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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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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Put a Sock In It and Listen.

What you’re missing if you’re not listening.

My anchor for listening dates back to editing audio in radio. Alone in an edit bay, I not only listened to the content of what people said, but how they said it. Are they afraid, angry, sarcastic, overjoyed, or just flat lining it?  The emotions spoke more to me than the words. I felt empathy for these people, and I felt like I truly understood them.

That sounds nice, but in real life, I’m not a good listener.  But I’d like to think I’m a recovering terrible listener.  Self awareness is the first step, right?  Before you pat yourself on the back and move on to a much sexier blog post about analytics and marketing automation, see if you agree with any of these statements.

  • I usually start meetings with a monologue about my ideas.
  • When people ask me what somebody said in a meeting, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
  • While other people talk, I see my favorite video game in my head.
  • What other people have to say is boring.
  • And, of course, I’m just plain smarter than everyone else.

Yeah, I thought so. You need help, pal. Start by remembering a moment in your life that you absolutely  know you were listening. A doctor giving you news about a loved one. What the cop muttered when he handed you a ticket for doing 75 m.p.h. in a school zone.

Imagine if you could have that experience in a meeting, or a quick chat in your office. If you truly listen,  the chances that the other person will listen to you and cooperate zoom up exponentially. I’m sure you’re already stuffed with articles about active listening, neurolinguistic programming, body language, and facial tics that give away liars. I would guess that people who are naturally good listeners don’t need those tools.

This brings me to my pet peeve. Fake listening. The people who’ve taken one too many seminars, but have never actually done it. They’re easy to spot, too, by their bobbling encouraging heads, and active listening murmurs,  uhmms, and making just a little too much eye contact.  “Yes, we’re listening to you,  but please finish babbling so we can fire up our PowerPoint deck, so we can finally tell you how special we are.”

To be honest, I can be a faker, too. And some situations demand it, e.g. when you’re on the dias with a keynote speaker who is droning on oblivious to the glazed eyes of his audience.

Information is cheap. We don’t need to talk about your LinkedIn profile. I read it. Tell me something meaningful, and I’ll do my best to listen.

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Custom Emoji’s Add Depth to Brands

You know what emoji’s are : They’re the  little, sometimes annoying smiley faces used to punctuate email and social media posts. Their purpose is to clarify the tone of what’s said or to  extend it’s meaning. We believe that custom emoji’s or a set of custom emoji’s will serve a similar purpose for brands.

Logos anchor brand identity over long-spans of time, while custom emoji’s might come and go. A simple example would be a green brand using a tree to along with its logo symbolize environmental consciousness . We’re excited about the  possibilities. So take a look at a giant version of Ideopia’s emoji and see what you think. Quick translation: eye represents our singular vision of creativity, the clouds are ideas while the many hands reflect our hybrid approach. Tell us  what you think? Have tried anything similar? Feel free to post.

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Does Your Brand Take Hostages?

Thugs, drug cartels and rogue states take hostages. So do marketers. Yes, you. No judgement. We all do it. But, because the brand experience has become paramount, we need to be more aware of our hostage taking. Every time you deprive customers of freedom of choice, the ability to switch to another competitor’s product, or stealing their time, you’re taking hostages. And, in our touchy feely era of social media and brand experience, it doesn’t bode well annual profits.

Sometimes waiting enhances the buying experience. For me that’s the anticipation I feel waiting for my six shots of espresso at the Starbuck’s drive thru. But, when you spend an entire day trying to get support on the line, a part of your life is stolen outright.

You don’t describe our hostage situation in such intense term, but it does extract a direct or indirect cost. Every time you’re stuck in line, on-hold, bound to costly equipment and exorbitant upgrades. Never mind a getting socked for proprietary replacement parts, like an oddball battery. Or an ad agency that won’t release web files after being sacked. You’re paying ransom.

