DID YOU TRY SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING AND IT DIDN'T WORK?
Just a different twist on the old chestnut, "I tried radio advertising and it didn't work!"
Well, did you know what you were doing?
Or did you ram your own uninformed agenda down the throat of whoever was trying to help you?
That is meant in the nicest possible way, of course.
And it's a rhetorical question not meant to implicate you, personally. You, of course, would never do that.
It's meant as a cautionary note to people we all know who have all the answers despite having none the training, experience, or insight to have an actual, informed opinion.
SO, WHY ARE WE HERE?
Why am I beating on the "I tried it and it didn't work" drum?
Because I'm tired of hearing things like, "Social media advertising doesn't work!"
I was just reading an interesting story from AdWeek.
The headline: "What National Geographic Did to Earn 3 Million Snapchat Discover Subscribers in Just 3 Months."
Subhead: "A new streamlined design plays up more photos and less text."
OK. National Geographic. Talk about a chestnut.
Why on earth is one of the oldest, stodgiest, great-grandpa brands in the world mentioned in the same sentence as a frivolous, six-year-old social media nitwit platform that lost half a billion dollars last year?
BECAUSE MAYBE IT ISN'T AS MUCH FRIVOLOUS AS IT IS EFFECTIVE
The National Geographic Society is one of the world's oldest and largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions. (Thank you for that tidbit, Wikipedia, one of youngest and largest sources of potentially flawed information on the internet.)
The National Geographic Magazine, launched in 1888, has a global circulation of 6.5 million per month.
The National Geographic Channel is available to almost 90 million pay TV households in the US.
What the heck is National Geographic doing on Snapchat, a platform infamous for its use by disgraced US congressman Anthony Weiner as Weinervision?
Simple guess: National Geographic is looking for eyeballs and wants to be relevant to a younger generation.
And instead of being stodgy and poo-pooing social media, they are embracing Snapchat.
AND IT IS PROFITABLE
The article's subhead makes total sense in the age of the short attention span: "A new streamlined design plays up more photos and less text."
You're trying to reach people with no attention span who are watching a tiny screen in the palm of their hands.
More photos and less text just makes sense.
And it has to be pithy and intriguing.
Like the image of a purple microbe with the headline, "What are flesh-eating bacteria and how do you fight them?"
Yikes. Tell me more! Click.
But let's go back to the headline: "What National Geographic Did to Earn 3 Million Snapchat Discover Subscribers in Just 3 Months."
Are those 3 million Snapchat Discover subscribers actually doing them any good? It's Snapchat! A platform that loses more money than the territory of Guam has in its annual operating budget! More money than GEICO spends on their annual media buy!
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PEOPLE AREN'T STUPID
They hired an expert digital media executive away from digital giant Vox Media and did what needed to be done.
In a nutshell, Nat Geo's revenue from Snapchat is up by 58 percent.
Stephanie Atlas, who leads the Nat Geo digital team, says, "When you're competing against Cosmo and Kim Kardashian, you really have to think about a way to get people interested in what our value proposition is, which is strong visuals and piquing people's curiosity."
OK. My curiosity is piqued.
And I did something that, just 12 hours earlier, I swore to the Fabulous Honey Parker I would never do.
I downloaded Snapchat.
I created an account.
And I went in there.
AND I WAS COMPLETELY BAFFLED!
How do you use this thing?!
I fumbled around for a while. Then, lacking immediate access to a kid, I searched Google.
I found a blog post by one Emily Steck, who was a salve for my digitally frustrated self when she said, "For all the buzz and chatter around Snapchat, it's not a very intuitive platform. It's difficult to discover easily content or simply know where to find everything. Snapchat is a lot more complicated than it lets on."
Anyway, I stumbled through for a bit, and finally found National Geographic.
"Could The Remains Of Santa Claus Be In This Turkish Church?" Intriguing music. Video inside a grand cathedral.
"Is This The world's Most Venomous Fish?" Underwater footage and eerie, dark music.
"Why Are Some Dogs More Aggressive?" A dog bares his teeth as a busy techno track burbles away.
They are being pithy making money.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND
Can Snapchat work for a local business with a brick & mortar location?
I did some digging.
Found some evidence that yes, it's possible--despite the fact that the typical monthly ad spend on Snapchat is $40,000.
Take a nitroglycerine pill. Using local geofilters, a small business like a coffee shop can get away with an ad spend as low as 5 bucks.
But how do you do this?
I have no idea.
Because I do two things really well.
I HELP SMALL BUSINESSES CREATE EVOCATIVE BRANDS THAT CAN ATTRACT CUSTOMERS
And I can help market those evocative brands in ways that are often considered "Traditional."
For anything else, I go to a specialist.
That's because I'm smart enough to know what I don't know.
I can dabble in digital.
But that's not my expertise.
And I don't want to become that fool who makes sweeping, uninformed judgments about new media platforms and sounds like the guy that used to make us crazy when I worked in a building full of radio experts: "I tried it and it didn't work!"
It didn't work because you are know-it-all whose fear- and ego-driven agenda is standing between you and advertising success.
NOT THAT I HAVE AN OPINION ON THIS
This is just fair warning to anyone who scoffs at social media advertising.
Since good radio advertising seems effortless, many people come at it and say, "How hard can it be?"
It's easy to just slap some random thing on the air. It's very hard to do well.
Social media advertising takes simplicity to a whole new level.
Never at any time in history has it been easier to place an advertisement.
And just because you can log on, open an account, and give them your credit card number and target your demographics to certain death doesn't mean you're doing it right.
In blog post entitled, "Snapchat marketing campaigns: 5 great case studies that produced results," Paul Roberts at Our Social Times says, "Success as a brand on Snapchat depends on knowing your audience, knowing the platform and knowing your product. Find the sweet-spot between all three and you could be onto a winner."
Want to be like a stodgy old heritage brand dating from the 19th century?
Find an expert and embrace social media.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
ARE YOU STUCK ON YOUR BRAND?
And if you were paying attention on or after September 25, you've seen the video.
It's ridiculous. Those of us who appreciate the value of brands and trademarks and intellectual property rights have been having a good laugh.
And judging from the near 400,000 views at YouTube over the last week, it seems there are a few of us.
The video is called simply, "Don't Say Velcro."
It features an ostensible cast of lawyers for Velcro explaining why you should not be using the registered trademark name "Velcro" for describing just any hook & loop fastener--and they're doing it with a big, goofy rock anthem that recalls "We Are The World."
HAVING TROUBLE RECALLING "WE ARE THE WORLD?"
It was the 1985 charity single for African famine relief.
Recorded by a vast supergroup of musical stars, it was a big, swelling rock song dreamed up by Harry Belafonte, written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, produced by Quincy Jones, and featured almost anyone you can name.
It became famous for a note pinned to the entrance of the studio: "Please check your egos at the door."
And now, 30+ years later, Velcro is borrowing the conceit of the rock super anthem as an awareness tool to get you to stop saying "Velcro" every time you encounter a hook & loop fastener.
BECAUSE IT DILUTES THE POWER OF THEIR TRADEMARK
The patent for Velcro-brand fasteners expired many years ago, so there are plenty of other hook & loop fasteners out there.
Why does this matter to Velcro?
Every time the trade name "Velcro" is used to describe some other brand, it increases the risk of Velcro Companies losing its trademark--and that would be catastrophic.
Did you know the generic word "aspirin" used to be a trademark?
