Posts tagged ‘Messaging’

Which messages will resonate best with your customers?

ear trumpet

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that marketing is a lot harder than many people give it credit for. Doing good marketing is even harder. So take my advice when I say this: the message you convey to your audience is a) vitally important, b) very difficult to target, and c) extremely challenging to get right. If you don’t understand a), b), and c), you’ll be relegated to d) crappy sales, poor marketing materials, and unrealized potential. Is there any hope?

Of course there is. C’mon… you know I’m an optimist…

Like everything else, messaging takes a solid plan and good execution. If you have a lot of different customer-facing teams in your organization, you want to make sure everyone is saying the same thing, and in the same way. Your best bet is to create a Core Messaging Platform, a systematic, strategic document that accomplishes several important tasks:

  1. Centralizes your messaging in one location so that everyone in your company is literally on the same page.
  2. Defines, shapes and drives all of the outbound communication for your products and services.
  3. Consists of a series of overarching messages, high-level/benefit-based core messages, and supporting messages that elaborate on key ideas.

If you take the time and effort to create this “one-stop shop” for your messaging needs, you’ll be amazed at how much easier and more effective your communication efforts are.

October 6, 2009 at 8:44 pm Leave a comment

Keep it short, stupid

Regardless of your politics, almost everyone can agree on one thing about President Obama:

He likes to talk. A lot.

We’re currently in the throes of a contentious health care debate. Vociferous town hall meetings, angry Congressman, and new details about the bill are being bled out every day. Obama is trying to assuage concerns about a “public option” by running his own town halls. Unfortunately for him, every time he talks about it, support drops lower and lower. Why?

Instead of focusing on 3-5 main messages that ordinary people can understand, he’s digging deep and talking about arcane elements of the bill that no one, including Congress, understands. Obama has forgotten the cardinal rule of messaging: Keep It Short, Stupid. As long as the message is different every day, and focusing on overly complex issues, he’ll never get traction. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to determine the three most important points, and hammer those suckers home. Stick to one game plan, and don’t let the day-to-day headlines sway you from the goal of selling those key messages.

Bill Shakespeare wrote, “brevity is the soul of wit.” It’s also the soul of a good marketing campaign.

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August 19, 2009 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment

Don’t choose potential customers over current customers (aka “Screw You” marketing)

Ok, I’m usually a pretty friendly, easy-going guy. But I gotta tell you… there’s a trend in some walks of life that really irks the hell out of me. Let me explain the nature of my consternation with a specific example…

My wife and I are in good shape, and like to exercise regularly. We’ve been members of various gyms over the years, but invariably return to our home gym after a while because of an incredibly annoying, insidious sales technique that most health clubs practice: the open house, followed by the trial membership. This usually takes place once a month, which means that for one week per month there are five times as many people in the gyms, and it’s virtually impossible to find an open exercise machine. What’s worse is that these trial members don’t know how to use the machines, so they take twice as long as they should. And to top it all off, they have no intention of joining the gym, but since it’s free they’ll cheerfully take advantage of the situation.

Bottom line: potential customers are provided the same privileges and accommodations as paying customers, but haven’t had to devote one dime. Conversely, current customers that are paying dues and keeping the doors open are not able to enjoy the services for which they have paid. I call this “screw you” marketing, for the obvious reason.

This is a very dangerous and inefficient practice for several reasons:

  1. You piss off your current customer base. Their experience is tarnished and they will most likely abandon the service sooner than they should. In the words of the marketer, this reduces the Lifetime Customer Value significantly. (Here’s one of Aximum’s success stories that focuses on Lifetime Customer Value.)
  2. You focus your energies in the wrong places. I imagine the conversion rate for open houses/trial memberships is very low, so it may behoove the gyms to concentrate on activities that collect customers with greater revenue potential and ROI. When you offer something free, you’ll get tons of action, but very little conversion. This is one of those undeniable truths of marketing.
  3. You don’t take advantage of repeat/renewed customers. These gyms spend a lot of time, energy, and money on developing the open houses. Curiously, not one ounce of thought or energy has been spent trying to get me to agree to a longer contract, sign up for other services, or anything else that would bring it additional revenue. This glaring deficiency in their marketing communication program shines out like a beacon in the night. If a company has proven, revenue-producing, long-term customers, it’s usually 3-5 times easier to gain additional revenue from them than it is to bleed it from the trick-or-treaters that sign up for the free stuff (sorry… I sounded a little bitter there).

When you’re seeking new customers, remember not to sacrifice your current customer base. If you abandon them, don’t be surprised if they abandon you.

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June 25, 2009 at 12:47 am Leave a comment

“Me too” marketing – develop your own Unique Selling Proposition

I’ve seen it happen a million times. A company sees their competition do something that’s different, and they immediately jump on the bandwagon. After all, if our competitors are doing it, they must know something we don’t, so we better get in on the action before it’s too late! Sigh… alas, copycatting is not a strategy. And the sad thing is that your competition probably doesn’t know any more than you do. Congratulations – you’ve just fallen for the oldest, least disciplined trick in the book and turned into a “me too” marketer.

You can see this happening everywhere you turn. Do the terms green, whole grain, sirloin, organic, and hand-crafted sound overly familiar? They should, because they’re everywhere, used for products ranging from food to shampoo to cars. If words or phrases or overused, they (and their associated products) suffer from commoditization. In other words, the message loses its meaning, and all the products in a certain category are perceived by the audience as being the same. Once this happens, customers no longer have brand loyalty, and the only differentiator they care about is price. A great example of this phenomenon is gasoline. How often do you choose gasoline based on additives? Or the ability to eliminate knocks and pings? Chances are you buy your gas based solely on its price. This is commoditization as its worst.

