being a business with a logo to being an actual brand. They just haven’t found their voice yet. Their purpose. Their place. They are little more than an “also in” company. They manage to scrape by, but with budgets shrinking and new players gaining market share, time is running out.
  3. Brand implosion: You talked a good game, created inspiring and engaging marketing and PR, got people all excited about you… but you didn’t keep your promises. Customers are outraged. Your name is mud. Your customers are leaving you for your competitors. Game over?
  4. Brand-rich, cash-poor: Everyone loves your products and what you stand for. Your customers (fans) have made you part of their lifestyle and you get fantastic reviews across the board. Still, the balance sheet is in the red and you can’t keep your business afloat. Maybe you’re upside down on business loans, or your next round of funding dried up. Maybe your P&L is a disaster, or your parent company has lost interest in you. Whatever the case may be, your business is dying in spite of having created a true lovebrand. How do you save yourself?

In some cases, a sick brand may be looking at more than one of the above problems (most likely a coupling of either #1, #2, or #3 with #4).

More often than not, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out which of the above issues an ailing brand is dealing with. That being said, beware the hasty assumption: One symptom or scenario can hide another and distract you from your problem’s root cause. (One of the most immediate benefits of a properly administered 360 analysis is that it will either confirm or re-frame that initial assumption for you.)

Example: Company XYZ’s leadership is convinced that they are in situation #1 (fading brand relevance), and at first glance, they appear to be right. But as the 360 analysis starts to take shape, it becomes clear that the reason why the brand’s relevance has been fading for the last six years is because their customers are angry about a number of things, like inconsistent product quality, lousy customer service and frustrating warranty/exchange policies. Brand XYZ is actually in a #3 scenario (brand implosion), not a #1 scenario. The message got muddled because company XYZ hasn’t done a very good job at listening to its customers’ opinions (which is a topic we will revisit in the next couple of installments). The lesson here is obvious: One very nagging symptom can easily distract everyone and hide the true cause of a brand’s woes. Fail to render the correct diagnosis the first time, and your entire treatment will be worthless. This kind of mistake so late in the game can cost a brand a lot more than just time and money.

Just like a good doctor makes sure to treat the disease rather than the symptoms, an experienced brand practitioner knows how to properly diagnose and treat the root cause of a distressed brand’s troubles as opposed to its more superficial problems.

Cause and Effect: Starting the process of connecting the dots.

As an added layer of complexity, brand practitioners don’t just have to concern themselves with the what and how questions, but also the why: “Why is this brand failing? Why are this company’s customers jumping ship? Why is its customer service so lousy? Why are its products not as popular as they once were? Why has the main topic of conversation shifted from design and user delight to price? This is the next layer of the 360 analysis: For every action, there is a reaction. If we can identify the reactions (sales slumping, customers switching to a competitor’s product, increases in returns or warranty claims), we can work our way back to the actions that brought them about. It takes a little bit of detective work, but the beauty of the 360 analysis mechanism is that it makes the process pretty swift.

As a bonus, the action-reaction relationships can be pretty easily mapped for the client. As we’ll see in Part 5 (making sure the brand doesn’t suffer a relapse), this mapping and clarifying process actually being delivered and taught to the client is absolutely fundamental to the success of any brand rescue endeavor: Once business managers fully understand the relationship between their customers’ behaviors and decisions made internally by their management team, they will be able to make inspired choices and effective course adjustments on their own once the brand practitioner is gone. A big part of helping a brand recover from a serious crisis involves teaching its stewards how to take better care of it in the future so it never happens again.

Far too many firms, agencies and consultants settle for a two step process in helping a client address a problem: Step 1 – Identify the problem. Step 2 – Address the problem with a specific solution: A new ad campaign. A new series of press releases. A new promotional campaign. Prettier packaging. A celebrity endorsement. This works well enough if you’re looking for a quick fix. A band-aid, if you will. But as soon as the campaign is over, as soon as the promotion ends, as soon as the big sale is over or the expensive celebrity spokesperson moves on to their next gig, what have you really gained? You may have enjoyed a spike in interest, a spike in sales, even, but you end up right where you started: Condemned to keep the campaign engine running constantly, which in your case may be little more than slapping lipstick on a pig. If your brand finds itself in a state of distress, chances are that you have already been playing this game for a while. We’ve already been over this in Part 1. More of the same isn’t what you want.

In order to see real traction, you have to go a step further in the process: Not just identifying a problem, but understanding what created it to begin with. Understanding the root cause. Understanding the why. Tracking the actual cause of that 7% drop in sales. That 12% drop in market share. That 30% drop in customer retention. You have to look deeper. You have to be able to map cause and effect, and answer not only what and how, but why. Then and only then, can you move on to the next step: Coming up with real solutions – the kind that will help your brand gain real momentum – rather than buying sales and influence for an all too finite amount of time.

Monday, Part 3 of this series will go over how to use the 360 analysis employed during the diagnostic phase of the process to a) develop a treatment to get your brand back on track, and b) prioritize the elements of this treatment to start enjoying results immediately.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 😉

Read Full Post »

From Brand Building to Brand Rescue: What to do when things go very wrong.

Valeria Maltoni posed a great question on Conversation Agent last week: What happens when brands die?

The topic of the specter of brand death – which visits most companies in a state of distress – is one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, methinks. (Look around. Distressed companies and lackluster brands are everywhere, and they certainly need help.) Symptoms of a dying brand may come in the form of customer attrition, declines in sales frequency or (volume per customer), eroding market share, a negative brand image (as reported through consumer reports, customer feedback and market studies), or even decreasing investor confidence.

The question I guess isn’t so much “how do I make sure my company doesn’t end up in this situation,” but “now that we’re in trouble, how do we keep our sick company or brand from actually dying?”

BrandBuilder conversations usually focus on helping businesses improve their position and reach the next level in their evolution, but what we are dealing with here is an intervention. Emergency care.

In our current economic downturn, this type of discussion might be more relevant than ever: From past experience, I know that helping successful companies become even more successful is great, but where folks like us can really make a difference is in seizing opportunities to partner with businesses that REALLY need expert help today. Especially if you can generate measurable results quickly.

