Thursday, May 26, 2011

stop, and listen

This is really good stuff from John Jay, of Wieden+Kennedy. Advertising is not a one-size-fits-all solution. And, trying to apply your "secret sauce" to every client isn't going to work. No client is the same, and each comes to the agency with different needs to solve. Listen to what they have to say, and find a solution that works for them. As much as you can't let them define your work, or you define their product -- you can't let your work become the definition of what you do.

the power of perception

The mind is powerful. So powerful, in fact, that people see what they want to see regardless of the reality that surrounds them. Hypochondriacs, even those that are self aware, suffer from the persistent delusion that they are plagued by a never-ending series of illnesses. In their minds, they are gravely ill, and no doctor can tell them otherwise.

Consumers can suffer from the same delusions. “There is no objective reality,” write marketing mavens Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. “There are no facts. There are not best products. All that exists in the world of marketing are perceptions in the minds of the customer or prospect.”

“The perception is the reality,” they continue. “Everything else is an illusion.”

If facts ruled the day in marketing, many of the top consumer brands would be bottom-shelf items. However, because those brands have established a perception of strength, quality, or leadership in the minds of consumers, facts are irrelevant. Consumers believe that leading brands are “better” than their competitors, and that’s all that matters.

Roger Dooley, a marketing consultant specializing in neuromarketing, recently wrote at his site about a new study that will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Consumer Research. The study illustrates the power of perception in consumer behavior. “Individuals who are dieting or trying to eat healthy foods have learned to avoid some foods by name,” writes Dooley. “The researchers found that the same dish containing vegetables, pasta, meat, and cheese was rated as healthier when it was called a salad instead of ‘pasta.’ Another test showed that subjects ate more ‘fruit chews’ than ‘candy chews,’ even though the product was the same.”

What is the lesson for brands? Consumer perception — positive or negative — is a good place to start when developing any marketing campaign. It’s far easier to start with how consumers perceive your brand rather than developing an entirely new branding strategy or creating a new product. Doing so would require building a new idea in the mind of the consumer, which is much more difficult that altering a misperception.

For example, Porsche discovered through consumer research that its models were perceived as impractical as a daily driver. This perception was hurting sales, especially in a down economy. Porsche wanted to change the perception and began a multi-channel marketing campaign highlighting the value of Porsche as an everyday car, without actually changing the car. “We're not going away from the core brand values of performance, engineering and state of the art technology,” Porsche’s Vice President of Marketing David Pryor told DMNews, adding they simply wanted to focus on some of the more “every day” aspects of it.

For brands hurting in sales, the problem may not be with the product, but rather the perception of the product. The first step to turning around sales should be discovering how consumers perceive the brand, then building a campaign around that perception. The research can discover a weakness (or, even a strength), which can serve as a solid launching for rebuilding the brand. As the research shows, even changing the name of a product can result in an increase in sales.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

why apple can get away with murder

Last week, Apple moved ahead of Google as the world’s top brand, according to research group MillwardBrown, who tracks the top 100 global brands at “It earned an 84 percent increase in brand value with successful iterations of existing products,” such as the iPhone and iPad, as well as future anticipation of Apple’s product and service development.

Also making it into BrandZ’s Top 100 list for the first time was social media network Facebook. Facebook’s brand value jumped 246 percent in the last year, earning it the number 35 spot on the list.

Despite the tremendous gains of Apple and Facebook, and the continual brand-dominance of Google, 2010 was not exactly a banner year for these brands in the news. Google is facing challenges across the world to its “Street View” option in Google Maps. And, the company faced the wrath of the Federal Trade Commission after its Google Buzz application was shown to have severe privacy flaws. Facebook also had a litany of privacy flaps as it continued to develop commercial applications, which exposed sensitive user data to third parties.

