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Promises, Promises

Posted April 18th, 2017 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

I came across an article recently that focused on a study about check lists and the impact that they can have in hospitals. The study proved that the lists help prevent the transmission of diseases inside the hospital and reduce the number of infections caused by an overlooked step like neglecting to swab an area before inserting a needle. One example that struck me as counterintuitive but screamingly obvious after the fact: doctors should not wear ties because the article of clothing collects and transmits germs as doctors move from patient to patient during their rounds.

The most shocking detail in the article: there are doctors and nurses who don’t want to use these lists. In spite of overwhelming evidence that these lists make them better at their jobs, they felt that they aren’t necessary and would add another layer of bureaucracy to the onerous amount of paperwork that they are already required to do. When I thought about it, the detail didn’t shock me at all.

People, especially professionals, do not like to be told what to do. Much less how to do it.

Which brings me to the challenge of the brand promise.

How do we ensure that companies, and the people who work there, fulfill the expectations of the client and customer?

The first step, of course, is to identify what those expectations are. It is then a good idea, if you have the resources, to do a touch point analysis and determine how your company is interacting with the client at each stage. And then comes the hard part: how do you improve each of these interactions to ensure that the brand promise is fulfilled.

Creating a check list so that doctors and nurses focus on certain basic aspects of their jobs seems like something that would have been put together in the 1920s, if not earlier. It is a low tech, simple solution that helps people make sure that they don’t miss the little things. The customer expectation in a hospital – that institution’s brand promise – is that the patient will be made well again. These check lists help achieve that promise.

And still, there is resistance when the stakes are as high as human health. In some cases, life and death.

The fact of the matter is that when people are good at doing their job, as most doctors and nurses are, there is a tendency to take certain things for granted and the little things fall by the wayside. But the devil is in the details, as some like to say.

If something as simple as a check list can help your business, wouldn’t it make sense to create one? Are you thinking about ways to interact better with your clients? Has your company articulated its brand promise to the extent that you can follow either of the two previous suggestions?

Once you figure out what that promise is, it becomes possible to fulfill it better. But it isn’t easy, as the hospital example shows.

Professionals don’t like to be told what to do. Or that they can do their jobs better.

 

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Getting the Foundation Right

Posted April 4th, 2017 in blog, copy, design, marketing, thoughts by Gary

There is no greater intersecting point for marketing, copy and strategy than the value proposition. Articulating this effectively feels like a simple task: tell the consumer why your product or service is worth more than the competition and they will buy it. Once you have satisfied the buyer’s expectations, you earn their loyalty.

Marketing at it’s most basic, right? Easy stuff.

Not quite. Getting the value proposition right is very hard. As in most cases, it is easy to get something almost right. And almost right isn’t good enough. It is one of the reasons that there are so many small companies and so few new businesses actually succeed. When defining a value proposition, there is always a lot of clutter: egos, beliefs about human nature and different ideas about what is important make cutting to the core a lot more difficult than most people realize.

I was recently tasked with defining the brand values of a service company. In business for many years, the company was looking to expand and was embarking on a new corporate adventure. The specific industry and company itself are of no importance, but the challenges we faced I have encountered a number of times. Meeting those challenges and accepting them as opportunities unfolds generally the same way.

In a small company or a start up, it begins with the realization that no one in the company can actually define the business that they are in or what it is that they do. More precisely, everyone defines the business differently. I have learned over the years that this is a wonderful moment to explain the importance of consistent messaging. When a company believes that people, both consumers and employees, ‘get it’ – without ever having figured out precisely what ‘it’ is – the message changes from person to person and employee to employee. In this environment, creating a coherent messaging strategy, executing the right copy and developing the right marketing become secondary to building the foundation upon which all of this will rest.

The next step involves a discussion about features and pricing, with sales weighing in about the need for promotions and the fact that the only thing that people care about is money. As I mentioned in an earlier post, these are the low-hanging fruit. Getting to the essence of a value proposition is not about features or cost, it is about what you do at its most basic.

Getting the answers to those questions right in our day-to-day existence is extremely difficult. If it were easy, there would be neither a reason to seek the guidance of a priest nor the analysis of a psychiatrist. Getting to the truth involves brutal honesty tactfully delivered and an understanding of what it is that a company really does.

The last step usually involves a few simple expressions, the kind of statements that inspire a shrug of common understanding. “Save Money. Live Better.” is a great example of this. It’s so obvious anyone could have come up with it.

I guess that is why there are so many Walmarts.

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Work Life Imbalance

Posted March 7th, 2017 in blog, thoughts by Gary

One forgets how work can become all consuming. The number of moving parts when you work with a smaller company can make it feel like you are juggling seven pins while riding a unicycle through a sandstorm.

This is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Extremely collaborative and by nature a creative, I find this kind of environment enthralling: too much to do, not enough resources, continuous deadlines. For the marketing department, the tasks can feel particularly daunting, especially when products are still being beta tested and the messaging strategy is little more than an idea. If you enjoy what you do and thrive in an environment where it’s about getting things done, this kind of situation can wreak havoc in your work life balance.

I’ve been working with a company for a little more than a year, and haven’t done much else.

Walking the tightrope between work and life is something that affects us all to different degrees and often for different reasons. Some are pursuing fame and fortune, others want more responsibility. I relish solving complex problems and watching things come to fruition, so the situation I am in represents a particularly good work environment for me.

Does it represent a good life environment? I am not so sure.

So what is one to do?