How do you avoid this pitfall? The best thing you can do is create your own Unique Selling Propositions (USP). Every company has strengths and weaknesses. Capitalize on your strengths by developing a messaging strategy that separates you from your competitors. Determine how your products and services can be presented to your audience in a unique, informative, entertaining, and compelling manner. Make sure that you’re clear, concise, and consistent in your application of the message. And above all, take the time to let your USPs develop. Like a flower, marketing is a process that needs a lot attention, a lot of love, and the patience to allow it to come to fruition.

Follow this advice and you’ll be amazed how quickly you can separate yourself from the “me too” herd!

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June 23, 2009 at 12:50 am Leave a comment

Your business’ secret to success: do one thing and do it right

Colonel Sanders was a master of business. He took a product that virtually everyone in the south made for themselves — fried chicken — and decided to sell his own version. The Kentucky Colonel outfit, the secret recipe, the bucket, and his self-promotion all contributed to his uniqueness and aura. However, his true secret to success was a simple philosophy: do one thing and do it right. He made better fried chicken than anyone else, and he focused all his efforts on building the business around his flagship product. His plan was to start small, gain a reputation, and establish a toehold in his local Kentucky community. From there, he wanted to conquer the fried chicken world, and use his market dominance as a springboard for other complementary products. Of course, we all know the rest of the story; his plan worked to perfection and the chicken industry has never been the same.

What’s the lesson that other companies can learn from the Colonel? Determine what your biggest strength is and focus your efforts on that. Perfect your product/service, establish a great reputation, use your revenues to invest in the company, and build your empire. Many companies try to become jacks-of-all-trades, but instead become masters-of-none. This mistake goes back to a previous discussion about market sizing vs. market segementation. It’s better to dominate a small market and branch out into other markets in time, rather than become a bit player in a larger, more competitive market. This approach will focus your internal resources in the places that maximize your profit potential, put your marketing communications plan on a path towards great success, and send a message to competitors that you have your priorities straight.

Don’t let the goatee fool you… Colonel Sanders was a brilliant businessman and a master marketer. Now go out there, focus on the one thing at which you’re best, and fry the competition!

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June 22, 2009 at 12:23 am 1 comment

Advertising 101: Know Your Audience

idhititEver seen this ad before? If you can believe it, it’s a McDonalds ad from a few years ago. In their effort to be really hip and cool, they accidentally offended and annoyed the very audience they were trying to impress. Unbeknownst to the out-of-touch marketing department, they were encouraging young men to copulate with hamburgers. Based on the guy’s expression, it appears that he was actually considering it. Those double cheeseburgers must be really good.

What’s the lesson here? There are far too many to list, but these are the ones that come to mind:

  1. Know your audience. If you’re speaking to a young, urban demographic, have some sort of knowledge regarding slang terms. Corollary: don’t encourage sex with your products.
  2. Know yourself. If you don’t have all the answers, it’s ok. Just don’t fake it, or you might end up looking foolish (and, in McDonalds’ case, creepy as hell).

Obviously, this was a big blunder, but McDonalds is so huge they were able to absorb the impact and not skip a beat. A smaller company, however, might not be so lucky, so unless you’re a behemoth like Ronald McDonald you should avoid these types of mistakes at all costs.

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June 17, 2009 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

Capitalize on your brand equity to gain market share

Frank Sinatra had a Vegas-inspired song called “Luck Be A Lady.” One of the lines in the song is:

“Stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.”

In many ways, marketing is like Lady Luck that ol’ Blue Eyes is singing about, especially when it comes to branding. This is one of the trickier subjects to explain to someone new to marketing. In a nutshell, branding is the sum total of experiences and perceptions that a company has with its customers, competitors, and marketplace. The tactical elements of marketing — websites, brochures, advertising, etc. — are physical manifestations of branding. There’s also something called brand equity, which is not only a perceived value of a brand, but it can also be a tangible value. In fact, many organizations carry their brand as an asset on their balance sheets, with an actual dollar amount attached to it. Google has the highest brand value in the world, which is estimated to be worth more than $100 Billion. Software giant Microsoft has the second highest rated brand in the world, worth over $76 Billion.

There’s a reason why I mention these two examples together. You’ve undoubtedly noticed the “Bing” logo at the top of the entry. You may also be asking yourself, “what the hell is Bing?” As it turns out, Bing is the newest incarnation of Microsoft’s search engine, renamed from Windows Live Search. In my opinion, Microsoft made a big mistake and squandered a golden opportunity. They took one of the most high-profile aspects of the Internet (search engines), went up against the 800-pound gorilla, and didn’t take advantage of the Microsoft brand equity. Even worse, when you go to the Bing home page, the Microsoft name is nowhere to be found, so they can’t springboard their new brand off the established Microsoft name. How can you realistically pit a $100 Billion brand against a brand with zero equity? Frankly, you can’t. Microsoft doomed Bing to the ash heap of history before it even launched, just like another one of their infamous failures. The rest is just an exercise in futility.

What’s the lesson here? The Microsoft branding team should have told the Bing team, “stick with me, baby, I’m the guy that you came in with.” The only thing left is a roll of the dice and the hope that Lady Luck is on their side. I wouldn’t bet on it.

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June 15, 2009 at 11:30 pm Leave a comment

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