The Secret Ingredient for Marketing

If you read the emails, or watch the webinars or skim the books, it’s tempting to believe the “experts” who tell you that there’s one thing you can do – one secret ingredient you can add to the mix – that will transform your marketing and have an outsized impact on profits.

In fact, marketing is a lot like cooking.  If you want a dish to be truly memorable, you need all the right ingredients, in exactly the right measure, combined in the right way.  (Even the Colonel needed 11 herbs and spices.)

And the recipe depends on your goal – what you want to accomplish.  That’s where marketing should always begin.  Who do you need to reach?  And what do you want them to do?  The answer to each question affects your choice of media.

If you’re selling something simple, especially if the purchase can be completed online, then online tools like PPC ads and email might make a lot of sense.  That’s assuming a younger audience.

Selling something more complicated, especially a service?  Media like targeted direct mail or targeted TV might give you the time you need to make your case, especially with an older audience.

Building brand awareness over time so that when a prospect needs what you’re selling, they think of you first?  Targeted print and outdoor advertising might be the ticket.

If you keep drilling down, focusing on your prime prospects, you’re likely to find that some combination of media is the perfect recipe.

And remember, as with fine dining, presentation is everything.  Once you’ve chosen media and a schedule, focus on the way you deliver your message.  If you can’t make it stick, nothing else matters – so be sure it’s memorable, and clearly conveys the benefit you offer in a persuasive way.

Backing Into (Or Away From) A Brand

Right now, as you read this, hundreds or even thousands of companies are doing something completely weird but widely accepted.  They’re working on their strategic plans, and when those plans are complete, they’ll (maybe) look at how the plan impacts their marketing or brand.

That’s totally backward.

Before anything else, a strategic plan should focus on what makes your company or organization unique — what differentiates it from all its competitors.  That’s the essence of branding.  And it’s where every strategic plan should begin.  But they almost never do.

So try this.  Whether it’s your own organization, or a nonprofit on whose board you serve, the next time strategic planning time rolls around, challenge yourself and everyone else to begin by answering the brand questions.  Why us?  What makes us better?  Is that difference relevant to today’s buyers?  Is it worth a premium price?  Can it be easily copied by our competitors?  What will we do then?  Or what will we do to be one step ahead of that?

It’s impossible to set realistic goals for growth, expansion, product development, talent acquisition or anything else if you don’t know – and can’t articulate – what makes you worth the consideration of prospects, investors or team members.

But when you begin by tackling this question – and it’s probably the thorniest one you’ll deal with – the answers to all of those other questions become much more obvious.  And when you either discover your true brand or commit to creating one, you find that your strategic goals become bolder, and the people charged with meeting them become more engaged.

Here’s another benefit.  Putting your brand at the center of your strategic plan puts appropriate emphasis on marketing.  And marketing is one of the few budget items that’s an investment rather than an expense.  Done strategically, with a powerful brand as the engine, it generates a real, measurable ROI.

So the next time you roll up your sleeves for one more SWOT analysis, begin with your brand – or lack of one.  Is it a strength (be honest) or a weakness?  An opportunity (always) or a threat (often)?  Because getting your brand right adds a sharper focus to your entire strategy – and increases the likelihood that your plans will reap the benefits they should.

Big Brains, The Bee Gees, Bravery and Branding

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”  Albert Einstein

When the movie Saturday Night Fever was in the works, company executives visited the Bee Gees to hear some new songs they had written, hoping that some could be used in the soundtrack.  According to the band, the executives (who were planning to call the film Tribal Rites Of A Saturday Night) had little good to say.

They thought “How Deep Is Your Love” should be sung by a woman.  They wanted to change the title of “Night Fever” to “Saturday Night,” even though there were many songs with that title, including a recent hit by the Bay City Rollers.  One of them sneered that “Stayin’ Alive” sounded too much like “Buried Alive.”  None of them heard a hit.  And when the band suggested changing the name of the movie to Saturday Night Fever, they were told it sounded like the title of a porn film.

The executives, of course, were proven wrong.  The soundtrack sold 25 million copies – still the record – and won a Grammy for Album of the Year.  And the Bee Gees scored four Number One songs, owning the top of the pop charts for months, and kickstarting a long string of Number One hits for the group.

So what does all this have to do with marketing?

When management looks at marketing, they’re searching for something safe and familiar.  There’s comfort in knowing that your website, your ads, your sales literature or your TV spots look like others in the industry.