But before this type of rescue/turnaround partnership can take place, managers of distressed brands need to come to terms with reality: Accepting that their brand or company is in trouble. Most companies ultimately fail NOT because they couldn’t be saved, but because their leadership fails to admit that they are in trouble and need help before it is too late. This is the first step in the process.

How do you know when your company or brand is in trouble? Simple: When a preponderance of symptoms from the following list start popping up in your monthly or quarterly executive meetings. The short list:

  • Pricing pressures are eroding your market share (and you can’t seem to reverse the trend without lowering your prices).
  • Consumer preference data indicates that you are no longer either a contender for the top 1 or 2 choices in your product category.
  • Your quarterly net new customer count is either decreasing or stalled.
  • You are seriously contemplating eliminating 5-20% of your workforce to reduce costs.
  • Customer complaints about your brand are increasing. (Quality, service, delivery, etc.)
  • You have lost several of your best (historical) customers in the last 12 months.
  • Your competitors’ products are getting a lot of great press and attention. Yours are not.
  • Your best talent is starting to walk away.
  • You are having a very tough time recruiting talent.
  • You have cut costs by moving your call centers overseas, but now your customer service department is broken.
  • Despite spending an obscene amount of money on marketing, advertising or PR campaigns, your business barely matches your industry’s growth rate. (If you’re lucky.)
  • At least two out of the three cardinal measurements of your sales health (Frequency of sales, Reach of sales and average sales yield) show a flat or decreasing trend YoY.*

* Corporate lingo for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of working on the client side: QoQ = Quarter over Quarter. YoY = Year over Year.

Assuming anyone in your company is actually keeping an eye on any of this. You would be surprised how many companies’ sales managers don’t measure F.R.Y. or monitor historical new customer trending, how many marketing managers have absolutely no idea what is being said about their brands or where, and how many HR managers have their hands tied even when they it becomes clear that they are not winning the talent war.

Some of this can be attributed to managerial denial, sure, but a lot of the blame can also be attributed to two other factors: a) a lack of training or sophistication when it comes to establishing adequate, actionable metrics, and/or b) a lack of resources when it comes to managing these metrics with an eye towards regular course correction.

In order to connect the dots, you have to know how to identify the dots to begin with.

Getting help isn’t about admitting defeat, it is about getting results.

In order to climb out of a hole, you have to realize that you are indeed in a hole to begin with… and that you probably need help getting out. If you can’t think of a solution on your own, it’s time to get someone who knows how to help you dig your way out.

This topic reminds me of the scene in the 1998 movie “The Edge” (“The Wild” for my European readers) in which Anthony Hopkins’ character gets stranded in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness with two companions after a terrible plane crash. Alone in the wild, the three pampered city guys find themselves in an against-all-odds survival situation. The question the three characters keep asking each other – and themselves – is simple: How in the world are we going to survive out here? With no rations, no weapons or tools, no winter gear and chased by a relentless man-eating Grizzly, the three men have to rely on each other to make it back to civilization. About mid-way through the story, as their situation seems hopeless, Anthony Hopkins’ character explains to his lone surviving companion something that is absolutely relevant to today’s discussion of brand survival:

– You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.

– What?

– Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this?” And so they sit there and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.

– And what is that, Charles?

The answer in the movie is “Thinking.” The answer in the case of of rescuing a brand is the same: Thinking. The one difference being that brands don’t die because they get lost in the wilderness. They die because their stewards create an imaginary wilderness around themselves. If you’re a CEO or CMO who hasn’t figured out how to rescue yourself or your brand by now, it’s time to break out the emergency radio or start sending smoke signals. If someone doesn’t come help you get back on track soon, your brand will die, along with your career, and the only reason will have been that you were too ashamed to admit that you needed help.

Yes, brands can and do die of shame as well.

Reaching out for help is a tough sale for a lot of managers and business leaders. It requires them to admit two things they would rather not: 1. This brand is in serious trouble, and 2. I can’t fix this on my own.

The trick is to realize that asking for help is not the same thing as admitting failure. Quite the contrary. Hiring someone to help you fix something for you – or with you – is no different from hiring the best copywriter, salesperson or office manager you can find.

Here’s the thing: We are all too happy to turn to specialists when we need help in every other area of our lives: If we are sick, we go to a doctor. If we have a tooth ache, we go to a dentist. If we are out of shape, we hire a personal trainer. If we have psychological or relationship problems, we hire a therapist. If our dog misbehaves, we hire a dog trainer. We all hire people who can help us improve our lives or who can somehow help us do things we can’t do on our own. Landscapers. Attorneys. Consultants. Mechanics. Dry-cleaners. Interior decorators. Plumbers. Electricians. Life coaches. Nutritionists. Masons. Carpenters. Party planners. Accountants. Financial planners. Repairmen. Whatever. Specialists are there to fill our knowledge and skill gaps. Helping you fix a brand in crisis is no different. It’s just that there isn’t a section in the yellow pages for “brand interventionists”.

Hint: Looking for a brand specialist or marketing firm in the yellow pages is a lot like looking for a job in the wanted ads. Unless you happen to live in 1986, you are looking in the wrong place.

Likewise, looking for traditional marketing firms and ad agencies to fill your needs when it comes to the relatively new problem of brand erosion in today’s complex business world can be a risky endeavor. Old tactics don’t necessarily address new problems – at least not on their own. The toolkit has evolved. If your new advisor’s “ideas” sound awfully familiar, it’s okay to get a second opinion. Even a third. We’ll go into what to look for tomorrow.

Okay, so my brand is failing. I have to do “something.” What are my options?

While many marketing firms and departments are great at building strong brands, many fall short of expectations. It happens. Sometimes, they get too close to the company or the product and lose their ability to look at the big picture. Sometimes, they have been doing the same things for so long that they have lost touch with their customers, with new marketing tools at their disposal, or with consumer trends and tastes. These things happen. It’s just part of doing business. If – not when – this happens to your company and you find yourself in trouble, you basically have four options at your disposal:

  1. Fire your CMO or Marketing department (pretty drastic and rarely the right solution).
  2. Spend more money on the same tactics that have failed, but pretend that you are doing something different (the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result each time).
  3. Drastically cut your marketing budget. Marketing doesn’t work anyway, right? (You might as well update your resume while you’re at it. This is the worst possible thing you can do in times of crisis. Even worse than firing your CMO.)
  4. Seek professional help to assist your CMO. Not just from a firm or agency that will gladly take your money to take approach #2, but from a firm, agency or specialist who will actually focus on getting measurable and immediate results for you, AND educate you in the process. Rescuing a brand needs to be as much a learning experience for your organization as it is an intervention.