IT WAS A HUGE MONEYMAKER FOR THE GERMAN PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY, BAYER
But because the name fell into rampant use by other companies around the world, and Bayer didn't defend it sufficiently, they lost their trademark.
It means they lost the exclusive right to market their own creation under its brand name.
Bayer also trademarked the name, "Heroin," which was marketed as a morphine substitute lacking morphine's addictive side effects, but that's another story.
As is Bayer losing the heroin trademark in 1919 in the wake of World War I under the Treaty Of Versailles.
As we often do here in the weekly screed, we digress.
Because you, like us, appreciate ridiculous trivia.
So, back to the ridiculousness of this Velcro video.
THE ABSURD, ANTHEMIC POWER OF THE VIDEO IS CAPTIVATING
The over-the-top craziness of this band of lawyers is impressive.
As is the production value--and the sensibility that created all this.
As part of the song goes:
And we know that this is confusing,
because Velcro Brand is who we are.
But if you call it call 'velcro'...
we're gonna lose that circled 'R'.
This is called 'hook and loop,'
This part's a hook, this part's a loop.
You call it 'velcro,' but we're begging you,
This is (bleep)-ing 'hook and loop.'
And yes, the "bleeping" is part of the video, the word they bleep is never heard, and you know exactly what the word is.
And Velcro Companies claims to be doing this on behalf of all brand names that struggle to protect their trademark, like Rollerblade-branded inline skates, Xerox-branded photocopiers and Band-Aid-branded bandages.
BUT HOW DID THIS CRAZINESS HAPPEN, AND WHAT CAN WE GET FROM IT?
This is a perfect storm of cooperation, sensibility, creativity, and an overarching plan.
The video was created by a North Carolina digital agency called Walk West.
In the making-of video (yes, there really is one), a Walk West Creative Consultant named Penn Holderness says, "Velcro Companies came to us with this educational brand campaign. We had a blast just looking at their creative brief and we said, so what if we just really kind of turned this into a ridiculous 1980s 'We Are The World' style benefit but for something that really is a first world problem?"
OK, it started creative. But how did the actual lawyers feel about it?
In the video, Velcro Companies' Legal Consultant Alexandra DeNeve says, "When they came back with this concept it was, for me, it was just like 'Eureka!' That's it."
Mr. Holderness goes on to say, "Once we met them and saw not only how approachable, friendly, [and] real they were and they were bold and they wanted to...take some chances... Velcro Companies has a really good, close-knit relationship between marketing and legal. And you kind of needed that."
I queried a friend and business associate who happens to be a certifiable smart person. She's also a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She says of the Velcro effort, "It's so uncool it's cool! And that's a pretty massive triumph for an IP issue. I also like it that these lawyers come across as endearingly human in all their geekiness, especially the guy who points out hooks and loops."
BELYING THE CRAZINESS IS RELEVANCE AND COOPERATION
In all the years I have been doing this, lawyers are often referred to as the Advertising Prevention Department.
Here's the thing about lawyers: If you can talk to them before you start working, if you can make friends with them and understand where the lines are, you really can go to the edge.
Lawyers can be friends of creative work if you bring them in early.
And at the risk of coming off as a cockeyed sexist piglet, I'm going to note that the lawyer quoted earlier is a woman.
Many screeds ago, we discussed a hedge fund manager we know who likes investing in companies with female CFOs.
He says the female CFOs often have a better outlook, that their approach to the job and the company is more holistic and not just about the balance sheet.
Maybe that extends to female lawyers. I queried our friend and business associate on this. She replies, "Interesting and complicated question. I think it's generally true. I also think that because of the gender-related pressure (and racial, for that matter) that any such tendencies tend to get suppressed in larger firms. Which is a real shame. But there's tremendous unspoken pressure (against the backdrop of "we love diversity!") to be just like the power people, who are mostly WASPy men... and so it goes."
Speaking as a WASPy man, this latter challenge is disappointing. But again, I digress.
CARRYING THE CONCEIT THROUGH TO OTHER TOUCHPOINTS
One of the problems with stunts like this video is often, they aren't carried through to the rest of the advertiser's touch points.
Velcro Companies has thought this through.
Now, using the trade name "Google" as a verb us another trademark problem. Nonetheless...
If you go Google the phrase "Don't say velcro," there's a link to their website, with the video right there in the banner, under the headline, "We ®VELCRO® Brand."
Beneath that, there's the headline, "Never a Noun. Never a Verb. Always on Brand."
The copy says, "We know. You don't mean to be a serial verber, but we decided to clear a few things up about using the VELCRO® trademark correctly--because we're lawyers and that's what we do. When you use "velcro" as a noun or a verb (e.g., velcro shoes), you diminish the importance of our brand and us lawyers would lose our *insert unfastening sound.*"
AND, YOU'RE INVITED TO JOIN THE CAUSE
Another headline reads, "Take a Stand with our VELCRO® Brand."
"It's not about doing it for us, it's about doing the right thing. Successful brands around the world need your support to help protect trademark guidelines. Pledge to end the era of broken trademark laws."
And you can opt-in for an email list.
And oh, just by the way, you also have the opportunity to find out all about the various Velcro products and how they improve your life.
And yes, they're even down to the minutiae of hash-tagging #dontsayvelcro. And tweets from fans are embedded in the "Don't Say Velcro" page.
BUT CAN THE SMALL-BUSINESS BRAND REALLY DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS?
Maybe not as enormously production intensive.
But it's entirely possible to start a movement, tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Online videos can be produced fairly inexpensively. Big expensive production value often isn't a requirement--but being thoughtful and consistent is.
In an age of WYSIWIG, drag & drop web development platforms, a dedicated website for the movement can be created very quickly and inexpensively. But again: thoughtfulness and consistency.
Using Facebook to promote the message can be done fairly cheaply. With the right material, people will pay attention. (Presently, a video for one of our clients has reached 2,000 people, almost 25% of whom have watched it more than once, 70% of viewers are staying all the way through it, and almost all of them are watching it with the sound on. The media cost? 50 bucks.)
Conflict is engaging. Humor with a core of truth is engaging. Letting people in on the joke and letting them play is engaging.
But like anything else, it needs to be done thoughtfully and with planning. And with consistency.
And it needs to inspire the core customer to feel the right thing. Never just a joke for its own sake. Like, "This is bleeping hook and loop," always, always, the right thing.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN THE EMERGENT CRISIS HITS THE FAN?
You know that we here at the Mountaintop Marketing Fortress are great admirers of breakthrough business models.
We will not use the phrase, "Outside the box." That phrase has become so overused, it is inside the box at the center.
That notwithstanding, one of those breakthrough business models hit me in the face in the wake of hurricane Irma.
I was sitting in my office, reading the news about the devastation in the Caribbean.
This was my old stomping grounds. During part of my misspent 20s, I worked aboard big boats that sailed the Caribbean, among other places.
So, as the news reports are rolling in, I'm wondering, What the heck?
WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
Homes and businesses leveled.
A friend's parents' house in Tortola is one of the mere 20% of structures left standing on that island.
The little island of Barbuda is uninhabited for the first time in 4,000 years. The entire population just up and left. Civilization there is gone.
Luxury resorts and charter-yacht fleets that were the economic fuel for local populations have been blown apart and scattered like kindling.
What do you do? Where do you begin?
AND ALMOST AS A RABBIT FROM A STORM-BLOWN HAT...
The answer landed in my Facebook instant message feed.
A yacht captain who lives in Antigua, an affable Brit with whom I had sailed years ago, sent a link to a non-profit that blew my socks off.
