Category Archives: Say it stronger

The trust deficit

Does your company or brand earn your customers’ trust every day?  If it doesn’t, you’ve got problems that transcend marketing and marketing messages.

Think the Better Business Bureau is trustworthy? Not if you’re paying attention.

I had a client in the telecom business who told me that the problem with his customers (already a bad start, isn’t it?) was that they blamed him and his phone systems every time phone service went down due to the Internet service provider. I thought, wow, if my system went down every week, I’d blame the guy who advised me to buy it, too.

There’s a guy on the radio who exhorts listeners to refinance today because rates may never be this low again. He’s been saying the same thing for years. The idea is to make people feel stupid if they don’t call. Why should anyone like or trust this guy or his company?

Did you know that the Better Business Bureau is funded by the companies it rates? A conflict of interest in any book. Maybe it was a necessary model 20 years ago, but not today. Knowing this, why would anyone trust the BBB endorsement? Wouldn’t you feel the opposite of trust?

I’ve worked for ad agencies that clearly put their own agenda ahead of clients’ interests. “You must be willing to take a chance,” is often their motto. Easy to say when you’re playing with other people’s money, and the only guarantee is a media commission. Any wonder so few agencies have the trust of the companies they seek to work with?

You don’t need to see United Breaks Guitars to lose trust in the airlines. How can you trust any company with pricing structures so byzantine that even their own reservations agents are befuddled? How many airlines do you implicitly trust to do the right thing? I can think of one.

The Chevy Volt was going to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon. That was when it was in the free-publicity and government-funding stage. Now that it’s actually here, it gets the equivalent of 60 miles per gallon. Not bad, but do you really trust a company that exaggerates its value proposition by nearly 400%?

Have you caught on to how the mega-supermarkets are disguising price increases? When this week’s sale item goes back to the “regular” price next week, it will be 10-15% higher than before the sale. No wonder everyone wants a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood.

Have you tried to register a domain name at GoDaddy? There are so many offers that you must explicitly turn down, that by the time you’re ready to check out, who knows how much you’ve agreed to spend. It’s really a shame, because their customer service people can be great. You have to guess they’re pretty embarrassed by their bosses’ irritating and untrustworthy sales tactics.

Trust isn’t all that hard. The formula consists of honesty, effort, performance, good nature and a consistent story. The mix differs from industry to industry. But for goodness sake, don’t game your customers. Word will get around and no amount of “marketing” will fix the problem.


One way to respond when your competitors lie to your customers

How do you respond to misleading information spread by your competitors? This video provides one simple example.

I like how they’re not angry or obnoxious (as I’d be tempted to be). Their low-key approach and disarming good nature help nail the message. Yes, the presentation could be better, and I wish they could have taken Paramount Equity Mortgage to task somewhat more aggressively. But I give the two young mortgage brokers a lot a credit for standing up for themselves.

[By the way, here’s my post on the misleading advertising they refer to from Paramount Equity Mortgage. Here’s more information from the Washington Dept. of Financial Institutions.]

Does one video posted to YouTube solve the problem of  competitors who mislead the public? Of course not. Some people will always weigh the pros and cons of playing dirty. They’ll figure out how much they can get away with and go just that far. As social media continues to empower consumers and small competitors, the unscrupulous will look for new and creative ways to cheat. So while I applaud the video, there has to be more.

Imagine if every honest company, small and large alike, policed their own industry like Brandon and Cliff tried to do on their own. Imagine if an entire confederation of honest companies cooperated in showing customers how to recognize and deal with questionable sales tactics. Eventually, I think that will be rule, rather than the exception – and it will be a lot harder for the bad guys to win by cheating. I sure hope so.

Maybe I’m wrong. (I don’t think so!) What about you – do you think companies should respond when they find competitors lying to their customers? If so, how?

Note: from the looks of things, Revolution Financial seems to have gone out of business. But I have a feeling Brandon and Cliff will do well in the long run if they keep using the same instincts that led them to post that video.


