The golf tee frenzy

•February 24, 2009 • 6 Comments

reddyteeIn 1922, a New Jersey dentist and frustrated golfer named Dr. William Lowell whittled a small wooden peg on which to place his golf ball, forgoing the traditional molded pile of wet sand. Lowell patented the gadget and took it to market painted fire engine red and sold in paper packets as the “Reddy Tee.” Despite advertising in every golf publication the doctor’s novelty hadn’t caught on until the desperate Lowell offered legendary and flamboyant tour professional, Walter Hagen fifteen hundred dollars to use it on tour. Hagen and exhibition playing partner, Joe Kirkwood, stuffed hundreds of the eye-catching tees in their bags, handing them out as they walked the fairways, where kids scrambled after them for souvenirs. Before long, so many people were clamoring after them, officials had to start roping off the fairways. Within months, the Reddy Tee started showing up in golf pro shops around the country and the wooden tee became a universal accessory (Frost, 2004, The Grand Slam).

Marketing history is full of examples of celebrities selling products, but that’s not what actually made this effort so effective. Spectators could have just watched Hagen and Kirkwood use the tees to play golf and sales would have probably increased, but they created a frenzy by giving the golf tees away and the product became an immediate success.

The current economic doldrums offer a golden opportunity to create a frenzy. Think of ways your product/service or organization can help people with, or help them forget their financial problems. I’m currently working with an organization that can offer tangible help for people in economic trouble. It’s newsworthy, so we’re building a PR campaign around it and it’s a great viral opportunity, especially online.

So, think of how you can create a frenzy. If it’s newsworthy, use PR as a marketing tool. If it’s helpful to people in trouble it’s most likely a great viral opportunity. You’ll receive great publicity for your good deed, be rewarded by only spending a small amount on marketing/PR and hopefully create a frenzy for your product/service at the same time.

Good luck, I hope this helps and I would love to hear how you’re doing. As always, please share any comments/questions.

I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.



Ya wanna go to lunch!

•February 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in a car, riding to lunch with the same people I’ve lunched with every day and no one could ever agree on where to eat.

In the car, on our way, with absolutely no idea where we’re going. The only thing we all know is that we’re hungry and we want to be full.

If you take a look around, you’ll see that lunchtime isn’t the only occasion where goals and plans are left out of the day-to-day.

Too many companies – both large and small – mistakenly start marketing without a plan or knowing what they ultimately want.

So what’s the big deal? Set some goals.
What do you want? Where do you want to go?

And create a plan.
How do you best message who you are, what you do and why it’s important?
Who’s your target audience?
What can you say or do to set yourself apart from everyone else?
What marketing tools will most likely get you to goal?
What value can you provide to get people’s attention?
How can you build relationships and customer loyalty?
Do you have the resources, time, etc. to achieve success?

One of the great things about online marketing and social media is its low cost. In fact, most of the online tools are free and many people use them to perform incredible feats of brilliance. Obviously, the Obama Presidential Campaign is a new benchmark for online marketing and social media, but it’s the lesser-known marketers that interest me.

Last week I was having lunch with my friend Llew who told me about a folk-rock musician named Corey Smith. Anyone ever heard of him… or his music? Not me. Llew went on to tell me that last year Mr. Smith’s income was 4.2 million! Check him out.

He’s a former high school teacher turned musician who, along with a great manager, came up with a unique marketing plan. Give the music away online, create strong relationships with his fans and charge them $5 per concert. They aren’t interested in radio play or publicity; they just want the fans to experience Corey’s music in person.

Also, check out how he markets himself online. Even though he says he isn’t into technology he has a perfect online presence. If you really study his tactics, he does a wonderful job with every point on the above checklist. He’s has a great plan and I would imagine he’s pretty close to goal.
Corey Smith homepage
Corey Smith myspace page
Corey Smith – official store click on this one and you’ll get a free koozie with any product purchase.

So, study, learn, create a plan based on a solid set of goals – and then implement.

Obviously, there is such a thing as a free lunch. You just have to know where you’re goin’ first.