Not that you wear socks in Antigua.
But I'm in the mountain west. I'm prepared to wear socks.
I was unprepared for something that was such a natural fit, it made me wonder, How the heck did this not happen decades earlier?
It took someone with the right connections, and a little bit of thinking outside the boat.
YES, THE BOAT
Or, more accurately, the boats, plural.
The big, private boats that often use the Caribbean islands as their cruising grounds.
We're talking about the boats of the superwealthy, known in the industry as Superyachts.
These enormous yachts are more than the stuff of luxury St. Tropez daydreams and Hollywood movies.
Superyachts are businesses, operated by people who earn salaries.
These vessels are also underutilized by the people who own them.
What it took was an entrepreneur who has a support business that serves Superyachts to look at these underutilized assets and think, Here's an opportunity to do a lot of good.
YACHTAID GLOBAL WAS BORN
Yacht owners volunteer their vessels.
Yacht crews volunteer their time.
And the result is a de facto worldwide fleet of boats, and a crew of volunteers, ready to deliver humanitarian aid at any time.
Since 2006, YachtAid Global (known as YAG) has delivered relief to 50 locations in 20 countries via 40 superyachts and 400 volunteer crew members.
They work with other non-profit organizations, in-country connections, and NGOs.
And the work in the Caribbean has begun.
The volunteers are contacting yachts, obtaining relief supplies, managing logistics, and getting stuff where it needs to be.
IT'S IMPRESSIVE AND INSPIRING
Last week, I spoke to the two people spearheading the operation out of Atlanta.
It was about 5pm their time.
One of them had just gotten around to eating breakfast.
While we were talking, the other volunteer had to put me on hold.
He was taking a call from a Disaster Aid Response Team, comprised of former special forces soldiers, who were on the ground in storm-thrashed Turks and Caicos.
People are volunteering their time, doing good and making stuff happen in short order.
THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM
Many people see a yacht, and they see conspicuous consumption gone wild.
Typically, aside from an extraordinary feat of marine architecture and engineering, I see a microeconomic system that fuels the livelihoods of hundreds of people.
There's easily a couple of million bucks a year spent on maintaining and staffing that vessel.
That's a whole lot of income feeding and housing a whole lot of families.
But now, that vision has been supplemented by the potential for a charitable juggernaut that can move aid quickly, getting food, water and shelter to families in need, and getting it to the hard-to-reach places where it needs to be.
Super yachts doing supergood? Mmm...maybe we'll work on that.
In the meantime, if you're interested in knowing more, you can find them at http://yachtaidglobal.org
AND WHILE WE'RE SPEAKING OF THE CARIBBEAN...
Back in the spring, we talked about a breakout small business brand in St. Thomas called Pizza Pi. (Yes, that's P-I, "pi," as in the mathematical constant. The owners are certifiably smart people, and one of them went to MIT.)
Ranked on Trip Advisor as the #1 restaurant in the U.S. Virgin islands, Pizza Pi is a boat that anchors in Christmas Cove, dispensing gourmet pizzas to boaters in the area.
Pizza Pi was closed for the summer season, and Chef Tara and Capt. Sasha were off St. Thomas when the storms ripped through.
Reports are that their vessel is alive. It had been hauled for the season, and despite some damage to the rig, the overall outlook is good.
Also, Chef Tara is one of the organizers of a GoFundMe campaign to aid residents of the Virgin Islands. Funds are directed specifically to the USVI. More info at https://www.gofundme.com/us-virgin-islands-irma-relief-fund
In the wake of the storms, no matter where you are, here's to plenty of water under your keel.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN TUSTIN?
You don't have to have been around Hot Shots or Slow Burn Marketing very long to know we bang the gong for the F-word.
Focus! Focus! Focus!
Yes, we love us the focus.
And as an adjunct to brand focus, I have long been a proponent of the focus-driven restaurant model.
For me, one of the finest such brands is the long-lost Killer Shrimp in Los Angeles.
CAN YOU GUESS WHAT THEY SERVED?
You got it: Shrimp.
It came one of two ways: as peel & eat shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices, or as peeled shrimp simmered in a secret blend of herbs and spices.
Every time I was at the location in Marina del Rey, it was packed.
But, as with so many legendary favorites, it eventually closed. It went on to become merely a legend.
But not before a good, long run.
Recently, the name was resurrected for a chain of restaurants with a broad menu that seems to be doing its best to hang on, despite having closed two of three locations.
And if you read the reviews, it sounds as if Killer Shrimp lost its specialness in an attempt to become more things to more people.
IT SOUNDS LIKE THE LACK OF FOCUS UNDID THEM
Yet, as a student of the restaurant business, looking at it from the outside as a marketing guy, I remain fascinated by the single-item menu model.
It streamlines operations.
It keeps away anyone but a customer interested in the one thing you serve.
And done properly, it can be a gold mine.
Which is why, when the website FastCasual.com reported on Yang's Braised Chicken Rice opening a store in Southern California, I was intrigued.
YOU'VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF YANG'S BRAISED CHICKEN RICE
This chain has 6,000 units.
And their average unit in China serves an average of 400,000 dishes daily.
Yes, according to Fast Casual's report, that is 400,000 dishes per location every day .
But despite a presence in China, Singapore, Japan and Australia, they've never had a store in the US.
This has been news in the industry press for some time.
But the actual restaurant hadn't been open--until now.
HERE NOW, THE GOOD
This menu is everything you could possibly want in a simplistic, streamlined model of operational efficiency.
They sell exactly one dish: Mr. Xiao Lu Yang's secret family recipe for Huang Men braised chicken and rice.
He learned how to cook at his grandmother's knee, and her recipe, tweaked over the years, is the one that he serves.
This dish has helped him skyrocket to fame, opening those 6,000 locations in just six years.
For a relative barometer, California-based Panda Express is 33 years old, and has almost 2,000 restaurants in the US, Puerto Rico, Guam, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.
Opening 6,000 restaurants in six years, Yang's Braised Chicken And Rice has been busy.
FAST CASUAL CALLS THE CHAIN A "ONE-DISH WONDER"
They say that the secrets to "Yang's gangbusters success is his one-dish model and the high quality of its sauce."
Mr. Yang is quoted in the article as saying, "Our innovative single-item menu is rooted in tradition, with our braised chicken recipe passed down and perfected over the years."
Fast Casual goes on to say, "While other concepts often juggle complicated menus and offer a variety of choices, Yang focuses on one dish only. The only other thing on the menu is soft drinks."
Says Mr. Yang, "With a single menu item and consistency in ingredients, we were able to quickly scale up operations across China to meet rising demand."
And according to reports, Yang's single US location is relying Yang's original secret sauce, which is being imported directly from China.
SO YOU'D THINK IT WOULD BE A HIT, RIGHT?
It's a global phenomenon.
People love it!
It contains Mr. Yang's proprietary sauce with Grandma's magic touch.
The limited menu is designed specifically for ease of replication and quick scaling up.
How hard can it be to create a huge splash?
Just ask Yelp.
THE OPENING IN TUSTIN DEMONSTRATES DISCONNECT AND DISAPPOINTMENT
After a soft open that doesn't sound like it went all that well, Yang's officially opened its doors to the public on September 10.
People stood in enormous lines to come and sample the world famous Chinese braised chicken.
And they left disappointed.
Many didn't care for what they described as a simple dish exhibiting none of the savory delight that has been described in glowing media reports.
