Monthly Archive: May 2011

Genuine Brand Stories Are Possible And Highly Desired

Paddy Harrington, executive creative director for Bruce Mau Design, writing in Fast Company argues that that branding’s importance is overstated and that narrative is at the heart of creating consumer connections today.

“For corporations to survive, they need deeply compelling stories at their heart,” he writes.

It’s an interesting point, but there’s an even more interesting response to the article in the Fast Company comments.

The problem of branding is not that it is too superficial – the problem of branding is that it tries to be deep in an area where genuine depth is inherently rare and uncontrollable.

I do not want a company that desperately seeks depth of narrative – I want a company that is truthful and unashamed of its own superficiality. I do not want the manufacturer of my toilet paper, let alone the manufacturer of the ball bearings used in the machine that mixes the paint for my car, to “speak to my deepest questions about my own existence” – it does not know me, and there is no reason why it should care.

The problem with companies today is that they try make themselves be more important, more exciting, and more ‘cool’ than they can actually be.

So. Genuine – yes. Narrative – no.

The question is how best to connect with customers and prospects. Harrington believes in the power of story. Others just want a powerful product. The reality is the best companies get it all working together. When the product in question is genuinely beneficial, powerful stories emerge naturally and spread wide and far. Yet, even in these best case scenarios, the product needs a compelling brand identity, brand story and the kind of self-awareness that prevents it from drifting towards hyperbole.

Create Some Flexibility In Your Flat Fee Pricing, And You’re Good To Go

Roy Tomeij at web development firm 80beans doesn’t like flat fee pricing.

You made a deal with someone to build you a website. Best of all: you agreed on a flat fee! That’s great, because you know you have a fixed budget. And you’re getting everything you want, because that’s what your vendor promised you. Guess what? It’s not going to happen: your project will be more expensive than anticipated and/or will have less features. You fell for the Myth of the Flat Fee.

Tomeij contends that it’s nearly impossible to have enough up-front information from a client to make a fair estimate. He rightly suggests that projects are fluid, and that a flat fee estimate which is not fluid, will have to be revised under something he refers to as Conflict Driven Development. What he means is the addition of more features that were not originally planned for, will either need to be scrapped or additional funding will need to be brought to the table—both less than ideal options for the client in question.

Thankfully, a person on the client-side left a telling comment on Tomeij’s post.

I’ve got a long list of vendors that I have to turn into a short list of vendors. Some companies don’t turn on the lights for less than X and some others might be just as talented but not as busy, hungry for expansion, eager to add an app that does Y because they can leverage the work for other clients. When I ask for an estimate, I don’t expect it to be exact, I just want to know if we’re speaking the same language.

Exactly. A change request from the client and the resulting revisions to the estimate doesn’t have to mean conflict. The agency simply needs to make it clear from the beginning that the flat fee is actually an estimate, and should the nature of the work change mid-stream, the price will also change.

Personally, I strive to collect the pertinent data I need to put a good faith estimate together and I work hard to live by it. The other option–hourly billing–I often describe to prospective clients as an agency taxi ride. In my experience, very few clients want to feel the pressure of a running meter. After all, a ride to the airport is worth what it’s worth. Should a client want that ride in a specially equipped vehicle, or to make pit stops along the way, then the price goes up.

Crunch Your Data And Respond, Then Repeat Forevermore (Unless You Don’t Need To)

Yesterday we looked at the various behaviors of online shoppers. Today, we examine the practices of online merchants.

David Brussin, founder and CEO of Monetate, in a piece on Mashable, says:

Commerce is becoming less about channels and more about touch points. Marketing is moving beyond multichannel to become “multipoint,” and coping with this shift is a serious challenge for businesses of all kinds.

Fortunately, the website remains a place where many customer conversations are initiated, and a growing percentage of transactions are completed, even if they begin elsewhere. A strong yet nimble website — one that can efficiently leverage customer data — will put brands in a better position to effectively respond to the emerging demands of multipoint marketing. Without such a site, they will continue to lose out on potential revenue and lose ground to more agile competitors.

“Efficiently leverage customer data” are the four key words above. Brussin believes, “A culture of testing in which decisions are data-driven is the best posture from which to meet marketing challenges.”

Brussin is right, of course, but a brand’s site does have other functions besides increasing “conversions.” It’s also a place to educate, to share and to listen. It’s a place to build the brand.

