Psychologist and entrepreneur Dr. Rachna Jain is back with insights into how these crazy times can be good for business and good for you. Ironically, social distancing is leading to all kinds of new ways to meet new prospects. And, there are more opportunities to put new skills into your tool box.
YOU CAN NOW LISTEN TO THE WEEKLY SCREED!
It's even in the iTunes store ! (Against all odds, the staff at Apple listened to it and still , they accepted it.) To obtain the audio from your preferred source, click here. And remember, play it loud for maximum sonority.
If so, here's a thought for you: Disruption happens.
It happens much like another word that happens.
And that word is one which we will not state here in the weekly screed.
That is because, unlike many other mediocre harangues available on the internet, we here at the Slow Burn Mountaintop Marketing Fortress wish to project the illusion that our mediocre harangue doesn't merely fire for effect by using scatological BS language.
But boy, does anything have quite as much stink of BS as the faddish notion of being disruptive?
The whole idea of disruption is merely a repackaging of a quality that can indeed make you fabulously wealthy.
And we know the secret. We will teach you.
But first, some cautionary reflection.
Because at some point, someone is going to say to you...
"OOOH, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY! WE NEED TO BE DISRUPTIVE!"
No you don't.
What you need to do is merely follow the ostensible tenets of being disruptive, which means doing things that the Fabulous Honey Parker and I have been doing in our respective careers in radio and in big ad agencies for decades.
First, let's recap the disruption BS.
If you missed our last harangue about this problem, which happened some months ago, we looked at the Wikipedia page about disruption and distilled it into a single top-line thought.
We walked away with this: "Being disruptive is about not being mediocre."
WHILE DISRUPTION HAPPENS, IT SEEMS THAT AMBITION DOES NOT
Whatever happened to the notion of being successful by being excellent?
I was recently reading an article about one huge, disruptive company that, in 2015, had been valued at over a quarter billion dollars.
A quarter billion dollars! More than that! By about 50% more!
I'd never actually heard of this company, but this disruptive beast was all the rage on college campuses.
Can you guess what happened two years after that quarter-billion-dollar valuation?
This hugely disruptive company was sold to another hugely disruptive company.
The sale price: a paltry 12-million bucks.
What the hell happened?
FOLLOW THE MONEY--WHICH FOLLOWED THE BUZZWORDS
It was all about social media!
Changing the world!
Apparently, one of the failed disrupter's employees is on record, saying that the company's mission is to "Empower the collective creation of the world."
Collective creation of the world?
What does that even mean?
Are we basing a quarter-billion-dollar-plus vision on bringing the entire world together in one big Color Me Mine finger-painting party?
If you look back at the postmortem of this company (whose name we will not state but whom we'll just call Fail), it sounds like a high-tech PT Barnum was leading a flock of pretentious and frivolous youngsters who were more interested in the company's internal culture of beer pong and hot-tub parties than in doing anything that really matters.
DOES THAT SOUND HARSH?
But a lot of allegedly smart people lost a whole lot of big money backing the blustering and fiery vision of Fail.
Unfortunately, it turned out that instead of having a man behind the curtain, there was little more at Fail besides more smoke and mirrors.
Recently, I stumbled across an article about the things that disrupter brands are doing and why their disruptive models work to make disruptive amounts of lucre.
The article had a lot of words about a lot of stuff that made a lot of money, but you can look at it all and boil it down to the F-word.
No, not Fail.
Yes, I'm sorry, but disruption is about little more than Focus.
AS THE FAITHFUL FAN OF HOT SHOTS KNOWS, WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT FOCUS
And we have never once been about disruption.
Because focusing on disruption is stupid.
It propagates the notion that by somehow being troublesome and disturbing and distracting, you can rule the world.
In fact, one of the business ideas that the disruptive model rails against is old-fashioned, interruptive advertising.
"TV commercials and radio commercials are dinosaurs! Interruption advertising is dead!"
You know what the word "interruption" is?
It's a synonym for "disruption."
GET OFF YOUR HIGH, DISRUPTIVE HORSE, ZEITGEIST!
Come on back to the party and practice good, old-fashioned focus.
At Slow Burn Marketing, we have long preached focus to our clients.
One client wanted to just "run some ads" for a particular segment of their business.
We told them you could do that.
But then you'd be just another also-ran.
But if you focus, if you come up with a new brand that specializes in that segment of your business, and run ads for that new brand, you can then compete against the category leader.
And while you're going up against the category leader, your new marketing can focuses on your customer, and tell stories about the thrill that customer gets from doing business with you because your experience is better.
Can you guess what they did?
