IS YOUR PROBLEM NOW YOUR CUSTOMER'S PROBLEM?
Once upon a time, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were doing a home re-fi.
We were living in Los Angeles, and were buying a cute little cabin in the mountains of Utah. We had enough equity in our home that it seemed smart to use some of that equity on another investment.
The timing ended up being tight.
Three days after closing on the loan, we'd be closing on the cabin.
We would have the cash in hand just three days before being required to hand it to the sellers.
The loan docs showed up for our signatures, and...
The cash-out amount was 33% short.
We got on the phone with the mortgage broker.
We explained the situation.
He was stunned.
First, he apologized profusely.
Next, he said he was going to jump through every hoop possible.
He would attempt to fix the loan before the closing on our cabin.
And then he said, "If I can't make it happen in time, I will cover the shortage. I will write you a check from my personal account. You will be able to close without delay."
THAT WAS IMPRESSIVE
This man had made a mistake and was prepared to write us a five-figure check to cover his error until the error could be corrected.
He is not licensed to write home loans in Utah, where we now live. If he were, he'd have our undying loyalty for all our mortgage business.
In fact, we hadn't spoken to him in a couple of years, and we recently reached out to him for some re-financing advice.
Despite the fact that there was no business in it for him, he was happy to consult.
THIS MAN IS HIS BRAND
His business has a name that speaks to his values without being on-the-nose about it.
The brand is infused with his personality and ethics, and he lives up to it all in a way that engenders devotion and repeat business from legions of faithful clients.
When we had a problem, he went well above and beyond to correct it.
He had created the problem, and never expected us to pay the price.
It was impressive.
With that as a yardstick, something different just happened to us.
IT WAS EQUALLY IMPRESSIVE FOR THE WRONG REASONS
As part of a new business venture, Honey and I are buying a new and rather large vehicle.
We've been working with a dealer here in Utah.
There's one particular unit we need, and the last one was sold off the lot while we were looking at our options.
The last one available to us was with the dealer's outlet in Florida.
There was little room for negotiation, as the price was already rock-bottom. Extensive research showed that, at 35% below sticker, and what two-year-old models were selling for, we could probably buy the thing and resell it immediately at a profit.
We tried to grind the salesman, but we knew there wasn't much point.
WE ALSO FINANCED ABOUT 60% OF THE PURCHASE THROUGH THE DEALER
Our research showed that there were no better rates to be had out there.
So getting financing through the dealer would be more convenient for us, and would make the deal a little sweeter for them.
Then, we had to arrange the pickup in Florida.
We looked at the calendar.
Hmm. It's the end of the month.
Not only were we anxious to get the vehicle, but management in Florida would like a sold unit off the lot.
And the unspoken part? The sooner we got the rig off the lot, the sooner our sales guy would get paid.
If we didn't take delivery until next month, he wouldn't get paid until next month.
SO WE INCONVENIENCED OURSELVES
We paid more in airfare by buying plane tickets a week out instead of waiting two or more weeks, when the fares would be lower.
In sum: we'd paid close to the asking price on the vehicle, done the financing with the dealer (which just happened to be through the same credit union we would've used anyway), and expedited pickup to get there the last day of the month.
They're making money.
At least they told us the dealer in Florida would pick us up at the airport. That was convenient.
Until it wasn't.
Our sales guy called.
"I have bad news. They can't pick you up at the airport. It's the last day of the month and they're too busy. You're going to have to take a cab or an Uber."
I PULLED OUT ONE OF HONEY'S FAVORITE WORDS
It's the "D" word.
I said, "I'm disappointed. We didn't grind you on the price, we arranged financing through you, we paid twice as much for airfare to get there by the end of the month to get it off their lot because it's better for them and, presumably, better for your commission check. So now this? I'm disappointed."
He began talking a lot, explaining all kinds of things about business already gone by, and I stopped him.
I said, "Please don't explain it. You're not making it better."
He said, "Let me call you back."
A FEW MINUTES LATER, THE PHONE RANG AGAIN
He said, "If they can't pick you up at the airport, we'll pay for your Uber."
As it should be.
Unfortunately, it may have been too little too late.
