Is creativity bad for marketing?

April 8, 2014

funny eggs with facial expression: scared screaming and being terrified.As a writer just typing the question – is creativity bad for marketing – hurts a little.

Advertising and marketing people pride themselves on their creativity. After all, it’s one of the lures of the profession for most of us.

But does it serve our businesses and our business goals?

On the surface, it’s easy to argue that creativity is essential to good advertising and marketing. Whether it’s strategic nuances and insights, being innovative in your brand and how you express it, or marketing materials that capture the audience’s attention and imagination – all of those are built on a foundation of creative thinking.

But I’ve been in some situations recently where it was evident that the long-term objectives were not being well served by an infusion of creativity. Then, sadly the answer is yes…. creativity can be bad for marketing.

So let’s look at how the very thing we work so hard to capture can also be a detriment.

Too many ideas: This can be a killer. When a team is on fire with great ideas and falls in love with them all, the end result can be a mess. Sometimes the team tries to pack in all the ideas so rather than building a message hierarchy where you lead with your key message and then support that message — you get five pounds of ideas shoved into a one pound bag. That results in a lot of superficial messaging rather than a well-developed story with depth and relevance.

The other possible outcome of too many ideas is that the team decides to use them all sequentially. That typically means that no one idea is left in place long enough to really take root. Remember, about the time that we as the creators are getting sick of the ad/brochure/tagline etc. is about the same time the intended audience is just noticing the communication. If you pull the plug too soon, you lose all momentum and have to start all over.

Unbridled creativity: As the brainstorming pendulum swings, it often goes to an extreme that’s beyond the audience’s sensibilities. Sometimes a team can get so enamored with being provocative or wildly creative that they forget who their audience is. We’ve all seen ads that were very outlandish and got a lot of attention but in the end, were too far over the top and the company ended up issuing an apology or retracting the ad.

Marketing has a very simple purpose – to sell something. It might be selling a product, or an ideal or a candidate or a charity’s cause. But it does not exist to entertain, provoke a reaction or win awards. If it sells AND entertains, all the better. But it needs to do its job. Which means the audience’s perspective must always be front and center.

Cart before the horse creativity: Believe it or not, good creativity is actually the outcome of a very disciplined process, at least in marketing. To truly be creative in a way that nets the desired results, you have to do your homework before you release the creative juices. Until you define the goals, identify and get to know your audience and understand your unique position in the marketplace – you hold your creativity in place.

When you unleash it too soon, you may come up with the most compelling marketing tools that drive the audience to action, but they might be the wrong audience, might be taking the wrong action or might play to one of your competitor’s strengths.

Like most things, creativity isn’t good or bad, at least not in the world of marketing. It’s how we use it that makes it either a huge asset or a hindrance to us achieving our ultimate marketing goals.

 

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So you want a career in advertising?

May 21, 2013

Fired businessman searching for a job isolated on white backgrouI was recently contacted by a college student who asked if he could interview me for one of this classes.  One of the questions he asked is one I get a lot, so I thought I’d share my answer with you here.

If you aspire to be in our business — I hope it helps.  If you’re already in the business — what did I miss?

What advice would you give to anyone who was aspiring to enter the field of advertising?

Yikes… there are lots of things to know but here are some of the biggies.

  • You cannot do it alone so surround yourself with really smart, good-hearted people who you can count on.
  • The day you stop learning is the day you begin to become irrelevant. There is always more to learn.
  • Before anyone will give you their business, they need to know you care about them/their company.
  • When you make a mistake (and you will make a ton) be very quick to call attention to it, own it and work like a dog to fix it. And never forget to say I’m sorry.
  • If you help other people whenever you can, when you need help – there will be someone there to offer it.
  • There’s nothing wrong with making money. Don’t be ashamed to charge what you are worth.
  • Owning your own business means that when times are tough, everyone gets paid but you. So be very smart about not overspending your money and build up a nest egg for those tough times.
  • The smartest person in the room is not the one who knows all the answers. It’s the person who asks the best questions.

When I hire, I don’t worry too much about the degree the person has or things like grade point averages. I can teach them about marketing but I can’t make them honest or hard working.

I look for people who have a passion for helping other people. I hire people who volunteer their time, have a passion for a cause and instead of whining about it – do something about it.

I definitely want good writers, no matter what position they might fill. In today’s business world, with email etc. – everyone needs to be able to communicate clearly and be well spoken, both in face-to-face encounters and in writing.