The correct answer, of course, is option #4.

I cannot stress this enough: Do not hire a specialist, firm or agency that will take option #2 to get you back on track. I have seen it happen too many times, and it is the easiest trap to fall into. This will solve nothing, and waste precious resources on your end. Don’t do it.

Tomorrow, we will go over the second step in your brand intervention: Hiring a practitioner or specialized firm, and letting them help you diagnose and clarify the problems facing your brand.

Part 3 of this series will focus on developing a treatment for your brand.

In Part 4, we will go over how to best administer the treatment, and we will wrap it all up in Part 5 with long term strategies to kill the possibility of a relapse.

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2: Methods for diagnosing and understanding what is killing your brand.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone.

Read Full Post »

Finally getting caught up on my blogroll reading, and found this gem of an interview with Tom Fishburne on Church of The Customer. Tom recently published “This One Time At Brand Camp,” and Ben McConnell had a few great questions for him about the state of the marketing world today. Here are some choice cuts from Ben’s post:

Q: What’s the biggest challenge in being a brand manager today?

Remarkable thinking. Then shepherding that thinking through the organizational gates.  Too often the edges of a great idea get sanded, eventually launching as a pale shadow of the original idea.

I love this quote from Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad: “Advertising is a tax you pay for unremarkable thinking.”

Q: What’s the biggest trap most brand managers stupidly fall into?

The mass market trap. Chasing market size. Trying to appeal to everyone and avoiding alienating anyone. By trying to appeal to everyone, no one gets excited.

In my past brand lives, we joked that our target was “a woman, age 25–39, with a pulse.”  Instead, if you cater to a passionate and vocal niche, you become more meaningful. Consumer loyalty follows. Niche marketing isn’t just for small brands.  General Mills does a great job of training marketers to find and truly understand your niche’s brand champions. You create your products and marketing just for them.  When you do, much of the mass market will follow, too.

Q: How serious is the disconnect when brand managers work 12-16 months on product then, because of the nature of the employment game, move on to a new one? How can you build customer loyalty with such a short timeframe?

It’s like that game of telephone we all played in kindergarten.  A departing brand manager whispers their insights and brand plan to the replacement, much of which gets lost in the transition.  Often the replacement brand manager starts from scratch with research and navel-gazing.  As soon as the replacement brand manager gets a feel for the job, they move on, and the telephone game continues.

Q: Who typically has the more insanely inflated ego: marketers or professional wrestlers?

Most of the marketers I’ve worked with have been down-to-earth. That’s why I think ego inflation comes from hierarchy.

For instance, when I was at General Mills, all of the executives worked in a separate wing that even had its own parking garage we called the Bat Cave (where all the Jaguars went to park).  They had a different dress code in the executive wing and there was very little mixing.  The hierarchy was reinforced at every turn.  As you progressed in marketing, you moved from a cubicle to something called an “officle” to eventually an office.  You could tell the seniority of someone with an office by counting the number of ceiling tiles. I remember an official memo that stated that marketers above a certain level were entitled to leather Filofax binders. Everyone else received pleather. I swear I’m not making this up.

All of this resulted in a medical condition I call Title-itis, where it was assumed that the more senior the marketer, the better their ideas.  It’s tempting to start breathing your own exhaust in an environment like that.

Q: Is branding dead and if so, where do we bury the body?

I don’t think branding is extinct. It’s evolved. I used the evolution metaphor to play with a couple stereotypes in the noble profession of marketing.

Doctors have Hippocrates. Lawyers have Atticus Finch. Ask most consumers what archetypes there are for marketers and the snakeoil salesman comes to mind. That’s because much of the history of marketing and branding has been about concocting a story consumers wanted to hear, even if the story was a wee bit phony. Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, famously quipped: “In our factories, we make cosmetics. In the store, we sell hope.”

Nowadays, consumers are often in the marketer’s seat.  Consumers have always been the best source for what your brand means.  The power used to be with the marketer to sculpt and shape that message.  The question to ask now is no longer how your consumers play back the message you told them.  It’s what message are they spreading to others.

The key is to tell an authentic brand story (but careful that you don’t overdo that like the authenticity hawker in the cartoon). Then find ways to help your consumers advocate on your behalf.

Instant fan. Just add water and stir.

Read Full Post »

In a nutshell.

Hat tip to Francois Gossieaux, who grabbed the baton from Digital Demystified.


Update: Spike over at Brains on Fire just pointed out that the original source is Marty Neumeier’s ZAG.

Read Full Post »

Once again, because:

a) it’s good.

b) repetition works.

c) every time I run into this, I remember something I had forgotten.

Read Full Post »

Every once in a great while, I cave in to common sense and take a sick day. This was the case today. I rested, I slept, I drank soup and tea,rested some more, and worked my way through a giant box of tissues. The result: This completely derivative post. Read it, follow the link to the original piece, and chew on this idea for a while. In the process, give some thought to the role of design in product development, art, publishing, software, websites, logos, advertising, entertainment, fashion and retail spaces.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new become threatening, the old reassuring.”

– Paul Rand

Design is such a multi-layered practice that it’s often difficult to define. That being said, I believe that the word “design” is increasingly confused with “style”. For example, to most “I like the way it’s designed” means that they like the way that something looks.
The visual aspect of what we do is highly important, and style has a place in that. For
example, if we want to connect with a particular audience, employing a style can sometimes be helpful. That being said, it seems that style often leads efforts. We have to break this habit.

(…)

As soon as a particular style is hot, legions of designers reverse-engineer the treatment, and imitate it until it’s everywhere.

The challenge here is that as we are bombarded by these styles, designers, by their own accord and that of their clients and peers, gravitate towards reiterating whatever the style-du-jour happens to be. (Think of the swoosh logos of the late 1990s.) It’s easy to do, the pay-off is immediate, and for a short while, one’s portfolio seems deceptively strong. Most times though, this work is void of the research, strategy, and logic that are necessary to do something effective. As a result, it’s in fact a big pile of shiny bullshit.