What seems clear is the art of brand building today requires that sales and marketing work hand-in-hand. That can be an institutional challenge, especially at larger companies. Then there’s the exception to the rule. Patagonia, for instance, knows what “building your brand and growing your business” is all about.

Understanding The Habits Of Online Shoppers

One size does not fit all when it comes to enticing online shoppers to buy, according to a new consumer survey released by SteelHouse, a pioneer in the emerging field of Behavioral Commerce.

Here are the results from their study of 1000 American online shoppers:

  • 44% read product reviews before they buy
  • 39% shop with a purpose or search for something in particular
  • 32% check out coupon sites to get the best price
  • 30% browse products regularly, even when they have no intention of buying
  • 28% buy only when there’s a discount
  • 27% buy only when there’s an offer for free shipping
  • 20% buy premium brand name products
  • 18% start the checkout process but don’t end up purchasing
  • 12% never buy on my first visit to a website, even if a discount is offered
  • 11% never shop online

Retailers will spend $5.73 billion making offers online this year. But marketers tend to blast the same ad with the same offer to millions of consumers, according to SteelHouse CEO Mark Douglas.

“It’s clear that simply giving the same offer to every online shopper is not the way to increase sales,” said Douglas. “We’re people, we approach shopping just like everything else — based on our personalities and ingrained behaviors. Retailers that understand and act on these different shopper personalities in real time are the ones that will be successful.”

Bonehook’s First Real Publicity

I met SURFING Magazine Managing Editor, Stuart Cornuelle, last winter when he was in Portland visiting his sister. He’s an avid reader of and he wanted to discuss the ad business, and how he might “break in” as a brand planner and/or copywriter. I was happy to accommodate, thanks to Stuart’s humble and genuine approach.

Since that time, Stuart has relocated to Portland (while keeping his day job at SURFING), started a new AdPulp feature, “The Surfer’s Journey,” and interviewed me for a piece that’s now running on The Portland Egotist.

To read the rest, please jump over to The Portland Egotist.

Show And Tell

Thaler Pekar, writing in Stanford Social Innovation Review, argues that there is value in a narrative organization.

The value of narrative in your organization extends well beyond telling stories in your annual report and newsletters. When an organization embraces narrative and applies it throughout its work, brand identity is clear and appealing; audiences are quickly and sustainably engaged; leaders appreciate and strategically share stories; and knowledge is easily gathered and shared.

Your brand identity can be created, strengthened, and explored by asking: What stories are we sharing about ourselves? What stories are other people sharing about us? People engage with people, not with amorphous entities. By sharing stories, you are engaging your audiences in hearing, understanding, and remembering your organization’s larger narrative. And, because stories are more memorable than disassociated facts, they spread more easily.

That’s good, and it makes me ask, what stories are we sharing about ourselves? I gave myself the title of Chief Storyteller for a reason–I must have some decent stories to share.

Here’s a story: before she retired, my mom was a sales promotion planner at QLM in Princeton, where she worked on J&J, Kraft and other mega consumer brands and became an expert in cause-related marketing. After I had my degree in English in hand, my mom suggested more than once that I apply myself as a copywriter. I thought I knew what that meant, accordingly, it was an idea I resisted until the day when it wasn’t my mom’s idea any longer, but my own. Then nothing could stop me from becoming a copywriter, not Wieden+Kennedy’s indifference, nor my own naiveté.

Early in my ad career, after getting my break in the business in Salt Lake City, I went to dinner with a friend who couldn’t understand what I was doing. Why a passion for advertising, that corporate dross we routinely ignore? It’s a good question and I don’t recall my response on that fateful eve, but I do know my original motivations had something to do with what happens when copy and art come together. Images add to the narrative, and in some cases images become the narrative.

Take a look at this image from a brochure we recently made for Danville Services Corporation:

Danville is a client rich in story and I’m privileged to be able to help tell some of the company’s stories. But whatever story Danville chooses to tell, Matt Hepworth’s photos help to bring it all together in a way copy alone can not.

Ad copy is not like fiction, where the whole point is to get the reader to imagine the characters, setting and events. A brand does create images in one’s mind, but there’s little room for ambiguity. A brand wants a resoundingly clear image and photography can deliver that, as it does in this case.