Welcome to a culture of cheap, and a culture of self-centered focus.
Those are not good qualities for anyone to reveal to a customer.
One of the last things any business should ever do is tell a customer, "We know you spent more than you had to, but we have to renege on this tiny portion of our agreement, and inconvenience you, so we can make more money."
THEY MADE THEIR PROBLEM OUR PROBLEM
Think about the mortgage broker who was going to write a five-figure check out of his own account to cover his mistake.
He didn't have to do that--but he was really smart to say he would.
We had a deposit on a house, we were preparing to close, and we could have easily lost the deal. The seller could have been unwilling to cooperate. Other people wanted the house. We just happened to get there first.
But after being a good and agreeable customer for the vehicle dealer, they could've queered a five-figure deal by not offering to pay $35 in car fare after deciding it was inconvenient for them to provide transportation they'd said was possible.
"It's the end of the month. We have to make more money. We offered to do this for you, but now we realize it's inconvenient for us. Sorry."
WHAT SHOULD THEY HAVE DONE?
The first words out of the sales guy's mouth after saying, "They can't pick you up," should have been "But, we'll pay for your Uber."
It would cost them less than .0005% of the entire deal, and buy them unmeasurable amounts of goodwill.
Instead, it's just a disappointment.
Maybe it was an honest mistake.
Maybe it was a lapse in judgment that doesn't reflect the true colors of the company culture.
One can hope.
Because right now, we're feeling just a little stung over the idea of not being worth $35 to these people who have taken an enormous chunk of change from us.
A BRAND IS INFUSED WITH A COMPANY'S CULTURE
A brand is a living entity pulsating with the company's behaviors and attitudes and beliefs and its respect for the customer.
There will always be problems inside the brand. It's a fact of life about doing business with human beings.
But when those problems become the customer's problems, that's when both the brand and the customer lose.
The moral of the story is: When your company has internal problems, make them your own.
Eat your problems.
Don't feed them to the customer.
You'll do better, and they'll come back.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
"WHAT AM I SAYING?"
No, not me, your faithful rantmeister.
You. As the advertiser.
What are YOU saying?
And TO WHOM are you saying it?
Does your message make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
Or does it just lie there, like a dead fish, lacking any purpose in the world?
HMM. SOUNDS LIKE ADVERTISING EXISTENTIALISM.
"Oh, man. Existentialism? There he is, going all long-haired and philosophical on us. What a waste of time!"
Because this is ultimately about not flushing advertising money down the commode.
But maybe we need to ask, what IS existentialism, anyway?
Besides a fulltime pursuit for intolerable bores and miserable people (as one philosophy major I know once described existentialists), existentialism is fundamentally about one thing: meaning.
For a little backstory, let's visit Demark in the 1800s , and a young gentleman who is a philosopher, theologian, poet and social critic with a fondness for irony, parables and metaphor.
His name is Søren Kierkegaard. (Yes, I know a smattering of Danish. I sound like one of those newscasters of Hispanic heritage who speaks perfect, unaccented American English until they say their own name.)
KIERKEGAARD IS CONSIDERED THE FIRST EXISTENTIALIST PHILOSOPHER
And he proposed that each of us--you, me, Mom, the milkman, their child--each of us is personally responsible for giving authentic and passionate meaning to life.
To dumb this down for the overtaxed mind of us 21st century marketing folks, let's turn to Existentialism For Dummies.
Yes, I have a copy in front of me. It's easier than hiring a philosophy professor. And it was written by two philosophy professors.
The first paragraph of the first chapter of the book is exactly eight words long.
"Existentialism is the philosophy that makes life possible."
HOW'S THAT FOR SIMPLE?
The philosophy that makes life possible.
So, by that measure, what is advertising existentialism?
Advertising existentialism is the philosophy that makes sales possible.
I just wrote that.
So, now what?
What does that mean?
Well, advertising is a sales message.
A philosophy is an idea, an attitude, a viewpoint, a way of thinking, even a way of life.
So, advertising existentialism is a way of thinking about sales messages that go out into the world
To make that sales message worthwhile, it must have purpose and meaning.
