Category Archives: Marketing strategy

Sometimes a whisper is louder than a scream

It seems that, in order to be heard above the mindless racket that passes for TV adverting these days, advertisers are becoming more and more hysterical in their approach.

The grotesque “You’re so Money Supermarket” dancers and the once slightly wittier but now just brash and crass “Go Compare” executions are just two examples of what their creators would no-doubt declare as ‘ironic’ advertising. Actually, it’s just boorish shouting.

What is actually ironic, is that often you get more attention on the telly when you whisper instead of scream.

There was a striking black and white ad for Adele’s latest outing just before christmas, for example. In virtual silence, it focused on her eyes, which then opened to striking and memorable effect. It stood out like a sore thumb amongst the stampede of not-funny, screeching nonsense that surrounded it.

And now there’s another example of a TV ad that stops you in your tracks, grabs your attention and keeps it for the duration of its sell. (You know, the stuff ads are supposed to do.)

It’s basically just a still screen showing text messages popping up on a mobile. The only sound is the gentle beep as the latest message arrives. You have to read each one. No voice over to help you.

It’s utterly captivating and, like the Adele ad, is an oasis of communicative calm in the maelstrom of nonsense we’re so used to being assaulted by.

So, well done

The same principle applies in press and online too. Shout loudly “I AM AN AD PLEASE READ ME”, and you’re actually saying “I AM AN AD. YOU SHOULD IGNORE ME IMMEDIATELY”.

Make your ad look like editorial, however, and you’ll get that extra nano-second of attention that allows your message (if it’s clear enough, and offers a benefit) to be more clocked by your target. Suddenly your ad starts to do its job.

There’s a reason that so many online advertisers use those tacky click-bait executions (universally sneered at by hipster, bearded advertising types) rather than ‘creative’ banners. They test one against the other.

And the editorial-style click-bait ones work better. Simple.

Excuse me, madam: where might I meet a millennial?

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Sigh, as they say in the online forums.

In marketing circles, real or virtual, you can’t move for people blathering on about millennials about the moment. And how to target millennials. And what millennials want to buy. And what millennials think. (And magazines are full of it, too.)

It’s like someone has just realised that every product and service in the world is only bought by this newly discovered group of people. If you’re not talking to (and about) millennials, you’re a loser, an idiot and clearly know NOTHING about marketing.

There are two problems with this.

One, all these people raving about millennials seem unclear as to who these god-like creatures actually are. What they’re not, is people born at the turn of the century as their name might suggest. Because they’re only 16.

The descriptor seems to refer to people who are young, but not too young, but love their technology and like engaging with all the digital stuff that 20 year old marketing executives think is important.

At least, I think that’s what they are. The people getting all over-excited about the importance of millennials clearly don’t have time to stop and write a clear definition that we mere mortals can fathom. Perhaps they are in their twenties? Or thirties? Or forties?

Two, nobody seems able to say WHY this group is so important in any objective way. They don’t spend nearly as much as older people, for example. They have less disposable cash. They’re quite hard to reach through advertising.

So why is everyone so obsessed with them? Take this page of slobbering drivel amongst the gazillions on the internet. I’ve pasted this here as it’s absolutely stereotypical of the mind-bendingly dim stuff that is written about millennials.

“Who is the Millennial consumer?

Millennial consumers overwhelmingly prefer access to goods over ownership of goods, delaying purchases of large ticket items like cars and homes—and fueling a new “sharing economy” in the process.

While Millennials are often portrayed as impatient, tech-obsessed and egocentric, their spending habits tell a more comprehensive story. The Millennial group is highly loyal to their chosen brands, valuing philanthropy, authenticity, and higher purpose in business practices—and paying little attention to advertising.

This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills. These values mean that a company that can capture a Millennial customer will be richly rewarded, and for a very long time. As Millennials begin to enter into their phase of purchasing power and consumer dominance, their loyalty is more important than ever.”

This is absolute tosh of the highest order. You’ll note that there is no evidence put forth for any of these assertions. Because there isn’t any.

Who writes this patronising, idiotic garbage? More worryingly, who believes it?

Take the first point: they’re not creating a sharing economy, whatever that is. They’re delaying buying because they can’t afford a mortgage. They’re not a religious movement, they’re skint.