I hope this helps and I would love to hear how you’re doing. As always, please share any comments/questions, or if you have anything you would like me to cover, let me know.
I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.


Understanding and embracing our differences

•January 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

I’m one of those annoying personalities who love to try and do everything. I just like learning new stuff. Maybe you’ll recognize the trait, it’s common with people who run small businesses. Most small business owners need to have a wide breadth of knowledge and talent to operate and fill in around the office when necessary. I do realize I’m never going to be great at everything, and professionals need to be contracted to do what I can’t. Fortunately, I love working with other people, especially if it means I can learn to do something new.

With that in mind, I wanted to present a couple of areas where professionals can make you look really great.

Understanding the difference between average and great headlines
Intelligent, compelling headlines accompanied by great imagery can instantly create a positive customer perception of your company. Unfortunately, more often than not, your typical headlines usually either sound like fortune cookie text, or somewhat boring factual statements. A talented headline writer can get your reader to comprehend the message you’re trying to convey, without blatantly stating the point. For example, instead of saying, “This is a great car.” BMW says they have “The Ultimate Driving Machine.”

Here’s a more realistic example. Not long ago I was working on a project with one of the top ranked business schools in the country to recruit for their Executive Education courses. I needed a top ranked writer, so I contracted Richard Link. Before working with Richard I outlined the basic direction he needed to convey. It was something like, “after attending an Executive Education course at Goizueta Business School your chances of becoming a high-powered business executive will increase.” Nothing fancy, just a basic idea, I knew Richard would come up with multiple approaches to make that idea rock, which he did.

First, take a look at a couple of examples to compare against Richard’s. This is Harvard Business School’s headline approach to basically the same problem. A plain factual statement.

“Educating leaders who make a difference in the world.”

And, another top-ranked school, Terry College of Business and their attempt at a factual statement.

“Further your education in an executive environment.”

Fianlly, Richard Link’s solution for the Goizueta School of Business. A different approach.

“After this course there will be a test… it’s called the Annual Shareholders Meeting.”

See what I mean; writers like Richard tell the reader what to think without stating it blatantly. He’s also giving the reader a better idea of the environment as it relates to Executive Education. The other two lines make large overarching statements, leading you to believe it’s a long-term program. It’s not, it’s short two-to-three day courses. Not only is his line better, he gives potential students a better idea of what to expect.

Embracing good photography
Last year I was working with Ventura & Company and a southeastern homebuilder named Chesapeake I noticed, while searching online, the horrible quality of photographs that were typical in showcasing new homes on the Internet.

Here’s an example that compares a typical series of new home photographs with a similar series from a professional photographer. We contracted John Slemp to work with us to create warm inviting photographs of homes. The Chesapeake homes were beautiful and John didn’t seem to have too much trouble making them look great.


The home below looks like it’s a nice house, but as this example shows how the beauty can easily be lost in the photographic translation. In fact, with this presentation it would, most likely, be difficult to get prospects excited about taking a home tour.


Here’s a process I go through before I call in the professionals. The first thing I do is to make a quick outline of the project. Nothing fancy, I just want to make sure I’ve thought everything through. I determine the copy points, find related imagery on iStock or another stock photo site and I create a thumbnail of what needs to be accomplished. In the long run, this practice will save time and money, but it also helps to ensure words, images and experience that are being produced are consistent with how you want your brand to be perceived.

One last tip: Hire a good proofreader. I have a wonderful colleague named Linda Rosenbaum who is a professional copy editor and proofreader. She reads all my stuff and has prevented me from looking stupid more times than I care to mention. With digital printing and online technology, there’s a lot more public leniency toward mistakes than in the past, but this is just another easy way for you to stand out from your competition. If your competitors present themselves with mistakes and you’re error free, that’s just one more reason that potential customers will choose to work with you.

So, hiring professionals to enhance your image can mean the difference between flat marketing and marketing that’s intelligent, good looking and created to generate income.

I hope this helps and I would love to hear how you’re doing. As always, please share any comments or questions. I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.