But what made the Bee Gees’ songs so popular, and Einstein’s ideas so game changing, was the exact opposite. They weren’t like anything else.  And so they rocked their respective worlds.

If marketing is going to succeed in building your brand and making you stand out, the marketing itself has to stand out.  It can’t look or sound or feel like everybody else.  To quote another cultural icon, it has “to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

And management has to be able to move past the nervousness that truly creative work always instills in all of us, and give it a chance.  Most great moments in life begin with a case of nerves.  Reward requires risk, as in all things.

If you’re going to invest in marketing, invest in ideas that will break out and move the needle.

(And if you need a hand developing those ideas, we’re here to help!)

Why Branding Is Like Chess. And Why It Matters.

If you’ve ever played chess – or even watched a game – you know that only one chess piece can occupy any square on the board. If your bishop is sitting on a square, and your opponent’s knight lands on the same square? Bye-bye bishop.

Your prospect’s brain is like that chessboard. Only one brand can occupy any particular spot. And that begs the question: what spot do you own? What does your brand promise that no one else’s can?

To own a spot, you have to offer something that no one else has, or offer it in a way that no one else does. If you’re bragging about “generic” attributes like great service or competitive prices or quality products, you’re just one among many – and none of you owns a brand.

Two Ways to Win.

If you really want a brand that owns a position in the prospect’s mind, there are two ways to do it.

The first, as we mentioned, is to offer something no one else has, or offer it in a way no one else does. This never happens by accident. Never. It only comes from strategic planning.

You have to look at the market and the competition, then figure out what you can do that they can’t – or won’t. Think about Netflix. They started out as a convenient alternative to your local video store. Then, as internet speeds caught up to their ambition, they became a streaming service. Then they began creating original programs that people wanted to see.

And that tells you something about this first approach. It never ends. It can’t. As soon as you find or create a niche or an innovation, you’ll have competition copying you. That means you have to commit to a mindset of strategic branding. You have to constantly seek out new ways to stay ahead of the competition that are consistent with your brand position.

The other way to grab a spot and keep it is through sheer creativity and brazen marketing. One of the most successful examples is HBO. When they reinvented themselves with outstanding original programming like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, their marketing mantra became, “It’s not TV. It’s HBO.” The genius of that approach? They repositioned all of their competition.

If you can make your marketing memorable – so much so that it is unmistakably identified with you – you can lock down a space in your prospect’s mind. And as long as you sustain it, you will be very hard to knock off.

Let’s Be Honest.

What’s the biggest barrier to branding? What keeps most companies from truly owning a square and kicking their competitors off the board? It’s the mistaken belief that they have a brand when they don’t. The delusion that saying what everyone else is saying is somehow having an impact. It isn’t.

So start with an honest appraisal of where you are right now. Be brutally, unflinchingly candid. Only when you know where you’re starting from can you get on the board and own your spot.

(And if you’d like to partner with an agency that specializes in helping clients do exactly that, just reply to this email. It’s the first step to brand ownership.)

How to Sabotage Your Marketing.

It’s amazing how many companies allow bad choices to undermine their ability to market effectively.

Exhibit A

Time recently published an article noting that, according to research, copy set with two spaces between sentences is easier to read than with one space between sentences. (For the record, this is hardly the first time research has landed on this conclusion.)

Here’s the punchline: the Time article went on to note that its own editorial policy remains one space between sentences. Yup. Their policy is more important to them than their readers.

Exhibit B

A billboard sits on the left side of an interstate highway. The headline is set in a very light typeface – small in all caps – against a pale pink background. It’s a trifecta that would make it impossible to read if you were parked in front of it, let alone cruising at 60 mph on the other side of a divided highway.

We’ve known forever that all caps are harder to read. That small or light type disappears on a billboard. That contrast matters when time is tight for the reader. And yet, this billboard exists. Somebody saw it on their monitor, thought it looked pretty, and approved it without worrying about whether anyone could read it.

We could go on. And on. Every day, decisions get made that make marketing less effective – or completely ineffective. Decisions that waste money. Lots of money.

There seems to be an assumption that in the digital age, the proven rules of design — the core principles that have been proven to work — no longer matter. In fact, with marketing messages spread out more thinly over a wider array of media, the opposite is true.

If you want to make all of your marketing work harder for you, take this one simple step. Pay attention to the fundamentals — the huge impact that design choices have on everything from digital ads and your website to TV, print and more. (You could start by reading Ogilvy on Advertising, which remains astonishingly relevant after decades in print.)

