Be Timely

So I’m standing in front of my house this weekend, watching the kids scooter around, when we’re suddenly accosted by various people passing out flyers. One gentleman asked me if he can share some information about a local candidate. I shuffled some papers around so I could grab the brochure. Once I had it, I noticed that another candidate’s flyer was tucked inside. There was no mention of a two-for-one from the guy. I just chuckled and turned away.

As I made my way inside, I looked at the tag-along and noticed that the date stamped on the back was 2006. I get the efficiency, since it was a re-election campaign. In fact, I almost applaud it. There’s only one (major) problem. A lot has changed in the last two years—far too much to just recycle what you’ve already done. By simply reusing your old stuff you are saying one of two things: either you are too out-of-touch to recognize that things have changed, or you haven’t done what you said you were going to do the first time, so you just say it again.

The same goes for any business. A consistent message is key. Beat it like a rented mule, especially if it is good and on target. But also recognize that as you produce, address issues and evolve, you move along and tackle the next set of problems.

I don’t, by any means, advocate that you should craft your message around the latest trends. Doing so would signal that you aren’t committed to who you really are. And if you’re not committed, why should anyone else be? Being timely and consistent with your message reinforces your brand. It shows your audience that you are focused on addressing the needs of your constituents (customers, consumers, employees, etc.).

Constant reinforcement of your message is necessary for solidifying your brand. Incorporating timely needs into that message is critical to building a long-term brand.

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Not Sure What They Are Selling

I’ve been seeing a number of different car commercials lately, but, other than the obvious, I’m not really sure what they’re selling. Some examples:

  • GM, yet again, is offering employee pricing on its vehicles. This year, they attempt to couch it in terms of an anniversary. This is something they have been doing since around 2000, and they pull the trick out whenever their sales are in the dumps, which seems to be most years. If your vehicles weren’t relevant before, resurrecting a bad sales idea isn’t going to change that. Sell your cars on their merit, not the fact that you’ve been overpricing and underdelivering.
  • VW seems to think that German engineering is best expressed through black Beetle acting as a talk show host. Saying that you have German engineering doesn’t make it good—the engineering itself does, however. Tell me what it means and what I can expect to experience from it.
  • Mitsubishi has introduced a new engine, yet doesn’t feel the need to explain to anyone what makes it unique or at least different. When you spend that kind of R&D money, market the heck out of the result.
  • Ford has introduced a new box on wheels with so-so EPA estimated mileage, touting it as something people should desire. Two things: one, average or slightly above average EPA estimated mileage isn’t enough, you have to do something revolutionary; two, most of us don’t care one lick what the EPA estimates the mileage to be in a vacuum on a treadmill with no friction, we care about the actual mileage from driving on real roads.

When you are marketing a product, no matter what it is, you have to focus on the actual features and benefits. If you don’t have any, save your money and reputation and stop selling it. Focus your energy on creating something that actually creates a point of differentiation. Be unique. Serve a market others ignore. Make a positive difference. But don’t, under any circumstances, try to treat your customers like gullible fools. That is the quickest route to irrelevance.

Realistic Product Placement

I got the Madden ’09 for the Wii this past week. It’s amazing that the franchise is 20 years old. It certainly has come a long way since I played the first version way back when. That includes the product placements.

At first, it seemed like it might only be music artists getting some extra exposure. However, in their attempt to make the game as real as possible, EA Sports has added sponsored segments, interspersed at key points in the game.

The move is somewhat brilliant. Our real NFL world is plastered with sponsorships. It only makes sense to translate that to the video games worshipping the sport. And make additional profit in the process.

The difference here is that we sort of expect it. We aren’t taken by that much of a surprise. It seems to fit. So there really isn’t much to complain about. We’re used to it. We’ve been conditioned to it. And it really doesn’t come off as overt.

I wonder, though, where else it might work in a seamless manner such as this.

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Managing Internet Sales

One of the biggest challenges for any company that sells a product is protecting its trademark and MSRP online. It’s even worse when you sell through others, whether they are distributors or retailers (or both).

The best way to maintain the integrity and legitimacy of the brand is to implement a tight policy that specifically addresses how your trademark can and cannot be used and what leeway, if any, you will allow with respect to MSRP—even if it is really Manufacturers Required Retail Price.

Some issues to consider:

  • Is it OK for them to sell on third-party sites like eBay and Amazon?
  • What kind of sales and promotions will you allow them to run?
  • Where will you let them ship? (Continental U.S. only, internationally, etc.)
  • What words can they use for online ads?
  • Do you want them to advertise your product as “lowest price”?

And regardless of what your policy says, you have to be able to monitor and enforce it. And your customers have to know that you’re paying attention. Thank and compliment them on their compliance, and give then tough love when they break the rules.

This is your brand. Don’t let someone else hijack it.

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Ads 2.0

I set up some Google Alerts for certain keywords I want to track. One of the neat things about the alerts is that they can include blog posts and new web pages. Some of what I am finding is a bit perverse. Fortunately, the limited execution should mean a short life.

It happens a different ways. One involves a blog post (I’m guessing someone pays to put their post on the blog) with the author’s description at the bottom encouraging readers to learn more at some other website that is little more than a link farm and covered with ads.

Another includes ad links within the body of the post, written in the form of a parenthetical statement. These are easy to spot because they have nothing to do with the context of the piece, and the statements appear in random parts of the sentence.

The final method uses sham “objective third-party” endorsements. One in particular that I found started as a general press release. At the end of the release, there is a non-branded link encouraging people to learn more about the topic. Clicking on the link brings the viewer to a branded site pushing a particular product. To give credibility to the product, the web page refers to a national institute recommending it. The problem is that the institute doesn’t really exist. The product company set it up themselves.

There could be any number of reasons for setting up one of these goofy web 2.0 promotion gimmicks. My guess, though, is that the brand owners either haven’t tried using it themselves—because if they had they would see how ridiculous and in effective at brand building the effort is—or they are modern-day spammers hoping for the most gullible of web users, which also is utterly ineffective at building a brand.

A bit of advice, before subjecting your current and prospective customers to one of these versions of advertising, or any other promotion strategy for that matter, try it out yourself. If it doesn’t quite feel right or fails to reinforce the brand promise, don’t do it.

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Categorically Speaking

Marketers love to speak in terms of categories related to their particular brand—premium, super-premium, ultra-premium, giga-premium, you get the picture. From the consumer’s viewpoint, however, brands get considered a bit differently.

Think about the various things you buy (where there is some choice involved). What you actually purchase is based on how it fits into one of the following categories:

  • Strict loyalty—”I’ll only buy computers from Dell” or “A Honda is the only thing I’ll drive”
  • Consideration set—while the consumer may not be strictly loyal, your brand is in a select group whose purchase or use depends on the mood
  • Convenience set—people buy it because it’s easy due to location, availability, ease of transaction, etc.
  • Price set—you are the best price on the shelf (this time)
  • Ignorance—the customer really doesn’t know any better

Chances are, you’re in more than one of these categories. And that is perfectly fine, as long as you use it to your advantage. And do use it to your advantage. Talk to your customers in those terms. Create your customer service to reinforce it.

Make it work for you.

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You Need to Start Right

I’ve been writing about companies’ creative not matching up with their core brand or message. I really see only two possible reasons why. One, it could simply be poor execution. The other, comes down to not truly understanding what the creative is intended to do.

Before embarking on a new ad, promotion, or even purchase, you need to create a project brief. The brief gives some background, establishes a business case, assesses options and lays the groundwork for the deliverable. Within it, you include the objectives, tone, key message points and any other pertinent information for generating successful results.

Of course, it has to be on strategy.

You now will have a working project brief. It will be your guide. Follow it. Tweak it. Measure your results against it. And stay faithful to it.

It will make the difference.

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