We all have friends who like roller coasters. ‘Extreme’ friends who love horror films or death metal bands. Friends who thrive on fear or stress or adrenaline and are generally, really, pretty badass…
…but not too much. Because our motorcycle-riding friends still wear helmets and signal in traffic. None of them actually have a death wish. None of them are gangsters or ex-cons. If they were, they probably wouldn’t be our friends.
And that’s what you have to think about when choosing a personality for your brand. You might stand for ruggedness or competence or new age spirituality, but you have to figure out where your audience’s line is. There’s a such thing as too alternative or too extreme. It all depends on who you’re speaking to.
You learn these subtleties by listening to your customers, and by hanging out at the same venues and in the same online communities.
Talk with the person doing your marketing, and certainly let them know what you stand for. But also let them know when they’re going too far. A little left or right of center is okay (preferable, actually), but even the most extreme audience will have boundaries. It behooves you to know them.
Is whatever people believe it is. Not the sum of the parts, or the hours of labor. Not even the end benefit the product or service provides. The truth is, ‘value’ is a highly subjective measure, and highly-subject to manipulation. It’s less about what something’s worth, and more about what people expect to pay.
Consider the original iPad, which before launching had tech reporters everywhere speculating over sticker price. Most guesses were anchored around $1000. Even Steve Jobs, when publicizing the new product, was careful to point out that “this is something you’d expect to cost $1000.”
Of course, there was no such thing as an iPad before the first ones hit stores. But when we saw the price tag ($499), we were more than willing to fork over the cash. $499 feels like a steal when you’re expecting to pay twice that much. And never mind how much (or how little) it costs Apple to manufacture. When we don’t know what something’s worth, we rely on other people to anchor the price for us.
You can apply this to your own marketing, even if your product or service is offered at similar price points by a dozen competitors. It’s all in the packaging. Just as you’d expect to pay more at a European-sounding store than at a big box like Walmart, some tasteful window dressing (like a beautiful website or a great video), can completely change a prospect’s perception of your worth. It can make you “the premium brand” among plainer competitors. And make it easier to ask for more with a straight face.
Every job seeker knows the question, “what’s your biggest weakness?” and most know how you’re supposed to beat it: you phrase your weaknesses as strengths, making yourself sound simultaneously candid and invincible.
Smart strategy. Too bad interviewers see right through it.
It’s the same in the general marketplace: consumers, especially in a B2B situation, can tell when they’re being conned. Today’s hyper-competitive environment – where nearly everybody is working some angle – practically requires it. We’ve all been pitched too much. We’ve developed sophisticated BS detectors as a result.
Here’s the way to do things different: be disarmingly honest. Tell people exactly what your weaknesses are. Tell them why they might not want to use your product, or why your service might not be for them.
Tell them all that, and then when you tell them why they should use you, they’re going to listen. You’ve already established yourself as credible. You’re more than halfway to making a sale.
… is to lead from behind. A lot of brands are reluctant to do this. It’s easier to play ‘follow the leader,’ to copy the business model or ad campaign that’s already worked for someone else, and just put a little ‘spin’ on it. The result is statements like these:
“We’re like Facebook, only better.”
“We’re like Craigslist, only more visually appealing.”
“We’re YouTube, only without the ads.”
Has anyone managed to build the better Facebook, or a YouTube without the ads? Probably. But no one is using them. No one has even heard of them. Because Facebook and YouTube already own the mindshare of just about every member of our culture. You can’t compete with such giants on their own terms.
Same deal in your industry. The more you play follow the leader, the more you have to compete for scraps with the whole ‘me too’ herd.
Here’s a better idea: do something totally different. If your industry leader is going west, go east. If their marketing is hyper-technical, become ‘the human brand.’ Be the one company in your industry that’s willing to blaspheme, to break best practices and challenge the status quo.
In sailboat racing, the boat that follows the leader, using the same wind and the same current, has no chance of winning. It’s only by tacking far right or left, and taking advantage of shifts in the wind, that a ‘me too’ boat can become number one. It’s a gamble. It’s also the only way to win.*
*This boat metaphor comes from Dixit & Nalebuff’s brilliant book, The Art of Strategy
We love creating mind-blowing marketing videos. We like to be funny, original, entertaining, educational. When we’re doing corporate culture videos, we like to be sincere and genuine. These are all fine adjectives, and worth embracing. But the one traditionally positive adjective we avoid is being “surprising.”
That might sound weird at first. A lot of brands love to “surprise and delight,” or tell their audiences to “expect the unexpected.” That works fine as rhetoric, but if a customer relies on your customer service, your safety rating, or your standard of excellence, unplanned “surprises” can be unpleasant indeed.
There’s a such thing as pleasant surprises, but if you’ve communicated your brand correctly, they shouldn’t really be surprises at all. People should see the mints on the pillow, the complementary champagne, the big-smile-and-handshake service and say, “of course, this is a classy place.”
That goes for branding, as well as product and service. No matter how great your video or website is, it should still clearly be yours. It should fit with your brand and give people a sense of the familiar. The last thing you want is people seeing your sincere and genuine video and saying “who are they trying to fool?” Or seeing your funny clown video and saying “that isn’t the bank I remember signing up with.”
So make your branding congruent. Make people comfortable with your consistent awesomeness. And if you’re short on awesomeness, focus on creating more awesomeness before you focus on marketing.