On the other hand, if you have marketing dollars to burn, disregard the role design plays in the buying process. You’ll go through plenty of cash while leaving customers behind.

(And if you’d like to partner with an agency that has a real mastery of those fundamentals, Idealogy is a smart choice. Just reply to this email to learn more.)

Your Brand’s Biggest Secret: It’s Not About You.

It’s a little hard to swallow, but it’s true.  Prospects don’t care about your brand.  Not at all. That’s the big secret, and the bad news.

Here’s the good news.  Prospects care very much about what you can do for them.  If you can do something no one else can do, or do it in a way no one else does it, or do it faster, or easier, or smarter, or greener, or prettier — if you can do it differently and better — they want to hear all about it.

What does that mean for you?  For starters, talk less about yourself.  Make it all about your prospects.  What are their goals or challenges or opportunities?  What’s frustrating about the solutions they’re using now?  And how can your people or product or service fix it for them?

Here’s a simple exercise.  Go through your website or social media content or sales literature.  Print it all out.  Take a black marker and cross out everything that talks about you and your company (look for pronouns like “we” and “us”).

Now take a highlighter and highlight everything that talks about your prospect and their wants and needs (look for “you”).

Those highlighted parts are what prospects read and care about.  The blacked-out parts?  That’s the stuff they’re skimming or skipping.  Now refine your content until the highlighted parts outnumber the rest by three-to-one or more.

Here are three questions to jumpstart your thought process: *

  1. What do you offer that no one else can?
  2. What’s a recognized weakness in your industry that you can exploit or eliminate?  (Think about waiting for the doctor or the cable guy, as examples.)
  3. How can you make life or work easier for your prospect?  More convenient?  More fun?  More efficient?  Better?

*  Use these for strategic planning, too, by imagining what you could do.

(If you’re ready to pivot and make your prospects the focus of your branding, Idealogy can help.  We can facilitate a planning session to help your team reimagine your products and services, or simply help you refocus your messaging on what your prospects need and want.  Just reply to this email to learn more.)

Stephen Hawking on Marketing

The late, great Stephen Hawking was a noted theoretical physicist and author whose book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes became an improbable bestseller.  The reason?  Hawking was really good at explaining complex ideas in a way that the average person could understand.

But the truly remarkable thing is that Hawking accomplished the bulk of his life’s work, which was massive, while all but immobilized by motor neurone disease.  And when he was diagnosed in 1963, his doctors gave him two years to live.  He passed away in March of this year, 53 years after his doctors (all of whom he outlived) said he would.

So there’s a lesson or two here for marketers.  When you can only type 15 words per minute – and eventually a single word per minute – it makes you very selective, choosing your words carefully and using only what you need.  And when you believe time is severely limited, you embrace simplicity and clarity.

Now think about how placing limitations on what you do could improve your marketing.  You may already have financial limitations, especially if your marketing budget has been reduced.  What kinds of tactics could you use that require a lower investment but might be even more effective in getting your message out?

Try asking yourself this.  If you suddenly couldn’t use any of your current marketing channels to get your message out, what would you do?  What new tactics would you try?

Now go a step further.  If you had to make everything you did 50% shorter – every email, every ad, every billboard, all your web copy – what would you lose?  How could you trim everything down and still keep your core message intact?

Finally, if you could only tell prospects one thing about you – give them a single reason to choose you over your competitors – and you had to do it in as few words as possible, what would you tell them?  Remember that it has to be focused on them, not you.  And it has to offer a clear benefit that they can’t get from anyone but you.

Hawking, without the use of most of his body, wrote over a dozen books, advanced our understanding of black holes, showed how relativity and quantum mechanics were interconnected, had three children and appeared in countless films and TV shows.  Let’s go.

The 2 Times Marketing Matters Most

While marketers might complain that they never get a big enough slice of the budget, there are two times when marketing often gets too few resources when it really matters.

The first is when the economy – or even just the company – is on a downhill slide.  And at first glance, it seems to make sense.  With fewer resources available, everything gets shifted to life support.  The question that drives everything becomes, “How do we stay alive until things rebound?”

But it’s not that simple.  An investment in marketing is the one thing that can actually bear fruit and put money back in the bank.  It can produce income in excess of the expense.  So if you need more business, investing in marketing makes a lot of sense, even if it means you have to forgo something else or tap a line of credit.

