28 July 2020
Author: Daniel Lally
There’s a saying among litigators that goes something like this: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the law is on your side, pound the law. If neither is on your side, pound the table. The thing about that maxim is that it works equally well as a mocking review of almost any argument with which you disagree, or as pretty solid career advice for anyone who aspires to persuade people for a living. Like lawyers. Or advertisers. That’s because marketing strategy depends on having a conversation with your customers that is both relevant to them and highlights the specific benefits of your brand. In the late 1960s, major home appliances like washing machines had become harder for advertisers to differentiate. The performance and features offered by the big manufacturers were pretty comparable, particularly when it came to higher-end models. But one copywriter at Leo Burnett found a way to frame the purchasing decision in a way that ensured his client would definitely stand out. The insight pointed out the worst part of owning a major appliance was when it stopped working. Other, larger competitors pointed to their national networks of factory-trained repair technicians, but based on that insight, they were making the wrong case. And so, the Maytag Repairman came to be. With a single idea, Maytag changed the conversation from which machine was bigger or got whites brighter to which one you could actually depend on. Framed that way, Maytag would continue to chip away at the market share of its much larger competitors for another 35 years or so, when one of them finally gave in and bought the company. Combine a new insight with a creative idea and you’ve got a powerful force. These are the proverbial unicorns—those truly revolutionary products that are exactly what everybody wanted or needed and just didn’t know it until a new gizmo came along. This week in particular, air conditioning comes to mind. But if your brand has real competition, and your customers have real options, you’ll likely benefit from framing the discussion to the context that best suits your benefits. Which conversation you decide to have can make all the difference.
02 July 2020
Author: Natalie Shawver
Purpose: it’s a big deal. To individuals, to businesses, to brands, to life. If you look at life under a microscope lately, you’ll see some pretty intense things. The proverbial petri dish is full—overflowing, some might say. In between the COVID-19 global crisis, we’re grappling with longstanding issues of racism and inequality that have led to protests and social media blackouts. The volatility is increasing … and the microorganisms we’re watching are multiplying. With those facts in play, your brand’s purpose is an even bigger deal. No longer can it remain exactly the same—businesses must shift to be more inclusive of current events, and leadership at all levels has to answer some tough questions. Consumers aren’t satisfied with simply reading a mission statement on your website. They want to know the actions you’re taking to support social justice-oriented movements and why they should remain faithful to you. And, most important, they want it to be crystal clear. There’s no time for questions. Don’t dance a jig. Either you take a stand on important issues … or you’ll be left in the dust. The days of neutrality are over. However, if there’s one thing all business leaders can agree on, it’s that the recent pandemic has united us in one way that most of us have not seen before. Our livelihood purpose is common; therefore, our business purpose must rise to meet it. Even before COVID-19, this paradigm of purpose as a driving factor for profit has been in the spotlight. In 2019, more than 180 chief executives from the Business Roundtable shared a provocative statement that the purpose of a corporation should be to help other stakeholders such as employees, the environment and ethical suppliers. The board was so serious that it decided to create a special committee to advance racial equality and justice solutions this month. Still not convinced that a defined purpose is imperative to profitability? A recent global study reveals that when consumers think a brand has a strong purpose, they are: 4 times more likely to purchase from the company 6 times more likely to protect the company in the event of a misstep or public criticism 5 times more likely to champion the company and recommend it to friends and family 1 times more likely to trust the company But it isn’t just any consumer. If your brand isn’t going after millennials, you may want to abandon your marketing strategy altogether—76% of them want to see CEOs actively using their platform to address important social issues. If you aren’t delivering on this promise, you’re leaving money on the table (aka consumers won’t be donning masks in your stores or calling you for your service). Forty-three percent of consumers walk away from a brand when left disappointed by that brand’s words or actions on a social issue. Let that one sink in. So how do you shift or redefine your purpose in a time of uncertainty? Maybe you scratch it altogether and start anew. First things first: stay relevant as the world changes. Purchase patterns have drastically changed from basic-needs-only toward ethically-purchased-only. What is your company doing to be present and not stuck in the past? Second, take thoughtful action. Whether you speak out on social media about specific issues in the news or make philanthropic donations to in-need organizations, you’ve got to do something. After all, there’s nothing more powerful than purpose. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
