Archive for May, 2012


DATE: May 29th, 2012

I took an hour at lunch today to hear a lecture by Margaret Atwood. She was a special guest at Congress 2012 hosted by the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University. I don’t get out much that much — so I took a little field trip into my past life.

Universities are intriguing microcosms of intellectual life. I’ve often wondered why an academic lecture is presented in the most boring way possible. Margaret Atwood, a remarkably creative and clever woman, was buried behind a podium for an hour, reading her “lecture.”  The questions asked after were neither engaging or interesting… but more, well, academic.

I admit, the days of presenting to academics are over for me…. I now must launch client’s messaging into the competitive marketplace. That challenge is fascinating.

You see, the market place is open to creative and innovative story telling, design and tactics. The format is changing on a regular basis. While academics ponder the longevity of publishing houses, the printed page and the humanities, the real world is engaged in reading real books, actively choosing the printed page AND e-text and living compassionate lives in relationship with their friends, family and neighbours.

As a marketer, I need to be relevant, engaged and aware. I do not have the academic format that is protected by the institute. I have the privilege and honour to write, design and create to engage, intrigue and tempt.

Really…. what could be more fun!

Do we look stupid?

DATE: May 15th, 2012

I just read a blog that gave me 11 tips for how to write a blog.


And here I thought writing a blog had to do with content, information, interesting chatter…

OK, so I’m naive. But it got me thinking about the stupidity of advice. Sure, I can give you 10 tips for writing direct mail. But if you don’t understand the very essence of direct response theory, the tips are not going to make you a great direct mail writer. A formula isn’t the answer.

So why do I write a blog?

Well, honestly… I do it for myself.

Everyday I run into interesting (and not so interesting) ideas. Writing a blog helps me to organize my thoughts into a semi coherent group of ideas. It helps me wrestle with some of the challenges inherent to the hard work of marketing. And, maybe some of the ideas interest you too.

Writing a blog protects me from becoming redundant — because saying it “out loud”, as it were, forces me to think.

Giving me a stupid list of ideas of what to write in the blog seems to preclude an intelligent conversation.

If you need a list of ideas to inspire your to write, maybe you shouldn’t be writing.

OK…. I got it out…. it’s done… I’m good now.

Branding Renewed?

DATE: May 15th, 2012

Sir James Dyson, the knight of the 21st century vacuum, insists that branding is an outdated and ineffective idea. He says: “We’re only as good as our last product.”
This started a mild stir in the marketing world — after all, agencies are propelled by the energy and revenue perpetuated by branding exercises. Forbes countered with: “brand is really communities of people who share approximately the same values and like to feel they belong together.” Nike, Coke, Apple, Mazda… all have excellent brand communities.
But I don’t want to discount Sir James. Because without the running shoe, brown fizzy water, computer or car there is no appeal to the brand. I think Dyson has exposed the fallacy of brand being an ethereal instinct.
Brand starts with your product. It’s built on a strong benefit statement that catches the attention of your audience. You don’t build a brand around an icon — the icon is built for the product.
Let’s talk about non-profits for a minute.
World Vision, in Canada, has more than 500,000 families committed to sponsoring a child in a developing country. While they use an integrated platform to acquire new donors, their star is TV. They built their presence by selling their product (child sponsorship), not by producing brand based advertising. Their brand-direct approach has paid off… they raise over $400 million annually in Canada.
Attempting to build brand without a relevant product will end in a weakened brand. Brand strength comes from understanding your audience, building personality around your product and maintaining consistency around all aspects of story telling.
A young writer called the other day. She was a little frustrated because the designer for their team was constantly looking for new ways to present the graphics. She struggled to offer insight from the material she wrote. She also struggled to write “different”.
I think that’s an inherent struggle in marketing.
You see, writing differently and applying new creative approaches aren’t the point. A strong marketing team does not make decisions from artistic approaches — it makes decisions that line up with marketing success and maintain the brand fabric.
We had a client that insisted a marketing package use a rose coloured font. She loved that dusty rose colour. We tried to talk her out of it. First of all, it was a direct marketing piece sent largely to seniors. The rose colour made it almost unreadable. Secondly, the colour had no authority in their brand package. The package was an epic failure. Fortunately, we never have to do that again (for that client).
Choosing graphics, colours and copy because you LIKE them is courting disaster.
Kevin and I were challenged by World Vision to produce an acquisition package that would beat the leading package. Kevin design this horrible looking Valentine’s Day piece. Well, I thought it looked horrible. It seems hundreds of thousands of other women loved it — as it became our second top performing piece.
My preferences simply don’t count. The numbers count.
Brand, built into direct marketing principals, is hugely successful. Direct marketing is a disciplined marketing science designed to get results. Brand is purposefully positioned to build communities. Used together they are powerful marketing tools.

