Category Archives: Creative Strategy

Creative strategy is what makes it all work. If you have great copy and design, but haven’t spent time on the strategy for why you’re doing the effort, your effort could well be for naught, because you don’t have a solid plan for how and why you’ll communicate and get the prospect to respond to your effort. The ideas and concepts in these articles should give you the inside story on how and why strategy works, from basics like how to build a creative brief, to case histories.

Schola Cantorum season brochure 50th anniversary season

Roll folded self mailer utilized in-concert photography of the choir in action, to convey the excitement of performance

Roll folded self mailer utilized in-concert photography of the choir in action, to convey the excitement of performance

One of the most important pieces of branding and promotional work for a musical arts organization is its season brochure. The Schola Cantorum season brochure must be hard working, visionary and exciting enough to keep a reader’s interest long enough to get them to pick up the phone or go online and order season tickets.

This piece also is an essential piece when going for grants — the more confident, professional and powerfully a group is portrayed, the more likely they will earn funding for their future endeavors.

Schola Cantorum has a history of artistry and over 50 years has presented over 100 world premieres of commissioned works. This history and integrity of musicianship is what we have portrayed in this season brochure.


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Generate content for your site… and rake in qualified new prospects!

Everyone’s talking about web content these days. It’s said to be a necessity to get web visitors both the first time, through search, and then in follow up, as customers research products and services from many different angles.  The world is hungry for interesting, helpful, informative and quality-dense content. Yet you’ve probably noticed, there’s really not out there. Much of what we find online is rehashed, regurgitated and not worth our time.

Websites with good content get high rankings by visitors, who tell their friends and colleagues. Websites with no content, or dreck for content, don’t get the attention or the appreciation that results in higher rankings. Great web content generates customers through organic search — people search specific topics and they find you.

Great content generates credibility – your customers and prospects like you more, believe you know more than the competition and want to see more about you.

“Nearly half (46 percent) of CMOs at Fortune 1,000 companies attribute engaging content that generates comments as the leading factor to blog success.” — eMarketer

Why is it so hard to find worthwhile content? Well, for one thing, it takes time and effort, and brains to create decent web content. That means that, if you want to improve your site, either you have all the time in the world and are a great writer, or you need to fill your world with sources to generate these interesting articles and other such content.  Image

What makes for good web content? It’s all about introducing some different value-added pieces to your customers and followers!  If you were your customer, what would be interesting, useful, something you’d go back to see again and again? What would you pass along to your colleagues or friends?

• Intriguing news or information
Original reporting.
Research on something that is of interest to someone in your market.
Analysis of news or research, as long as it’s insightful and leads to conclusions that jive with the beliefs of your web audience.
Apps that are fun, interesting or useful — the key word here being useful. There are tons of great game apps out there already, so if you are thinking of a game, it has to be over-the-top great.  Think of which apps you use the most often – things that give you shortcuts to figure things out are probably highest on the list. Consider something like that.
Recipes – even if you’re not a cooking site, there may be a good reason for one. Think of what your prospect likes the most.
Music or pictures that relate to your audience’s interests in some way.
Contests or quizzes with fun prizes – which by the way will not need be super-high value, as long as it’s something your audience likes. A contest might be as simple as ‘sign up for our informative emails and you’ll have a chance to win in our monthly drawing for an XYZ.’  Or it could be something more creative such as ‘Design your perfect jacket and you could win a backstage slot on Project Runway.’ In Business to business, it might be a ‘Spot the hazard’ in a photo if you’re selling safety fixes for industrial plants.
• Guides such as ‘How to start a business in the XYZ industry’ or ‘What credentials do you need to be a public school teacher (name your state and we’ll give you the answer).
• Videos. Your videos should be bright and useful, but don’t think you must hire a videographer to do it! Here is a great video that’s web/email content for Wine of the Month Club that is obviously homegrown but took on a life of its own… and sold a hell of a lot of wine!
• Big ideas! That is, whatever you have as content should have one singular idea as the driver for that particular piece of content. Don’t try to do too much in one shot — people get lost and they turn away.


Many of these ideas can be included in a blog, which should be somehow attached to your website… but often you can and should develop this kind of content in your website, your emails and more.