Apple also recently experienced its own privacy headache, as reports emerged that the popular iPhone was tracking user location. While Apple denied the report, saying that it was merely keeping a log of WiFi hot spots and cell towers around the users location, Congress is now putting the company (and, its rival Google) under the privacy microscope. Apple also had an embarrassing quality issue with the release of the iPhone 4. An engineering flaw with the placement of the antenna caused the device to lose its signal if it was held incorrectly.

Yet, even with quality issues, privacy woes, and sometimes questionable relationships with Federal intelligence agencies (Julian Assange, the infamous founder of the WikiLeaks organization, called Facebook “the most appalling spy machine that has ever been invented”), these are some of the world’s top brands.

How, then, can they seemingly get away with murder? The answer is simple: branding.

Apple, Google, and Facebook have all developed such entrenched brand identities with consumers that it gives them a Teflon-like exterior that protects them from controversies that would mortally wound lesser brands. They didn’t do it through flawless quality, or even building a solid level of trust with consumers. These brands did it through creating products that consumers can’t live without.

Consumers know that Facebook has issues with leaking (accidently, or on purpose) the plethora of personal information uploaded to the site. But, does that stop people from using their account? No, just as people will line up for hours to be the first to buy the next generation of iPhone despite previous quality issues. For better, or worse, consumers are hopelessly addicted.

No matter what happens, Facebook users will not terminate their accounts, owners of the iPhone 4 are future owners of the iPhone 5, and Gmail account holders will not be switching over to Yahoo!.

The sheer power of these brands is a testament to product differentiation, and the predominant role differentiation plays in establishing brands. The products produced by these brands aren’t just different than their competitors; they’re different in ways that consumers consider to be invaluable. Consumers value these brands so much that they have become too deeply imbued in their day-to-day lives to use an alternative, or give up. Differentiation, above any other branding element, has elevated these brands to immortal status.

Brands looking to increase their value in the minds of consumers should focus on the difference that makes them more significant than their competitors. It is unquestionably the “secret sauce” to a lasting brand.

The difference doesn’t necessarily mean “higher quality.” There are thousands of brands that produce a higher-quality product than the brand leader. It’s just that the brand leader has done a more effective job of demonstrating to the consumer how their product will make their life better. A quirky commercial isn’t going to get a consumer to change from one brand to another, but showing them how their life could be improved will.

Friday, May 13, 2011

a tale of two brands

In the city of Atlanta, there are many oil change facilities and many dentists. Out of these many oil change facilities, and these many dentists, there is the Express Oil Change & Service Center, and the dental practice of Dr. Elizabeth Caughey. While these two businesses are very different in the services they provide, they are both two entities with high levels of market competition, and face similar challenges in establishing a brand and growing their business.

This is their story.

Brand One: Express Oil Change & Service Center

Express Oil Change & Service Center recently ran a Groupon deal that advertised $101.97 worth of services (oil change, tire rotation, and brake inspection) for $30. For those in desperate need of an oil change, this was a great deal. While oil change facilities are plentiful, it’s difficult to differentiate what sets each business apart until it is actually visited.

The automotive repair industry doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation. So, the user experience is a key differentiating factor (along with price, of course) among these facilities. Establish a level of trust with the customer, and repeat business is nearly in the bag. Because of the level of competition created by the numerous choices for oil change businesses, the first impression is everything.

Unfortunately, Express Oil fell short of creating a memorable first impression. Additionally, they didn’t live up to their promise of service. However, during checkout, customers are provided a “new customer packet” with several discounts for future services. They bring customers in with a discount. They encourage customers to come back with discounts. Discounts are their primary marketing strategy.

Brand Two: Dr. Elizabeth Caughey, DDS

Dr. Elizabeth Caughey’s dental practice has a five-star rating on Reviews say such things as, “The detail and time she spent with me…was surprising,” and “The perfect dentist!” New patients calling for an appointment speak with the office manager, who talks to them about the practice and explains the mission of the practice: to provide comprehensive, quality dental care. This dedication to quality care involves more thorough exams, and greater involvement from Dr. Caughey. As a result, it is somewhat more expensive than other dentists.

