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Strategic Branding & Advertising

What to do when your market doesn’t understand you

by Kelly Hobkirk

Backward is the way forward

If you’re like me, everything you create, you try to make it great. You do original work, push boundaries, and you are always innovating.

One of the biggest problems entrepreneurs face is people not understanding them. That’s when you see lengthy descriptions of what, how, and why people ought to take notice. The problem itself, however, is often grossly misunderstood. The problem is not lack of understanding.

The problem is lack of attention.

When people are unable to quickly grasp a concept, they typically move on to something else. Once your audience has moved on, all the explaining and proof of concept in the world won’t reach them.

How do you command attention when you have created something so advanced that people don’t yet know they want it?

You go backward.

Getting people to change a behavior they don’t even know can be changed requires gap bridging. This is an incredibly hard step for visionaries because it requires you to create something less grand. Yet, doing just that may just be critical to the marketing of your big idea.

You may have to create an intermediary product, one that bridges the gap between your big idea (where you want people to go) and where they are. And make no mistake, the intermediary offering is itself marketing. It is physical marketing, or showing possibility by delivering a physical product that inspires your market to think well beyond their current habit.

While you are branding and marketing your intermediary product, you can keep the big idea in the back of your mind or in your long-term plans. Once your initial offering gains traction, you can study the numbers to determine when you can launch the big kahuna. The gap bridging you are doing will help people understand your idea much quicker. Then, you can command their attention right when you need to, at the launch of the big one.

Getting there requires the same tried and true marketing methods that have worked wonders for decades. It’s all about visibility and credibility.

1. Float – Gain visibility
2. Swim – Gain visibility
3. Compete – Gain credibility
4. Win – Gain visibility and credibility

Let’s expand that:

Float your intermediary idea as though it is the big one. Get it out there, talk about it, write about it. Connecting with people will help you understand and speak to their needs and concerns. For many people, your intermediary product will seem like a huge step forward. Why is the intermediary offering important? This is all about seeing if people respond and connect with you and your concept. If they do, you are literally inspiring their steps that lead to your grand vision.

Swim with your would-be competition. Brand your company and product so that your marketing can do its job with maximum effectiveness. Identify which marketing methods will most likely yield success, and hatch the simplest plan possible to implement them. Why simple? It keeps your marketing do-able.

Compete for your would-be customers’ attention. Implement your marketing with amazing consistency. Rock it, every week. Stay true to your mission, brand, and vision, and see if people respond to it.

Win by staying true to your market. If your offering really is a game-changer, even the intermediary product will turn heads and manifest the behavior change you seek.

Every step of your marketing is trained on building visibility and credibility. If you do it with consistency, people will take notice and trust you. This is how you become an authority, a market leader.

When you have done the work to become a leader; when you have bridged the gap; when you have gained an audience that knows and trusts you — that is when your big idea can successfully be launched.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • April 11, 2016 • Tags: ,,,

All Marketers Are Romantics

by Kelly Hobkirk

There are two types of brand romantics in the working world, the believers and the paycheckers, and most every organization has both in their ranks, playing the role of inherent marketer.

The good romantics, those who help companies make millions and feel good about it, know how to craft reality into compelling stories people can connect with. The poor ones on the other hand, are romantics who know how to sell themselves in the course of crafting average actions and stories that average people may or may not connect with. The poor ones place emphasis more on making their sale, less on yours.

Internally, every employee is a marketer in one way or another. Employees are either believers or paycheckers. They are working for you because they believe in the company vision and its products, or they are there simply to collect a paycheck. Paycheckers are masters of disguise, while believers are masters of truth. Paycheckers get things done because it’s their job, while believers get things done and constantly strive for improvement because they believe in your brand.

How Paycheckers Drag You Down
The world is full of paycheckers because there are not many truly necessary and compelling products relative to how many workers there are. Paycheckers do what you tell them. They can say that they believe if you tell them to believe, but true belief is in the blood and the bones, and it can’t be acquired with mere telling or employee handbooks.

Paycheckers drag your brand and company down because their dialog is rarely as convincing as it must be, taking an often invisible toll on everyone’s efforts and projecting that outward like a toxic gas.