AN ADVERTISING MESSAGE HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING
Unfortunately, most advertising messages are an exercise in meaninglessness.
This not a swipe at small-business advertising.
It is not a swipe at big-agency advertising.
It is a swipe at meaningless advertising.
Look around you.
There are messages without meaning coming at you every minute of every hour of every day unless you live like Ted Kaczynski, in a remote wilderness shack without electricity or indoor plumbing.
And the height of his anti-social behavior is a whole other brand of existentialism we will not visit here, other than to say his message was clear. Kaboom.
MEANINGLESSNESS DOES NOT ENGENDER A SENSE OF WORTH OR VALUE
And ultimately, advertising has to convey some sense of worth or value.
It can be as simple as guaranteeing the lowest price of any national chain motel while making you feel special.
Or it can be as lofty as being entrusted with delivering excellence and value in the form of a $350,000 car that belies a vision of changing the world.
Motel 6, meet Rolls Royce.
That's quite a range of worth and value. Many, many others fall in between on that vast spectrum. Your business is probably one of them.
So, here now, an example of a common kind of co-op advertisement.
A PHOTOGRAPH OF A PRODUCT
The product might be a refrigerator. Hard to be certain.
Above the photograph is the local advertiser's name, which you may not know.
Beneath the photograph is the manufacturer's name, which you also may not know.
And that's all.
If the need for worth and value are a given, does this advertisement measure up?
What is it saying?
Who is it saying it to?
Does it make a point?
Does it evoke an emotional response?
IT'S EXPENSIVE AND IT'S UNCLEAR
Some manufacturer probably paid a lot of co-op money.
And the local advertiser probably paid more money.
And the only message is a Post-It Note that says, "If you know who we are, and what this is, we sell it."
As a bonus, this ad is on a billboard.
So the person reading it has very little time to process it.
And there's almost nothing to process.
Especially in the context of 70-mile-an-hour traffic, if you don't give the reader some reason to pay attention, the advertising has no reason for being.
SO HOW ABOUT THIS...
Instead of the advertiser's name at the top of the ad, how about a headline?
"This Swiss refrigerator is cooler than your German car."
And then, at the bottom, the brand name and the advertiser's name.
What is it saying? What point is it making to whom?
It's saying, "You are a certain kind of person with a certain kind of taste. Even if you've never heard of it, this product is for you. We have it here."
And does it evoke an emotional response? Of course it does. Suddenly, for the person who likes precision cars and enjoys a luxury lifestyle, it evokes intrigue, curiosity, amusement, interest, maybe even desire.
SUDDENLY, THE MESSAGE CONVEYS A SENSE OF WORTH AND VALUE
And all it took was took nine words.
I wrote in less time than it took me to explain it.
Of course, I'm conditioned. I am immersed in a mindset of advertising existentialism. I see or hear a meaningless ad and I want to apply meaning.
I also write these kinds of things daily.
But I wasn't born this way.
I've learned to think this way.
And the extent of my training and my learning by doing might make me faster at it.
But it doesn't make me special.
And anyone who creates advertising or buys advertising or sells advertising is able to ask the question...
DOES THIS MATTER?
Does this message tell the reader anything?
What is the message?
What does the reader take away?
What are we doing this for?
Having seen the message, how should the reader feel now?
And what should they do next?
One of the problems with really good advertising is that it seems effortless.
And when something seems effortless, people often don't think very hard about doing it.
YOU HAVE TO THINK HARD ABOUT DOING IT
Because if you don't, the advertising is good money spent badly.
Talking about a billboard (which, in this case, could've just as easily been a print ad) is pretty simple to do.
Talking about this in the context of radio or TV advertising is a bigger challenge because of all the moving parts.
People think websites are immune to this problem. Website frequently exhibit this problem, possibly more so than any other medium.
Pay-per-click advertising. When was the last time you saw a pay-per-click ad that made you care? Most of the time, you just gloss right over them.
For everything, it’s still the same, fundamental problem.
Radio especially is crawling with immature writers who don't understand how to craft a relevant message.
But you find those people everywhere, even in ad agencies. As an advertising copywriter, the Fabulous Honey Parker was once teamed with an ad agency art director whose only goal was not to create advertising that sells, but create advertising that wins an award.
