The MadAveGroup Blog
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“There is always a little bit of heaven in a disaster area.”
If you’re a fan of the 1970 concert film Woodstock, you may remember that quote from Wavy Gravy, one of the event’s stage announcers.
I was reminded of the line after reading about a Michigan restaurant that’s offering free boxed lunches to kids whose schools have closed due to coronavirus.
And I’m absolutely certain I’ll see many more stories like it in the weeks to come.
Because that’s what Americans do.
As politically divided as we are, as enraged as we become when we’re cut off in traffic, as petty as we can be in response to an opposing point of view on Facebook, we step up when our neighbors need help.
But this thing that’s going around now - this may be different.
It’s not an earthquake or hurricane that affects a small portion of the country. It’s not a workplace shooting that devastates “only” one town. This thing may touch all of us. Or get close, anyway.
And given that “social distancing” is the best protection we’ve got right now, it’s understandable that our first reaction might be to run from each other.
But, as is so often the case, this moment in time is an opportunity to come together. The only question is "how?"
It may start with identifying a need in your own neighborhood or town, just as the folks at that Michigan restaurant did.
So, stay open to the ways you can make a difference; how you and your company can help, not for the profit of it, but because you’re a member of the human community.
Coronavirus may fizzle out as quickly as it came, or it may prove to be a serious concern for decades. We don’t know right now. But we do know we need people with ideas and companies with resources to provide that little bit of heaven during this disaster.
The bread truck I followed for a few miles today was filthy.
I get it - just because the picture of the bread on the truck was covered in road grime doesn’t mean the bread inside the truck was. But the dirty truck did nothing to inspire confidence in the product.
And it certainly didn’t present the bread in the best possible light. It’s hard for bread to look delicious, after all, when it’s veiled in a thick layer of crud.
Yes, it’s an effort to wash a fleet of trucks, but when they also serve as giant mobile billboards for your product, the trucks should be clean. That's because they’re more than just delivery vehicles - they’re representations of your brand. They say something about you and your attention to detail and how much you care.
The same goes for the people who wear your company’s uniform or talk with customers via your company’s phones.
Look for the opportunities. Invest in the training. Improve the interaction. Create the better experience.
Wash the truck.
It’s the season of gift-giving, but we have a client that gives gifts nearly every day of the year.
Grand Home Furnishings is a 19-store furniture and mattress retailer with locations in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Since 1953, they’ve given a free 8-ounce glass bottle of Coke to everyone who walks through their doors.
It started as a nice gesture; a way to thank people for coming to the opening of their new location. But the gift was so well-received by the thousands of people who stopped in that first weekend that management decided to hand out free Coke every day at every store.
Now, Grand Home Furnishings gives away more than 1,300,000 bottles each year!
You might think that represents a huge expense, but the people at Grand Home Furnishings don’t. To them it’s a worthwhile investment.
- It’s a tangible way to say “welcome.”
- It’s the daily perpetuation of a charming seven-decade tradition.
- It’s an easy way to put a smile on a visitor’s face and maybe even begin a long-term relationship.
- It’s a unique branding tool that helps the company stand out, not just among their direct competitors, but among all stores in the markets they serve.
And if those positives lead to a sale - or many sales over the years - then the modest cost per bottle is a small price to pay for the acquisition of a customer.
Here’s what Grand’s founder George Cartledge, Sr. said about the ongoing giveaway. "Let me emphasize how important it is to give out Cokes with enthusiasm and a smile. Don't ask customers if they want a Coke; greet them and hand them a Coke when they walk in. It puts them at ease. Our image has been created by the Cokes we give away.”
Mr. Cartledge continued, “Remember, when a customer walks in our door, they are doing us a favor and we should treat them special. Of all the things we do, handing out Cokes is one of the most important. It is the best advertising we can get."
“It's no different than when someone comes into your home,” said Grand’s Director of Advertising, Mike Virok. “You offer them something to drink.”
In the spirit of appreciation, what can you give to the people who come to your store or visit you online?
Sure, you could hand out promotional items that relate to your main service. Or you might partner with a neighboring or complementary company to promote their brand by sharing samples of their products with your customers while they do the same for you.