Some diners described a fatty, skin-laden dish that required cherry-picking the meat from the fatty, unappetizing bits.
But far and away, the biggest complaints were about the long wait for mediocre food, the lousy communication, and the rampant disappointment.
Maybe a Chinese location can serve 400,000 bowls of chicken and rice daily.
THE TUSTIN LOCATION HAS HAD A PROBLEM TURNING OUT 1/10,000 OF THAT QUANTITY
There have been reports of volume limited to 40 portions.
There have been rampant complaints about published hours not coinciding with actual hours.
There have been complaints about mystery reservations being required.
There have been complaints of standing in line for two hours only to be told there's no food left.
The impending opening of Yang's Braised Chicken was big news.
The reality of the opening of Yang's Braised Chicken has been disappointment and anger.
ONE OF THE WORST THINGS A BRAND CAN DO IS WASTE YOUR TIME
Especially in a business model that's all about efficiency, speed and scalability, you'd think that the place could be better than inefficient, creeping and unattainable.
It really is a mystery.
Opening this store was a big deal. As Mr. Yang himself said in the Fast Casual story, "Our main focus right now is the first U.S. store. We want to make sure that the flavor is right, the service is right, our guests' feedback has been heard and we can perfect this store."
Maybe it's because they're so far removed from their home base in China.
But when you have a business that obviously isn't ready to serve people, why would you go ahead with the open?
Yes, I admit that I have been a proponent of the Mark Zuckerberg aphorism that "Done is better than perfect."
But I'm equally a proponent of another aphorism: "You get only one chance to make a first impression."
DONE MIGHT BE BETTER THAN PERFECT, BUT INEPT IS A FAR CRY FROM GOOD ENOUGH
And that 2.5-star average rating currently on Yelp, and the word-of-mouth accompanying it, are all going to hurt Yang's Braised Chicken and Rice in Tustin far more than delaying the opening would have.
Interestingly, the Yang's brand is a big brand. It's huge in China and Down Under.
And it's a big brand that has a lot of drive from small-business owners.
A lot of the people who've opened Yang's franchises are customers who fell in love with the product.
Mr. Yang himself has said that his business has helped thousands of people realize a dream of owning a business and creating job opportunities.
It seems, though, that such dream and opportunity is going to be on hold in the US for a bit.
They need to get it squared away.
I am hopeful.
BRAND FOCUS IS GOOD--BUT YOU NEED TO BE SURE YOU'RE ALSO FOCUSING ON YOUR CUSTOMER
If you're not ready to launch, don't launch.
If you're not ready to serve, don't try.
If you're going to publish your hours, don't change them on the fly.
If you want an event to be big, be sure you're big enough to make it so.
Wasting your customers' time is going to create ill will.
And in an age of instant online vitriol, word of disappointment is going to spread quickly.
Yang's may be big enough to survive this initial failure.
Their focus is intense, and their resources are vast.
But most small business owners will not have such luxury.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
I woke up Monday morning to hear the news, oh boy.
The NBC executive who coined the phrase, "Must See TV" had died.
His name was Don Ohlmeyer.
A veteran of NBC Sports, Mr. Ohlmeyer was also the man responsible for having Norm MacDonald fired from SNL for too many jokes about his friend, OJ Simpson.
What about this smells wrong?
And how surprised is Dan Holm going to be?
DAN HOLM IS THE WRITER/PRODUCER WHO SAT DOWN AND WROTE THE PHRASE, "MUST SEE TV"
Of course, the success of NBC's famous Thursday-night promotion is going to the executive who happened to be sitting in the chair when it all happened.
In TV, nobody celebrates writers.
Except maybe the other writers.
And as the story is told, Mr. Holm didn't exactly trot out "Must See TV" as the powerhouse tagline to promote Thursday nights.
The story goes that Mr. Holm used the phrase in a promotional script. A gentleman named Vince Manze, who ran the network's promotional agency, saw the genius in it and cherry picked it for greater things.
This happens all the time. For one of my own clients, I've written a tagline that began its life buried in a piece of body copy.
THAT TAGLINE IS WORTH FAR MORE THAN THE CLIENT EVER PAID FOR IT
But it also required the ability to recognize its value, and be plucked from body-copy obscurity, and thrust into the spotlight as a defining statement for the brand.
And nobody's going around saying, "Hey, look at the tagline Blaine wrote!"
They're going around, repeating the tagline.
It belongs to the brand, not the person who wrote it.
And that's OK. If I go to my grave being known only for the brand tagline for a specialty product for the construction industry, it's going to be a grand disappointment.
I'd prefer to go to my grave for being known as a fabulous dancer.
But I digress.
Credit for copywriting notwithstanding...
FOR A WHILE, "MUST SEE TV" WAS A BRAND JUGGERNAUT FOR NBC
That was the era of the coveted Thursday-night viewership domination.
Shows like Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Friends and ER all happened during that period.
And certainly, much good did come out of NBC during Mr. Ohlmeyer's tenure as president of the network's west-coast division.
That said, the gentleman also had a reputation.
Mention of that reputation probably won't be popping up in any of the obituaries-and it's a reputation for a trait that is so common in marketing.
The Fabulous Honey Parker has seen it repeatedly in her career in Big-Agency Advertising.
I've seen it repeatedly during my career in Small-Business Advertising.
THAT REPUTATION IS ONE FOR BEING A PREVENTION DEPARTMENT
Depending on the environment, sometimes it's called The Advertising Prevention Department.
In the case of Mr. Ohlmeyer, it might be called the Programming Prevention Department.
According to the Infallible Oracle Of Everything, Wikipedia, Mr. Ohlmeyer's reputation at NBC was that he was "...not the inspiration behind NBC's hits in this period, but was often a roadblock they had to work around to make them happen."
The article goes on to say that he insisted the hugely popular NBC drama, ERwould get destroyed by Chicago Hope at CBS.
Of course, ER went on to win a total of 23 Primetime Emmy Awards, 124 Emmy nominations (making it the most nominated drama program in history), and picked up 116 awards in total during its tenure.
AH, BUT WHAT ABOUT BEING BASHED IN THE RATINGS, AS PER OHLMEYER THE ORACLE?
Besides being a critical powerhouse, ER spent a couple of seasons as the most watched show in North America, and for years fought with Seinfeld, another NBC show, for the #1 ratings slot.
Mr. Ohlmeyer also didn't want to give the go ahead to Will & Grace.
He insisted a TV show with gay characters couldn't reach a large mainstream audience.
As the highest-rated sitcom among adults 18-49 from 2001 to 2005, and winner of 16 Emmy Awards out of 83 nominations, it seems that Mr. Ohlmeyer's nose for what people would buy was not 100% dead accurate.
And this is not a slam at all at Don Ohlmeyer.
Far from it, in fact. He helped make some amazing things happen.
BUT IT'S A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR ANYONE PUTTING CREATIVE WORK INTO THE ETHER
And the cautionary note is perhaps best illustrated by a line given to us by a CoupleCo interview subject.
If you don't know, CoupleCo is a nascent project being launched by The Fabulous Honey Parker and me.
It will start life as a podcast about and for couple entrepreneurs, and grow into other media.
We were interviewing a couple who have a photography business, and are a raging success.
We asked each of them, "What is the single most important piece of advice you could give a couple who wants to be in business together?"
Without hesitation, he said, "Don't think your opinion is always right. Because 99% of the time, it's not."
