Tag Archives: brand

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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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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Stop Faking It. Get Real with Your Brand.

Slick tricks and smooth talking shuts customers down permanently.

Remember the good old days when advertisers could lie to consumers and get away with it? It sure was a great time for the cigarette industry. Advertisers still lie, but you’ll need bigger cojones and better lawyers. So what’s a brand to do?

Tell the Truth, and Prove It

Does your advertising even sniff of a line like this: Z-Star feature unparalleled service, superior performance, and we’re the sales for (exaggerated number of year). Uh, who cares? Consumers don’t. Brands must be positioned with meaningful benefits. Saying it isn’t enough, you must have a real reason why your brand is better, e.g. “NASA trusts us with its orange juice, and so should you.” Drink Tang. Boom.

Otherwise you risk annihilation on social media and review sites, which spread messages about your brand much more efficiently than any advertising campaign.

Luxury Brands at Risk

A special heads up to luxury brands. An aura of mystique, privilege and exclusivity may not carry the day. Consumers may buy your brand’s cachet, but they’ll also demand pragmatic reasons to make a purchase. A 2011 study at the Edinborough Science Festival found that 460 of its participants could not discern between cheap and expensive wines.

How to Speak with Authenticity

Don’t pander. Don’t “wassup? homey,” with African Americans; “Oy vey,”  with Jews; or “hola,” with Latinos. They’ll spot you as a faker and shut you down  in a second.

Use real people in your brand imagery. We live in a time when our over 13% of population is 65+ and nearly 40% of Americans are obese. I’m not suggesting that we are required to put fat people and old people in every ad. But there needs to be an evolution away from the prototypical emaciated model, too. We’re all imperfect, and our imperfections can actually help us bond with other people. The days of a paid actor endorsement, which just screams fake, are drawing to a close. No wonder so many millennials distrust marketing.

Embrace Criticism

The blowback from honesty is that someone will always disagree. The brilliant cellist Pablo Casals has a hit video on YouTube with more than a million views. Yet 29 people gave it a thumbs down. In the “Mad Men” days advertising this was shrugged off by saying “they weren’t the target audience.” Not today. Your dirty laundry is in the town square for everyone to see. Use complaints as an opportunity to engage online, and show other customers you’re a mensch.

Live the Brand

Listen to consumers on social media. Read review sites. Go on sales calls. Meet distributors. Spy. Until the little voice in your brand is real.

Are you taking steps to get more authentic with your marketing? Tell us in comments below.

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Party on Twitter. No Hangovers.

Any term with the word party in it has to be good. And, indeed, Twitter parties are emerging as a tool for brands to engage their customers. Companies throwing Twitter parties include the high-altitude set, like the Harvard Business Review, IBM and Gevalia, and baser needs like Huggies Diapers, Crest toothpaste, barbeque sauce, and even some ad agency grumble fests.

So what exactly is a Twitter Party? It’s an online free-for-all that draws information hungry, brand evangelist types – like your customers. They share interests as diverse as camping, computing, barbeque or interior design. To join the discussion, Tweeters follow the event’s with hashtags, which you have heavily promoted. The leader or host of the party introduces subjects and guides the discussion.

The opportunity for a brand is to field experts, a guest host, or a celebrity. Just like guests at a real party expect their hosts to cough up some clean paper cups and peanuts, your Twitter guests will expect contests and brand swag. No, not iPads! Whip up giveaways that relate to your brand, even if it’s just a cool T-shirt.

A Twitter party is also an event you can weave through all of your other marketing: blog posts, Facebook, Print ads, and a landing page to capture social information and leads on your website.

The potential ROI from these online events is enormous. Companies report from 1,500 to more than 1,000,000 mentions. And remember, these count as interactions with potential customers, not just ad impressions. Compared to most other tactical options, a Twitter party is downright cheap.

Next steps? Follow some Twitter parties on your own to see how they work, and learn more about Ideopia’s social media capabilities.