Second point. There’s no evidence they’re any more loyal to a brand than any other group. Recent studies have shown that brand loyalty is, in any case, not nearly as important as people used to believe. It hardly exists in any meaningful way. Customers described as ‘loyal’ can still only be buying your stuff twice a year. And will buy other brands regularly and readily if their preferred brand is unavailable. (Which is why real marketeers know that distribution plus shelf position etc is often considerably more important than advertising.)

They apparently value authenticity (whatever that is!) and higher purpose in business practice. Do they? Again, where’s the evidence? Who are these paragons of nobility? Are they superhuman?  So who are all these young people eating at McDonalds and Starbucks and happily supporting massive tax-evaders like Amazon? Who are these gangs of young Londoners drunkenly throwing bottles at the Man Utd team bus?

Can’t be the Millennials because they are all angels in human form.

“This group rewards brands that respect their independent decision-making skills.”  What does this even MEAN? Nobody rewards brands. People buy stuff.

As for the second half, ask anyone in a survey whether they like/respond to advertising and marketing and they’ll say no. But, of course, the fact is they do, just like they always have; and any sensible marketing director has banks of evidence to prove that good old-fashioned advertising works as well as it ever has.

Finally, the idea that you capture a young buyer and he stays with you when he gets lots of money in later life has been disproven so many times it’s tragic that people are still rolling it out under the Millennials banner as if it’s something new.

As the majority of people working in advertising or marketing today would probably consider themselves to be millennials (ie under 45 perhaps?), I have a horrible suspicion that what we’re really seeing here is their own idealised portrait of who they think they are (or would like to be)…

A group of smiling, white-teethed twenty-somethings that work in a children’s hospital, drive a vintage VW camper and have somehow, magically, stepped out of a FatFace ad to become living, breathing flesh and blood.

 

 

 

The Muppets rescue Christmas!

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It’s November and in advertisingland Christmas is already in full swing. Every tv ad-break is filled with cute, smiling kids handing presents shyly and cutely to rosy-cheeked granddads and grandmas. Every home is covered is snow and jolly snowmen & amusing reindeer jostle for position in every high street.

Depressing isn’t it?

Personally I’m not a huge fan of Christmas, full stop; its brazen commerciality, its false bonhomie, its sentimentality and all the rest. Bah humbug etc.

But what really depresses me is the total lack of originality in Christmas advertising. The ads for retail outlets are literally interchangeable. (And I love the way those cheeky ad schedulers seem to make a point of running very similar ads right on top of each other. Well done, you lot!)

There are the ‘oh what a terrible present but I’ll put on a brave face’ ads. There are the small child accidentally meeting Father Christmas ads. There are the giant family around the dinner table scoffing Christmas fare from Aldi/Sainsbury/Asda/Waitrose/Lidl/M&S. There are the black and white with film star perfume ads. Yaaaaaaaaaaawn is not the word.

And of course there is The John Lewis Ad. An event which seems to have taken on an importance equivalent to Christmas Day itself. This year it features a kid looking at the lonely man in the moon. So he gets sent a telescope so he can feel even more lonely as he watches everyone on Earth having a great time with all their family and mates. Thanks a bunch, Earthlings.

Then there is the new ad for Giant Crumpets. Starring the muppets. All of them, from Kermit to Piggy to Fozzie to the chairman of Warburtons.

Who is clearly not a muppet, actually.

Because he or his marketing people have realised that the way to get ATTENTION and MEMORABILITY during the Christmas advertising yawn-fest – and at every other time of the year, too – is to do something DIFFERENT from everyone else.

The muppets ad blasts into your brain like a laser and, doubtless, the giant crumpets will be flying off the shelves the length and breadth of the country.

 

Whatever happened to the digital advertising revolution?

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Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (As Pete Townshend of The Who once wrote.)

Do you remember how, a few short years ago, all the self-styled digital advertising gurus were telling everyone how advertising had changed beyond all recognition? How advertising was no longer about intrusive spots on TV and big attention-grabbing press ads? How our customers were now ‘in control’ and how we had to ‘engage’ them in ‘conversations’ via social media? How it was all about building your customers’ relationship with The Brand not about selling stuff to them?