As you can see, there are so many ways to add content – many I have not thought of here. So, what’s defined as BAD content — what should you avoid?

• Old articles or white papers that everyone’s seen already.
• Benign articles that have been hacked apart by your legal department so the content has no value. (My old friend Howard used to refer to the legal department as the ‘Sales Prevention Department’.)
• Poorly written articles with bad punctuation, run-on sentences, sloppy grammar. In advertising and marketing, grammar need not be ‘King’s English’ but it should be exciting, interesting and easy to understand at a glance. Paragraphs should be short and sweet, vocabulary should be easy, although definitely not geared as stupid (Read some of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ books for ideas).
• Bad headlines – one of the fatal flaws if you don’t have a Big idea is that you can’t determine a good headline or title or name for the piece. An hilarious article about bad headlines (touching often on bad grammar) can be found here:

Writing your content – There are entire books about web content writing, but here are a few highlights that should get you going.

• Allow time to figure out a list of content options, and then develop a schedule to develop them all in a timely manner.  For ideas, see this article:
• Set some budget aside
to give you room to hire some content developers.
• Develop a mission statement
for the addition of your content – why you’re including it, what you hope to achieve, etc.
• Ask your followers what they think would be good content
• Load the copy with keywords
— yet make it still something you would enjoy reading. Sometimes there’s so much emphasis on keywords that the copy reads like a chart instead of a warm and engaging article.• Keep the subject hot, relevant and current.
• Update your content regularly so you reward people for returning to your site.
• Make it fun to read, to use, to pass along. Remember that if you want your visitors to pass your site/content link along to others, it must be something that makes the recipient think well of the sender. If your web content is lame, your follower will face embarrassment when they pass it along.

Content isn’t just some band-aid you plug into your site to tell people you have it. It’s a sales tool that can help you generate better quality followers and prospects, and even help you close on sales. You have so much to gain! Start putting your plan together now, and if you need some ideas or a brainstorm, don’t hesitate to contact me to chat.

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e-Testing for your e-Success

offer test three way isuzu gps web

When Isuzu tested three offers, they learned that it’s possible to offer TOO much for a test drive. they offered a backpack, a $50 value gasoline card, and a GPS! The GPS they offered brought in a lot of bad leads for test drive, just to get the gift. Yes, it’s true, if you offer enough incentive, people will even spend time with an Isuzu salesman!

Regardless of the channels in which you sell, testing is invaluable to your business. And offer testing, in particular is misunderstood in both practice and power. Yet testing seems complicated and time consuming! Is it worth it?

The answer is: you can’t afford NOT to test. Here’s why: each program you’re running has many elements that could be doing their job well … or they could be failing! The ONLY way you will ever know what works best to help you win customers, is to test as many of these elements as you can, in a disciplined environment.

Offer testing: increase order sizes, get orders in faster

The offer is something you “dangle” in front of your prospect or customer in order to change their behavior. If you want your average order size to be higher, make them an offer that slightly raises the bar for how much they’d normally spend. So in prospecting, if your average first order comes in at $55, then you might develop an offer for new customers to get that first order $10 or $20 higher.

Your offer can and should speed up their response, too. An offer in direct mail shouldn’t give the customer more than 15 days from the day the piece lands in their mailbox. In email, we’re seeing offers that are 5 days or less, since it’s a more immediate media; in fact I’ve seen some amazing promotions that were “this day only” or even “within 3 hours!”

The fact is, if a prospect has too much time to think about it, they’ll put it aside and forget about it, even if they were motivated to act at the time they saw the promotion. You want to make sure they really act, when the offer is top of mind.

What makes a great offer?

So often I hear people say, “We don’t have an offer because we don’t want to discount.” The irony is this: a discount is usually the last thing I’d suggest as a really great offer… although it still must be tested.  The offers I’ve seen to work best have been relevant and interesting or different ‘gifts’, ranging from online-fulfilled gift cards for sister companies, to signed, framed limited edition photographs.

A winning offer has something that reminds people of you when they use or enjoy the offer. It also has good perceived value, but not so high that someone will order, and then return, just to get the offer.

B2B should have offers just as consumer products and services do – but their offers may be different in scope or purpose. White papers are common but only effective if they are current and a truly intriguing topic. So a white paper that just tells them about your company is not a good offer.