What people often do not realize about brands is that they are as much related to subtlety as they are about the overt, as much about the verbal as they are about the visual, and as much about the interactions as they are about the buying action. That means everything they do is a reflection of you.

Paycheckers rarely understand the deep significance of this fundamental difference because they are there first to collect a paycheck and second to represent. They’ve got it backwards, and while the difference is subtle, getting it turned the other way round often requires changing their personal core needs, which can be next to impossible without good psychological work (which you rarely can ask people to undertake) and particularly without leading by example, which I will explain further below.

Of course, everyone needs to be paid, but as a core part of their belief in you, believers understand that nudging brand representation in front of personal needs will yield greater brand value and, as a direct result, greater job security and personal well-being. There is a leap in that equation that requires faith in you. Some paycheckers can acquire it and some can not.

How True Believers Support Success
If your product and vision are among the relatively few great, you already have a head start, and if you already have a staff full of true believers, your head start is massive in nature. Not only can you attract talented people who will believe in you, but your people will give you their best efforts every day, always keeping your brand’s value in mind as a priority in everything they do.

Each person on your team will have the capacity to talk about your brand with a convincing tone, and to act as an ambassador for incoming employees, customers, vendors, partners, and anyone else. They are true believers who understand and believe in your vision and products, and they work every day to help you maintain and improve it by being true.

Believers can’t be caught out because they show their belief in every effort, every communication, every interaction, whether or not the effort is a success, a failure, or somewhere in between. Everything they do and say reflects the romantic side of their personality, literally that professional ethic inside of them, the feeling they have for their own motivation and actions, and how they communicate with the rest of the world about your brand.

How to Convert Paycheckers into True Believers
You might have some paycheckers on staff who you really like, you want to see them succeed, and you believe in their ability to help you succeed. They have done some good work, but you feel like you’re not getting the fullness of their capability. That can mean they have a doubt that needs to be fixed by a better experience, something they need to see and feel in order to develop that critical intrinsic belief about you.

The good news is that some paycheckers can be converted over to true believers. All they really need is to have those parts of their psyche that contain fears and doubts born of interactions reinforced with new interactions that overwrite current beliefs. For some it will be a quick conversion, born of one or two small changes. For others who possess more doubts, it may take time.

Converting paycheckers into true believers is all about making sure everyone around them is leading by example, representing your brand in the truest manner and with complete consistency.

Why You Must Lead Believers by Example
People believe in brands when they believe in the people who create and run them. That means you have to be at your best whenever possible, and you have to be real. You have to embody the positive qualities that people hold dear to their own happiness and well-being. You have to possess an understanding of those factors within your company, manufacturers, distributors, and customers, and you have to be able to represent them in a way that is true to your beliefs. You get out what you put in. You have to trust people, and when you do, they will trust you. Two-way trust results in people giving the best parts of themselves to their work, which shows they love what they are doing in helping your brand succeed.

This is where objective introspection becomes paramount. If you are a leader who is lacking in some subtle way, you may be unaware of how your smaller actions and words effect others. For instance, if you lack trust, or have a habit of utilizing belittling words, or over-share your personal problems, that can have a direct effect on people’s confidence in you and your organization. And maybe it’s not you, but rather your brand’s lack of outward character that is undermining their belief in you. Remember, your brand is a direct reflection of you.

A strong brand starts at the core, from within you, then extends to your organization or team, and radiates outward to consumers. It is critical to start at the center and build out belief in a radiating manner. When you do that, you can see the brand grow organically, which in turn infuses your marketing with a healthy core, keeping it true and believable, which helps people easily connect with your products.

Here is an example that many business owners overlook: As inconsequential as it may seem, if you have a dirty office, that internally reflects on your brand because it subconsciously speaks to how you regard the people who work for you. It gives people a degree of doubt right at home, at the core, something extra to think about (in a negative way). A quick daily cleaning shows people that you keep a clean house. A clean house equals a clear mind. Brands have a tendency to grow when everything radiating from the core is clean, clear, and overtly positive.

More obvious places where your brand can inspire confidence include your product quality, brand identity, marketing communications, social media interactions, and customer service. All of these are directly influenced by you and your team.

When you bring the same awareness to the all aspects of your brand, from the smallest through to the most visible, people notice it, and it comes through in everything they do, talk about, and buy.