AND THAT IS A FINE BIT OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE
Especially in a business where one either has to help create a brand, or has to put that brand before the public (I'm talking to you, all you writers and small business owners-you're all in this together), fear and ego are your enemies.
Again: Fear And Ego Are Your Enemies.
We've talked about this before.
We will talk about it again.
Fear says things like, "Oh, I can't do that, it'll insult someone."
We've literally had a client be afraid of a piece of copy that talked about how hard it is to read a menu in a dark Chinese restaurant.
Without using this exact phrasing, the client said he was afraid it would be considered a micro-aggression against Chinese people.
WHAT HE DIDN'T REALIZE IS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN RUNNING FOR YEARS
We were asking him to approve not the entire advertisement, but just an edit to the advertisement.
It had been on the air for seven years. In those seven years , no one had ever called him on his politically incorrect micro-aggression.
As for Ego, that's the little voice in your head that tells you things like, "Yes, those are the rules for other people, but I'm above that."
Or, "I don't like that so nobody will."
Ya know what?
I love olives. Happy to eat them.
Ya know what else?
Honey Parker hates olives. Will not eat them.
We will never come to an accord over this. It's just the way things are.
ONE THING WE DO AGREE ON IS THAT WE DON'T ENJOY WILL & GRACE
We are not the Will & Grace audience.
But we do not begrudge the TV viewing public its fondness for that NBC sitcom.
And we admit, it was well done.
And one of the brightest spots for us is Megan Mullally's supporting role as Karen Walker. This character is described (in know-it-all Wikipedia, of course,) as "'a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day's work.' She is also a promiscuous borderline alcoholic/drug addict with an often tenuous grip on reality and very few morals."
Really, Ms. Mullally is just damn funny, and a stellar comic actress.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER?
After all, TV programming is an incredibly complicated big business. What can the small-business owner take away from this mayhem of convoluted mega-business mishegas?
Well, don't be afraid of good creative.
Don't let Fear & Ego rule your decision making.
And ultimately, it helps to turn to one of NBC's iconic leaders, the late CEO and Chairman Grant Tinker, who also co-founded MTM Enterprises with his then wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
Mr. Tinker was known for his distinctive approach to all things business, "First be best, and then be first."
Of course, that requires defining the word, "Best."
What is best?
That's a topic for a whole different screed.
But be guaranteed, it isn't fueled by fear or ego.
If you'd like to know more about couples who are not ruled by Fear & Ego, check out this teaser video for what's to come at CoupleCo...
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Is There Success In This Idiocy?
He would also become a fixture in American households on Labor Day weekend.
But first, he'd have to get past that childhood illness.
It's hard to know what the illness was.
He would never speak about it.
All we know is that, repeatedly abandoned by his parents during his childhood, he was left in the care of his Jewish grandmother.
And grandmother's cure for the mystery illness has nothing on traditional Jewish penicillin.
INSTEAD, SHE PLIED HIM WITH BACON
Who knows where the long lost Jewish bacon cure has disappeared to, or when we lost it.
But as an adult, he admitted that in an attempt to ward off whatever disease it was that was attacking her grandson, grandma would cram little Joseph's mouth full of bacon.
In a different place and time, this might have led to a career as a professional eater.
"Megatoad" Matt Stonie holds the world record of 182 bacon slices in just five minutes. Six pounds. About 11 full packages of bacon. That was 2015 at Daytona, smashing the standing record set in 2010 by "The Human Vacuum" Mark Lyle, which was just 54 slices.
But Joseph didn't seem to have much interest in a career as a professional eater.
But he kept up his bacon regimen.
One celebrity friend, interviewed in GQ Magazine back in May, says he'd seen the guy sit down to breakfast, order 24 slices of bacon, and eat them all.
PROFESSIONAL EATING ASIDE, JOSEPH FOLLOWED IN HIS PARENTS FOOTSTEPS
The reason they left Joseph with his bacon-wielding Jewish grandma was because they had an itinerant lifestyle.
They were vaudeville performers.
Mom played piano.
Dad was a song and dance man.
Sometimes, little Joseph would appear in the act. At age 5, he launched his performing career singing, "Brother, Can you Spare A Dime."
But mainly, his parents left him with grandma.
It made him very insecure.
AND IT LED TO A MONUMENTAL PERSONAL BRAND
Determined not to be left behind, Joseph became ambitious and driven.
He began developing his own stage act.
As the spotlight continued to shine upon him and his fame grew, he was very shrewd about controlling his career.
Unlike so many in his profession, he kept a tight rein on the direction of his career and the ownership of his material.
He ultimately became a multimillionaire.
His energy could be frenetic.
He was endlessly creating.
When he was living in Los Angeles, his celebrity neighbors would find themselves drafted into impromptu film performances right in his living room.
The man who had once been insecure, bacon-stuffed little Joseph was very candid about his fame.
"I'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS BEING A TOTAL IDIOT"
Yes, he said that. He called himself a total idiot.
Hard to know when or where he said that, exactly, because it has become pervasive.
It has even turned into an internet meme.
But it's impossible to argue either the success or the idiocy. At one point during his career, he was called the monkey to his peformance partner's role as the organ grinder.
But the "total idiocy" that built his success was fueled by tremendous insecurity.
It's probably one of the reasons that in his act, he was big and broad and usually playing to the back row.
He had eccentricities. Besides the bacon, that is. He never wore the same pair of socks twice. It's been reported that he'd change them four times a day.
AND HIS FANS LOVED HIM
At the same time, his critics hated him.
None of it changed the fact that he also cast himself as a great humanitarian.
For his humanitarian work, he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize.
In France, he was awarded a Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, the highest order of merit that country can bestow. It's essentially a knighthood.
The French have lionized him as an auteur.
When you see someone with this kind of raging success, it's hard not to think, Wow. They have it together, don't they.
BUT AGAIN: A CAREER FUELED BY INSECURITY
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I have a friend who grew up in the northeast. He went to prep school and spent time living in New York.
At one point, he became friends with Joseph's adult son.
They visited dad backstage in his dressing room at a performance.
It seems they were sitting there, waiting for dad to appear, fresh form the stage.
Our friend describes the door opening, and being engulfed by a whirlwind of narcissism and insecurity.
He described it as overwhelming.
Meeting this world-famous multi-millionaire, all he can remember experiencing was the man's self-doubt, harsh self-analysis, and his need for affirmation.
BUT WHEREFORE LABOR DAY?
The holiday that spawned this train of thought.
For a quarter of a century, Labor Day was the day that this man would launch a crusade to help children for whom the secret Jewish bacon cure was not enough.
During his tenure as Labor Day's ringmaster, he helped raise over two and a half billion dollars for children in need of more than bacon.
It was a cause that he took personally, and to which he dedicated himself annually.
EVENTUALLY, THAT STAR WAS EXTINGUISHED
Bad press, accusations, criticism, outdated attitudes, fragmentation of TV viewership--many things contributed to the death of the Labor Day manifestation of the cause.
But for 45 years, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was a fixture on American televisions.
But like the arc of little Joseph Levitch's career, it was a huge success that eventually became the punchline to a joke.
And little Joseph Levitch, whose stage name became Jerry Lewis, built a stellar career on the foundation of a personal brand infused equally with talent and insecurity.
If you didn't see the news, Jerry Lewis went to the great telethon in the sky just a couple of weeks shy of Labor Day, on August 20, 2017.
He was 91 years old.
SO WHAT ON EARTH WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SMALL-BUSINESS BRANDING?
Funny you should ask that.