Sweeps and drawings can be a good offer for some efforts; getting people to sign up for email, for example. But a sweeps will typically win in the “front end”, but lose in the “back end”. This is not always the case though; if your list is really exemplary, then your leads may all be strong despite the lure of the sweeps. This is why we test!

Another side of B2B offers is concern regarding value. Often, companies won’t let employees accept something more valuable than, say, $10. When New Pig developed offers that included kooky toys and t-shirts, they fit the bill for value — plus, they’re collectible and fun. Even in B2B, human behavior plays a huge role.

We developed a pizza giveaway for HP, generating high quality relationships and sales. Pizza was universal and fun in appeal – and it got attention because of how unusual an offer it was.

A powerful lever for response

I’ve seen one offer double or even quadruple response from another in an A-B test. I’ve seen other offers flat line! But the bottom line is, if you believe that offers don’t work for you, then you just haven’t tested enough.  Be sure to measure test results carefully in both the front, and the back end. Tenacity is a key to successful testing.

Learn and grow with strong testing programs. You may become addicted to the excitement of more rewarding efforts and stronger sales!

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Back to the future: advertising strategies that always work.

What media makes up your prospecting efforts? If you’re like most seasoned cross-channel retailers, mail is “king,” with the highest return on investment of all your channels. You may also prospect effectively online by beefing up your search engine optimization, but search customers are typically among your least loyal.

The customer acquisition avenue that’s been around the longest of all — space advertising — is often the one marketers have the lowest expectations of. Yet it’s pricey, and to treat it as a brand effort, untested and unmeasured, is clearly a waste of budget. If not creatively designed, placed strategically and the results tracked, space advertising can become a black hole into which you pour a hefty dose of your marketing dollars with no accountability.

Deceptively Simple
Space advertising seems so easy — it’s just a single page! Don’t be deceived by its simplicity, however. Effective space advertising is harder than it looks. Space ads are often treated as more of a design problem rather than an exercise in salesmanship. “We know our product or service … so how much do we need to explain?” The answer is a lot. Prospects are being dropped into a pool of ads, including those of your competitors. To get their attention you need both a hook that defines your unique selling proposition and clear communication to pay it off. A prospect’s time with your ad will be a millisecond.

I learned the key elements to creating successful ads that pay off in quality customers from a wise mentor I had in my early years, a man named Andy Byrne. Andy was for many years a major player in the direct marketing world. He had an awesome breadth of experience using space advertising and direct mail in the U.S. and internationally, and he enjoyed friendships with David Ogilvy, Denny Hatch, Bob Hemmings and a host of other revered direct marketers. Andy spoke eloquently about direct response, and fortunately for so many of us he generously shared his experiences.

Make it or Break it With the Headline
“The problem with many advertisers, and even with advertising writers, is that they don’t appreciate how much the headline can affect the response of the advertisement.” — Andy Byrne, from “Methods to Increase Advertising Results”

Andy’s revelation: those clever, snappy headlines that creative types often present and clients love are confusing to most prospects. Studies prove that confusion deadens sales.

The advertising we see most often today is brand advertising. A brand ad will hook you, tell you of a product or service, and the assumption is that you’ll be driven to either visit the brand’s website or retail store. Direct marketers, however, don’t assume that simply the knowledge of their product will drive consumers to their store or website. They’ve developed and tested hooks they know will drive consumers to respond — e.g., deadlines, minimum orders and more.

That’s why it’s essential to treat an ad like a major assignment, with a creative brief that identifies your target market and what problem your product or service will solve for them. This will be the core of your strongest headlines. (Note: Headline development can also make or break your website’s homepage.)


One of my favorite space ad campaigns is one TravelSmith ran for many years. This campaign was successful in growing the retailer’s catalog housefile. TravelSmith launched the campaign with small space ads for its black travel dress. To ensure that women knew this was something they couldn’t travel comfortably without, TravelSmith used the following headline in the ad: “The Indispensable Black Travel Dress.”

After running this ad regularly and selling countless dresses, the retailer moved into the men’s apparel market with another product, “TravelSmith’s Featherweight Packable Trenchcoat.” The women’s version of the coat had a similar but slightly different name: “TravelSmith’s Packable Microfiber Raincoat.”