However, as the reviews illustrate, Caughey’s practice fulfills this expectation of superior service. The exams are comprehensive. The attention to detail and quality is clear. Delivering a premium service above that of their competitors is their marketing strategy.

Two businesses, each with a high level of competition, both facing similar challenges in establishing a brand. One uses discounts. The other uses superior service.

While discounting, especially through deal sites like, can be particularly effective at generating new business, the fatal marketing mistake is focusing primarily on future discounts at the expense of brand development. Had Express Oil put as much effort into the brand experience as they do their discount programs, they would have a better shot at generating brand loyalty — and loyalty at full price. Even if consumers were willing to sacrifice on quality in return for a discount, consumer loyalty is there only as long as the discounts. Once the discounts go away, so will the consumers. This means they are forever trapped in “discount mode” — not a good place to be.

On the other hand, the dental office put their energy into delivering a superior product, even at a premium price. They built their brand on quality — not discounts. Their brand is far stronger than that of the oil change facility because the dental office will generate consumer loyalty so long as they continue to fulfill on the level of service promised.

Discounts can’t be a substitute for true brand development. Your brand must offer something different to consumers, and you have to follow through with that promise. Express Oil didn’t offer anything that was different from any of their competitors, and they even fell short of what promises they did make (speed, quality of service). Instead, they rely solely on discounts, which cripples their potential. The differentiating factor in Dr. Caughey’s dental practice is that it offers a service superior to that of their competitors. As a result, they are able to establish a premium brand that has lasting potential.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

sometimes, we just get too creative

It's said that too much of a good thing is bad. Moderation is the key. It's what keeps us sober, and keeps us healthy. However, moderation is also helpful in restraining our creative juices when it comes to advertising. Because, sometimes, we just get too creative for our own good.

Case in point is a recent ad for Eastpak created by WE ARE FROM L.A. As Richard Becker, president of Copywrite, Ink., puts it, the product is a copywriter's dream. The backpacks have a great reputation for durability. They a military hook. And, they have a certain retro-chic design that is the fashion du jour. Basically, putting copy together for this product is like a being thrown a fastball right down the center of the plate. Knocking it out of the park is just a matter of swinging the bat.

It could have been a great campaign. "Instead, the newest ad campaign from Eastpak is a great example of how more and more advertisers think they need to draw attention to themselves instead of the products they peddle," says Becker. Rather than focusing on the backpacks, the ad features young adults throwing themselves off of a building in a game of human Tetris.

Creative? Sure. Clever? Maybe. Effective at selling backpacks, or increasing brand awareness? Not even close. "They don't even bother to land on the backpacks that are among the toughest in the industry," Becker remarks.

Creativity is an advertising technique. It is a means to an end, with the end being a consumer response. In the case of the Eastpak ad, the creativity of the ad ceases to be a means to an end, and becomes an end itself. When creativity begins to overshadow the product, the brand loses.

There is no doubt that advertising has become increasingly more difficult in modern times as consumers are bombarded with more and more ads. And, it is more difficult to get their attention as a result. But, the general premise of advertising remains the same: "We sell, or else," as David Ogilvy once put it.

Ads don't have to be boring, but they do have to be effective. They have to have a purpose beyond entertainment. That is, once you have someone's attention, do something with it. Sell to them. After all, a sale is worth more than a laugh.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

copywriting wisdom from rosser reeves

"Let's call it the artsy-craftsy crowd. They believe their advertising has to be different... The illogicality of their argument is not obvious to them, and it's even less obvious to the public and to many business men.

"In fact, it sounds enormously convincing, and it goes like this: One, the advertising, not the product, must compete with a tremendous number of other advertising messages. Two, therefore, the advertisement, not the product, must get attention. Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Three, therefore, a given advertisement, and not the product, must be different.

"Such reasoning bypasses the product, and when it does, it bypasses the advertising function. It is a classic example of confusing the means with the end. For if the product is worth paying money for, it is worth paying attention to."

From The Art of Writing Advertising.