Comparing apples to… well, anything.

•January 18, 2009 • 4 Comments

I rely heavily on my Blackberry and even after a couple of years I’m still amazed what it can do. But, if my cellular service, which all my friends and family are on, offered Apple’s iPhone as an option, I’d switch in a heartbeat.

This is because, consistent with Apple’s culture, they have once again created something extraordinary. Apple not only creates extraordinary products and services, they also do a great job in messaging and marketing them.

I found a great example below of how Apple thinks differently in their approach to messaging. Here’s a common and versatile piece of corporate communication called a boilerplate, usually found at the end of a press release, but it can also come in handy any time you need to convey what your organization does. This example shows typical execution of a boilerplate and a comparison of how Apple solved the same problem, differently.

If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to create a boilerplate for your organization. You can use all the previous blog work we’ve done, such as communicating your value and creating your brand list to inspire your thinking.

Just for the record, I didn’t set out to highlight Ernst & Young for the example below. I searched on Google for “Corporate Boilerplates” and this was the first one I clicked on. If you do the same search, you will find this example is consistent with most corporate communication examples.

About Ernst & Young
Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, our 130,000 people are united by our shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. We make a difference by helping our people, our clients and our wider communities achieve their potential. Ernst & Young refers to the global organization of member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited, each of which is a separate legal entity. Ernst & Young Global Limited does not provide services to clients.

Ernst & Young South Africa is a company comprising 153 directors and a staff complement of over 2000 in offices throughout the country. Ernst & Young South Africa has made significant progress with its transformation and is the leader amongst the Big Four with 53% of its staff and 28% of its ownership being black, 52% of its total staff being female and 28% female ownership. The South African company is also Top Ten Ranked in the Corporate Research Foundation’s Best Employer 2007 survey as well as the winner of the Foundation’s Best Companies to Work For in South Africa 2006 survey.

I don’t know about you, but I find that hard to get through. Now, compare this to Apple’s boilerplate from March 2007.

About Apple
Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and will enter the mobile phone market this year with its revolutionary iPhone.

Apple has a lot to convey, because they have created a lot of stuff, still their boilerplate is about half the length of the previous example. Also, it’s is simple conversational, dynamic and consistent with their brand personality.

I hope this helps you and your company travel down the same successful path as Apple. I would love to hear how you do. As always, please share any comments or questions. I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.


There’s communicating value…and then there’s James Brown.

•January 11, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Godfather of Soul
james_brown6Fifteen years ago my wife Anna and I took a vacation to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. During this time in my career I was wrapped up in a lot of branding work and remember grappling with a personal observation that not many companies, large or small, purposefully create their core brand messages to focus on customer value.

After dinner on our first night in Seattle, we walked out onto the balcony of our hotel room and were surprised to see directly below us James Brown performing a concert. Decked out in his signature bright red outfit lit up under the stage lights, it was like the Godfather of Soul was putting on a private performance just for us. In fact, when he got to “Sex Machine,” and began to repeat the lyrics, “shake your money maker,” I know he was attempting to communicate directly with me, because had just summed up what I had been trying to figure out.

Shake your money maker! Find your intrinsic value and build it into your core brand message.

Even now, the majority of corporate brand messaging still focuses on capabilities, preventing organizations from standing apart from each other and neglecting what’s really important… the true value to the customer. However, there are a few companies that shake their “money makers” brilliantly.

fedexAt about the same time that Anna and I were on our vacation, Federal Express rebranded itself to reflect it’s geographic dominance as a worldwide delivery service. Shortening the name to FedEx, which most people already used verbally, made the organization feel fast, strong and contemporary. Their new logo sported an arrow hidden in the letter forms symbolizing fast delivery. Although the tagline also needed to reflect their global expansion, “The World On Time,” a previous line “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,” had set the stage and stated exactly what their core value proposition was, your package at its destination the next morning – anywhere in the world – guaranteed.

Communicating Your Value
Let’s identify some value propositions for you to communicate to your customers. There’s an old formula that goes, “I choose to use this company’s products/services because I receive ________________.”