From Seth Godin: How to tell a great story

I want to share a blog post about storytelling, or more precisely, telling your company’s story. It’s from a wonderful blogger and best-selling author, Seth Godin. I’ve edited it down slightly, and rearranged it some. I hope Seth doesn’t mind. Read the full post at Seth’s Blog. Here the highlights:

Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone… The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.

Seth Godin's blog

I hope Seth doesn't hate me for this.

A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on… If your restaurant is in the right location but had the wrong menu, you lose. If your art gallery carries the right artists but your staff is made up of rejects from a used car lot, you lose. Consumers are clever and they’ll see through your deceit at once. …

Great stories make a promise… The promise needs to be bold and audacious. It’s either exceptional or it’s not worth listening to.

Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we’ve got left. No one trusts anyone. …

Great stories are subtle… Talented marketers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.

Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. …

The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.

Notice that second sentence? This was written in 2006, way before social media hit its stride. Imagine how more important it is today to make your company story tight and compelling.

I’m going to write a lot about storytelling in the weeks ahead. Just a warning. In the meantime, does your company have a good story to tell?  If not, what are you going to do about it?

More about stories:
When raving fans spread your message
A business lesson from Buzz Lightyear


The future of education – and maybe the future of marketing

Here’s Sal Khan talking about his Khan Academy – to me, at first glance, it looks like a stunning innovation in education.

So what’s this got to do with marketing? “Marketing by education” is huge, especially in B2B markets. Just look at the crazy success of HubSpot, and all the free marketing education resources they and their partners pump out. (See: Google, Salesforce, Sequoia invest in HubSpot.)

Towards the end of Khan’s presentation, Bill Gates steps in and says “I think you’ve just got a glimpse of the future of education.”  Maybe it’s part of the future of marketing, too.

So the question becomes, no matter what size business you are, how can you can use video for your marketing? Should you offer webinars? Can you make better webinars by using some of Sal Khan’s ideas? What about video for customer service? Video messages on Facebook and blogs to help build your community – or honor your customers?

Seriously, what’s stopping you?


Your company story: A business lesson from Buzz Lightyear

In 2010, Toy Story 3 was the top-grossing film in the U.S. by a large margin, and one of the biggest films ever. It Buzz Lightyear with a lesson for businesses was five years in development. But if you assume the Pixar crew spent most of that time using fancy computers to replicate human facial expressions, Buzz Lightyear has a surprise for you.

A lesson for businesses small and large:
Pixar spent the first four years of development just getting the story straight!

For four years, they amped up the drama. They made every detail of every plot twist and turn flow together. They filled the story with emotion. Toy Story 3’s secret sauce is not Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks or amazing technology – it’s the storytelling. Continue reading


Where does a small business even start? (part 1)

So you haven’t paid attention to your marketing for a while and it’s starting to show in your bottom line. Time to ramp up?

Marketers must analyze themselves, their customers and competition

Ready for some self analysis?

Marketing isn’t something you can easily turn on and off. If you don’t make it part of your everyday routine, constantly thinking of how to better serve and interact with your customers, and constantly monitoring your competition, you put yourself at a huge, ongoing disadvantage.

Where do you start to catch up? Before you do anything else: analyze your situation. Do it yourself, or pay someone with an outside perspective – you’d be amazed at how liberating this can be. In any case, here are three things you need to truly understand: Continue reading


Netflix v. Amazon: The loser is…

The loser is… named at the end of the post

Would you believe that a story about Netflix v. Amazon is really a lesson for your much smaller business?

Netflix versus Amazon on your televisionYesterday Amazon greeted visitors with a wonderful announcement: Members of Amazon Prime ($79 for a year’s worth of free shipping) now get streaming video of 5,000 TV and film titles to your computer or TV at no extra charge.

That made my day because I’m a Prime subscriber. But it wasn’t about to make me end my $96 per year relationship with Netflix. Continue reading


“The Idea Writers” by Creativity editor Teressa Iezzi

The Idea Writers by Teressa Iezzi

Marketing in the digital era can confuse and frustrate the heck out of people – clients, agency managers, 20-something interactive whiz kids.

