Posts Tagged ‘advertising’

Focus your message for greater impact and success

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, Nonprofit Communications on July 16, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Sometimes, getting your message out there is easy. You know what your organization does and you can sum it up nicely.

When it’s not easy, the problem usually isn’t finding a message. More often, you can’t decide which message to put out there. You do so many things, in so many ways, how can you possibly narrow it all down to one succinct statement?

That’s the dilemma I was trying to address when I put together the slide above for my recent participation in a “Developing Effective Messaging” webinar conducted by Achieve for its nonprofit clients.  I admit it’s a pretty crude, inelegant illustration, but I hope it makes the point: Put too many messages out there, and they’ll get lost in your own clutter, confuse your team, diffuse your impact and, every now and then, crash a couple of metaphoric planes together.

 Why is it so hard to focus the message? Often, it’s because every time you choose to communicate one message, you’re choosing not to communicate others. And every time you choose not to communicate something, somebody says, “Yeah, but …”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped a client focus its message – defining objectives, wrestling words, sharpening syntax – only to have an executive or department head come in at the end of the process and say, “Perfect! Except it doesn’t say anything about our … [quality control, customer services, longevity, etc.]. Can you add that? And maybe something about … [cost-effectiveness, environmental awareness, fun culture, etc.]?”

Here’s the deal: I’m not suggesting that an organization can’t have a lot to offer, or that a company can’t provide a bunch of benefits. I’m simply saying that, when it comes to communicating, simple is best. Forge your primary message, and communicate others as appropriate.

How do you choose? By asking yourself a couple of questions:

  • “What are we trying to achieve with this communication effort?”
  • “What message will help us achieve that objective most efficiently?”

Other messages might be true, but if they won’t help you reach your objective, they simply create interference.  

Remember the old Miller Lite “Less filling! Tastes great!” campaign? I can almost guarantee that someone at Miller wanted to add “Incredible bargain!” “American-brewed!” and other messages. But “Less filling! Tastes great!” made the point that needed to be made and nothing more. As a result, it worked.

Choosing is hard, but not nearly as hard as watching a communications effort fail. Make hard choices, focus your message, and you’ll be a lot more successful.


Extreme Makeover, Brand Edition — Will it be a “Love Shack”?

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate on January 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

At any given moment, too many people in funky glasses and expensive t-shirts are sitting in conference rooms having “brand discussions.” They’re trying to “capture the essence of the brand” or “leverage the brand’s full synergistic opportunities.” (Sorry: But these people really do talk like that.)

Now, full disclosure: I have participated in such conversations. I have done so in all seriousness and, occasionally, with some success. As I’ve done so, I’ve learned a few things.

First of all, most clients believe in the power of the world-changing brand (see: Nike, Pixar, FedEx, etc.). They want you to give them a brand that will set the world on fire, or a subtle tweak to an existing brand that will make it emerge from the crowd. They want miracles.

In pursuit of such miracles, I’ve seen great brand-development processes, and I’ve endured horrible ones. I’ve seen success and failure from both. That’s the nature of the beast: When you’re panning for gold, sometimes you succeed through a brilliant and focused process; other times, you trip over a nugget while fumbling around like an idiot.

I thought of these realities when I read a recent blog post from the smart people at Hetrick Communications (www.tellhetrick.com). Creative Director Mary Hayes mused out loud about the recent shift in the Radio Shack brand. The holder of a sharp brand brain, Mary summed up much of the brand conundrum with her headline: Radio Shack drops the Radio and threatens my brand experience. (Click headline to view blog.)

The key words are “my brand experience.” That’s what a brand is about these days: Making the “brand experience” personal. The responses to Mary’s blog supported this: People talked less about the wisdom or idiocy of the new “Shack” brand, and more about how it resonated with their personal experiences with Radio Shack.

I added these thoughts:

Sure, I always knew the radio geeks at Radio Shack could come up with that odd cable, bizarre converter, or funky universal remote, but I more often thought of them as sellers of cheap remote control cars, whiz-bang electronic gadgets and inexpensive versions of things I buy because I can’t afford the “real thing.” I’ve never gone unless I needed one specific thing, and I never left with more than that one thing. If I had to sum up the brand impression for me, it would be something like “Shabby Geek.”