Think from your customer’s point of view and come up with 8 to 10 words that go in the blank.

For example, if you’re a dentist, some of the value attributes you provide your patients may be “state-of-the-art technology,” “gentle care,” “no cavities…guaranteed,” whatever they are, jot them down. Pull all of your words together and compare them against what you think your customers really care about. What’s most important to them?

Choose one
Usually it’s best to look for value attributes that have longevity or attributes that your competitors can’t just-as-easily claim, like “most up-to-date technology,” “newest techniques,” “lowest price.” These are best avoided or need to be carefully messaged. Values with strong personal ties to your customers usually work great, like “assurance,” “comfort,” etc. Just ensure the attribute you choose is one that people care about. Also, don’t choose more than one; it’s best to try to distill what your company does to its simplest form. Being all things to all people is hard to message and usually ineffective.

Going back to our dentist example, let’s choose the attribute, “gentle care.” You may come up with something like “As your dental professional, I’m dedicated to providing you with the most relaxing and comfortable dental experience possible.”

It’s a start. It’s simple, it sounds sincere, a little long, but it probably won’t completely repel people from going in for a check-up. Be creative and don’t write fortune cookies; write conversationally, and hopefully this gives you a good idea of how to write your own value-based brand statement yourself.

It’s also important to remember that making a statement like the one above is just like making a promise to your customer. Make certain your customer have no experiences that are going to contradict your brand promise.

Finally, it’s hard to change people’s perception. Once you commit and your customers begin thinking of you as the kinder, gentler dentist, it will be hard to convince them otherwise. Find something that your customers identify with and stick to it.

Believe me, when new customers start arriving at your door you’re gonna wanna jump back and kiss yourself, just like the Godfather, James Brown.

I would love to hear how you do. As always, please share any comments or questions. I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.


P.S. Keep the remaining value attributes from this exercise. We’ll use them later on when we begin creating marketing copy.

A simple list for brand consistency

•December 28, 2008 • Leave a Comment

A simple way to ensure consistency in your organization’s brand is to create a list of adjectives to use as a guide to create new products, programs or communications. These words represent how you wish to be perceived by your customers, or really, your entire constituent base. I’ll go into identifying your all your audience groups in a later post.

I began creating these lists in the late 80s while attempting to oversee several corporate image projects at a time. They helped me to quickly remember the organization’s personality and to ensure that I was steering all of my projects down the right path. As I began doing more corporate branding in the early 90’s, I found these lists were invaluable for my clients as well, who were thrilled to have a tool they could use to quickly ensure consistent decision making.

Below is an example of a brand I developed over a decade ago. The owner came to me with a wonderful vision for an IT startup. We created the following Brand List to capture the personality she wanted conveyed. They’ve now used the same list for over 10 years with tremendous success and are well on their way to Brand Superhero. Also attached is a look created for one of the product lines to demonstrate how the look and feel can be made consistent with the word list.


You’ll notice the owner not only added words that created a strong sales platform, she also had the foresight to be creative with the organization’s brand in order to differentiate it from the thousands of technical and stuffy IT companies out there. She added words like “easy” and “whimsy.” So, being different and having fun is a good thing and can help to create a strong brand platform that stands out.

Finally, you can learn from other organizations who are doing a very good job of conveying their brand list. Try this: go into an Apple Store, a Target store or any large brand name store, look around and experience their brand atmosphere, read some of their material and then try to think of what words their brand list would contain. Chances are you’ll be really close.

This should give you a good idea of how to create a brand list. It’s really nothing fancy, but it’s a powerful tool that can ensure your business creates and communicates consistently.

Please let me know if you have any question/comments.


My Dad The Brand Guru

•December 28, 2008 • 5 Comments

My father, along with being a good businessman, had a natural talent for understanding brands. His skills were being demonstrated long before branding was a popular business practice, back when Avis was # 2 and two guys named Jack Trout and Al Ries were outlining what they then coined, “Positioning”. Dad wasn’t a brand superhero, but he had a gift for predicting whether an organization would succeed or fail based on his customer experience. In other words, he could give Superman the once-over and see that underneath the flashy costume stood Clark Kent.

