When times are tough, the first casualty is the marketing budget.
That makes sense, especially when a quick look around the communication landscape reveals that more money is wasted on marketing than invested. Visuals with pretty pictures and no strategy pepper our billboards. Screaming headlines that are all but indecipherable are an expensive equivalent to talking to oneself. And overly generic ads that simply point out a fact without calling the audience to some form of action are just as useless.
Think of the January billboards that say “You’ve eaten too much in December – get to the gym”. Add a picture of a gym, with or without the obligatory fit dude working out, and slap a logo on at the bottom. While driving, your mind is idling. Taking up some of that slack to make you ponder your gastronomic excess is a good idea.
However, with such a generic message, there is little to tie your predicament with the gym that has paid for the billboard. You’ll drive home, eat a little more healthily, and renew your old gym membership, without remembering what gym paid for the billboard.
You’re wasting money.
So what should we do? How can we make sure every cent is an investment?
We start with brand
Your brand is not your logo, not the fonts or colours you associate with your identity, and surely not an advert that includes absolutely everything in your visual toolkit.
Your brand is your set of core values, your most essential promise to your clients, the set of characteristics that define your very foundation. Start here:
- Write down your brand values. If you’ve worked hard enough at defining them, chances are you only need to write four words.
- Read them. Several times. Look away and repeat them to yourself. Shout them at someone if necessary. Just make sure you’re totally immersed in what your brand is and what it really means to you and to your audience.
- Consider your current communication need within this context. Your communication need could be simply the desire to remind people that your product is essential to their summer. That their world will be a slightly better place as a result. That the story they will tell about their summer will be, even slightly, a better story with your product or service in it.
- Carefully design your communication to tell this story, making sure your brand values are implicitly or explicitly represented.
- Check your work. So far you should have a sheet of paper with the following on it:
- Your brand values.
- Scribbled just beneath, your communication need. Possibly underlined. Or highlighted.
- Your communication plan.
- Have it styled to match your visual identity.
What do we have now?
We have promotional communication that should accurately represent who you are. We have an item of collateral that will tell your story to those who could be interested in an immediate purchase. What we also have, and this is what turns an expense into an investment, is an item of collateral that reinforces your brand values.
So all of your audience, even those who might not immediately purchase, have had the opportunity to experience your brand in its full glory. They might not purchase today, but you’ve left a positive impression on them. And when they eventually reach for their wallets to purchase your product, they are giving you cold, hard, cash as return on your wise investment.
- Think. Does the action you’re about to take violate any one of your brand values? If it does, you’re better off thinking a while longer and finding the tougher, but more effective, course of action that’s aligned with your true values.
- Test. Pick one communication route and one person with a deep and thorough understanding of your brand. Tear the communication to bits and reconstruct it. If you reconstruct it pretty much in the same way, you were right the first time. If not, don’t be precious with your own ideas – be mindful of what will best suit your communication needs.
- Fight tactical battles and lose sight of your core mission.
- Spot a competitor’s move and react to it hastily without regard for your brand values. This always leads to communication with short-term goals that will be expensive to fix later.
- Design by committee. Showing an item of collateral to ten people will have them strip every aspect of creative thinking and leave you with a product and a logo. The world is fed up of safe ads.