Life is badly edited

We’ve all had the misfortune to sit through a “director’s cut” of a film, where a self-indulgent egotist, in love with every frame, bores us to tears with the extra half-hour bloat that escaped the scissors. Yes, lots of us saw Avatar.

Real life is, however, worse. Our unfolding biographies have too many story threads, characters who come and go, motives mysterious and chapters that galumph on and on. No neat endings. Chekhov’s gun unfired. Pointless dialog. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

It’s a mark of maturity, we believe, to recognize this, to admit that life is messy, and to remain steady in the face of chaos. It’s also incumbent on us as storytellers to recognize the need to be the opposite: coherent, clear, crisp.

Buying blindfolded

Many a local advertiser has had his pocket picked buying media.

The radio or tv station salescharmer puts together a “dynamite” schedule with an impressive number of spots, slides it in front of the advertiser, and sign right here please.

Never mind that the bundle includes the station inventory’s cats and dogs, that the audience demos don’t match the target, or that the cost-per-point is 30% higher than the schedule a competitor bought yesterday. That info is in hiding. Combine all that with a home-cooked, zero-credibility brand strategy (“Quality! Selection! Price! Service! And a bag of chips!”) and you have an advertising money pit.

We can help. Call us.

Climbing persuasion’s ladder

The bottom rung: tell me about a feature.

Show me a feature.

Tell me about a benefit.

Show me a benefit.

Tell me about how I’ll feel, enjoying the benefit.

Show me a person enjoying the benefit.

The top rung: Engage my empathy by showing me the evocative, unexpected story of someone like me enjoying the experience of (alternatively, suffering the absence of) the benefit.

Marketing’s Three Big Delusions

Delusion #1. Your audience will sit still.

Sermons ain’t what they used to be.

Many a 19th Century novelist would button up a story by marching all of the characters into church, where the preacher would deliver the moralistic uplift the author wanted these misbegotten souls to hear.

The audience for your brand story today, by extreme contrast, won’t gather in one place, won’t study your message, and will be too busy texting to be uplifted. You have mere seconds to grab your “short attention spaniels.” See our scary graph on the subject.

Delusion #2. ITIBTDLI.

Every mediocre teacher falls back on this lame excuse: “I Taught It But They Didn’t Learn It.”

Most brand messaging is driven by this delusion, too. No matter how often or how loudly you repeat it, your claim (e.g., “We’re tops in customer service!”) will fall on deaf ears because it’s not a likable message, or a credible message, or an unexpected message. Check out local TV spots for most retailers, and you get the Triple Whammy (unlikable, incredible, expected) which means the advertiser is setting fire to money.

Delusion #3. From the CEO’s lips to nobody’s ear.

Strongly related to the first two delusions, of course. The CEO wants his brand to stand for, let’s say, Quality. Oh, and Service. Oh, and Price. Well, the old-school salesmanship that results is doomed by Delusions 1 & 2 right out of the gate – but there’s also a third delusional element at work: the naive faith that the audience is rational. It ain’t. Brand preferences are rooted in emotion, not logic.

There will be more about this in our next blog post, but for now, what current advertising campaigns that you see seem most delusional?

The newspaper death spiral speeds up

First Craigslist killed the classified ads, a major source of newspaper revenue. Now research shows iPad owners are canceling subscriptions at a rate described as “alarming.” We’re not alarmed, or even surprised. Does anyone need to chop down trees to get yesterday’s stock market results or sports stores?

The Rule of 3

If you’re #1 in your category, never mention #2. If you’re #2, get more visible than #1. If you’re #3 in your category, change categories.

Problopportunities

As we slip into December, will you set 2011 budgets by “adjusting” numbers from 2010? Take a little from this bucket, add a little to that bucket?

That’s never the optimal strategy for marketing/branding/advertising, but this year especially it’s unwise. First of all, 2010 was not a “normal” year any way you measure it. A steep recession and a sputtering-but-real recovery, combined with permanent changes in buyer decision-making behavior make for profound Problopportunities, a really ugly word we just invented.

Are you overspending on traditional media? Underspending on social media? (If you’re asking the question, the answer is probably yes.) Are you spending anything at all for Yellow Pages, or any other money-burning printed directory? (Some buckets should be emptied.) Is 2011 the year to get aggressive with more impactful advertising, website video, SEO backlinking, market research, PR or events? These items may have been $0 in your 2010 budget, and adding a few percent is still 0. Don’t tinker around the margins.

What do you wish your competitors would do? Do the opposite.

Call us. We’ll help.

What’s the “opportunity cost” of a mediocre website?

“Oh, we never get clients from our website,” he explained.

Just keep believing it, we thought to ourselves, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Survey your customers and see that they all, indeed, came from referrals, or trade shows, or print ads – certainly not from your website. Q.E.D. Case closed. No need to adapt or evolve: let’s keep on like it’s 1999.

An amazing array of firms think this way, from professional service firms clinging to the country-club-card-passing network model, to firms unaware of recent and permanent changes in buyer behavior. Decisions are much different now that we’ve experienced The Four-Word Revolution. Today, even a referral from a trusted source will be verified by the “I’ll check them out” test.

That’s where “opportunity cost” must be factored in. Exactly how many clients did you not get when prospects checked you out? How many strong candidates you might have hired didn’t talk to you when they saw your circa-2004 website? How many selection sets did you not get into when that major player was shopping for new resources? And how exactly did your (unworthy, inferior) competitor land that big account, anyway?

Hard to measure, you say, and we agree completely. So you have two choices: do something and measure the improvement, or do nothing and hope it doesn’t matter. How much opportunity cost can you afford to squander?

Are you optimized for your category?

How your website is found (or, he added darkly, not found) depends on what category the searcher is searching for.

That statement is not as stupidly obvious as it first appears. Yes, it’s a Duh, but a Duh with interesting implications, because of what we call “category mismatch.” Every search defines the category wanted, whether the search terms are vague (“widgets”) or more specific (“welded widgets, wisconsin”). Google, Yahoo, Bing and the seven dwarfs dutifully look for the most relevant exemplars in that category with those limits.

But that’s where it gets interesting, since finding your hoping-to-be-found website might involve…

• what you believe your category (or categories) to be,

• what your website content might say your category is, to human readers,

• what your website code might say your category is, to search-engine robot readers,

• what categories searchers are actually looking for.

There are multiple opportunities to get a broomstick in the spokes. Your site, for example, may not be written with all three audiences, two human and one robot, in mind. Most sites aren’t. Or your title tags may not feed the robots well. Most sites don’t.