Your words and actions need to match

November 4, 2020

As marketers, we’ve always known that a brand’s internal actions should align with its external messaging. Companies find themselves in hot water when they make promises they have no intention or history of keeping.

When a brand is exposed for saying one thing and doing another, it rarely ends well, and that was true before social media and when the world was normal.

But today, in the middle of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, and as we await the results of a very contentious election, it seems even riskier to make public statements that you and your employees can’t live up to every day.

There’s significant social pressure for business owners and leaders to speak out on issues and take a stand. We’ve certainly seen that over the past few months, and that pressure has only increased as we approached the election and everything heated up even more.

Over the last few months, we’ve seen companies called out by their employees for their lack of racial equity in hiring, promotions, and pay despite their public declarations that Black lives matter. People are not particularly tolerant or accepting of a superficial response to a serious social issue. Posting a black square or a generic pledge of outrage against racism is not enough, and in the current environment, it’s just asking for scrutiny and criticism.

The same is true for the pandemic. Taking a strong stand advocating for social distancing and masking on your social channels or requiring your customers to comply with stringent rules requires that your employees also honor these new rules.

A few months back, I flew for the first time since March. I was ready – I had several masks, some disinfecting wipes, and plenty of hand sanitizer. The airline’s ground crew and gate agents were all properly masked and keeping an appropriate distance. But when I boarded the plane, I noticed that one of the flight attendants was wearing his mask over his mouth but not his nose. He wasn’t working anywhere near my seat, but I kept watching to see if one of the other flight attendants would say something. No one did.

A few days later, I was flying home and happened to be seated near a pilot in full uniform who was deadheading to work. As we got ready to take off, he had his mask on.

Once we were in the air, the mask went away. Two hours later, one of the flight attendants asked him (finally) to put his mask on, which he did for about five minutes before taking it back off.

If I noticed these two employees and their disregard for their employer’s requirements, I’m sure other passengers did as well. In the short run, this opens the door for customers to ignore the rules, which leads to the other customers being uncomfortable and opting not to come back.

In the long run, it puts the business’s viability at risk. Imagine what would have happened if one of the passengers snapped a photo of one of these employees actively ignoring their company’s policy. It would have spread like wildfire on social media and been a PR nightmare.

If there was ever a time when consumers and employees expect our words and our actions to align, it’s now. Gone are the days when lip service or a superficial effort is considered acceptable.

So before you take a stand publicly on any hotbed social issue, you’d better be ready to examine your company’s policies and practices. You’ll want to make sure you don’t promise something you can’t honor. The consequences of that choice may be more than you can afford.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


How do I pick you out of the crowd?

September 30, 2020

A few summers ago, my daughter and I spent some time in South Africa on a safari. When we first got there, all of the zebras pretty much looked the same, other than their relative size. But as we looked more closely (and our guides patiently pointed it out), we began to recognize that every zebra’s stripes are unique, like fingerprints.

I commented that it would have been a lot easier to pick out a specific zebra if they each had a single stripe of a unique color. They would have been easy to identify, even from a distance.

To your consumers, when they look at you and your competitors in the early stages of their buying process, you’re like that zebra herd, with all of the animals looking pretty much the same. One of the most crucial elements of your marketing plan is being very specific about how you are different from everyone else. We need to paint one of your stripes a unique color.

Today, we are going to focus on how to make sure your prospects can pick you out of the crowd.

This is not a stay on the surface activity. If all of your competitors can claim the same point of difference (i.e., it’s our people, we partner with our clients, we truly care, etc.), then it actually is not a point of difference.

To identify what genuinely makes you unique, you have to drill deeper than those surface statements that, in fairness, are true about most good businesses including our competitors. You have to ask some tougher questions if you want to get to a truth that only you can own. If all of your competitors can say “we do that too” then it is not unique enough.

The way to get started is to ask yourself these questions:

Is there something unique about our business model and how we deliver our product/services? (Do you embed an employee into your client’s office or do you get compensated based on their sales success?)

Do we have knowledge or expertise that most people do not have? (Are your employees all nurses, so they have incredible medical knowledge or have all of your travel agents been to Africa?)

