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.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Promises, Promises.

When Baby Boomers ask, “What’s in it for me?,” they’re looking for a strong Promise and equally strong Reasons Why they should believe it. But your Promise and Reasons Why have to be more than just dry marketing statements. They have to sparkle with creativity, too.

A genuinely creative approach will elevate the Promise and Reasons Why above the commonplace and give them the edge needed to cut through the clutter of today’s communications garbage can. Of course, there’s no safe, scientific way to be creative, which is why so many marketers shy away from trying. Fact is, you’ve got to be a risk taker to even dabble in creativity, because seeking safety is antithetical to the creative process.

One reason why being creative is inherently dicey is that it’s often hard to differentiate good creative from bad. A quick look at most of what passes for advertising and marcom today proves that. One rule of thumb I use is this: If a creative concept scares you, it’s probably innovative and sharp enough to penetrate the audience’s apathy. If the idea feels comfortable, pitch it, because it’s undoubtedly shopworn. And never worry about being “too creative”—that’s impossible. Just make sure that you stay on target, because as the adage goes, “It ain’t creative if it don’t sell.”

Tapping into your creativity isn’t a theoretical or businesslike venture. It’s more like jumping into the sandbox and playing. Just make sure that the results include a meaningful Promise that’s paid off by credible, compelling Reasons Why Boomers should believe it.

Use powerful imagery and language that persuade the audience to see your products and services in a new light. Be competitive without being pushy. Design creative executions that are uncluttered and stylish. Make your points concisely and with elegant simplicity. Be daring and a bit presumptuous. Be gutsy and a little dangerous, too. In short, be creative, whatever that means in the context of your communication challenge and your capabilities. Just make sure that everything you do is believable in a way that resonates on the deepest levels with Baby Boomers.

Finally, always remember that the best advertising and marketing communications begin and end with a Promise. Clearly communicate that Promise with a boldly executed Big Idea, and eventually you’ll break through to the Boomer Buying Center. That’s a Promise.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

So You Want to be a Copywriter?, Part 2

Direct Response copywriters are the door-to-door salespeople of the writing world. I say that without a trace of sarcasm and with great admiration. These copywriters labor in the vineyards of Direct Marketing, so they don’t depend on dazzling style alone to make the sale. Instead, they focus on writing the very best “Because” copy possible, because that’s what’s required to motivate Baby Boomers to take action. “Because” copy supplies the Reasons Why anyone should give serious consideration to what you’re saying and selling. Its purest form might be a short bullet that makes a rather common product feature seem like something that will enhance the life of the target market.

Effective “Because” copy is especially important with Direct Marketing prospects because they always want to know “Why?” Why is that such a good feature? Why should I believe the claims that are made? Why is the product worth the price? Why should I buy the product? Direct Response copywriters answer each Why with at least one credible, compelling “Because”, because that’s what it takes to convert browsing Boomers into loyal customers.

Direct Response writing is the closest thing to “writing as science” that I can think of because its results can be measured. However, despite what the latest seminar du jour may claim, there aren’t any reliable formulas for successful Direct Response copywriting, although there are certain guidelines that are usually worth heeding. For instance, research suggests that using certain tricks of the trade can influence response rates in a positive way. There are plenty of good books around that can teach you the basics, but there are no shortcuts to mastering Direct Response copywriting. It may be part science, but it’s part magic, too. And, as with every skill, you learn by doing, refining, doing, refining… It’s not easy, but it can be very rewarding for both you and your clients.

It’s a shame that the general public considers Direct Response copywriting to be shilling rather than a serious tool of commerce, like consumer research. This is partly due to simple ignorance, but it’s also because people think that all writing should rise to the level of “fine art,” whatever that is. Besides being a snooty point of view, it’s also misguided. Writing of any kind, from a short poem to a ponderous tome, has always been about selling something, be it an inspiring idea (Walden), a defense of a political position (universal healthcare), or simply entertainment (choose your favorite sitcom).

An advertising client asked me if I’d ever written anything “serious.” I guess she meant a novel, or even less profitable, a short story (I’ve written both). I replied that copywriting is the most serious kind of writing that I do. It’s serious because I have to convince some pretty tough customers to carefully consider parting with their money. That’s a lot more challenging than getting them to turn the pages of a book. Over the past four decades, I’ve written just about everything you can think of from billboards to short films. Some of that stuff may have caused the audience to laugh, cry, ponder, or rage—all important effects, I suppose. But if I can get you to pry open your wallet and spend some cash (OK, put it on plastic), that is quite an achievement in my book.