I also look for someone who gets that our business is not 9-5 and isn’t going to freak out if they have to work late or over a weekend. Our business is very demanding and depending on what’s going on with our clients, we can put in some incredibly long, grueling weeks.

I also want someone who is willing to do “grunt” work. In a small agency, everyone pitches in and does what it takes to get the job done. If I can stuff envelopes or whatever – so can they.

I want someone who is a self-starter, a lifelong learner, a reader, someone who is funny, ethical and someone who resonates with our company’s core beliefs, which are:

  • Passion cannot be ignored.
  • Breakthrough thinking breeds breakthrough creative.
  • The guys in the white hats do win.
  • We take our work seriously. Ourselves, not so much.
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The new phone book is here — where’s yours?

January 17, 2013

photoNormally at MMG, we caution clients to be careful of the “I don’t listen/watch/do therefore neither does my target audience” trap.

We usually do not represent our target audience and even if we are like them — there are plenty of exceptions to the rule.  And sometimes the exception is you!

But in this case I will say — how you (and I) use our trusty, dusty phone book is probably pretty similar to how the rest of the world responds to them as well.

Mine?  It went from bag on the lawn to recycling bin in one fluid motion.

If you are still spending money on phone book ads — unless you know that your target audience still uses them (pretty much the 65+ crowd), there are better places for your money.

P.S.  And don’t let the “how did you hear about us” question fool you.  TV and the phone book are the usual answer when they respondent either doesn’t remember or doesn’t want to say.

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Could your marketing strategy benefit from an outside audit?

November 30, 2012

Drew’s note ~ Here’s some practical advice from the folks at Simple Machines Marketing and we couldn’t agree more.  We often start our engagements with new clients with an audit like Charlie describes:

As a marketing strategist who works directly with clients, I’m very familiar with the frustration businesses feel when it comes to marketing. The common theme in a lot of the frustration has to do with uncertainty. When a client is responsible for making projections and they’re forced to deal with the probabilities and estimates of a new marketing channel, that’s frustrating.

The fact is that even businesses with a healthy revenue stream and an active marketing operation are often frustrated by uncertainties in marketing. Is there still a good amount of revenue out there that could be claimed with a sharper strategy? If you doubled down on your advertising budget, would that mean doubling your profits? Or, could you be spending less and seeing the same results? Maybe everything is perfect the way it is now?

The Objectivity Problem

Assessing your own marketing plan is trickier than it sounds. While you might think that you’re looking at your strategy objectively, there are factors that make this extremely difficult.

For example, there’s a strong tendency to do things the way they’ve been done before—it’s just human nature.  We’re already comfortable doing things a certain way, and who’s to say that changing them now will make much of a difference? Plus, there’s the person who came up with this plan, and we don’t want to make her feel bad by changing it up for no good reason, right?

An Unbiased Perspective

With an outside marketing audit, businesses can benefit from a totally unbiased perspective on their marketing opportunities—free of any favoritism, precedent, or attachment that might be obscuring a clear picture of the situation.

To illustrate how the audit can play out, I thought I would share a couple of my own experiences with this process:

  • AdWords Overspending. Last year, we started working with a client who had already been advertising using Google’s AdWords for several months. They were spending a lot of money on all kinds of clicks; to them, that was a normal and predictable amount to spend every month. When we performed an audit of their PPC campaign, we discovered that by focusing on more targeted keywords and revisiting the copy, we could significantly lower their CPC and spend level while driving more targeted traffic at a higher conversion rate. The surplus budget from AdWords was recently put towards a telemarketing test – which has turned out to be a promising new lead generator.
  • In-store Marketing Overload: A different client recently asked a couple of us come out and visit his store for our marketing kickoff meeting. When we walked in the door, we noticed something right away: there was way too much in-store marketing. His store was crowded with signs, posters and displays—so many things all competing for our attention that we didn’t know where to look. When we brought this up to him, he told us that these advertisements had all been added gradually by his vendors; for him, the sensory overload wasn’t something he ever really noticed or thought about. An outside audit helped him to realize that in order for any of these advertisements to be effective, he needed to slim things down a lot.

These are just a couple examples, but they both illustrate why the marketing audit is a powerful and time-tested tool. Whether it’s your brand, your marketing channels, your ad budget, or the number of signs in your store, an audit can ensure that your plan is on the right track and that you’re not missing opportunities to improve.

Has your business ever had an outside audit? What was the result?

Charlie Nadler is the Marketing Strategist for Simple Machines Marketing, a Chicago marketing firm. Simple Machines works with a variety of small businesses in their area.

