Monthly Archive: September 2013

We Are Specialists Who Communicate Brand Value, And You Are Truly Magnificient

Hiring a freelance copywriter, graphic designer or web developer can be a trying task for a small- to medium-sized business. Sadly, the trouble goes both ways, as the creative person may find it difficult to communicate effectively with the client.


Regardless, communicating with the client is the one and only path to success in this business. So how do creative people get this right?

I’ve seen it done wrong many times in my career, and it is painful to watch. Creative people do it wrong, because of an intrinsic need to convey expertise at all costs, and offer the client what they’re paying for–good advise, followed by flawless execution.

Many times it’s a problem of tone. As the expert in their chosen craft, a creative practitioner can come off as condescending or needlessly didactic.

Web designer Paul Jarvis suggests that “we have a great opportunity to teach our clients what we’ve learned.” Naturally, I agree. It’s the basis of a consulting business, and marketing communications is a consulting business. Yet, I find this comment from “MissMoonPilot” on Jarvis’ article telling, as well:

Trying to educate your clients is not a good idea. Most of them are ego driven business types who would rather have hot pins stuck under their nails than have a freelancer suggest any changes for them. Just do what they ask. Take the money and run! Find other creative stimulations outside of your freelance work.

I’ve certainly encountered the above “just give me the copy” clients. I have a nose for them and do my best to keep my distance, for they don’t want me and I don’t want them.

Part of the problem is freelancers are detached by definition. Yet, detached is such an awkward position for the copywriter, in particular. The writer (me) wants to be deeply attached. It’s the writer’s job (my job) to be full of curiosity about the business in question and its customers’ wants and needs. That’s where the copy comes from. It doesn’t come from a set of talking or bullet points.

Clients who just want the copy may perceive my approach as meddlesome. Fair enough. But I don’t work with people at an arm’s distance. I partner and invest in our mutual success. That’s the path to great work and it’s a long uphill grind with no shortcuts.

Eight Ways To Earn Your Customers’ Interest In the Digital Age

I want to make my thinking on brand communications succinct and accessible. To this end, I prepared the following list, which condenses my general approach to marketing problems today. If you find value here, let me know. Perhaps we can apply some of this thinking to a marketing problem you’re currently working to solve.


Eight Ways To Earn Your Customers’ Interest In the Digital Age

1. Make It About Them, Not You

In the advertising business, we are trained to look inside the product or service for strategic insights. So, it is about you when you’re making ads. You can make product claims and comparisons and so on, but to raise the bar and truly connect with an ad-weary audience, you don’t slip your ads under the radar. No, you give the reader what she wants, whatever that may be. The task for brands and their agents is to discover these true marketplace desires and work to meet them with smart solutions that are so much more than ads.

2. Don’t Pitch, Provide

The default position online is one of seeking information or entertainment. That is, people actively navigate through millions of options for the content that speaks to them. That’s what every brand is competing with today, so while every company is not a media company, every company has an opportunity and perhaps an obligation to make compelling media on a consistent basis. I am not speaking of so-called native advertising. I am suggesting that the media you make serves the plainly identified needs of your customers. Native advertising is deceptive and it’s about you; hence it’s all wrong.

3. Solve Real Problems for People

Columbia Sportswear asked me to write the copy for the first smartphone App they ever produced, called What Knot To Do In The Greater Outdoors. Once upon a time, Columbia would appeal to sailors, fishermen, climbers, campers and so on with ads in Outside Magazine and the like. Clearly, there’s still a place for this approach, but now smart brands augment their advertising with real world solutions, like a free App that helps people tie knots in the wild.

4. Co-Create, a.k.a. Make Cool Stuff Together

Brands can lift people up. They can inspire people and involve people. Brands can also provide access to tools and to experiences that would not otherwise be available. For example, a brand can put a “garage band” in a professional studio with a talented and expensive producer and enable the musicians to make their first EP, which then becomes available on the brand’s website, and played on the brand’s internet and satellite radio stations. Consumer generated media isn’t new, but it often misses the mark because it’s not reaching high or wide enough. A Super Bowl spot for Dorito’s is high, but only one winner gets to experience this high. It is time to break out of the contest mindset and figure out how to can get thousands of people making things, and making things better, together.

5. Relinquish The Idea That You’re In Control

Advertising came of age in a time when interrupting programs on one of three TV channels was the way of the world. That world came and went not such a long time ago. Oddly, our thinking about the problem of reaching a mass audience with our commercial messages has not advanced much. We prefer to think people are interested, listening and generally paying attention to our desires. Clients who are in love with their product or service are in particular danger of irrelevance today, as they’ll be the last to grasp the new rules of the game.

6. Surprise and Delight

Just ten years ago, the idea that marketers needed to slip messages “under the radar” was de-facto thinking in the industry. Today, this concept could not be more dusty or dated. People know when they’re being pitched, no matter the cleverness of the approach. So to truly break through, do something other than pitch! Surprise and delight your prospects and customers. Believe me, if you make it about them, and work to solve their real problems, you’ll get their attention and with honest and consistent efforts earn their business and perhaps their loyalty.

7. Stand On Your Principles

Let’s put the idea of a mass audience aside. What you really need to succeed is a large niche audience. So be yourself and pull people with like minds and similar interests to your brand. Even in extreme cases like Chick-fil-A, the strategy works. Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A is a modern brand with conservative values. Their stores are closed on Sunday and recently they have donated millions of dollars to anti-gay marriage and pro-heterosexual marriage organizations over the years. I don’t agree with their values at all, but from a marketing perspective this is a classic affinity marketing case study. Hollywood liberals won’t eat there any longer, but Southern Christians will, and there are millions of Southern Christians.

8. Invite People to a Party

Brands are not abstractions. I encourage you to see your brand as the sum of all the experiences you create for your customers, staff and shareholders. For instance, let’s say I want to buy a new iPhone. I could buy the phone online from in a direct transaction online. Or I could go into an AT&T retail store. Either way, every person and every detail involved in acquiring, using and servicing my new iPhone is brand communications. Given how complex brand is today, and how all encompassing, it’s imperative to bring things down to a human scale and let people in, so they can touch, smell, taste and feel the brand. People want to feel special and they want to feel they belong. Experiential marketing addresses these needs.