There’s a lot of buzz surrounding big data and it’s impact on marketing. According to some we’ll soon be living in a world where data and analytics becomes the primary driver of marketing decisions. The technology is already in place, all that remains is hiring some math geeks and the wherewithal to push the button and let it take over.

A good story, well told.

More knowledge is certainly better, but this kind of future smacks of grabbing on to the newest, shiniest object and hoping it’s the answer. The problem with this kind of thinking is we get so obsessed and so totally focused on the object that we often minimize the fundamental truth of what works in our business—a good story, well told.

Think for a moment about the iconic brands of our time—Nike, Apple, Disney, Harley Davidson, and Coca-Cola. They all have a well-told narrative, almost mythological in some ways that transcends any sort of “marketing.” It’s the story that we as humans gravitate and relate to, not how it happens to be delivered.

Yes, all of the delivery mechanisms need attention. So keep up with social media, channel fragmentation, mobile device trends, big data algorithms and whatever…


“We’ve got to differentiate.” How many times has that been spoken in a marketing meeting? And how many times has it been a struggle to make the “point of difference” something actually compelling? And how many times has a company operating in what, for all practical purposes, is a commodity market said they have to differentiate? On what exactly?

Make some noise.

All too often marketers think the answer lies in that perceived point of difference and if only everyone else understood that sales would take off. So the marketing is focused on a point of difference that often isn’t enough to sway too many people—mostly because marketing people have a really hard time focusing customer communications on one thing, but that’s a topic for another time.

Try this once: Forget about the product and only focus on what the customer is seeing. If you’re in a market that the customer sees as commoditized, chances are pretty good the reason for that is no one has shown them otherwise. Look at what your competitors are doing and it’s pretty likely that there’s a lot of sameness out there. And that’s just white noise for customers. What you really need to do…


They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. The same goes with talking about design. It’s got a language all its own. It (hopefully) provokes an emotion. It’s subjective. It’s hard to describe. You just know good design when you see it.

It’s all inside your head.

If you place a few ads on a table, the best designs often stand out immediately, even to a team of accountants. People tend to be drawn to things not just because of what they see, but unconsciously because of what they feel. A good designer knows how color and texture and shading can incite emotions. And the feeling is often subjective. The same design that connotes luxury to one person may evoke warmth and comfort to another. Most people won’t know why it makes them feel that way, and they won’t bother to question why, they’ll just go with the feeling.

So often in the rush to get marketing materials out the door, or to squeeze costs, strong design is the casualty. That’s a shame. When you think about how much information people are exposed to every day, and how short attention spans have become, why would a smart marketing…


It’s the age of online newspapers and magazines. e-books, e-newsletters and PDFs. However, the death of print has been greatly exaggerated. Sharply designed brochures, posters, direct mail and business papers are still powerfully effective—and have staying power. When duty calls, a strong print production team adds tremendous value to the finished product.

Execution is everything.

The basics of print production are simple: choosing paper, print techniques, finishing and bindery options. The real value comes from a production team who are advocates for great creative and who can work with, and guide designers in a direction which results in brilliant and on-target creative pieces.

Designer/production collaboration is essential. The idea that a designer can just dump the work on a production manager’s desk and be done with it won’t yield the best results. Working together means the designers are better informed and have more realistic expectations of the final printed piece. We find it beneficial to bring both the design and production teams to client meetings to help sell concepts as a client’s concerns can easily be addressed from either side.

Consider too the value that stems from a production manager’s vendor relationships. When the final product is in the hands of…


Far too often media planning is still worshiped at the altar of cost efficiency. For a long time CPMs drove the plans. Then along came the magic world of digital metrics and we shifted our allegiances to cost-per-click and cost-per-conversion. And now we see the legitimacy of cost-per-click questioned by studies showing that click fraud could be causing significant overages versus actual customer engagement. While it’s easy for media people to fall back on numbers, we can’t ignore what really matters to people.

Content is King.

The mantra for success in the automotive business is, “It’s all about the product.” If the design and engineering isn’t right, no amount of advertising and PR spin is going to make it into a winner. The mantra for media planning should be, “It’s all about the content.” If the content isn’t there to keep people engaged and coming back, no low cost metric is going to make it into a winner.

Media planners should be thinking content first, cost second. Content is what gets people to show up to begin with, and it’s what keeps them coming back. It’s what they’re buying, not always with money, but always with the value of their…


It’s summer. Time to roll down the windows, turn up the radio and listen to local car dealership commercials. Hold on, you’re not into radio advertising? I guess we don’t blame you. Let’s face it, Chevy Salebration Days isn’t going to be this summer’s Get Lucky or Blurred Lines. Why are radio commercials so boring, bad and/or downright annoying? Is it because marketing directors (and their boss) care more about splashier mediums like TV and print? Is it because agencies don’t think radio advertising is important as well? Is a left-wing plot to make more people turn into commercial-free NPR? We’re not sure.

60 seconds of freedom.