What does this mean for marketers? We must consider our customer’s time (their life), and any point of friction: a laborious sales process, manufacturing time, customer service, or slow delivery of goods. Time is a precious commodity, which makes speed a powerful brand differentiator.

Hostage taking tactics may be effective in the short term, but they rarely payout in the long run. A ridiculously long mortgage application may still result in a home sale, but the profits generated
They may pay for now. But they don’t like it. And the first opportunity they have to jump to another brand, they’ll do it.

If you’re a competitor of one of our clients, I hope you’re taking hostages. Because and the brands we represent are coming for you. We’ll set your customers free. Compensate them for their rage. Introduce them to a brand that takes no prisoners. And, we’re going to do it fast.

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Join Web Analytics Anonymous


However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results

– Winston Churchill

Web analytics for people, like me, are addictive. I’ll watch stats pileup in real-time, and get a tiny adrenaline rush everytime there’s an uptick. Judging by the puzzled looks , not everyone shares my enthusiasm. They should. Numbers of Twitter and Pinterest followers, bounce rates on web pages, and click-thrus on emails show real-world progress, or lack of it. And, with a little imagination, they can be turned into meaningful action. Marketing directors, planners and creatives who aren’t tapping into analytics are selling themselves and their brands short. This is why I’m high on analytics:

1. Hedonism. There are few things more pleasurable than seeing evidence that people are interacting with, and appreciating your work. If that doesn’t jazz you, check for a pulse, and dial up

Web traffic grows in response to a higher blogging frequency

A more active blogging schedule increased web traffic 60%. I say we keep funding that!

2. Politics. How do you justify your budget?  On what basis do you ask for a contract renewal? What’s working that justifies a larger investment? Smartly presented analytics can tell the story, and give you the ammo to kill floundering programs.

3. Incremental improvement. A split test on email can tell you which content, design or subject line will drive the most click-thrus. Add that information to the next piece of creative you produce, and the results will continue.

For example, by switching from a text link to a green button, the click-thru rate on this email campaign jumped 117%.

Changing text links to buttons increases email click thrus.

4. Spot trends and opportunities. Amalgamate data from multiple sources, e.g. social media, web analytics, and email, to spot larger trends. When and where is your target audience most engaged? When and what do they want to buy? And what referral sources, like social media, web banners or search ads are most cost-efficient?

5. Fresh ideas. Unless you’re a quant, you probably think numbers are nerdy. But, by understanding the problems and opportunities that analytics reveal, you’ll develop insights that lead to innovation and lasting change.

6. Bragging. My favorite part when things go well. The website below grew from 1,200 monthly visits  to over 6,000 (blue line) post redesign. Web analytics enabled us to match the site’s potential to the needs of our client’s customers. Yep, there was a lot of fist pumping and beer after that one.

Web traffic increases after site redesign

You don’t need a degree in statistics to understand the most important web metrics used to evaluate websites. You just need to identify the handful that matter the most for your business. Start with the metrics that measure your key marketing objectives. Go from there, and soon I’ll see you at the Tuesday night meeting.


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Medical Marketing is Drowning in a Sea of Blue

In college, a friend gave me William Gass’s novel, “On Being Blue.” He made the color sparkle in ways you can only imagine. But it’s safe to say Gass didn’t work in healthcare marketing.

View our medical and healthcare work at Ideopia Medical Marketing.

Now when I see blue, I see red. It’s the color cocaine of our healthcare and medical device industries. Blue is cool and calming, but – please pay attention here – it’s not a brand. Some CMOs claim that their blue is better, because it’s a few shades away from a competitor.

In healthcare marketing, blue is camouflage for brands that don’t want to stick out, or get noticed by consumers. Of course, it makes perfect sense for institutions plagued with tepid claims like “We care more,” “Be Well,” or my favorite, “We’re the Gold Standard.”

Consumers want reasons to like your hospital or institution. And they’re desperate to understand your brand in pragmatic terms: “We have more board certified orthopedic surgeons,” “ We’re the hospital for kids,” or “Our device is the most sensitive on the market.” We care more? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately blue is a symptom of the brand blahs. It’s a safe place for designers and marketers to play, because the nuts and bolts of a competitive position just aren’t there.

