Is Your Brand Truthy?


Why smoke and mirrors, misdirection and just plain lying don’t work anymore.

The age of marketing enlightenment is upon us. It’s official buzzword is authenticity, and it’s inconvenient brother is named truth. This sweeping reform movement is enabled by swift communication between consumers online, social media platforms, and review sites. Consumers yearn for relationships with their brands, and betraying their trust can be a costly mistake.

Like political ads, most consumer advertising either says nothing, contorts the truth, or smacks of hyperbole. In a recent commercial, a luxury car deemed itself “The World Standard.” The world standard for what? Does this include the 47 countries in the world that have no knowledge of the brand? And we’re not singling out cars, you can find the same level of pap in ads for everything from hotdogs and laundry detergents to investment bankers and hospitals.

Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts.

Hot air like this is exactly what gets brands in trouble on social media. Like reading on Facebook that your pal’s “World Standard” is leaking water like a flop house toilet.

Keeping it Clean and Honest

It’s not surprising then that some brands, steeped in conventional ad pap for decades, have problems embracing the newfangled authenticity. In reality, you can easily skip over this minefield if you remember two things: 1) Tell the truth. 2) Remember what you were taught about writing in the fifth grade. If you need a refresher course, pick up a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style.

The truth and not telling it, or partially telling it will dog your brand forever on the Internet. When you believe something, you have a reason for believing even if it’s just pure faith. Make sure that your company’s marketing claims are backed by reasons and facts. Maybe you can’t squeeze it all in a Tweet, but you can expand on it on the web and in other media.

In web writing, avoid empty hyperbole like the plague. Don’t claim that you’re the world’s best, finest, or only unless you can prove it. If you’re touting “Drive = Love,” like Chrysler, you better have a Viagra dispenser under the dash.

Weasel words are the second cousins of hyperbole. They give the brand wiggle room, usually for legal reasons, and dilute the claim, e.g. arguably the safest car in America. Anytime you see an adjective or an adverb with an “ly” construction, you’ve got a stinker. Words like about, sometimes, most are also good signs a brand is hedging its bets.

So instead of sounding like an ad from a political action committee, stay true to your brand. Stick to declamatory sentences. Start with a topic sentence. Make it believable. And back your claims up with tangible reasons to buy, or to prefer your product or service to a competitor.

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Rocking It With High Lifetime Value Customers


Rocking It With High Lifetime Value Customers

The reward system for CEOs and CMOs is heavily structured toward short-term (quarterly) revenue and ROI. And the degree of success is often determined by comparison to the recent past. One of the most valuable future-looking metrics we have is Customer Lifetime Value.

The Marketing Accountability Standards Board defines it as “the present value of all the cash flows attributed to the consumer during their entire relationship with a company.” Why should you care?

CLV is critical business information for:

  • Determining how much to spend on support.
  • Developing products that meet the needs of your best customers.
  • Assessing marketing spend to acquire a customer.
  • Helping sales hone in on the most profitable customers.
  • Improving efficiency by not wasting resources on non-productive customers.

One common example is the price shopper (P), who is loyal only to the lowest price, not the brand. He/she isn’t a good candidate for a repeat sale unless you can cough up another deep discount.  At the same time, another customer (V) understands the true value of your product and will buy it at any reasonable price. Consider the dollars at stake if this were an automobile purchase.

Research your existing high value customers, and have the tools and knowledge to identify them during the selling process.

Customer (P) will buy a blowout special car, which he has negotiated to the lowest possible price. You’ll never see him again. Your CLV is simply the price he paid. Meanwhile, customer (V) will pay a fair price for his original car, and purchase three more during his driving career. In addition, he’ll recommend your brand to friends, family and colleagues. He’ll also generate additional revenue streams for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance.  By this measure, customer (V) is worth 5 times more to the company than customer P, but both showed up as individual and equal sales in your first quarter.

So, how do you sell to high customer lifetime customers?

  • Train salespeople to sell benefits – not price.
  • Don’t nickel and dime your best customers. Give them something for free every now and then.
  • Research your existing high-value customers, and have the tools and knowledge to identify them during the selling process.
  • Guide these customers down the full path of products and services you offer.
  • Know when the acquisition and maintenance cost of a customer is unprofitable and drop him or her.

