Have you ever seen an advertisement for a jackfruit? Or sand? It doesn't make sense to advertise a commodity. If they are all the same, I'll just pick the cheapest one. Unless you have a monopoly, you will likely only see a financial benefit if you’ve built a brand - or at least registered a trademark — for your offering.
Ten years ago a navel orange was what you'd put in your kids lunchbox. But California farmer Bernie Evans changed all that. (The Wall Street Journal article here). A bad freeze devastated the state’s citrus harvest and he looked for a cold-hardy orange. He learned that one option, clementines, which at the time were imported from Spain, were selling well on the East Coast. He signed a deal with a nursery to multiply clementine trees and sell them to him exclusively. He then trademarked the name “Cuties®” and launched a $20 million national television and point-of-sale advertising campaign. You’ve probably had some on your kitchen counter recently.
Think carefully about the name you’ve chosen for your product, service or business. It is an important part of the story.
Did you take a moment this week to commemorate George Washington, or the leadership qualities of any chief executive important to you? Or did you buy a mattress or enjoy a long weekend of skiing? Were you just annoyed that you forgot the post office was closed? Did President's Day mean anything to you?
When we take time out to celebrate the significance of a shared event or the contributions of an individual, we are really talking about what is important to us collectively. I'm not advocating for or against the holiday, but it reminds me that a helpful question to ask about any communication to a specific audience is "What is this for?"
If the answer isn't "This helps build trust with my client or gets the attention of someone I'd like to work with," then you should rethink it. What you are doing might just be an artifact. It takes empathy to see what your customer really wants.
Also, happy Mardi Gras.
The same story told by different artists can radically change how an audience connects to it. The same is true of your marketing story. Your presentation is important. Last night the NFL paired a country music star, Eric Church, with an R&B singer, Jazmine Sullivan to perform the national anthem before the Super Bowl. It symbolized the need for unity in an ongoing charged time of racial discord for the nation - a smart move for the NFL.
When Jimi Hendrix played the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock it became a protest anthem about the Vietnam war. It reflected the pulse of the nation at that time. Very different from Whitney Houston's patriotic version at the 1991 Super Bowl.
How you present the material changes everything. Same content, different delivery. How are you communicating?
Often we ask people "Where are you from?" What we are really doing is looking for common ground, "Oh, I have a friend that's also from Buffalo!" Or we are seeking to understand her, "So you must be a Bills fan." Our origin stories communicate the experiences and values that shape our worldview.
That is also true of organizations. I saw this ice axe displayed on the wall at my REI sporting goods store. It is a symbol of company's roots which started as a co-op to buy mountaineering equipment in 1935. You can read that story on their website here.
Sharing your organization's origin story communicates something important to your customers. Tell that story with an intention to connect over shared values.
If you are invited to make a speech at a conference in Madrid and deliver the talk in German, it isn't likely that your remarks will have the impact you hoped for. It's more helpful to speak in the same language as your audience.
The same is true in your marketing efforts. The people you want to connect with often have a particular way of sharing ideas. They might prefer terms such as "scalable" , "best practice" or "synergy". But if they put on a "brain bucket", are proud of their "1 kicker" and look down on "crotch rockets" they might be interested in your "hog". Tell your story in the patois of the people you want to serve.
On my regular running route I have to cross a street where most cars ignore not only the speed limit but also the painted crosswalk. And since there’s no stoplight at the intersection, almost no one yields to pedestrians here.
Which is why it was so unusual on this busy traffic morning for a UPS delivery truck to come to a complete stop. With a smile and nod the driver waved me across.
I’m sure she’s instructed to strictly follow all the rules of the road. And that the safety record of drivers is a critical performance metric. But I also assume that on-time route completion is tracked and recorded with diligence. If she hadn’t stopped would anyone ever know? Would that decision make any difference – other than to slow her down?
That is brand building. The behavior that you and your employees make every day creates a promise. A promise of what it is like to interact with your brand. Even if you are not a customer, it gets noticed. Now I have a different story in my mind about the work that you do and how you do it.
What promise are you making?
In news reports that Elon Musk had surpassed Jeff Bezos as the world's richest man, the label "visionary" was used. We tend to reserve the term for people we think are exceptional. Those with some rarified ability to see around corners.
But the truth is, you also are a visionary, Nobody has ever seen the world and the possibilities in the same way as you do. When you launched your latest project (decided to volunteer at that non-profit, cold-called that prospect, started your business) -- you had a vision. A one-of-a-kind view of the world and how your offering could solve a problem.
Share that vision. It is the best way to connect with your clients and customers - anyone that you want to serve. You are not persuading them as much as you are telling a story about your vision. That is visionary.
The story you are trying to tell - your message - is always delivered with two other important markers - tone and context. Here in Georgia voters are deciding a key Senate race. Millions of dollars have been spent on both sides and we have been inundated with political ads before every YouTube clip, billboards on every block and more junk flyers than we received since AOL launched (for the under 40 crowd a lesson here).
On a smaller scale, individuals have expressed their political standing through polite signs displayed on well-manicured yards as well as aggressive posters slapped on telephone poles. While the sentiment is the same - people like us vote this way - the tone and context are radically different.
Keep this in mind as you tell your story. How your audience perceives the message and whether it drives them to take action is influenced by tone of voice and the medium you use to deliver the message. Tell your story with intention.
“The suspense is terrible, I hope it will last.” Oscar Wilde.
Your storytelling – your marketing efforts – must embrace uncertainty. It is a fundamental part of the story. Will the boy get the girl? Is this cream going to get rid of my acne? Will our new software increase productivity?
Uncertainty creates tension.
Your target market – the audience for your story – doesn’t know how this is all going to turn out. Meet them at this point of uncertainty. If your storytelling is compelling, they will become invested in that tension. They will crave the release that comes from finding out how the story ends.
Embrace that uncertainty. Even if you are uncertain yourself. Make a promise and live it. Invite your tribe to join you in that journey. You will gain attention. And, if you keep your promise, you will build trust. With trust comes the opportunity to make more change happen.
On 9/11 St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church in New York was demolished when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. It was the only other building to be completely destroyed as a result of the terrorist attacks. Rebuilding the church, which include plans for a national shrine to the memory of those lost, stalled a few years ago due to lack of funding and amidst controversy of financial mismanagement.
In the shadow of that uncertainty the recently elected primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America -- Archbishop Elpidophoros – announced that the church and shrine would open on September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
His Eminence Elpidophoros has embraced uncertainty. There is tension.
And awareness of this tension is increasing. Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo joined the Archbishop to announce that construction will again resume.
That is bold storytelling. It has created a platform for carrying hope. We are all eager to find out how this story ends.
All impactful marketing starts with listening to someone else’s story. The story told by the people you want to assist. You cannot begin to shape a narrative around your offering if you don’t first acknowledge the pain that they have.
That pain is usually existential. I want to be recognized. I desire to be understood. I demand revenge. I want to reconnect with a part of me that I fear is lost.
Your offering fits that need. Your graphic T-shirts featuring philosophy quotes afford people a way to express their inner selves. The ancestry.com kit gives them a way to understand their place in the world. Your pasta sauce reminds them of their childhood.
But you must first hear their story. They may be reticent to share it, especially if it is based in shame. I don’t want people to know that I have fertility issues. I’m embarrassed by my acne.
I don’t want people looking at me in this state of homelessness I find myself in now. That is story that I perceived as I walked by a park near my office. You can start to think about your business by listening to the stories of everyone you meet. Even just people who are telling their story without words.
Hear the others.
I have a variety of interests and enjoy sharing my reflections on them here.