Winning Brands Tell the Truth


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 Customer Lifetime Value


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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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 a radio commercial  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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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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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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Podcast Your Way to Niche Markets


Podcasting, generally short audio only, or video programs, are enjoying resurgence. According to Edison Research, 39 million people listen to podcasts at least once a month. Increased smartphone usage figures into the equation.

Listen to Ideopia’s Blendercast Podcast at

Podcasts, web, video and internet radio now join the automatic coffee maker as technologies that accommodate their schedules, and maximize free time. For marketers, podcasting opens up a plethora of new content sources: Audio versions of blog posts, excerpts from speeches, and even comments or questions from customers. While some podcasts achieve chart-topping status, like these top programs from 2015, the relatively low cost of podcasts makes them a viable option to communicate specialized content to niche markets. While one of your engineers may not be ready for prime time, she could be very effective talking to peers at other companies.

Chance are you already have all the technology you need to start podcasting: a good microphone, a computer, and if you’re a one-take wonder, you can skip downloading free sound editing equipment.

For more about the popularity of Internet radio, see our post in Blender.

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Marketing to Women. Are Advertisers Still Clueless?

When Ideopia launched in the early 90s, working women, like me, were still an oddity. We were chastised, guilt-ridden and sometimes viewed with pity because we “had” to work.

Advertisers didn’t help this perception, either. They depicted the working woman in a rumpled business suit running between pre school and the office with a briefcase in one hand, a child on her hip and towing another one by the hand.

Marketers, eager to show empathy, shot these stereotypical photos, or bought them from stock photography houses, to sell us their detergents or Calgon (Take me away!).  Reality? Hardly. Yes, we were stressed and sometimes we needed that Calgon, but we usually handled our responsibilities at home and work competently and with grace. Like other working women, those pandering ads offended me.

1980 Calgon Bath Soap Commercial “Calgon, Take Me Away!”

Although fewer than 6% of CEOs are women; and aggressive little boys are still called “leaders” while little girls are called “bossy”, advertisers are starting to get the message.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

Driven by user generated content on social media and campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty Campaign,” which celebrated its 10th birthday this month, Pantene’s “Labels Against Women” and “Not Sorry” campaigns are seeking a broader representation of women.

Stock Photography Gets Real

At the 2014 Cannes, the CEO of Getty images teamed up with the COO of Facebook to present a series of 2500 images called the Lean In collection. These photos show women in a diverse light. Rather than the stereotypical images, the Lean In Collection offers photos of women working in fields like robotics. They are aging gracefully and are eating real foods instead of fussy little salads.

Sales of the Lean In photos, all that were previously available from Getty, have jumped by 54% in recent months.

It’s a start. But we have a long way to go! Silicon Valley, for the most part, doesn’t get it. They still think women have nothing other than shoes and weddings on our minds. Honestly, does Microsoft even want women to buy its computers? (Since this blog post has been published, Microsoft has removed this advertisement.)

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Show Us the Money. The Joys of Agency/Client Transparency.

If you’re gun shy about disclosing your marketing budget, join the crowd. Maybe you were traumatized by a used car salesman at a tender age, or got a hose job from an unscrupulous ad agency, and you’ve learned to hold the money cards.

We would kindly suggest, get over it. It’s hurting your ability to get the best from your agency, and lack of transparency on either side of the agency/client relationship erodes trust. And, if you don’t’ trust your agency, why are you working with them?

Bereft of a budget, agencies will punt with an array of strategies, and none work to your advantage:

  • Guess based on marketing allocations within your industry, and inquiries to publishers and media outlets to determine what you spent in the past.
  • Over plan for a budget you don’t have, which wastes your time and the agency’s.
  • Go low, cut corners, and pile on features by using junior people to execute your work.
  • And the good agencies, the one’s you most want on your work, will simply choose not to play.

In other words, you’re inviting agencies to take a trip to Walmart with your very important project.

Instead of telling an agency to plop out a number for, say, a website. Ask which of your important goals can they achieve within your budget. Find out how they plan to allocate your budget and what they will deliver. If you’re running a review, or a competition for a prime project, leveling the field is the only way you can realistically compare agencies – at least on a financial basis.

Laying your budget on the line may seem counterintuitive. After all, if we know what’s in your piggy bank, won’t we spend it all? Darn tooting! You told us the important objectives you want to achieve. And you determined that if you invested “x” amount in marketing, the ROI would make it worth it. So why not cough up the numbers?

All this takes valuable time and energy, which should be applied to determining strategy and the most effective way to allocate the budget you do have.

Reap the Rewards of Transparency

  1. Tell your agency your marketing objectives strategy and budget. And focus your agency team on developing the most effective way to spend it.
  2. Evaluate agencies based on what they can do for your money, not how much they spend.
  3. Create an atmosphere of transparency and trust from the start. Agencies will respond with extra attention and work to live up to their part of the bargain.
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The Five Commandments of Beer Marketing

Your beer packaging could look like this!
Your beer packaging could look like this!

In between trips to rehab, the beer group at Ideopia has been searching for the ultimate beer client. To fully establish ourselves as thought leaders in the field, we have created the Five Commandments of Beer Marketing: a guaranteed recipe for selling even the worst swill.

1. Carefully pick a name  like “Madtree’s Psycopathy,” “Skull Splitter” and “Rogue’s Dead Man Ale” that zero in on the benefits of your brew. When in doubt, use this time-tested formula [MOTHER’S NAME] + [WORD ASSOCIATED WITH DEATH OR NEAR DEATH]. For example, “Betty’s Woodchopper Pilsner.” Then turn it into a cool bar call, like “Gimme another Bad Betty!”

2. Packaging. The bigger the brewery, the more handmade (trashier) you should make your package look. Reliable standbys include monsters, vikings, maidens, skeletons, ninjas and skulls. Use a sheaf of wheat at your own risk.

3. Don’t forget tons of social media links, and a clever story about your first batch. We’re all about building communities, because that’s where the parties are.

4. By the way, nobody drinks a 12-ounce beer anymore. Not even hipsters. Think cans, and supersize from 22 or 32 ounce to mini keg. Encourage more sloshing at a single sitting, and lower your packaging costs per ounce.

5. Marketing: While your beer has that homey, slightly illegal look, you need to back it up with heavy data mining, and a serious marketing automation system. Goals: Identify heavy users and deliver coupons to them before they run dry. Use social media. And start a conversation by posting their drunken selfies, twerking and breakup pics. (Got one? post it to our Facebook page.)

Pricing: Craft beers should be priced at least 150% more than the common crap beers. That’s how consumers know it’s good. For you big batchers, the general rule is 100% over cost plus the percentage of alcohol.


Remember the Five Commandments of Beer Marketing, and you can sell just about any rotgut that comes out of your basement.

If you need additional help with your beer marketing, though that’s highly unlikely, give Susan Abramovitz a call at 513-947-1444 x10. Planning a tasting? We’d love to come.

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