Category Archives: Marketing strategy

How to write the perfect creative brief

Writing a bad creative brief is really easy. Writing a good one is really hard.

Why does it matter? Because the better the brief, the better the work you’ll get back.

If the brief is vague and woolly the work will be even vaguer and woolier.

Here’s a few tips on how to write a good one that will have copywriters and designers slapping you on the back and taking you for a beer. (Yes, great briefs are quite rare I’m afraid.)

Precisely define your target audience

It’s important to carefully and accurately describe the person we’re talking to.

Digital agencies tend to talk about “personas”, ad agencies tend to talk about the target audience still. But it’s the same thing. The more I can picture the person I’m writing for, the better I can empathise with his or her needs/problems.

Paint me a picture of who I should see in my mind’s eye when I begin work. Can I visualise someone I know?

What jargon do they use (if any), what understanding or knowledge do they have about the product or service we’re selling? What is their current mindset about the product or sector, and so on.

(Many clients like to subdivide the audience into small segments based on age, sex etc but I’ve found that behaviour is generally a much more effective way to divide an audience. Have they bought it before, do they respond to edm, etc?)

Describe and explain the product or service

The brief should clearly tell us what the product or service does. How it works. What’s different or unique about it. Why does the target need it? How does it help them? What problem does it solve for them? Or what emotional need does it fulfil?

Spell it out so anyone can understand it using simple everyday words. If you don’t fully understand it yourself, your creative team won’t have a clue. This is really, really important.

Often the nugget of a great creative idea is hidden in the detail about a product or service. If you’re an agency person, try and know more about the client’s product and market than she does. What’s its market share? What’s the awareness level in the marketplace?

Describing the product or service is the bit on the brief where, as a copywriter, I don’t mind if you write lots of stuff. Or link to a brochure or website that gives lots of detail.

On the other hand, the bit where you must NEVER write lots of stuff is what this post is really about…

Write a killer Main Proposition 

It’s the shortest bit of the brief but should take you the longest time to write. Because it’s far and away the most important bit. It dictates everything about the creative work you want produced, by tightly defining the core thing we want to say.

Writing a good proposition is what really separates the amateur from the pro when it comes to writing a brief for creative people.

It has lots of different names: the promise, the main message, the singleminded proposition. Or it may simply be a slot on the brief that says “What is the one thing that will make the target audience do what we want?” or variations on that theme.

The point is, it’s the single piece of communication that, if all else fails, we want to hit the target reader/viewer/listener with.

And it’s really, really hard to get it right.

So if you only have time to write one thing on a brief, this is the one to focus on. And this is how to do it…

Short and sharp: it should contain ONE message. A single, short sentence.

Benefit-led: It should convey a single promise or benefit to the audience:  how will the reader’s problem be solved? What offer are we making to her? In other words…

What’s the single, main reason they should buy this product?

It could be as simple as a price deal: “Get 25% off this Thursday”

It could be telling them that’s something will make their life easier: “Cook your dinner five times faster” “Reduce your lead time to customers by 30%” “Feel instantly refreshed” “Grow stronger rapeseed plants”.

These all are BENEFITS. You must be super-clear about the difference between a benefit and a feature.

A feature simply describes what the product or service IS. It’s a global supply chain, it’s a sausage made of best pork, it’s an online investment service.

But a BENEFIT tells you why you need to buy it. How it will help you or your business.

It’s the difference between ‘these boots are made of high quality leather’ and “these boots will last you a lifetime”. Clients often focus on the feature and find it hard to think it terms of benefit.

The best way to write a strong benefit-led proposition is to use my YOU CAN technique. Try writing You Can in front of your proposition. This makes sure your proposition is talking direct to the punter, and helps you make sure it’s framed as a benefit to them.

You can reduce your delivery lead time

You can feed your hungry kids quicker

You can grow more crops per acre

You can have a more fulfilling career 

Some writers and designers/art directors will even ask you to condense the thought down to a single word if you can (or will do it themselves using the brief) so they have a laser-like focus on the core message. Try it.