CAN YOU GUESS WHO STARTED MAKING A MILLION BUCKS A YEAR?
We had another client, a solopreneur, who had two brands in the same category.
One brand was business-to-consumer, and the other brand was business-to-business.
She was tied up in knots about having to re-brand and market both brands.
We said, "Why?"
Why do you need two?
They're in the same category.
Combine them into one brand. They both provide the same thing. You just have a pro version for B2B and a lite version for B2C.
She looked like a millstone had been removed from her neck.
Suddenly, with one sweep of her hand, she had one business she could focus on. It simplified her life and her marketing.
"OH, COME ON, IT'S NOT THAT SIMPLE! DISRUPTIVE BRANDS ARE CHANGING THE WORLD!"
No they're not.
Smart, focused people are changing the world.
"No! Disrupters rule!"
OK, let's look at the rules of disruption.
Focus, simplification, a business model delivering a desirable customer experience, and being what the staid and established competition isn't.
Those are key qualities.
By that measure, who was the first disruptive brand?
The Ford Motor Company.
DO YOU DISAGREE?
Well, Henry Ford disrupted the automotive industry.
He flew in the face of a business model that sold high-priced cars to people who had money to burn.
He did it by looking at the model for the meat packing industry, and reversed it.
A meat packing plant has a whole cow go in one end. It comes out the other end as packaged parts.
Henry Ford sent packaged parts in one end. A whole cow--er, car come out the other end.
Henry Ford also strived to make the automobile affordable to the common man.
Henry Ford also improved the customer experience by giving the common man the first-ever car with safety glass in the windshield.
HENRY FORD WAS A KING DISRUPTER
And he did it without ever having pretentious and pointless mission statements or throwing beer pong hot tub parties for his workers.
He also did it without ever being called "disruptive."
Today, one of the anointed kings of the alleged disrupter businesses is Dollar Shave Club.
How did it happen?
Two guys got to talking about their frustration with the high price of razor blades.
They started a focused, customer-centric business model: inexpensive, high-quality razor blades and razors by mail order.
They used their own money, and some startup funding from a business incubator.
They developed a fun, entertaining, engaging brand that connects with men.
They created an experience that let the customer in on the joke.
THEY MADE THEIR CORE CUSTOMER FEEL ONE THING
They gave a guy frustrated with the high price of razor blades a better alternative. They did it with personality and a sense of humor that is completely lacking in the razor-blade market dominated by Gillette and Shick.
They made getting blades in the mail an enjoyable experience.
And just by the way, their first YouTube video was hilarious. It stands up to repeated watching.
They also used old-fashioned, deader-then-dead interruptive TV commercials.
These two guys sick of the high price of razor blades launched their epic disruption in January 2011.
They did it using what amounts to pocket change.
In July 2016, a mere five and a half years later, Dollar Shave Club was sold to Unilever for $1 billion in cash.
WHY ON EARTH?
Why does a multi-national company with over $60 billion in annual revenue need to buy a feisty little company that sells a limited line of razors, blades and male grooming products?
To compete, apparently.
They want to take a slice of the pie owned by Gillette and Shick.
It seems that's the official story.
And Unilever already owns "disrupter" Axe, the men's body wash and (ick) body spray.
But there's another, less popular take on this purchase.
Some folks think Unilever bought Dollar Shave Club before someone else did it.
None of this is the point.
The point is that disruption is BS.
What wins in the marketplace is the F-word.
Focus is your friend.
When you focus your business model and your brand, great things happen.
When you focus on a single, well-defined core customer, you know to whom you are speaking.
Then, you can focus your marketing message in a way that makes your core customer feel one way about your brand.
Your brand becomes magnetic.
And your brand makes friends.
AND IT WORKS FOR ANY SIZE BUSINESS
It works for solopreneurs.
By focusing, Slow Burn helped one solopreneur double his revenue in a year.
Focus works for an established and thriving operation. That's how Slow Burn helped the business mentioned earlier launch a new brand and go from zero to a million.
And focus works for guys like Dollar Shave Club, who started a business based on a conversation at a party, tapped into the zeitgeist, and sold their business for a billion.
But disruption is not the goal.
Nor is pretentious and pointless mission statements or beer pong hot tub parties.
Focus is king. When you understand how to focus, you're on the way to being a brand that matters.
Even if someone else decides that they have to call you names like "disruptive."
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
MORE CLOWNS, MORE JOKERS, MORE CLARITY,...OR WHY ELECTION CAMPAIGNS SUCK
Yes, we know exactly what the faithful reader is thinking:
"More politics? And how on earth is THIS topic going to be tied back to the whole concept of branding for small business?"
Fear not, good reader.