That’s the only meaningful measure of success, and it’s the question we ought to ask ourselves about every piece of video marketing, from The Most Interesting Man in the World, to Burger King’s creepy “Wake Up With The King” campaign. Did it work? Did it get you (the audience) to change your behavior or attitude? Or was it merely amusing?
Creative types get caught in this trap often. We catch ourselves admiring the aesthetics of a poster, or the sound of a particularly fine turn of phrase. We look at a video and say, “that was really well done.” Sort of like admiring the handwriting on a sign for a lemonade stand. If it doesn’t make us buy a cup, who cares?
Not saying proper execution is useless. It’s not. If you look back through our blog, you’ll see all sorts of ways proper execution can help you solve problems. But you should always start with a problem in mind. Do you want to sell more lemonade? Be seen as a pillar in the lemonade community? Improve public perception of lemonade stands in general?
Talk this over with whomever is doing your marketing. Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve. Then measure and tweak your campaigns, using the appropriate strategies to solve it.
Humor, creativity, and impressive technique are all fine things, but they shouldn’t be done for their own sake. In measuring your effectiveness, the question is not “was it clever?” The question is “did it work?”
This is something Dave Munson (Saddleback Leather) understands. Dave doesn’t use product models, celebrities, or expensive, exotic locales to sell his bags. Instead, he uses his dog, his family, and his own adventures and sense of humor. The result is a product with personality. Even if you don’t buy a bag, the videos are apt to stick in your memory.
This is a great practice for any marketing video, but it’s doubly important if you’re selling a service. Graphs, pictures of your building, and stock art of handshakes are fine as window dressing, but sooner or later people want to know who they’re dealing with. If you’re selling childcare, financial advice, life coaching, or any other service, sooner is probably better.
So sell with your face. And your personality. And your passions. When people buy your service, they’re buying you. Better to be open and honest about exactly what they’re getting. It might alienate some, but those it draws in will be fans from the start. Then all you have to do is continue being yourself. Which is a real relief, believe us.
We’ve outlined a few marketing “rules” over the course of this blog, including the Sacred Directive to never talk about oneself (or to at least avoid talking about oneself whenever possible). Marketing, we’ve said, is all about the client. And that’s true. In the main, clients don’t want to hear your story. They want to hear about them. They want you to tell them how you can make their lives better.
But all those blatantly self-promotional materials can serve a purpose. The trick is figuring out the timing. There’s a time and a place to brag (a little), but it’s later, after you’ve secured client interest and (ideally) sealed the deal.
It helps to think about client engagements as romantic relationships. As below:
You might think that’s a weird place to do your bragging, but trust us, it’s necessary. Especially if you’re selling a service – something invisible and intangible. You need to reassure clients that they’ve made a good decision in hiring you. Do this by highlighting awards and accomplishments, fresh testimonials and successful new clients.
You can do it with a quarterly newsletter or a quarterly video – something short and sweet, maybe 90 seconds on “See What’s Happening at Doe & Associates.” Just remember not to brag too much or too often. And, as with initial phase marketing, tie everything back to the client (“we’re expanding to better serve you, etc. etc.”).
Whether you’re trying to seduce or sell — or even win a debate — the use of reason should be a last resort. This seems counterintuitive, since we typically think of ourselves as rational creatures. We assume we make buying decisions based on good information. And we assume that the kind of selling that works on us, should work on everyone else.
But science says we overestimate our own use of reason, especially when it comes to money (and especially when dealing with intangibles like service or experience).
Think back to the last big purchasing decision you made. Or (better yet), think back to the last major purchasing decision a friend made. When discussing it later, were the justifications based on hard data? Did you (or your friend) say, “Doe, Blah, & Associates has an 82% success rate in cases similar to mine, and their performance is rated above industry average, according to third party studies,” or did you say, “I just trust them. They seem to know what they’re doing. I like the guy working on my case. He has a degree from Harvard.”
The language of justification is subjective. It’s the language of “like,” “trust,” and “nice” — based on feelings and intuitions rather than information.
How do clients justify choosing (or not choosing) you? Remember: professional qualifications matter, but only at a basic level. Better to be personable and competent than an aloof expert.
And we mean that in the purest sense: be the exception. The rarity. The weird one.
“Playing it safe” and “playing by the rules” might get you new business now and then, but it’s a matter of luck and brute persistence — you put your marketing in front of a few hundred prospects and maybe get a dozen bites. It’s luck and it’s numbers. It doesn’t mean you’re doing something right.
The problem is that in marketing, as in operations, most smaller businesses are tempted to follow the “best practices” of the big ones. The result is a lot of copycat websites and marketing video. (Picture a room full of suitors, each wearing almost the same thing and saying almost the same things. Of the fifty of them, maybe three will be short listed for further consideration. But the guy in the corner wearing a feather boa and saying nothing at all? He’s short listed automatically, just for being intriguing. He makes the others look trite by comparison.)
It’s the same in trying to attract business: you have to be willing to stand out. Be willing to alienate a few prospects, or you’ll get interest from almost none of them.
That’s phase one. Once you’ve got a prospect drawn in, you should switch to phase two: toning down the weirdness and demonstrating your competence. This assures the client that you aren’t all gimmicks and clever marketing, you can actually do the job. And that’s how you turn plain curiosity into new business.