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Back to Basics Advertising and Creative Strategies

“I just don’t know what our message is anymore,” said a California dealer. “Every trick, every con, every hook, every promotion conceivable is being used by someone in our market”. From his tone I sensed this dealer’s frustration and lack of creative direction. By the end of that workshop, this dealer felt completely energized and re-directed with a sustainable creative strategy. I did not reveal any earth-shaking new ideas, but I did help this group of dealers re-discover the basics right under their noses. Recently, I wrote two articles for Dealer Magazine on ‘back to basics’ advertising concepts, as well as ‘back to basics’ media strategy. Here are some thoughts on ‘back to basics’ creative. By the way, if you’d like copies of either of those previous articles, email me and I’ll forward them to you.

Over twenty years ago, I expressed the two basic objectives of marketing creative as ‘Share of Market’ and ‘Share of Mind’. In many workshops over the years, I’ve discovered these terms convey well and help just about anyone achieve a breakthrough understanding of the task at hand. Our advertising message must address both of these concepts. ‘Share of Market’ to produce as much traffic as possible this week, and ‘Share of Mind’ to build a brand in our potential customers’ minds. Most dealer advertising, as well as manufacturer and regional advertising, has been focused on ‘Share of Market’ during the past year; almost entirely on price, payment and discount. Even imports have done a poor job of creating reasons to buy other than price. Some marketers suggest recessionary sales periods require more ‘Share of Market’ promotional messaging versus ‘Share of Mind’ brand enhancement. I disagree. It is in times such as these where a well-polished brand shines its brightest, if for no other reason than it will be different than most of the other advertising in the marketplace.


Here are my six rules for ’back to basics’ creative strategy:

  1. Discover your brand identity.

    It’s just amazing how few companies actually know what their ‘brand’ is, or what it stands for. I’m not talking about the models of vehicles that you sell or even the manufacturer(s) you represent. I’m talking about the image customers in your market have of your company. For years, marketing folks have referred to it as USP. Unique Sales Proposition. Something that makes you different from your competitors. I’ve redefined the expression as UMP, Unique Marketing Perception, because it really doesn’t make any difference what you actually offer. All that matters is your customers’ perception of your brand. If the perception is positive, you need to embrace and promote it. If the perception is negative, you need to do everything in your power to change and re-direct it. It’s not easy, but it can be done. How do you discover your brand identity? Ask your employees, for starters. Ask each of your employees to take a sheet of paper and write down, in several sentences, what they believe your company stands for, and how people feel about your company. Tell your employees NOT to put their name on these worksheets. This is not a time to brown-nose the boss. You want to know the truth. Then ask your employees what your company might do differently to change any negative perception. These exercises will be some of the most valuable research you will ever conduct. Not only do your employees have a vested interest in seeing your company do well, but they are also very important customers, internal customers. Once you have reviewed every single submission from every employee, gather a group of your most trusted, objective associates and hammer out a brand definition of your company. Then, if possible, boil it down to just once sentence.
  2. Live your brand.

    Don’t do anything, nor allow anyone else to do anything, say anything or write anything that is contrary to your brand’s enhancement. The quickest way to build a brand is to make it more than just a slogan or advertisement posturing. If you say ‘cheerfully refunded’, don’t make your customer jump through hoops and feel like a dog to take advantage of the ‘satisfaction guaranteed’ offer you made. If your claim is the ‘owner is in the store’, make yourself available within reason, return calls and e-mails personally, and live your brand promise. I will never forget the brand lesson I learned some years ago while conducting a focus group in London. When we discussed the ‘brand image’ of various dealers in the UK, one of the participants talked about the branding tactics by a well-known public auto group. It seems their advertising slogan was ‘nice people to do business with.’ The focus group attendee said “In fact they are NOT very nice people to do business with. They are abrupt, rude and crude.” He suggested that the company should come up with a new slogan such as “We’re not very nice but we give you a good price.”
  3. Tell your story.

    People love stories. Not the made-up kind, the story of who you are, how you got there, what you stand for, what you do for the community, etc. When I first got into the automobile advertising business, I used to say my greatest strength was that of a storyteller. I just look for great stories, then do a better job than anyone else in helping tell that story. Who knows your story? Who can do the best job of telling your story? One of my favorite stories is that of the Tasca dealerships in Providence, Rhode Island. For all of his life, Bob Tasca Sr. has built his business on customer service. There is literally nothing Bob won’t do for a customer. Like the time when they were having difficulty finding a noise in a customer’s car, and Bob Sr. crawled into the trunk so he could identify the source while someone drove the car. Now that, my friend, is a story worth telling. Imagine an advertisement based on real stories like that! People love to hear the inside scoop. This is how they define their attitudes regarding a brand. If you hire an advertising agency to help you tell your story, hire an agency that will spend some time with you learning your story. It’s a whole lot easier ‘living your brand’ when your brand is the true story of what you do every day.
  4. Multi-platform your creative message.

    There was a time when you could use basically the same creative message across all of your advertising platforms, television, radio and print. Today, your creative message must be integrated to the employed medium’s best use. I’ve written several articles on spiral-integration of media (the best use of each medium even if that use is to enhance other mediums. I’ll be happy to forward you articles on spiral integration. Please mention the month and year of this article when you email me. Since different media reach different age and socio-economic groups, your creative should be tailored to communicate with the target reader/listener/viewer. Don’t expect to achieve maximum results with the same copy you might use in a text-messaging campaign to ‘under 30’ as you would in a TV ad geared to older baby boomers. Regardless of what marketing channel you use, however, make sure your brand message, your story, carries well and imparts the same basic theme.
  5. Get some professional help!

    Even if you fancy yourself as the smartest marketing genius in the world, consider looking outside for either help in writing your creative message or at least editing and reviewing it. When you are too close to things, you often don’t see them clearly. If you write your own copy, put the first draft on the desk and take a break. Have a cup of coffee, go for a walk, etc. Then, with fresh eyes and mind, review your work. Ask three people (other than your spouse and the new and used manager) to read what you’ve written. Does it make sense to them as a perspective customer? Does it hold their attention? Does it make them want to pick up the phone and call you, visit your website, or get in the car and visit you?
  6. Shorter is sweeter and always more effective.

    As a rule, you should not use sentences over 25 words. If necessary, break long sentences into multiple shorter ones. Use contractions and an informal tone. Once you have a 60-second piece of copy you really like, try taking 20 words out and listen to how much more effective the spot is.Remember, our marketing target, for the most part, is just folks like you and I, putting their pants on one leg at a time, trying to make sense of the crazy, high speed world we live in. Make it easy for them to understand what you offer, who you are, and how to do business with you.

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