I was asking myself the very same thing when I stumbled upon the mystic Jewish bacon cure.
I wanted to know more about the childhood malady that Josephs' grandmother fought back with bacon.
Can I use it?
Will it help me?
I'm very pro-bacon.
But the more I searched, the less there was about the illness.
But the more there was about the carefully built brand that was Jerry Lewis.
The environmental conditions and the family dynamic that led to his success as a one-man comedy empire were fascinating.
And it got me thinking about how often the quest for perfection shoots a small-business brand in the foot.
"DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT"
That adage comes to us from the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
And it shines a laser onto the hot spot that so often prevents a brand from ever getting off the ground.
Throughout my career working with small businesses in branding and advertising, it's impossible to count the number of branding efforts and advertising campaigns that have been derailed by fear.
Yet in Jerry Lewis, we have the sky-high success of a one-man brand founded upon and driven by fear.
Some might argue that the Jerry Lewis brand is built on cruelty and megalomania.
That's an easy, pop-psychology way to explain it.
It's also ignorant and dismissive.
NOTHING IS EVER THAT SIMPLE
But if you start peeking into the life that was Jerry Lewis, you see a flawed human being who built a quintessential small-business brand that eventually became world-famous.
He did it without venture capital.
He did it without a logo.
He did it without advisors or gurus or email marketing or sales funnels.
He did it purely through intellectual investment and sweat equity.
And, perhaps, bacon.
What's in your wallet?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Does Watering Down Your Brand Dilute Your Profitability? If you've been here for any length of time, you know that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I are big fans of the F-word.
Focus, focus, focus.
A relentless consistency and focus is the profit goblin of sharp minds.
Knowing that a brand is the one way the core customer should feel about the business can help drive a focused entrepreneur to big profitability.
But what happens when you split your brand focus?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FIND YOURSELF DOING TWO THINGS REALLY WELL?
When you have two ways and two core customers?
Well, ain't that a conundrum.
Ultimately, it depends upon how you handle it.
Here in town, there's a photo gallery that specializes in big, dramatic landscapes.
Their work is stunning.
But mixed in with their landscape photography are some other stunning photos.
These photos are of horses.
You could argue that they're also landscape photos, as the horses are usually shot in the context of the landscape.
BUT YOU'D BE WRONG
Moreover, the photographers won't argue that.
They know that the horse photography is off-brand.
Fortunately, it's on-fleek.
OK, yes, I said that. I'm sorry. So poke me with eyebrow tweezers.
Anyway, the horse photos are off-brand and still stunning. So, it works.
While talking to one of the gallery owners, he said that in a perfect world, he'd have a second gallery up the street that specialized exclusively in the horse photography.
He'd get it out of the landscape gallery.
He'd have two distinctly different galleries with two distinctly different themes.
HE GETS HIS BRAND
He understands the one way his core customer should feel about his work.
And he knows that the horse images are speaking to a different core customer and engendering a different feeling.
Maybe someday, he'll have that second gallery.
In the meantime, it doesn't appear to be hurting his business.
He is focused and consistent enough.
With all apologies to Bob Newhart, this man is not the Grace L. Ferguson Airline & Storm Door Company Photo Gallery.
His brand survives the digression.
MANY BRANDS WOULD NOT SURVIVE
We recently did some work for a solopreneur who was rebranding her physical therapy business.
We'll call her Margie Smith.
That's nothing like her real name.
And Margie's business was slow. To make ends meet while she built that business, she was doing some social media work on the side.
Ironically, the name of the physical therapy business was capable of being applied to the social media business.
So she did the smart thing.
She turned her business into the Margie Smith Physical Therapy Clinic & Social Media Agency.
No. No it's not. And it's not what she did.
She started a separate business using the same name, focusing on social media. The physical therapy business remains separate and distinct.
No brand would survive such a contrarily split focus.
Recently, while visiting a winery in (of all places) Iowa, we were talking with the winemaker and tasting his wines--which were quite good.
But in the tasting room, he had two separate wine lists.
One was for his estate label. These were his tried and true wines. This brand was established and very formal. This was the wine upon which he had built his name.
The other label was for his experimental wines. These were the wines that he wasn't sure he was going to keep around. But he found them good enough and interesting enough to put on the market.
SOME OF THEM WERE ARGUABLY STUNT WINES
Really, what else would you call a red-hot, spice-infused wine that can remain tasty while stripping the varnish off your throat?
It was impressive.
I salute anyone for trying something so ballsy.
And the wine sells--especially in bars favored by motorcycle riders, apparently. That's one of the places where these wines are sold--because the brand name evokes power and energy and romance.
It seems unlikely that the hot pepper wine would ever be moved over to the estate brand.
If it did end up there, what would it do to the otherwise respectable, heritage brand he's been building?
It would help undermine that brand.
THE ESTATE BRAND WOULD LOSE CREDIBILITY
And he knows that.
So instead of splitting the focus of his product line, he merely has two different brands, each with a different focus.
Over here is the stately adult.
And over there is the wild child.
And not to pat ourselves on the back here at Slow Burn, but one of the million-dollar brands we helped build came as the result of relentless focus.
The business came to us wanting to advertise a particular service as part of their existing brand.
We said, "You could do that. But it's a distinct specialty. And you're going up against a national specialist brand in the category. So why not split it off and build a brand for that specialty?"
THEY DID. IT WORKED.
So, what about your business?
Do you do many things in your marketplace?
Are you crushing it in those many things?
Or would it be smarter to take one of those things, split it off into a specialty category, and become the category's 600-pound gorilla?
Understand, we're not saying you should do it.
But it's worth some introspection.
Because it could be that you're doing seven things adequately, and one thing really well--and that one thing could be the ticket to building a monster brand.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I traverse the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we have been doing something interesting.
We've been staying at vineyards and wineries that welcome people in recreational vehicles to stay overnight.
It's a welcome alternative to sleeping in Walmart parking lots (which is a whole subculture unto itself), or in roadside rest areas.
Granted, it's an unwritten rule that one makes a purchase from the host winery.
But unless you go crazy, it's definitely less expensive than a pay-to-stay campground, though one misses the joys of a fleet of motorhomes dispensing hordes of screaming children into the grounds.
We are willing to suffer through.
AT ONE WINERY, WE MET A PROPRIETOR WHO STARTED TALKING ADVERTISING
He found out what Honey and I do for a living, and for some reason he decided he had to start peeing all over radio.
He said, "I keep getting all these radio guys coming in here and telling me I need to be on radio.
"Why would I want to be on radio?
"You can't tell if radio's working! You can't track it!
"I have an online ad, I can look at the analytics! I can see who got it and the demographic breakdown. I can see everything about it!"
Notice, he did not say anything about being able to tell if anyone bought anything.
And if you know anything about moi?
YOU KNOW YOU DON'T WANT TO BE DISSING RADIO TO ME
With a lifetime as a lover of radio, and more than a decade in radio advertising with a long list of awards and big ROI performances, I will defend radio.
But I did not reveal any of those things to this gentlemen who was letting us stay in his vineyard.
Instead, I said, "There are two really easy ways to track radio.
"One, put a flag in the commercial. We have an eye doctor client in New Hampshire whose tagline is, 'Straight talk, better vision.' People love it. They're constantly coming into his office and repeating it to him. He doubled his new patient base in 10 months.
"So, if you can come up with a memorable and desirable flag, that's one way.
"The other way is with an irresistible offer that you're not running anywhere else. If people come in asking for the offer or if they're going online to buy it, that's a way to track it."