Do you take a common element in your industry and do it to an extreme? (Do you give away free soda and sunscreen at your theme park or do you donate a pair of socks to the homeless for every pair of socks you sell?)

Is your business taking a delivery element and re-inventing it? (Are your bank branches open until 8 pm or does your team stay onsite for a day to make sure everyone is trained on your equipment?)

Is your product or service genuinely different than what your competitors’ sell? (Is your seed a new hybrid that you just created or are you using artificial intelligence in a way that no one has imagined before?)

Don’t let features and benefits fool you. They are rarely what makes your business, product, or service unique.

This is not an easy exercise, which is why most companies can’t articulate what really makes them different. If you are willing to go to the effort to uncover your distinct position or create one if there isn’t one in place – your marketing is about to get much simpler.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Are you selling from a position of confidence?

August 23, 2020

Given everything we’re all carrying on our shoulders right now, how in the world do we muster up the confidence to sell?

Marketing and sales are all about confidence. When you believe in what you’re selling, know it is the right answer for the prospect, and can see the benefits the prospect could enjoy – it’s much easier to approach a new opportunity and offer your assistance.

That’s where I think we can regain our confidence. By recognizing that we have something valuable to offer and by seeing it as us offering assistance. Your marketing should be helpful and useful, which builds trust. Once the trust is seeded, sales is about continuing the trust-building while offering tailored solutions that are going to exceed expectations.

Barbara Corcoran, from ABC’s Shark Tank, recently shared a letter that she wrote to the show’s producer Mark Burnett. It’s clear from the letter than she had received a “thanks, but no thanks” response to her audition and I’m sure Mark expected her just to exit gracefully.

Instead, she sent him this letter, outlining very respectfully why this was not the right decision.

Check out her letter below.  Are you approaching your marketing and sales with that same level of intensity and passion?  Do you present yourself with confidence?


Fool me once

July 29, 2020

A couple of summers ago, social media exploded with the announcement from the International House of Pancakes that IHOP was being changed to IHOb. To pique the interest in their announcement, they would not reveal what the B would stand for and even launched a new verified Twitter feed at @IHOb.

Their first tweet on the new account was “For 60 pancakin’ years, we’ve been IHOP. Now, we’re flippin’ our name to IHOb. Find out what it could b on 6.11.18. #IHOb”.

IHOP fans took the big news seriously, railing against the change. They didn’t want their iconic brand to change, and they certainly didn’t want their favorite menu items to go away. They reminded the brand of how well New Coke went over and vowed to keep calling it iHOP, no matter what the actual change might be.

For the rest of the world that was not as emotionally invested, it became a game to guess what the B might stand for. Breakfast, bacon, and many other B words were suggested. As you might imagine, there were plenty of more inventive guesses as well.

For an entire week, IHOP fanned the flames of the story, and the world responded. Mainstream media picked it up, and other food brands started building off of the IHOP news with their own twist. One of the best aspects of this campaign was watching the other restaurants, like Wendy’s, leverage the IHOP announcement for their own gain and reach.

As promised, on June 11th, IHOP prepared to answer all of the questions and admitted that they weren’t really changing their name at all. It was a publicity stunt to promote the fact that they had enhanced their burger offerings. The restaurant has always served burgers ever since they opened in the ’50s but it was never a focal point. They pointed out that they’d always put an SM behind IHOb (as opposed to the ® behind IHOP) to say it’s a new service line, not really a name change as they had stated.

As you might imagine, the internet was not amused. People felt like they’d been stooges to an online prank and they weren’t happy. IHOP did get millions of views, incredible PR, and media buzz and the world was talking about them like they hadn’t in years. Many would call that a win. After all, it was just a publicity stunt, right?

I don’t think so. A publicity stunt is generating a lot of interest around something sensational that you’re going to do (for those of you old enough to remember, think Evil Knievel trying to cross the Snake River Canyon) or a bandwagon you are jumping on to steal some of its audience. But imagine how the world would have felt if Evil Knievel had told the world for weeks that he was going to jump the Snake Canyon and then on the day of the jump, pulled up on his motorcycle, and yelled, “Psych!”