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The most important job any business owner has

September 6, 2012

You know…sometimes we make things so much more complicated than they need to be.  Do you want to own or work for a company with longevity, a strong reputation and customers who are your best advertising?

Then follow this advice from The Little Blue Book of Advertising.  But I warn you…the simplicity of the advice is also what makes it so stinking difficult.

“Taking care of your brand (building it, managing it, protecting it, and yes, if necessary, reviving it) is the single most important job you’ve got. Whether you’re the president of the company, the EVP of marketing, or the newest employee in the advertising agency’s design department.

Your brand will last longer than any of your jobs. It’s even likely to last longer than your company. So taking care of your brand is also a smart career move–if you take care of your brand, it’ll take care of you. No one ever made the cover of Forbes magazine by getting a raise. But the covers and pages of the business press are filled with people who championed a great brand.

What’s the easiest way to take care of your brand? Take care of your customer. Know who she is. What he wants. How she uses–and thinks about–your product, service, brand.

It’s that simple. And that hard.”

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Why do the hard work of building a brand?

August 20, 2012

Let’s assume the following is true:

All pretty good reasons for creating a brand. But building a brand is hard work.  It’s expensive, in terms of time, focus and even money. It requires the attention of your entire company — from the part-time janitor to the CEO and everyone in between.

Is it worth it?

Check out this post over at the Brand Establishment.  They make a pretty compelling argument that along with the benefits I listed above…a brand’s ROI includes:

  • Increased customer loyalty
  • Minimized negative effects of a crisis
  • Better marketing and co-branding partners

I’m not saying it will be easy to build a brand.  But, when done right — it’s a game changer.   And that should be worth the effort and the risk.

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Why your brand is dead in the water

August 14, 2012

Here’s how most brand evolve.  The organization’s leadership huddles up at a corporate retreat (or if it’s a start-up, around the kitchen table) and decide on a tagline and maybe a logo.

The tagline becomes the battle cry of the brand and they’re off to the races.

Or worse yet…the organization hires an agency who claims to “do branding” and after a little deliberation, the ads have the new tagline and logo and voila, the brand is launched.

Fast forward 6 months or maybe a year.  The tagline and the brand are limping along.  No one really uses them anymore.  And if they do, they think of it as the “theme of the month” and assume it will just go away over time.  And it does.

There are many reasons why a brand fails….but the biggest one in my opinion is that the employees are not properly engaged and connected to the brand.  Without a huge investment of time, energy and some money — the brand remains a superficial cloak that can easily be pulled off or shrugged off when it gets to be a challenge.

Your employees are the key to a brand’s long term success.  It’s that simple.

When we are asked to develop a brand for a client, we require the step we have dubbed “seeding the brand” which is the whole idea of introducing the brand promise to the employees and letting them take ownership of it — deciding how to deliver the promise, how to remove the barriers to keeping the promise and how to keep the brand alive inside the organization.

If a client won’t agree to implementing that stage of the process, we won’t do their brand work.  No ifs, ands or buts. Why? Because it won’t work without that step. And I don’t believe we should take their money if we can’t deliver success.

Discovering and then building a brand takes a village.  And you have to start by including your own villagers.

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Funny doesn’t sell well

July 25, 2012

Apparently, other people were pondering the same question I was last week when I asserted that advertising can’t just be funny.

Now — a recent study is showing that funny doesn’t really sell well. One in five TV ads are funny, and Super Bowl ads are three times funnier than the rest.

But none of this makes much difference in selling stuff, according to new research by syndicated ad-testing firm Ace Metrix.

Funny ads do get more attention and are better liked. But Ace Metrix found funniness had little correlation with effectiveness in a scoring system that incorporates watchability, likability and persuasion among other factors.

In fact, funny ads were slightly less likely to increase desire or purchase intent than unfunny ones. Those same commercials were less likely to increase desire or intent to purchase than commercials that played it straight. In other words, funny ads are useful for entertaining viewers, but are not the most effective way for advertisers to convince those viewers to buy the product.

This study takes the first-ever large-scale, scientific look at the role of humor in video advertising. According to the study, entitled ‘Is Funny Enough?’, consumers found 20 percent of more than 6,500 TV ads that aired between January 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012, to be funny.

Consumers found ads from Doritos to be funnier than any other brand (6.4 times funnier than average), and Target to have more consistently funny ads than any other brand, with 85 ads above the Funny Index average.