Emotional or rational?

Some people will say “You need  an emotional sell, not a logical one, these days.” Be careful, though, this often stems from misunderstanding how propositions and the resultant headlines are created and work.

Sure, you should write your promise or proposition in a way that empathises with the audience if you can, but a purely emotion-focused proposition like “XYZ Product will make you happy” won’t get you good work.

There’s a trend amongst account people and planners at the moment to use something like this as the proposition for every brief, because ultimately that’s what all products or services are designed to do, yes?.

No. A bland and boring proposition will get you bland and boring work.

It’s the creative team’s job to take your focused, benefit-led proposition and dramatise it in a way that stands out and that resonates with the audience in an emotional way. We present your rational proposition in an emotionally charged way so it works harder.

If you want to write your proposition as a quasi-headline, great. A good copywriter will run with it if it’s a good one. Good ideas can come from anyone in the team.

Try it as a newspaper headline?

If you’re struggling to write your proposition, try writing the benefit statement as it might appear in a newspaper or website news headline. This is a really good way of establishing whether it’s credible or just hot air and/or waffle.

Company claims new pesticide kills 5% more insects in your roof

Company claims new pesticide will make householders happy

Which one is more powerful, or more likely to get the punter to read on, do you think?

The proposition dictates the headline and the imagery

The headline that your writer or team comes back with should, in conjunction with the main image, instantly reflect your proposition. Anyone seeing the work should know at one what we’re offering the punter. If they don’t, the work has failed to capture the proposition and, arguably, should be revisited.

In my days working on huge FMCG clients like Lever Brothers or Procter & Gamble, the clients would sometimes evaluated the work entirely on a tick box basis. Does it clearly communicate the benefit in the proposition? Tick. Does it show who it’s for? Tick. And so on.

They would take the (sensible) view that the agency was the expert in writing ads and, therefore,  as long as their marketing messages were clearly communicated they’d trust us to do work that was exciting, impactful and memorable.

Which is a timely reminder that creative work isn’t generally there to make the client feel all warm and gooey. It’s to get his customers reaching for their wallet. Sometimes it’s very easy to forget this.

But what if there’s isn’t a strong and specific reason for them to buy?

If you’re selling milk or beer or clothes or even a car, there may not be anything specific or unique you can say to your audience to make them consider your product. In this case you may have to fall back on a proposition that is more about the target audience’s aspirations and lifestyle.

The creative work will most likely rely simply on imagery, humour or music that reflect what the brand wants to say about itself.

In a B2B environment, however, if you can’t see a specific reason/benefit you can use for your proposition, you’re stuffed. Chances are you just need to ask the client more questions. Or failing that, ask his customers why they bought.

(Can you imagine a hard-nosed B2B salesman telling a corporate procurement director that he should spend £2m on his machines because it will make him happy?)

Sure, you can treat a B2B brief like an FMCG brief for beer or perfume but the creative work you get back will be tosh and disappear into the ether, ignored and unread.

Why should they believe us?

The next section on the brief, immediately following the proposition, should be something called “support” or “proof points” or “why should the audience believe our promise?” or similar. This is where you can list all the product features and facts that make the proposition credible.

This section should really only contain the stuff that directly underpins the proposition. If there’s other stuff you’d like to say to the punter, put this in a separate section on the brief.

Finally, don’t forget the last two must-haves, both of which massively impact the creative people’s thinking. (I generally read these first so I can frame the rest of the brief in the knowledge of where it’s ultimately got to lead.)

The deliverables: do you want a web page, a brochure, an email, a brochure, a press ad, a banner or skyscraper, a logo, a doordrop? Or perhaps a campaign idea that will work across all of the above? Be clear and specific.

The call to action: what is it you want the punter to do? (It may be nothing but remember the product if it’s a pure brand awareness brief.) Do you want her to call you, visit a website, buy something Right Now? Be clear about what you want them to do and how you want them to do it.

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?

riot

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!

pig

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?

images

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

macfish

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.

waitrosegrab

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?

emptywindow

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?

dalipic

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.