ARE YOU A SKEPTIC?
Do you doubt the Slow Burn Marketing Mantra--the one that says your brand is the one way you core customer should feel about your business?
Because certainly, there are the doubters out there.
There are those who argue that it's really all about having a better product, and making an intellectual argument for it.
Well then, just to prove a point (and have some fun at the expense of others), we are now going to look at a market where emotion rules.
This is a market where intellect flies out the window. The products are often ascribed evocative qualities they do not possess in any way. This is a market where the product name is all about imaginary sizzle and there is zero about product superiority in the initial effort to reach the customer.
WE ARE NOW SELLING YOU A FIBERGLASS BOX
A big, fiberglass box.
And it has wheels.
What's it for?
You tell me.
What on earth would you do with a gigantic fiberglass box called, "Raptor"?
Hmm. Raptor. A bird of prey. It has a talons designed for grabbing and clutching, and a beak designed for ripping and tearing. It has extraordinary eyesight and hunt with dead-accurate precision to survive.
THE RAPTOR IS A FEARSOME CREATURE
Members of its group are admired by Native American tribes who have made it a significant feature in their mythology. Various raptor names are used to honor their people.
The word comes from the French, "rapere," to seize or take by force.
Nothing says "Raptor" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
But then, there's another fiberglass box called, "Bighorn."
Another nod to the animal kingdom, the bighorn is a sheep.
This wild animal is revered among game hunters, and is another creature that figures prominently in the mythology of certain Native American tribes.
The animal is strong, and fearsome like the raptor, though for different reasons.
And nothing says, "Here's your fiberglass box with wheels" like a bighorn.
IN A DEPARTURE FROM FEARSOME CREATURES, MEET "PINNACLE"
We all know the pinnacle.
Fundamentally, a pinnacle is an architectural feature. It is long and pointy, like a small spire.
In nature, the rock pinnacle is a small spire of stone, often difficult to reach.
Metaphorically, the pinnacle has become something to which one aspires. The ultimate pinnacle is the success and greatness for which one was destined.
It's about aspirations and accomplishments.
One who has reached the pinnacle has arrived.
Nothing says "Pinnacle" like a fiberglass box with wheels.
Except, maybe, this next one.
PINNACLE, MEET "VENGEANCE"
It's root word is "Revenge," a form of justice usually taken outside the law. It is a form of payback, often made into a mission.
One wreaks vengeance upon one's enemies with great lust and zeal.
There is often tremendous blood spatter amidst a swinging of great blades.
Vengeance is raw and savage.
Vengeance feels good.
Or so we might imagine, for who among us has ever actually sought vengeance? But we can imagine!
Nothing says, "Vengeance" like a fiberglass box on wheels!
DO YOU WANT A FIBERGLASS BOX ON WHEELS NOW?
If so, which one?
And really, what are they?
A little backstory.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I are on the road in the Mobile Branding Response Unit. (It is built on a precision German chassis and is small and fast.)
We've just driven from Utah on I-80, where we are finally preparing to leave this historic Interstate Highway to peel off into New Jersey.
But during the last several days, driving along flat, seemingly limitless expanses of great American farmland, we've seen a lot of these fiberglass boxes.
Watching their approach on the Westbound side of the highway, and looking at their names emblazoned on their gelcoat skins, it's a marvel how much they are a testimony to the irrational side of decision making.
BIGHORN AND BROOKSTONE, MEET MONTANA AND EXCEL
Names that all evoke a particular kind of machismo, but each one different and ranging from grandiose to absurd.
We are speaking, of course, of the fifth-wheel travel trailer.
The fifth-wheel trailer is usually quite large. People can live in them comfortably for months at a time.
They are typically towed using a full-size pickup truck with a fifth-wheel coupling in the bed, hence the name. The coupling is similar in design to the coupling you see on a tractor trailer.
They can cost from the mid-five figures into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And the trailer names are all a product of an effort to evoke an emotional response in the prospect.
HOW ELSE DO YOU EXPLAIN NAMES RANGING FROM RAPTOR TO EXCEL?
Fundamentally, these boxes are all the same.
They are fiberglass boxes on wheels.
They contain furniture, kitchens and bathrooms.
And nothing that differentiates them from one another, from the range of conveniences to the quality of the appliances, speaks to anything like bighorn sheep or getting revenge upon an enemy.
How would one even enact revenge using a travel trailer? "Look at me! Living well is the best revenge! Ha! I smite thee!"
Especially if you want a deeply passionate outdoorsman to look at your trailer, you're probably going with Bighorn.