In turn, we’re left with scads of generic work that doesn’t hold-up for any length of time. There’s no design there, just polish that quickly tarnishes requiring another coat. In the meanwhile, budgets are exhausted, clients are left to with an out-of-date

“look”, and designers are seen as stylists: kooky kids who like to do fun, pointless things. At the risk of being melodramatic, I believe that this approach diminishes the value of our industry and limits our opportunity to contribute to higher-level discussions.

I’m a believer in what I like to call “hardcore” design. This is design focused on results. It can employ any of a multitude of treatments. It’s not personal in nature, unless this is in fact necessary. Hardcore design is driven by insight, strategy and purpose.

This kind of design forces us to see ourselves as intermediaries, who facilitate defined outcomes. To do this, we consider and weigh business, marketing, communications (and other) challenges, and work to resolve them through design. The end-result doesn’t have to look good, even though it might, but it absolutely must work.

For hardcore designers, “does it work?” is the one question that must be obsessed over. Really, this should be the case for any designer anyways; not whether it looks cool, and not if it can win awards. Hardcore design is about taking away the cute, fluffy stuff, and concentrating on what is actually accomplished.
This kind of design typically doesn’t get its due. Many call this work “corporate” (in the pejorative sense), implying that anything “corporate” must be soul-less, bland and the polar-opposite of what we like to think of as creative. This perspective is simplistic and out-of-date. Apple’s marketing is highly corporate and perhaps one of the most stand-out examples of using design to connect with an audience.

The challenge in establishing an effective design solution that reaches a broad audience is in no way less difficult or creative than making work that is personal in nature. In fact, I’d argue that it’s typically much more challenging, as it requires one to dissociate with personal perspectives, in an effort to understand the situation from a more pluralistic standpoint.

Not doing so is, in my mind, what derails so many design efforts. Clients and designers equally fall into the trap of bringing personal aesthetics (that have nothing to do with the task at hand) to projects. As a result, we see lots of pretty, ineffective “design” out there.

(…)

Style will always be there, and it’s for us to employ, just as we would any color, typeface, written approach or photographic direction. And that is just it: it’s a device, and we too often let it drive the effort. You may disagree with me here. You could (rightly) point to a number of groups and individuals who place the same premium on pragmatic design as I; nevertheless, I argue that these groups are in the minority, and that this represents an imbalance in the quality of design actually being delivered.

We have to get our collective heads out of the sand. Everything we do must be held to a higher-standard. Read the entire article here.

Read Full Post »


Oh no they didn’t.

“At 36lbs, 33″ long and 9″ wide at the front element, calling this lens a ‘tele’ is like calling King Kong a monkey.”

At $99,000 a pop, I doubt that B&H is going to sell many. And since there are only a few dozen of these lenses in existence, that point is moot.

What I see here isn’t a monster lens, but a brilliant bit of self promotion by B&H.

Well played, sirs. Well played indeed.

Read Full Post »

For whatever reason, I recently started trying to stop using plastic bags. At the grocery store, at Target, and wherever else plastic bags rule the checkout counter, I try to do without them.

It started one day at Whole Foods. Here I am, feeling all green and superior and hip with my liter of organic kefir, my wedge of imported Pont L’Eveque, my quart of all natural taboule salad and my 100% recycled carton of free-range, hormone free, all vegetarian fed chicken eggs… when the girl at the counter asks me those dreaded words: “Paper or plastic?

Pause frame.

Paper bags are bad. They kill trees. Actually, they’re the crushed, melted and reconstituted remains of dead trees… and they’re harder to recycle, etc. So… no paper bags.

But what about plastic? Plants that make plastic bags spew all kinds of chemical pollutants all over the place, they’re all over South Carolina’s roadsides, and they fill gajillions of miles of landfills.

To give you an idea, worldwide, the number of plastic bags used is anywhere from 500 billion to 1 trillion every year. Americans throw away about 100 billion plastic bags each year, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Only 1 percent of them are ever recycled. That means that about 1.5 BILLION lbs of plastic bags hit landfills every year in the USA. That’s 4,000,000 lbs of plastic bags every single day.)

So… plastic bags are basically an unnecessary evil.

The question at the moment is “paper or plastic,” and I’m stumped.

That’s when I see the fancy little $0.99 (or $1.99) green “material” tote bags for sale right there by the counter. I figure… okay, they’re made out of recycled materials or whatever, so that’s good. And I can use them over and over again, which is also good because I won’t be uselessly throwing bags away anymore.

So I buy two bags, the cute young cashier proudly fills them with my food with extra care, and I drive home, proud as a bug for having taken a big step towards being a better human being.

But then something weird happens a few days later. When I use my Whole Food bags at Bloom, I get dirty looks from the cashiers. I even get a comment on my way out: “It’s not very nice using those Whole Foods totes in Bloom. They’re a competitor. Why don’t you use ours?” The cashier is joking, of course… but not really. So the following visit, I buy a couple of Bloom bags and use them to carry my food home. I now have two sets of totes.

A week later, the same thing happens at Publix. I add a set of Publix tote bags to my growing collection.

I now carry three pairs of tote bags in my car. This way, not only will I not be using plastic bags anymore, I also make sure not to offend anyone at any grocery store by using a competitor’s bag. These are the lengths I go to to be a good little neighbor. A good little shopper. A responsible corporate citizen.

It is complete nonsense, but it makes everyone happy and I can be brand-friendly.

Anyway. That isn’t my story. This is my story: I’m in Whole Foods three weeks ago, with my two good karma WF tote bags, buying all kinds of overpriced but very healthy sounding food items, when I notice that the bagger is wrapping all of my stuff individually with plastic bags before putting them in my tote.

She’s about half way done when I look up from the card pad thing and catch her in the act. I watch her take a bottle of Kombucha, wrap it in a plastic bag, and carefully place it inside the tote. There are more plastic bags inside my tote than if she had just bagged my stuff in a couple of regular plastic bags.

