Monday, April 21, 2008


The toughest part of marketing, apart from setting good objectives, is targeting. Good targeting is a matter of prioritizing. It's determining who you are -- and aren't -- trying to reach. Elisabeth A. Sullivan calls this "demarketing" in her article, "Just Say No" in the April 15, 2008, edition of Marketing News.

Sullivan quotes marketing consultant Phil Marsosudiro: "If you think of marketing as exercise and reaching towards good foods, demarketing is when you slap yourself on the wrist when reaching for that second ├ęclair."

Targeting is hard work because clients generally want to reach anybody who can fog a mirror.

At my previous employer, a financial services company, we once developed a big push to sell universal life insurance. Using demographic data, marketing conducted an analysis and was able to determine with great certainty the most likely prospects to buy the product. But our agents hated being told who to focus on. They simply wanted to reach anybody who they could get to listen to them. Even though their approach was unproductive, those agents simply couldn't bring themselves to consider that certain prospects were better prospects for that product.

When I arrived at the university I currently work for, the Web site was a mish-mosh of odds and ends. Links and text were stuck in every nook and cranny of the home page. Why? It seems that anytime anybody on the faculty and staff asked for something to be placed on the home page, marketing would do it! So a couple years ago we overhauled the entire site, agreeing to only target prospective undergraduate students. Nearly everyone admits the new Web site is a huge improvement over the old one, but faculty and staff still react with pain when they ask to put their favorite, novel idea on the homepage and we tell them "no."

Demarketing is more about discipline than it is strategy. It's discipline aimed at improving the effectiveness of marketing resources.

When you’re working on a marketing or communication project, think about the audiences your work is not designed to reach. Doing so will help you stay targeted and is bound to improve your results.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On logos and what they mean

For most organizations, their logos are so central to their brands the two are inseparable. And so it should be. Logos function a bit like flags planted on the top of a mountain peak, claiming the territory as "ours."

But for too many organizations, logos can take on roles that are far too large. Instead of symbols, they can virtually becomes entire communication strategies.

When I've helped organizations develop new logos, there's a common question that always comes up: What does the logo mean? Somehow, people feel like they need a detailed description of the symbolism behind a logo, as if it needs to literally convey every detail of the organization's mission and vision.

Consider the Nike Swoosh. What does the Swoosh mean? Speed? Athleticism? Agility? Actually it means none of those things. It means, simply, Nike. That's what it's supposed to mean. For any organization, their logo is a visual symbol meaning their organization and their brand. Plain and simple.

A company I used to work for had developed a logo many years ago. With the logo came a little booklet -- a manual describing what each element of the logo meant. I kid you not! Of course, the logo was awful. It was obviously developed by a committee employing the "spaghetti sauce theory": It's in there! They completely missed the point of logos.

A logo is meant to mean the organization and the brand it is there to represent. Nothing more.

Of course, it takes time to develop a close association in people's minds between a logo and the organization it represents. But that's exactly what branding does.

When I consult with an organization about branding, I rarely encourage a change in their logo unless (a) the symbol is simply out of touch with the company's mission or (b) the company has done something to seriously besmirch its reputation. Logo changes are expensive, and I can generally attach meaning to just about any symbol (and slogan). There's got to be a good reason to make a change in something as mission-critical as a logo.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

When non-marketing types try to do marketing

Remember when desktop publishing first showed up on the scene back in the mid 1980s? Suddenly every secretary and administrative assistant, now armed with clip art and 100 type fonts, was a graphic designer. Things haven't improved much in 20-plus years.

I just got a copy of a brochure from my university's library created by people who shouldn't be doing this work. They have apparently invented a new slogan for the university (at least they've placed it under the university logo): "Explore...Enlighten...Empower." Now, I don't have a quarrel with these words. The problem is that the university's slogan is "Thinkers, Doers, Movers & Shockers." What they are doing, unwittingly, is screwing up the university's brand, plain and simple. They're costing us money and minds.

What's the big difference between professional marketers and amateur-marketer-wannabes trying to do the same work? Professional marketers work from objectives; amateurs work from their own personal tastes and whims. It's stupid, but it happens all the time.

Somebody once said -- and I can't remember who this was, but the line has stuck with me: "There's nothing more expensive than cheap communication."

'Nuf said.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

It's what's below the waterline that counts

Why do so many branding efforts go bad? They lack alignment. They didn't pay attention to what's below the waterline.

Most brand officers know that advertising and logos don't make brands. A brand is something that constituents feel in their hearts. It's truth, not hype. Yet when many organizations decide they need to pay attention to their brand, they focus on advertising, develop a new logo, and craft a new slogan. What they've actually done is dumbed down the whole branding enterprise by training their constituents that brand equals hype.

When I speak about brand I often use the image of an iceberg. You know how icebergs work: There's that chunk of ice visible above the waterline, but below the surface is a much bigger chunk of ice that you can't see that keeps the whole thing afloat.

Brands are like that. Above the waterline are the sexy things marketers love to mess with: logos, slogans, ads, gorilla strategies, PR, and promotion. But below the waterline are those things that really MAKE brands happen, that most organizations ignore in their branding efforts: customer experience, making employees ambassadors for the brand, products, pricing, and so forth.

Without the big chunk of ice below the waterline, all you've got is communication making promises you can't keep. It's unaligned with reality. But when the organization actually behaves like the brand you're promising, you're in alignment. That's when the magic happens.

If you think about brands you know, you can easily think of the ones that are aligned. United/Fly the Friendly Skies -- not aligned. Starbucks -- aligned (right down to the smells in the stores).

From my experience, organizations that launch a branding effort should spend the first 1-3 years (yes, YEARS) working on internal branding before ever launching into advertising, logos, and sales promotion. Get things aligned internally before trying to make promises to your constituents. In many cases, you only get one chance to do it right.

(Photo c. idrutu, image from