Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Over-Reliance on Metrics Has Done to Marketing

Revenge of the Nerds?

Marketing has become way over-metric-ized (with apologies to my English teachers and professors).

As David Ogilvy was fond of saying, 
"Agencies use research the way a drunk uses a lamppost ... For support, not illumination."

Bruno Aziza, a big data entrepreneur and author makes a similar point in this article on, with a perspective that's a little more up to date. 

His point is that modern marketing people often get so caught up in the mechanics of their craft that they overlook the fact that they're supposed to be selling a product. 

It's roughly the equivalent of a doctor who becomes so engrossed in the surgery he's performing that he lets the patient bleed out on the operating table. 

I can just imagine a conversation at one of these companies between James, the CEO, and Lenny, the Chief Marketing Officer. 
CEO: "Hey, Lenny. I was just looking over our sales numbers for last month."
CMO: "Sure, Jim. By the way, how do like the new design of our logo? It did great in all our focus groups!"
CEO: "Uh, yeah. It's really terrific. Lot's of colors and fonts and stuff. But about those sales numbers...?"
CMO: "And did you see the latest redesign of the website? We've addressed every possible metric that our statistics people could come up with! You could be a middle income single dad of Eastern European background and you'll still feel right at home on our site. We've even got options to view it in Latvian or Standard Muscovite!"
CEO: "I thought 'Muscovite' was a kind of duck. Look, that website is so convoluted that my lawyer and my CPA couldn't figure it out! But forget all that. I want to know about these sales numbers. They're dead!!"
CMO: "Darnit, Jim! I'm a marketer not a salesman!"

Way back when I was in college I learned that, at some point, the purpose of any bureaucracy becomes its own propagation. At the risk of offending those whose job it is to gather and process all this data, I would like to suggest  that many in the marketing industry have reached this point. 

If you take time to peruse some modern tomes on marketing statistics (as I have done) you'll be astounded at the sheer breadth and depth of the information that marketing people think is useful. 

Does anyone really find it useful to know their product's Residual Elasticity?  Did anyone ever increase sales or marketshare by knowing their Gross Rating Points. Was some product propelled to the top of its industry because its maker's marketing department tracked its Brand Equity Metrics?

And yet untold hundreds of millions of dollars are flushed away every year collecting and analyzing this earth shatteringly valuable information. 

In the introduction of one particularly full-of-itself volume called Marketing Metrics, the authors cheerfully and arrogantly proclaim that, "For years corporate marketers have walked into budget meetings like neighborhood junkies."
They go on to say that those same poor marketing slobs could do nothing to show the value of what they'd spent any of the past money on, but they just wanted more dough to blow on expensive ad campaigns. 

But on the very next page, they go on to say that some of their own precious metrics "require data that may be approximate, incomplete or unavailable."

In other words, their metrics are nothing more than horse puckey. There's no magic. It's simply a smoke and mirrors trick to make corporate bean counters feel better about appropriating money. And it's a huge power grab for the statisticians. All of a sudden they're relevant! Those fuzzy headed marketing guys don't get all the glory anymore. 

The problem is that statistically, their mathematical approach to marketing doesn't work any better than the old way. If it did, than how would they account for all their missteps and screwups? If metrics are so infallible than how do they happen? 

If they're so darned right, how does Google (who slavishly collects and analyzes this type of data) ever make a mistake?

In Marketing Metrics they snidely comment that marketing can no longer be looked at as 'more art than science,' and that data should be king. 

Let me illustrate the fallacy of this doctrine with a story. 
I once read a self help book for making married couples happier. The author, who was also a counselor, related the following true story. 

A young newly married fellow attended a class on relationships. The lecturer stated that a key to a happy marriage is that women like to receive occasional gifts, such as bracelets or other types of jewelry. The well meaning newlywed went out and bought his wife a new bracelet. However, he wasn't too savvy at picking out jewelry and she really didn't like it very much. Instead of smiling and offering to exchange it for something she liked, he promptly threw a temper tantrum insisting that, according to the lecture he'd heard, she was supposed to like it! In other words, his objective data was supposed to trump her subjective opinion!

Let me put it another way.  My wife knows what kinds of foods I like to eat. She is in possession of that data in all it's minutiae. And yet on any given night can she accurately predict what I would prefer to eat for supper? (I'm a good husband so I eat whatever she makes. But that's beside the point.) 

People are analog, not digital, so it's as much a function of good sense as it is good data to get accurate results. 