To quickly understand your product’s CLV, use this simple calculator. Or put your data analyst (if you have one) to work on algorithms that might identify profitable and unprofitable customers earlier in the sales cycle.

By focusing on the lifetime value of customers, you can focus on marketing strategies that result in long-term profits, not just a sale.

To find out how computers and algorithms might be used to predict high and low-value customers, read “The Executive’s Guide to Machine Learning from McKinsey.

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Splice words together for unique brand names


Have you tried to buy a domain name for a website lately? Then you know exactly what we’re talking about. Like a Vegas slot machine, you plugged dozens of names into a domain lookup service. Sometime in the wee hours, maybe, you got lucky.

The problem starts with generic terms. They’ll thwart your attempts to plant in the brains of your customers, or find a domain name shorter than the alphabet. And good luck securing a trademark.

Word splicing for fun and pleasure

When things get tough at Ideopia, we make things up. This is where portmanteau (blended) words come in handy, and we brag about our own name. Ideopia is a blend of “idee,” which is Greek for idea, and “opia,” happy place. If you get in a bind, you can add “oholic” or “ology,” or “cism” to the end of nearly every word. Grab a six pack of Carrotology juice and a Feetza, a pizza in the shape of a foot, and watch the game on your Eyetoaster. For extra intellectual property head room, mess with the spelling, like Karrotology or Eye Toester.

Concoct your own brand names

Developing unique brand names is hard work. At least with portmanteaus, the official international snack food is Reese’s Cups. Chomp down on those while you build an extensive list of terms and associations with your brand, its values, and its unique point of difference. Then the fun begins. Make sure you have plenty of Keratology juice on hand and start splicing, gluing, blending and changing the spelling of words until the magic happens.

Famous portmanteau brands

Coco Crisp
Dunkin’ Donuts
Krispy Kreme
Circuit City
Bob’s Big Boy

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10 Hacks for Your Next Radio Commercial

Radio, on and offline, is still a great media value for reaching target demographic groups and building frequency. And Internet radio, which reaches an estimated 47% of all Americans, is fueling the flames. To help you get the most out of your next campaign, we compiled a list of our favorite radio and audio hacks:

  1. Never forget that radio is a visual medium. People hear words and see an HD movie in their head. If you can imagine it – a three-headed talking goat, for example – you can create it in the mind’s eye of your audience.
  2. Not everyone has a Bose sound system in their car, so it’s crucial to experience how the 99 percenters will hear your spot. Most studios can simulate small speakers.
  3. Read the spot out loud several times before heading to the studio. If a phrase is difficult for you to pronounce, or the syntax is awkward, it will hang up the talent, too.
  4. Choose talent that doesn’t work regularly in your targeted markets. They will help your spot pop. Get the best talent you can afford, and don’t automatically accept what the studio or radio station has to offer. Otherwise, be contrarian in your selection. If your competitors sound like the local radio announcers, use an ethnic voice. If they tap male announcer types, hire a female actor who can make a casual delivery.
  5. Most spots that aren’t for auctioneer services should be written short. While 130 words for a 60-second spot is fairly common, we prefer 110 to 120. Why? That’s a normal speaking tempo for a homosapian, and it gives the producer room to place sound effects most effectively.
  6. Silence is your secret weapon. Use it before an important copy point, which should not be a phone number. We need to keep our customers alive, and prevent them from using their phones while driving. Why? Different smartphones have different pairings of numbers and letters. Better yet, use an URL that’s free of homonyms (different words that sound the same).
  7. Don’t use talent with a real or fake British accent ever. Never. Just don’t do it. Hungarian. Okay. Texas redneck. Okay. Just not British.
  8. Make spots that are compatible with the formats and stations you’ve selected. This doesn’t mean you need a country music bed for a spot running on a country station. But you shouldn’t use fake or real British accents that scream, “We don’t get you!”
  9. You are speaking to one person who’s driving, listening through ear buds, or engaged in work. DO NOT YELL AT PEOPLE. The whole point of radio is to have a real conversation one on one.
  10. Music. Most advertisers use an obligatory music bed, but unless the tune reinforces the spot’s message, it’s just noise. Produce your spot dry and grab more attention.

Radio is a blast online and off. You may not have a TV budget for a base-jumping mariachi band, but you can sure do it on radio.