In a world where transparency and living your company’s values are front and center, lying to get attention seems like a risky, if not downright foolish, play.

You work for years to build credibility and trust with your prospects and customers. Beyond that, you bust a hump trying to delight them and get them to value and even have an emotional attachment to what you do for them. Why would you do something that risks unraveling all of that?

Making your devoted customers feel foolish seems like a huge price to pay to let the world know you’re upping your burger game. Being playful with your audience can often be a great tactic. But doing it the way IHOP did it, by doing it to their loyal customers rather than with them, isn’t smart brand ambassadorship.

This was originally published in the Des Moines Business Record, as one of Drew’s weekly columns.


Sometimes the best marketing is to be silent

March 18, 2020

As the world whips itself up into a panicked frenzy about the coronavirus, there is an inevitable ripple effect. Airlines and hotels are emailing their most loyal customers, telling them what actions they are taking to protect their customers. Events and public venues are doing the same or canceling scheduled events altogether.

Social media is imploding with people sharing accurate and inaccurate information about the virus itself, how to protect yourself from the virus and how the virus is impacting everything from the Corona beer sales to the stock market.

Brands are itching to get into the action, but it is a slippery slope. Lush, the natural soap store, has invited the public to come into any of their stores to wash their hands. Their CEO was quoted as saying, “The simplest thing you can do to not get a virus is to regularly wash your hands,” he said. “So, we’re saying people can come in off the street and wash their hands in our place. We’ve got loads of soap and plenty of hot water.”

What was your reaction to Lush’s gesture? Did you think they were being altruistic, or did it occur to you that it was an interesting way to drive traffic into their stores?

The PR firm 5WPR released a survey saying that 38% of Americans “would not buy Corona beer under any circumstances now.” That headline got the firm a lot of international ink for their findings, which is the holy grail to a PR firm trying to prove they can help clients get media coverage. But, when you dig into their data, only 4% of people who had ever bought Corona in the past answered affirmatively to that question. So, most of the people who said they wouldn’t buy Corona now also never bought it before the coronavirus.

There are widespread reports of price gouging for products related to the worldwide panic. Hand sanitizers, latex gloves, and face masks are flying off the shelves, and some retailers are taking full advantage.

Some of China’s most prominent influencers are cashing in, posting photos of themselves in masks, and sharing buy now links with their audiences. They are offering makeup tips and fashion ideas to make wearing the masks more fashion-forward.

99.99% of all brands should remain silent, steer clear of this situation, and just conduct business as usual, especially if what you sell doesn’t have a genuine association with the virus and health issues around it. Anything you do, even if it is with good intentions, is going to have a tough time passing the whiff test. You are going to be accused of trying to take advantage of the situation for your own gain.

Advertising platforms are also trying to get this under control. Amazon has warned sellers that they are watching for price gouging around antibacterial products, facemasks, and other protective gear. Google has locked down buying specific keywords relative to the disease and products related to it.

The coronavirus crisis will pass, but consumers will remember who tried to take advantage of them when they were frightened. There are no doubt going to be companies who capitalize on the panic. In the short run, they’ll make a lot of money. But, they’re also going to be put on trial in the public forum.

We’ve seen this play out before right after 9/11, hurricanes, oil spills, tornados, and other crises. The organizations that help without looking for financial gain are always the heroes, and those who take advantage are the goats.

Whether you sell antibacterial hand sanitizer or not, odds are your business will make decisions tied to the coronavirus. Just remember that the world is watching.

Originally published in The Des Moines Business Record as part of Drew’s weekly column series.


Planting your brand’s seeds

August 7, 2019

Branding. What is it and how do you define it? In most cases, people mistake the word branding to mean one of two things. A logo or a tagline. Both are tools you use to communicate your brand but neither is your actual brand.

Brand has been described in many ways. Advertising icon David Ogilvy said a brand is “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” Here’s how we think about brand at MMG – your brand is the feeling that is evoked when someone hears your company’s name.

The way we help bring that to life for clients is by helping them define their #1 promise to everyone in their world (customers, prospects, employees, vendors, etc.). It is the thing that will help them stand apart from their competitors in a way that is genuinely meaningful to the audience and is already part of the organization’s DNA. It is a sword they would be willing to fall on.