Notice how information-packed those headlines are? TravelSmith knows its market well. Women often wish they could take along a dress when they travel, but it takes up too much space, won’t match other items being packed and gets wrinkled. TravelSmith’s dress answered that challenge in the headline. Likewise, the retailer’s raincoat ads assured consumers that its coat was truly a convenient choice.

Note also how the language changes depending on the target audience. The coats are both made from microfiber, which women are familiar with. Men, on the other hand, might not have recognized microfiber as a benefit, so it would have been unwise to take the same headline approach.

The raincoat ad might not have been so specific in a branded ad. One raincoat marketer’s brand ad I found read, “The coat you’ll live in.” Who wants to wear a raincoat all the time? You can see why the promise of featherweight and packable has far more appeal.

Hardworking Body Copy Delivers
You might think the TravelSmith ads have “too many words,” but in fact these ads were enormously successful — and still would be today. Why? Because they’re easy to read with quick, easy-to-scan sentences, and they cover the gamut of descriptive language that’s music to the ears of any traveler: wrinkle-free, versatile, easy to pack, lightweight, etc. The ad tells readers about the small pouch it will fit into to “tuck it” into your carry-on. Seam-sealed and waterproof are also essential words.

The rest of the body copy confirms to the reader that they’ll see over 350 items like this one in TravelSmith’s catalog. Most important of all, they learn that they’ll be rewarded when they call for the catalog with a FREE outfitting guide that includes suggested packing lists and travel advice, an offer most travelers would appreciate.

Understanding how to sell rather than how to be creative is essential to developing effective space ads. Know your customers and speak to them with headlines, copy and offers that really excite them. Then give them a deadline to respond. So simple, yet most ads you see won’t have these elements.

Size Matters … But Not Like You Think
Andy Byrne also proved through testing that smaller is better for prospecting space advertising. That’s not what most ad agencies would say because they’re not as much fun to do and the commission is much lower, but it’s the truth.

Andy would start running the smallest ads he could — a quarter page at the most — in multiple publications. After a few rounds he would measure the results and pare out the ads that weren’t pulling enough response. Then he’d try the next size up for the publications that yielded the strongest results. This method kept the cost down so that the ads could be tested more frequently and in more media. Cahners Publishing tested this theory and found that quarter-page ads were far more cost effective than full-page ads, delivering almost as many inquiries as a full-page ad at a third of the cost per inquiry.

This tiny space ad ran every other month in New Yorker, and sold out the inventory of necklaces my client had acquired, in only 6 months.

This tiny space ad ran every other month in New Yorker, and sold out the inventory of necklaces my client had acquired, in only 6 months.

A few years ago I developed small space ads to run in The New Yorker for the Chakra Necklace, which had little polished natural stones on a black cord and was priced around $75. I developed a headline — “Rare, delicate beauty and elegance” — to generate curiosity. The copy suggested readers get one for themselves or for someone special. Even though the retailer had a website and landing page, 80 percent of the necklace’s sales came via the phone because the space ad was so compelling.

The bottom line is unless you have enormous retail presence, a full-page space ad will be wasted. If you’re like most cross-channel retailers out there, it’s far more effective to run 10 black-and-white quarter-page ads than it is to run one full-page color ad.

Review the space ads you’re placing now. What’s the single thought you want consumers to have when they see your ad? Is there an offer? A deadline for the offer? If the ad is going to be in a magazine that typically stays with the reader for more than a couple of months (e.g., The New Yorker), this may not be possible. Is it clear what you want readers to do after looking at the ad? If you’re not sure, don’t hesitate to reach out for a quick critique. With a stronger campaign in place, make every ad dollar you spend work its hardest!


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14 tips for creating headlines that draw in your customer.

Inspired by an article in Target Marketing by the inimitable Denny Hatch, I thought I’d pursue the issue of bad headlines in this quickie post. To see Denny’s great article, visit

You may not be doing anything in print and think this doesn’t matter. But it does. This topic is key to people reading your posts, your online ads, your postcards, your home pages, your landing pages. All of those customer contacts must have a great headline, or the effort is going to fail, or at least under perform.