Your relentless scribe has it covered in typical, non-partisan style. (We always try to be an equal opportunity offender.)
And be prepared: you will come out of this screed a better versed communicator than ever.
Not only will you now understand a smattering of science behind why election campaigns suck (it's not just because they feature politicians), but how small-business marketing is impacted by similar challenges.
IT'S THE COMMUNICATION ECONOMY, STUPID
No, we're not calling you stupid.
That is a paraphrase of a famous quote from James Carville, everyone's favorite bald & bat-guano-crazy political strategist.
"It's the economy, stupid" was one of the key phrases that helped Carville's communication team launch Bill Clinton into the White House.
And such a succinct and relevant turn of phrase deserves corruption for our purposes here.
That year was 1992. The 24-hour TV news cycle was still in its nascent stages. The only people on the internet were Arpanet geeks with pocket protectors who started snorting digits recreationally. (Al Gore, self-proclaimed creator of the Internet, was nowhere to be seen.)
SINCE 1992, THINGS HAVE CHANGED RADICALLY
Now, the 24-hour TV news cycle has been augmented by the exponentially more aggressive and less competent 24-hour internet news cycle.
The stocks are worth billions.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and many other so-called "social media," "communication" outlets have come to dominate daily life.
The stocks are worth billions.
Even the old, gray nags of radio and print are still there, competing for eyeballs and advertiser dollars.
The stocks are worth billions.
Hello, communication economy!
For better or for worse, from top to bottom, we now have an entire, staggering, multi-mega-billion-dollar economic landscape predicated on one thing: people talking about each other.
COMMUNICATION IS BIG MONEY
And there is more of it now than ever in the history of humankind.
Each day, all of us sling communication digits by the shovelful. And most of it is made up of fatty, empty communication calories devoid of informational nutrition.
And it is part of why election campaigns suck.
Here now, the problem in a word: noise.
You see that word, and you probably think about physical noise.
Physical noise can be any kind of sound produced in the surrounding environment, from background music to people talking to guys digging a trench outside your window to the humming refrigerator compressors and hissing espresso machines in Starbucks to a airsick baby crying in the seat behind you.
Physical noise often impedes effective communication.
BUT THERE ARE OTHER, MORE NEFARIOUS KINDS OF NOISE
Take physiological noise.
Is your body telling you that you're way past due for a meal?
And that you're way past due for a nap, as the three hours of sleep you had last night, lying awake fretting over the prospect of a Donald or Hilary presidency, simply wasn't enough?
And those bodily challenges are making it impossible for you to have a decent conversation or write a coherent weekly screed.
Welcome to physiological noise.
But that is not nearly as nefarious as psychological noise.
HELLO, REPUTATIONS, BIASES, ASSUMPTIONS AND RACIAL STEREOTYPES
Psychological noise might be more colloquially described as "Baggage."
This kind of noise comes in the form of preconceived notions.
Psychological noise makes it virtually impossible to have a productive conversation.
Let's say you're sitting down to dim sum with Donald or Hillary.
Your preconceived notions about his/her sinister intent to destroy America makes it virtually impossible for the two of you to come to an accord about whether to order the har gow, the guotie or the shaomai.
Forget having any kind of productive political discourse about international relations or gun control or using Queen music in an election campaign.
You are so seething with blind hatred, with bias and assumptions generating such psychological noise, that you can't even begin to consider the message DonHillary is sending you, and it's ruining a perfectly good meal, which will result in indigestion later and contribute to further physiological noise.
IT IS VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO OVERCOME PSYCHOLOGICAL NOISE
Don't believe it?
When was the last time anyone's political post on Facebook made you think, "Holy crap! I've been wrong all along! How could I possible be voting for that nefarious nitwit!"
And you rush out and change your party affiliation.
It doesn't happen.
And finally, there is semantic noise.
This is the kind of noise that happens when whoever's talking to you uses jargon, lousy grammar, unfamiliar slang, or other unfamiliar, unlistenable blather.
Take Steve Martin's 1970's plumber joke. Please.
It talks about how you can't work on a Findlay sprinkler head with a Langstrom 7 gangly wrench, and Volume 14 of the Kinsley manual says, "Sprocket not socket!"
NOT FUNNY UNLESS YOU'RE A PLUMBER. OSTENSIBLY.
Anyway, all this to say: noise abounds.
Communication noise prevents effective communication.
It influences how you interpret a conversation.
And there is so much noise now in the contemporary media landscape, that life becomes a psychic hell hole--especially during a presidential election season.
So, how to beat the noise?
Simple: be piercing.
Your message needs to cut through the noise like it's a hot cleaver through cold BS.
