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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's Your Best Position?, Part 1

Creative positioning is crucial to gaining market share, because it helps differentiate products and services in the consumer’s mind. A well-conceived position can penetrate consumer apathy, and that’s an absolute prerequisite for success, because all of us ignore tons of advertising and marketing communications every single day. It’s simple self-defense. The relentless promotional bombardment comes from all sides, battering us 24/7, and so much of it sounds and looks the same. But a sharp marketer can rise above the masses and get its message across if it uses its Big Idea as the basis for a position that resonates with Baby Boomers in a uniquely memorable way.

Despite what some marketers seem to believe, positioning isn’t something that happens in the marketplace like an end cap display. It happens in the consumer’s mind. Ultimately, that’s where all sales occur, so the most innovative positioning is designed to cut through the communication clutter and carve out a unique niche in the consumer’s awareness. But it has to be done deftly to be effective.

A truly meaningful position doesn’t beat people over the head. In fact, some of the most successful positioning is so subtle it’s hard to detect. The understated approach is particularly important if you’re selling to Baby Boomers, because they’re grown weary of bombastic advertising and marcom that tries to shout over the competition. The secret of effective positioning, then, is to first create a quiet corner in your prospect’s mind, and then gently fill it with your message. Y’know, speak softly and carry a Big Idea.

And keep in mind that in a world deluged with me-too communications, there’s no hope for the marketer with an identity crisis. To carve out a solid position, you must know exactly who you are and what you have to offer. If you can’t figure that out, no one else will either. More about positioning tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's the Big Idea? Part 2

By now I trust you’re beginning to appreciate the selling power of a Big Idea. Without one driving your creative executions, clever headlines, countless features/benefits bullets, and cutting-edge production techniques will all add up to advertising and marcom that just lies there gasping. Don’t get me wrong. Those things may be necessary, but they’re certainly not sufficient, because if you don’t have a Big Idea behind the magic curtain, you’re pushing water uphill.

A Big Idea gives you the leverage needed to penetrate the natural apathy Baby Boomers have toward your brand. Used clearly, concisely and creatively, it can help convince Boomers to carefully consider whatever you’re selling. So why are there so few Big Ideas in advertising and marcom today?

The reason’s simple. Big Ideas take guts to implement because they’re so fresh and innovative that they’re scary. Comfort-seeking marketers shy away from powerful Big Ideas without even realizing that it’s the tension that they create that makes them so effective. Big Ideas make people feel and think differently. They smash preconceptions, shatter indifference and dare people to try (or at least consider) something new. In the depths of their souls, Big Ideas are risky business. That’s what gives them spirit, and it’s that spirit that connects with people.

Going back to the last blog’s Marlboro® example, ask yourself, Is there any sensible reason why a smoker should relate to a cowboy puffing on a cigarette while riding a horse in God-Knows-Where, Montana?” I can think of no logical reason. I can barely come up with a semi-convincing subliminal reason. Yet the spirit of that Big Idea has resonated so profoundly over decades that countless smokers switched to the brand. And who knows how many started smoking because of it?

No one can deny that this Big Idea ultimately proved horribly harmful to millions (the original Marlboro Man purportedly died of lung cancer). However, that fact just puts an exclamation point on the overwhelming power of a truly Big Idea.

Is implementing a Big Idea worth the risk? Advertising history suggests it is. But playing table stakes with a Big Idea is never easy. Way back when, it took genuine courage for Bill Bernbach to tell Avis® that it had to overtly admit to being the number two car rental company. Of course, he didn’t sheepishly state this obvious fact, and then skulk off to oblivion. Instead, he made that fact—and the Big Idea that grew out of it—the brand’s most potent strength.

Bernbach’s insistence on using his Big Idea (various versions of: We’ve number two. We have to try harder) was so bold that he almost lost the Avis account, but he stuck to his creative guns. The campaign he created was so deliciously different at the time that it became an instant advertising classic. More important, of course, it also helped Avis carve out a unique share of mind that led to a nice, big share of the market. To this day, “Avis. We try harder®” drives the company’s advertising and marcom.

