Lois Brayfield is CEO of Mission, Kan.-based direct marketing agency J. Schmid & Associates.

Your marketing efforts are under attack! They are costing more to produce and getting lackluster results, right? Your efforts must be stepped up in order to survive. In most cases, every marketing effort your company has produced could have been stronger, more strategic and garnered better results. Almost every time the culprit that keeps you from stellar results can point back to the kickoff meeting.

Brand is king in the realm of securing customers and creating loyalty, which can save your bottom line in this down economy. Brand goes far beyond logos and taglines—it lies within your customer’s perception of your product or service. Whether you are aware of it or managing it, every point of contact with the customer defines and reinforces your brand—from the way you answer the phones, to the appearance and manner of your sales force, to the cover of your catalog and the landing page of your Web site.

The importance of headlines cannot be underestimated. They are a critical part of the success of a campaign, the most important copy in the entire piece and often, they're written last—almost as an afterthought. The headline is more likely to be read than any other copy in your marketing materials, so don't waste the opportunity to make it as powerful as possible. How compelling are your headlines? Understanding some general rules will help you create headlines that truly help sell your product or service.

It seems that every three to four years, a flurry of activity occurs within a marketing department, and you hear the battle cry for a creative makeover. Dutifully, creative directors present the battle plan based on what someone from the executive team has deemed wrong with the existing presentation. Often, they will point to another brand and say, “Why can’t we look more like them?” This is not a healthy start.

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