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.


From the Same Songbook

Proper messaging is a critical component for a company’s success. Organizations spend millions of dollars over months, or even years, getting their message to consumers just right. It is that important. But your investment in developing the message itself need not be so great to get it right. In fact, for some, the message is so obvious that it takes little effort to create.

Regardless, it what happens once you have set the message that counts. Certainly, you’ll develop collateral. You will use it as a recurring theme through various communications.

What about the rest of your team? Sure, you’ve told them what the new messaging is and shown them all the beautiful ways you are going to use it, with the requisite “oohs” and “ahhhs”. All of that’s great. Now, what tools are you giving your staff so that they are sharing the right message, using the right words and focusing on the right topics? It is a difficult task, made most effective when you not only tell them what to say but also what to avoid.

The only way your message is going to make its way through your various touchpoints in the right way is by ensuring everyone knows exactly what and how to communicate it.

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.

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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30 Seconds

Businesses live and die in 30 seconds. It’s not a lot of time. True, given certain circumstances, it can seem like forever. But in reality, when you have to make a point, 30 seconds is never long enough.

And for good reason.

I’ve written about the importance of concise, targeted statements, keeping your core message to no more than five to seven words. Talk about a challenge.

But if people can’t get it in that short a period of time, then you’re message is off.

So, about those 30 seconds. That about as much time, if you’re lucky, someone will give to you to hear what you have to say. Make the 30 seconds count. Ask yourself: what is the most important thing my ideal customer has to know about my product? Get the core statement down to less than seven words. Use the rest of your time to set it up in a meaningful way (not some of the idiocy and obscurity you see in most television commercials).

Story – punchline.

If you still have their attention, go for the next most important thing. And keep it going. At the very end, tie it up in a nice little bow.

It all starts with seven words and 30 seconds.

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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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Walk the Talk

We’ve been interviewing a number of local PR agencies lately, and I have to say, for the most part, it has been a disappointing exercise. They talk and talk without truly understanding that this is the equivalent of a job interview, and we expect them to be at the top of their game. If someone is looking for a top-notch agency, have your act together and prove it. Let me give you some examples of what we’ve experienced:

  • “Our owners are heavily involved with all of our clients”—Really? They why aren’t they here? If you are going to talk about how involved the owners are, make sure they are there. And if that’s the case, they can tell us themselves.
  • “If you’re just looking for someone to write press releases, I can recommend some other people to do that”—Great! Who are they? Oh, you’re not going to actually tell me. Then don’t say it in the first place.
  • “We can throw somebody at [your project]”—I hope they don’t get hurt in the process. We are looking to hire an agency to support us, not writer’s pool looking to be hurled at the project du jour.
  • “We call you weekly or bi-weekly to give you updates and send you a monthly activity report, because we’ll get in trouble with the owners if we don’t”—Oh, I see. Not because it’s the right thing to do.
  • “We do media relations training”—Then why are you incapable of answering a basic question without stumbling through it and looking to someone else for help. If you train in media relations, pretend you are on the podium and in front of a camera.
  • “PRSA says you can measure ROI by taking the column inches in the publication (or the number of minutes on television), applying the equivalent ad value, and multiplying by three”—Um, no. That is your return on investment not mine. PRSA is an admirable association, but that is not a measurement of a client’s ROI. I measure my ROI by the actual benefit I receive from the PR activity—sales, number of new clients, registrations. If your activity cannot be associated with something truly measurable for the client, you cannot claim ROI. In other words, if their business doesn’t grow, you didn’t offer them a return. And that is OK, if growing the business isn’t an objective.
  • “Other agencies do…(whatever)”—I don’t care what other agencies do. I want to know what you do. I’m talking to other agencies, so I’ll judge for myself what they do. I don’t want to know what you have to say about other agencies unless you are speaking specifically about what a competitor does well that you admire or you are giving me a reason that you left that particular agency that is significantly different at your new one. Even then, be careful what you say.
  • “We told our client to do [this particular newsworthy event]”—We heard this from two different agencies. About the exact same thing. Yep, one was taking credit for the other’s work. I don’t know who was who. At that point, it didn’t matter, since both had several of the problems already mentioned.

Again, when you are pitching potential clients, it is a job interview. You have to be spot on your game. If your heart isn’t in it, if this isn’t the most important thing you are doing at that moment, don’t even bother to show up. It will be less embarrassing that way.

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