THAT IS NOT THE MISSION
The mission of any advertising professional is to craft a message that resonates with the prospect in a way that turns him into a buyer.
The advertising professional is presumably trained in this.
To have any other goal is corrupt.
To not know that's your goal is negligent.
To be a small-business owner who isn't trained this way is a fact of life.
Learning to think this way is actually pretty easy. It's harder to find someone who will tell you as much.
So here it is: a guy telling you as much.
Be an advertising existentialist.
Ask what and why.
Your advertising will thank you by sending you more customers.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
When we were doing a lot of live presentations, this is a refrain that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I would repeat from the stage.
The reason that we would say it is because, for the small-business owner, it was true.
We also used examples of people who had changed their businesses by rebranding, and had changed their lives.
We even had videos of them, saying things like the new branding "taught us how to be out in the world."
That might seem like a strange thing for a grown adult to be saying--until you realize that the person who said it is also a professional actor.
And who knows better the need for cues about "How to be out in the world" than someone whose performance upon a stage requires an objective third party providing direction?
AND OF COURSE, "ALL WORLD'S A STAGE...
"And all the men and women merely players..."
We'll not be going far enough into that old chestnut to get to the less popular line about "mewling and puking."
Instead, we'll just point out that the Bard of Stratford Upon Avon himself gave us the metaphor about the world being a stage.
And an actor on a stage benefits from direction by a third party.
And last week we, as de facto directors of brand, had an in interesting experience out in the world.
We did something unusual.
We visited a client business, and personally presented the new brand to 45 employees.
Understand, we have no problem visiting a client's business and making such a presentation.
It's just that, for many small-business owners, the branding budget is micro-sized.
GETTING ON A PLANE FOR SUCH A VISIT IS A LUXURY
Especially if a client is in hard-to-reach rural New Hampshire or tropical-paradisiacal Cebu.
But when a client is as big as this one, and the plane flight is only 90 minutes, why the heck not?
Besides, this was a big deal.
After 38 years in business, this family retail superstore was changing its brand name.
The original name, if uninventive and unsurprising, was clear. Which is fine. Building an empire over 38 years is one heck of an achievement.
If you can do that by giving yourself a clear and obvious name, have at it.
BUT THIS IS THE 21ST CENTURY
It was deemed time for this business to evolve its brand to meet the 21st century.
They need to compete in a way that brings retail customers in out of the internet and into a brick & mortar store--especially to a store that's family-owned and flies in the face of the institutionalized and mediocre experience at its big-box competitors.
This brick & mortar store is superb.
Theirs is a retail experience unlike any other in the category.
It's the kind of place that makes you glad family-owned retail stores still exist.
Populated by good people and excellent products, they make you feel welcome, they make you feel at home, and they make feel like you're doing something really good for yourself.
Those kinds of things are really important to this brand.
And they weren't being reflected in the branding.
SLOW BURN'S JOB WAS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT
Over the last few months, we'd been interviewing the management team, key staff members and select customers.
We'd been putting the information gathered through the Slow-Burn branding processor.
And the results that came out the other end?
They have made the management team giddy.
It was now time to unveil the brand to the people who make the business happen every day.
So we stood there, in the store, in front of about 45 people. This included the founder, the owners, management, sales staff, office staff, warehouse staff and truck drivers.
Everyone who impacts this brand, and is impacted by it, was sitting there, eating bagels and drinking coffee and waiting patiently.
I HAD A LITTLE TREPIDATION
Not about speaking to a crowd.
After all, Honey and I have stood on stages as far flung as Los Angeles and Kuala Lumpur, speaking to audiences of thousands of small-business owners, explaining brand and how it can make their businesses stronger.
But this was the first time that we had ever stood in front of four dozen people whose lives were about to be impacted by a new mission statement, a new goal, their first-ever core customer definition, and a designation for the one way that core customer should feel about their business.
How were they going to take it?
Would they be glad to have new, de facto rules?
Or would they resist?
Would they say, "Who are these carpetbaggers and why should I heed their directives?"
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN?
Cue the PowerPoint!