One of my all-time favorite Big Ideas was for Sears Diehard® Batteries. I wish I’d been part of the team that came up with it, but I worked on Sears Steady Rider® Shocks, instead. Anyway, the Big Idea was: “Diehard. Starts Your Car When Most Batteries Won’t®.” Nothing fancy about it. Simple, straightforward and powerfully memorable. It tells you exactly what the product does, and why you can trust it. Every Big Idea should be so good. And how about the name? It’s the perfect complement to the Big Idea. “Diehard” says it all!

Of course, after the Diehard breakthrough, Sears gave Foote, Cone & Belding (R.I.P.) the task of coming up with something just as good for SteadyRiders®. The Big Idea for that brand worked well with the name, but it was no Diehard. (For you advertising historians, it was “SteadyRiders. They named it right.” Good, but not great.)

Enough history. Now let’s take a close, critical look at your most recent advertising and marcom efforts. Spread them out on the conference room table, and ask, “What’s the big idea?” If it hits you right between the eyes, then it will rivet your audience’s attention to your sales message. On the other hand, if there’s just a lot of noise and flash and mind-numbing detail but nothing really compelling about the sum total of what you’re looking at, then it’s DOA.

The bottom line: Don’t expect your Big Idea to perform miracles all by itself. Like Marlboro, Diehard, et al, you’ll need a lot of professional help in terms of execution. This is especially true if you’re targeting Boomers. Then you’d be wise to find an advertising pro who’s also credentialed in gerontology counseling. That’s the kind of professional who can help make your Big Idea really come to life in the mind of the Boomers. And when that happens, your brand will be headed toward the Boomer Buying Center.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What's the Big Idea? Part 1

That’s the question Baby Boomers ask themselves whenever they see or hear your advertising or marketing communications. They may not put it in those exact words, but you can be sure that if your message doesn’t have the power of a Big Idea behind it, you’re fighting a losing battle.

Fortunately, if your brainstorming was successful, then you’ve got a Big Idea that dramatizes what your brand is all about. That Big Idea promises to pave the way to the Boomer Buying Center, so you can’t let it just lay there. Your next challenge is to communicate it in a way that’s so creative and intriguing that it grabs Boomers’ attention, and resonates so meaningfully that it motivates them to listen, to act and to buy.

If you think I’m overemphasizing the importance of a Big Idea, consider its power. Skeptics have often asked me, “What’s a Big Idea worth?” Although I abhor cigarettes, I cite the example of Marlboro® Country. That was a Big Idea that created so much cash flow that it helped build Philip Morris® into a multinational behemoth.

How does an idea like a cowboy smoking a cigarette, something that’s totally foreign to the lives of the average smoker, move so many of them to buy Marlboros? Who knows? But it remains a smashing success story, and it still attracts countless consumers despite the fact that the industry as a whole kills hundreds of thousands of its very best customers every year. Year after year. Amazing. But that’s the power of a Big Idea.

Most Big Ideas are a lot more consumer friendly. Take the Maytag® Loneliest Man in Town. Wikipedia claims that my father Vincent R. Vassolo created this advertising icon in 1967 when he worked on the account at Leo Burnett. As I recall, though, Ol’ Lonely was born before then. (And, a note to Wikipedia: My father wasn’t a copywriter when he conceived the idea, he was a VP, creative director.)

In any event, Ol’ Lonely really helped put Maytag on the map, and led the brand to the top of its category, where it reigned for decades. It eventually toppled from the pinnacle around the time somebody decided this memorable communication icon just wasn’t effective enough to sell the brand any longer, at least not by using the print stories and TV mini-dramas that emphasized the brand’s dependability so memorably.

Go to the Maytag website, and you’ll find that they still talk about dependability, and the Loneliest Man is still kickin’ around somewhere, but he’s not front and center, as he was in the days when the brand dominated the category. In my opinion, they’ve diluted their Big Idea to the point where it’s lost its power.

