Archive for December, 2013

But Not Too Much

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.

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The Value of Anything

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.

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Admit The Worst

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.

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The Way to Beat No. 1

… 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


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Be Congruent & Consistent

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.

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