It took about 20 minutes.
Technically speaking, our performance went well.
But watching the audience--watching everyone from the founder to the truck drivers--it was clear that something was happening.
It was clear that a new brand name, new signage, new truck graphics, even new business cards--along with a new tagline--had flipped a switch.
You could see sales people nodding their heads.
You could see warehouse workers and truck drivers lighting up.
You could see the founder getting choked up.
As the manager said to me afterwards, "I really like the buzz in here this morning."
YES, THEY ALL APPLAUDED WITH ENTHUSIASM
But something more important happened in those moments.
Everyone on the staff became galvanized.
They were suddenly able to rally around a new name and a new brand and a new way of being in the world.
And they also had new business cards.
That might sound insignificant.
But this business card is sexy. It looks--and feels amazing. Grown men have been seen fondling it beyond what is considered a decent interval.
And when you drive a truck for a retail store, and you've never had a business card?
THIS IS A GAME CHANGER
Afterwards, one of the truck drivers came to the founder.
He said, "So, if I go on a delivery, and I give that woman my business card, and she feels happy enough that she gives it to someone who comes into the store to buy something, what do I get?"
All of a sudden, the truck driver was ready to up his game.
His participation in the circle of retail life had more impact.
He was ready to drive more than just a white box truck.
He was ready to drive business.
He was ready to make that customer feel one way about the store he works for.
It was gratifying that salespeople came up individually and thanked us for the work.
IT WAS UNEXPECTED THAT TRUCK DRIVERS WOULD EMBRACE IT EQUALLY
For years, we've had clients tell us how new branding galvanizes their teams.
One even spoke about how it was like flipping a switch.
When she presented the new brand and its new language to her staff, they immediately rose to it.
It changed the performance in her office that very day.
But this was the first time we had the privilege of watching the result with four dozen people in attendance.
And it changed everyone's demeanor that very day.
Management is now deciding how they're going to incentivize and reward truck drivers (and anyone else not in sales) for driving business to the store.
And the owners are feeling something they haven't felt in a while.
THEY FEEL THE STRUGGLE MELTING AWAY
An outdated name.
An outdated and incongruous look.
To hear them describe it, it was almost as if there were a millstone around their necks.
Rebranding is an act of courage, especially after 38 years.
And now, they have a brand new suit of clothes.
They have a new way of knowing how to be out in the world.
We feel a little like Stacy & Clinton from What Not To Wear.
Do not underestimate the value of what your brand does for your psyche.
The right focus on how to be out in the world is a powerful thing.
And it can make everyone in your business raise the bar and do better for themselves--and for you.
Change your business.
Change your life.
Change your brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director
in Park City
SO THERE IT IS, COMING AT ME OUT OF THE RADIO
The famous local radio host (who is obviously pretending to be live, since he's not on the air for another three hours) says something like this:
"You hear a lot of mortgage advertising here on [the name of this radio station], but one I've recommended for years is National Loans. [Not their real name.] They get you the lowest interest rates available. And the best loan for your situation. They have all kinds of loans. Right now, they have 3.875 percent on a 30-year fixed. And if you want to pull out some cash out for home improvements, they can do that, too."
Blah blah blah blah.
I don't even remember if there was a tagline.
There sure wasn't any effort at focus.
Low rates. All loans. Cash out re-fi.
It's an exercise in throwing a handful of stuff at the listener and hoping some of it sticks.
But it won't. Because nothing is sticky. It's calculated to make the listener glaze over and start thinking, "Do I need to cut my toenails?"
THERE MAY BE NO OTHER CATEGORY THAT BETTER DEMONSTRATES HOW NOT TO ADVERTISE
The word "Mortgage" is French for "death note." And that is a really apt metaphorfor much of the category's advertising.
It's so bad, I once wrote a book about it.
This was back in 2004.
It set a first-day sales record for Wizard Academy Press.
The book explained how bad the advertising is, and how to make it better.
Routinely, I'd get emails from advertisers who'd read the book. They'd say, "I loved your book! Here's my new commercial!"
And I'd listen to it or read the script, and I'd think, "OK, seems the only part you read was how not to do it."
Why don't these guys pay attention? It's not complicated.
