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Show, Don’t Sell

This is essential in the PR business, when you’re trying to get the word out and get “ink” in your local paper or industry magazine. You can’t just write a sales pitch or bit of brochure-style copy. If you want journalists to pick up your story, you actually have to tell a story.

Same goes for marketing. Even though your company owns the medium, the same editorial standards apply: you need to give the audience something helpful or interesting, something completely opposite of a “hard sell.”

The acid test for this comes from Harry Beckwith’s brilliant book, Selling the Invisible. Beckwith suggests you sit down and write a sales pitch about your company — why someone should work with you, what makes you great, what makes you unique. According to Beckwith, this exercise should be easy. If it’s not, you should stop focusing on marketing (or PR) and start focusing on creating a better service (or better stories).

In other words: stop thinking about marketing as a way to “convince” consumers that you’re great, and instead use it as a tool to illuminate the greatness that’s already there. Show, don’t sell.

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I Understand

That’s the most important phrase in sales. Not “I’m great,” not “look at this great thing I have.” We’ve all been on the other end of those sales calls. They’re egocentric, desperate, and disingenuous. Worse, they sound irrelevant. They reflect no sensitivity to our needs, so we find it easy to tune them out.

Here’s a different approach: removing “selling” from your vocabulary. Instead, think of sales calls and marketing materials as an opportunity to help — to listen, start a conversation, make a connection, learn something.  Treat your next interview as a chance to understand what a department (or company) needs.  Then figure out how you can help (or if you can’t, help figure out who can).

This works for video marketing, as well as two-way conversations. It’s all in your attitude. Do you spend three minutes pushing product, discussing your history, and proving that you’re the industry leader? Or do you spend the time showing the audience a mirror image of themselves, only better? The latter reflects a deeper understanding of your prospect, and it’s a far more effective “sales” tactic. Just don’t call it that.

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Where Others Aren’t

Is a perfect place to be. Allegiant Air understands this. They don’t fly to a lot of major airports or compete with major carriers. Instead, they serve small destinations almost exclusively. As of October 2009, they had competition on only five of their 136 routes. They’ve seen insane growth as a result.

The same applies to marketing, packaging, customer service and sales. Anywhere your competition isn’t – any component they choose unanimously not to compete on – that’s an opportunity for you.

Does everyone else have a strict return policy? Good. Be lax. Be Zappos.

Does everyone else make mid-sized cars for the mass market? Good. Be Hummer or Smart Car.

Never mind competing for a share of the pie. Go make your own pie. Find an under-served (or completely un-served) market and make it yours exclusively.

You can start by assessing the “brand personality” of your competition, then making your marketing say the opposite. Think of Geico. In an industry saturated by “competent” and “compassionate” messages from the likes of Allstate and State Farm (“good hands,” “good neighbors”), Geico chooses to be amusing (“so easy a caveman can do it”). These companies are all offering essentially the same thing, but Geico manages to differentiate itself as the cooler, more accessible brand. Go and do thou likewise.

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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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Did It Work?

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?”

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Sell With Your Face

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.

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