Well, I was just on YouTube. And before I could watch my selected video I had to watch a 30 second commercial for Marks & Spencers. Just like the ones on the TV. Selling me stuff. I had no choice. Not only that, advertisers can now choose to allow their ads to interrupt videos – get shown in the middle. Again, just like telly!

And then I had a quick browse on Facebook to see what interesting stuff had been posted on my newsfeed. Oh look, lots of very old-fashioned press-style ads interrupting my enjoyment of dogs playing musical instruments and such like. (This is the same Facebook which, if you cast your mind back before it was sold, promised never to have ads on it.) Selling me stuff.

Whilst I was on Facebook did I stop to engage with my tinned tomatoes supplier? Did I dive into a fascinating conversation with Colgate about my choice of toothpaste? Did I then whizz over to Twitter to join a national debate on Lloyds Bank? Er, no I didn’t. Because nobody ever does. Do you?

In short, here’s where we are. Right back where we started. People selling stuff via what is, to all intents and purposes, traditional, intrusive, in-your-face advertising.

Facebook and Google (owners of Youtube) and Twitter have finally realised that nothing has changed. Whatsoever. People have no interest in products or brands. So you have to ram advertising down their throats whether they like it or not. (Not being the operative word, of course.)

And so, to reach your customers effectively, and cost-effectively, you run old-fashioned ads. Telly ads on YouTube, press ads on Facebook. Editorial-style banners on websites. PPC ads on Google.

Sure, there’s a bit of ‘engagement’ by fans of certain products. I engage with stuff that is relevant to my job and my hobbies. Stuff that provides me with interesting or useful information. If it happens to be provided by a brand, fine. If it doesn’t, also fine. This is PR in action. Just like it’s always been PR in action. Putting interesting stories into media that their customers read/visit. This is not new, folks.

But the idea that most people now go online to have ‘a conversation’ about toilet paper or sprouts or pan scrubs or fish fingers – or any of the countless other brands we buy every week – is as ludicrous now as it has always been. And always will be.

We don’t get fooled again, as Uncle Pete said. Or do we?

 

 

 

 

 

How Apple became the world’s biggest brand by banning the word brand

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There’s one marketing blog out there which, to me, is unmissable. It’s called The Ad Contrarian and whenever you’ve had your head rammed full of fashionable, flavour-of-the-month marketing bollocks it’s a great place to go and restore your faith in common sense.

In his latest rant, The Ad Contrarian takes apart the idea that your brand is more important than your actual product. He shows a clip of the head of Saatchi’s (big UK ad agency) blathering on about how Steve Jobs of Apple put brand before product, blah, blah.

Except he didn’t. A quote from one of Jobs’s team puts the lie to this. Utterly. And totally.

In fact, Apple understand that you don’t get people to buy your product by making them like your brand. You build a brand by getting people to like your product. That’s why they’re the world’s biggest company.

This is a fact that is utterly lost on most most marketing and advertising, ahem, ‘experts’ who will drone on about brand-building, brand conversations and engagement, and the latest must-have bit of software that is going to change the game etc etc…

In a few swift and pithy sentences, Allison Johnson, VP of Worldwide Marketing at Apple from 2005 to 2011, destroys the dreams, aspirations, beliefs and motivations of the vast majority of the world’s advertising and marketing industry.

…the two most ‘dreaded, hated’ words at Apple under Steve Jobs were ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’.…we understood deeply what was important about the product, what the team’s motivations were in the product, what they hoped that product would achieve, what role they wanted it to have in people’s lives…The most important thing was people’s relationship to the product. So any time we said ‘brand’ it was a dirty word.

Here’s a link to The Ad Contrarian

How to tell your customers bad news. And how not to.

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Received an email newsletter from Waitrose today. The subject line was: Free tea & coffee update. So far so good. But ‘update’? What an odd word? Hmmm….

In the body of the email they start blathering on in classic client-speak…“Just in the same way as a friend might offer a hot drink when you visit their home, we think it’s what a caring business should do when a loyal customer shops with us”.

Ignoring the gobbledook grammar (“Just in the same way”???), this kind of nonsense immediately switches on the reader’s radar…oh, hello, there’s some bad news on its way, isn’t there….

They then give me “a short guide” about “free tea and coffee etiquette”. This is a three stage process, apparently. Get a My Waitrose card, shop with us, get free tea, swipe card.