The subconscious works 24/7 and there will be may nights when I wake up around two or three with the solution to one of the day’s conundrums. It is simply how I am wired. The important thing is to keep things in perspective.¬†Whether it is meditation, the gym, a good book, or simply cooking a great dinner, doing the things that have nothing to do with work and that we enjoy actually make us better and more producutive in the long run.

Even if work is something that we really enjoy.

A blog can help too, I hope.

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Ideas

Posted February 7th, 2017 in blog, marketing, social media, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Another meeting comes to an end and I am awestruck by the number of brilliant ideas that have been suggested. The VP of sales kicked things off by mentioning a competitor’s event that he had recently attended.

“It was packed. They had a whole slew of sponsors, a vodka company, an interactive agency that had set up a bunch of screens, a music label, a vodka company. The place was rocking. They had these hostesses who were giving out free passes. We should do something like that.”

While everyone else was nodding, I was noting a possible time frame to execute this kind of project, the budget required, the assigning of responsibilities. Then someone from HR mentioned a charity drive that was done at her last company. Loads of fun. Great press. The clients ate it up.

Everyone around the table thought it was a great idea. But which charity? The sales reps, the HR department, accounting, all had their favorites and the number of charities shot down in under five minutes was amazing: Too controversial. Doesn’t make sense with our brand. Too obscure. Then somebody, I think it was a customer service rep, said “And we could use social media to promote everything. Have people tweeting, put announcements on Facebook about the amount of money raised. It’s going to be awesome.”

Note: we still hadn’t decided on a charity. Or a date. Or exactly what kind of drive. Believe me when I say there are many different kinds.

The meeting continued, only now everyone was adding something new. A giveaway. A loyalty program. I thought to myself life is a beautiful thing when ideas are all that matters. And I smiled at how far I’d come since I got into this business, remembering the words of an old pro at which I had scoffed just a few years ago: “A good marketing executive has four good ideas a year, a great one, eight. What they have in common is flawless implementation.”

Have you ever sat through a meeting that resembles the one described above? How many times?

They always adjourn without anything actually being done. Or, more precisely, without anything being decided in a way that would enable things to get done. No one is assigned any responsibilities. No deadlines are set. Nothing is broken down into executables. Messaging is almost never mentioned. Neither is media, other than the now ubiquitous social. I won’t even start discussing how these different tactics are supposed to fit in with the overall strategy (see last week’s post). And, when it’s all over, everyone is always thrilled at how well the meeting went. At all the great ideas that marketing should be working on.

I hate to say this, but ideas are easy.

They’re out there for all of us to see. Taste tests. Giveaways. Strategic partnerships. Promotions. Discounts. Raffles. Coupons. Ads. Commercials. And a lot of them are fantastic. Cool. Edgy. I wish that I’d thought of some of them. And then I wonder if they came out of meetings like this one.

Maybe.

But I am certain that someone was asking the real questions: What will it take to get this done? How much money will it cost? How does it benefit the company or product now and in the future?

I am not registering this as a complaint, nor as a criticism. I LOVE getting ideas from all over the place. I am acutely aware, as every marketing exec should be, that I cannot know everything nor be the source of every idea, and that good ideas originate in the strangest places. I just think it is important to remind everyone from time to time that there’s much more involved.

I have worked as a freelancer, for a start-up, in a small company, as well as in a corporate environment. The evidence is overwhelming: the most important quality of a marketing professional is the ability to recognize which ideas are both great and executable given the resources at one’s disposal.

The rest is just talk. Fun. But just talk.

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Infinite Variations, Finite Universe

Posted January 10th, 2017 in blog, marketing, thoughts by Gary

A piano has seven full notes and five half notes. That feels like a relatively small number. The instrument, however, has been used to produce – and continues to produce – countless pieces that are different from one another. The Goldberg Variations, Erik Satie, Bruce Hornsby, all come from that same finite number of keys and represent different levels of success depending on your taste.

So it is with marketing.

The number of actual tools at our disposal are as finite as the interests and incentives of our fellow human beings. Is your campaign focused on branding? Are you offering a BOGO deal? A \discount? A raffle? Points? The question is not whether your offer or idea is new, it is whether it is compelling. And, of course, properly executed.

To prove this point, I present the Guinguette, or turn-of-the-century French dance hall. We are all familiar with the music, the accordion, the cheesy frenchiness of it all, images of Maurice Chevalier or Edith Piaf come to mind. These dance halls have their origin more than a century earlier, when the white wine made from the guinguet grape became popular. In order to increase sales, the local wine-producers in the Nogent-sur-Marne area outside of Paris, where the grapes were cultivated, created popular dances and balls to attract people to the region to… drink.

My point is not that this is special. It is not. The execution of these efforts, however, has created an indelible image of a specific time and place because it was done well. Another great example is the loyalty card, most ingeniously employed by the Catholic Church. If you  attend mass and follow the rules, you will receive the ultimate loyalty prize: Heaven and an eternity relaxing with friends and relatives who all decided to be a part of the same club. But I digress, and fear to offend.

Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement – the Medium is the message – reinforces this notion of a finite universe that requires the need for inventiveness and execution.

Put in a simple way, we can all use a piano to make noise. All you have to do is hit the keys and sounds are produced. But to make music – truly beautiful and memorable music – takes skill.

And with the number of ways to reach people today – print, radio, television, outdoor advertising, social media in its ever increasing complexity – that skill is more and more in demand.

The real question is: Who has it?