03 June 2020
Author: Natalie Shawver
Over the past three months, we’ve seen the world change drastically. We’re wearing masks in public, helping our children round out their school year virtually and becoming accustomed to the “new normal” of social distancing—in almost every capacity. Brands and businesses have exhibited sheer determination and utter brilliant displays of nimbleness—and frankly, we’re impressed. So impressed, in fact, that we’re hoping much of it sticks around. Whether it’s contactless Pizza Hut deliveries or curbside pickups from Kohl’s, social interaction has shifted. No longer do we have to physically engage with someone behind a register for our goods and services. Send a text, wait in your car and the item will be deposited into your trunk. Wave goodbye to the retail associate and be on your way. Easy peasy. Businesses have proven, again and again, that they can put the customer first throughout the recent COVID-19 crisis. Amping up email marketing with “don’t worry, we’ll come to you!” messages and social media updates (new hours, specials or dedicated shopping times for at-risk individuals) are what we’ve come to expect. Quick virtual chats with our doctors means less time twiddling our thumbs in waiting rooms. Online grocery orders with a specific pickup time have become the highlight of our weekly to-do list. Librarians bringing books to our vehicles instead of making us search the hold shelf ourselves … glorious. So the question becomes, what remains? Does the general public expect this no-touch-minimal-interaction to be a thing forever? Perhaps. There’s no denying much of the recent purchase process modifications has given us our time back—but it’s also shifted our focus back to the basics. Consumers have a need; companies rise to meet it. The days of someone filling up our gas tank are long gone … or are they? What about milkmen delivering straight to your door? Hmmm … seems eerily familiar. Has the pandemic simply made us return to the level of service we (or our grandparents) once were accustomed to? The time when the customer’s needs came first—and that made for happier, more loyal, more satisfied customers … which therefore meant more business? Maybe. The touchpoints may be slightly different, but the journey remains the same. Hermits, germaphobes, clock-watchers and the like aren’t complaining about this added layer of instant gratification we seem to be living in. Amazon may have been ahead of its time with Prime, but the rest of the world bent over backward to stay in business and think outside the box. Kudos to operations teams everywhere. Our economy has stayed afloat thanks to your inventive and ingenious ways. And bravo to all those making it come to life. We’re saluting you with our mobile Starbucks order while we run weekend errands without ever stepping foot inside a store. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
28 May 2020
If events or sponsorships were part of your marketing strategy at the beginning of the year, chances are your plans are changing rapidly. The industries we work in at St. Gregory involve a number of event and seasonal sponsorships. Due to circumstances neither our clients nor their partners could have controlled, not all of those plans will be working out this year. If you’re experience is similar, you’re likely working out adjustments and revisions already. There will be pain. Whether that pain is going to last depends to a great degree on how you approached the sponsorship from the beginning and what you and the partner expect from the relationship. Are you just casually dating the other brand or looking for a serious commitment? A common offer from sponsorship partners is to roll over your investment to the following year. That may come with some added value thrown in or an option on the Platinum Level package at the Gold rate. Or whatever. So, should you bite? Extending sponsorship agreements to make up for cancelled events or a shortened sports season is one option, but it only makes sense if the sponsorship still fits with next year’s strategy. And that’s the key. Sponsorships are most effective when there is real alignment between the two brands in the partnership. In the best partnerships, fans or participants are attracted by some attribute that your brand shares, whether that’s adventure, competition, compassion or a love of kittens. When that alignment is there, your sponsorship partner can deliver value far greater than attendance figures and camera time. Those are relationships that increase in value over time, meaning that despite the pain you’re experiencing now, the longer-term investment just may be worth it.