Years ago, when consumers asked “What’s The Big Idea about Maytag?,” they remembered the message of the Loneliest Man In Town, and recalled that the brand stood for rock solid dependability. Now that message is diluted and diffuse, and Maytag seems like just another appliance manufacturer. Who knows, maybe some day the guy trying to sell the brand at retail will be the Loneliest Man In Town.

On a more positive note, once you’ve created your Big Idea, you’ve got to be very wise in the way you use it and care for it as the years pass. Do right by it, and your Big Idea will become top of mind with Boomers, and that’s sure to increase profitable sales. More about what to do with your Big Idea tomorrow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Brain Game: Successful Brainstorming, Part 3

Yesterday, we covered the first five steps you should take when you’re brainstorming. Here are five more that will help lead you to that elusive Big Idea.

6) Innovate. For advertising and marcom purposes, the goal of brainstorming is to come up with a Big Idea that’s unmistakably original. You may not find one that’s never been seen before, but that’s your goal, because a Big Idea’s value is inversely related to its familiarity. But don’t get discouraged if you feel you’ve fallen a bit short of the ideal. As Leo Burnett said, “When you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.”

7) Choose the best idea. This can be tough, but ultimately somebody has to crown the champ, without regard for the powerful egos or corporate politics that might threaten to pollute the process. As the group leader (or creative director, if you will), you have to determine which idea communicates the solution to the problem in the most dramatic and compelling way. Which is clearest in terms of summarizing the benefits of the brand? Which is the simplest to understand? Which communicates most quickly and directly. Which is the most creative, the most engaging, the most cogent? All those things and more must be carefully considered before you can confidently make a final decision and recommendation.

Synthesizing all those factors into a coherent whole that leads to a genuinely Big Idea is a big job. That’s why to be effective the leader of a brainstorming session needs experience, expertise and an instinctive grasp of what works best and what doesn’t. It’s more art than science, so after you’ve considered all the facts and research, trust your gut. Once you’ve picked your Big Idea, embrace it wholeheartedly, and file away the others for future reference.

8) Determine the best way to sell your Big Idea to others. Unless you work in a vacuum, you’ll have to sell your Big Idea to one or more people. To do this, you have to be a showman of sorts, presenting it in an exciting, engaging way that really makes it come to life. Of course, you’re bound to run up against objections; that’s where the salesmanship starts. Stick to your guns, unless there are truly compelling reasons to change your mind (corporate gamesmanship doesn’t count as a good reason).

Most often, you’ll find that you must take greater care and spend more time in selling your Big Idea than you took in discovering it. But you’ve got to make the effort, or all that brainstorming adds up to a big zero.

9) Be flexible, reasonable, honest and courageous. Allow for different points of view, listen very carefully to other opinions, accept constructive criticism, but persist in selling your Big Idea. Radiating confidence is the best way to convince others that your Big Idea is the best possible solution to the communication challenge.

10) Don’t be afraid of failure. This is the single biggest obstacle most people must overcome when brainstorming. They’re afraid that they’ll look incompetent, or worse, come up dry. My advice is simple: Don’t worry, just do it. Home run hitters tend to strike out a lot, but that doesn’t stop them from swinging for the fences. So make like The Babe, because one Big Idea is worth a thousand “safe” ones that are timeworn and tired. Try slipping one of those “safe” ideas by a savvy Baby Boomer, and you’ll quickly discover how dangerous it can be to your business.

Well, that’s about it. Now you’ve got a simple, straightforward guide to brainstorming, so start using it today. If you’re unsure about how to make the process flow efficiently and effectively, hire an experienced facilitator, preferably someone with training in group dynamics, as well as creative advertising.

And, if you’re trying to generate ideas that resonate with Baby Boomers, it pays to hire a qualified gerontology counselor with decades of advertising and marcom experience to run your brainstorming session. A multifaceted professional like that can help keep things moving along while keeping an eye out for the inevitable roadblocks that spring up whenever people try to build a consensus.