Here are a few of our recent efforts with headlines that really racked up the customer visits and sales. These ads were created with Beasley Direct Marketing, one of the leading direct and interactive marketing agencies in the Silicon Valley.
First is a B2B ad for Anritsu, which has developed a cable and antenna analyzer with a host of new features including an extremely long lasting battery (convenience – they don’t have to leave the field and recharge the thing halfway through a job.)

The next one is also B2B: it’s for Rovi and it was an award winner for customer retention. Rovi’s service/product is very likely the rolling list of TV shows you see on your TV, particularly in hotels. The ads that run on those platforms are paid advertising, and the format is irresistible to most viewers.Rovi ad

I’ve pared some tips from Denny Hatch’s article, and I’ve added some additional tidbits from admired and powerful writers (and yours truly). Check out this comprehensive ‘laundry list’ of what should be considered for better headlines:

1. “Avoid the “hard-to-grasp” headline—the headline that requires thought and is not clear at first glance.” —John Caples

2. “Remember that every headline has one job. It must stop your prospects with a believable promise.” —John Caples

3. “Some headlines are “blind.’ They don’t say what the product is, or what it will do for you. They are about 20 per cent below average in recall.” —David Ogilvy

4. “The headline is the ‘ticket on the meat’. Use it to flag down readers who are prospects for the kind of products you are advertising. If you are selling a remedy for bladder weakness, display the words BLADDER WEAKNESS in your headline; they catch the eye of anyone who suffers from this inconvenience. If you want mothers to read your advertisement, display MOTHERS in your headline. And so on.” —David Ogilvy

5. “Clearly state a benefit in your headline.” —Craig Huey, president, Direct Marketing Creative Group

6. “The headline selects the reader.” —Axel Andersson, founder, Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg, Germany, World’s second foremost expert on direct mail

7. “People are hurried. The average person worth cultivating has too much to read. They skip three-fourths of the reading matter, which they pay to get. They are not going to read your business talk unless you make it worth their while and let the headline show it.” —Claude Hopkins

8. “Specifics sell. Generalities don’t.” —Andrew J. Byrne

9. “The headlines which work best are those which promise the reader a benefit–like a whiter wash, more miles per gallon, freedom from pimples, fewer cavities. Rifle through a magazine and count the number of ads whose headlines promise a benefit of any kind.” —David Ogilvy

10. “Headlines which contain news are sure-fire. The news can be the announcement of a new product, an improvement in an old product, or a new way to use an old product–like serving Campbell’s Soup on the rocks. On the average, ads with news are recalled by 22% more people than ads without news.” —David Ogilvy

11. “If you are lucky enough to have some news to tell, don’t bury it in your body copy, which nine out of ten people will not read. State it loud and clear in your headline. And don’t scorn tried-and-true words like amazing, introducing, now, suddenly.” —David Ogilvy

12. Don’t over-use superlatives. Words like “best ever,” “amazing,” and “incredible” better be true or you will lose credibility. That’s a bad start for a client relationship. Hype will turn prospects off, not on. — Victoria Eden

13. Focus on why you’re there and stick with it. If your headline concentrates on one thing, and then you change directions during the ad, it confuses your reader, and you lose them. — Carol Worthington-Levy

14. Get to the point, refraining from cute or obtusely clever.  Making obscure references may make you feel smart but it makes them feel stupid and that’s a bad place to take a potential customer. You’ll lose ’em that very second. — Carol Worthington-Levy

15. Your customer is thinking, “What’s in it for me?” The only thing your customer cares about is, “Will this work for me?” And the fact that you think this copy is clever or funny is irrelevant: Your customer frequently doesn’t share your sensibilities. — Carol Worthington-Levy

Now, I’m sure there are folks out there who think rules like these set the stage for an old fashioned, fuddy-duddy headline and effort.

That’s just their arrogance speaking. That’s right, I’m saying that most creatives and marketers who work on advertising  have never seen the direct result of their effort — and these folks ALWAYS overestimate how people respond to it. They cannot imagine the horrendous failure of their efforts!

I’ve seen the testing and it’s dismal. Most of the stuff you see in writing now, whether in print or online, is garbage-can-ready. And what’s pathetic is that these people are paid to make this stuff effective. They don’t even know how to make good on that promise.  So, they continue to do the same garbage again and again, and their clients think this is the best they can get. Wish I had some swampland to sell those clients!