So how do you figure out exactly what your brand is?

There are three ways to guarantee that your branding efforts will fade away, leaving you feeling as though you made a lot of noise but no one was listening.

Trying to do it yourself: You know a brand is built on a wobbly foundation when 3-5 people sit in a room and decide what it should be. That begs for a superficial brand that’s mostly fluff and little substance. When you are figuratively inside of a jar, you can’t possibly read the jar’s label. That’s what doing your own branding is like.

The truth is – you can’t see your company from an objective point of view. And you can’t really see it from the world’s point of view. So you need to have an outside team lead you through a process that truly helps you discover what your brand is. And here’s a little insight into that process. It’s much like sculpting. It’s more about what’s not necessary than it is about adding anything.

Your brand already exists inside your organization. The process will help you find it, clean it up and remove the barriers that get in its way.

Letting someone else tell you what your brand should be: As vital as the outside help is, be very wary of anyone who tells you that they’re going to meet with you for a few hours, talk to a couple of your customers and then voila – come back and present you with a list of possible brand positions.

That would be like me having coffee with you, talking to a few of your friends and then dictating what your core values should be. It’s ludicrous. Find someone who will guide you through a process that will allow you and your team to recognize and decide on your organization’s true north.

Restricting it to your marketing department: You must recognize that your brand is not just a marketing thing. It’s a holistic company thing. It has to be just as true and meaningful to the accounting department as it is to the sales department. It has to be something you deliver to your employees with the same level of conviction as you do to your best customers.

So the discovery process needs to involve representation from all the key departments of your company. Yes, the leadership needs to be there but you also need some of the front line team members, who actually talk to your customers on a daily basis.


The name of the game

July 31, 2019

A new business opened up around the corner and I couldn’t help but notice the name. It is A-1 Iowa Plumbing and they’ve hung a big banner announcing that they’re open and ready for new customers.

The name is a good reminder of several common naming mistakes that I thought were worth sharing. Whether you are starting a new business or contemplating a name change for your existing business, your company’s name gives you an opportunity to begin to create a familiarity with your brand.

Starting your name with an A: Back in the good old days, when people relied on the yellow pages to find new vendors, starting your business with an A had some merit. It meant you were at the top of the listings. But, today it’s really not that relevant. When was the last time you reached for the phone book? Exactly.

Even though there are still people who use the yellow pages – it’s not the first place most people look. The truth is, most people ask their friends (either in person or on Facebook) or Google it. Others might turn to a tool like Angie’s List. But in all of those cases – a business with a name that starts with an A has no advantage.

Letting the map define your name: It’s not that there is anything wrong with showing your civic pride but it doesn’t help differentiate you from any other provider. If I look at ten plumbing companies online, via my friends’ recommendations, on Angie’s List, or even in the phone book – they’re all going to be from Iowa. Adding Hawkeye, Cyclone, Iowa or any other variation that tells me you’re based in Iowa is not new information.

If you work locally or regionally, then I already know you’re proud to be an Iowan. If you work nationally, then adding Iowa only makes you look like a local company that I might dismiss as not being big enough for my needs. Either way, it’s not really helping.

Creative Spelling: Unless you have a very large advertising budget, many locations with great signage or you own a lot of real estate that you can clearly mark as your own — – don’t purposefully misspell words in your name. Kwik Trip can make it work but odds are you’re working with a smaller marketing budget, so don’t create more work for yourself.

No matter how you market your business, you’ll spend valuable time and money making sure you have helped your audience spell your business name correctly.

Tell me how you’re different: If you can, use your name to differentiate yourself. Use it to tell me what you stand for or a promise you make to your customers. The local business Service Legends is a heating and cooling business. But where they stake their claim is in how they treat their customers. Their name makes us a promise – that their service will be legendary. That’s a name you’d notice.

Not being willing to change: For an existing business, it’s a delicate balancing act. Do you have so much equity built into your original name that you can’t afford to change it or would the change give you the fresh start and clarifying vision you need?

Walking away from a name that you’ve used for a while is a complicated decision, but that doesn’t mean you should dismiss it outright. If your business has undergone some significant changes, serves new audiences or is re-inventing itself, it might be worth the risk.