In the final analysis, brainstorming is never easy, but when it’s done well, it can provide a Big Idea that can take your brand to the next level in terms of sales and image, even with a tough group like the Baby Boomers.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Brain Game: Successful Brainstorming, Part 2

Big Ideas are the heart and soul of effective communication, but discovering them is hard work. As the leader of a brainstorming session (whether you’re doing it alone or in a large group), you need to know how to sift through the dross in search of those rare nuggets that you can use to create effective advertising and marcom for your products and services. Just remember, you’ve got to be truly original because Baby Boomers have seen and heard it all. So, roll up your sleeves, loosen up your mind, and let’s have a brainstorm.

1) State the problem clearly. Don’t do anything else until you’re absolutely sure that you understand the precise nature of the communication challenge that you face.

2) Dig for solid facts. Dig deeply and broadly. Look at the challenge from every point of view and context you can imagine. Carefully consider all the concrete facts surrounding the problem, because they are the bricks and mortar you will use to create your Big Idea.

3) Stay loose. Free associate. Suspend Judgment. Think of solutions quickly. Capture every thought on paper (or screen) without pausing to assess the merits of any one in particular. The goal is to compile dozens of ideas (or fragments) as fast as you can.

4) Have a meeting of the minds. Get other bright people involved. Collaborate. Volley ideas from mind to mind. Don’t let self-consciousness get in the way, and don’t worry about how wild or silly an idea may sound. You also have my permission to laugh at really inane ideas, because a sense of humor helps keep you loose. And don’t just laugh at other peoples’ obvious duds; laugh at your own, too. Remember, brainstorming should be fun!

5) As you focus on the solution, begin to use judgment. Steadily focus on the perfect solution to the problem no matter how impossibly out of reach it may seem. With this ideal as your goal, you’ll have a way to measure whether any of your ideas are on target. At this point, you’ve got to become objective as you begin judging the raw concepts. Naturally, everybody loves their own ideas, but you’ve got to keep your ego in check to remain credible.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover five more steps to brainstorming success.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Brain Game: Successful Brainstorming, Part 1

Brainstorming is like panning for gold. You dredge up as many raw ideas as you can from the depths of your mind and sift them through your emotions and intellect, keeping a keen eye out for the shiniest nuggets. When you’ve discovered a bright, new idea, you polish it up and show it off to the world by using it as the Big Idea that makes your product or service really shine. This Big Idea will form the foundation for the basic concept that drives all of your advertising and marcom, from billboards to brochures to TV to Twitters.

Getting creative ideas on demand isn’t as tough as you might think, but it does take some practice. In the next couple of blogs, I’ll give you some guidelines that will help you generate so many new ideas that you’ll have to file some away.

In fact, you’ll have so many to choose from that you may find it difficult to distinguish a genuinely Big Idea from one that’s merely brilliant. But don’t worry, there’s a virtually foolproof way to distinguish the best from the rest. That’s important to do, because if you’re selling to Boomers, you’re trying to motivate very picky consumers who won’t fall for the same old, tired pitch. You’ve got to convince them that your product or service is worthy of their time, attention and dollars. Do that, and you have a chance to turn them into loyal customers for life.

So, here’s what I call The Big Boom Test for determining if you’ve got a genuinely Big Idea—one that’s powerful enough to build all of your communications around.

If the idea startles you, better yet, scares you and others, you’ve got the real thing, so make the most of it.

Don’t get timid and settle for less than the best. Old, “pre-driven” ideas are so comfortable that they just sit there like overstuffed easy chairs and lull Boomers to sleep. That’s why they make terrible candidates for building credible, compelling advertising and marketing communication campaigns. If your idea is fresh enough to get everybody around you a little worried, you’ve made an important discovery. Use it wisely and well.

As you brainstorm, keep in mind that getting Big Ideas can be as quirky and individualistic as the people involved, so use my simple 10-point system as a starting point rather than a set of hard and fast rules. As you develop other ways to discover truly creative ideas, supplement my list with your own personal brainstorming wisdom. Over time, you’ll build a skill set that will prove to be indispensable to building your brand.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Is Your Brand Gaining Share of Mind?

