No matter what kind of business you’re in – sales and marketing (and to a lesser extent, your branding) are the engines that drive it. Every entrepreneur has to at least be cognizant of what good marketing is and isn’t. Yet it’s alarming how many of them are completely ignorant of the subject, fobbing it off on low-level marketing execs or an outside ad agency, hoping for the best.
The amount of dull, ineffective and just plain ridiculous advertising out there is mind-numbing. Even worse, the biggest offenders are some of the largest brands in the world. You would think with huge creative teams and even bigger budgets, they’d be delivering a compelling, benefit-centered message, targeted to their best prospects. But if I have learned one universal truth about advertising, it is this:
The bigger the budget, the more stupid shit will be green lighted.
A perfect example of this is beer advertising. A massive market, with billions of dollars spent in this category. Which means you’ll see some of the most insipid, off-target and downright wasteful advertising anywhere. (Although you have to give Anheuser-Busch creative points for promoting themselves as “America’s local brewery,” since the multi-billion-dollar conglomerate is actually owned by Belgian company InBev.)
We don’t care where the beer was brewed nor do we want to scan a code to see who was working on the assembly line the day it was bottled. And if your unique selling proposition is the width of the hole in the top of the can – you probably should go back to the well and try again. Likewise if you think the most exciting thing about your beer is that I can punch an extra hole in the can with a can opener so the beer flows faster.
Can you imagine sitting in on the meeting where the big idea was to shape the can like a keg? How many beer drinkers do you think were lying awake at night, wishing their beer had a can that changed color to tell them if it is cold? All of these multi-million-dollar campaigns miss the mark on the two most basic premises of all successful marketing:
1) Don’t talk about the features of your product, tell me about the benefits for me, the prospect.
2) Have a big idea.
Let’s look at them both in turn:
It’s just human nature that when we’re asked to market something, we default to listing the features of it. If I give you a widget to sell, it seems logical to describe its color, size, and the materials it’s made of. But no one really cares about the features of your drill bit; they just want a hole in their wall.
You have to go the next step and think about exactly what the widget will do for the prospect: the amazing joy it will bring her when she gets it, or the cataclysmic consequences she will suffer if she doesn’t get it.
The big idea should be the thing that grabs attention, attracts the tribe or speaks directly to the prospect, but in the context of the benefit to her.
It should be the mechanism in the copy platform that pulls things together, creates the story arc, and pulls the prospect through the message to reach the desired conclusion.
It’s great if you have Kevin Durant in your Sprint commercial. But with no big idea, it’s just him talking to a goofy kid in a tree house dream sequence, and has no relation to the message of the campaign. It’s almost as stupid the millions of dollars the beef jerky company is spending on their nonsensical “messing with Sasquatch” commercials.
The fact your car has a push button start is not a big idea to base a campaign on. Neither is the fact that your minivan has a foot-activated hatch. These hint at potential benefits, but they’re still just minor features and certainly not important enough to base entire campaigns on, which several automakers have done.
Going back to Sprint, they have some of the craziest and questionable advertisements as any major brand. The first commercial with James Earl Jones and Malcolm McDowell dramatizing text messages was clever and showed some potential. But then they got downright creepy. And creepy is probably too kind a word to describe their current “framliy” campaign featuring a family with a French-speaking daughter, and a father played by a gerbil in a fishbowl with a Yiddish accent. WTF! What I wouldn’t have given to be in that creative meeting and hear the logic behind that.
Sometimes the big idea is little…
I was working out in my gym the other day when I noticed one of the physical therapists there had set up his massage table in the middle of the gym, and leaned a whiteboard against it, where he had written simply:
Tell Me What Hurts
How’s that for intriguing the prospect, grabbing attention, and creating a compelling headline? Turns out his name is Ryan and he specializes in Assisted Myofascial Release (AMR). I asked what it could do for my herniated disc, hoping to prolong my legendary (in my own mind at least) softball career. Ryan suggested he might be able to release some tension around the disc that was causing pain to radiate down my legs and offered to test some techniques on me. He did a ten-minute treatment, after which I immediately signed up for a series of five sessions at $95 each.
You may be thinking that Ryan’s whiteboard and free sample idea won’t scale for a big business like yours. But I bet with a little critical thinking you could find a way to adapt something similar. (And I’ll wager Ryan booked more real business as a result of his zero-cost, two-hour campaign than Sprint booked with $5 million worth of their talking gerbil commercials.) Even if you can’t replicate what Ryan did, you can build your marketing around a prospect-centered, benefit-driven platform. And you can have a big idea or theme that pulls everything together.
Sprint is working in an expanding market they have tens of millions of dollars to piss away . You probably don’t have that luxury. Your marketing has to speak to your prospect and explain exactly how your product or service will benefit her. It should reach out to her and simply say, “tell me what hurts.”
Randy Gage is the author of nine international bestsellers on success, including, Risky Is the New Safe. He’s currently on sabbatical, writing his next book, but posts occasionally here. If you find these postcards helpful, please share them.