Why Not Make a List?

Posted February 26th, 2019 in blog, marketing, strategy, thoughts by Gary

I have come to the conclusion that I hate features. Not feature films, mind you. But those annoying things that are supposed to make a product or service better. If I am going to buy a television, I would like it to be big and have a really good picture. Do I need it to levitate? Or serve dinner?

Those qualities would be nice, of course, as I wouldn’t have to hire someone to hang the plasma on my wall and I could finally fire my butler. Seriously, though, by features, I am talking about the clutter that gets in the way of understanding why people make decisions. More importantly, this clutter gets in the way of companies defining the human value of what they do.

I am not saying that the various, specific qualities of a given product are not important, but they often get in the way of what should be the underlying theme driving your marketing message. As a colleague once said about silk underwear: if you have gotten to the romantic point where you are in your undergarments in the presence of another human being, you really should be able to close the deal.

Even in briefs.

Once you begin enumerating the various qualities of your product, you have basically said that there aren’t any substantial differences between you and your competition. You have admitted that your brand isn’t a brand at all, just a list of various qualities that no one has figured out how to explain in a way that would make someone care.

Too many times have I met with companies that explain what they do by explaining what they do. I would like to know why they do it, or at least get the feeling that they understand the role that they are playing in the great human comedy: It’s how they define that role that makes them special.

And then your brand can become my brand, from California to the New York Island.

Woody Guthrie would kill me.

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Promises, Promises

Posted February 5th, 2019 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.

 

Getting the Foundation Right

Posted January 22nd, 2019 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.

Work Life Imbalance

Posted October 16th, 2018 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.

Strategy vs.Tactics

Posted September 25th, 2018 in blog, copy, marketing, strategy by Gary

One of the most common difficulties I have encountered in marketing is the confusion between strategy and tactics. It arises, I believe, from the fact that the words are used together: a successful strategy cannot be executed without tactics.

Tactics, however, can be executed without strategy.

The goal of every business is relatively simple: drive revenue. To do this, companies employ tactics like sales, promotions, sweepstakes, etc. When these tactics achieve their goal of bringing in more dollars, the strategy is declared successful. See the problem?

For the proverbial mom and pop local shop, tactics are all that they really require. A large part of the success of their business lies in their location and proximity to their customers. If there is a demographic shift – a factory going out of business, a big box store moving into the neighborhood – these businesses simply close up shop. Then someone comes to town and makes a documentary about the injustice of it all, the innocence of the past and the harsh realities of the present, but I digress.

The first challenge in developing a successful strategy lies in the fact that tactics work. This is a good thing, because the fact that tactics do actually work justifies using them as the building blocks in a strategy to achieve growth. This can also be a deterrent as it makes it more difficult to focus on the larger picture and figure out where one wants to be in six, twelve or eighteen months.

So this is where it starts to get more complicated. In business there are rarely clear starting and ending points. There are dates when things begin and end, such as campaigns, but these are established in a muddier framework. Does the strategy start when it is first conceived or when it is rolled out? While the campaign is being prepared, business is still being conducted. In a best case scenario, the tactics being employed during this period are effective and driving revenues. But this makes the whole process messy. Why change what works? Why am I worried about strategy and what might happen next year when things are working today?

Strategy gives tactics context. Context can be evaluated. And this context makes it possible to decide how best to improve on the tactics. Marketing is a grind. It is about successfully executing and evaluating the tactics involved in an overall strategy, day in and day out.

To develop a coherent strategy involves determining the goals for the company. This is where it gets even more complicated, and we haven’t even gotten to managing all of the moving parts. Obviously, you want to make money. What else do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? What do you want people to associate with your product or service? Are you going to attract people with discounts? Wow them with the quality of your goods? How do you want to tell your story?

You see, there are a number of different directions your strategy can take and decisions need to be made about what will lead to the greatest success. This is one of the reasons that understanding one’s business and defining the value that your product or service brings to the table is so important (see Getting the Foundation Right, last week’s post). If you cannot really define what you are doing, how can you articulate what you want to be doing in a year?

All of these questions need to be answered while one is doing business, unless you happen to be going after investor dollars, which poses a whole slew of strategic questions that I plan to address in a later post.

All of this and we haven’t even started to discuss the tactics themselves and how each one advances the different goals articulated in the strategy. Sounds complicated, I know, but it simply requires hard work, insight, and organization.

Did you notice that we haven’t even started to address media, voice, or messaging?

So many options, so many decisions, so many moving parts.

So much fun. All you need to do is enjoy thinking in time.