Yes, that’s what you do. Get on with it. What the hell has this got to do with etiquette?

But of course, the answer is absolutely nothing.

The poor agency writer has been asked to write an email with bad news and has tried to dress it up as friendly good news. (And I sense the heavy hand of a nervous client here.) The hapless wordsmith has been asked to hide the bad news under a blanket of fluffy, meaningless nonsense.

And, yep, here it comes…

Turns out, from Feb 9th, you can no longer get free tea in the caff unless you buy something else ‘such as a sandwich, cake, biscuit or piece of fruit. This change will enable us to continue to offer our customers the enjoyable service they expect’.

No it won’t. It’s got nothing to do with giving customers enjoyable service. If it had, they wouldn’t have stopped it.

I imagine the real reason is that their cafes are losing business because the customers claim their free teas and coffees and sit there drinking it to the exclusion of other customers, and without buying anything in the shop.

So they decide to serve up this contrived, patronising pile of drivel to the customers they purport to value so highly (see para 2).

Why not be honest, instead? We’re grown ups. We know there’s a recession on.

Why not explain that, unfortunately, trading conditions have changed and we won’t be able to offer free teas and coffees in the cafe anymore. But, hey, good news, you can still get one while you’re doing your weekly shop.

And most importantly of all, why not say We’re Sorry.

Apologise. Easy.

I might believe they really do care about their customers, then. This email actually made me a little angry. I thought the John Lewis organisation was better than this. They are treating me like an imbecile, not a customer.

But for so many companies, as Elton John said, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

A website that doesn’t show your products?

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I had a very interesting conversation the other day. I was chatting to a senior agency chap who was telling me about their new website, currently in production. We logged into the work-in-progress build so he could show me what they were up to.

The site was great, with attractive graphics, nice clear navigation and a straightforward exposition of what the agency’s philosophy was. So far so good.

Until I asked him to click on ‘Our Work’.

I was expecting to see screengrabs of the websites they’d made, shots of their best press ads so I could admire the concepts and read the body copy. I expected to be able to click on clips of their TV and online video stuff and flick through some of their grooviest brochures. I was looking forward to seeing some of their ground-breaking exhibition stands in situ.

Except I couldn’t. There wasn’t a single example of a complete, finished piece of work.

There were loads of design elements taken from a campaign, and some shots that might have been used in ads or online. But not the actual ads themselves or websites or emails or corporate ID packages or pack designs or any of the other lovely work they’ve done.

Think about this for a second.

Imagine going to Ford’s website and not seeing a single picture of a car. Just a nice, arty shot of a steering wheel. Or going to Apple’s website and not seeing a picture of an iPhone. Just a little picture of a printed circuit. Or going to Next’s website and not seeing a picture of the coat they’re selling, just a picture of a button on the cuff. Imagine going to an architect’s site and not seeing any pictures of the buildings they’ve designed.

Is it just me, or would you find this somewhat odd? You build a fantastically expensive, beautiful, engaging website in order to sell your wares and, er, you don’t show them?

So this agency had made a creative decision not to show the stuff it sells. The stuff it sweats blood over. The stuff its clients pay a bloody fortune for and hang proudly on their boardroom walls.

There were loads of case studies telling the visitor how brilliant they were at solving the clients’ marketing issues in creative and striking ways. But we had to take this entirely on trust as none of the work was there to actually see.

Not a sausage.

How could this happen? How could senior agency management make a decision not to show the very things that prospective clients would be most interested in seeing? If you don’t have anything else on the site, at least show the work, surely?

I didn’t have the nerve to press the chap at the time. People tend to get extremely defensive when Emperor’s New Clothes type comments are lobbed at them.

But I suspect it’s because of at least two things.

Firstly, I believe the website creation was put in the hands of the agency’s own website developers/designers. And not in the hands of their planners, copywriters or art directors. This meant that its whole development was approached from a technology/build perspective, not a marketing/sales perspective. So everyone admired the sliders, the dissolves, the colours, the parallax scrolling…and forgot about the site’s fundamental reason for existing.

Which brings us to reason two. I suspect there was a failure at the most basic level of communications strategy. They should have been applying the same rigour they would demand on a project for a client, and saying to themselves “What will the people visiting this site most want to see? What do we need to show them to make them consider buying our services?” and answering “Our work, of course! Hurrah!”