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Selling Social Media As An Essential Marketing Strategy

It’s hard to imagine life before social media. Dramatic? Yes, but it’s true. And the same can be said for business. In the past few years, social media has become an integral platform for brand awareness, developing partnerships, managing customer service, generating leads and increasing revenue. So much so that social media is no longer a “nice-to-have” but a “must-have” in an effective marketing plan.

However, confusion with ROI, reporting, tracking and staffing are keeping many companies from reaching maximum social media marketing potential. If your boss hasn’t jumped on the social media marketing ship, here’s some ammunition to get him/her on board:

  1. Social Media = Marketplace Insight: Social media platforms give your brand the means to relate to, exist in and encourage a highly engaged and influential community. If you aren’t interacting with your customers/audience, you’re missing a huge opportunity to observe, question, explore and experiment. Market research and customer interaction have never been easier (or cheaper!).
  2. Customer Service Got A Makeover: You better believe social media has changed the entire look and feel of customer service. Customers expect brands to be social, so if you aren’t, what does that say about your authority in your market? Your relevancy in your industry? Your concern for customer satisfaction? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
  3. Who Doesn’t Love Low Risk and Low Cost? Not loving how your latest campaign is performing on Facebook? Stop it. None of those 70 new Twitter accounts are following you back? Try again or cut ‘em loose. Instagram isn’t bringing you qualified leads? Do some audience research and try a platform more suited to your target and marketing objectives. There’s something beautiful about a collection of online spaces that warrant an experimental approach.
  4. Say Hello to SEO: Our friends at Google have the responsibility of making sure users are seeing the most valuable, relevant content when they search online. What does this mean for you? The more your brand/products are being shared and linked to on your social media pages, the higher your content will rank on Google because it will be considered greater value to Google users. Optimize your social media profiles for search, use relevant keywords in your social media posts, share your content across relevant channels, and build a community of quality fans that interact with your content.

While incorporating social media into your marketing plan seems like a no brainer to you, there may be hesitation in upper management. Show the numbers. Research case studies. Experiment on the side. Whatever you do, get armed and ready with facts to make your argument clear. Social media has changed the marketing landscape, and we hope your company joins the party.

Need help getting started? Click here to see what Ideopia can do for you.

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Virtual Reality Opens New Worlds For Marketers

Imagine you’re a homebuilder selling a new development that won’t be move-in-ready for a year.

With virtual reality (VR) goggles, prospective buyers could tour homes before they’re built, gawk at the Venetian blinds and vaulted ceilings, and even smell the oak hardwood. All without ever stepping foot in the home.

VR devices like Oculus Rift, while still in their infancy, have brands salivating over the possibilities. Here’s why you should, too.

The North Face’s new campaign turns cozy retail stores into Yosemite National Park. Fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” can scale the show’s 700-foot wall of ice by strapping on a headset.

Lexus even lets folks test drive cars without putting the pedal to the metal. “The idea was to get our fans involved with the brand and have a deeper relationship with it and be connected in a super-fun way,” said Will Nicklas, a Lexus marketing manager.

A new reality for experiential marketing

Virtual reality is no passing fad. Tech companies and brands are shelling out millions to bring a mind-blowing experience to customers. The kind that realistically, traditional experiential marketing can’t replicate. No matter the budget.

Why? Let’s face it. Not even HBO or Michael Bay’s production team could create a ginormous icy wall from scratch. It’s just not feasible, let alone the insurance costs associated with letting customers climb it.

Considering a VR campaign? Check out AdWeek’s 15 rules to starting a virtual reality campaign, which include setting realistic timelines (double estimates, then add a week), and employing on-hand “guides” to prevent accidents and motion sickness. But whatever you do, have fun with it – maybe even scare the hell out of a few people.

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Ideopia Wins Medical Marketing Awards

For 11 consecutive years, Ideopia has won heavy metal in the Aster’s, a medical and healthcare marketing competition. Our haul for 2015 was two Silvers and a Gold. We’re revved, humbled, and happy for another excuse to party. Clients? Not so much. They like awards, too, but they’re much more excited about the results.

Actual performance has little to do with most award shows, including the Aster’s. So we thought you might enjoy the real story on the marketing challenges we faced, and how we stared them down with our work.


