Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's Your Brand's Personality Quotient? Part 2

When you consider how the best creative advertisers build brand images that appeal to Baby Boomers, some important things come to light. First, many of them personalize their companies by using spokespeople who look and sound credible. Makes sense. After all, it’s a lot easier to buy from a human being than a faceless corporation.

They also try to build relationships using potentially high-touch media like direct mail and telemarketing rather than mass media like TV, radio and print, because the more intimate the contact, the more it will resonate with Boomers. Genuine warmth goes a long way in selling them on products and services, which is why they value companies with high PQs.

Marketers with high PQs resonate with Boomers because they treat them like reasonable people who value their feelings as much as their intellects. Like everyone else, Boomers like to be treated with simple respect, and when a company does that, they reciprocate with increased loyalty as they come to know and trust the company and its brands.

Like dependable people, companies with the highest PQs aren’t fickle, so they don’t change images every year or two. Instead, they build on their existing one. This gives them genuine credibility, so when they claim a long history of satisfying customers, Boomers know they can back up those claims with testimonials, which they often do. This helps their image grow broadly and deeply, laying down roots in the Boomer Buying Center over time.

All this brand building helps them leverage their ad dollars, too, because with each passing year, they’re strengthening facets of their existing PQ rather than spending incremental dollars on an expensive facelift or complete makeover.

Like people with strong personalities, companies with the highest PQs know who they are and what they’re about, so they stand behind their products and services with iron-clad, no-risk, money-back policies. They make a commitment to customer satisfaction and back it with a “no-questions asked” guarantee, because they know that’s how you build trust.

Companies with high PQs also manage to do a better job of image building because they refuse to waste time or money on marketing communications that don’t work. Rather than drowning the market with saturation messaging, they try to consistently reach out to their best prospects with pinpoint communications that go right to the heart of each Boomer’s self-interest.

So, if you want to increase your Personality Quotient with Boomers, build a friendly, believable image—one that will carve out a unique niche in Boomers’ minds. Start today, and in time you’ll find that a high PQ will increase your share of mind, and share of market will follow.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's Your Brand's Personality Quotient?

Does your brand have a winning personality—a high personality quotient or PQ? That’s a key question, because when you’re selling to Baby Boomers, they consistently seek out products and services that are believable and likeable, just like the people they trust most. That’s why one of your primary business goals should be to build a credible, friendly image using a variety of creative marketing communications, from advertising to PR to blogging.

A brand’s image is the personality that it projects. Like the Boomers, the best brand personalities are individualistic, while the worst try to be all things to all people and end up being buried beneath the clutter of the teeming marketplace. To avoid this fate, you must raise your brand’s PQ by reaching out and touching Boomers where they really live. Do that, and over time, they’ll embrace your brand, as well as your company, as you gain an ever larger share of mind and market.

Many of the most effective image builders come from Direct Marketing. Take a pioneer like L.L. Bean and a more recent success story like Victoria’s Secret, for example. These brands appeal to decidedly different market segments, yet in their own ways, they’ve built highly individualistic brand personalities that their customers have come to know and trust. Their high PQs have helped them carve out a share of mind by standing for something uniquely important with their customers. That’s why they continue to be successful.

Unlike some brands which seem to change with the seasons, L.L. and Victoria keep burnishing the same image, year after year. While other advertisers try to rebuild images instantly, as if the sheer weight of megabuck budgets can buy enduring relationships, they refine their PQs the natural way, slowing but surely. As a result, they’ve earned something money can’t buy: customer loyalty.

In my next blog, I’ll talk a little more about how to build a winning personality that Boomers can come to know and trust. So staying tuned, because a higher PQ means more profitable sales.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hit 'em in the Gut. Part 2

One of the biggest problems in assessing advertising and marketing communications is that creative executions can’t be reliably judged by using logic and reason alone. Advertising that makes perfectly good sense to the rational part of the mind is often dull and predictable on a gut level. “But is it effective?,” I hear the MBAs screaming. To which I counter, “Did you ever try to bore someone into buying something?” It doesn’t work.