In a way, this whole discussion actually hearkens back to the debate over whether or not artistic talent is purely innate, or can be acquired. 

Metrics mavens would like you to believe that marketing and advertising, up till now almost exclusively an area driven by artists and creatives, can be better served by statisticians. In other words, they're "paint by numbers" artists, filling in whatever type of content their data tells them is best. 

And that, by definition, means they are not innovators, dreamers or inventors. How can they be, when their whole model is based on what amounts to never-ending opinion polls. 

Even their attempts at innovation are rooted in their data. They look at what shocked and titilated before, try to make it even more shocking and offensive, and then call it innovative. 

Perhaps it's time for marketing people and their bosses to (gasp) once again use independent thought and sound judgement, rather than looking to cover their rear ends with endless reams of data, which anyway allow them to make only half baked guesses.

Maybe the dreamers and inventors need to be allowed a return to prominence and be permitted to develop effective solutions that take a holistic approach of inspired creativity that is guided by experience and relevant data.

In other words - come on guys, use a little common sense.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.

He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2014 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Brand Building Primer

What is "Branding," and why is it important?

As icky as it is, the word "branding" hearkens back to the days when they used to physically brand cattle (with a branding iron) with the symbol of the ranch that owned them. This was done to prevent rustlers from, well, rustling them.

Throughout modern history, up until the Industrial Revolution, most people purchased basic items that were produced locally. Of course there was always an element of larger commerce, with goods that needed to be imported, but due to the difficulties involved in transporting goods across long distances, food staples, soap, and similar items were usually produced and marketed in localized areas.

As the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. gained traction, with stagecoach and ultimately railroad transport opening up larger and larger parts of the country transportation became much cheaper and quicker. Manufacturers now had more modern steam-powered factories and locomotives to transport their goods to far-flung regions. 

There was just one problem. Folks were used to buying things from their own neighborhood. This “imported” stuff just didn’t appeal to them. They didn’t trust it.

Hence the idea of “branding.” Companies realized that, if they were to convince people to buy their goods outside their traditional areas, they would have to convince them that their products could be trusted just as much as local ones.

Companies began to create identities for their products. Instead of generic fountain soda, Coca-Cola® was born. In fact, Coke, along with Campbell Soup, Juicy Fruit Gum and Quaker Oats were among the first trademarked brands in this vein in the U.S.

As the nineteenth century became the twentieth, brands continued to evolve. Advertising, which had been limited to print and billboards, moved into the media of film and radio. Some of the great shapers of modern advertising such as Claude Hopkins and John Caples applied their skill and genius to their craft. 

By the end of World War II, manufacturers and their ad agencies began to focus on their brands’ identity, e.g. using their brands’ images to identify their products as fun, luxurious, economical, etc.

This process continued to mature and develop throughout the latter part of the twentieth century and now even more so in the twenty-first.

Branding Today

Brands are becoming more and more hyper-focused on specific demographics (yay for technology!) such as young teen girls 12-15, or 25-30 year old male professionals. As they seek to differentiate themselves and carve out some market share, they use the ever-increasing piles of data that they’ve managed to accumulate on our habits to create finer and finer-tuned models for their branding efforts.

Do You Need to Brand Your Product?

It depends on a couple of variables. Are you trying to project an image to attract customers apart from any intrinsic value your product may offer?

If you’re making baked goods and selling them to local grocery stores and supermarkets, and you’re products are popular and experienceing acceptable growth year over year, then perhaps branding is not for you. You can continue to grow your business, even ultimately getting into major chains without doing much more than updating your packaging once in a while.

On the other hand, if you’re importing goods from China which are identical to what a hundred other merchants are selling, you need to do something to set yourself apart.

Do you want to make your products appeal to the luxury set? Slick packaging, nice imagery and up to date marketing lingo are all your friends.

If your goods are heading for Dollar Stores or other similar venues, the economy look and feel are where you should be heading.

But branding is more than just packaging. It’s the total message that your ads, your PR, your packaging, products, and website say about you, both figuratively and literally. 

- Do you have a sleek product backed by lousy customer service? FAIL. 
- Is your product line featured on an antiquated looking website, with annoying little Flash animations popping up all over the place? FAIL.
- Is your revolutionary new widget shipped with an impossible to understand manual? FAIL.
- Does your advertising oversell what your product actually delivers? FAIL.

It’s a complex and delicate process to build a multifaceted construct piece by piece from the ground up so that its pieces perfectly intertwine and complement one another.