Still, as a cycling geek, I have to suggest that Radio Shack’s masterstroke — beyond all renaming and rebranding — is signing on as sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s cycling team. Lance and his teammates (some of cycling’s top dogs) have wasted no time embracing the brand and talking it up as “cool.” The guy who put added new zip to the United Postal Service and Discovery Channel brands; who put the name of the capital of Kazakhstan on the lips of Americans; who made a global passion out of the Tour de France, a race that had a dedicated but tiny following prior to the Attack of the Texan; and who made the colors yellow and black synonymous with cancer fighting and little rubber wrist bands a global phenom … he now is powering The Shack brand. Frankly, I think they change the name to anything — Telegraph Hut? Morse Code Bungalow? — and Lance could pedal them to the top of the marketing mountain.

The challenge of a brand is to make as many people as possible feel like it is their own personal brand. I have until now felt zero connection to Radio Shack, but its relationship with Lance Armstrong and a US cycling team make me see it in a new way. A personal way.

Now, that’s all well and good, but will I translate my Lance-worship into buying gadgets at The Shack? Will you change your Radio Shack perceptions and buying habits as a result of its evolution into The Shack? That’s what matters. Because, let’s face it: The world is littered with “cool brands” that did nothing for their organizations. Why? They failed to translate a “brand relationship” into a cash transaction. And it doesn’t get any more personal than that.

Have the ad/editorial rules changed completely?

In Business Class, Connecting to Communicate, uhm on January 6, 2010 at 11:20 am

Back in my journalism days (some time after Mencken and before blogs), the proper relationship between editorial placement and ad placement was clear: Ads should not run next to or across the page from editorial about the advertiser.

Interestingly, both advertisers and editorial types generally agreed on this rule, albeit for different reasons.

Editors feared that an ad positioned near related editorial content could give the impression that the content was bought and paid for via the ad. With the credibility of the story and the publication on the line, the editor wanted the ad to be as far as possible from related editorial content.

Savvy advertisers (and their agencies and account reps) often agreed with the editors’ perspective, knowing that perceived editorial credibility would reflect directly on the advertiser. “So, you’re the kind of company that buys ads to get good editorial, eh? Hmmm …” If it looked as though you “bought” the editorial, after all, how can we trust that the story is accurate and objective?

But there was also another, more practical motive: an eggs-in-basket sort of premise. If the ad is right next to the story, and someone happens to miss the story or skip that page entirely, then, in one fell swoop, you’ve lost all of your opportunities to tell your story. This was the point that most often seemed to elude advertisers. Usually, if there were an advocate for putting editorial and ads next to each other, it came from the advertiser (or, more specifically, someone in the executive suite), who seemed to think a “concentration of message” would make the most impact.

Lately, though, it seems the wisdom about separating ads and editorial has withered away. More and more publications (even daily newspapers, which claim to be the last bastions of journalistic integrity) run ads adjacent to related content. Sometimes, this might be the result of simple oversight, miscommunication or a good, old-fashioned screw-up. But it seems more likely that it’s becoming an accepted practice — which suggests to me that the, for lack of a better phrase, the advertisers (and, from the agency’s perspective, the clients) have the upper hand. Which, in this case, would put in mind such clichés as “the tail is wagging the dog,” “the inmates are running the asylum” and “money talks.”

Certainly, these are lean times, and publications are struggling to make ends meet. Often, that leads to corner cutting. At the same time, advertisers are struggling to get the most out of limited marketing budgets. That often leads to desperation and bad ideas.

Maybe I’m just out of sync. Maybe I’m behind the times. Maybe I missed the memo about credibility no longer being important. Still, somehow, I think publications and advertisers will regret this shift. But I’m also afraid they’ll find there’s no going back.

So, if I were to throw some advice into this rant, I would say this: Resist this trend. Regardless of which side of the holy editorial/advertising divide you’re on, insist for separation between ads and editorial.

After all, when credibility is no longer something everyone worries about, it becomes a true point of distinction for those who do care about it.