Category creative

Commodity versus Quality

A blog I frequent linked to another blog that had a tongue-in-cheek list of rules for emergency medical service. Rule #29 got my attention:

When responding to a call, always remember that your ambulance was built by the lowest bidder.

That’s a humorous perspective, and it’s one that many small business owners should apply to their advertising and marketing. Some things, like rice or copper, truly are a commodity, meaning that there is no difference in quality regardless of where you buy it or who supplies it. But art and communication are not commodities. Excluding thieves and rascals, you will get what you pay for when it comes to your advertising and marketing.

Advertising and marketing communications are one of the last areas of industry that remain hand-crafted by individuals. It can’t be automated or mass-produced on an assembly-line. Someone, either you or someone you hire, has to sit down and thoughtfully solve your problem of crafting and communicating your unique message.

Your goal is not just to advertise, but to advertise effectively. That means that you shouldn’t just turn to anyone with a discounted version of Photoshop to create your ad or website, nor should you ask just anyone with a video camera to make your marketing film or TV commercial. Your advertising and marketing is vital to the success of your business. Quality advertising and marketing is effective. Anything else is a waste of money. Don’t make the mistake of treating it as a commodity.


The most important aspect of your website

When most people think of a website, or think of putting a website together, they think of how it will look. But unless you are planning on simply showing a bunch of photos you’ve taken, then how your website looks is not your first concern. For any business, small or large, the chief concern of their website should be what it says. Why have a website except to say something worthwhile to your potential customers?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a great looking website. In fact, how your website looks and functions sends a message to your customers. But first and foremost, your website must say something of value to your customers. A graphic designer can make your website look good, but it takes an entirely different skill to craft your message and make it resonate.


Soda Pop by Mom and Pop

The Trader Joe’s post reminded me of a video I saw a while back featuring Galco’s Soda Pop Stop. The proprietor is a great example of a small business owner who is passionate about what he does and embraces the fact that he operates a small business. The way he does business is very different from his larger competitors. Because of that difference, he stands out.

Here’s the full video:

Obsessives: Soda Pop from on Vimeo.

You may not have a store full of soda pop, instead you might be an accountant or a home builder, or you might run a furniture or jewelry store. Whatever business you’re in, you’ve got to find a message that strikes a chord with your customers and proclaim that message as often as you can.

You haven’t found your message? Here’s a good place to start.


The small-store vibe of the neighborhood grocer

Fortune has an interesting article about Trader Joe’s, and it has a lot of food for thought for local small businesses. A lot of times small businesses try to make themselves look big. I think this is a mistake. For one thing, it’s deceptive, and if you are willing to mislead people on that point, then they’ll assume you’ll mislead them in other areas as well.

But it is a mistake for another reason as well: There are a lot of consumers who want to do business with small businesses and retailers. If you are pretending to be a large company when you’re not, then you’re sending the wrong message to these potential customers.

Trader Joe’s is fueling its growth by looking small. Here’s a quote from the Fortune article:

[I]t must find a way to maintain its small-store vibe with customers. ‘They see themselves as a national chain of neighborhood specialty grocery stores,’ says Mark Mallinger, a Pepperdine University professor who has done research for the company. ‘It means you want to create an image of mom and pop as you grow.’

If you’re a small business, embrace that fact and let your advertising and marketing speak the truth.


Advertising Gone Wild

I’ve been getting a lot of spam in the comments lately. Fortunately I use Akismet on this site and it catches the spam quite nicely so you all don’t have to be subjected to it. Being in advertising, I especially hate spam. You see, spam is advertising. Bad advertising. It’s every bad advertising practice pressed into one slimy mass.

How you advertise says a whole lot about how you do business and what you think of your customer. Spam isn’t limited to the internet. It’s served up in every ad that screams for attention but offers no real information. It’s in every ad that promises something that the business owner has no intention of delivering. Any time a business wants your money but doesn’t really care about delivering something of value, then its advertising is spam.

Advertising is not about who can speak the loudest or the longest, it’s about getting useful information to people who would benefit from your product or service. Ideally, advertising is the introduction that develops into a long lasting business relationship.

What does your advertising say about you?


Something to chew on

Forget words like ‘hard sell’ and ‘soft sell.’ That will only confuse you. Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance, something that will inform and serve the consumer, and be sure you’re saying it like it’s never been said before.

— William Bernbach

That’s not easy to do, but it’s the only advertising that’s worth anything.