About two months ago a longtime ad-agency pal asked me, “What in the world has happened to our industry?”  I tried to answer. Teressa Iezzi, editor of Creativity, explains it a whole lot better in her book, The Idea Writers. Continue reading


Don’t make your customers look like twits in the name of “creativity”

Maybe your small business can’t run an ad campaign during the Super Bowl. But you can take lessons from a couple of big brands that did – and in doing so, offended the environmental community, all of Brazil, a huge chunk of the black community and anyone who is sympathetic to the Dali Lama. Continue reading


The Cluetrain Manifesto: still relevant

The Cluetrain Manifesto first appeared in 1999

Best ebook ever. Best free ebook ever. Click image to download.

The Cluetrain Manifesto first slapped me in the face in 2002. I ran across this quote again just yesterday. It still stings:

The question is whether, as a company, you can afford to have more than an advertising-jingle persona. Can you put yourself out there: say what you think in your own voice, present who you really are, show what your really care about? Do you have any genuine passion to share? Can you deal with such honesty? Such exposure? Human beings are often magnificent in this regard, while companies, frankly, tend to suck. For most large corporations, even considering these questions – and they’re being forced to do so by both Internet and intranet – is about as exciting as the offer of an experimental brain transplant.”

Christopher Locke, The Cluetrain Manifesto, December 2000

It still rings true, doesn’t it – especially so soon after watching and re-watching so many Super Bowl commercials. Replace the bit about “intranet” with “social media,” and you can see how timely Locke’s message still is today.

If you catch yourself thinking or writing in the conventions of traditional marketing, I highly recommend you read or re-read it. (Oh go on, it’s free!)

Did the Manifesto affect the way you looked at marketing?
Please comment at the end of this post.

The Manifesto had been picking up steam for a couple years…

Continue reading


More on the Chrysler “Imported From America” ad

For some great insight into Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s decision to go with the Wieden + Kennedy concept for the Super Bowl ad, check out this great post by Forbes auto industry blogger Joann Muller.


The hardest-working Super Bowl commercial was…

There’s a brand that’s in trouble. It’s been making shoddy products for years. It was (and maybe still is) at the brink of failure. It needs not just a Hail Mary, but a succession of them.

Wieden + Kennedy may have answered at least one of those prayers with its work for Chrysler, the first-ever 2-minute Super Bowl commercial.

A Super Bowl commercial must work much like any other marketing communication. It has to speak to the right people, on a matter that’s relevant, in terms they understand, and be compelling. It has to address a need in the client’s sales process, or sales funnel.

Do you think another Super Bowl spot worked better than Chrysler’s?
Please comment at the end of this post. Or email me directly.

But the Super Bowl comes with extra burdens: It creates more pressure to make impact than any other venue in the world of advertising. Everyone’s watching. Even if they’re not watching the game, they’re watching online. They’re FB’ing, Tweeting and emailing. They’re even blogging. You mess up, you’ve done more than waste time, money and opportunity. You can embarrass your brand.

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“The Al Jazeera Revolution”

An interesting column in at ForeignPolicy.com says this of the Egyptian uprising:

Can marketers learn from the Egyptian uprising?

Harder than ever to control the message

“It underscores the new reality facing Arab regimes: They no long control the message.” Competing messages gets out via satellite and digital technologies. The days command and control dwindle. (see: The Al Jazeera Revolution)

Comments welcome at the end of this post. Or email me directly.

If even ruthless dictators can’t control the message, how can you as a marketer control yours?   Continue reading


Is your vision statement a marketing tool?

Over the years, one of my favorite marketing tools has been the vision statement. As I was explaining my definition of a vision statement to fellow marketing strategist David Camp, he tells me, “Well, that’s great. But it’s not what most people call a vision statement.”

Your vision statement should look into the future for your customers

Look into the future for your customers

He’s exactly right. What I call vision, David calls market insight. It focuses on the future of the customer – what problems they’ll face and what heroic solutions the market will provide. For me, it’s a useful tool because it helps the client look into the future, and project how the customer will need to be served. It demonstrates the client’s industry expertise, understanding of customer needs, and understanding of trends and forces that, for all intents and purposes, are unstoppable. All our marketing efforts ought to have this kind of customer focus.

Comments welcome at the end of this post. Or email me directly.

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