Your company’s name is a potential client’s first peek at what it will be like to do business with you. So choose every word with care.


Community Building

July 24, 2019

CommunityMost recently, we looked at the idea that content marketing efforts often stop short of actually building a community and by doing so, brands miss out on the incredible benefits of that strategy. The phrase “build a community” is nebulous so I wanted to give you a concrete example to spark ideas as you look forward to building out your 2020 marketing plan.

One of the most effective ways to build community is to bring your audience together to learn, discuss shared challenges, and to encourage them to be both the student and the teacher. One of our clients hosts an annual event that yields incredible results. Their annual one-day event focuses on sharing best practices and trends for the industry they serve.

They only invite clients and key prospects. Every invitee covers their own travel expenses but after that, it’s all on the brand. They host a full day of speakers, panels, and small group discussions. Everyone walks away with new connections, ideas, and renewed energy for tackling their shared concerns.

For their clients, it’s a perk of working with this company. For their prospects, it’s an opportunity to learn while learning more about their potential partner. But look at it from the brand’s perspective. Their best, happiest clients are mingling with their biggest prospects. What do they have in common to talk about? Two things. Their industry and the company that is hosting the event.

They bring in some big name outside speakers but most of the presentations are done by members of the host company’s team. This positions them as subject matter experts and they use case studies and other successes as examples as they teach. Imagine people flying to you, so you can walk them through your case studies of how you solved your customer’s problems.

When we do the ROI report for this event, the numbers are impressive. For a hard cost of around $40,000, our client will generate $300,000+ annually in new opportunities from both existing clients and prospects who become clients. In addition, the retention rate on the clients who attend is three times better than those that they can’t convince to come.

They keep that audience connected and give them additional opportunities to be both teacher and student throughout the year so that when they come back together at the next event, the ties are even stronger.

One of the aspects of this event that I really love but may seem counter-intuitive is that if a client is no longer working with the host, they’re still invited to the event. This is a bold move that’s aligned with the company’s values around relationships. In many cases, those former clients become clients again and even if they don’t, they become a referral source.

For some of you, this may be out of reach, at the scale they do it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create community by bringing your customers together. If most of your clients are local, host quarterly breakfasts that spotlight a specific challenge. If your clients are scattered all over the globe, leverage technology and create learning groups. Host the meetings on a platform like Zoom so everyone can still see each other as they learn together.

The key elements are that it has to be educational, not promotional. You need participants who are willing to share what they know as well as learn from others and it can’t be a one-time thing. No one forms a lasting bond after one encounter. Be mindful and realistic in terms of what you can sustain, quarter over quarter or year over year.

This isn’t a quick win but the gains can be substantial, both from a revenue point of view but equally important, from a relationship, referral, and retention point of view.



Take a stand

June 19, 2019

How consumers interact with the companies they do business with, and their expectations of us evolve and are a direct reflection of our culture and core beliefs as human beings. That could not be more evident than today. A study (it’s done every year) called the Edelman Earned Brand Study is one of the most comprehensive pieces of research on how consumers (B2B and B2C) view their relationship with the companies they consider doing business with. The message from the 2018 study is unequivocal. Consumers, across the globe, expect us to take a stand.

The research found that 64 percent of consumers around the world now buy on belief, a remarkable increase of 13 points since 2017. These “Belief-Driven Buyers” will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about.

One of the most startling statistics in the study is that 65% of consumers will not buy a brand because it stayed silent on an issue that the consumer believes the brand had an obligation to address.

This seismic shift over the past few years (it’s a trend we’ve been tracking since 2015) is a direct reflection on how we as a people are feeling about our society, our risks and our government. 53% believe that brands can do more to solve social ills than government and 54% believe it is easier to get a brand to address social problems than to get the government to act.

It’s not just about features and benefits anymore. Whether people are shopping for toothpaste or a truck, they’re factoring in a brand’s principles as much as its products. According to the research, silence will cost a company customers and revenue. Staying on the sidelines is no longer an option for brands.