WTF?!?!?! Luckily, by the time the thought makes it to my mouth, it sounds more like “Um… wait… What are you doing?”

The innocent little old lady blinks up at me with the kindest smile. There is absolutely no way I can be mean to this woman. In the friendliest way possible, I tell her that she doesn’t need to wrap any of my stuff in plastic bags. She insists. I explain that I am trying to reduce my use of plastic bags… which is why I use the totes. She doesn’t seem to understand, at first. She looks down at the totes and seems confused. But then she gets it and apologizes. She starts reaching into the totes and unwraps everything. I don’t stop her… but I thank her half a dozen times.

On my way to my car, I ponder the possibility that perhaps as a people, we’ve become completely addicted to plastic bags.

My next grocery outing takes me to my neighborhood Publix, where the exact same thing happens. Instead of just putting my stuff in the totes, the bagging lady wraps them in plastic bags first. WTF?!?!?!

I go through the same dialogue: I’m trying to stop using plastic bags. Hence the totes.

As I said: Addiction.

I expect that a year from now, this confusion will be water under the bridge, but this is South Carolina, so… maybe not.

I figure most people here will not change their plastic bag habits unless retailers (or local and state lawmakers) follow the example of our clever brothers from another mother in Ireland.

From PSFK‘s Piers Fawkes:

Will the plastic bag be remembered in the same way we now think of how they used to smoke on the London Underground or maybe even how people used to wear fur coats? The image of the plastic shopping bag has taken a drastic plummet in Ireland as carriers are cast as socially irresponsible, the New York Times reports. After a tax charge of 33 cents a bag was instigated at cash registers, use of plastic bags plummeted and were replaced by the owners’ reusable cloth ones. The NY Times reports:

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog….Today, Ireland’s retailers are great promoters of taxing the bags. “I spent many months arguing against this tax with the minister; I thought customers wouldn’t accept it,” said Senator Feargal Quinn, founder of the Superquinn chain. “But I have become a big, big enthusiast.”

Mr. Quinn is also president of EuroCommerce, a group representing six million European retailers. In that capacity, he has encouraged a plastic bag tax in other countries. But members are not buying it. “They say: ‘Oh, no, no. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t be acceptable in our country,’ ” Mr. Quinn said.

As nations fail to act decisively, some environmentally conscious chains have moved in with their own policies. Whole Foods Market announced in January that its stores would no longer offer disposable plastic bags, using recycled paper or cloth instead, and many chains are starting to charge customers for plastic bags.

But such ad hoc efforts are unlikely to have the impact of a national tax. Mr. Quinn said that when his Superquinn stores tried a decade ago to charge 1 cent for plastic bags, customers rebelled. He found himself standing at the cash register buying bags for customers with change from his own pocket to prevent them from going elsewhere.

NY Times

This is how little things can have a huge impact almost right away. It just takes the will to do it. Doesn’t it seem like perhaps we should have thought of this first?

Why this post? A) Because it’s an interesting experience actually having to fight everyones urge to bag groceries in plastic bags for no good reason, and B) Because branding is soon going to become a big driver in the adoption of tote bags. And I don’t mean the amorphous canvas bags you can decorate with sharpies. I mean the new style bags that are popping up in grocery stores all across the US.

Let’s face it: I don’t want to carry three sets of totes with specific grocery store logos on them. As much as I like Bloom, Publix and Whole Foods’ logos, I would much rather have one set of totes for all three places (and more). I can’t keep track, honestly. And call me silly, but I don’t want to attract the ire of another cashier for using a competitor’s bag to carry my groceries home. The fact is that it’s kind of rude anyway.

Enter the clever marketers and fashion houses: Gap totes. Gucci totes. Chevrolet totes. Coca Cola totes. Starbucks totes. Greenpeace totes. Nike totes. Nascar. NFL. Olympic Games. NBC. HBO. First Baptist Church. Mauldin High School. Bank of America. Girl Scouts. Delta Airlines. Doritos. m&m’s.

I would much rather have a VW logo on my tote… or a Canon logo… or the emblem of Manchester United, than a Whole Foods, Bloom or Publix logo. If I am going to carry a tote into a store, I want it to say something about me. I want it to be cool and relevant, like everything else in my world. Why limit myself to a boring grocery store logo when my tote can be an outwardly expression of who I am. Isn’t this what we’re all about now? Myspace, facebook, custom T-shirts and license plates, blogs, everyone’s so-called personal style?

Who the hell wants to carry a Wal-Mart or Bi-Lo tote bag around? My grandma, maybe. But I bet she’d rather walk around carrying a UNICEF tote. Or something a little more a propos, like Iron Maiden or Pantera. Maybe a Che tote. Maybe The Sex Pistols.

I dread the day when I start seeing WWJD totes invade the aisles of my local supermarket, but whatever. It’s as inevitable as bad taste, so I’m ready for that unfortunate reality.

The possibilities are endless if you think about it. The issue here is one of distribution, of course: The tote bag is a commodity item you purchase at the grocery store’s cash register. You probably don’t want to make a special trip to the Apple store or the VW dealership to get yourself a $1.99 tote bag. It just isn’t realistic. At least not yet. Which means that totes could soon stop being a commodity item. Totes could soon be priced at $4.99 or $9.99, depending on what is printed on them. Competition for placement inside store might become pretty stiff.

We could have tote wars.

Realistically, I could see a system by which your Gap or Banana Republic purchase could go into a $4.99 Gap or Banana Republic tote (which you would also use at the grocery store) – and every time you used your tote with subsequent purchases, you could enjoy a 5% discount. Think of the totes as a) a way to eliminate the cost of plastic bags in a company’s P&L, b) a way to gain some good PR karma by being “environmentally” conscious, and c) a new version of a discount card. The tote is the discount card.

For the smartest marketers out there, the tote could even be equipped with a chip that records its owner’s purchasing habits.

With the exception of the chip thing, if advertisers/vendors don’t start this branding trend, the tote bag manufacturers will when the adoption curve eventually flattens and sales grow stagnant. They will have to find ways to entice shoppers to buy – and even collect new totes.

This seems a little ridiculous and far fetched, but let’s revisit this in a year and see where things are. You might be surprised. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping an eye on what our Irish friends are doing in the tote department. Whatever trends emerge out of this, they will surely start there.