So before you go for funny, ask yourself what your ultimate goal is. If it’s sales — perhaps you should consider a different avenue.

 

Photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto

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QR Codes – your destination should not be a dead end

June 26, 2012

According to the most recent statistics, 3 bazillion QR codes are scanned every minute. (Okay, maybe I’m off by a half bazillion but you get the idea) And truth be told… most of the destinations suck.

Come on ad agencies, big brands and web gurus — stop creating QR code campaigns that drive the user into a dead end.

What do I mean by a dead end?  A destination where I get stuck.  I watch your video, look at your desktop site (come on people!) or view your print ad (seriously?) but have no where to go from there.

How do you avoid creating a dead end? Remember that marketing is a series of “next steps” so give me one to take.  Try one of these on for size:

  • Invite me to sign up for your e-newsletter
  • Give me a chance to win something worthwhile
  • Ask my opinion (let me vote, rate or comment)
  • Give me the chance to share your destination with my social networks
  • Let me request a sample
  • Offer me a coupon to download or email to myself
  • Make it possible for me to call your store/office
  • Let me do some product research
  • Entice me to buy something

If you can get me to actually scan your QR code, I must have some interest in what you have to say.  Don’t create a stunted, one-way conversation.  Give me a chance to continue the dialogue.

If we don’t start getting a whole lot smarter about the QR code campaigns we create — we’re going to train people that scanning one leads to a frustrating, unsatisfying experience.  Which means that pretty soon, they’re just going to be more noise.

Stop creating dead ends.  Instead, create a real conversation.

 

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How non-profits can get media coverage for their events

April 18, 2012

I was recently asked how a non profit can get one of one of their local TV stations to run PSAs to promote a fundraising event.

Here’s what I replied:

Most TV stations (and many radio stations as well) DO NOT donate a ton of time to run local PSAs because:

  • Although they are bound by law to run a certain number of PSAs, they are not bound to produce any (which is also what the charity wants them to do for them)
  • Very few local charities can afford (or bother) to produce a radio or TV PSA
  • If a local charity does produce a radio or TV PSA — they do it on the cheap and it looks it, so the stations don’t want to run it because honestly — they’re can be pretty awful
  • Every radio and TV station gets a ton of professionally produced PSAs, far beyond what they have to run
  • Another downside of running one local charity’s PSA — everyone else demands equal treatment and they simply don’t have the capacity to do it for everyone

So…first things first — local charities need to abandon the PSA idea. The likelihood that they would be successful is not very good and they’d have to put some serious money into the production of a spot to get the media’s attention and even at that — there’s no guarantee.

So — what can they do?

There are several ways to increase the likelihood that the media will provide some exposure for a non-profit event. But NONE of these come with a guarantee. And all of these might get you news exposure. Most likely, none of them will get you ad time.

  • Get one of the on air talent to participate in the event – hopefully you’ll get news exposure
  • Schedule the event during a slow news time (10 am on weekdays) and (Sunday early afternoons for the weekends)
  • Make it very visual, crazy or something people would love to witness (watching people play basketball is not such a thing. Watching people play basketball while riding donkeys — is.) and try to get news time — as opposed to advertising time
  • Have someone from the station (reporter, sales person etc.) serve on the event committee (this takes time to cultivate….these people know why they’re being invited) and hope they can be helpful to at least get news coverage

And there are three ways to pretty much guarantee coverage/spots run:

  • Partner with someone who advertises on the TV station and ask them to donate a portion of their buy to run spots for the event. Sometimes the station will (after they see their customer’s commitment to it) donate some extra spots.
  • Get the TV station on board as your media sponsor. This is incredibly difficult — because everyone asks them. The event has to be truly unique, have a very wide appeal (like Jolly Holiday Lights) and be able to become an annual event of significant size (like the Duck Derby). Every TV station probably has a half dozen of these each. They can’t really take on more than that and give each event what it needs.  (disclosure: McLellan Marketing Group is very proud to have launched both of the mentioned events and negotiated their media partnerships)
  • Get a sponsor to buy a certain amount of media time (radio or TV) and ask the station to match or at least provide some bonus spots. (easiest and most likely to happen)

I know it’s discouraging but keep in mind that the media does not exist to give away what they sell.

They’re all incredibly generous to the community — but most communities  simply have too many good causes and too many good charities. They simply can’t support them all.

(I know many of my readers serve on local boards and volunteer a lot of their time…so I hope this is helpful!)

Stock photo courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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