But that’s exactly what branding is, when it’s done properly.

When it’s not, you wind up with a many headed hydra, each head snapping and spitting at the others. I’ve seen firsthand the results of incomplete and improperly done branding. It’s not pretty, and it’s NOT effective.

It can be a challenging, frustrating process, especially because much of the advertising field seems so subjective.

As someone once said, “I believe that I’m wasting half the money that I spend on advertising. The problem is I don’t know which half.”

When Absolut Vodka was introduced in the U.S. market, they shipped just 800 per month. Thanks to their iconic branding, they are now an internationally known brand. They freely admit that this incredible success is due in large part to their advertising and branding efforts, besides their having a great product.

To those of you who are struggling with these decisions, my most heartfelt advice would be to avoid these waters altogether unless you are absolutely committed to dedicating the resources (i.e. $$$) necessary to do this properly.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.

He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2014 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Say What You Mean

Say What? You Mean…?!!

There's a song that Kenny Rogers released about 15 years ago called The Greatest. 
It tells the story of a little boy trying to hit a baseball, and how, in his mind, although he keeps missing the ball he's still the greatest. But there's a cute twist. He strikes himself out, all the time repeating how great he is. As the song winds down, his mom calls him in for supper and he says something like, "I am the greatest, that is understood. But even I didn't know...I could pitch that good."
It's a terrific song and it did well on the charts. It's the kind of song that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when you hear it. 

Or, for you Harry Potter fans, consider the tale of Professor Snape. For the entire course of the series, there was this huge doubt cast over him. Was he good or evil? Towards the end it sure sounded like he was a really bad guy. 

Then - surprise! - he turned out to be the hero that Dumbledore always assured us he was. 

It made for a satisfying twist to the Potter tale, and was certainly fun to read and watch. 

But that kind of clever mental bobbing and weaving is something you want very much to avoid in advertising and PR. 

No matter what your creative advisors tell you, advertising is not the same as entertaining. You have a very, very short amount of time to make your pitch, so it's best not to waste it on mind games that a very large percentage of the public won't understand or appreciate. 

I once read a story in which the author tells of an ad campaign he was personally involved in. It was advertising a new sound system. To illustrate how powerful the product was, they designed the ad with a photo of a sleek speedboat streaming through the water with the word "Power" emblazoned in bold letters above it. There was a smaller picture of the stereo down below with the sales info. The author and his coworkers all thought it was a great ad, as did the client.

Here’s a rough idea of what it looked like:

Then, one day, he was riding the bus and it happened to pass a billboard with one of "his" ads. He overheard one of his fellow passengers remark, "I'd sure like to get one of those Power speedboats!"
The lesson being: It's irrelevant how 'clear' and 'easy to understand' you think it is. 

If you show a picture of a boat, everyone will think you're selling boats. 

I experienced this myself when I was creating a series of images to be used for packaging for a line of snack food. 
One flavor was called "Wild West BBQ."
I suggested to the client that we create a photo of red peppers flaming on a grill. At first, she loved the idea. 

But after she saw my initial photos, she worried that consumers would think the product was really hot and spicy, which it wasn't. 
So that photo was nixed in favor of a 'cooler' one.  Here is the original “hot” photo, and the final “toned down” design.

She understood that you need to say what you mean. And it has to be so clear that the public understands it almost instantly, because you probably won't get another chance. A retail package or a book cover is no different than an ad in that respect. 

In fact, studies have been done analyzing consumers' eye movements in supermarkets to pick out patterns in how they shop. They spend very little time studying items before deciding whether or not to buy them, so first impressions are immensely important.

Capturing the essence of your message in a brief ad or PR piece is as much art as it is skill. Many times you'll see a commercial that is "full of sound and fury" with lots of glitz and color and noise. But when it's finished, you'd be hard pressed to even name the product being advertised, let alone anything about it, so the spot really "signifies nothing."

There's a product called Poopouri, a new type of air freshener for the washroom. Its makers have put out an ad online that, at times, dances around and over the lines that define good taste. But after watching it you not only remember what the product is called, but also what it does, how it works, and why it's better than the competition. 
And it’s done in an engaging (if slightly off-putting to some) manner that makes you want to try it. 

When I undertake any new project, I invariably pester the client with questions designed to elicit an idea of what the overall look and feel of the final “message” should be. I then proceed to sculpt the project from the ground up with those parameters built into every level of every component. 

