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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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.

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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Make It Important to Them

While attending a conference this week, there was some discussion about how to bring other people along on projects, particularly when you need them for your success. I immediately thought of a post I wrote last month called “Our Own Bias”. Then, I saw this post, titled “Brand confluence beats brand influence” from Brands Create Customers.

The problem starts because the cause or need or desired result is obvious to us. Its importance goes without saying—at least to you. But because it means the world to you, doesn’t mean it’s on everyone else’s radar. They have their own biases, their own important things to do, their own set of obvious things.

To get them on board, you have to bring them along on your journey—from the beginning. If you’re already down the path, you’ll have to back up and start over.

First, you’ll have view the world through their eyes. Get to know them. Learn what is important to them. Then take that view and meld it with your own, perhaps creating a new view together.

As a result, you’ll have a true advocate on board, and you just might end up with an even better result.

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Underdoing It at Overstock

I wonder if the good people at Overstock.com really have a message about who they are and what they represent. Their initial ads focused on a women sexually describing that it was all about “the O”.

Now, they apparently have some state of the art delivery system so that nothing gets between you and your purchase. But they don’t. They use the same as most others—UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.

So, what are they all about? What makes them important? Judging by their home page, it’s the index of items they sell and some special promotions. There’s no single identity for them.

And the identities they’ve tried to create don’t say anything accurate or important. There is no central message.

Look at your own brand through a consumer’s eyes. Does it make sense? Does it tell you what you need to know about the brand? Is it consistent with who you are? Is it all tied together to deliver the same message through multiple channels?

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Some Ads Miss the Mark

National advertising campaigns don’t come cheap. The concept, production, placement and associated commissions add up quickly. Even a pure cable TV run will end up costing in the hundreds of thousands. So, if you are going to make that kind of investment, you want an ad that makes sense, gets the message across and produces results.

I’ve seen a few lately, though, that seem to miss the mark. Before discussing them, however, let me explain what I mean. Here, I’ll be talking about commercials that actually attempt to be relevant and convey a customer-conversion message. These are not off-the-wall concepts intended to score high on recall with little actual payoff.

First up is the Chevy Malibu. Their commercial promoting their precision engineering and assembly has a wonderfully rhythmic song playing in the background. The music choice obviously targets a certain age demographic—young professionals seeking something stylish and reliable. The problem comes in the selection itself. The song is called “Lazy Eye”, which many in the target audience will recognize. While making that connection is vital, associating your manufacturing with a lazy eye seems to be a bit disjointed. Sure, it may be a minor issue, but someone missed it. What else did they miss?

Next are two Maytag commercials. The company has a newish slogan, “Built Strong to Last Long.” It ties in well with their history. Maytag is known for reliability and lasting longer than its competitors. One of their early commercials with the new tagline shows the “Maytag Repairman” shooting baseballs into the front of a washer/dryer. Great visual. A newer commercial focuses on the dryer’s ability to remove wrinkles. It’s an admirable quality, but it has nothing to do with how strongly built it is or how long it will last. They need to do one of two things: either keep focusing on its strength and ability to last, or use additional messages to emphasize what else it does well. It is perfectly fine to use more than one tagline, based on the core message you are expressing.

The other Maytag spot focuses on what appears to be an annual sales event called “May is Maytag Month”. First, giving a sale a name like that creates a mouthful. In the ad itself, the copywriter and voiceover obviously struggle with it, making the ad sound confused and confusing. They overthought the alliteration and lost their way. If you can’t fix the copy to make it work, don’t be afraid to change the name. It’s better to flow properly than to stick to something cute.

Last are the spots for Laughing Cow cheese. A woman sets up the premise (such as making sure her garden is beautiful, though she can’t tell because it was more effort than her body could handle), then voiceover swoops in to remind us that we can’t always have everything we want…except with Laughing Cow. OK. When you spend most of your precious screen time setting up a scene that appears to lead into a pain reliever ad, cheese is the furthest thing from your mind. Unless it has some bizarre analgesic property. The commercial is a stretch at best. Focus more on the cheese and less on unassociated stories.

When you are looking at anything that is going to reach a customer, make sure that what you are using to represent you and your message is consistent with who you are and what your message says. Don’t let “creativity” hijack your core brand promise.

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Review of “Just Enough Anxiety”

I had the opportunity to read Just Enough Anxiety by Robert H. Rosen while traveling last week. It’s a thought-provoking book and a must-read for anyone in or aspiring to enter the management ranks.

What I liked about it:

  • It forces you to look in the mirror and consider your own anxiety issues (especially those that you have avoided having diagnosed by a professional)
  • Rosen offers guidance on how to control your anxiety and work to reach that point when it is just enough

My dislikes in the book are mostly stylistic:

  • Rosen repeated the same examples throughout the book (after a while I simply stopped reading them, as he seemed to belabor his point)
  • The examples that he used tended to interrupt the flow too much
  • Rosen asserts that an organization’s human strategy should supersede all others; I disagree wholeheartedly; your human strategy should be an integral part of your overall strategy as a key part contributing to the whole

Some key quotes from the book:

  • “The success of great leaders is all about creating the right level of anxiety for growth and performance. It is their uncommon ability to create just enough tension—within themselves and their organizations—that unleashes the human energy that drives powerful leadership, accelerated growth, and winning companies.”
  • “The bottom line is that what you think is what you get.”
  • “Without a desire to resolve the incongruities of life, we would never develop, individually or spiritually.”
  • “But being a leader is tough. You have to modulate your own anxiety while alleviating the anxiety of the people around you. You need to turn healthy anxiety into a catalyst for growth—for yourself and your organization.”

Get this book. Read it. Write notes in it. And keep it close by at all times.

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