We are all romantics, all marketing to ourselves. When you give people every reason to believe, you appeal to their romantic side, and it will come as a welcome reward that they place their belief in you.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • February 8, 2015 • Tags: ,,,,

Familiarity in design usually beats out the exceptional

by Kelly Hobkirk

People tell me there are only so many ways to design a website. They say familiarity in design is preferable. Of course, I flatly reject this idea. We can design sites in any of countless ways. The limitations are usually imposed by familiarity and risk factor. How open you are to presenting a primary marketing tool that dares offend the visual sensibilities and familiarity of your market places parameters on design possibilities.

If you tell us to go wild, we’ll design something that you may never have seen before. I’ll be honest, though, in saying that this happens once in a blue moon. (Of course, I LOVE IT when it happens.) Clients who say, “You’re the experts, design us something exceptional,” are among my very favorite people. The more common occurrence is the client who sticks to what is familiar (don’t worry, we like you too).

We present ideas in the vein of uncharted, familiar and a mix of the two, and most of the time it’s familiar or mix that gets the nod, while uncharted is left to dejectedly pout in a far corner of the room.

There is a reason uncharted design territory typically is discarded in the design approval process. That reason is familiarity. In our society, familiarity is rewarded, while standing out is often (but thankfully not always) discouraged.

Remember the odd, confusing story of the “ugly duckling”? I recall the first time I heard that story as a young impressionable child, thinking, ‘They’ve got it all backwards! That black duckling is the coolest one.’ But the story’s message is clear. Standing out is dangerous and will get you shunned. However, it also clearly tells us that we have to be who we are, and if we are good the world will eventually appreciate it.

Consumers — especially in a social media connected market — often operate like the white ducklings, shunning what is different in favor of fitting in with a group or tribe. Businesses have been attuned to this behavior for decades. It is why they take little risks instead of big ones when it comes to design.

Designing for familiarity is both safe and risky. The bigger the marketing initiative, the more risky it is to stay safe with conservative, familiar design because you risk looking old and outdated, or worse, being invisible. If the initiative is smaller with a commensurately small budget, taking risks can be more appealing. However, the same does not apply for smaller businesses, who must make nearly every marketing initiative count with at least a partial goal of immediate sales. This dictates that design stays safe and familiar.

The need for high response is also why some small businesses choose to design their own graphics. They figure they know their market better, and it’s a good way to save some money. What they often do not realize is that their own familiarity imposes lack of objectivity, resulting in designs so safe that no one notices them.

Familiar designs have the advantage of known appeal. For instance, many websites veer towards a big visual, with smaller visuals and text below, followed by an even smaller smattering of product or service elements. It’s an easy bet that such a layout will enjoy a certain level of success. Look at Apple, Amazon, or any other of thousands of sites out there following this formula. If you are selling a commodity item with a broad target market, it works. The formula is familiar to both our clients and their customers, so clients often pick familiarity.

When the niche is tighter, however, risk-taking becomes more important. That’s where clients start breaking out of formulaic designs and let us set new standards. Ironically, it is the less familiar designs which stand a much greater chance of success. (It’s ironic because businesses tend to veer away from the non-familiar or new.)

As competition tightens in nearly every market, fitting in often does more harm than good. Familiarity in design tends to make you less visible at precisely the moments when you need to stand out. Although familiar design is safer in terms of virtually guaranteeing a known response, exceptional design is more likely to differentiate your brand and make it stand out in ways people can connect with.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • October 9, 2012 • Tags: ,,

Are you using strategy or art?

by Kelly Hobkirk

Have you ever chosen a work of art in an art show opening, frame shop, or *gasp* online catalog? Do you recall glazing over all of the choices until you came to the one that shined like a beacon to some part of your mind, practically screaming out to you, ‘Pick me! I’m the one! I was made just for you!’? Think about that feeling for a second. It’s a special one. And it has nothing at all to do with strategy, graphic design or marketing.

So why mention it?

Well, it goes like this: Design or advertising without strategy is essentially nothing more than art. Art is wonderful stuff, but it has little practical application or value in marketing communications. Strategy, on the other hand, allows your company to exceed expectations in its marketing efforts.

What makes art a valuable part of your marketing? Strategy.

What is design and advertising’s best friend? Strategy.

