Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative. Growth

What are you the best at?

There's a big push towards niche marketing. Here, Here, Here. As more and more markets commoditize, brand becomes a critical factor. And in most large cash cow commodity markets, there are only two or three major players. Everybody else is left picking at single digit marketshare with little to no growth opportunities.

So you have basically two options for growth. One, you can launch a break-through product or service in your category. Think bagless vacuum cleaners. When there were only bagged vacuums, everybody was pretty much equal. Then the bagless came out in Japan and revolutionized the market - and put most of the aftermarket bag suppliers out of business. It was a game changer. Before that product came out people just assumed you needed a bag to catch the dust.

The second method is to be seen as "head and shoulders" better than anything else in the market. Think Dyson. Until that brand was launched there was little growth or movement in vacuum cleaners. Now Dyson is stealing share from everyone. They really didn't invent anything new or revolutionary. They've done a great job of promoting the things people really care about - weak vacuums that lose suction and pass a lot of dust through back to the carpet. And they've done it with stylish advertising and marketing. They look high tech, expensive, and worth it. The funny thing with Dyson is that he was not trained as an engineer, but as an industrial designer. He's turned a stale market on its end and is raking in the profits.

More and more firms are moving to a niche marketing strategy. They want to be seen as the best provider of a very specific offering. The Long Tail theory tells us that a lot of small providers with very passionate customers can be as powerful as one or two large providers - that they control more of the marketplace than previously realized. The hard part is getting them organized and focused towards a common goal.

Very few firms in the world can be a Wal*Mart (in fact no one can). The average retailer cannot compete with Wal*Mart. So my advice is to not compete at all. You can make a lot of money offering the high-end products that they cannot. You can make a lot of money providing products that are above Target. So why should it surprise or anger people when Wal*Mart puts small Mom & Pop's out of business. They simply need to adapt with unique offerings. They'll be more profitable and sustain future growth. In theory, Mom & Pop shops have the advantage of convenience. They should be closer to their customers and they definitely have potential for much better customer service.

So, you will be relegated to commodity status if you cannot easily answer and defend what you are the best at. Start planning now how your products and services can change the game or stand out from the competition. Once you can easily answer the question, your audience will begin to find you. People are always looking for specialists to solve their problems. Being recognized as an expert makes your marketing efforts a lot easier. Jeffrey Gitomer said it best, "No one wants to be sold, but everyone likes to buy." Being seen as a specialist creates a buying environment, not a sales situation. Even after you are seen as a specialist, you still need to market. Marketing gives you the ability to even further refine your customer set and profitability criteria. It's about creating more demand than capacity. It's about creating choices.

What do you do better than anyone?

technorati tags > marketing, strategy, niche, small, big, long tail

A little news, a few jabs, and a lot of laughs

I was recently turned on to Ze Frank and the Show. You should check him out. He does a daily video blog of current events with more than a touch of humor. He cracks me up and everyone that works hard deserves a little break.

technorati tags > ze frank, humor, laugh, break

Email makes it too easy

There are so many things I love about communicating via email:
  • low effort
  • trackable
  • easy to revise in order to get "perfect"
  • immediate
  • available 24/7
  • not restricted by time zones
  • impersonal
  • searchable
  • you know when the recipient receives/opens it
  • the list goes on...
Unfortunately, email is a poor way to build relationships. We all know that business is built upon relationships - especially in my role as a business developer. No one wants an account executive that stays in the office all day. They want their acct exec to be in front of them. Unfortunately, half of my job is project management. That requires the exact opposite. Good PM's are always in the office. They are always in touch with what their teams are supposed to be working on and where they are supposed to be in relation to the status of the project.

Email makes it too easy. It's too easy to confuse the quantity of communication with the quality. When it comes to quality, nothing is better than face to face. When you're in person, there's no guessing about the other person's reaction to your words, presentation, or comments. Yes, it takes more time to be face to face; but how much time is wasted trying to interpret an email reply? How much time is wasted before you pick up the phone?

I know it's just basic blocking and tackling. But that's the point.

Seth Godin's post about looking me in the eye prompted me to write about email. He gave a challenge, for one week try to do as much in person as possible. I'm going to try. Are you?

technorati tags > email, in person, communication, sales, project, management

Physician, heal thyself...