Last week, we talked about how so much of the anti-Donald messages are so saturated that nothing cuts through. And the Hillary brand is so non-existent that there's nothing to focus on except that she's not Donald.
As an alternative to the communication quagmire of the candidates, it's really instructive to look at a groundbreaking political campaign from 1952.
YOU DON'T HAVE TO LIKE IKE
But this 1952 ad campaign made people like Ike in a big way.
And by today's standards, it seems naïve and simplistic.
Which it is.
That doesn't mean there isn't an example here that can be really useful.
The campaign was designed by the famous ad man Rosser Reeves, he of "M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands" and Anacin's "Fast! Fast! Fast Relief!"
The name of the campaign is, Eisenhower Answers America.
Each commercial features a real person (who is so stiff in his or her performance, they can't possibly be anything but real) posing a question to General Eisenhower.
HERE NOW, ONE OF THOSE COMMERCIALS IN ITS GLORIOUS ENTIRETY
ANNCR: Eisenhower Answers America!
LADY: They say we've never had it so good. But I had to stop buying eggs, they're so expensive.
IKE: No wonder. You actually pay 100 different taxes on just one egg. We must cut costs, which means we must cut taxes.
That's a 20-second TV commercial.
44 words of dialogue including the announcer intro.
ANNCR: Eisenhower Answers America!
MAN: How would you clean up the mess in Washington?
IKE: My answer is it's not a one-agency mess or even one-department mess. It's a top-to-bottom mess, and I promise we will clean it up from top to bottom.
Again, 44 words.
ANNCR: Eisenhower Answers America!
MAN: Can you cut taxes mister Eisenhower?
IKE: We can and will--if you help. Taxes have gone up steadily for fifteen years. The Democrats say they must go up still more. Help me put the lid on crazy government spending.
Clean. Clear. Simple. Piercing.
THERE IS ONE THING MISSING
Never once does the candidate say how he's going to solve the problem.
All he does is promise that he will solve it.
And by the strength of Ike's obvious conviction, one must FEEL like they believe it.
Because there is certainly no clear understanding of how it's actually going to come to be.
But hey--it's all about the Ike brand. Make the prospect feel one thing. There are ways for them to get more if they want it.
What was Ike's opponent, Adlai Stevenson doing?
Let's put it this way: Mental Floss has an article offering you, "8 of Adlai Stevenson's Awful 1952 TV Campaign Ads."
TV WAS YOUNG THEN--JUST LIKE SOCIAL MEDIA IS TODAY
The difference is that back then, there simply wasn't nearly as much noise--though arguably, there may have been more psychological noise in 1952. (Belied by the surprising ethnic and gender diversity of the real people in the Ike commercials.)
Nonetheless, Rosser Reeves created a series of clear, succinct and material messages that made the prospect feel one thing about Ike.
Now, with more communication noise than ever, we have a great responsibility as communicators.
It's incumbent upon us to be clear and cut through.
WE CAN'T LOAD DOWN OUR MESSAGES WITH STUFF
We have to be clear.
We have to be concise.
We have to cut through.
That doesn't mean we have to be cutting edge (though that doesn't hurt).
But we do have to matter.
And frankly, very little product in the contemporary communication economy really does matter.
Want to be the exception?
What is the trump card in effective media messaging? (And no, "message" should never have become a verb. So it goes.)
GOING ON THE OFFENSIVE WITH THE POWER OF A FLOWER
It is considered the single most successful attack ad in the history of political advertising.
It promises that your vote is now more important than ever.
If you don't vote this November, it's highly likely that the United States of America will end up being led by a notorious and ignorant martinet at the helm.
The world could even be looking at nuclear annihilation.
And you, the faithful reader of this weekly screed, probably know exactly which advertisement we're talking about.
(You also know that somehow, this ridiculousness is all going to be tied back in to your own marketing, don't you.)
THE COMMERCIAL IN QUESTION IS NOT NEW
It does not come from any of today's ever more exciting and distinguished presidential campaigns.
It's the 1964 political advertising classic, "Daisy."
An anti-Barry Goldwater message from the Lyndon B. Johnson campaign, "Daisy" is widely regarded as the most controversial political advertisement of all time.
(If you don't know the commercial--which seems unlikely--it is simply this: a little girl in a field, plucking petals from a daisy as she counts them up. The audio segues to a mission-control, launch-pad countdown. Freeze-frame the little girl. Cut to a series of uber-violent nuclear explosions. LBJ's voice says, "These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die." An announcer VO says, "Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.")