07 May 2020
Author: Steve Bleh
In every category, there’s a baseline level of competence that customers expect. But long-term brand success depends on the consumer preferring not just your product, but the experience of doing business with you. If the food is perfect, but the atmosphere is unattractive, diners won’t come back. If your service is efficient but your technicians are sloppy, nobody wants them back in their home. If your product is a great value but the cashier is rude, shoppers will take their business somewhere else. Exceeding those expectations is what fosters long-term customer loyalty. And that’s harder than ever in a socially distanced world. It’s not like front-line employees aren’t already going above and beyond the call. But even a slight added value in the customer experience can make a difference. You may have noticed this in action already. Some restaurants not traditionally in the carryout business have been forced to earn their chops in a hurry and it’s clear who gets it. It’s impossible to replicate a fine dining experience in a drive-thru window, no matter how well prepared and packaged the food is. But by making the experience of picking up the order more pleasant, or adding a small surprise to the unpacking at home, brands are giving their customers another reason to come back. And, ideally, even a positive story to share. In-home service providers naturally are taking extra precautions to protect their providers and the families they serve. Some of these changes are obvious, but not all. By making the extra time and effort apparent—sharing a checklist or sending a pre-call email, for example—brands can gain the lasting trust of homeowners that builds repeat business and referrals. One of the greatest business casualties of COVID-19 social distancing may be the one asset that’s hardest to replace. Even for businesses who continue to operate during stay-at-home orders, the customer experience has been changed dramatically. This is a tremendous opportunity for brands to invest in experience, while brands that miss the opportunity could be nudged toward commoditization. Or worse. This post is part of a series on marketing during and after the pandemic. To read the others, follow this link.
07 November 2019
You’ve been given the task of creating a powerful, engaging message for a brand. The boss is ready for you—wanting to hear what ideas you’ve got. You weren’t given much time, but you’ve been practicing your lines all morning. They have to be short and sweet. Something catchy. Memorable, immutable. You think you’ve got it … but is it a message that will persuade millions of people to spend millions of dollars on your idea? Or is it crap … just another catchphrase no one will repeat for a character no one will remember? If it’s good, will it get transformed into a design? Show up on a shirt? In a magazine? The side of a tractor trailer? How will it play out in a full hype video package? Will it connect with the audience? The spotlight is on. It’s your turn. You point your finger right at the camera and say … “And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!” Surprised? If you thought this narrative was happening inside the mind of a creative—from the perspective of a designer, writer or ACD at any advertising agency—you would’ve been right. Agency creatives commonly talk ideas, brainstorm concepts, deliver high-pressure pitches for a brand’s identity. And they frequently do it in a lightning-fast amount of time. This scenario, however, was actually part of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s groundbreaking promo from King of the Ring ’96. It blew up, and almost instantaneously, he became the biggest draw in the history of “the business.” All from a few words. In the weeks that followed, the WWE (then known as WWF) would produce T-shirts with “Austin 3:16” printed on them—the tagline from that same 1996 promo. They would sell more than eight figures worth of those shirts. Eight figures. From those simple words. Stone Cold Steve Austin is a brand. His audience is the consumer. Coming up with powerful, engaging creative for a retail or business brand is not much different than a wrestler trying to get their brand “over” with an audience. We all know wrestlers need to put on a performance (an intense athletic one at that). But they also have to create a character. They have to come up with a tagline. They need to be able to deliver that line convincingly in front of both a TV camera and an arena full of judgmental fans. They have to work with designers to get their brand into logo form. Print that logo on shirts. And hats. And other merch. They have to work with a composer to come up with a piece of signature music for their entrance. It takes a complete production team to help them come up with a video package to get fans hyped for that brand so the fans in turn want to buy those products. And buy those tickets. Again and again. But for every Stone Cold Steve Austin, there’s a wrestler whose brand floundered (or failed). Didn’t have the right look. Their taglines were cringey. They couldn’t connect their brand with the audience. Case in point, a good example of a bad gimmick is Rocky Maivia. Rocky was a legacy brand. A third-generation blue chipper baby face. Very generic. The fans never accepted him. They would chant “Rocky sucks” over and over again. Eventually they just didn’t care—which was even worse. Rocky needed to rebrand. So he turned “heel” (aka, the “bad guy”) in the wrestling world. He changed his attitude. Changed his look. Changed his music, his video package. He started saying things like “Do you smell what the Rock is cooking?” He invented the word “Smackdown.” And eventually, he became known as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Complete rebrand at its best. Now the man is a legend. If something isn’t working for your brand, maybe it’s time to turn “heel” and try a refresh. And that’s the bottom line, ’cuz Stone Cold said so!
