Advertising Campaigns, the capstone class for advertising students at the University of Oregon, will present to the client from 12:30 to 2:30p in Allen Hall, room 101 on December 9. It’s open to the public, and I’d love for students to join us.
This is a speech made to West Point students asking them to have their own direction. This is how brands and people can purify their motives and directions. This is my reading in a WMA file. Here’s the link to the original article.
One of my favorite blogs hits it on the head. In the creative brief, advertising folks want to know, about the product: What is it? Who’s it for? And why does it matter to them?
Understanding the audience helps us understand why the product will matter to them; what story we’ll tell.
Demographics and psychographics can aim you in the right direction, but once you know who your audience is, there’s no way around sitting down, looking into their eyes and talking with them.
I’ve been thinking about a pitch a friend of mine is doing next week and how he’s asked me to help him interpret the value of brand thinking. And while I think this can be made more real to the client only through a conversation with them (so he can apply this in a more real way to situations that are more real to them), I may have started to articulate an argument.
I was thinking about my own beliefs and what they have to do with my professional life. In other words, this journey I’m taking toward a more-correct view of God, people and the Universe gives me a model for branding. Because branding bases uniqueness (not on randomness, but) on a better understanding of truth. And customers are drawn to that.
But let’s get more to the argument of internal consistency (internal branding), which is where it all starts. A good brand is held accountable by its own stated values. It takes a stand. Employees know that, and they’ll sense when you’re not consistent. The other side of this is that, when employees see leadership that’s specific about what it does, admits its mistakes and is willing to do the hard things to fix them, the employees feel good about what they’re doing. So the first step is finding out what promises a brand can and should make/keep (maybe through a SWOT analysis).
And when a company starts to understand what it’s good at and how it serves people (which help us understand “why they should be in business”), it starts to move toward making more keepable (right?) promises.
When employees understand what makes them different, they can make good decisions. When they know that they’re standing for something good, they’re motivated to sell it. When they’re united around a central truth they all believe in, they work together. And when they believe their brand is doing the right thing, they know how to answer critics. In fact, they relish it.
This takes exploration (defining core concepts about mission, vision and values), agreement and negotiation (getting the leadership on-board) and education (making sure your employees understand and are allowed to question). In other words, this doesn’t happen without leadership that can both communicate relevant truths, but who’s made specific arrangements to find those truths and be accountable to them.
In other words, the only way to give employees a cause, rather than a job, is to mature from a company into a brand.
Lots of people think advertising is just something you have to do. It sucks, but you have to do it to compete. Since I teach advertising, I hear it all the time. Then I saw this article by Tim Berry, and I knew I had to go on-record.
Tim summarizes my feelings exactly: if you’re gonna sell the sizzle, make sure a steak is really on the way.
In other words, don’t let your advertising write checks you can’t cash.
Because if you do, two things can happen:
- You overpromise to the point that it’s meaningless. We see this on TV in the morning. “We offer service, quality AND a low price.” Unless you explain why your audience should believe you offer these things, it falls into the category of “stuff businesses feel like they have to say.”
- You say too much, telling people you’re not sure about what you’re about. This isn’t really convincing either.
- You can’t meet customer expectations. If you’re specific about something you do, but don’t have the ability to do it consistently, you burn customers. And I think this is what Tim’s talking about. In other words, the more enticing and convincing you are, the more likely you are to burn customers when you can’t deliver. They feel betrayed.
How to Fix It
The path to long-term success might come from making promises you can keep that are specific enough to be convincing and relevant enough to matter to an audience who can pay. Where do you start?
- The SWOT analysis can give you insight into your natural strengths. But be sure to use it as an analysis, and not just another bullet list. Then you’ll ask the question: Based on my SWOT analysis, what kind of people can I serve best?
- Audience research can help you find the audience that cares about the specific thing you can do. For me, it was about finding out that I do strategic and concept writing. And because I know what that means, I can focus on clients who value that, speaking to only them. And I can keep my promise to them.
It takes skill and time to do this, which is why there’s so much misleading advertising. Everyone’s trying to look for an advertising gimmick or a promise they can make, rather than looking at what they do best and telling a relevant truth about it.
In economics, “comparative advantage” is that activity you could be doing that has the lowest opportunity cost. In other words, it’s the easiest thing for you to be good at and make the most money. And, according to economist, everyone in the world has a comparative advantage in business.
The question is, what’s yours? To find out, we have to treat research like a strategist. In other words, we stop looking at our industry as “a bunch of companies that do the same thing” and realize that it’s really a bunch of companies that do very similar things in different ways.
With this mindset, you’ll be able to see subtle, but important differences between you and your competitors, giving you more focus.
For example, you might realize that your bagel shop offers a better dining area, while the competition just sells cheaper bagels.
So you decide to become an even better host, you don’t worry so much about selling higher-priced bagels. In fact, you bake better ones that cost slightly more. In other words, you let the competition have those customers who just want a cheap bagel. You do what you’re best at and create a premium experience. Because that’s your comparative advantage.
It’s good enough that economists now give us reason to have simplicity and focus. But as an added bonus, we often find that we can get rid of the part of the job we hate, because comparative advantage may point us to the part of the job we love.
So track your finances to find out what’s losing/making you money, talk to your customers to find out why they come and then do more of the things that give you a comparative advantage.
I was talking with a college student who was wondering if she should take some off-color creations out of her portfolio. I said she should. You see, in college, we celebrate the weird. But weirdness, by itself, has no value. Let’s reason it through.
I think we encourage off-color and weird stuff in school because we want students to be creative, and it’s an easy way to get students started. But I also think it’s a gimmick of our culture that we haven’t realized is a gimmick yet. Keep in mind that my generation (people in the creative industry today) thinks that weirdness (and it’s many synonyms) is a virtue almost by itself. But we often don’t think it through. We don’t realize (at least, we don’t act like we realize) that weirdness for it’s own sake is ultimately a broken point of view.
It seems original at first, but it can’t deliver in the end because it’s not for anything; it’s just against stuff. Remember that weirdness is defined by the norm, making it dependent on “normal” for its meaning. In other words, without a normal person, we wouldn’t know what weird even means. Ironic, right?
Having something you stand for is harder to come by, but it’s authentic.
To creatives: if you’re being contrary or off-color in your portfolio, I hope it’s because you’re trying to arrive at the positive through reduction.