A final thought: Through the years, I’ve worked in ad agencies and belonged to various professional organizations, where I’ve met a lot of aspiring writers. I’ve mentored some, too. And I’ve found that there’s one characteristic that all successful writers share in common: They write. I’m not trying to be funny. I’ve heard too many wannabes talk about writing, theorize about writing, moan about writing, but they don’t actually write.

So, if you’re sincere about being a really good copywriter, especially a Direct Response copywriter, you must sit down with at least one good idea and write about it for at least an hour a day. Every single day. No excuses. And don’t just ramble on. Revise your stuff until you have at least 500 good, solid, publishable words. If you do that long enough, and well enough, one day you will awaken to the fact that you are, indeed, a real pro.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So You Want to be a Copywriter?, Part 1

Welcome to the club. Seems like almost anyone who can hold a pencil or tap on a keyboard fancies him or herself a writer. Of course, there’s a huge difference between dabbling in writing and living by the written word. I’ve been a professional writer since the age of 21, and I’ve learned a few things along the way that I’d like to share with those who aspire to the writer’s life.

First, you should know that the secret to good writing is dogged persistence. Good writing does not mysteriously well up from some cavern of creativity deep within the soul. Nor does it only happen when the muse strikes. In fact, waiting for inspiration paves the way for starvation. Simply put, good writing comes from facts and the ideas that spring from them. Facts provide the who, what, why, when, where, and how that fuel the imagination. Once the creative candle is lit, old images and familiar feelings are seen in a new light. When that happens, all things are possible, because they’re just a flight of fancy away.

That’s true even if you’re a commercial writer, as I am. I write about Baby Boomers, so my ideas and vocabulary tend to focus on Positive Aging and Individualism. To sell Boomers with the written word, you must envelop them in facts about your product or service, but you can’t bore them into buying. The facts you present and the way you present them must be captivating, involving, interesting, engaging and important. They have to turn the Boomers’ imagination loose in a way that eventually helps them convince themselves that they need whatever you’re selling.

The hallmark of all good writing is the use of concrete language. The kind of language that gets Boomers really close to your product or service. It’s the kind of language that let’s the Boomer touch it, taste it, experience it on every possible level, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It lets the Boomer dream about your product or service, fantasize about it, fall in love with it.

Finding the most important facts about your product or service isn’t always as simple as it may seem. You have to dig, not just deeply but widely. You have to flood your mind—every level of it—with all the facts you can discover. Then suddenly “Pop!”, something creative will happen. You’ll discover a new relationship that no one else ever saw. Or you’ll transform a banal feature into an important and exciting new benefit. With the right touch, a good writer can light up the sky with a meteor shower of new ideas derived from the same old dry facts that everybody else takes for granted.

What you do with your newfound insights will demonstrate if you’re a really good creative writer or not. To see how you measure up, fill a blank page with all the facts you can dig out of your product or service. Build a big list without stopping to critique along the way, then sleep on it. If you’re a real writer, you’ll hit the ground running the next morning with lots of new permutations and combinations of the stuff you wrote the day before. New ideas and themes will flow through your fingertips and onto the page. If you find you get stuck along the way, don’t give up. Real pros know that Writer’s Block is more an excuse than a reality. Keep writing, and you’ll overcome every obstacle. At least that’s been my experience over the past forty years.

In my next blog, I’ll talk a little bit about what it takes to be an effective Direct Response copywriter.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

"Because" Copy is Best Because...

Every Baby Boomer loves a freebie, whether it’s a high-value coupon or the kind of psychosocial strokes that enhance the ego. You need to reward Boomers each time you communicate with them, and nothing does that better than effective “Because” copy that’s clear, concise, creative and cogent. Why? Because understanding something that’s truly meaningful is, in a way, its own reward to discerning Boomers.

“Because” copy is what great copywriting is all about. Whether it’s done in long-form, short bursts or terse bullets, it spells out the benefits for the audience in no uncertain terms.

For practical insight into how to write effective “Because” copy, study ads that have bullet points that go right to the heart of the matter. Appliance and automotive ads can be very instructive for two reasons: 1) some are outstanding, and 2) some are just awful.