AND I STOPPED THERE
One reason is I didn't want to seem impertinent or come off as a know-it-all.
And the other reason is I could see his face.
He was glazing over.
He didn't want to hear it.
He had no interest in being disabused of his preconceived notions about the efficacy of radio advertising and one's ability to track it.
Too bad, really. I could have given him many more ways to effectively track radio.
I could have talked about how doing radio well is to be building a local celebrity brand.
I could have told him stories about extraordinary ROI--as high as 2,000% using the offer irresistible-offer tactic mentioned earlier.
But he was obviously the bean counter in charge.
HIS ABILITY TO COUNT BEANS IS SUPREME!
The problem is, people are not beans.
People are soft, squishy creatures with emotional engines that drive the decision making process.
And looking around his winery, it is plainly evident that he knows everything he needs to know about his business.
His branding is a mess.
He has a logo that lacks distinction. It doesn't make the name prominent in any any way, and happens to encourage the misspelling of the brand name. (Using traditional icons to represent homonyms will do that. The city of Elkhart, Indiana uses an icon of an elk head inside of a heart shape. You see that, and your brain says, "Elkheart.")
HIS WINERY VEHICLES HAVE BEEN WRAPPED
Fundamentally, that is a good plan.
But fundamentally, whoever is responsible for the wrap lacks any fundamental sense of focused design.
On the wraps, the indistinguishable logo with the hard-to-find name is practically invisible on the design.
The design is dominated by a giant face with a lurid grin.
There is a mish-mash of design elements that don't say anything about the winery, but create a jumbled mass of colors and distractions.
The only readable words are a line in giant letters that says something like, "Ya gotta try it!"
I'll bet the wrap shop designed it for free. And I'm sure that, as a beancounter, he thinks he got great value because he didn't need to hire an art director.
HE KNOWS ALL THE BEANS SO HE KNOWS ALL THE ANGLES, RIGHT?
He would benefit greatly from spending some money on someone with a proven track record who can speak to focused messages and ROI.
His branding unfocused and messy.
And he has all the answers because he hasn't bothered to ask any of the right questions to someone who knows.
He's a self-informed know-it-all.
It's very frustrating to witness.
That said, he's committed.
He's doing something that a lot of folks will never do.
HE HAS COMMITTED 100% TO HIS IMPERFECT BRANDING
He is conveying it to the public in a way that he feels makes sense.
He might be wrong about details. His ignorance is his bliss.
And he's not afraid to put the brand out into the world and push it forward.
You wouldn't believe how many people we've worked with who lack the courage to make the branding happen.
We've literally rebranded a business that was desperately in need of a makeover--only for the client to kill everything at the 11th hour after spending thousands.
One thing you have to do in this business (or any other) is know what you don't know.
But another thing you have to do is have the courage to commit and propel that baby out into the ether.
Courage and commitment can cure a lot of ills.
Even for the know-it-all who, when he wants your opinion, will give it to you.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
DO YOU REALLY HAVE ANY IDEA?
Do your employees?
Or your business partner?
You might be shocked and surprised, perhaps unpleasantly.
Earlier this year, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I announced a new project called CoupleCo.
This is a project by and about couple entrepreneurs--why they do it, why they love it, and how they keep a business going without killing each other.
CoupleCo is one reason we're out here on the road, crossing this great nation of ours in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit. Besides visiting clients, we've been conducting interviews for CoupleCo.
Recently, we interviewed a couple who have been running a business together for about 8 years.
These are not kids. They are fully formed, middle-age adults who've been around and had successful careers of their own independent of each other.
TOGETHER, THEY HAVE BUILT A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS
They are exactly the kind of people we like to interview.
In wrapping up an interview, we ask the subjects a series of quick questions about each other.
With this particular couple, the exchange went something like this.
"OK, Bill. What is Jill's best quality?"
He says, "She has leaned to do this and such much better with more patience and insight, and she has become more thoughtful about the process."
She says, "You have no idea what you're talking about."
She then rebutted his entire answer.
Clearly, she was right.
He had an entire set of assumptions about something she was doing in the business, and he was dead wrong.
LET THIS BE A LESSON ABOUT ASSUMPTIONS
They are no substitute for actual communication.
And actual communication is something that is frequently lacking inside of a small business--and can bite a brand in the butt, Bob.
Often, the lack of communication is basic.
A simple and common example: The receptionist says to the business owner, "I don't know what's going on, but the phone is suddenly ringing off the hook."
Business owner: "Oh! I forgot to tell you! We're running a new ad in the paper!"
And don't think this is uncommon. I can't count the number of times something like this happened when I worked in radio.
You spend a couple of weeks working with a client who's spending a few thousand to put together a radio promotion.
The radio commercial finally hits the air.
And you find out the business owner never bothered to communicate the promotion to the staff.
DON'T THINK THIS IS NECESSARILY SMALL IN SCOPE, EITHER
We've seen the person in charge not bother to communicate a new brand to the staff.
You know what happens then?
People who've been working under the old brand for years and loving it (even if the brand fits like a bad suit) become uncooperative and pissy.
They refuse to join the business in its brand evolution.
And eventually, the brand withers.
Conversely, we've seen a good explanation of a new brand to the team do astonishing things.
A workforce that was already doing a good and competent job suddenly becomes energized and ready to do things that are even bigger and better.
THE TROOPS BECOME GALVANIZED!
A good brand makes them rally around their leader and prepare to go forth and crush the competition!
But that works only if there's actual communication.
There is no substitute for having a message and being clear.
Communicating the brand and the advertising--the strategy and the tactics--is an essential step.
Imagine that commerce is a battlefield.
The brand's army is assembled there, ready to fight.
And the general standing before them suddenly looks at his cell phone, and wanders off to take a call from his wife.
And never comes back.
WHAT ARE THE TROOPS TO DO?
That's a lot of guys all dressed up, armed to the teeth, and scratching their asses.
That's an expensive proposition--and one that's destined to fail.
Without a mission and orders, those troops are going wherever they feel like--and that doesn't mean they're going to accomplish anything of value.
They need communication.
We've seen something as simple as a re-branding with clarity and purpose give the business owner a tool with which to marshal the troops, inspire them, and give them purpose in a business that was once muddled and without obvious direction.
But if clarity of communication is lacking?
THAT ENTIRE REBRANDING EFFORT WOULD BE POINTLESS
It would be a waste of time and money.
And who has enough of either?
At its most basic, communication keeps everyone on the same page with a clear of idea of mission and goals.
The receptionist doesn't wonder why the phone is suddenly ringing.
The salespeople don't look like idiots when a customer says he wants the offer from the radio.
And your wife doesn't look at you during a recorded interview and say, "You have no idea what you're talking about."
Talk to each other. It's more profitable.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
A hap-hap-happy place?
Or is it someone else's place, and you're just an interloper?
As the Fabulous Honey Parker and I continue to span the nation in the Slow Burn Marketing Brand Response Unit, we've been spending some time in the Fun-Size State.
That would be, of course, Rhode Island. It's cool. It's hot. (As the infamously short-lived, multi-million-dollar tourism branding campaign tried to tell us a couple of years ago.)
We've been enjoying off-the-beaten-path Rhode Island, which is cool and hot and truly fun-size and most people do not know about it.
While everyone's over in Newport, whooping it up at the Jazz Festival in the shadow of billion-dollar Russian oligarch mega-yachts, we are flying below the radar in a sleepy little hamlet that tourism almost forgot.