Truth be told, a great headline — one that matches some of the criteria in the list on this post — makes an ad (or post, or website… etc.) relevant to the reader. Imagine that — it’s not about the writer, it’s about THE CUSTOMER!

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty damned tired of copy that says ‘we are the best at what we do’. (Oh, shut up!) What’s missing is the headline that tells me – What can you do for me today? How can you make my life better? How can you make me more successful? Why will everyone love me more when I use your product or service? What can you do for me that will make me appear to be smarter or better looking?

No matter what you’re writing, or what business you’re in, you are guaranteed to get more customers, and better qualified customers, if your copy — especially your headline copy — fits these criteria! — CWL

P.S. Another article i found that I thought gave some good tips on headline writing:

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Is your company’s brand doing its job?

Everyone’s talking about Brand … many brand managers promote it to the exclusion of sales! Now that’s pretty ass-backwards, eh.

But everyone assumes their brand is doing its job, and supporting new and ongoing customer relationships. Their agency does all they can to make the client feel that way!  But, more often than not, a company’s brand is not doing its job. Is yours?

It’s easy to fall off track – in some cases, no true understanding of a company’s brand has ever been established. There are lots of ’branding agencies’ out there who are simply designing logos but don’t really have a clue as to how to define or grow a brand.

Really doing it right – defining your brand, establishing it, supporting it – is not an easy task. It’s not something for the ego-driven agency who wants to win awards. It’s not for the client who is hoping to get kudos in the company meetings.

And — It’s not something that just happen on its own – it must be worked on with sincere effort and in most cases an outside eye or guidance to hit the mark. But it’s well worth some concentrated effort to get it right.

What is “brand”?

It’s MUCH more than a logo or a tagline; it’s your company’s DNA. Without a thorough understanding of your brand – and a clear definition of it – you’re missing the most important key to your success now, and in the future.

Historically in direct selling, brand was not considered important, or even relevant until the mid to late 90s.  In fact, brand advertising was scoffed at by direct marketing folks who themselves were attuned to measurement of response.

Even today, the imbalance in over all expenditure between ‘brand’ work and direct selling is mind-boggling. I’ve been inside tech companies where they were wringing their hands over whether to spend $500,000 to have a single outdoor board up for six months, or to spend it on a direct marketing campaign to measurably generate quality leads and renew customer relationships. D’oh! They think an outdoor board is an essential step in branding. So far from the truth!

In today’s world of convergent marketing, establishment of your brand, and your brand itself is an essential tool your relationships with your customers, and your bottom line. But it has to be done with wisdom and careful expenditures in appropriate channels — not thrown into the most visible to a world that frankly doesn’t care or need to care about your product. Brand matters to the customer who is YOUR customer. All the rest is money down the drain.

Historically powerful brands

Think of the brands that you know by heart – and how they present themselves. L.L. Bean may not be the same old merchant it used to be, but the basics of the LL Bean brand are still strongly evident.

First and foremost, it’s about complete customer satisfaction.  It’s also about family, friends, and clean living that favors and celebrates the outdoors.  It’s about quality and goodness, the kind that will never go out of fashion. Test this brand as you peruse their many catalogs, visit their website, read their emails … it’s consistent and it’s all theirs.

A well-established and true brand endures through time and difficulty. Tylenol survived the poisoning incident in the 70s. Martha Stewart’s brand has come roaring back stronger than ever even after she spent five months in the slammer.  Williams Sonoma grows and expands, but in the words of its founder, Chuck Williams,  they’re known for “Quality good enough to last a lifetime”. Williams emphasized from the start that he would never sell anything he didn’t like or appreciate its beauty and functionality. That is one of the key elements to their very successful brand.

Brand is so important, it is to your advantage to establish it in writing, in your emails, in your catalog or on your website, using the form of a vision statement or mission. And when it’s present, the emphasis must be upon what your brand means to the customer in terms of advantages and benefits.

Check out Harry & David’s website and you’ll find their ‘guiding principles’ – it’s a great template to start your own thoughts on how you express your brand to your customers.

Where will brand show up?