The book was called Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.
YES, IT SOUNDS REALLY BORING
It's also mercifully short.
And as one reviewer said, "If I only owned one book on Radio it would be this one. I'm a little bummed the title says Mortgage Radio since truly this is a radio copywriter's secret weapon...no matter what the product."
But if what we do here in the screed is learn from other people's mistakes, the mortgage category is a brilliant learning tool.
Let's take the message mentioned at the beginning of the screed. Let's forget the category for a second.
What advertiser on a radio station wants to hear himself lumped in with all the other advertisers in the category that aren't endorsed by this host?
"THANKS GIVING US YOUR MONEY, BUT YOU'RE NOT AS GOOD AS THIS GUY!"
There's a way to win friends and influence people.
Now, the jab at the other advertisers aside, here's the problem with advertising, "Low rates!"
It's the price of entry.
Nobody wants to pay high rates.
What customer wants to pay more? None.
You also can't throw a series of bullet points at a customer and expect it to mean anything.
You. Need. Focus.
You need to pick one thing to talk about.
You need to make it matter to one person.
DO THAT, AND ONE PERSON WILL CARE
And then, that one person will call.
Along with a whole bunch of other individuals just like him or her.
This works. That simple.
But, I was thinking, Am I being too hard on the category? Should I cut them some slack?
So I started by looking at that advertiser's website.
No, I'm not being too hard.
"Welcome to National Loans, one of the leading mortgage companies in the city."
How's that for a meaningful introduction?
"IT'S ALL ABOUT US AND NOT ABOUT YOU!"
The site's copy was blossoming with words and phrases listed in the Little Boy's Big Book Of Hackneyed Copywriting.
"Lowest rates ."
"Level of service."
"In business for XX years."
"Better Business Bureau A+ rating."
"The best loan program for every individual situation."
"You won't find better rates or lower costs anywhere else."
"Trained and experienced."
AND JUST FOR FUN?
The copy shifts the narrative voice.
It starts by talking about "You," as a customer, then suddenly starts talking about customers as "Them."
And here's the kicker.
Buried way deep in the copy that doesn't demand to read, there's a feature that actually makes sense.
It could have been used to inform a brand direction.
It could have made the prospect feel good about the purchase.
It could have made this company matter.
And it was hidden down in the depths of banal words and lazy phrasing.
BUT STILL: AM I BEING TOO HARD ON THE CATEGORY?
So I continued searching the category.
National Loans (not their real name), meet State Loans (also not their real name).
But the names might as well be real. They're both close enough.
"Begin Your Dream of Home Ownership."
"Trust. Experience. Knowledge. Commitment."
"All loan programs available."
My favorite: "Do you qualify? Find out now in 60 seconds."
Is that now?
Or in a minute from now?
"Buying a home?"
"WE DO EVERYTHING AND WE STAND FOR NOTHING! WELCOME!"
I kept digging.
There is a bevy of brand names so generic, they could be interchangeable and they make the prospect feel nothing useful.
There's endless banal phrasing.
"Setting a higher standard."
"Putting customers first."
"Get started on your journey to home ownership."
"Becoming a Homeowner In This State Has Never Been Easier."
"One of the state's premier mortgage lenders." With the name of the state spelled wrong. Nice.
Here's my favorite, which does actually take a stab at differentiation and giving the prospect a reason to care--but in doing so, shoots itself in the foot: "We are a 100% referral-based business. 100% of our business comes from folks like you."
THEN WHY ARE YOU ADVERTISING?
The copy goes on to proclaim they don't need any of the elements of good branding. They actually profess to be immune to things that help the prospect recall them and feel good about the business.
I dug through pages of Google search results and plowed through paragraphs of trite and trivial copywriting hoping to find something that matters.
And I did.
It wasn't brilliant.
BUT IT WAS AN HONEST AND THOUGHTFUL EFFORT TO MATTER
Many of these websites have generic videos offering words, and the company names are tacked on.
But this guy (whose company name was not grand and stately, but small and folksy) brands himself as "A better way to mortgage."
And down the page is a video, not fancy, not slick, just very real and honest, in which the guy explains "Four simple steps to your best loan."