If you're attracting a motorsports enthusiast who takes the trailer to racing events, you might go with Vengeance.
If you're not really thinking about your customer's mindset too much and just want to pretend you're better than everyone else, maybe you go with Excel.
I WAS NOT IN THE ROOM WHEN THEY HAD THESE MEETINGS
One can only imagine the conversations.
"Our customer is more of a raptor in his characteristics."
It's like they have a special Chinese calendar of customer types. But nobody has named their trailer the Rat or the Pig.
How much fun would that be?
Anyway, the point being, if you've ever doubted the emotional component to branding, here is a great, big, shining example of emotional appeal run amok. There is zero effort to appeal to the prospect's rational side.
The products might as well be breakfast cereal. They are big boxes with wildly different names, but all are essentially the same inside.
If you want success in branding, marketing, sales and advertising, all but abandon the rational.
Yes, you need the rational parts to help justify the emotional satisfaction that comes from a silly name like Vengeance.
But in the end, if you don't get emotional and look for the evocative, you're going to be pulling your trailer uphill.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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
If so, here's a thought for you: Disruption happens.
It happens much like another word that happens.
And that word is one which we will not state here in the weekly screed.
That is because, unlike many other mediocre harangues available on the internet, we here at the Slow Burn Mountaintop Marketing Fortress wish to project the illusion that our mediocre harangue doesn't merely fire for effect by using scatological BS language.
But boy, does anything have quite as much stink of BS as the faddish notion of being disruptive?
The whole idea of disruption is merely a repackaging of a quality that can indeed make you fabulously wealthy.
And we know the secret. We will teach you.
But first, some cautionary reflection.
Because at some point, someone is going to say to you...
"OOOH, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY! WE NEED TO BE DISRUPTIVE!"
No you don't.
What you need to do is merely follow the ostensible tenets of being disruptive, which means doing things that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have been doing in our respective careers in radio and in big ad agencies for decades.
First, let's recap the disruption BS.
If you missed our last harangue about this problem, which happened some months ago, we looked at the Wikipedia page about disruption and distilled it into a single top-line thought.
We walked away with this: "Being disruptive is about not being mediocre."
WHILE DISRUPTION HAPPENS, IT SEEMS THAT AMBITION DOES NOT
Whatever happened to the notion of being successful by being excellent?
I was recently reading an article about one huge, disruptive company that, in 2015, had been valued at over a quarter billion dollars.
A quarter billion dollars! More than that! By about 50% more!
I'd never actually heard of this company, but this disruptive beast was all the rage on college campuses.
Can you guess what happened two years after that quarter-billion-dollar valuation?
This hugely disruptive company was sold to another hugely disruptive company.
The sale price: a paltry 12-million bucks.
What the hell happened?
FOLLOW THE MONEY--WHICH FOLLOWED THE BUZZWORDS
It was all about social media!
Changing the world!
Apparently, one of the failed disrupter's employees is on record, saying that the company's mission is to "Empower the collective creation of the world."
Collective creation of the world?
What does that even mean?
Are we basing a quarter-billion-dollar-plus vision on bringing the entire world together in one big Color Me Mine finger-painting party?
If you look back at the postmortem of this company (whose name we will not state but whom we'll just call Fail), it sounds like a high-tech PT Barnum was leading a flock of pretentious and frivolous youngsters who were more interested in the company's internal culture of beer pong and hot-tub parties than in doing anything that really matters.
DOES THAT SOUND HARSH?
But a lot of allegedly smart people lost a whole lot of big money backing the blustering and fiery vision of Fail.
Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of having a man behind the curtain, there was little more at Fail besides more smoke and mirrors.
Recently, I stumbled across an article about the things that disrupter brands are doing and why their disruptive models work to make disruptive amounts of lucre.
The article had a lot of words about a lot of stuff that made a lot of money, but you can look at it all and boil it down to the F-word.
No, not Fail.
Yes, I'm sorry, but disruption is about little more than Focus.
AS THE FAITHFUL FAN OF HOT SHOTS KNOWS, WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FOCUS
And we have never once been about disruption.
Because focusing on disruption is stupid.
It propagates the notion that by somehow being troublesome and disturbing and distracting, you can rule the world.
In fact, one of the business ideas that the disruptive model rails against is old-fashioned, interruptive advertising.
"TV commercials and radio commercials are dinosaurs! Interruption advertising is dead!"
You know what the word "interruption" is?
It's a synonym for "disruption."
GET OFF YOUR HIGH, DISRUPTIVE HORSE, ZEITGEIST!
Come on back to the party and practice good, old-fashioned focus.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have long preached focus to our clients.