Of course, that amplifies the need to be extremely selective about how and where you market.  The emphasis has to be on those activities with the highest likelihood of resulting in sales (as it always should be).

There’s one other advantage of marketing into a downturn, and it’s longer term.  It keeps you top of mind during the time when fewer people are spending.  Once the faucets get opened again, there’s pent-up demand for what you offer, so your recovery comes faster than it might otherwise.

The other time the marketing purse strings are tighter than they should be?  When business is booming.  Again, the logic here can seem sound – why put money into marketing when we have all kinds of business walking in the door?

The answer has at least two parts.  First, you should market into momentum.  Make that wave crest as high as you possibly can.  If you have a larger share of the market in boom times, you’ll keep a larger share when things tighten up – and that can sustain you.

And second, things will slow down, even if they don’t fall off a cliff.  The marketing you do right now is probably going to bear fruit some time in the future, just as much of the business you’re enjoying right now is driven by marketing you’ve done in the past.  To keep customers coming, keep marketing.

In fact, when business is brisk, consider setting funds aside that you can tap into when things slow down.  Because they will slow down.  And boom or bust, the companies that market consistently over the long term are better equipped to ride out the valleys and take advantage of the peaks.

Help Wanted? Now Hiring? Good Luck!

Business owners and HR managers all face the same dilemma: good people are hard to find, and getting harder.  But some of this is almost certainly a marketing problem.

First, think about those “pitches.”  Help wanted.  Now hiring.  Positions available.  Operators needed.  Not very sexy, are they?  Flip that around for a minute.  If you received an inquiry from a potential hire, and all it said was, “Looking for work” or “Job wanted” or “Available for hire,” you might not be too enthused.  So why should potential hires get excited about your generic appeal?  If you want your message to resonate with potential employees, you have to give them something to get excited about.

Start by pitching every great thing you have to offer.  Is the position a stable one?  Does it offer a path to promotion?  Here’s where the real opportunity lies.  Can you take ordinary things and turn them into benefits?  For example, if you want delivery people, try, “Never be stuck indoors again!”  Or, “The perfect gig for people who like to move.”  Likewise, if it’s an indoor job, make that sound like the best thing ever.  Desk job?  “Take a load off your feet.”  Lots of time on your feet?  “Sell that treadmill.”  Third shift?  “Join the rest of the night owls.”

Now think about the kind of workplace you can offer.  Again, remember that little things make a big difference, so make the little things bigger. Maybe you can brag about a “drama-free department.”  Or promise that prospects will “Never be bored at work again!”  The possibilities are truly endless.

Finally – and probably most important – think about your brand.  Would your reputation make someone more or less interested in working for you?  If more, sell the heck out of that.  Reinforce all the awesomeness that is your company.  If less, tell them you’re the best kept secret around, and tell them why.

The bottom line?  Think about recruiting the way a marketer would, and you’ll attract more of the prospects you need to succeed.

The Push and Pull of the Right Brand

The point of a strong brand – a unique position in the prospect’s mind – is to make it easy for those same prospects to find and choose you when they have a need.  But a strong brand should also repel some people.  Here’s why.

Unless you’re Amazon, you don’t want everybody in the world for a customer.  And for most companies – especially in the B2B space – there’s a particular group of prospects who are potentially much more profitable than the rest.  Those are your ideal prospects.

To make the most of your marketing resources, your brand should be positioned to attract a high percentage of those prospects – and to repel the rest.  When it is, your lead generation becomes exponentially more potent and profitable, with far less waste.

If you’re resisting this idea right now, you’re hardly alone.  Most companies don’t think about pushing away prospects.  It’s all about sales volume.  So pushing prospects runs contrary to our natural impulse to sell, sell, sell.

But it isn’t just about sales volume.  It’s about profitability.  And some clients or customers are simply more profitable than others.  Sometimes far more profitable.  The more of those you land, the healthier your organization becomes.

And keep this in mind: this is about the brand you need to build, and about your inbound marketing.  You can still accept and serve those “B” and “C” customers when they come to you, as long as they’re somewhat profitable.  They just shouldn’t be the focus of the marketing and branding efforts you’re spending time and money on.

So look at every aspect of your marketing.  Seriously – all of it.  Your website, your social media efforts, and every marketing message, from digital to traditional – even your facilit6ies and point of purchase material if you see prospects in person.  Is it designed to appeal to those specific prospects you most want as clients?  What do you need to change to make your messaging magnetic for those “A” prospects?  Make a list, and make it a priority.