And the website reinforces that simplicity.
Yeah, it has some typical mortgage website stuff. Loan calculator. Rates.
But ultimately, it's very simple, very clear, and wants you to have "A better way to mortgage" through four simple steps.
IT'S JUST NOT THAT HARD
Stand for something.
Matter to your customer.
Make it simple.
Don't tell me you're honest and you put the customer first. Show me. Demonstrate your worth.
Define your core customer, and deliver one coherent message that makes the customer feel one right thing about your business.
We can all do this. The size of the business doesn't matter.
Yes, mortgage advertising has rules and regs that most of the rest of us don't.
They also have a much higher-value customer than most of us do. They can afford to hire advertising people who Get It.
If you can't or won't do it yourself, hire a real pro. Not the guy with the lowest fees. Someone with obvious proficiency.
A real pro understands how to tap into the advertiser's psyche, the customer's psyche, and bring them together in a place where magic happens and the phone rings.
That's today's soapbox. And please, do not go buy Million-Dollar Mortgage Radio.Check it out on Amazon, and if you really think you want it, I will send you a hard copy for free. Just send an email to submissions at slow burn marketing dot com. This offer is good until May 15, 2017. Which you can remember because it's also everyone's favorite holiday, Relive Your Past By Listening To The First Music You Ever bought No Matter What It Was No Excuses Day. Really.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
As the longtime fan of this wretched rant knows, we go against the grain.
Most small-business marketing pros will tell you to ignore branding and big-brand advertising. It has nothing to offer you in any way vis a vis modelling it for your own marketing.
And most of the time, those big brands get everything wrong anyway. Right?
Not right at all.
Here at Slow Burn Marketing, we are huge fans of big brands.
They often do get it right, and they often can serve as a model for your own marketing--IF you understand what they're doing and how you can do it in your own, small, under-budgeted world.
BUT EVEN BETTER FOR ALL OF US IS WHEN THEY DO GET IT ALL WRONG
Because we then get to indulge in schadenfreude and hilarity.
A great example is the Kendall Jenner Pepsi video from the first week of April.
Presumably, you've not been hiding under a bottle cap for the last month.
You are aware of the poop storm that swirled around Pepsi's 2-minute, 39-second short film.
In it, model and reality-TV star Kendall Jenner casts off the artifice of a high-fashion photo shoot and joins her peeps in the streets in a puzzling and benign protest march, and she ultimately brings the world together by handing a swarthy, ethnically indeterminate police officer a bottle of Pepsi Cola.
The internet went berserk.
And not in a good way.
The most repeated phrase was, "Tone-deaf." The advertisement was savaged for co-opting "Black Lives Matter iconography." The backlash was so intense that Pepsi pulled the video within a day.
MAKES YOU GLAD YOU COULDN'T AFFORD TO HIRE KENDALL JENNER OR HUNDREDS OF EXTRAS, RIGHT?
Even though you thought it might be nice to advertise your flower shop by having a socially-protesting supermodel insert long-stemmed roses into the rifle barrels of National Guardsmen, all to the tune of Pharrell Williams' "Happy."
We won't bother going into how something like the Kendall Jenner video came to be, other than to say: feel free to blame it on executive hubris, and that oft-dreaded beast of bad advertising, the in-house marketing department.
And again, why should you care?
We'll get to that in a moment.
First, let's look at the new video that's being heralded as the anti-Pepsi, anti-Jenner throw down.
Last week, the internet erupted in accolades and laurels for Dutch beer producer, Heineken.
IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE VIDEO, IT'S THE AUTHENTIC YANG TO PEPSI'S INAUTHENTIC YIN
In this video, pairs of Brits who don't know one other are made to cooperate in a series of small tasks.
As these real people execute these tasks, they also don't know that they've been set up.
Prior to being put together in the room, each of these people has been prompted to speak to the camera about their social and political views.
A climate-change denier. An environmental doomsayer.
An anti-feminist white gent. A pro-feminist black woman.
These pairs are put in a room together and made to build something.
They end up getting along, and amicably discussing their differences...
Over a beer.