But we do know one thing—good radio advertising really stands out. And it’s never been more important to cut through the clutter. More people are streaming Pandora, tuning to satellite radio and listening to podcasts and playlists. Radio shouldn’t be the redheaded stepchild of advertising. Embrace it. The same rules apply—a simple, unique, memorable message executed nicely.

If you’re a copywriter, radio should be your first love. Caress it softly. Hold it tight and never let it go. Odds are, the client will let you fly under the radar on this one. This is…


As a business, advertising couldn’t be any more subjective. Success in advertising takes a really healthy client-agency relationship. Over the years, we’ve learned some of the most important ingredients to maintaining a strong working relationship are:

1. Sharing, of info, ideas, opinions, concerns, deadlines, budget constraints, lunch, a golf cart. If we both lay all our cards on the table face up, we’ll be better partners for each other.

Tying the knot.

2. Honesty, especially when providing—and receiving—feedback.

3. Access to senior people. For clients, few things are worse than the feeling you didn’t get your agency’s best thinking. For agencies, things aren’t as great as they can be when the senior head honcho’s feedback is relayed by the junior honcho. We like regular summit meetings. Doesn’t have to be a big deal, but they need to be regular. Maybe monthly or quarterly lunch. Even senior head honchos eat.

4. Agreement. Most importantly, on the big things, like the story your brand should tell.

5. Disagreement. Don’t worry, they’re going to happen. Nothing wrong with them. In fact, candid exchanges can strengthen ideas.

6. Wisdom. In particular, the wisdom to recognize when the accumulation of tiny changes has taken what was a really strong…


Some things common to most brands: a mission statement; a value proposition; a unique selling proposition; a positioning statement; a brand architecture; a desired perception; brand advocates.

And those are just the terms. We all know what they actually tend to sound like too. What is it about marketing that leads to so much jargon, as if the average person consciously thinks about the value proposition or the brand architecture when they’re out shopping? Brand advocates don’t think in those terms either.

An essential power tool.

Speaking of brand advocates, there are a bunch of them in every organization. They’re called employees, the vast majority of whom don’t think in marketing terms either. How are they supposed to advocate for the brand if they can’t follow the jargon-filled pronouncements either?

Something more brands should have: An anthem.

An anthem, a paragraph written in plain English, is a powerful tool for a brand. It’s a foundation. A rallying cry. A clear articulation of what the brand stands for, and what it means. That’s right, what it means.

Here’s an example of an opening line from an Anthem we wrote for one of our clients.

“Our way is not conventional, nor should…


With our B-2-B clients and prospects, we often talk about the rational versus emotional decision making of the customer. Most business decisions are bottom line, rational decisions—the fleet manager with 5,000 vehicles where a penny or two per mile difference in cost makes a huge bottom line difference, or the tug boat operator who needs to minimize downtime with extended engine maintenance intervals. Yet the fact remains we are marketing to humans, and emotion has to be part of the equation. But it’s emotion in a different sense.

Aim between the eyes.

We’re not talking about emotional in the sense of tugging at heartstrings. We’re talking about the emotional impact of stopping power. The things that hit you between the eyes because they are unexpected result in an emotional response that is undeniable. That’s the emotional component that so much B-2-B advertising misses. Marketers are so concerned with saying everything they can possibly say they forget about the tremendous impact bold, simple statements have in terms of stopping power, of getting people’s attention, of differentiating the brand.

It takes a confident brand to act in that manner. And it takes confident marketing decision makers as well. But the end…


Here’s an interesting bit of copy from a company that wanted us to buy from them: “(Brand) offers personalized document management solutions to increase the efficiency of your lifecycle information management while fostering positive community engagement through every customer relationship.”

Get to the point already.

Having no idea what that meant, we moved on pretty quickly. Although we admit to saving it as a great example of a company trying too hard to sound smart.

This company may be pretty smart. But all they managed to do was make a bad impression on us. We don’t know what they do, and for a moment, we felt kind of stupid that we didn’t know what they were talking about. Were we missing out on something? Are we falling behind because we don’t have a clue what “lifecycle information management” is? Would we be more successful if we did? Should we be worried about that? Wait, there’s work piling up, better get back to it.

Here’s another bit of copy from a different company that wanted us to buy from them:
“(Brand) was built with one objective — to help you analyze and respond to the companies that are researching information on your website.”



Step out of your marketing role to just be a consumer for a moment and try and identify the last time you saw an ad and were completely taken in by it.

Take your time. It’s probably not easy given all the ads we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Don’t be invisible.

Now remember that while you step back into your marketing role, because chances are pretty good that the average customer isn’t going to do any better than you at that exercise. And that’s certainly not a good thing when your livelihood depends on customer engagement with your ads.

Most brands are so busy talking about themselves they forget the most basic need to resonate with their customers. It’s our premise that if you don’t first strike a nerve with people, you aren’t going to get them engaged.

It’s a fine line though and a lot of people in our business don’t get it. They try and make a grandiose splash that has no real relevance. Striking a nerve isn’t just crying out for attention. It’s understanding what’s relevant to the audience and honing in on that. You don’t have to be big to get peoples’ attention when… Us More