Category: News

Brand Journalists Ask Hard Questions; This Is Good for Everyone

Journalists seek the truth. They don’t always find it and the truth doesn’t always find its way into the published story, but the pursuit remains. In marketing communications, as in journalism, the need to challenge and to question is equally important.

These are the core questions that a dedicated brand builder must continually ask:

  1. Why should anyone care about our messages or our products?
  2. Have we walked a mile in the customer’s shoes?
  3. Are we merely talking to ourselves?
  4. What is the company’s true point of difference in the marketplace?
  5. Where do the customer’s interests intersect with the brand’s?

Discovery is fundamental to the communications profession.

These core questions—when left unanswered—will hang on the air like late-summer humidity in Houston. They’re also capable of making people sweat.

Asking tough questions (whether or not trust has been established) may put the person with the purse in a defensive position, and that’s risky business. Yet, there’s no point in going forward until the fundamentals of the marketing proposition are properly aired. A client may want to believe that his product is the only basis for a conversation that the company needs. But it’s rarely the case because people don’t want to be pitched. A brand’s true task is to meet people on common ground.

Mediums Change, People Persist

Customers are not abstractions. Customers are not personas. Customers are not uniform. Customers are people and people are complex individuals.

I advise clients to push past personas and get to know the real people who buy and who consider buying from them. It’s not helpful to appeal to a false composite named “Jane” or “John”. There are real people on the other side of the communications. What do they need to hear? What will move them to care?

My role as a content strategist is to develop and hone the voice of the brand. My role as a copywriter and creative director is to execute on the agreed-upon direction, so the brand voice is consistent and compelling.

To perform my duties, I need to dig in, in order to gain greater understanding. I need to put on my brand journalist’s hat and find the truth inherent in the product, and the truths embedded in the customer community, or it’s just more marketing noise and there’s zero value in that.

Bill Bernbach’s “unchanging man” is obsessed with survival, with admiration, love, and family. Can your product or service rub up against these things? If “yes,” you’ve got a strong starting place on the way to creating customer-centric marketing that meets people on their terms.

Successful marketers know how to connect with the audience on the audience’s terms. I understand that it can be hard for some clients to see it this way because they have something to say and the money to say it. Helping them flip the script and see things as the customer does is one of the most valuable services that we provide.

Dependency Theory and Client Service

Scholars in the 1970s developed a media dependency theory to help explain and understand the effects of mass media on audiences and of the interactions between media, audiences, and social systems. The main focus of the theory is the relationship between media and audiences. I don’t know if any advertising industry scholars have ever examined or considered a client service dependency theory. I can see how the argument might go.

The ad industry has always been dependent. Our first dependency was on media, newspapers in particular. This media dependency is alive and unwell today. One might assume that digital disruption broke this bond, but it did not. Now, we’re playing the platforms game instead of pursuing the “every company is a media company” high road. When Facebook falls from its perch, as companies sometimes do, what then? Then your agency’s media dependency, which is unwisely shared with your clients, is a stinky egg mess on your otherwise attractive face.

Agency operators have media dependencies on one hand, and client dependencies on the other. By holding on to clients for a long duration, it may lessen the need for a perfected new business process, although an agency is always on the hunt for new business, whatever the guiding philosophy of the founders.

Agencies want to earn trust and spend many years servicing the account. It sounds reasonable enough, but what do clients want? Do they also seek to establish the kind of trust that opens the door to breakthrough work and extended multi-year contracts? That’s wishful thinking. Clients almost always look past the agency to their true desire, which is more and better customers spending more money on their products as soon as possible.

The right agency is the vehicle that can deliver them to said promised land, and for that, we get a grateful nod and a wad of cash at the end of the ride. And there’s nothing wrong with this math. What’s wrong is failing to see it for what it is.

By acknowledging what clients truly want, we are better able to deliver it. Clients don’t want a long term relationship with us, they want a non-bumpy ride to the promised land, or in our angler’s vernacular, they want to hire a captain and crew to expeditiously deliver them to the hungriest fish in the sea.

You can hire Bonehook right now to:

  • Provide strategic planning and discovery that will dramatically improve your brand messaging
  • Make your brand come alive via design and writing
  • Deliver live skill-building workshops

You can hire us to provide all of the above.

Whichever form future projects take, we will help you navigate stormy waters and help you understand your brand from your customer’s point of view. This process is called “thinking like a fish,” and it’s been proven to work by many an old man in the sea.

Inputs Before Outputs (Always and Forever)

Definitions matter. Therefore, we endeavor to explain the value of strategy to ourselves, to workshop attendees, and our clients. But before we can explain the value, we also need to explain what we mean by strategy.

Here’s a recent explanation from my Twitter friend Derek Walker:

I’d like to illustrate the above sequence…

  • An online brand is suffering from shopping cart abandonment. That’s the data.
  • One insight derived from the data is people feel unsure about their purchases and/or their relationship with the brand.
  • A strategy based on this data point and the insight derived from it would be to increase trust with customers.

The creative team then takes this call to create more trust and creates a series of ideas that, when executed, build trust with current and prospective customers.

Solve Business Problems, Sometimes With An Ad

Salmon Theory, a weekly philosophy newsletter for creative and strategic minds by Rob Estreitinho features an interview with Zoe Scaman, founder of Bodacious, a full-service strategy studio in London.

I like this passage a lot:

What’s the philosophy behind Bodacious?
Embracing mess and uncertainty and applying strategy problem-solving skills at the broadest possible level. People often ask me to define myself – are you an ad agency, a consultancy, an innovation house – but I balk as definitions, they don’t suit me. I’m all of the above and more. And I’m ok with that amorphous shape. And my hope is that other strategists will start to wake up and feel the same. We keep reading pieces about how the ad industry is crashing and burning and that’s because the problems we need to solve are ever more complex, but the solutions (where the margins live) are always the same, so what do we expect?

Strategists are problem solvers as their core, and that means you should be able to turn your skills to any challenge. The sooner we divorce ourselves from advertising as the output, the better.

This is a theme that I keep returning to time and again. In 2016, I wrote this:

We routinely ask that an action or series of actions be taken by people inside the client company. This is where marketing communications meet operations. When you’re dedicated to growing successful businesses you end up going way beyond making ads. You become an essential part of the team and invested in the outcomes. This level of teamwork and commitment may surprise some clients. It’s our belief that we need to care about the marketing problems at hand, but more that than, we need to care about the human beings our work impacts, namely our client’s customers and prospects, and the community of people employed by the company.

Brand Truth Is Foundational

At Bonehook, we pursue our client’s brand truths because it’s the mud that we make Marcom bricks from—bricks that hold up the brand house.

I hate that advertising is considered to be wallpaper or paint by anyone inside and outside of the ad business. Ads are not decorations, although they can be appealing to look at. Ads that move people to pay attention and to buy are interactive artifacts from the sponsoring company. An interactive artifact (print, broadcast, or digital) can be entered, like a house or a compelling story. An interactive artifact can be explored, altered, celebrated, and shared.

A brand has to know how to turn people on. Is it the quality of the products that drive people to the store? Is it the low price? The magic is always inside the company, yet people go searching for wild ideas far from the where the action is. All the action is happening inside the customer’s heart and mind. Thus, the job of all brand marketers is to know their customer’s desires, fears, ambitions, and day-to-day pressures.

When you know your brand truth and what makes your customers and prospects pounce, you’re ready to advertise. If you do not have these two essential ingredients figured out, we’re here to help you. We can also make your ads after the discovery period, but so can lots of other talented people who focus on outputs. We focus on inputs because when you get your inputs right, your ad campaigns practically make themselves.