All brands are created and live in the human mind, not the bosom of your company. Likewise, all sales begin inside the consumer’s head. If you’re a marketer, it’s important to wholeheartedly embrace this reality, especially if you’re selling to Baby Boomers. They’re very individualistic, thoughtful consumers, so they’ll form their own attitudes and opinions about your brand and act accordingly. That means you have to be insightful, sensitive and meaningful in the way you communicate with them.

When you’re tying to motivate Boomers, you can’t just ride the wave of the latest fad. Boomers are far more sophisticated shoppers than trendy teens and status-seeking Gen Xers and Yers. With Boomers, you actually have to create a brand that’s worthy of their time, attention and dollars. To gain mindshare with Boomers, you must carefully craft your advertising and marcom in a way that builds your brand’s image while making the sale.

Carving out a share of mind is easy to understand but difficult to accomplish, because it takes considerable talent and time to accomplish the task. Perhaps that’s why so many contemporary marketers don’t bother, going for the quick hit instead. That may work temporarily for an “On Sale Today Only!” hustler; however focusing on this approach is likely to relegate the brand to the LaBrea Tar Pits of clueless companies, where it will wallow with the likes of General Motors, Chrysler and other has-beens. Oddly enough, many of these former powerhouses subscribed to share-of-mind advertising and marcom during their glory years. But eventually they stopped brand-building, lost focus, and their businesses got derailed.

Companies that are relentlessly focused on hyping rather than brand building, may generate floor traffic by offering inducements garnished with a sense of urgency, but ultimately that myopic approach can be as harmful to a brand’s well-being as shoddy products and services.

Almost any business can make a few bucks by shouting “Buy Now Or Die!,” but lasting riches come to those companies that make a real effort to build a brand personality based on a credible story that people can come to know and trust over time. This approach is particularly important when targeting Boomers, because they’re at a stage in life where they value long-term relationships over brief flings.

Share-of-mind advertising is more like a courtship than a sales pitch. It sells gently but persistently, presenting products and services in a way that allows Boomers to decide what the brand actually means and whether it deserves a place in their lives. As confidence in the brand grows, so do profitable sales and brand equity.

When done with flair, imagination, humor and warmth, share-of-mind advertising can transform a parity product into an industry leader. Apple, Budweiser and Nike are just a few of the consistent brand builders who dominate sales in their crowded, competitive categories.

The one thing these brands have in common is a history of doing effective share-of-mind advertising. Through the years they have looked, acted and communicated like credible, reliable leaders, so consumers know them, trust them and buy from them.

Of course, if you want to do share-of-mind advertising and marcom, you must discover your brand’s Big Idea, and then use it to create a unique position that has the power to carve out a meaningful niche in the Boomer mind. To start the process, you need to have a healthy brainstorm or two. Of course, that’s easier said than done, so in the next few blogs I’ll cover some simple ways for you and your team to really get your creative juices flowing. It’s not always easy, but it’s worth the effort, because a truly Big Idea can help your brand gain a greater share of mind.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ten Elements of a Compelling Brand Story, Part 2

By now, you should be well on your way to setting pen to paper (more likely, fingers to keyboard) to write your own brand story. If you have any doubts, please understand that creating this story isn’t a pointless exercise, but rather a way of thinking about your brand in a new light. Why bother? Because it will help you tap into the most lucrative market segment in history: the Baby Boomers.

6. Be sincere. If you believe in your story and are convinced by it, your audience will be, too. So express yourself in a genuine way that’s honest, straightforward and earnest.

7. Radiate enthusiasm. Don’t confuse this with rah-rah cheerleading and over-the-top excitement. Real enthusiasm springs from the soul with gusto, making your brand story even more lively, interesting and inspiring. If you communicate a passion for your brand, others will feel it, and react accordingly.