If you want to employ creativity in your communications, you have to learn to loosen up. Don’t be afraid to entertain “peculiar” ideas, especially ones that seem scary. Use bright, inventive language to give fresh expression to old, familiar things. Be enthusiastic, but don’t try to force emotion, because then it will have a whiff of desperation about it. People can smell a phony a mile away, so if you can’t swing free and easy and connect on a gut level, hire someone who can, because nothing is more pathetic than a caricature of an emotion.

Of course, I’m not advocating creativity for its own sake. Unfettered creativity can be quite destructive at times. Today’s global financial catastrophe is firmly rooted in the creativity of mortgage underwriters and the seductive but worthless securities that a cadre of geniuses created out of thin air. To be useful, creativity has to be disciplined by good judgment and uncommon sense, the kind that comes from innate talent.

If you want to hit Baby Boomers in the gut with your message, your creative executions must be built on a solid strategic foundation. Then you have to creatively massage that strategy until it yields the emotional appeals that you can use to motivate browsers to become buyers.

Once you’ve got a grip on the gut level appeal you want to use, you have to put the primary emotional benefit right up front—in your ad’s headline, in the first three seconds of your radio and TV commercials, on the envelope of your direct mail. In short, you’ve got to take a straightforward approach to hit ’em right in the gut.

Sudden emotional impact has real stopping power that engages the audience and motivates them to take action. This leads to more than just increased sales and bigger profits, it also helps build customer loyalty, because Boomers will feel that you understand them on a level that few others do.

Ultimately, to get to that special place that I call the Boomer Buying Center, where purchasing decisions are made, you have to be half Gerontology Counselor and half creative communications genius. If you’ve got both of those things going for you, you’ll understand how to discover and stay on the right wavelength in a way that will resonate with Boomers, making them far more receptive to your messaging.

Of course, attaining this skill level doesn’t happen overnight. Not only do you have to have an inborn creative spark, you also have to learn to tap into the source of your creativity, and that’s not easy. The best way to learn how to do this is to pretend you’re a Gerontology Counselor in training.

Begin by getting in touch with yourself. Jump into the deep end of your emotional swimming pool. Learn to recognize what a genuine emotion feels like, how you react to it and how your reactions affect others.

Once you’ve learned to take your emotional pulse, keep your finger on it. Learn to express your feelings with a colorful and diverse vocabulary. Talk about your emotions. Write about them. Draw what you feel. Be genuinely expressive! Do this consistently, and you’ll begin to realize your creative potential. Make a real effort, and your natural creative spark will explode into brilliance, illuminating every aspect of your life with a richness born of limitless creative possibilities.

If it sounds like a lot of work, well, it is. That’s why most people won’t bother. That puts you in the driver’s seat, however, because even if you end up with results that aren’t quite magical, you’ll still be miles ahead of the rest.

Too many people try to substitute academic degrees and book learning for true creative exploration. That’s why so much of today’s advertising and marcom is pablum. The truth is that creativity comes from the depths of the spirit not the pages of a book. And seemingly safe executions are actually dangerous to your bottom line, particularly when you’re going after Boomers.

So, if you want to increase profitable sales, you’ll have to learn to be more creative, not more rational. You can’t “think” people into buying. Emotions have far more impact and persuasive power than mere logic and reason. To create more effective communications, then, start with a sound strategy, vest it with genuine emotion and hit ’em in the gut.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hit 'em in the Gut.

Advertising and marcom are more memorable when they evoke visceral emotions, especially when you’re targeting Baby Boomers. It’s not that Boomers aren’t well educated or intellectually sophisticated enough to make well-reasoned judgments. It’s that all of us have a tendency to use logic in order to justify decisions that are rooted in emotion rather than pure rationality. So, if you aim to communicate effectively with Boomers, you’ve got to hit them where they live. Pow! Right in the gut.

Conventional wisdom says that we’re logical, level-headed people who make enlightened choices based on our ability to analyze information. But it’s closer to the truth to say that emotion is reflected in every facet of decision making. Still, we persist in embracing comfortable illusions. So whether you’re a sixty-something grandma who’s a seasoned shopper or a hard-nosed executive, you probably believe that when you buy something, you’ve done your due diligence and made a businesslike decision, after reflecting on all the facts in the cool, calm light of reason. Not likely.

Just remember that when you’re trying to sell anyone anything, you’ve got to give them good reasons to buy, or they won’t. And the fact is that more often than not “good reasons” tend to be highly subjective and emotional rather than objective and factual.

Boomers are self-centered individualists with outsized egos, so the most effective communications appeal to what those subjective egos need or want to believe about themselves, others and the state of their world. “Objective” facts are important when they support the Boomers’ emotional needs, desires and choices.

Like everyone else, Boomers are highly selective about the facts they use to rationalize and support buying decisions they’ve already made at the gut level. Even purchases that seem based on a straightforward thing like saving money are more often linked to what saving money means to the buyer’s ego than to the actual value of the dollars saved.

That doesn’t mean that emotion has to ooze from every pore of everything you communicate. In fact, your greatest challenge is to portray the emotional appeal in such a subtle way that it works its magic quietly.

And keep in mind that ideas and words aren’t the only tools you can use to elicit an emotional response. Any technique that helps you tap into the Boomers’ emotions will help you touch the spiritual child that lives within each of them. That’s the part of their being that’s more playful, less reasonable, less uptight, more spontaneous. You can help create that emotional appeal with colors, shapes and designs that engage and challenge the imagination. You can use rich imagery that conjures up complex feelings that even the most agile mind can’t quite grasp intellectually but can certainly discern at a gut level.

In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll talk a little more about the role that creativity plays when you want to hit Boomers where they really live.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

12 Ways to Make Yourself Perfectly Clear, Part 3

Picking up where I left off yesterday, here are six more tips you can use to make your writing more appealing to Baby Boomers.

7. Learn to spell. It’s simply good manners to be an accurate speller, especially in an age when email and Twitter have encouraged people to get downright sloppy about spelling. Correct spelling shows that you care about your writing and have enough self-respect to use a dictionary when in doubt. Readers are sure to trip over a misspelled word because it sticks out like a sore thumb, and that’s guaranteed to derail the communication process. And, of course, don’t ever fully trust Spell Check in Word or any other program. The only proofreader you can rely on is yourself.

8. Listen to your writing. The ear loves clarity the way the nose loves freshly baked bread. Read your writing out loud so you can hear it flow. If it doesn’t sound good to you, it’s certainly not going to sound good to the reader. Elegantly rhythmic writing makes it easier for the reader to embrace and absorb what you’re trying to communicate. So be sure to choose your words and sentence construction with a tasteful ear so your writing really sings.

9. Give the reader concrete details. Your writing will always seem more real and less abstract when you engage and enliven the senses. Let the reader smell, feel, see, hear, and touch exactly what you are talking about. Don’t go overboard, though; a little of this goes a long way. Keep in mind that specifics are much clearer than generalities, and they give your writing more credibility, too.

10.Learn to cut without bleeding. It seems like the writer with the least to say often uses the most words to say it. But if you’re going to write like a pro, you have to be your own most ruthless editor. It’s easy to fall in love with your own words, but too many unnecessary ones just clutter the landscape and get in the way of what you’re writing about. Just remember that you’re conveying ideas not words, so make sure your writing gets directly to the point and stays there. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If it doesn’t move the Big Idea forward, cut it. Period.

11.Learn to use punctuation with good taste. Punctuation marks are like traffic signals that keep the reader’s eyes and thoughts flowing along the highways, side streets, and back roads of your writing. Whatever you’re writing about is unexplored territory for your audience, so be considerate. Tell the reader when to slow down or stop. And be consistent in the way you use punctuation—especially commas.

12. Maintain a unified point of view and voice. An orderly, logical flow paves the way for clarity, so once you get on track, stay there from start to finish. Your tone, style, and the tense of your verbs should also be consistent from beginning to end, unless you have a compelling reason to vary them. And your transitions from one sentence to the next and one paragraph to another should be logically consistent, as well.