PS: I think that a set of Orange Yeti tote bags would be pretty fly.

Additional reading: Sixwise.com, China to ban plastic bags, Fashion tackles totes.

Have a great hump day, everyone.

Read Full Post »


Also known as steamed dicky.

Seriously.

Spotted Dick pudding.

Sounds delicious. Way to go, Heinz.

😀

photo by xris.

Read Full Post »

Words of genius from Damon Dimmick, over at UX Magazine:

When corporate marketing departments dream of brand design, they only dream as far as they need. The expensive and time consuming process of extending the brand into an interactive concept is usually pushed off until it becomes absolutely necessary.

“Unfortunately, by the time some serious rethinking is required, a lot of people have gotten stuck in the mud of static branding. It’s completely natural for companies to resist straying from the handful of predefined styles that were never meant to address web forms, widgets, calendars and menuing systems.”

“Of all the arguments for modifying brand attributes to better suit a digital experience, the most compelling is this: The way users feel about their experience is inseparable from the way they feel about your brand.

“This maxim holds true for brick-and-mortar experiences as well as for digital interactions. A restaurant with great food but incredibly long lines and a bad wait staff will experience brand damage. The user experience is bad, and people will look elsewhere. The same thing will happen if your users get baffled by confusing menus, hard-to-read text, and perplexing layouts. The user experience is bad, and people will look elsewhere.

The way a user feels when they come in contact with a brand interaction point will implicitly shape their image of the brand itself. This realization is a powerful tool for user experience professionals and can help snap clients and peers out of static thinking.

“It is helpful to remember that even the most accomplished companies have become experts at modifying brand attributes to suit interactive experiences. This is done without sacrificing brands, but rather by extending them.
Amen.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 🙂

Read Full Post »


This month on BrandingWire, the team is focusing on auto dealerships – a topic likely to produce some funny posts and hopefully identify certain specific areas in dire need of attention (or rather improvement) in that industry.

Let’s face it: Of all the “for profit” companies across every conceivable industry, independently-owned auto dealers arguably have the worst marketing in the world, and a significant image problem. If you don’t agree, you obviously never listen to FM radio in your car, you probably have TiVo, and your European-made cars either cost upward of $45K, or if they’re pre-owned, came from a nationally-owned car dealership chain like CarMax.

For the rest of us, dealing with car dealerships in any way shape or form is neither a pleasant nor a relaxing experience: What could be a fun shopping endeavor is usually ruined by slimy and overly aggressive salespeople. The slightest lapse of focus during the hours-long haggling dance will cost you thousands of dollars you could have shaved off the final price. The marketing is as annoying and uninviting as it gets: Loud, cheap, poorly produced, dumb, and often even deceptive.

Simply put, everything about dealing with an auto dealer – especially when it comes to used cars – is about as fun and relaxing as bobbing for pennies in snake-infested swampwater.

In light of this, and in order to maybe inspire some auto dealers to make some positive changes in the way they do business, here is The Brandbuilder’s list of the seven deadly marketing sins of automobile dealers. Some of the commentary on each one will provide some helpful advice to help dealerships avoid these pitfalls, and others are so self-explanatory that simply doing the exact opposite will have beneficial effects on both their business and their own personal reputation.

Maybe.

In no particular order, the seven deadly sins of auto dealers are:

1. Deception:

Have you ever spotted a killer deal on a car in a Saturday paper ad from a local auto dealer, only to find out when you get there that the car they were advertising has already been sold or has mysteriously gone out of stock? Yeah. Nice. How about those “We’ll give you $5,000 cash back on any car trade! Bring us your old beater, and we’ll give you $5,000 cash!” And when you put that offer to the test, it isn’t exactly that easy?

Maybe it’s just me, but tricking potential customers into coming to your retail location by lying to them isn’t the best way to get things started on the right foot. Making contracts and fine-print too complicated for even experienced lawyers to understand every detail clearly is not all that kosher either.

Sleazy Salesmen didn’t get that reputation by accident. I’m just not sure why so few of them (sales managers included) aren’t doing more to make that negative image history.

2. Screaming in Ads:

Maybe my brain is wired differently from everyone else’s, but here’s how it works: If I am listening to the radio while in my car, and an ad comes on in which some annoying guy is screaming some sales pitch at the top of his lungs, I’m going to jump to the next preselected station faster than you can yell “NO MONEY DOWN!”

Listen… I understand the whole “screaming to be heard” thing. I get it. I’ve been to open air markets. I know it’s a competitive world out there… but when you’re recording a radio ad, you don’t have to compete for anyone’s attention. You have a captive audience. Literally. They’re inside their cars. They’re probably strapped-in, even. They’re already listening, and as far as I can tell, they can only listen to one station (and one ad) at a time. Is it really necessary to scream at them? Perhaps more importantly, is screaming really the best way to communicate with potential customers?

Nope.

If Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, and just about every auto manufacturer’s national ads can manage to be cool, effective, and even sometimes inspiring without being loud, why is it that local dealers have to act like overcaffeinated lunatics on a cocaine high? Do they know something about a link between high decibel levels and the decision-making areas of the human brain that major national advertisers don’t?

Nope. I didn’t think so either.

3. Awful Creative:

There is a huge divide between the types of ads being produced by auto makers and the ads being produced by independently-owned auto dealerships. The first category is usually pretty effective, while the latter is absolutely horrendous in every way. Before some of you start proposing that major companies like Volkswagen, Volvo and Jaguar have huge Marketing budgets that allow for great creative, let me counter with this:

If “creativity is not device-dependent” (Bruce Mau), then creativity is not budget-dependent either: Anyone with a video camera, a laptop and $50 editing software can produce a clever, effective, and creative 30-second spot.

Likewise, anyone with a half way decent consumer-level 35mm or digital still camera and cheap photo/graphic design software (like JASC’s sub $100 Paintshop Pro if Photoshop or other pro level software is out of reach) can produce fantastic print ads and website designs.

