For a company, the perception of its brand is everything. Companies spend billions each year on ensuring customers see their brands in a positive light. Countless dollars are spent on advertising. Companies adopt three screen initiatives that bombard and overload consumers with ads and flood them with information. Billions more dollars are pumped into consultants and efficiency groups to try to trim the message in a way that cuts through the noise of competition.
Now, I’m a marketer. It’s been my job to promote products and help them sell. I’m familiar with the techniques and tricks companies use to sway and compel people to buy. There are lots of tutorials and case studies on the efficacy of call to action, repetitive alliteration and key differentiators in ads. But here’s the thing that nobody seems to answer. In a hyper competitive landscape where everybody is pitching their product, how do you truly stand out?
Day in and day out, minute by minute, we are barraged with ads that tell us, command us – even plead with us – to buy their product. But fewer and fewer ads are succeeding in breaking through the noise. Don’t believe this is a problem for marketers? Next time, instead of fast forwarding through your DVR, spend one or two commercial breaks listening to the ads. Close your eyes and really listen. Count the number of times you hear “call now!” or “try our offer!”. Nearly every final 10 seconds of a tv time slot is used this way. Start listening and paying attention to this and notice how all the ads start to congeal into one big, sloppy mess. Taken individually, the ads (mostly) aren’t all that bad. The problem is they’re not paying attention to how the other ads before and after their time slot dilute their messaging power. They’re not aware in the slightest bit how the consumer experiences a commercial break. And since most marketing departments are oriented and trained in the same manner, using the same techniques, the end result is a single, monotonous stream without variation.
Do calls to action work? Yes – they can. But they greatly lose their impact when everyone else is saying the same thing. Instead, try something different. Even if you don’t have an idea that is 100% unique, try bringing a new twist to your product or service that is 100% unique to you. This is not a gimmick. Be real and be honest about what you bring to the table. Primary differentiators are those that contribute to the creation story of the product or service. For example, what is the founder’s story? What were their struggles and successes? What special care is taken to make this product? How long was the recipe toiled over and tweaked until the finished product was worthy of selling? I love these stories, and other customers do, too. They form the cornerstone of brand loyalty. Stand outside a great bakery in the line that snakes all the way around the corner. Ask others why they stand in line there, as opposed to going across the street and buying. They’ll tell you things like “this is the only place that uses a real brick oven – and it makes a difference” or “their dough is always kneaded by hand. No machines.” Whatever the reason is, the story is memorable and unique – and can’t be attributed to competitors.
Ancillary differentiators are important, too. These can be outstanding customer service, or free shipping on all products, or a money back guarantee. Whatever it is, make sure you stand behind it completely. When you’ve got your differentiators down, write a single sentence that encapsulates what it is your company does and how it solves your customer’s problem using these distinguishing features. The sentence should be 10 words or less. Brownie points if it’s under 5. When you go to write your ad, make this sentence the focal point.
The key ingredient to this is that the answer must truly solve your customer’s problem. It must live up to your claims – not just in your marketing meeting, but in the customer’s real world. If you use this approach, you don’t really need a call to action at all. If you’re efficient at communicating your message, people will search you out on their own using Google, Bing, Facebook, et al. When they find you, if you stay consistent on your message, they’ll usually give you a try. If you deliver on your promise and meet their expectations, you will have just earned a repeat customer. Then they’ll tell other people about you, who will in turn seek you out. And before long, you’ll begin to hear your own customers retelling your unique story, as they stand outside your proverbial bakery, in the line that snakes around the corner.