Great bullet copy is only possible when the advertiser distills each feature/benefit into a clear, concise statement that’s meaningful and easy to grasp. Bad bullet copy shoots itself in the foot, because it tends to be self-admiring. It says, “Gee, look at all those features. Aren’t they swell?” This kind of copy, which is quite common, is a prime example of the company talking to itself, and although the corporate committee that wrote and approved it might love it, Boomers won’t pay it any mind.

Although “Because” copy is sell copy, it should never sound dull, labored or shrill. To be effective, it has to deftly communicate heavy meaning with a light touch. Good taste and writing skill will help you develop a style that allows you to express complex ideas in a clear, concise way, but it takes lots of practice. As James Michener said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

In the end, there’s no substitute for using just enough of the perfect words to say exactly what you mean. And that takes persistence, patience and a passion for effective communication.

To grasp the importance of “Because” copy, read a dozen advertising or marcom headlines that are presumably aimed at Boomers. Try to see things through their eyes and ask: “What’s in it for me?" Then do the same with each line of copy. Does the overall thrust of the communication have impact? Does it hit the Boomer where he or she really lives? As a Boomer, do you care about what’s being communicated? Are you puzzled by it? Or worse, are you simply bored? Bottom line: Can you tell what’s in it for you?

Do the same exercise with radio commercials, TV commercials, Twitters—any form of communication that’s knocking on the door of your consciousness.

Trying to see advertising and marcom as the Boomers see them, you’ll become increasingly aware of the grammar, vocabulary, sound and feel of effective “Because” copy. You’ll also become aware of how often advertisers miss the mark in terms of reaching and motivating the Boomers they covet.

Finally, if you want to see where you stand, put your own advertising and marcom to the acid test. Read it as if you were a disinterested Boomer, and be brutally honest. Is there enough “Because” copy to engage, inform, entertain and motivate you, or are you left wondering, “What’s in it for me?” The answers you give are crucial to your success, because…

Monday, July 6, 2009

What's In It For Me?

Whether spoken or unspoken, that’s what every Baby Boomer asks when he or she hears your sales pitch. Boomers are self-centered individualists, so no matter what the medium, from TV to Twitter, their first question is quite naturally “What’s in it for me?” If your advertising and marcom aren’t answering that query clearly and credibly, you have no right to expect stellar sales. In fact, if you can’t tell Boomers what’s in it for them, you’re talking to yourself, so save your money.

Boomers don’t care about your products or services the way you do. That’s why “Because” copy is crucial to your success. Face it, simply talking about how wonderful and beautiful your product’s features are is a real snooze. It’s like showing complete strangers pictures of your grandkids and expecting them to really care.

“Because” copy is the key to answering the question, Why should I buy? That’s why “Because” copy only mentions features that have real benefits that consumers can easily perceive and believe in. Tell Boomers how your product’s features will change their lives for the better, and you’ll grab and hold their attention, especially if your product’s benefits are related to Positive Aging, a vital goal for all discerning Boomers.

Rather obvious, you say? Then why isn’t “Because” copy common in today’s advertising and marcom? I think it’s because too many marketers are clueless or complacent. Most seem content to say: “We’re great, and you should love us the way we love ourselves.” That may work with trendy post-adolescents, but it won’t fly with discriminating, highly individualistic Boomers.

You can’t expect Boomers to read plain vanilla features and then discern the corresponding benefits automatically. They just aren’t going to work that hard to understand your pitch. If your product or service has a feature important enough to state, then clearly attach a meaningful benefit to it, otherwise don’t bother mentioning it.

When benefits are dramatically highlighted in a clear, concise, creative and cogent way, the product’s value suddenly seems obvious. So that’s exactly what you need to do—spell out those benefits in vividly engaging ways. Bring the benefits to life, and you’re well on your way to the Boomer Buying Center, where all the most important buying decisions are made.

In my next blog, I’ll talk a little more about the rewards of well-conceived and well-written “Because” copy, so stay tuned.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Benjamin Braddock, The Birth of the Boom, Part 2

The Graduate is a funny, fascinating flick that compares and contrasts the values of two warring generations and ideologies. Even in 1967, it put an exclamation point on the growing dissatisfaction that budding Baby Boomers had with the status quo. That discontent grew exponentially, as the Boomers turned away from the alienation bred by “things as they should be,” and looked inward for new and unique ways to create meaningful lives.