I routinely encounter terrific work being done on nickel-and-dime budgets, and horrendous work that I know cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

If high school kids with absolutely no work experience or formal training can produce world-class home-made “ads” for Apple, KFC and other brands to post on You Tube just for fun, surely, auto dealerships (no matter how back-woods) can come up with a) better ideas for their ads, and b) half-way decent ways to turn these ideas into effective productions. If they aren’t accomplishing either task, they simply aren’t really trying.

4. Circus-Act Mojo:

This could fall under #3, but it deserves its own category: Some auto dealerships like to use circus animals like elephants and chimps in their ads. Others like to dress up their staff in ridiculous outfits and act out lame little “skits.”

*sigh*

The two latest local dealership ads to pollute the 864 airwaves with their horrendous skits involve a) a scuba-diving sales manager being eaten by a plastic toy shark in what may possibly be the worst blue-screen special effect sequence ever devised, and b) a not-so-sexy schoolteacher trying to create a parallel between a sex-ed filmstrip and… used cars at dealership XYZ. (The smirking greasy-haired tool sitting behind her in the empty classroom is either the sales manager, the dealership’s owner, her boyfriend, or possibly all three.) The ad would just be dumb and poorly produced, but Greasball Fred putting himself in the picture with his paramour is downright creepy.

Please make it stop.

Really.

Sure, people will remember your ad (grinning chimps in diapers are memorable, as are toy sharks eating fat white guys in mumu swimsuits, as are two guys in tuxedos throwing buckets of water at each other – I’ll give you that), but chances are that they won’t remember the name of your dealership or what your latest promotion was. What do circus acts and bad costumes have to do with buying or selling cars? Nothing.

This isn’t comedy. It isn’t even entertainment. It’s just dumb.

5. Poor Production Value:

Perhaps because most auto dealerships buy their advertising directly from media outlets (or through self-appointed middle-men) the creative and the production values tend to be pretty poor. Very few dealerships take the time to hire a creative (ad) agency to produce ads that don’t look like the family videos Uncle Ralph edits on his Windows 98 PC.

And beware the lure of the “agency” that specializes in dealership/automotive marketing and advertising. Unless they also develop ads for one of the area’s office of tourism, sporting events, cultural festivals and a plethora of other clients in a gaggle of industries, forget it. They’re probably going to suck too.

Because many car dealerships may not know where to go to get help with their production needs, here are several tips anyone can use to make a cheaply produced ad look a tad bit more professional:

– If you can’t find or afford a real stylist for the shoot, at least hire an experienced hair & makeup person. They aren’t that expensive, and trust me, you need one. (Shiny, sweaty foreheads look horrible, and bad hair doesn’t help sell anyone’s image.) Maybe they can help with wardrobe a bit too while they’re at it.

– Don’t shoot people in bright sun. I know that the default ad concept is to have folks be outside, walking the lot to show off the cars and whatnot, but there are ways to shoot outdoor ads in such a way that the sun doesn’t make them squint, blow out their skin, or make bright colors give viewers a headache. When in doubt, take a lighting guy on the shoot with you. And maybe an assistant or an intern to carry some reflector panels or diffusers or something. I might be a stickler for good lighting, but it makes an enormous difference in the way your ad looks.

– Don’t use cheap transition effects. They were cool in 1980’s Flock of Seagulls videos, but not anymore.

Correction: They weren’t cool back then either.

– Get a sound guy to come along on the shoot. Especially if it’s windy. Believe it or not, in the editing room, the big board with all of the knobs that looks like a giant equalizer can actually be used to clean up the sound quality and make the ad sound like it wasn’t made in your neighbor’s garage. Use it!

– Blue screens are banned from all auto dealership ads. Period. You aren’t 20th Century Fox or Imagine Entertainment. What you’re doing with blue screen technology isn’t CGI. It’s just crap. Don’t even think about going there ever again.

I mean it.

– If your people can’t look or sound natural on camera, hire actors. If you can’t hire actors, hire the Quiznos thingamajingies.

– Likewise, anyone with a strong regional accent, a mullet, more than three gold rings on the fingers of any one hand, or whose wardrobe is inspired by Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas is forbidden from ever being featured in any auto dealership ads,or my name ain’t Nathan Arizona.

– Before you shoot a commercial, develop a storyboard. (Sketch out a comic-book like concept for the ad.) Actually go through the visual narrative you are trying to achieve and put it to paper. Think about silly stuff like camera angles and flow and context. Figure out how to best shoot and edit a 30-second spot that will have the visual and emotional impact you want it to have. There’s a reason why the big boys of advertising do this. Copy their process. Learn how to produce professional work. Don’t settle for the A/B/C method of A) Shooting somebody verbally delivering the copy by talking at the camera, B) inserting panning footage of the product and location, and C) inserting crappy graphics at the end of the ad. Bleh. Come on. You can do better than that.

Most locally produced TV ads are horrible because they are produced directly by the TV station’s sales & marketing department – which isn’t all that creative to begin with. That makes the ads cheaper and easy to produce, sure, but it ensures that they will be average at best. (Somewhere between cheap and terrible is usually the norm.) Do yourselves a favor and hire someone with talent and the know-how to write, produce, and possibly even direct your spots.

Again, it isn’t that much more expensive, and you will more than get your money’s worth.

The radio and print stuff is usually less bad, but when your control group rests squarely at the very bottom of the production quality bucket, it’s hard to do worse, frankly.

6. Not Actually Building Value:

Q: Can every dealership really have the best deals and the cheapest prices?

A: Technically, no. Only one dealership can have the best deals and prices at any given time.

It’s just science.

And since every sale comes down to a tedious haggling process anyway, is a dealership’s main appeal really cheap prices? Is this what a dealership’s marketing should mainly focus on?

How about shifting the conversation to things like the quality of their cars, the excellence of their service department, their steadfast honesty, or even the unusually pleasant experience of shopping for a car at their dealership?

(I don’t care that it’s locally or family-owned, or that everyone who works there goes to Church on Sunday like good little boys and girls. Give me something genuine and relevant to hook my hopes to.)

Speaking of trying to project a positive image, nothing screams “classy” like a bunch of bored car salesmen huddled outside the front door, smoking cigarettes while they wait for their next victim to drive in.

Automatic turnoff.