One client wanted to just "run some ads" for a particular segment of their business.
We told them you could do that.
But then you'd be just another also-ran.
But if you focus, if you come up with a new brand that specializes in that segment of your business, and run ads for that new brand, you can then compete against the category leader.
And while you're going up against the category leader, your new marketing can focuses on your customer, and tell stories about the thrill that customer gets from doing business with you because your experience is better.
Can you guess what they did?
CAN YOU GUESS WHO STARTED MAKING A MILLION BUCKS A YEAR?
We had another client, a solopreneur, who had two brands in the same category.
One brand was business-to-consumer, and the other brand was business-to-business.
She was tied up in knots about having to re-brand and market both brands.
We said, "Why?"
Why do you need two?
They're in the same category.
Combine them into one brand. They both provide the same thing. You just have a pro version for B2B and a lite version for B2C.
She looked like a millstone had been removed from her neck.
Suddenly, with one sweep of her hand, she had one business she could focus on. It simplified her life and her marketing.
"OH, COME ON, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DISRUPTIVE BRANDS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD!"
No they're not.
Smart, focused people are changing the world.
"No! Disrupters rule!"
OK, let's look at the rules of disruption.
Focus, simplification, a business model delivering a desirable customer experience, and being what the staid and established competition isn't.
Those are key qualities.
By that measure, who was the first disruptive brand?
The Ford Motor Company.
DO YOU DISAGREE?
Well, Henry Ford disrupted the automotive industry.
He flew in the face of a business model that sold high-priced cars to people who had money to burn.
He did it by looking at the model for the meat packing industry, and reversed it.
A meat packing plant has a whole cow go in one end. It comes out the other end as packaged parts.
Henry Ford sent packaged parts in one end. A whole cow--er, car come out the other end.
Henry Ford also strived to make the automobile affordable to the common man.
Henry Ford also improved the customer experience by giving the common man the first-ever car with safety glass in the windshield.
HENRY FORD WAS A KING DISRUPTER
And he did it without ever having pretentious and pointless mission statements or throwing beer pong hot tub parties for his workers.
He also did it without ever being called "disruptive."
Today, one of the anointed kings of the alleged disrupter businesses is Dollar Shave Club.
How did it happen?
Two guys got to talking about their frustration with the high price of razor blades.
They started a focused, customer-centric business model: inexpensive, high-quality razor blades and razors by mail order.
They used their own money, and some startup funding from a business incubator.
They developed a fun, entertaining, engaging brand that connects with men.
They created an experience that let the customer in on the joke.
THEY MADE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER FEEL ONE THING
They gave a guy frustrated with the high price of razor blades a better alternative. They did it with personality and a sense of humor that is completely lacking in the razor-blade market dominated by Gillette and Shick.
They made getting blades in the mail an enjoyable experience.
And just by the way, their first YouTube video was hilarious. It stands up to repeated watching.
They also used old-fashioned, deader-then-dead interruptive TV commercials.
These two guys sick of the high price of razor blades launched their epic disruption in January 2011.
They did it using what amounts to pocket change.
In July 2016, a mere five and a half years later, Dollar Shave Club was sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash.
WHY ON EARTH?
Why does a multi-national company with over $60 billion in annual revenue need to buy a feisty little company that sells a limited line of razors, blades and male grooming products?
To compete, apparently.
They want to take a slice of the pie owned by Gillette and Shick.
It seems that's the official story.
And Unilever already owns "disrupter" Axe, the men's body wash and (ick) body spray.
But there's another, less popular take on this purchase.
Some folks think Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club before someone else did it.
None of this is the point.
The point is that disruption is BS.
What wins in the marketplace is the F-word.
Focus is your friend.
When you focus your business model and your brand, great things happen.
When you focus on a single, well-defined core customer, you know to whom you are speaking.
Then, you can focus your marketing message in a way that makes your core customer feel one way about your brand.
Your brand becomes magnetic.
And your brand makes friends.
AND IT WORKS FOR ANY SIZE BUSINESS
It works for solopreneurs.
By focusing, Slow Burn helped one solopreneur double his revenue in a year.
Focus works for an established and thriving operation. That's how Slow Burn helped the business mentioned earlier launch a new brand and go from zero to a million.
And focus works for guys like Dollar Shave Club, who started a business based on a conversation at a party, tapped into the zeitgeist, and sold their business for a billion.
But disruption is not the goal.
Nor is pretentious and pointless mission statements or beer pong hot tub parties.
Focus is king. When you understand how to focus, you're on the way to being a brand that matters.
Even if someone else decides that have to call you names like "disruptive."
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.