So what’s the lesson to be learnt here? One, if you’re an agency, ensure you approach your own marketing with the same clarity of thought you’d apply to your clients’ projects. That means establishing clear objectives and communications strategy at the outset.

Or two, consider giving the website concept development to an outside party who can remain objective and focussed. And who can say “But, but, but he’s not wearing any clothes?” and not worry about the internal political consequences.

Click on Contact at the top of the page if you’d like my help.

 

 

 

 

 

Is a picture really worth a thousand words?

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A picture, so it’s said, paints a thousand words. And certainly, in some contexts, this is true. In particular, a powerful news image can tell you a story instantly. In a film or tv drama, the whole purpose of the exercise is, as any screenwriter will tell you, to tell a story using pictures.

But is it true in marketing and advertising?

Take a look at the average website and you’d certainly think so. Big images, big sliders, hardly any copy. (And often the copy is small, discreet, pale grey reversed out of red or something.) They often look amazingly cool and groovy and are often produced by amazingly cool and groovy people in amazingly cool and groovy offices.

But do they work to sell your stuff?

Mention the word ‘sell’ to a typical web designer and you’ll see a look of utter incomprehension enter his eyes. You’ll hear a sharp intake of breath at the very suggestion that his art might be sullied for mere commercial gain.

I exaggerate of course. But, in my experience, the truth is closer to this than many marketeers and company owners might like to think.

So let’s just remind ourselves what websites, edm and all the rest are really for.

They’re to get people to want to buy your products or services. Or, at the very least, to get people to find out about your products or services and move them a little way towards a buying decision.

Now I realise at this point that some of you (and maybe a lot of you) will be saying “Oh no, it’s to build our brand”.

That’s because, to repeat myself from previous posts, there is a very odd and utterly misguided viewpoint that’s very current amongst many marketing folk. And that’s the belief that ‘you build a brand and then people will try your products’.

This is utter tosh. The truth is actually almost the complete opposite: getting people to try your products is what builds your brand.

And you get people to try your product by telling them how great it is. And giving them all sorts of practical and emotional REASONS why they should try it. Once they engage with your product they’ll form a view about your brand.

This is really, really important.

There are small design groups (and big expensive agencies) all over the world who have completely lost track of this most basic marketing truth.

If nobody buys your stuff you don’t HAVE a brand. You have a corporate ID. A nice logo and some whizzy graphics. (And a website that’s all cool and groovy images.)

You might call that a brand, but it’s a long, long way from being a brand. A brand is created in your customer’s mind, not on a designer’s Mac.

It’s created by her experience of everything about your product. The price, your service, how well your product meets her needs, whether it’s trendy and so on, and so on.

Sadly, building a whizzy website with cool photography and whizzy graphics is far, far easier than creating a powerful marketing and advertising strategy that goes to the heart of your target audience’s practical needs and emotional mindset.

There’s real graft involved in tearing your marketplace to shreds to identify your real USP. There’s lots of time involved in researching your customers until you’re sick of listening to them.

It takes clever creative people to write engaging and dramatic headlines that will stop customers in their tracks and pull them into the detail.

This is why your website needs to be driven by a coherent marketing and communications strategy. It needs, just like a tv ad, to be utterly clear about what unique benefits you’re offering your customers. It needs to give them lots of reasons why they should give your product or try.

And unless you’re selling fashion items where the picture does most of the work, or you’re a pure online retailer like Amazon where people simply go to buy at the best price, this means writing some great copy.

Some powerful, benefit driven headlines. Some well-crafted engaging body copy that draws the reader in, drives her towards a sale.

And perhaps a little video that lets you explain and perhaps demonstrate what your product or service is all about. (Plus, of course, great pics of your products or service or your team or your customers. Don’t use library shots if you can possibly avoid it.)

Remember, any advertising, be it your website, your radio ads or your 48 sheet poster, is only there because you can’t talk to all your customers face to face. 

PS I have deliberately avoided the topic of search engine optimisation in this post. It goes without saying that your customer has to find your site before she can read it. Don’t be misled, however, into thinking your web developer’s job is done just because your new site has leapt up the Google rankings. It’s a common, and dangerous, error.