AND WE LIKE IT THAT WAY
So does the town, apparently.
And in that town, there's a small restaurant that we frequent, which has some excellent seafood, some simple and elegant dishes, a good wine list, and an array of small-batch microbrews on tap.
Finding refuge there late in the afternoon, we will sit at that bar and imbibe effervescent, frosty-cold malt beverages while indulging local bivalves on the half-shell at special mid-day prices.
The restaurant is not cheap, but it is reasonable. It is foodie enough for those so inclined. It is an honest effort by a determined entrepreneur with a distinct vision who has put her stamp on it. (She also likes us, and will occasionally buy us a round when we come in and say hi.)
One afternoon while we were there, a man of a particular style came in. He was youngish, tall, dressed in a expensive jeans and a cheap white T-shirt. Except for his face, all of his exposed skin was covered in tattoos of questionable quality (quantity seemed more the point). He wore a heavy tweed driving cap (yes, in August), and his earlobes had been augmented with big, black rubber grommets.
We'd been joking with the bartender when this man approached, asking, "Do you have any good bourbon?"
The bartender said, "We have those," pointing to the top shelf behind the bar, "And we have Maker's Mark."
WE CONTINUED HAVING FUN WITH THE BARTENDER
Meanwhile, the gentleman perused the shelf, regarding it as if it might be a bad smell.
We were joking to the bartender, "Good bourbon, indeed. There is no bad bourbon."
The tattooed gentleman snorted. He said with disdain, "Well, that's debatable."
He returned to his table without ordering bourbon.
Honey and I looked at each other.
Each of us immediately flashed back to an episode in another bar.
THE SNAKE PIT IS A DIVE-BAR LOVER'S SIREN SONG
When we lived in Los Angeles at Fairfax and Melrose, the Snake Pit was our local joint.
We were there at least once a week.
It was a dump with friendly bartenders, excellent beers and liquors, and a solid kitchen that turned out some surprisingly good fare.
Details Magazine once named it one of the city's top-ten dive bars.
It looked rough.
But if you scratched the surface, you realized it was a diamond.
Some years ago, there was a fire there. Stunned regulars from around Los Angeles got out of bed and were standing on the sidewalk in front of their bar at 5am as the fire crews battled the blaze. It had that kind of following.
HONEY AND I BECAME FRIENDS WITH THE STAFF
We performed a wedding for one of the bartenders.
The manager has become a dear friend, whom we periodically see in Utah.
She's originally from the genteel South, and moved to LA seeking fame & fortune on the screen. She found she preferred the relative anonymity of running a good, simple bar owned by a blessed-out, post-hippie, surfer-dude with a home in the Pacific Palisades.
Her T-shirts and boisterous demeanor belie a first-class education and a background in game hunting and equestrian pursuits. Her personal brand is one of interesting contradictions.
One night, we were sitting at the bar, talking to her when a customer walks in.
SHE TURNS TO THE CUSTOMER AND SAYS, "WHAT CAN I GET YOU?"
The young woman replies, "I'd like a frozen margarita!"
Our friend looks her square in the eye and says, "It's not that kind of bar."
The woman looks around a bit more, orders a beer and takes a seat.
We've always enjoyed that simple, direct moment of unapologetic brand honesty.
"This is where you are, and your choices are limited. We are focused, and you are welcome to join us. Otherwise, there are plenty of other bars with sugary, frozen drinks just down the street.
"We do not try to be all things to all people."
Everyone was welcome. Nobody was turned away unless they were disagreeable or over-served.
KNOW WHERE YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT
Back in the heady days of her Big New York Ad Agency Career, Honey was once sent to Mississippi to work on an agricultural product related to cotton farming.
She and her team were in the middle-of-nowhere rural south, surrounded by farmland, and had gone into a rustic, redneck roadhouse for drinks.
You know the kind of place. "Oh, honey, we have both kinds of music: country and western."
Richie, one of the New York guys on Honey's team, saunters up to the bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you have?" Richie says, "I'll have a Toasted Almond."
The bartender says, "What's that?"
Richie explains the cocktail.
"We don't do that."
Richie orders a beer.
IT'S NOT THAT KIND OF BAR
Moreover, it doesn't apologize.
It knows its brand.
It know its core customer, and how that core customer should feel about the place.
The place back in Rhode Island is fancier than either the Snake Pit or the Mississippi roadhouse.
But it still knows its brand, too.
It knows it's off the beaten path. It knows who its customers are: sensible New Englanders who like shellfish, catch of the day, and other unfussy food and don't really give a damn about small-batch bourbons.
And the place doesn't apologize.
BUT IT DOESN'T EXCUSE THE BAD ATTITUDE OF THE TATTOOED FUSSBUDGET
Especially when you're walking around inked up with mediocre artwork and have earlobes outfitted with hardware big enough to run a hawser through, and you're in the land of pragmatic people, a sailing town to boot, wearing a heavy wool hat on a sunny, 89-degree day with 97 percent humidity, your brand says, "Fish out of water."
Your brand says, "I make choices you don't."
Your brand says, "I don't care what you think."
Your brand says, "Look at me. What are you going to do about it?"
There are all kinds of aggressive, in-your-face things his brand package is saying to the world.
And interestingly, everyone we've ever known who has such a distinctive personal brand like this is usually pretty low-key and gregarious.
They're usually happy to have a conversation and be friendly.
We certainly knew plenty of them during our time in the Snake Pit.
THAT'S LOS ANGELES FOR YOU
You're going to meet all types and draw no conclusions about them until you have enough information.
But here, in this small, New England seaside town, in a nice little joint with a good feeling, with a brand that obviously cares about its customer, this man violated one of the cardinal rules, to wit: "Don't be a dick."
In seconds, he branded himself as a problem customer.
Because it's not that kind of bar.
Let's face it, if you know anything about bourbon, you know there is very little in the way of bad bourbon.
IN SOME WAYS, BOURBON IS LIKE CHAMPAGNE
To be of the bourbon brand, it must come from a specific region of Kentucky. To be a true Champagne brand, the wine must come from a specific region of France. Producing anything but good Champagne is financially ruinous.
In other ways, bourbon is a very American, egalitarian tipple. Even the people who make it have no pretenses about it.
By all kinds of measures, most bourbon is at least good.
Better bourbons are really good.
The best bourbons are stunning, both in taste and brand power.
If you have disdain for Maker's Mark (the Ford F-150 of bourbons) or small-batch whiskeys that aren't your favorite, and you are willing to express it openly to people you don't know, you have a problem.
You are an overt snob about something that doesn't matter.
And you are going to miss out.
You don't know who you've alienated. You have no idea who might buy you a drink. You have no clue what might be squirreled away somewhere in that bar that a sympathetic bartender might be willing to share with you but not the gen pop.
BUT THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE A LECTURE ABOUT BEHAVIOR
It's a reminder to be true to your brand.
You're never going to please all of the people all of the time.
We've had clients get complaints about the craziest of things.
One didn't like a radio commercial that championed mom as her family's primary care provider.
Of course, the client didn't do anything about it, other than say, "I'm sorry you feel that way."
If you've approached your brand in a way that's honest and makes sense, and you can live up to, have at it.
Once you've committed to your brand, be that brand.
Be committed and unapologetic.
And let the uninformed customer know it's not that kind of bar.
Even if someone else's personal brand requires that they pee on it, your honest, authentic brand is much easier to make live, and to live with.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.