Individualism became the normative value for Boomers as the horrors of the Vietnam War, assassinations, and burning cities gave way to the hardcore cynicism born of the post-Watergate Era. For the Boomers, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” ultimately morphed into what might be individualism’s anthem: “Don’t trust anyone but yourself.”

Impulsive individualism was reflected in The Graduate’s final, and most telling scene, when Benjamin rescues Elaine from the all-too predictable life promised by her groom, Carl Smith. The symbolism of individuality versus conventionality is joyously portrayed as the once mousy Benjamin barges in on one of society’s most solemn ceremonies and steals the bride right off the altar just as she’s about to kiss the groom, sealing her fate. Benjamin’s passionate appeal is so convincing that she readily rejects a world that has inflicted so many unwelcome expectations on her delicate psyche.

As a last resort, Mrs. Robinson insists, “It’s too late!” Elaine answers, “Not for me!” Mom counters with a couple of slaps to the chops just before her rebellious daughter dashes off with her savior. In a final gesture of contempt, Benjamin uses a large gold cross to fend off their pursuers. He then uses it like a dead bolt on the church’s big glass doors, locking the enemy within their own little world and out of his and Elaine’s.

The newly liberated couple streaks to the nearest bus stop, two mavericks on a heady journey toward God knows where. With everyone and everything left behind, they ride off in the back of a bus, secure in the knowledge that their declaration of independence has prevailed over the forces of orthodoxy that threatened to rob them of their souls. The other passengers silently stare at them incredulously (a wedding grown will draw those kinds of looks in the back of a bus), as Benjamin and Elaine settle into their private reveries to The Sounds of Silence.

Like all good art, The Graduate was slightly ahead of its time in the way it so vividly showcased the individualism that would become the primary value that continues to drive the Baby Boomers in their decision making.

After a torrid weekend, Benjamin and Elaine probably went their separate ways, eventually marrying other people. But although they may have settled into a more conventional lifestyle than the finale might suggest, it’s highly unlikely that they ever abandoned the belief that they’re each the center of their own little universe. And, in the final analysis, living that belief is what being a Baby Boomer is about.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Benjamin Braddock, The Birth of the Boom, Part 1

If you’d like to get gut level insight into what the Baby Boomers are about, watch The Graduate again, or at least the final scenes. The last few minutes of the film offer a vivid depiction of individualism in action, and it shows just how nonrational a force it can be.

As you’ll recall, Benjamin Braddock is a freshly graduated nebbish who becomes the sex object of an alluring middle-aged adulteress, Mrs. Robinson. It’s not clear whether this man-child is alienated and adrift or just plain lazy, but he sure is horny. After graduating from college, his parents prod him, while he pokes his paramour. Gradually, he begins to grapple with the shifting sexual mores of the 60s, as well as his own feelings of guilt and estrangement.

As the film progresses, Benjamin becomes increasing conflicted as he rebels against society’s conventional customs and stifling expectations. Commitment to the “plastics” lifestyle doesn’t resonate with him, so he struggles to discover what he truly wants. As his self-absorption grows more focused, his individuality begins to poke its head out of the clouds of apathy. As a result, his post-adolescent discontent with the status quo becomes intensified and validated, at least in his own mind.

Watching this unfold is like viewing the birth of Boomer individualism, which may have developed as an easy and gratifying answer for a generation that felt confused, exploited and betrayed by “The Man.” Benjamin’s own “Coming of Age” odyssey provides no hint of where it might end up. One thing is clear, however, he has discovered that he can mollify his yearnings by exercising his independence and ingenuity, two hallmarks of Boomer individualism. For much of the movie, his rebellion is mostly an internal struggle. But when he finally takes decisive action, it’s a compelling example of the kind of mindset that gave birth to the Boomers, so be sure to come back for Part II.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Stop 'Em Dead

Playing it safe with advertising and marcom can be dangerous to your business, because the more communication that floods human consciousness, the less we pay attention. And in the Age of the Internet, there’s more junk bombarding us with each passing minute.

In this hyperkinetic communication environment, the ads and marcom that grab and hold an audience are those that take powerful, well-focused shots directly at the heart of their target market. When there’s a Big Idea in the driver’s seat, these are the ones that will be noticed, remembered and acted upon. That’s why taking creative risks is always more effective than playing it safe. That’s especially true when you’re selling to a jaded group like the Baby Boomers.