When well-established, your brand shows up in far more than your logo. It will be part of your company culture, effecting customer service, merchandising, your offers, employee benefits, fulfillment, and of course, creative.  Your guarantee is a reflection of your brand as it pertains to customer confidence.

It also shows up in the company you keep (relationships with the community and with other like-minded companies), and even your PR.

How do I know my brand is relevant?

I highly recommend a few kinds of research to check, double check or even establish a valid brand positioning for your company. E-research is very valuable and affordable, but there are other options too.  And of course, plan on spending ample time speaking directly to customers and to your customer service personnel who spend many hours a day speaking with customers.

Through this research you will be able to cull a ‘vocabulary’ of language that defines your brand, and categorize these words so that you know how and when to use them to sell products, establish relationships and more.

You’ll also learn what language you are using now that is inappropriate to your customer.  In addition, you get a much clearer view of your customer, which will empower your merchandise selection and what directions you can effectively grow your company.

The language you develop will be key to identifying and communicating your value propositions as well as your core identity.

Does everyone need to work on brand?

There are some companies who tend more than others to lose their way when it comes to a well established and valid brand. Those companies in which the founder is no longer present sometimes lose the ‘heart and soul’ of their brand – the keeper of the ‘flame’ so to speak. With the financial advantages that happen through the sale of a catalog comes this disadvantage. It takes sincere diligence and continuation of longstanding employee relationships to keep it intact.

Companies who have grown ‘seat of their pants’ without brand being part of the mix often find themselves with multiple logos and no real establishment of good brand practice. These companies are at high risk of being eaten alive by their more organized competitors who look more stable and trustworthy if their own brand is better established. If this is you, it’s time to take a serious look at brand across the board, and once it’s established in a unified way, police it with vigor to keep everyone on track.

If your customer base has changed a lot since you first established your catalog, it’s important to revisit brand to find out who you really are speaking to at this point. You could find yourself using a brand that doesn’t ring true enough to your customer base – and they are more likely to leave for your competition when that happens.

8 steps toward a more powerful brand identity

These steps should serve as a checklist for you to review where your brand shows up, how valid it is to your customer base, and opportunities you have yet to explore.

1. Understand your customers, both existing and incoming – and acknowledge customer behavior

2. Know who your opportunities lie with, and don’t abandon your core customer group

3. Link all communication they have with your customers – silos hinder brand strength

4. Set standards and expectations for all contacts made – keeping the bar high with no exceptions

5. Map out and plan the total customer experience and relationship, right from the start. When changes occur, look at the whole plan, and don’t band-aid solutions

6. Clarify your selling and service proposition
across all their internal network
– for consistent customer experience …

• Merchandise quality
• Service, including customer service, fulfillment, etc

7. Never omit the basics of solid marketing:
• great offers
• quality, intelligent and focused creative
• personal service for one-on-one experience

8. Seek out partnerships with companies whose customers have similar demographics and psychographics – including merchants and even service providers – to support and grow their brand

 Last thoughts

When you take on this brand project remember that you are unlikely to be able to take an unbiased path doing it all internally. As one of our marketing research affiliates describes it, “when it’s done internally, the research results are most often tainted because there is nobody in the company who does not have a view of where the company should be going”.  It’s just human nature.

The team you DO use internally should be kept small and focused – ‘grandfather’ research in a company, or asking random opinions, is more likely than not to drive the process off track. Keep in mind that people’s opinions often do not match actual response activity – thus the reason why even with research, we back-test in the real world.

Your work on your brand fine tuning or actual establishment is a great investment, but establish a budget to get it done and set a timeline so that the project doesn’t drift out to sea. In the heat of daily work, a project like this can lose its place in the chain – but it’s a project and an outcome that can move you more successfully into the coming years.

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Pitch your product with passion: enjoy improved sales!

When we think of those infamous sales pitches on TV, we immediately think, “That’s not MY style!” Yet while we cringe at aggressive step-by-step and example-driven selling, most people who watch those commercials find themselves transfixed by the demonstrations and personal language that exemplifies these selling approaches.  Nobody wants to come across like that—but boy, oh boy, would we ever like to get their sales numbers!

One would think that in an economy such as ours this past year, we’d see multichannel sellers of product and services trying many new tactics to engage and capture more customers—but it’s been my observation that many companies are frozen in place and not willing to step out and test some new, yet historically proven approaches.  And one of the most obvious places this shows up is in the creative.