Ultimately, there are no shortcuts to becoming a crystal clear writer. Use the tips I’ve given you as a starting point and do a lot more homework on your own. Then write and rewrite until everything you want to communicate is stated so perfectly that it’s simple, straightforward and easy to understand.

Is that clear?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

12 Ways to Make Yourself Perfectly Clear, Part 2

Here are the first six tips you can use to ensure that Baby Boomers will clearly understand what you’re trying to communicate.

1. Keep it simple. Simplicity is crucial to clear communication.

2. Eliminate jargon, euphemisms and clich├ęs. Use fresh language in an interesting and engaging way. Become sensitive to the subtle aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Employ nuances of meanings and usage with fine discrimination.

3. Play by the rules. Use proper syntax and grammar. You must master writing by the rules before you can even consider breaking them.

4. Choose powerful verbs to drive each sentence. Forget about passive voice, keep it active, and you’ll seldom have to worry about using adverbs to shore up weak-sounding verbs.

5. Thoughtfully select your nouns. Make them concrete and colorful. A sure sign of a poor writer is the tendency to lean on adjectives to help support puny nouns. And don’t use nouns as verbs. “Impact” is primarily a noun. Sure, you can use it as a verb, but when you do, it sounds strange. Besides, it’s not nearly as clear or powerful as the word “strike,” for instance. And keep a thesaurus handy, because that’s where all the really cool nouns hang out. In fact, you should think of that reference book as a spice rack that can add a little zing to your writing and keep people interested enough to continue reading.

6. Cut way back on adjectives and adverbs. If you use concrete, descriptive nouns and expressive, active verbs you won’t need to embellish your writing with too many adjectives and adverbs. And that will be just fine, because more often than not, they simply bloat sentences, and get in the reader’s way.

Tune in tomorrow for six more tips on how to become a clear, powerful writer with real Boomer appeal.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

12 Ways to Make Yourself Perfectly Clear, Part 1.

Becoming a writer is a lifelong process. You’re never really finished perfecting your craft, especially when it comes to being clear about exactly what you’re saying. Crystal clarity is essential if you’re trying to communicate with Baby Boomers. They’re well educated, sophisticated and demanding consumers who will simply ignore any piece of communication that’s hard to understand.

If you’ve been regularly writing your own advertising and marcom, you’re probably a pretty good writer by now, so I’m going to share with you the things that you must master to perfect your craft. If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be better able to polish the rough edges until everything you write is crystal clear.

If you think this smacks of trying too hard, you’re not a real pro. Striving for absolute clarity is the minimum that a good professional writer owes his or her audience. This should be painfully obvious, but it’s not. Don’t take my word for it. Skim the first page of a dozen or so books at random. Better yet, try to decipher just about any written communication from the government—you’ll need the Rosetta Stone to penetrate the meaning. Ironically, the government is supposed to be our friend. Of course, that isn’t always the case. Consider the exalted civil servant who said, “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” as he desperately labored to obfuscate the obvious.

Problems of clarity generally arise from two sources. The first is a brew of ineptitude, carelessness and laziness. The second source is that certain writers want to pretend that they’re communicating something of substance, when all they really want to do is give the appearance of communication. Long before 1984, George Orwell wrote, “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” And that, unfortunately, often seems to hold true in advertising and marketing communications, where playing it loose with the truth is business as usual.

The best copywriters know that nothing speaks as clearly or loudly as the truth well told. No thinking person will tolerate anyone who willfully distorts the facts, and no one is going to buy anything from anyone who treats them like a fool.

People feel cheated when they don’t have a clear grasp of exactly what you mean after having read what you’ve written, because you’ve wasted their time. If you don’t approach the creation of your advertising and marcom with crystal clarity in mind, you’re not going to ring up too many sales with Boomers. “Buy something from you? I’m not even sure what you said!” is the way Boomers react to poorly written promotional materials of any kind, from TV to Twitter.

If your goal is to have Boomers really understand what you’re talking about, you’ll find helpful tips in the next couple of blogs. Take them to heart before you create your next ad or brochure, and you will clearly be on the road to becoming a more powerful writer.