Successful marketers know just how dangerous safe advertising can be to their bottom line. They realize that everything they do promotionally from TV to Twitter has to have Stopping Power. That doesn’t mean it shows off or shouts. Instead, it’s so thought-provoking and meaningful that it stops Boomers dead in their tracks, compelling them to pay attention. Effective “Stop ’Em Dead” ads and marcom always connect with Boomers at the deepest level, the Boomer Buying Center, where all real purchasing decisions are made.

To put Stopping Power into your advertising and marcom, you need to carefully consider the medium you choose, so you can make the most of it. Of course, your ultimate success will depend on how effectively you’ve used your Big Idea to position your product or service in a uniquely meaningful way. Here are some thought starters.

o Print has to have a strong visual stopper that keeps the reader from zipping right past the page. And the graphics must be complemented by a compelling headline followed by well-crafted copy that’s just long enough to tell the story well.

o TV is above all else a visual medium. It’s easy to determine if a commercial will be effective or not. Just turn off the sound, and if you get the essence of the message, the commercial is a success. Of course, in the Age of Tivo, the visual flow must start dramatically and steadily build to a climax, or it won’t hold anyone’s attention. The copy should be brief and easy on the ears, and it has to complement rather than parrot the visuals.

o Radio is easy if you have a knack for creating theater of the mind. Historically, it’s leaned on gentle humor to deliver its message. The best radio takes the product or service seriously, but not itself. Believable dialogue that rings true to the ear has far more Stopping Power than an announcer who reads mind-numbing copy. And there should never be a surplus of gimmicky sound effects or other distractions.

o Direct mail must be engaging, informative and urgent. In addition, it should make a valuable offer that the Boomer finds irresistible. And it must clearly ask for the order without being pushy. This is a difficult medium to shine in, because it’s so cluttered, but it can also be very cost-effective and rewarding. Direct marketing techniques are numerous and nuanced. There’s even an “art and science” to designing an effective coupon. That’s why it pays to hire a seasoned DM pro who knows when, where and how to use the “tricks of the trade.” You’ll get your money’s worth.

o Email marketing is akin to direct mail, but there are more restrictions, and you really do need to heed them. Unless you use permission-based marketing, you’ll be labeled a spammer, and you’ll be roundly ignored, or worse. The powers that be are cracking down on spammers, much to the relief of anyone who uses a computer, so don’t just launch junk mail into cyberspace, hoping for the best. Also, it should be obvious that the subject line is where you need to blast your Big Idea, or Boomers will soar right past your email in the blink of an eye.

Whichever of the above media, you need to make sure your creative executions have real Stopping Power. Begin by objectively assessing your latest marketing communication efforts. Using a critical eye, ask these questions. “Will this stuff Stop ’em dead?” “If I weren’t its creator, would I remember it tomorrow, or even later today?” “Does it motivate me to take action now?”

If you’ve answered in the affirmative, you’re well on the way to getting the job done. If not, you’ve got some work to do. After all, if your creative executions can’t stop you dead, they’ll never stop Boomers long enough to get their attention let alone sell them anything.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Get Personal

Picture this: A salesman comes into your home, sits down next to you, and begins talking about his product or service. But he’s not particularly warm or friendly. In fact, he subjects you to a rather impersonal sales pitch. It quickly becomes apparent that he has no desire to communicate person to person.

He bores you with an endless list of features that mean little to you. He shouts the price in your face, while stressing what a great deal he’s giving you. Then he asks for the order. By now, you’re not in the mood to do anything but throw him out on his ear. And that’s exactly what the vast majority of people do to almost all the advertising and marketing communications that they experience.

People can’t be bored or bullied into parting with their money. But sometimes they can be nudged or romanced into buying—if you touch them in a genuinely personal way. This is especially important if you’re selling to Baby Boomers. They’re highly individualistic, so they like to be tickled where they really live. Of course, determining how to do that takes much more than research. It takes the insight and sensitivity of a gerontology counselor—one who also happens to be an advertising and marcom expert.

You need someone like that, because you can’t create a feeling of personal warmth with reach and frequency alone. That frame of mind is born of a genuine rapport that you create. And that rapport doesn’t come easily. Building it takes time and finesse and a caring attitude that respects each Boomer’s needs, desires and self-perceptions.

Our obnoxious salesman isn’t the type who would bother trying to build such a “soft” skill set. Why bother, when you can bulldoze people? Well, that might work with some consumers, but not Boomers. That’ s why your advertising and marcom need to go far beyond canned presentations—the kind that bore the audience with drivel that was cobbled together by a committee back at the home office. Before you take this route, ask yourself, When has anything truly personal come out of a committee?