Overly aggressive salesmen don’t work for most car shoppers either. All we really need from a car salesman is a friendly hello, and space. A good salesman is like a good waiter: Be there when I need you, but be out of sight when I don’t. I don’t need a chaperon, a buddy, or a stalker. I certainly don’t need to be bombarded by pitch after pitch. I’m a grown-up. Your cheap cracker-jack box Jedi mind tricks don’t work on me or anyone else with an IQ above 40.

(And at least, I can hang up on telemarketers, which makes them significantly less annoying than car salesmen. And that’s saying something.)

But back to the point: When you sell cheap, you sell desperate. What you should be selling instead is reliability, performance, honesty, and peace of mind. You should be selling the brand behind every car in your lot. You should be selling class and professionalism. You should be selling value, and not discounted promises. This isn’t just about the message you incorporate in your ads, but also (perhaps more so) about all of the actual shopping and aftermarket experiences your customers will get to enjoy.

7. Acting like a typical car dealership:

Let’s play a quick game of word association. I’ll write a word, and you tell me the first word that comes to your mind. (Try to make it an adjective that best describes that word.)

Here we go:

Lawyer.

Telemarketer.

Soapbox preacher.

Used car salesman.

See where we’re going with this?

As I’ve mentioned before, car salesmen (especially when they’re selling used cars) already have pretty poor reputations. They’re usually seen as a being sleezy, not particularly trustworthy, etc. So car dealerships have some trust issues to overcome. A forward-thinking car dealership owner/operator would be well served by an effort to distance himself/herself from this type of image and negative expectation.

What’s the smartest thing a car salesman can do? Casually but enthusiastically greet the customer with a smile, but without walking to them. Tell them you’ll be with them in a couple of minutes. Ask them if they need anything before you come back. Then disappear, and come back to ask them if they need help, and take it from there.

Why? Because the reflex of any and all shoppers is to say “I’m just looking, thanks.” Even if they have a question, they will automatically push away a salesperson who walks up to them. Better to give the customer their space, make them feel comfortable and appreciated, and let them dictate the way in which the conversation will take place.

Give them their space. Respect their space. Meet them half way and sell yourself as being helpful, friendly and honest instead if just trying to make a sale.

Aside from the specific sales tips, what we’re talking about here is differentiation: Making your dealership stand out from other dealerships – not just by producing better creative, but by truly being different – perhaps starting with the appearance, attitude, friendliness, charisma and mindset of your sales force. This is a good first step in effectively building a great reputation and developing a strong referral business.

Here are the five basic steps to get you started:

1) Decide that you need to be different.
2) Understand why you need to be different.
3) Decide how to be different.
4) Decide to commit to 1-3.
5) Create means by which this can be communicated to both employees and potential customers. (Advertising, word-of-mouth, customer experience design, revamping internal processes, hiring the right people, extensive training of employees, attention to detail, etc.)

The answer to #1 and #2 could be simply to be better than the competition for the sake of having a more successful business. It could also be about having moral reasons for not cutting corners where others have (deceptive advertising, sleazy sales tricks, etc.) It could also simply be about wanting to be better. (Pride in one’s work and fostering a good reputation are more important than maximizing profits at all costs to many people, and I can certainly relate to that.)

The answer to #3 is simply about observation: Find out what you and your potential customers hate about your competitors, and do the exact opposite. If you find that most people hate being followed by salesmen, teach your staff to be more subtle with their stalking. If the haggling process is a drag, get rid of it, or make it more customer-friendly. Find out if cheap ugly ties and dirty shoes on your sales staff are a turnoff. Look at everything, from the way cars are organized on your lot to how you choose to design your lobby and offices. Details like the type of coffee you brew and how it alters the way your offices smell can make a huge difference. Do you offer your potential customers a cup of delicious coffee or some home-made cookies when they walk in? Are you using cheap paper cups, or actual china? Are your people friendly and happy? Is your lot a place where customers will feel comfortable, or uncomfortable? Will they be impressed with it, or turned off? Will they want to actually hang out there, or get away as fast as they can? Are you giving them any reason to talk to their friends and co-workers about you? (This could be positive or negative.) Do your research.

Get past the lure element of your business. The object of the game isn’t just about getting as many people as possible to come to your lot, or throwing an ever changing team of salesmen at them. I know it’s a numbers’ game but if you are turning off 94% of your visitors, you are giving away 94% of your business to your competitors. Why spend all of your budget and energy on bringing so many people to your business if all you manage to do is chase them away when they get there? That makes absolutely no sense.

The decision to be different, to actually stand out, to create a positive reputation for yourself in your industry, and to actually create a brand for yourself could be all the momentum and sense of direction you need to turn that 6% closing rate into 12%. Or 20%. Or more.

* * *

Car dealerships are retail businesses, just like restaurants, night clubs, record stores, hotels and coffee shops, to name just a few. As such, there is no reason why their marketing, ethics, or focus on customer happiness should be any worse than businesses in other industries.

Bad ads are worthless and send the wrong message.

Deceptive marketing tactics will destroy a business faster than you can say “lawsuit.”

Dreadful customer experiences are the kiss of death for any repeat business or word-of-mouth referrals.

What would happen to your bottom-line if 90% of people who come to your restaurant took a look at your menu and walked out? What would happen to your business if your reputation was so horrendous that 90% of your customers told all of their friends, family members and co-workers never to do business with you? Why should car dealerships be any different?

Wowing the customer, creating a bond of trust with them, making them feel happy and excited about their purchase before they even get to test drive a car, during the signing, and even long after they’ve driven off the lot (making them want to come back or share their positive experience with others) are all crucial things to focus on.

Call me crazy, but a car dealership isn’t just a sales organization. It has to be much more than that.

On the flip side, being just like everybody else, focusing on pushing the sale instead of helping it along, not taking care of a customer as well after the sale as you did before, being deceptive, selling discounts instead of value, spending money on annoying and ineffective ads… these are all ways to earn get absolutely nowhere fast, and in this case, perpetuate a negative image that does nothing to help anyone in the auto dealership world grow, prosper, or even feel unabashed pride in a good day’s work.

Why more car dealerships don’t get this is still beyond me. Hopefully, this and the rest of the posts from this month’s BrandingWire project will help change things for the better.

One can hope.

Have a great week, everyone. 😉

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »