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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Target Customer Intelligence

I’m stunned at the number of companies targeting fools and idiots in their commercials. Geico continues with its ridiculous caveman ads, Cox has their talk show ads, Dunkin Donuts introduced a new product recently with the same concept, and Staples reduces people’s intellect to pushing a red button.

Maybe they are seeing something in their market research that identifies the less intelligent as a significant potential market. Perhaps they don’t think their customers recognize the insult. Or it could be they are counting on their customers not caring about being equated with nincompoops.

Here’s a thought. Advertise the actual features and benefits of the product. And move away from attempting to sell based on the “only the dumbest of the dumb haven’t bought it yet” philosophy.

Of course, I am assuming that these products have features and benefits worth selling and that they aren’t using these tactics as a cover.

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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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Making Something Different

I’m watching a repeat of the season premiere of Project Runway (yes, I am a fan). The challenge for the first week was to take grocery items and repurpose them into something fashionable. Many succeeded, while a few fell flat on their faces.

The most common error was taking an existing fabric—like a tablecloth or shower curtain—and converting it into a dress. Sadly, my young daughters do something similar without much thought.

The ones that proved better used unique materials to get to the same place. A few others added an artistic flair, bringing things up another notch.

Managing a brand is not much different. As Seth Godin likes to say, you have to do something remarkable, something akin to a purple cow. I recently had someone tell me that their “green gorilla” was their version of Godin’s cow. Yawn. It’s just another colored animal. That’s not creative. That’s lazy.

Do something no one else is doing in a way that no one else will. Be unique. And do it well.

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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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Understanding What You Really Sell

I am working on a new project that started with one purpose but morphed into another because of one “little” question: What is it we are really selling? At first glance, the answer may be obvious, but as you dig deeper and talk with your customers, you’re likely to find there’s more to it than that.

Let’s take a straightforward example like Coca-Cola®. They sell beverages, right? Of course they do. But they also sell their name, image and distribution. What about Honda®? They sell automobiles, motor cycles, lawn equipment, just about anything that can have an engine. And they sell fuel efficiency, technology and reliability.

When you are positioning your brand, you have to understand how your customers view you. To them, you are selling so much more than your product. You’re also selling key things that go with it—that list could include innovation, service, business opportunities, education, self-esteem, fulfillment, joy, entertainment. The possibilities are endless. In reality, you have to focus on just a few and do them exceptionally well.

And make sure they line up with what your customers have come to expect and rely on from you, or you will find yourself in a major disconnect.

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High Switching Costs

I’ve never really gotten into, nor understood for that matter, the ongoing fight between PC and Mac users. Each has its own features, benefits and drawbacks and caters to two distinct audiences. Neither one is truly better than the other. As things progress, each one is nudging closer to the other, blurring the line that separate them. It’s clear that they are targeting each other’s customers, at least those on the edges.

Apple, though, seems smarter about it.

My sister-in-law is a bit of a technology laggard. She doesn’t have cell phone and has little desire to own one. And for the first time, she bought her own computer. While looking for the right one for her, she investigated both PCs (Dell, in particular) and Macs. She found relatively comparable laptops from each, with similar pricing. Either choice would have suited her needs.

The Macbook, however, came with an additional advantage. For $99 she can take private lessons—limited to one per week—for a year. She’ll learn the ins and outs of her machine and the associated software. She essentially can learn at her own pace. In addition, at the Apple Store, she can attend free seminars. These offerings create high switching costs for Apple users. In other words, people that invest this time and effort into learning about their Mac and far less likely to switch to a PC on their own. At the same time, they are lowering the switching costs for PC users, making it easier for them to buy a Mac. It’s a rather intelligent strategy.

In your business, look for ways to make it harder for your customers to switch to another brand. I don’t mean the kind of extortion tactics mobile phone companies use to handcuff their patrons. I mean through the services you offer and the mutual investments you make with your consumers. That is what creates loyalty.

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