Whatever media you use, the message is clear: People are always more open to what you’re saying and selling when you speak to them, not at them. Faceless facts, no matter how convincing they may seem, don’t make for persuasive communication. People rarely buy for logical reasons. Most often they use logic to rationalize the emotionally-driven purchasing decision they’ve already made.

If you decide to get personal with Boomers, just keep in mind that there are ways to shout without yelling. As you create your next ad or brochure, ask yourself if it really hits Boomers where they live. Does it sell gently, with warmth and respect? Does it treat Boomers the way you’d like to be treated by someone coming into your own home? After all, the mind is the most important home we all have.

No matter how you do it, one thing is undeniable: Get personal, and you’ll be far more welcome in the Boomer Buying Center.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Why Positive Aging Resonates with Baby Boomers

Boomers embrace Positive Aging because the idea that all good things are possible—indeed, inevitable—for them has been virtually programmed into their psychosocial DNA. People who don’t understand Boomers see them as extremely self-centered, but they also tend to be much more altruistic than previous generations. That has important implications for marketers who target them.

For insight into why Boomers seem so self-centered, google psychologist Carl Rogers & unconditional positive regard. Humanist psychologists like Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard and acceptance would provide optimal conditions for personal growth. During the Boomers’ formative years, the concept of unconditional positive regard was promoted in education and child-rearing, becoming a guiding light for their teachers and parents.

Unconditional positive regard holds that everyone has the innate ability to improve without changing who they actually are. Although it’s true that unconditional positive regard and acceptance can lead to unadulterated selfishness, simply being self-centered isn’t as negative as it sounds. In fact, it can be quite beneficial when it empowers a person to nurture self-esteem and optimism. That alone can be a driving force that energizes focused actions which enhance the individual’s well-being. And that’s one of the reasons why so many Boomers have a distinct preference for Positive Aging.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's Your Best Position?, Part 2

Once you’ve decided on your best position, your next job is to communicate it clearly and creatively in a cogent theme that helps build a distinctive brand personality that resonates with Baby Boomers. Only then will you be able to get the share of mind required to get a healthy share of the Boomer market.

As you create your position, don’t fall into the Superlatives Trap. Deal in reality. Understate some of your benefits. “We’re number 2, we have to try harder” turned out to be a brilliant position for Avis Rent A Car even though it made it appear that the company was taking a backseat to Hertz. The key to its enduring success was a clear and memorable statement of a crucial consumer benefit. In the same vein, you have to create a position that convinces Boomers that you’ll try harder to please them in every possible way, from the quality of your products through customer service.

And once you’ve established your position, you have to be consistent. In the early eighties, Seven-Up® crafted a very intriguing position when it called itself the UnCola. This position succeeded in sharply differentiating the brand, setting it apart from major competitors. Rather than consistently building on this strong position through the years, however, Seven-Up eventually defaulted to the tired soft drink technique of lifestyle advertising, with predictable results. The lesson is clear: If you vacillate, so will your customer base.

As an aside, right now, KFC® is resurrecting the Un- idea, asking consumers to UnThink what they know about the kind of chicken the company sells. Although this is clearly derivative, it’s going to make a very interesting case study because the brand seems to be intent on at least partially unseating a well-established idea, i.e., KFC=fried chicken, and replacing it with a new line extension concept KFC=grilled chicken, too. This is tricky business, because they certainly don’t want to switch people over to grilled chicken in a way that cannibalizes their flagship product. It will be interesting to see if they can pull it off.

Establishing the best possible position is especially crucial for retailers. During peak promotional periods, most of these businesses look and sound the same because they all articulate very similar shrill messages. (Buy Now! Save Money! Do This Or Die!) And almost all of this shouting is done in a decidedly uncreative way. The problem with this myopic approach is that if you look and sound like you’re just one of the rabble, you’ll never become a leader.

Although it’s true that positioning isn’t easy, if you can manage to stake out a unique niche in the Boomers’ collective consciousness (with a firm foothold in the subconscious, as well), you’ll have a share of mind that nothing else can occupy, and that’s the key to increasing your share of market.

Bottom line: Effectively answer the question,What’s Your Best Position?, and you’ll take an important step toward the Boomer Buying Center.