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.

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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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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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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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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