After eleven years in business, my firm just brought in our first management consultant. We've been growing steadily for the last few years, but have too much of our revenue coming from a single client (an all too common occurance in agencies btw). We know that and are taking a proactive approach to solving that. And part of that approach is me - Mr. New Business Development. I'm the first employee with a dedicated % of time going towards finding new accounts. So far we have grown entirely from referral business. Not too shabby for an $8M company. It says a lot about our CEO and the quality of work and service we deliver.

Currently we position ourselves like 99% of the marketing communication firms out there. Which is: we do good work, we have a proven process to ensure good work, we provide great customer service, and we generate a positive ROI/value for our clients. Everybody says that, whether it's true or not. Most importantly, those are reasons clients STAY, not reasons to BECOME a client.

Try this simple test for positioning; what's the answer when a client asks point blank "why should I choose you over so and so?" If you have a hard time answering or the answer is one of the statements in the paragraph above; your positioning stinks.

The funny part of this is how painful the process is to go through when you try to do it to yourself. We've hit the same dead end many many times over the last 18 months when we've tried to hone our own message and value prop. We do this very well for our clients - even they would say so. It just proves that you cannot operate on yourself. You need an external, non-biased, honest point of view to take a true look at your systems, your competition, your offerings, and your value.

Like all consulting engagements, a few bombs were dropped, a few people were irritated, a few gems were exposed. And like normal, it will take a little while to digest the entire experience.

It is a very good exercise for me personally. It gave me a different view of how I am potentially received by my clients. As a consultant, there are times to be brutally honest and times to keep comments to yourself. You cannot alienate your client along the way. Expectations need to be set up front (and agreed upon in writing), long before you come onsite. It's a big step for business (especially small business owners) to admit they need help. You aren't there to stroke egos, but you cannot call their baby ugly all day either.

When it's all said and done, we should have a clear vision for where we are headed, who specifically we'll target, and how we will position ourselves better than the competition in that space. We should have a plan to grow profitably. And there's not much sweeter in business than profitable growth - it's the best way to get rid of issues!

technorati tags > marketing, management, consultant, profit, company, growth

Marcom Vocabulary

Had to pass on a great marketing communications primer from Ernie Mosteller. Being on the same page with regards to vocabulary is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your projects come in on strategy, time, and budget. Ernie does a great job of boiling down the basics...

Brand. Your brand is your personality, as determined by how the world sees you. How you want to be seen can affect how the world sees you, but it doesn't define it. The world gets to define its own take on you. Lots of things go into what the world sees of you. Your brand = (what you want it to be) + 2(X) what the world says it is. The world's actual view of you is at least twice as important as your desired view of you. As the world's view of you becomes more negative, X gets larger. As it becomes more positive, X shrinks.

Design. Design is not your brand. But it can affect your brand. Design is the clothes you wear in order to attempt to affect the world's perception of your personality. It may also be the car you drive, or the house you live in. It's your outward, visual, projection to the world. It may or may not have anything at all to do with who you really are -- though good design is always based on what's inside. Design can, and should, touch everything you do that the world sees. Which, basically, is everything.

Advertising. Advertising is not your brand. Advertising is what you say about yourself in order to attempt to affect the world's perception of your personality. What you say can also be defined as: how you act in public. Which is, everywhere. What you say about yourself is greatly affected by how you say it, because how you say it determines whether people will hear and/or listen. Whispering in the middle of an NFL stadium doesn't have the same effect as shouting in church. If I were you, I wouldn't do either. Advertising, by the way, is no longer defined as the placement of a pre-determined message in a purchased medium. Advertising is any piece of communications with an agenda.

Public Relations. PR is not your brand. PR is an active attempt to get other people to say something positive about you, without directly paying them to do so. Because this definition is so broad, and so clearly goes light years beyond churning out a press release, you can safely assume that I believe PR is pretty much anything, and is an integral, specialized component of quality advertising. PR is also the component you need to turn to for crisis management, assuming you're managing the crisis honestly. Because almost anything else has a real chance of making things worse.

