Creative Corner: The Brand Promise
Create a memorable brand without compromising response
A few days ago I took a quick break to zoom around the corner to see the fruit and vegetable man on 39th Street. I was starving! I asked him for four bananas and he said: “$1.25.”
“Why,” I asked? “Yesterday they were only a dollar.”
“These are Chiquitas,” he smiled.
Did I notice the difference between bananas? No, but I forked over the extra quarter. On the way back to work, I ate one and pondered the little oval Chiquita label.
Does the label make it a better banana? My perception is that it does. I remember the Carmen Miranda-like Chiquita banana cartoon character who wiggled seductively and sang her calypso tune: “I’m Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say ...” It must have put a good deal of advertising weight into that brand for me to still remember it years later.
We all know that pure direct marketers rarely spend much time or money on brand building, mostly because they can’t afford to put the weight behind it, but also because it’s a tricky issue, especially when brand issues dominate direct response issues. That’s when you’re in danger of advertising instead of generating a response.
For example, it could make a good deal of sense for General Motors to reference its “like a rock” line in direct mail for Chevy trucks because the target audience might recognize it and, presumably, relate to it. I doubt its presence would affect response. But, it’s harmless, and it keeps the brand guys happy.
It would not be harmless, however, if someone in General Motors’ advertising department insisted that brand issues supersede direct marketing issues.
How do brand issues supersede direct marketing issues? An example might be the company that used a small line of text about an inch from the bottom of all its print ads and collateral material. Under the line, it would place its logo and the name of the division with the address and phone number. The brand guys insisted the logo be used on every single element of the firm’s direct mail package, too. So it was placed on the outer envelope, BRE, both pages of the letter, the bottom of the response form and even on half a buck slip. They changed their minds when they saw how silly it looked.
That was sane compared to what happened when brand guys controlled communications for the new dot-com companies a few years ago. Remember the marketer whose idea of a creative concept was shooting gerbils out of a cannon?
I thought it was a waste of money. It’s not, of course, but I was thinking as a traditional direct marketer.
When non-traditional direct marketers like the dot-coms leaped into the fray, boundaries faded, control of communications shifted from seller to buyer, old channels started dying—or at least blending—and we began to worry about market share instead of share of customer. All of this makes brand much more important than it used to be.
Now, customers shop in a virtual environment and leap from Web to retail to catalog ... to wherever they feel they’re going to get the best value. We want them to stay with us as they hop merrily from one channel to another. How do we do that? Make the customer experience important. Sometimes it can be the whole ball game.
The April issue of Harvard Business Review published a great article about Progressive, an auto insurance firm that basically did nothing but improve its customer experience, and in so doing, won big time. By concentrating on improving the way it processed claims, Progressive (which sells a commodity product) picked up huge market share.
I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to build a brand is to improve the product and service, then let word of mouth work its magic. That seems to be what happened at Progressive.
Living Up to Your Promise
Some of the most memorable brand lines I’ve ever read appeared in a book called “Brand Warfare” by David F. D’Allessandro, CEO of John Hancock. He wrote: “A brand is a promise.” It’s a promise of a certain quality, a certain experience, and everything we do has to live up to the promise of the brand.
Here are some ways to keep the promise of your brand:
1. Be consistent. When Absolut launched its first ad campaign, it gave its agency two rules: 1) show the bottle and 2) print the word “Absolut” beneath it.
You’d think the creative team would have been stifled. No such thing. It created powerful print ads and built a huge brand. Absolut ads became collectibles. Remember the two-ply Absolut ad with Nicole Miller stockings nested between the plies?
Consistency (and brilliant creative) got the message through.
Boardroom’s newsletter Bottom Line/Personal uses a consistent image throughout the publication, in its direct mail packages and on its Web site. There always are “fascinations” that entice you to turn to a certain page and heaps of benefits. Boardroom used the same family identity with a new focus when it launched Bottom Line/Health.
2. Surprise and delight. This is a lot like improving the customer experience. An example is purchasing from the L.L. Bean catalog and being able to return worn-out boots 30 days (or 10 years!) after the purchase date.
Once, I ordered a large quantity of little silver boxes engraved with clients’ names from Lillian Vernon; they weren’t centered properly. Lillian Vernon customer service arranged for them to be redone and delivered to me in record time. We don’t talk about the customer experience in our copy nearly enough.
3. Don’t let your business dictate the tone of your brand personality. You’d think a bank or an insurance company would want a serious personality, but MetLife does very well with Snoopy. GreenPoint Bank in New York gets attention with its Fellini-like commercials featuring a dog named Skippy. And who can forget the AFLAC duck?
4. Your brand voice should speak to your target market. The tone has to be right and always the same, whether it is in an acquisition or a retention program. Everything has to sound and look as if it’s coming from the same company that always will deliver on its promises. This includes copy on the response vehicles, the fulfillment label, your carton, etc. Of course, this doesn’t mean everything has to look the same all the time, but the company that uses Snoopy can’t afford to start sounding like Lassie or, worse, Cujo.
5. Create positive buzz with something special every now and then. Saturn gets people together to talk about its cars. Pepsi’s giving away songs online. These types of promotions get people talking about your brand and interacting with it. They remember it. You can do this in direct marketing, too. When a good customer logs on, why not deliver a screen pop-up with a message that reads: “Welcome Mr. Jackson, and thanks for being such a great customer. For the next 30 minutes we’re offering an additional 20-percent off allmerchandise, just for you.”?
It seems to me that as long as you have the miraculous opportunity to get your messages into the hands of customers and prospects, you owe it to yourselves and your businesses to devote some time and effort to making a brand that will be memorable.
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service, direct response agency in NYC. Geller is the author of “RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing” and “Customers for Keep.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.