Look at it this way:  if nothing’s working now, it’s time to take a bit of a risk with methodology that works well for others, even if you’ve never thought to try it yourself before.

This stalemate is everywhere—from American automobile manufacturers to books to college course catalogs.  They keep doing the same thing over and over, thinking that THIS time it will work.  Someone told me once that one definition of insanity was someone doing the same thing repeatedly when it always comes out with the same disappointing result.  I must concur.  Sometimes the areas we’re the most fearful to stretch into aren’t really such a stretch.  And often, that stretch is positive.

So if you’re selling your goods and services with “safe” and possibly stale language, this upcoming new year is a chance to turn over a new leaf, summon up some guts and gumption, and think like the world’s most successful salespeople.  You don’t have to be Ron Popeil or Billy Mays—you just need to do a better job connecting to your customer through more gutsy or more personal copy.

For example, here’s a current copy approach from a piece I just pulled from my mailbox—a catalog that is not doing so well right now:

This soft ribbed turtleneck in versatile four-season silk and nylon is the perfect weight for wearing alone or slipped under a jacket.

Yaaaawwwn. This certainly does nothing to draw us in, or even keep us awake.

How about a different approach—the “YOU” approach, with some spunk…
Your wardrobe can’t possibly have too many soft ribbed turtlenecks. Ours is in gentle-as-a-feather silk and nylon, perfect for that layer that doesn’t add bulk under a jacket, or as an alluring single layer.

Now, this approach has more guts—and when you read it as a consumer you realize that the immediate suggestion for multiple purchases is certainly different, and not uncalled-for.  This copy may not be what you believe you would purchase from—but then again, you are probably not the target market.  One of the most serious flaws in creative and copywriting is the lack of that understanding that we are rarely the audience for the goods we’re selling.  The key to your customer’s heart is speaking to them in a voice they will listen to.

Here’s another example out of today’s mailbox, from a B2B offer:

Aeron – Highly adjustable improved comfort without traditional fabric
This chair has all the advanced ergonomic adjustments and air flow technology to make long-term sitting a breeze. Aeron’s back and seat are also made of a unique mesh suspension system called Pellicle, to support and distribute your weight evenly…

Again, as someone who sees boring copy like this in my mailbox all the time, this is nothing that tells me:  1. Why I would buy from this particular company, and 2. How this chair really feels and why I should spend over $500 on it—and why here, when this same product is available for the same price from multiple retailers.

Even the headline has me confused: improved comfort? Improved over what – what it was before? How is that a useful measurement for someone who has never had one of these chairs?

So what would happen if they had copy like this?

Aeron – 8 ergonomic settings custom-fit this chair to perfection. Your body deserves it!
After long hours in your work chair, what part of your body hurts most? Your back? Your butt? Your legs? Here’s the thing: you never have to hurt again! At [store name] we’ve test-driven dozens of chairs, and while no chair is perfect for everyone, this pleased more of our long-haul-sitters than anything else on the market.

While my suggestion is unconventional, the language is personal, empathetic, and engaging.  It also doesn’t have junk in it like the ‘a breeze’ phrase, which is supposed to make you feel cool and comfortable but actually feels a little creepy.  Are you sitting on the chair naked?  If you were the customer, who would you think had more experience trying out and selling chairs—the first company or the second one?  Based on experience and testing, the second approach would be a clear winner in terms of both selling and relationship-building with the future customer.

Caution:  this technique has power, but if handled by an amateur or a first-year copywriter, this could run amok in a hurry!! They start getting clever just to show you how interesting they are, but they forget that they should be selling a product, not showing off.  Copy like this takes years of study and a deep understanding of your customer’s soft spots and triggers.  It’s also essential to keep it pared down so the customer will actually “get it.”

Whatever you’re marketing, timid, fearful and generic copy just doesn’t cut it.  Now is the time to be bold.  Try this new, gutsier copy style on some of your products, and measure as best you can what happens.  Don’t use it on the “dead” products—instead, try it on the products you know customers want but you believe more would buy if they only knew how great the product is.

This more personal and powerful copy approach is a much more likely way to help prospects and returning customers see the light and buy from you instead of someone else.

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