Collateral. Collateral is not your brand. Collateral is reference material for people who have already expressed an interest in your brand. Whether it's a business card or brochure, collateral has almost no ability to create interest in you. Its function is to enhance interest, and provide information, for those who have already decided (if even in a small way) to check you out. Most websites function as collateral, though they are capable of a lot more.

Concept. A concept is no longer simply a storyboard, or a headline/visual relationship. A concept is an idea designed to encourage a specific action from the person who interacts with it. A concept could be an event, a direct mail piece, a Super Bowl commercial, a You Tube video, a boy band, or a newspaper ad. The key to making a concept work is to focus your attention on the desired action from the viewer, and simplify that action to its most basic element. A concept doesn't sell a car. A salesman sells a car. But the right concept can get someone to talk to a salesman. Or click a link. Or remember the car you have for sale, the next time they think about buying one. Good concepts surprise people. Great concepts hold their attention. Effective concepts are very specific, and very simplistic, about what they want to achieve.

technorati tags > ernie mosteller, marketing, communication, vocabulary

What it takes to win

My firm recently lost a big deal. We were one of three agencies to bid on a year long integrated media & advertising contract worth well into the six figures. Now this isn't a sob story or anything close, we win and lose bids all the time. But it did get me to thinking about was what it takes to win an advertising contract as a small agency (which is pretty much a constant thought as a business developer).

All three firms are small agencies (significantly less than 50 people - but more than 10). And we had a little bit of an inside track in that we have a personal relationship with the decision maker that no one else does to our knowledge. That relationship offered some advice on what the first agency presented to her. It was all about what the decision maker liked and what she expected to see but didn't. And like normal, we learned about the first firm too late to change our presentation.

But here's the rub. During the initial meetings, our executive made it very clear that she was looking for ideas and visionary direction. She even twice mentioned that she didn't want to have our best designers put a lot of time into concepts. During our initial internal brainstorming sessions, I fought to present two concepts to our client. These weren't two different look and feels as much as they were a proposed identity mark and a website mockup. We decided it would be best to show that we could generate quality ideas that met all of the goals of the project and that we would save the other mediums (radio & TV) until after we won the bid. That way we wouldn't waste a lot of time on scripts and storyboards because those are always subject to heavy revisions.

Apparently the firm that was awarded the project came up with full storyboards for at least two TV spots and a couple of radio script ideas. They presented the exact opposite mediums as we did. In fact, to my knowledge they didn't do any work on the brand identity itself. Now I'm not saying we're right and they're wrong - especially since they won the business. But it is funny how an executive (with a lot of advertising experience) was swayed by storyboards and scripts. I think part of it's due to the fact that business execs don't view script writing and story board illustrations as requiring as much effort as graphic design, video, or web work. It's easy to look at a story board sketch and know that it's not the final deliverable. When you do website concepts, even though they are probably Photoshop files, they look just like the final website. A lot of executives that I've seen can't grasp the void between polished mock ups and the final deliverable. They do not understand the level of effort required from a programming, testing, and troubleshooting point of view. They only see the surface. And for some reason they don't seem to think that the time copywriters and illustrators put into sketches cost as much to the agency.

I think a lot of it stems from each firms internal DNA. We are basically an interactive firm with a long history of film/video. While the other agency is group of ex-ad agency guys that spun off and started their own firm. Traditional ad agencies are solely focused on coming up with a break-through idea. If they can sell the idea to their client, they find the right production team to execute it. Interactive firms, on the other hand, do most of their production in-house. They come up with the idea and produce the deliverables themselves. A lot also depends on the size of the project. We would have done a lot more if the project was seven or eight figures instead of six.

So looking back, what would I do differently? I would probably leverage our relationship more to truly find out what would have impressed her and her team. We did what we do naturally. We focused on the deliverables that made the most sense to us. We were looking at the foundation (brand identity and website) and the other firm was looking at the paint and carpet. We focused on long term branding and information delivery while they focused on short term awareness. Both are important. In the end, I think both firms missed opportunities. If we can find a way to work together, the client will get the best of both worlds. That's the best way to win - meet the business objectives and keep client satisfaction high.

technorati tags > advertising, branding, strategy, business, development

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