THIS ADVERTISING MESSAGE IS NOT GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD
Nobody is going to solve world hate by drinking a Heineken with their imagined nemesis.
In fact, you could argue that this effort is just as socially irrelevant as the Pepsi video.
But here's what the Heineken message does not do: it does not act in a tone-deaf manner.
It instead puts its finger right on the pulse of the zeitgeist and says, "I feel ya."
It doesn't spend huge amounts of money fabricating a silly scenario that trivializes Big Problems so a soft drink can be positioned as heroic.
Instead, it lets real people with big differences behave in a real and surprising manner, and the beer gets to be a vehicle for transporting them to a place of thoughtful discussion.
IN SIMPLE TERMS?
The first one is inauthentic and insulting.
The second one is authentic and gracious.
One is repellent.
The other is attractive.
And neither of them is going to change the world.
But at least one of them, because of where it sits relative to world problems, is going to leave you feeling good about the product.
So what on earth does any of this have to do with the small-business marketer?
ECONOMIES OF SCALE, MY FRIEND
You might not be able to afford a grand location shoot with a supermodel and a hundred extras.
You might not even be able to afford a "reality" TV shoot which, at a fraction of the other's budget, still costs what is, for you, a year's revenue.
But your take away is simple: you cannot afford to be inauthentic.
Resonating with an attractive authenticity is key.
And that kind of resonance doesn't have a budget.
Emotionally relevant, genuinely attractive messages that illustrate a better reality cost no more than the price of smart thinking.
And that thinking begins with a simple question...
WHERE IS YOUR CUSTOMER'S JOY?
Executed correctly and with finesse, your marketing will find and portray that joy at the intersection of your customer's reality, and your product or service.
Your brand and the resulting advertising should evoke a resonant authenticity that makes the core customer think, I feel good about this guy.
Too often, especially in radio advertising, people feel compelled to be clever or, worse, funny.
"We need some funny advertising! That'll have folks flocking into our funeral home!"
Well, I don't know about that.
"Oh, come on! I've been doing this my entire life! The first three letters in 'funeral' spell 'fun!'"
Well, maybe for you. Not for the person requiring your services.
BUT CAN YOU STILL FIND JOY AT THE INTERSECTION OF YOUR PRODUCT AND THAT PERSON?
Years ago, the Forest Lawn chain of cemeteries and memorial parks ran a radio campaign called, "Celebrate A life."
Each message was a single voice telling a story, recounting the life of someone special--and how that special person was remembered in the context of a Forest Lawn memorial service.
One was about the guy who loved Dixieland, and there was a jazz band that played.
Another was about the guy who was an avid motorcycle rider, and an epic ride was held in his honor.
And far more engaging than the vast majority of the category's rational, left-brain messages justifying the benefits of advance-planning packages.
THOSE MESSAGES TRY TO RATIONALIZE A DEEPLY EMOTIONAL PROPOSITION
And nobody wants to hear it. That simple.
It's necessary to remember that the decision to buy is like the decision to do anything else: it is made in the emotional centers of the brain, and rationalized afterwards.
That means a relevant, resonant, emotionally attractive message is key.
Frequently, the small-business marketer's message lacks relevance, resonance and emotional attraction.
Granted, it takes some skill to create such a message. But more than that, it takes awareness and understanding and a focus on your core customer.
It's also easier to craft that message once you understand what your brand means to your core customer, and how you want that customer to feel.
So often, the small-business marketer comes to the table pushing an ego-driven agenda like, "We need to by funny!" Or, "We need more bullet points!"
OR, "WE NEED A SUPERMODEL TO USE OUR PRODUCT TO END SOCIAL STRIFE!"
In the final analysis, for all of us, no matter how big or small our budgets, all of our marketing is about selling our stuff.
But when you authentically understand what is really going on in your customer's life, and can speak in an authentic manner about solving that problem, your marketing wins.
But when egos rule, and somebody up the chain of command tells you it's time to trot out the supermodel, things change.
Supermodels have their place.
As does comedy.
As do bullet points.
But all of them pale by comparison to the simple skill of holding the mirror up to your customer's needs, wants and fears, and reflecting them onto the better reality you have in store for them.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.