What’s the number one thing clients try to avoid in their marketing? Come on, take a guess — Why it’s Strategy!

Strategy turns mediocre into mega-successful, so why do people run, kick and scream to avoid it? Well, first off, making art is a heckuva lot easier. Strategy punches holes in weak concepts. It forces you to take your marketing seriously. Probably its worst offense is appearing to take the fun out of art. But honestly, strategy is incredibly fun. You may need to adjust your idea of fun, but as a benefit, you also get to raise your aspirations to an all-time high.

Strategy at its best
Let’s take a look at Lance Armstrong’s record seven Tour de France titles. People say that his dominance wasn’t fun. He turned winning the Tour into a science, methodically attacking absolutely every aspect of the race, from weighing out each meal on a scale, to his training, attack strategies, playing off the media to gain advantages, and surrounding himself with some of the sport’s top riders as lieutenants. After he did all that (and more), he rode his heart out to claim the victories.

Now, Mr. Armstrong has been gifted with exceptional physiology, and many claim that’s why he wins. While this may be true, it is advantageous for people to think that way. When you discard something great to prove you are not worthy, you are in fact employing a kill-strategy to avoid doing the one thing that can help you succeed. Why do that? It’s easier.

If you need proof to accept this, take a look at Armstrong’s competitors. During his reign as Tour champion, he released a book with his coach and even had a tv program detailing his training methods and life. What did his competitors and other people say then? Impossible. No one can train that hard and be so self-disciplined. Why would they say that? Simple, it’s easier.

What success takes
Everyone knows that it takes hard work to succeed. It takes a few other things too, such as calculated risk-taking, preparation, dedication, self-discipline, and strategy.

Big businesses have a sometimes not-so-obvious advantage here because they have the larger budgets and people to examine concepts from more angles. And sometimes, they do it. Those are the companies that live, thrive and dominate a market.

Small businesses, on the other hand, rarely have the people or organizational structure to even think about strategy. They are usually too close to their work to have the objectivity needed to succeed. The result is marketing that often falls on its face. Oddly, they are ok with that because it justifies not putting in the key efforts it takes to succeed. Of course, it also gives business owners justification to not budget for strong marketing efforts.

People get to go home early, there’s less to manage, less to spend, less outsider involvement, less less, less. And less profits.

Why would anyone sabotage their own business like that? Well, honestly, it’s easier to make just enough money to be profitable than it is to be wildly profitable. It’s not nearly as much fun though.

Strategy is so much fun!
In spite of Lance Armstrong’s methodical approach to winning the Tour de France, I would be willing to place a level bet that he was having fun. And so was everyone around him. Were there hard times and tough moments? Of course. Everyone had to rise to the occasion, with the benefit being greater success for nearly anyone willing to work alongside him.

It’s the same for business. When you get a high response to a measured effort, you feel awesome. Big smiles abound, everyone feels happy, and you increase profits.

Where there’s a leader there is success, and people will follow. If you own a business, you’re a leader, whether you like it or not. If you share your plan with your employees, they will follow you. The more detail you provide, the more personally invested they become. (If you fail to show a clear vision, you have a higher turnover rate.)

Now, apply purpose, vision, and strategy to your branding and marketing, and what have you got? You have the means to develop strategic plans for success. You have an identity that your employees can relate to. You have a brand that people can believe in. You have marketing that is wildly successful. You have increased sales.

First things first
It doesn’t work the other way around. You cannot show people a business that doesn’t believe in itself, and expect them to believe in you. You cannot passively market to prospective clients, and turn them into believers.

It has to start from within. You believe in yourself, and others will believe in you. Your employees believe in the company, and your prospective customers believe in what you are selling. You market to them with strategy, they buy, and you exceed your sales goals.

Do you think Lance Armstrong’s lieutenants, staff, and entourage went into his first Tour de France thinking he would win seven of them? Nope. But they came to believe in him. He built a following by first believing in himself, then he strategically attacked the race he wanted to dominate. And it worked.

What are you trying to win?
Lance Armstrong used strategy to make an art of winning the Tour de France. Whether you’re trying to win more clients, repeat business, a warmer feeling in your heart, or the front spot in the water cooler line, you can do the same.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • November 28, 2009 • Tags: ,