You don’t need to give a physical item, though. Could you provide easy, free access to your new research on every page of your website? Maybe a no-charge review, check-up or audit? Or are you willing to offer a commitment as human and meaningful as eye contact, a handshake, and your undivided attention?
My series of posts featuring answers to questions posed by the Forbes Agency Council continues. The theme of this article: brand.
Question: A big part of growing your personal brand includes public speaking. In your experience, what’s one important element that all professionals should incorporate into their speech to make it more memorable and impactful?
Answer: If one of your goals is to build your personal brand, you'll want audience members to look for more of your thoughts after your speech, and then follow you online. So, pack your presentations with engaging content, but keep them shorter, so they feel like just a taste of what you have to offer. That can encourage people to actively seek more of your unique perspective.
Question: Just because a brand isn’t involved with a public-facing crisis doesn’t mean times aren’t tough. What’s one way for a brand to seem authentic even when the company isn’t doing particularly well?
Answer: The best way to "seem" authentic is to BE authentic. When you're always truthful and transparent, you never have to worry about coming clean if something goes wrong. If the things your brand "says" and "does" are legitimate representations of who you are as people, you're acknowledging that "we aren't for everyone," but those who identify with your message are likely to stick by you as customers.
Question: Recent grads are beginning to develop their personal brand to differentiate themselves in the competitive workforce. What’s your top tip for personal branding?
Answer: The part about a personal brand that really matters is the "personal" part. There's only one you, so don't squelch whatever passions burn inside of you. Pursue the work that matters to you, while presenting yourself in your own unique way. You may not be right for everybody, but you're going to be perfect for somebody. Maybe a lot of somebodies. And that's likely where you'll find fulfillment.
I have an opportunity each month to answer marketing-related questions for the Forbes Agency Council. Thoughts from council members are then published at Forbes.com. This blog post is the fifth in a series featuring a few of my responses to those Forbes questions. The theme: Content Creation.
Question: It's one of the top goals of any company's marketing campaign - a strong, unique voice that unmistakably belongs to and reflects their brand and puts them top of mind with consumers. What's one way companies can create and cultivate a strong voice for their brand?
Answer: A brand's message can get watered down with marketing-speak or when trying to appeal to everyone or offend no one. If there's a leader in your company who talks in a bold, no-nonsense way about your mission and your customers, pattern your marketing content after his or her communication style. It'll likely be perceived as unique because it's so personal. It'll also ring true with your audience.
Question: Whether it's topic, venue, voice or other factors, what's your best tip for writing content that will have a long shelf life?
Answer: Yes, hot topics can attract lots of eyeballs immediately, but they can also quickly fade in relevance. If you've been doing what you do for many years, you've likely learned many valuable lessons along the way. They may be simple, foundational truths that we all need to be reminded of from time to time. As blog posts, those truths can serve both your current audience and future readers.
Question: User-generated content in the form of reviews can be one of the most powerful and effective marketing tools, but it can be hard to get happy customers to take the time to write it. What's one clever method a business can use to persuade customers to post a review?
Answer: We've worked with clients who seem almost embarrassed to ask for reviews. But when consumers are excited about a buying experience, they often want to share their opinions. So, encourage that. When someone is happy at the point of sale, ask them to share their feelings on social, a review site or with an email. Everyone wants to feel like their thoughts matter. Let your customers know theirs do.
Question: A blog can position a company or brand as an industry leader and attractive potential business partner. What's one piece of advice your client should adhere to when launching a blog to highlight their brand?
Answer: Your blog doesn't have to be about your brand directly in order to benefit your brand. If your posts are just thinly veiled ads for your company, no one will read them. So, tell stories about your customers and industry, your personal experiences, even odd topics that support your brand story. The goal of your blog should be to provide your readers with valuable insight and a unique perspective.
I’m not a runner. Never have been. But for the hour that I watched last weekend’s 2019 Chicago Marathon from the streets of my daughter’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, I was completely drawn into the event.
I’d never seen anything like it: an endless stream of determined people running through a chilly Sunday morning. And most seemed in remarkably good spirits at mile 10. (I'm drained and cranky after driving ten miles.)
Later, I learned that more than 45,000 people ran the race and that 1.7 million spectators lined the route to cheer them on.
It was truly inspiring. The marathoners. Their friends and family who turned out in support. The planning and cooperation and logistics of it all. I was in awe.
And yet, I had to laugh when I saw several young women holding signs that ran counter to the many messages of encouragement. One of the signs simply asked, “Why?”
“Why?” is a funny question when posed to long-distance runners, but it also made me wonder: why would a person - let alone 45,000 people - put themselves through the tremendous struggle of running a marathon?
As a non-runner, I may be going out on a limb, but I’ll suggest the “why” is at least partly about a story. Or maybe several stories.
It might be a story about other people: I’m running for my sick mom. I do it to feel closer to my late friend who was a lifelong runner. I run to raise money for people who can’t run.
It might be the story the runners tell themselves: I can do this. I can beat this. I am strong enough.
Or running marathons may be one way they define themselves: I am an athlete. I conquer obstacles. I don’t stop until the race - literal or figurative - is won.
Whether you run or not, you can likely identify with some of those feelings. Your career or your business has had to endure challenges and uphill battles, or times when you wanted to quit or thought you couldn’t make it. Maybe you even wondered “why am I doing this?”
How did you get through?
The answer to that question is a story you can tell.
In your marketing content, share what you learned about yourself or your company during those tough times. How did adversity make you lean or hone your team’s skills or help you evolve into a better partner?
In what ways did pushing through the pain give you unique insight or change your perspective?
And how can you present your story in a way that inspires your audience and allows them to appreciate you and your efforts on an entirely different level?
(Photo Credit: Top image from ChicagoMarathon.com)
I ordered the salad.
“That comes with soup,” Mike the waiter reminded me. “Which kind would you like?”
"No soup, thanks," I said.
But even though I was having only one course, Mike took it upon himself to make my lunch more convenient.
“I’ll bring you a large bowl of salad so you can help yourself to as much as you’d like.”
He also brought three cups of dressing. Then, as I was finishing up, he asked if he could bring me an iced tea refill in a to-go cup.
Those may seem like small gestures, but I can’t recall a restaurant server offering them before.
Oh, and he was friendly and energetic, too.
Mike’s primary job was to take my order and bring food to the table, but within that limited scope of opportunity, he got creative. He anticipated my needs, applied some empathy, used the tools he had - salad, bowls and a disposable cup - and created a memorable encounter.
When I complimented him on his great work, Mike thanked me and told me he believes in the Golden Rule and the power of Karma. But I already knew that about him.
Now, try to tell yourself you can’t make the same type of effort for the people who keep your company in business.
Try to buy into the idea you don’t have the time to make a better impression or add value, that you don’t have the resources, or the job title, or any good ideas.
Try to swallow the notion that extra effort and care don't matter, that they're not a defining difference between the brands people love and those that disappear.
Go ahead. Try.
As you browse online content, read ads, and listen to TV and radio commercials, you’ll see or hear lots of worthless words - advertising phrases and clichés that add no value, provide no clarity and, sometimes, don’t even make sense.
It’s fluff that steals the audience’s time and weakens the brand’s message.
Those worthless words are there for at least one of three reasons:
1) An inexperienced copywriter
2) The company’s lack of vision for their advertising, and/or
Your audience’s perception of your brand is too important to squander any opportunities to promote it. So, if you write or contribute ideas to your company’s advertising content, keep these basic ideas in mind.
Your audience’s time is valuable. When you waste it, they’ll be less likely to give it to you in the future. Say as much as you can in as few words as possible.
Use advertising content to guide your audience. People want help with making good buying decisions. Ideally, your ad copy will show them a logical, legitimate path from their need or problem to your solution.
Give your audience something in return for their attention. It might be useful facts or a serious question to ponder. Or maybe it’s just a good laugh. The bottom line: leave them glad they invested their time in your message.
Examples of Content to Avoid
I once heard a used car dealer wrap up his on-camera pitch by saying, “We accept cash.” Are there businesses that refuse cash? In other words, that line isn’t necessary. The following phrases aren’t either.