"Daisy" is considered to be one of the main reasons for LBJ's landslide victory over Goldwater in the presidential election--even though it only ever aired once as a paid spot. (It was broadcast several more times in the context of news reports. Thank you, earned-media credits.)
What's interesting is this: if you ignore "Daisy," and look at the other attack ads that came out of that campaign, know what you see?
AN OPPONENT'S WORDS BEING USED AGAINST HIM
Absent "Daisy," the TV commercial "Eastern Seaboard" is considered the quintessential attack ad:
A hand saw is cutting through the east coast of the United States. VO: "In a Saturday Evening Post article dated August 31st 1963, Barry Goldwater said, 'Sometimes, I think this country would be better off if we just sawed off the eastern seaboard and let it float out to sea.'" The saw finishes cutting and the east coast floats away. "Can a man who makes statements like these be expected to serve all the people justly and fairly? Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home."
But really, one of the most shocking, fear-mongering anti-Goldwater messages is the infamous "KKK For Goldwater" spot. We'll refrain from quoting it all here. We'll simply say that it's a series of Ku Klux Klan newsreel clips (klips?) shot at night, filled with white hoods and burning crosses. The VO quotes a series of racist, hate-filled sentiments from KKK Grand Dragon Robert Creel--along with Creel's statement, "I like Barry Goldwater. He needs our help."
SOUND VAGUELY SIMILAR TO WHAT'S HAPPENING TODAY?
Just do a Google search on "best anti trump advertising."
There is a slew of work out there featuring idiotic things Donald Trump has said and done in front of a TV camera.
And publications like Mother Jones are proud to trot out Clinton-produced anti-Trump videos and hail them as brutal masterworks allowing the candidate to hoist himself with his own petard.
Here's the problem.
They're not masterworks at all.
Yes, sadly, they are accurate representations of what has come out of the man's mouth.
THEY ALSO WON'T WORK
They are entirely too complicated. They cut together all kinds of clips from all kinds of different sources. They become dizzying in their effort to prove the candidate is a buffoon.
In short, they lack focus.
Combine that with an unfocused media landscape that is vast and fragmented beyond anything anyone could have imagined in 1964, and the problem is further compounded.
When there were only three national TV networks and no other video media besides your local stations, focus was the default position.
And messages like "Daisy," "Eastern Seaboard" and "KKK For Goldwater" were clear, succinct and had POW RIGHT IN THE KISSER impact.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ANTI-CLINTON ADVERTISING?
Well, if you do the same kind of Google search for "best anti-clinton advertising," you're going to find something different.
Yes, the candidate's own words are being used against her.
But they're being done with much more brevity, clarity and punch.
That doesn't necessarily mean they're going to work.
There's still the challenge of the fragmented media landscape (among others).
But the messages are often doing a much better job of hitting a single, resonant note.
Of course, none of this is to say it couldn't all change overnight. We're talking about life at the speed of digits.
But it all goes to underscore a long-running challenge with the Clinton campaign, to wit...
A LACK OF FOCUS AND CLARITY
This is nothing new.
As far back as a year ago, there were news stories about the erstwhile Secretary of State's inability to develop a cohesive brand.
The campaign has never communicated one way the voter should feel about Hilary Clinton.
There absolutely is one way the voter should feel about Donald Trump.
It might be repellent and appalling, but it's firm and concrete.
Love it or hate it, you know what the Trump brand is.
No, there will probably never be any single online video or series of videos that have the same overall impact as the Goldwater attack ads.
But here's the useful take-away for the small-business brand.
FOCUS AND CLARITY RULE
The focus and clarity of the anti-Goldwater ads were hardly an accident.
The messages were produced by the same ad agency that gave us some of the most resonant, clutter-cutting advertising messages of all time.
Volkswagen's "Think small."
Avis' "Number two and trying harder."
Life Cereal's "Mikey likes it."
Ad agency DDB was a powerhouse of media messaging in the 1960s.
It's difficult to find much in the current, evermore cluttered media landscape that cuts through and resonates with Bill-Bernbach style simplicity and zeitgeist magnetism.
Except maybe, oh...
Advertising form Apple, which looks very Bernbachian.
TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH TOO MUCH
There's just too much communication.
None of us have the luxury of unfocused branding and unclear messaging.
Clarity and focus.
Clarity and focus.
Clarity and focus.
Is that clear and focused?
Clarity and focus.
THEY MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER
Herb Kelleher's internal directive, "We are the low cost airline" for running Southwest Airlines.
Apple's "Think different" directive for the personal computer in your life.
McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" fast-food happiness infusion.
Consistent clarity and focus are the trump card. (No pun intended.)
And remember to be relevant.
Do all that, and whatever your campaign, you just might win.
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.