 

 

 

Social Media: why it’s a PR medium not an advertising medium

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These days, you can’t do an advertising pitch to a potential new client without including some soshul meeja, innit, content.

So the copywriters and art directors come up with all sorts of cool and groovy uses for Facebook, Twitter, Vine et al and, depressingly often, an App relating to the client’s product or brand (which, needless to say, never gets made).

The problem is, in the real world social media isn’t an advertising medium, it’s a PR medium. Companies that recognise this crucial distinction are able to use social media effectively and very cost-efficiently.

That’s because they realise that, exactly like ye olde media like newspapers, the most effective place for your sales message is in editorial.

Editorial is the stuff people WANT to read. The stuff that gives them useful information or entertains them with gossip. Ads are what people do their utmost to ignore.

So when you try and shoehorn your advertising campaign’s messages and tone of voice into social media it just screams I AM ADVERTISING PLEASE IGNORE ME.

Advertising people don’t understand PR. (And, to be fair, most PR people can’t do decent advertising, either.) Advertising people generally think PR is something that’s done by airhead toffs called Giles and Camilla. And that it’s easy. And somehow less important than advertising.

Wrong.

Get your new product into some editorial, because it’s relevant, interesting, entertaining, and you get a million times more bang for your buck. (Well, perhaps not a million, but a PR person will give you the actual data.)

Effective Twitter campaigns provide a constant stream of useful information. Be it recipes, links, tips and techniques. Nobody will re-tweet your, oh-so witty, ad campaign headline.

Ditto Facebook. Sure you can drag people to your Facebook page with an offer or promotion. But don’t be fooled into thinking bribing people to Like you has got anything to do with effective use of the medium.

Get some important journalists or opinion formers behind your brand, however, by using social media properly and you’re suddenly on a different planet results-wise.

Which is why clever clients, and clever ad people, know that it’s the PR agency who should be running their Facebook and Twitter activity. Not the ad agency.

 

 

The best copy in the world can’t sell something nobody wants

In Saffron Walden, where I’m lucky enough to live, shops open and then close down again in the blink of an eye. They’re always shops that sell stuff that their owners are clearly passionate about — Pin Cushions R-Us! or Dog Trousers Unlimited or Tripe-2-Go.

The problem is, their passion isn’t shared by the community at large. They simply don’t have a market. Hardly anybody wants the things they’re selling. So they fail. And quickly.

And exactly the same thing happens in the broader marketing community, too. People launch products or services without bothering to find out whether there’s a viable market for it.

They’re excited about it so they assume the world at large will be. And they’re very often wrong.

It’s easy to launch your business online, of course. Build a WordPress website, get some basic SEO, send out some emails with MailChimp and bingo, you’re a business.

It’s a sort-of puppyish “If you build it they will come!” mentality.

Except they don’t come. Unless you’ve researched your market properly, and identified a large number of punters who need what you’re flogging, they’ll stay away in droves.

And it doesn’t matter how good the promotion is ie how persuasive the copy is, how cool the corporate ID is, how witty the advertising. If nobody wants it, it won’t sell.

(And you can take solace from the fact that big multinationals get it wrong sometimes too. Because they didn’t do the right market research. Or they didn’t do any at all.)

But if you’ve got something the world is actually waiting for — the fabled ‘Better Mousetrap’ — then good advertising and marketing will help you find more customers and sell more mousetraps. Think of Dyson. Genius idea, superbly effective advertising and marketing…sensational customer service…funky design…and…and…and…

So how do you know if there’s a market out there? The easiest way is to look for someone already selling what you’re proposing to sell. Are there a few people out there making an honest crust doing something similar to your idea, at a similar price?

Yes? Then a market probably exists and your idea may have legs. Hooray! Next step, ask yourself whether you can do it better, cheaper, faster.

On the other hand, if you can’t find anyone selling what you’re proposing to sell, there are two reasons why this might be.

1: Your idea is so amazingly innovative and different that nobody else has thought of it yet. But it will still answer a need of some sort. Think Dyson: the Better Hoover without a Bag. Think of a tasty new food product. People need to eat. Think of a way to carry all your music in a tiny little hard-drive.

2: There simply isn’t a market for it.