“We’re conveniently located.” Convenience is relative. A store that’s convenient for one audience member may be completely out of the way for others.
The takeaway: Don’t make blanket statements.
“Your call is important to us.” That’s a set-up to a now-common joke. The punchline: “If my call is so important, pick up the damn phone.”
The takeaway: Delete clichés and other “expected” phrases that only serve as filler. Replace them with information your audience can apply.
“Summer’s here, so it’s time to…” I promise that everyone who reads or hears your copy knows which season it is, or that Christmas is near, or that it’s back-to-school time.
The takeaway: Don’t waste time stating the obvious. It can be insulting to your audience and it draws focus away from your main points.
“We’re dedicated to your satisfaction.” At best, baseless platitudes do nothing to separate you from other brands that rely on the same tactic. At worst, you’ll be perceived as a company that exaggerates or even lies.
The takeaway: Unless you can prove your dedication or somehow guarantee you offer the best service, avoid those types of lofty claims.
Those are just a few examples of specific phrases that weaken advertising copy, but there are others. So, be diligent in your copy editing, filtering your content through these questions:
- Is this copy honest and accurate?
- Which words can I delete without watering down the message?
- Does this copy address a need my potential customers have or is it all self-serving?
- Is this writing clear enough to convey the unique value our company provides?
It takes time and effort to write and re-write impactful advertising copy that’s also a pleasure to read or hear, but the trust and interest that quality content creates is worth the work; it will serve as the foundation of a powerful voice for your brand.
In baseball, one swing of the bat can keep an inning alive, which can provide one more chance to score.
And that one extra run can mean the difference between winning and losing a game.
And one more win during a 162-game season - just one - can earn a team a playoff berth, which can lead to a spot in the World Series, which can culminate in a championship.
And making history.
Of course, it's not merely a single swing of a bat that makes a winning baseball team. Nor is it one perfect pitch from your sales team that takes your company to the next level. It's the years of training and keeping your eye on the ball and, yes, even committing errors that teach you and your team how to win together. It's your daily effort and commitment that lead you to opportunities to grow into a clutch player.
And as much as baseball is a team sport, it also requires individual performance, as your work likely does - which takes us back to the idea of one more swing leading to one more run, one more win and one more chance to achieve something special; something lasting.
What does that swing equate to in your job? Throughout the 12-month-per-year season that is your career, how can you gut it out each day to produce uncommon results for yourself and your team?
In a country of 327 million people, there are only 750 Major League ball players. They're in the bigs because they're the best at what they do. And each day, they work to find a way to win.
But there's more than one game in town. Whether you repair cars or manage a marketing staff or run your own firm, define your industry's Major Leagues, your World Series. Then, step into the box each day and take your cuts as if something important is riding on it.
Because something important is riding on it.
Fifty years ago, a dedicated team of people made history, changing our perception of what was possible by landing two men on the moon and returning them safely to Earth.
If you weren’t alive in July of 1969 or you were too young to remember the Apollo 11 mission, it might be easy to minimize their accomplishment given all our technological advances in the decades since.
But at the core of their commitment to reach the moon was that human quality that’s so often present at the leading edge of innovation - courage.
In September 1962, when President Kennedy urged American citizens to support a lunar mission, NASA was not prepared to deliver a solution, yet they accepted the challenge.
Everyone involved understood that preparing for the expedition would be physically and mentally demanding, so they persevered.
The astronauts assumed they had only a 50/50 chance of surviving the flight, but still, they sat atop hundreds of thousands of gallons of explosive rocket fuel willingly.
And as a result of all that courageous focus, the work of the Apollo 11 team stands among the greatest achievements in human history.
In your work, can you summon the courage to chart new frontiers? They don’t need to be as daunting as space travel. But, whether you own a small shop, spend your nights developing new software, or lead a team of medical professionals each day, you can dare to dream.
Then, set to making it real.
Will it be hard? Probably.
Will it matter? Certainly.
Remember, walking on the moon began as nothing more than an idea, too.
As you look to the night sky on this important anniversary - and forevermore - let it inspire you to wonder what’s possible. And let it remind you that courage can make it so.