25 September 2019
Most creatives exist in a paradoxical place of passion and feigned indifference. We work to commit the kind of brilliant, blinding energy every project or concept deserves, side-by-side with trying to keep the heart distant enough to protect it from being quashed if our copy or design gets altered. Or meh’d. Or (ugh) rejected entirely. It’s a realistic part of the agency process (insert “thick skin” idiom of choice). One that ultimately helps fan the flames of creativity from the hope that someday one of our glorious ideas will get the green light, carte blanche. Enter GECU—General Electric Credit Union. A brand-new client who, after decades in business and a jaw-dropping history of success, felt it was time to up their game on brand recognition—a need they pegged us to take the lead on. They wanted it all, across the board. Immediate sales spots for radio and digital (and a brand-new buy to better leverage both). Plus other offer-based versions to follow. But at the forefront, paramount to all others: a soup-to-nuts, full-scale brand awareness campaign that would not only boost prominence with their target audience, but would set them dramatically apart from competitor banks and credit unions. Online, outdoors, on the airwaves and the tube. It was big. Huge. A colossal undertaking that had the marks early on of being a genuine game-changer for them—and to a certain extent, us. Put simply, it was the kind of high-level, big-picture, push-the-limits chance that professional creatives dream about. The starring role, if you will, in building something from scratch with every ounce of talent and vision in our toolbox. Remember that early radio deliverable? A project we pressured ourselves to knock out of the park with new scripts, new talent, new music—finding and establishing a complete GECU voice before we had fully sunk our teeth into how to amplify it. In one of the spots, we came up with a compact couplet we thought described them (their difference) to a T: Member owned, so we can’t be bought. Member run, so our best interest is yours. Powerful, punchy and to the point. GECU loved this line. We loved this line. So much so that it landed a leading role in one of our “big idea” concepts for the comprehensive brand boost. One that also involved 3D props, on-location filming, and most challenging of all, actual GECU members. Not actors. “People just like you.” It was the most ambitious. Definitely the most complicated. And the client went for it. Wait, what? Oh yes. Not only did GECU choose our A-list idea-star, they chose the concept that would force us to stoke our creative embers to full, bonfire-level intensity (and trusted from the get-go that we had the chops to deliver it). It was the concept that also placed the bulk of the first stage of work directly on their own shoulders—finding real credit union members who’d agree to be on-screen and larger than life. The soul of the campaign hinged on being able to recognize and relate to each of these people. Someone you know. And trust. And can relate to. Our challenge was to draw out these everyman connections from the members GECU chose—and then hope that sincerity and “realness” translated on-camera. It did. Of course, there were delays. And second-guesses. Our window of time—with our production company, our photographer, our own creative deadlines, even our media buy—was closing swiftly, and there were bumps and roadblocks none of us could have seen coming. Wouldn’t it be easier to hire talent to play the part of members? It was a thought we briefly entertained as the clock ticked down. It was also a sticking point our ACD refused to budge on, an uncompromising stand we felt was integral to the campaign (remember, soul and all?). But then in the space of a week, it all came together. We found the final participant, secured the last two locations—setting in motion a full-scale shoot that was then only four days away. We scheduled everyone and everything down to the minute: three days, five scenes, five different parts of the city, with close to 20 of us on set at each location—plus editing, voiceover and design work to follow. The stars themselves—real GECU members with everyday lives and jobs and commitments—blew us away with their eagerness and excitement to be part of this. Then blew us away again as their natural personalities absolutely shined on film. From this, we built four unique TV spots, currently running on all major cable and local networks. One radio spot doing the same across the area. Three billboards in nearly 100 locations. Dozens of digital ads and sponsored social posts. Not bad, right? Suffice it to say, the client was blown away. Together, as a team, we created something bigger—better—than we ever imagined. More to the point, we reveled in the fact that we had the chance to do it. Dare we call it our magnum opus? Nah, surely not. (Well, maybe.) Thanks, GECU. We’d say more, but the orchestra has already started playing …
11 June 2018
20 October 2017