And now for some great logos

Yesterday I sent you to a web site that showcased bad logos, so to make up for that, here’s a couple of places that showcase great logos. This Webdesigner Depot post has a collection of logos that contain a little hidden symbolism, and this Logo Design Love post from a couple of years ago illustrates how simple logos are best.

Getting a great logo for your small business isn’t difficult. It’s simply a matter of finding a designer who understands what you are trying to do.


Bad logos

We’ve talked about logos a few times on this blog. One of my favorite web sites is Your Logo Makes Me Barf. It’s a collection of bad logos from real companies. Sometimes it is good to learn from the mistakes of others.

Small business logos sometimes leave a lot of room for improvement. Budgets are often tight for small businesses, but the investment in presenting your business in the best light possible often pays off far more in the long run than trying to save money by hiring the lowest bidder, or worse, doing it yourself.

How you present your company to potential customers can have a huge impact on your business. Don’t skimp on your logo.


Where can you turn?

Part of crafting a strong message is saying it well. This entails coming up with the best way to say something, putting together an ad with an appealing look, or something as simple as having complimentary colors in the ad.

But more than just looking good, the look and tone of the ad must support the message. If you run a western wear store, then choosing a font for the text that recalls the Old West is an obvious choice. But it goes beyond even that. People who wear western-style clothing are choosing a particular life-style. You want to really get their attention, then make them taste the dust of a herd of cattle and smell the leather of saddles and boots. It doesn’t matter that they work in an office, they’re a cowboy at heart. (See What Do You Really Sell?)

Putting together an ad that hits all the right chords is hard work. It’s the one area of advertising that small businesses need the most help in. Some business owner’s realize this, but unfortunately they don’t always turn to someone who can actually help them create effective advertising.

Although a plumber knows how to use a wrench, you wouldn’t call a plumber to fix your automobile. But many small business owners think that anyone who can use Photoshop can make them an ad or logo. So they turn to a local print shop, because logos and ads need to be printed, right?

Printing is not the same thing as designing, or more importantly, its not the same as communicating a specific message. This goes for every advertising or marketing medium you can think of.

Every newspaper and local magazine will make you an ad if you need one to run in their publication. But what is their expertise? Is it creating articles and content that will attract readers? Do they specialize in communicating a message that resonates beyond a 4″x4″ space?

The billboard company will make you an ad to run on their billboards, as will the television station, cable company, radio station, etc. But if the truth be told, they only offer that service so they don’t have to turn away customers who don’t have an ad to run. Those businesses are good at what they do, but they may not be good at creating an effective advertisement.

Most of the ads I see from these sources are little more than lists of products or services. Sometimes they hit a home run and deliver something great, but that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s not that these people don’t know what they are doing, its just that they work for a company that does not make ads. Instead, they work for a company that runs ads. There’s a big difference there. Their focus is to get you on the air or in the next issue. Your message is not their main concern.

So what should you do? If you’ve been reading this blog and doing your homework, you probably already have an idea of what your message should be. Ask around, google a bit, and find someone who does creative work in the medium you want to be in and form a relationship with them. If you do a lot of print or web, look for a talented graphic designer. If you want to do TV or radio, then google a lot and find a copywriter who can write your spots and a production company that can produce them. It will take work, but as I tell my kids, everything that is worth doing takes effort.

You’ll have to guide these people. You’ll have to keep them on track. But once they understand what you are doing they’ll be a huge asset in creating great advertising. In the end, you’ll get better results than simply having your ad made by whoever happens to be running it.


Keep it simple

A lot of emphasis is given to an ad’s message on this site. That’s because of the three pillars of successful advertising, the message is the hardest to get right. Occasionally you’ll find that the frequency was insufficient or the reach was non-existent in a particular failed campaign, but usually that’s not the case. Most often the message is at fault.

Very often small business ads have no message at all, they’re simply a list of services or products. Color printing has gotten cheap enough that you can put pictures all over your ad, and a lot of small businesses do so to such a degree that you can’t tell what you’re supposed to be looking at. If you are not saying anything, why should people listen?

The most powerful messages are always simple. It’s hard work to look at what you do and distill that down to one simple message, but it is essential to your advertising. An advertisement by its nature has to be short and succinct. Clutter it up with information that doesn’t support your message and you’ll just confuse people. Your advertising message has to compete with a lot of clutter and noise to be heard. Don’t make things more difficult by adding noise and clutter within your own ad.


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