Silver for ophthalmic manufacturer website redesign

Bell, an ophthalmic distributor in Westville, New Jersey, won a Silver Aster for its new website.

The main goals of the web development process were to increase traffic, improve usability and flow for site visitors, implement e-commerce, and build a mobile-friendly site.

The search engine optimization (SEO) challenge was to target the site to specific locations within a two-hour drive from Bell’s headquarters. Our client’s goal is to provide personal, on-site service to his customers.

This is a heavily populated area that includes Philadelphia, Baltimore and Manhattan, and slices of other cities in Maryland and Delaware. The site now ranks in the top five on Google with all major keywords throughout the target area.

The product section, which is now an e-commerce store, contains 180 SKUs. To increase usability and readability, copy was written and rewritten for web. Bullet points, subheads, and multiple pages keep visitors from burning out on text. Our development team allocated extra time to design smooth store navigation and checkout flow.

To create churn with fresh content, a blog and an e-newsletter were added. And , thanks to a content management system (CMS), our client can make all content changes to the site himself.

The results for this project include a 125% increase in traffic, and similar increases in time spent on the site, and page views.


Surgical microscope campaign pulls down silver

Ideopia won Silver in the Magazine Category for a print advertising campaign that introduced Haag-Streit surgical microscopes to the U.S. market. Haag-Streit, an international medical equipment and device manufacturer, is based in Berne, Switzerland. A subsidiary in Mason, Ohio, handles U.S. distribution.

The two challenges we faced were 1) creative: how do we differentiate Haag-Streit from its competitors conceptually, and 2) strategic: what is our argument for increasing brand preference? The answer was leveraging the client’s German and Swiss heritage to support its claim of superior optics.

Results? The campaign with minor alterations in copy drove demand in two markets: neurosurgery and ophthalmology.


Tree-hugging self promotion is pure gold

Ideopia’s Treebie Squad delivers its first Treebie to client Avure Technologies.

Ideopia received a Gold Award for a self-promotion project that encouraged recycling and social responsibility. We started out with our clients by giving them a Treebie with every print job. The Treebie represents a tree Ideopia planted for them via the Arbor Day Foundation and our local Hamilton Country parks. To support the effort, we built a mini site that explains the effects of deforestation. Treebies were promoted to our clients and prospects via email, social media, public relations, and good old door to door. See video.

For us, it’s a success because it reflects our environmental values to the outside world and prospective clients. We’re proud of it, and we intend to build on it.

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Creatives: Beware of Your First Job

Unless you weld your inner creative compass on true north, your first real job might be the crappiest thing that happens to your career. Right now student work fills your portfolio. That’s what you have to show, and, fair or not, that’s the crux of an agency’s hiring decision. No, it’s not your GPA, a sweet note from your mom, or anything else (unless you were incarcerated) on your resume. We care about you as a person and what makes you tick, but awesome work makes us slobber like dogs.

So here’s the rub. If your work is crap, only crappy ad agencies will hire you. Or an okay agency will hire you to clean their stables. Same thing, right? After a stint at that crappy agency, what will you have in your portfolio? More crap. So you won’t be any closer to working in a place that does great work than you were as a student.

This isn’t why you endured four (or five) years of school, is it?

You know great work when you see it, so don’t interview with crappy agencies. It’s not worth any salary, or the blackening of your soul to take a crappy job.

So now what to do? Ben Shahn would say, “Get a job in a potato field.” I’d say take a quick bartending course. Or, do something that’s useful that won’t freeze dry your creative juices. Of course, you’ll want to continue your education, soaking up cool work, reading, and plugging into an internship or two.

Meanwhile, your real job will be working on and improving your portfolio, and getting feedback on it from anyone in the field you respect.

Take time to steep yourself in great work online and off. Read. Try to understand something new. Reverse engineer work you like. How did they get the idea? Why was this design chosen? How does it make you feel? Challenge yourself with made-up assignments. Design campaigns for your favorite products and services. Try media you haven’t explored before. Learn code.

Let your non mixologist friends toil away in the stables, while you build a killer portfolio and get a real job!

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Only Someone Like You Can Change Your Mind

Do you think your product or service is a tough sell? You won’t after reading this.