A number of years back, I worked for a publishing house in New York. I was a assigned to design a cover for a self-help book called Vitamins for the Spirit. I was given a lot of creative freedom on the project, and I created a cover which I think speaks to the essence of the book.

Print, photo, multimedia, web, packaging - all areas should clearly and concisely communicate the message that you want to send.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2014 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

MUST READ Tips For All Your Communications

A budding author once asked a great scholar to give his approbation on a new manuscript of a book. The scholar looked it over carefully and responded, "Not everything that a person thinks should be said. And not everything that a person says should be written down. And not everything that's written down should be made into a book!"
We've all experienced having to read or listen to something that we would have rather avoided. But why, oh why, would someone deliberately choose to be the source of the unpleasant material? Do people want to be irritating? Grating? Downright boring? What do they think they're accomplishing by spewing out their collected (or uncollected) thoughts on a captive audience. 
I know that I quote David Ogilvy a lot, but I'll do so one more time. 
"You can't bore someone into buying your product."

The well known motivational speaker Earl Nightingale used to say, 
“You’ll find boredom where there is the absence of a good idea.”

This goes for advertising in print and in media as well as in public speaking. In fact it goes for any instance in which you present or interact with the public in any fashion.

I can't count the number of times that I've attended events such as parties, dinners, fund raisers  or award banquets at which someone got up to speak and droned on and on for 15 or 20 minutes or more. I guarantee that however good an orator he or she was, the crowd was lost after the first 10 minutes. And that's being generous. I personally try never to speak longer than 5 minutes unless it's absolutely necessary. 

I'm not talking about a planned speech, where everyone came specifically to hear someone talk, but rather at a public affair where a person is called upon to "say a few words."

Let's revisit President Lincoln's famous Gettysburg address. Containing just about 270 words, the speech lasted only a few brief minutes. It was so short that photographers on the scene had no time to set up their cumbersome equipment to take pictures. 

The Hon. Edward Everett, one of the most famous orators of the day, was the featured speaker that day at Gettysburg. In fact he spoke before Mr. Lincoln, giving a stirring two hour address. In a letter to Lincoln written the following day, Everett praised the President for his eloquent and concise speech, saying, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."
He was right. How many even remember Everett's name, let alone his speech? Lincoln's words have become part of his legacy, and part of the fabric of American history. 

So why don't people know when to stop?

Everyone wants their time in the spotlight. Put a microphone in front of most people, and you have only yourself to blame if they don't relinquish it in a timely fashion. 
“But,” you'll say, "surely they don't want to bore everyone. And they certainly don't want to embarrass themselves!” 
That may be true in theory. But the sad truth is very few people will have the heart (or if it's a boss, the nerve) to tell him or her how bad it really was. 
And most people simply live in such a state of denial that it's easier to believe the polite fiction ("You were great!") than the harsh reality. 
I know people who are really, really smart. But I find that, at a certain point, there seems to be a correlation between intelligence and understandability, or the lack thereof. I.e. the smarter the speaker, the more difficult it is to figure out what he or she is saying.
Unless someone makes a concerted effort to perfect their public speaking, it will simply mirror their own thought and speech patterns. If you are naturally a good conversationalist, you may well also be a good speaker. Someone who carries on stilted, awkward conversations will have to work harder at his or her oration.

My (Short) Speech Primer

Franklin D. Roosevelt's son James was quoted as saying, "My father gave me these hints on speech-making: 
"Be sincere... be brief... be seated."”

Or, as others have said before me:
1. Tell them what you're going to say. 
2. Say it. 
3. Then tell them what you just said. 

In other words, pick ONE central idea.
Introduce that idea briefly. (A minute or two.)
Develop the idea with a FEW relevant examples or a couple of dramatic bits of data. (This shouldn’t take very long. Another 2 minutes.)
Recap! Rephrase the central idea, reemphasize its importance and relevance, maybe throw in one more earth shattering tidbit or quick anecdote and tie a bow on it! 
TOTAL: 5-ish minutes if you possibly can.

Another tip to keep it short: The average person speaking quickly but smoothly reads 80-100 words a minute. So five minutes is 400-500 words. 
Also, when I write a speech, I usually read it aloud to time it beforehand. In general, if I have to speak somewhere and I write a 500 word speech, I deliver it in even less than 5 minutes, unless there’s some other multimedia part to it (PowerPoint, etc.).

Just keep one thing in mind…you’ll never be criticized for being brief as long as you’re reasonably eloquent. And if you say something witty or profound, the audience will take note. But for people who hog the stage, their words are very rarely remembered.