This belief set is no longer fringe or limited to a particular age group. The Belief-Driven Buyers are the majority in every country surveyed, across all age groups and all income levels.

Buyers are just as likely to express the intent to purchase after viewing a communication focused on a brand’s stand as they are after seeing a product-focused communication. And if you’re trying to create raving fans, this is even more important. Any communication focused on a brand’s stand has an even more significant effect on a consumer’s intent to advocate for the brand than one focused on product features.

If you want social interaction and to get your best customers talking about you – take a stand. The study showed that people are much more likely to talk to their family or friends about you or post something online (a reply, like or share) if the topic is your stand on an issue, as opposed to your product’s features.

The Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick is a perfect example of this strategy that is playing out before our eyes. Think about how it dominated our social channels, the traditional media, and our water cooler conversations when it came out. Many consumers either vowed to never buy Nike products again or went out of their way to reward them for taking a stand by making a purchase.

In the polarized world we live in, I can see why a company’s first instinct is to remain neutral. Why provoke either side? Why risk losing half of your potential customers because you spoke out on an issue or societal issue? But if this study is to be believed, and it’s one of the most reputable studies in the space, you actually risk losing more consumers if you do nothing. Neutrality is an expensive choice.

How will your organization respond to this? I don’t think you can avoid answering this question much longer.


Should your brand take a stand?

May 29, 2019

brand take a standAlmost a year ago, Nike released a “just do it” ad campaign for their 30th anniversary featuring Colin Kaepernick, the football player at the center of the “taking a knee” controversy in the NFL. The reaction to the campaign was immediate and loud. The media exploded, social media couldn’t get enough of it, politicians tweeted about it, and investors reacted to this brand taking a stand.

The hashtag #Nikeboycott emerged and within 48 hours of the campaign’s launch, the stock prices fell as people voiced their objections to the campaign. People posted photos of them burning their Nike gear and swore they’d never buy another Nike product.

That’s what made the news but there are other facts that we should take into account.

  • Kaepernick has been a Nike sponsored athlete since 2011 and he’s been featured in many campaigns for Nike football and training gear
  • The campaign also featured other athletes like Serena Williams, LeBron James, Lacey Baker, and Odell Beckham Jr.
  • The focus of the campaign is showing athletes overcoming obstacles
  • The initial drop in stock prices (there was a reactionary sell off the day the campaign came out) righted itself (It was $82.20/share the day before the campaign broke and dropped to $79.60 24 hours later. On Thursday, 9/13/18 it was at an all-time high of $83.90)
  • Nike added over 170,000 followers on Instagram in the weeks after the campaign launch
  • Online sales were up 27% the week after the campaign launched but have now gone back to a more “normal” level
  • In a December 2017 Harris poll, virtually no one had a negative opinion of Nike. The same poll, taken a few days after the campaign launched, in September 2018, showed that 17% of respondents viewed Nike in a negative light. However, 29% of men 18-29 said they were going to purchase more Nike products. 19% of respondents of all ages said they were more inclined to purchase even more Nike products in the future.

We have always advocated that brands need to stand for something. A brand with no point of view can’t really differentiate itself from its competitors. But does that mean a brand should take a stand on a controversial issue or topic?

A brand can’t exist in a vacuum. It must believe in something. It must stand for something. Every great brand has a set of core values that drives its decisions and determines how that brand will connect with its audience. According to Edelman’s 2018 Brand survey, “over 50 percent of consumers worldwide say that they will make belief-driven purchase decisions more than they did three years ago. They will buy your brand, switch from it, avoid it – and at the extreme – boycott it over your stance on a controversial or social issue. This is the new normal for belief-driven consumers.”

Today’s consumers, especially those under 50, believe that every brand is either part of the solution or part of the problem. 69% of Millennials are belief-driven buyers. 67% of Gen Z and 56% of Gen X also fall into that category.

Nike’s campaign is a great case study on the courage it takes to live by your brand beliefs. I’m sure there were sleepless nights before the campaign launched and during its first few days as the general marketplace expressed itself.

But to survive and thrive, they didn’t have much choice. Today’s consumers are demanding that brands stop hiding in the mushy middle and step into their beliefs. How will you respond to that expectation?


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