8. Say it with style. There’s nothing wrong with understatement, but if you don’t pull it off artfully, you risk boring Boomers, and that’s communication death. Fact is, most of the time, a little pizzazz goes a long way, so speak in a vigorous voice. Make your story spirited, exciting, eye-catching, enchanting. See everything in your mind’s eye, including sounds, tastes, smells, colors, then paint vivid word pictures with vibrant language. Make the audience feel what you’re talking about. Make every word the perfect word. Imbue each sentence with a mellifluous rhythm and resonance. And, of course, don’t just talk about what’s happening, show it.

9. Respect the audience. When it comes to advertising and marcom, Boomers have seen and heard it all, so they can be an impatient bunch. Respect their time and attentiveness by telling your brand story as concisely and cogently as possible. And don’t clutter your story with too much detail. Boomers are bright, well-educated, worldly people, so you can trust them to draw the proper conclusions based on what you’ve presented. If you think you need to say a lot to be convincing, watch Pixar’s UP. It provides an ideal example of wordless storytelling in a lengthy montage of the main character’s life from childhood, through marriage and into old age. Without saying a word, it’s as meaningful and moving as any book you’ve ever read.

10. Keep it real. This isn’t to say that your story can’t make a crazy leap or take a flight of fancy (see Pixar’s UP), but the theme and basic message that the audience takes away has to be something they can realistically relate to. The believability factor is crucial to the success of your brand story. So, develop a style that’s uniquely yours. Live with your brand story until the characters and their world become as real to you as people and places you’ve known all your life. Make the story real for yourself, and you’ll be able to keep it real for others.

Now that you know what it takes to be a good storyteller, it’s time to write the story of your brand. If you feel that you don’t have the time or talent, find someone who does, because storytelling is one of the most effective ways to connect with Baby Boomers, and that’s like money in the bank.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ten Elements of a Compelling Brand Story, Part 1

I’ve already covered some of the reasons why you should put storytelling to work for your brand when selling to Baby Boomers. Now it’s time for some nuts and bolts. The techniques of good storytelling are easy to describe but difficult to master. Still, it pays to consider some of the common characteristics that all good stories share. So, here are some things you should consider as you begin to think about how you might create and tell the story of your brand.

1. Center on one clear theme. Use a theme that resonates with Baby Boomers, and you’ll be able to communicate in a way that seems timeless to them. Begin by asking how you can position your brand using a universal Boomer value like individualism. Think in terms of a big, dramatic idea that you can use in a compelling message that rings true with Boomers on a gut level. And whether you state the theme explicitly or imply it abstractly, make sure that it comes through in a way that showcases its effect on the individual, as well as contemporary life. Ultimately, the theme should showcase your product as a hero, of sorts.

2. Develop a dramatic plot. This may be the most important element, because a brand story needs to have dramatic impact to cut through the communication clutter in today’s world. The only way Boomers will pay attention to your story is if you bring out the inherent drama of your brand in a clearly developed sequence of events. Whether the flow of action is explicit or implicit, plot development must be reasonable and easy to follow to motivate Boomers to embrace your theme.

3. Craft a logical storyline. If you want Boomers to follow your brand story, the plot has to flow in a simple, concise way. You begin by setting the stage for the action to come, introducing characters as they become players in the inherent drama of your brand’s story. In the end, the drama builds to a compelling climax, as the brand is positioned as the “hero” that brings the story to a satisfactory resolution. As you tell the story, vary the ebb and flow of the action. Make sure that transitions are smooth, and that characters have every opportunity to interact meaningfully.

4. Create realistic characters. Stories are about characters, so make them seem real, even if they take on a nonhuman form, like the tortoise and the hare. Storytelling is useless unless the audience can feel what the characters are experiencing and why. You make characters believable by physically describing them, as well as their actions, thoughts and speech. Well-developed characters encourage the audience to get inside their skin—to empathize and sympathize with them. That’s why you must fill your story with lively personalities that others want to know. Breathe life into your characters, and they’ll be convincing.

5. Write with ear and eye-appeal. Diction level, sentence structure, voice and content are all important elements of storytelling. Combine them in a way that’s appropriate to the audience, and your story will rest easy on the ears, making it all the more welcome to the listener. Imagery and words should always be used in a way that paints a vivid picture of each scenario, helping you establish a mood that harmonizes with the message.