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Democracy: The Enemy of Marketing

One man, one vote works brilliantly in democracy, which moves slowly and mitigates risk at every corner. But it’s a tepid way to run a brand. Instead of focusing on results, marketing democracies seek to placate their constituencies, employees, boards, spouses, and sometimes ex-wives. It poisons everything in your marketing, from strategy and creative to research and advertising execution. Not to mention the traction you lose by plodding along.

What’s a marketing director to do? Dictate, we say. Take counsel, but don’t follow advice if it doesn’t resonate with your plan. Be aggressive and succeed wildly. If you fail, blame the agency. Either way is a better move than a career of mediocre results.

  • Determine who in your organization is required for approvals, i.e. the smallest group possible.
  • State goals, objectives and timelines that are realistic, but light a fire under your colleagues.
  • Develop a strategy that’s understandable by anybody in your company. Make your approval group sign it in blood. Solicit and assimilate feedback.
  • Explain that the creative work that you present will meet the strategy.
  • Present the work by restating the strategy and objectives.
  • Gain agreement that the work will deliver the strategy.
  • Sell like crazy.
  • Unless you welcome copy changes from spouses, don’t let anyone leave the room with the work.
  • Maintain focus. Don’t dilute your plan and budget with last minute add-ons.
  • Execute with a vengeance.
  • Plan your celebratory extra week of vacation.

Don’t vote on it. Do it!

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How to murder an established brand in 10 easy steps.

  1. Protect your brand from change like a religious zealot. Your marketing  mojo has worked for 100 years, and by golly it’ll work for another 100. Convince yourself that all good change is evolutionary; that anything progressing faster than a teradactyl is downright dangerous.
  2. Democracy rules. Vote on everything, especially creative work. And vote often. Phil in accounting. Lisa in customer service. Your mom. And, of course, legal. Your marketing will be stripped of anything that could possibly make it work, but an ass covered is an ass saved.
  3. Believe your sacred brand lives in a vacuum where it is immune to cultural, technological and demographic changes. Like Women’s Suffrage and the internet, they’re all fads anyway.
  4. Worry about losing your job. That fear will protect from taking any action that could positively move your business forward, while you may get lucky and ride the flat growth line into retirement.
  5. Wear Teflon by Armani. Let the little guys take the fall. Make your subordinates more afraid of losing their job than you are of losing yours. Afterall, it’s your job to cultivate talent internally.
  6. Talk a good game. Drop buzzwords. Maybe Tweet once or twice. Reference articles about social media and forward them to higher ups. Everyone will know you’re on top of this new fangled stuff, but don’t do anything about it.
  7. Congratulate yourself for being at the top of your industry without wondering if your industry will be there in 5 years.
  8. Ignore criticism or even the hint of negative karma. Consumers are idiots or difficult cases. Research lies. And your agency’s job is to suck up and take orders.
  9. Never benchmark or evaluate your program against other industries much less competitors. Those guys are clueless and their ideas have no relevance to an aged and revered brand like yours.
  10. Consumers are idiots (see No. 8). Listening to what they think or feel about your brand, or how it could better meet their needs is just stupid. What could possibly come from it? New product ideas. More share. Why bother? Your brand had this nailed 100 years ago.
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Discover brand tone, don’t dictate it.

There’s nothing like the term “Tone of Voice” statement in a creative brief to set off a bullsh*t detector. Why? Because most tone statements are written by account executives aiming to placate a client, top managers, and frequently family members. That doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Just like your mom screaming at you after painting your face in peanut butter, the sound of your brand can speak volumes about your brand if managed correctly.

For example, a computer company may show how easy its products are to use through minimalistic designs, humanistic typography, and friendly TV characters that don’t use scary technical terms. The tone created by these elements could only be Apple. The secret, we believe, is creating a feel, a look and a tone of voice after a creative exploration of a strategy. Tone is something to be discovered not dictated.

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