Just a Hunch

DATE: May 2nd, 2012

Media Post’s tweet early this afternoon gave me cause for thought. The article Let’s Make Greed the new No-Smoking intrigued me. It hovers around the age old question: “Does marketing influence human behaviour?”
We work hard to influence choice. But human behaviour?
Marketers are keenly aware of the culture and we use trends as our guide.
For instance, I am fascinated by the food industry. This morning Kevin and I had a conversation around “processed” — it all started when I asked him what the vile brownish stuff that he was spreading on his toasted English Muffin was. (Turns out it was cinnamon butter — all these years I have been sprinkling my buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar!)
Marketing, or maybe culture, has captured the word “processed” and built a generation of fear. But “processed” food may not be inherently unhealthy. Peanut butter, whether in the most native state without additives or straight from the Kraft kitchen, is processed. Processed, in its most simplistic definition, means that we have done something to something to change it. Today, the word has come to mean: “Beware! That product is processed — it’s bound to be bad for you.” Few health conscious homes today house Velvetta in the cheese compartment in the refrigerator. Their reason? It’s processed.
Back to the point.
The article is based on America the Possible, a book by Gustave Speth, which (at the risk of being reductive), suggests that the root of America’s downward spiral into oblivion is greed (sometimes known as consumerism).
And it all started with Henry Ford — who, in spite of some interesting personal foibles and ironies, engendered a new generation of consumerism. His vision of America, encapsulated by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, is founded on a manufacturing system that could produce hundreds of thousands of low cost items so that the ordinary person could afford them.
It all makes me wonder what my grandmother would think of my personal, one cup coffee making system. She was thrilled with the glass bottle of freeze dried powder — all she had to do was boil water. But I can afford a personal coffee system because it’s relatively inexpensive, satisfies my need for elitism, and contributes to my desire for convenience and choice.
As I read the article, I couldn’t help but go back to my literature roots and think about Chaucer. His Canterbury Tales captures human nature. Greed, pride, desire, envy…. these are not new to the 21st century.
The article suggests that marketing work to overcome greed, using our skills in understanding culture. It’s an interesting proposition for a society that has purchased more than 50 million iPads.
Marketing, in its most basic form, is sharing information. It can inspire, convince and mobilize. People, consumers, a free to choose. In North America our well stocked stores give consumers amazing freedom.
But our observation is that motivation is still most effective when it addresses human nature’s deep recesses.
One of our non-profit clients, in launching a new product, did an extremely educational test. Their product was simple: become a monthly donor to support a child who was disabled in some way. We tested two names with two copy approaches. Photos, graphics and offer were identical. “Enable” positioned the child in the context of opportunity, courage and possibilities. “Forgotten Children” provided the brutal context in which these children were hidden and passed over. We anticipated that Forgotten Children would be more effective than Enable–but not ten times.
Marketing doesn’t determine culture. Leaders, families, education and contexts do. Marketing looks deep into our culture and mirrors our trends. Can greed become the new No-Smoking?
You tell me….