Tomorrow’s blog will cover the next five elements you should consider when creating your brand story.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Once Upon a Time: Storytelling Magic, Part 2

If you want to learn how to be a great storyteller listen to the best. One of my favorites was Paul Harvey. His book, “The Rest Of The Story,” is worth it’s weight in gold for every aspiring storyteller. For decades, Harvey sniffed around the most common places and came up with some of the most uncommonly interesting stories you can imagine. No wonder millions of loyal listeners made him the most popular radio personality in America.

A couple of the stories in the book include the tale of the 20th century presidential candidate who killed a teenage girl, and a New York governor who dressed like a woman—at the electorate’s expense, of course. Each line of each story is packed with so much interest, that you’re compelled to keep listening. And, of course, there’s Harvey’s patented surprise punch line that never fails to make you say, “Hey, I didn’t know that.” The stuff is sheer delight, not to mention a great way to learn memorable information. Wouldn’t you love to be able to do something like that for your products and services? Well, you can.

Of course, trying to match Harvey’s ingenuity and creativity is pretty daunting, so you might start with something easier, say, pourquoi. Pourquoi is French for “why?,” and, as the name suggests, these “origin” stories explain how or why something got the way it is. For example, why does a zebra have stripes? It’s hard to say, but one thing for sure is that you can create a pretty interesting story explaining it in a plausible and memorable way. The reason these “how and why” stories are so popular is that in addition to being entertaining and informative, they also often reveal the genesis of deep-rooted cultural traditions. That makes them feel like they’re part of the listeners’ DNA, and that makes them incredibly compelling.

So, if you want to put storytelling to work for you, discover the “how and why” of your brand. Then dramatize it in a way that makes it really matter to Baby Boomers. You’ll find that if you can tell the right brand story in the right way, you’ll be on your way to the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow: The Boomer Buying Center.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Once Upon a Time: Storytelling Magic, Part 1

The arc of every lifetime is one big story made up of many little ones. That’s why the first form of creative communication was storytelling. Storytelling is so important that there’s evidence of it in virtually every known culture and subculture throughout human existence. It was, in fact, the most important way to transmit knowledge and wisdom in the millennia before the invention of writing.

Since ancient times, storytelling has been considered an almost magical form of entertainment and education, teaching many of life’s most important lessons. Its simple, straightforward techniques put to shame most of the “sophisticated” tricks of the trade currently being used in much of what passes for advertising and marcom.

We’re all familiar and comfortable with storytelling, so it’s puzzling why more marketers aren’t using its techniques to promote their brands. After all, every product and service has an important and compelling story to tell, and that story is, in fact, what every successful brand is all about.

If you’d like to try promotional storytelling, keep in mind that you must be vividly creative and crystal clear, as well as concise and persuasive at a gut level that genuinely resonates with people. Storytelling can be particularly effective with Baby Boomers, because they’ve reached a developmental level where they process information more carefully than those who constantly Twitter about. That makes them more thoughtful and open to a persuasive story that has real depth. In fact, with Boomers, nothing works quite as well as storytelling when it comes to holding their attention and motivating them.

Boomers love a good story, which is reason enough for you to search for and crystallize the big idea in your product or service, so you can dramatize its features and benefits in a compelling tale.

Testimonials are the most obvious form of promotional storytelling, but there’s so much more you can do. You can begin by considering your brand to be a character that’s intrinsic to the human drama. Think of it as a living, breathing entity that has a life of its own and a backstory that’s fascinating and engaging. Explain how the brand got to be what it is today, how it makes the present moment more fulfilling, and how it promises to help build a better tomorrow.

Your brand has a interesting, important story to tell, so share it with Boomers by showing them how its life intersects with their own. Create a physical, emotional and spiritual bond between your brand and the Boomers by using a little storytelling magic, and you’ll be well on your way to the Boomer Buying Center.