Breaking out of blue isn’t easy. Chances are the decision was made decades ago when you were still scrawling with crayons. Can we please address this by adding new colors to your palette to balance big blue?

Try a pinch of pink with blue, electric blue and blue, or blue with a dab of yellow. It’s a small gesture that could yield big results. Look at the sea of blue booths at trade shows, and consumer facing websites, print, TV, email, logos. Use it, and blue hoo, you’ll give your customers a reason to pay attention to your marketing and they’ll remember when the time comes,  “Take my baby to the hospital with the streak of pink!”

Related: 8 Risky Healthcare Marketing Procedures

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Choose Your Marketing Weapons Carefully – Infographic

This infographic is like a mini-marketing plan. Pick your goals, e.g. brand awareness, brand loyalty or sales, and it will help you choose the marketing tactics to achieve it.  We know strategies vary from industry to industry, so think of this as something meaty to add to your advertising soup. Or use it as a check list to make sure you haven’t left out an important ingredient.

Download PDF of Marketing Weapon Selector

Mini marketing plan infographic

Download PDF of Marketing Weapon Selector

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Advertising in Local Newspaper? Buffet Thinks You Should

Rarely is there a shocking new paradigm in marketing. Twitter is an evolution of the town square. The ancestor of modern branding is a cowboy searing his cattle with a red-hot iron. And yelling back and forth to the neighbors in the yard the back fence started the gears moving on the mobile phone.

We’re fixated on the future, but sometimes it pays to look in the rearview mirror. That’s exactly what gazillionaire and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet did on his latest acquisition tear.

In a 15-month stretch, Buffet purchased 28 daily newspapers for $344 million. Wait, aren’t newspapers dead? Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the future through the eyes of a wise octogenarian.

Here’s how Buffet describes the value of hyper-local news.

“Wherever there is a pervasive sense of community, a paper that serves the informational needs of that community will be indispensable to a significant portion of the residents.”

Buffet saw an opportunity to take the localized “idea” of community newspapers and evolve them to the 21st century. It’s a journey that sounds oddly similar to the niche marketing and social media our generation invented, minus the big data.

For revenue models, though, Buffet is tethered to the future. He’s looking to the Internet and relatively new pay-for-use business models like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.

“Even a faulty product can suffer from a bad business model,” Buffet says. This should give us pause, and a reason to look backwards and find out what we may have missed. Social media, mobile websites and ad tracking sound sexier than Burma Shave signs on country roads, posters in supermarket windows, church bulletins, or – horrors – direct mail?

Most technological evolution is spurred by the need for more efficient and cheaper production, and modifying products to meet the new demands. Products and marketing tactics become outdated, but the ideas behind them rarely do. So think like Buffet. Look to the past and see if you can make something new.

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Does Your Brand Smell Good Enough?

We first learned about the power of scent marketing from a savvy homebuilder client that baked fresh cookies and pies in all its model homes. The delicious aromas created a cozy, inviting environment that stirred the positive emotions of home.

The strong tug of scent is rooted in our olfactory smelling apparatus being hard wired to the amygdala and hippocampus, parts of the brain responsible for emotion and mood. This deep connection may explain why scents increase brand recall.

Scents create instantaneous and powerful associations. For instance, a whiff of the ocean might spark a connection with a happy walk on the beach. Or, a hint of lemon might make an office space feel clean and organized. Hardcore marketers treat scent as a brand component on equal footing with logos, color, music and texture.

Scents are distributed by vaporizing them, and pumping them through ventilation systems of office buildings and retail stores.

If you’re a business-to-business company, don’t count yourself out. There’s nothing like a hint of jasmine to sell any machine that pulverizes, crushes or generates huge voltages. Give us a call!

For more information, visit The Scent Marketing Institute.

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