Try selling acceptance of gay marriage to voters who oppose it. That’s exactly what a study conducted by 100 gay and 100 straight canvassers did in Los Angeles County.

They interviewed 976 voters on their doorsteps about their attitudes toward gay marriage.

At the start of each session, the interviewee rated their acceptance of gay marriage on a scale of 1 to 10. Afterwards, they asked for another rating of 1 to 10. One of the main findings was that gay canvassers, who disclosed their sexual orientation, were five times more successful at selling  gay marriage than their straight counterparts.

I listened to some of the tapes. The canvassers were not trying to convince or desperately sell their point-of-view. They mainly listened to their fears and apprehensions, and shared their own life experience.

Follow-ups at 3, 6 and 9 months showed that the voters who spoke with gay canvassers were much more likely to maintain their opinion on the 1 to 10 scale. Other members of the household who just listened to the interviews also scored high on the scale. But conversations with straight canvassers tended to revert to their original views.

The explanation for the disparity between the two groups illustrates how we might think or bolster our opinions on marketing. The L.A. County study doesn’t answer that question, but that won’t deter me from speculating.

Get Real. Talk to Consumers.

We all chant the “voice of the consumer” mantra, but how many people in your company have actually talked to one? How can your brand be authentic if you don’t have on-going conversations with consumers? Real ones, in person, instead of social media.

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)  generally talk to groups, not individuals. And, for the most part, their loyalty can be bought, and consumers know it. So how effective are they? A recent study of physicians, who are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, found that they would more readily embrace when presented by a peer.

Are we broadcasting more than we’re listening? If we’re listening, are we empathizing?

The L.A. County study also underscores the power of virility, and the potential impact of a single person. Are your employees believers in your brand? Do they get the message? Can they talk about it? If they do, they are your greatest assets. If not, you could find yourself in a world of hurt.

And lastly, do your people genuinely share common ground with your customers?

So where does listening fall into your marketing plan? Is it stories from salespeople in the field, or the annual focus group? What this study suggests to me is that we need to spend much more time in the trenches with consumers and less time riding our desks.

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Will Your Advertising Work without Integrity?

Only 4% of Americans believe that the marketing and advertising industry acts with integrity, according to a 2015 study by the 4As entitled “Sex, Lies and News.”

News is beyond my purview, so let’s start with sex. Consumers who see sex in advertising say it cheapens products and makes them question the creative abilities of the advertising agency. Who knew?

Don’t feel too badly about the lack of integrity thing, because the U.S. Congress only has 2% more credibility points than the marketing industry.

I’d say that makes consumers pretty astute.

So what happened? With social media, review sites and easy access to information, the baloney churned out by agencies has been exposed, if not blown up.

It’s ironic that everyone is racing to make their brands more authentic, when the public thinks we’re lying to them. What happened? I’d say our work has turned into 50 Shades of Fudging It. The reasons are plentiful:

  • Pressure internally and externally from clients to amp up claims and language.
  • The misperception that we work in a Mad Men Style la-la land, which encourages us to take poetic/artistic license.
  • Other brands are lying, so we need to lie just to keep up.
  • We’re kidding ourselves that we know the consumer. And why is that? We believe that research has all the answers.
  • And finally, I think it’s laziness. We don’t fact check, consult multiple sources, go out in the field and interview consumers, and we take our clients’ word for it.

If authenticity is the benchmark now, how do we turn this around?

  1. Hire journalists. They’ve been trained to search for truth, and a lot of them are unemployed.
  2. Use facts instead of adjectives. Prove that a product or service works in the way you’ve claimed, or don’t make the claim. The last line in most pharmaceutical ads is “may cause death.” This is very disturbing. At least give me the Vegas line on surviving.
  3. Understand that great branding is based on reality, communicating it, and integrating it throughout a company. When advertising is more enticing than the consumer experience, watch out. You’re about to take a hit in the integrity category. BP has a beautiful tree-hugging logo, but it sure doesn’t make them environmentalists.
  4. Use facts in advertising, and, when you can, cite your sources. And give credit and links anytime you borrow anything you didn’t produce.
  5. Know that consumers are way smarter than we think. We need to get closer to them. The annual focus group isn’t enough. We need resources to get to know and observe them.

Aren’t these just common sense ideas? Then let’s make it an industry goal to body slam Congress in 2015.

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