Dad would give his critique on a product or service by simply mumbling in his gruff manner, “Won’t sell,” or, if he liked his experience, he would give a slight nod of approval. Being an inquisitive child and wishing to keep everyone happy, I constantly struggled to understand what each company had done right or wrong and what they could do to remain in business. (I knew from experience and my dad’s 100% success rate, when he mumbled “Won’t sell,” that each company in question was headed for the chopping block.)

His simple evaluation taught me that people have certain expectations which need to be met in order to reward a company with their repeat business. For an organization to ensure success, it’s important to understand what those expectations are and make certain they’re either met or exceeded.

With the sacrifices and cuts many businesses are making, it’s probably a very good time to see if your company is still fulfilling its customer’s expectations.

So, in the spirit of my dad, the Brand Guru, here’s a two-step exercise to help you see how others perceive your organization and also allow you to compare those perceptions with how you wish to be perceived. The following process of garnering information on your company can be done in a number of different ways, I’m going to recommend we use “Secret Shoppers” for our first step to start you thinking on the right track.

Step One: Secret Shoppers
Ask three or four friends to act as Secret Shoppers for your organization. Explain nothing about what your organization does or what they’re to expect. Ask them to gather information using the list below as a guide. (Add or subtract from this list as you see necessary). Remind them that it’s of utmost importance that their feedback be honest, and not to worry about hurt feelings.

First you’ll need to arm your Secret Shoppers with your current communication material, corporate brochures, postcards, URLs, and as much as you can gather on your competitors. Important: don’t verbally provide any information that may sway their opinion. Ask your Shoppers to review the information you’ve collected, be sensitive to the experiences they encounter and  ask them to please write everything down.

To Do List for your Secret Shoppers
The Assessment
• Review all collateral and web addresses provided

By reviewing the information supplied:
– Do you feel you have a complete understanding of the company; it’s products and/or services?
–Is the information clear?
–Do you feel the value of the organization being reviewed superior to the competition?
–Do you feel the visual and verbal messaging is consistent and adds to the organization’s credibility?
–Was the experience navigating through the website good?

The Visit
•Visit the company and go through the act of making a purchase
After physically experiencing the company:
–Did you feel comfortable entering the establishment?
–Did you feel you were treated well by the staff?
–Did you notice any visual or verbal messages? Were they consistent with what you have experienced thus far?
–Is the on-site messaging consistent with the website and collateral?

The Download
•Discuss findings
–Was it a good experience?
–Would you recommend others?
–List ways to improve

Step Two – Determine how you wish to be perceived
While your Secret Shoppers are doing their job, you’re to create, what I refer to as a “Brand List” — basically about 10 adjectives that best describe how you’d like customers to perceive your organization. This list of words, when incorporated into your communications, actions of your employees and customer experience, will begin to solidify your customer perceptions and guide them in the direction you wish. This simple tool is more likely to become ingrained in your company’s culture than the traditional mission/vision/values statements. Important: stay true to your Brand List, for example if you have the words “simple” or “easy-to-use”, you need to guarantee that no customer experience will be difficult or complex. Also, try to be creative with your Brand Lists. The more unique your list, the more your company will stand apart from its competition.

Click here for an example of one of my Brand Lists.

When you receive the feedback from your Secret Shoppers, compare it with your Brand List. Inconsistencies and negative feedback should be considered red flags. Any red flags should be prioritized, addressed and corrected. If your friends had a negative experience or difficulty understanding what your organization does, chances are your customers are experiencing the same.

Hold on to the information you’ve gathered. I’ll give more examples in upcoming posts of how use it to create or tighten your current, visual, verbal and experiential identity.

I hope that you have great success with this process, gain a lot useful information regarding how your customers perceive your brand and get a lot more nods of approval from customers like my dad.

I would love to hear how you do. As always, please share any comments or questions. I look forward to talking to you again in a few days.