88: 6 Marketing Myths Entrepreneurs Believe
Posted on: September 1, 2011 /
Auction billboards have been popping up next to highways all around the area where I live. People have asked me if I designed them. After I answer that they are not my work, my questioners look relieved. “Oh, good. They’re really weird.”
During a recent lunch break, I drove around Lynchburg to snap shots of a sample of these. Upon later visiting the auctioneer’s website, I found a slideshow gallery with all of their billboard designs. It’s not surprising to me that the auctioneer (whose name isn’t mentioned on the website at time of writing) was proud of his advertising, as many small business owners are proud of their ineffective advertising.
Why? Because they buy into marketing myths like the following.
MYTH: Image Trumps Message
Western culture is visually driven. Canon and Agassi were right: image trumps everything—when that image is rooted in the core of your brand. We can see compelling images for free on the Internet; as a marketer, you need more than just a cool photo. I’ve had entrepreneurs send me a picture and ask me to generate a headline to go with it. Because I apparently like unemployment, I’ll regularly ask, “What does this picture have to do with your company and what you guys represent?” Often, it doesn’t. Grabbing a free stock image is a lot easier than paying someone to photograph your staff in action or professionally capture the items you actually sell. But using disconnected images with text that stretches your connection to them will cost you wasted media buys with ineffective impressions.
MYTH: Humor and Cliches Attract More Than a Stated Benefit Does
Would a funny ad make you buy a station wagon instead of a sedan? Would a good turn of phrase sell you on a town house rather than a cape cod? Would a good pun change your choice of grocery market? If you’re like the vast majority of people, the answer to all of these questions is, “No.” Despite this, marketers regularly hope to be the exception instead of the rule, taking the Fozzie Bear approach all the way to rolled eyes and changed channels. Instead, crisply promote the key value proposition of your product or service for each audience group to which you market.
MYTH: Consumers Talking Is Better Than Consumers Not Talking
Publicists multiply this myth to Hollywood and reality TV personalities; and in a land where sex tapes and “t-shirt time” get 15 minutes of lucrative fame, they might be right. In business, though, it’s another story. BP loved all the Deep Water Horizon coverage as much as Exxon loved the Valdez footage. Tiger Woods’s eight-figure brand wasn’t rooting for more tabloid covers any more than Firestone was hoping for more Ford Explorer rollovers. The conversations people have brought to me regarding Lynchburg’s new billboard campaign prove that advertising can be a liability like other brand blemishes. Your objective needs to be far more specific and constructive than working into water cooler gossip and Facebook shares.
MYTH: Creativity Trumps Consistency
As someone from within the creative industry, I’m at risk of treason when I say this; but faithful repetition of solid branding outperforms regular refreshes. When I mention brands like Walmart, Hardees, eHarmony, Olive Garden, Corona, and Pixar, very specific images come to your mind—because their marketing adheres to strict branding standards down to even how their product is photographed and filmed, the style of music and voiceovers used in their media, and the colors and fonts of their layouts.
If you remove your logo and website URL from your advertising, would it still communicate a unified image? If not, your marketing is inefficient. Brands like Chick-fil-A and SportsCenter have proven that consistency can be flexible and fun. So, you don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Bonus hint: consistency also makes scaling your advertising more efficient and less expensive, because you don’t have anywhere near as much billable time for ongoing creative work.)
MYTH: I Have More Than Three Seconds to Advertise
Typically, billboards and other advertising are proofed on a monitor or printed copy, where the viewer has minutes—if not longer—to absorb the visual image and message of the advertising. While it’s good to proof multiple times and in depth, the luxury of time can blind you to the fact that your advertisement has three to eight seconds to communicate. Don’t believe me? Time your spouse sorting the mail. Watch a family member click through websites and divide the seconds on each page by the number of ads on them. Have someone in the passenger seat try to read aloud every word of each billboard you pass on your next trip down the expressway. In your advertising, get to the point; and make the point about the viewer’s need.
MYTH: If it Makes Sense To Me, It Will Make Sense to the Public
If you’ve ever traveled within a country where English is not the primary language, you’ve realized that your understanding of your needs, wants, and abilities isn’t as important as your audience’s understanding of them. As business people, our default operating perspective is from within the business; but our audience generally has a much different perspective on their needs, your value proposition, possible solutions, etc.
When reviewing your advertising and other branding design before it goes live, make sure to include perspectives of those outside of your company and your family. In the case of this “Iron Auctioneer” billboard, I needed my wife to explain the “Iron Chef” connection—which has nothing to do with an auctioneer’s value proposition. And I still don’t get more than half the connections of the headlines on these billboards. These billboard concepts weren’t vetted enough. Make sure that indictment can’t be said of your marketing.
In short, avoid myopia at all costs. Get outside of yourself, your business, your ego. Don’t get bored with your branding. Instead, realize that well-policed marketing will accelerate your brand over the long haul—long after most YouTube sensations have come and gone.
I live in the southern band of the Bible Belt. So, I’ve seen billboards like “Get Right. Or Get Left.” and “Eternity: Smoking or Non-Smoking?” Oh, and bumper stickers far more trite, condescending, and filled with jargon.
I don’t get the purpose behind these any more than the equivalent political ones.
Does anyone think they can authentically, holistically affect change in someone’s political bent with one insult, someone’s faith system with one threat, someone’s sexual orientation (or view thereof) at one stop light? Does anyone think Jesus would’ve resorted to passive aggressive slogans?
Christianity and its representatives often use these provocative barbs, though, to drive further wedges between Truth and the ignorant, Love and the unfulfilled, Peace and the restless. I have a hard enough time being an authentic ambassador of heaven without carpet bombing traffic with hell-approved bumper stickers.