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2014 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

When Advertising Forgets Its Place

What Was Chrysler Thinking?

Well it's Super Bowl time again. For the advertising business that's practically like the Academy Awards or the Emmys. 
I've seen several lists of the best ads of the year, including a list from AdWeek
I have to say that I'm stupefied, mortified and not a little disappointed at what the industry has devolved into. 
I looked through AdWeek's entire list of 10 best ads, and their #2 favorite is a two minute spot from Chrysler, singing praise to the American farmer. The only branding is at the end, with a Chrysler truck proudly standing in front of a farmhouse. 
So what bothers me about this? Well in the first place, hardly any of these ads are about selling. Heck, many of them are hardly about brands or products or anything like that. They're entertainment, pure and simple.
They conjure up an illusion of meaning and substance and...what? Spirituality? Patriotism? Are people so bereft of meaning in their personal lives that they need to look to TV commercials to find it? Is the American public now looking to be inspired by Chrysler? 
Holy suspension of disbelief! Last time I checked, Chrysler was a corporation - i.e. a legal fiction. There's no person in an office waxing poetic about American farmers. What there are are a bunch of investors wondering when or if they're ever going to see a profit. Let's just hope past performance isn't an indicator of future returns. 
And even if we collectively want to agree that ad agencies are now in the entertainment business - something that advertising giants like David Ogilvy railed against - does that mean that we also have to look to them to find the meaning of life?
And as far as their strategy of, “Farmers = America and we love farmers so ergo we love America,” What are they thinking? Chevrolet tried it over 30 years ago. Remember, "Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet?" If you don’t, rest assured that some of us do. But at least that was tongue-in-cheek. It was a jingle was goodness sake. You could laugh at it. And it was pretty fair advertising. 
Chrysler is stone cold serious in this spot. 
I suppose that most people will look at it and perhaps give a nostalgic, knowing smile and say, "What a nice uplifting ad for a change."
But think a little deeper. Chrysler is not a university or a religious organization. It isn't a government agency, or a non-profit organization dedicated to helping farmers. 
For that matter, what do the farmers get out of the Chrysler ad? Honorable mention? Buying a Chrysler vehicle won't benefit farmers in any way. Note to Chrysler - a more thought out ad would have included some kind of reward to those noble citizens. Why bring them up at all except to exploit their hard working heritage and piggyback on it? Is this not blatantly self-serving? What does the fact that farmers are noble and selfless have to do with Chrysler? Because it’s their truck stuck in at the end of the ad!
To be fair, they don’t have the farmers saying how great the Chrysler trucks are, although, presumably that’s the leap they would like for you to make. I guess they felt that would be too “cheap” against the oh-so-noble context of Paul Harvey’s nice speech.

If You Disagree...

People criticized President Obama for taking part in a "selfie" at Nelson Mandela's funeral. Now we have Chrysler making a beautiful tribute to farmers, and using it for their own "selfie," shoving in a product placement at the most awkward place and time. 
Is this what ad agencies' purpose is now? If Chrysler was a publicly traded company and I was a shareholder I'd be furious. Is that what you're spending millions on? Two minutes of obscenely expensive Super Bowl ad time for a cheesy propaganda newsreel? 
For those of you who don’t agree, let me ask you this: If Colt or Winchester were to make the same type of ad, showing stirring, patriotic images of troops or police using their products, and having some famous person make a speech about how great our men in uniform are, and they ended off with a picture of an army base with a big gun in front of it, would you still feel the same way? (And BTW, I'm not anti-gun, just realistic.)

Take a look at a sample ad I whipped up and see what you think:

I think the public would be up in arms (no pun intended), demanding the heads of the gun company executives who would dare to presume to suggest that they should in any way appear to take credit for anything that good, well intentioned people - even (shudder) military people do such as saving lives. 

But somehow, when Chrysler, who is not after all that much better than the gun manufacturers, claims some kind of right of association with the noble American Farmer, nobody questions it or even blinks an eye.

I have a suggestion for you Chrysler: Why don't you try making ads that sell cars and leave the feel-good patriotism to someone else. 

What do you think? I’d love to hear!

Danny Kay is marketing and advertising professional as well as a designer and photographer with over 25 years of experience. He's worked with businesses and organizations of all sizes, up to Fortune 500.
He can be reached through his website,, or at

PS - This blog is now featured on, your source for all the top stories!

© 2014 Danny Kay - All Rights Reserved