Tag : brand-message

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130: 5 Rules for Celebrity Spokespeople

Jordan WingsMichael Jordan hasn’t played professional basketball in over a decade, but he still makes as much as $100 million per year from his endorsement deals. No retired professional athlete has yet to match such an accomplishment. And no celebrity endorser outside of sports has yet achieved more than a third of that annual figure—retired or otherwise.

No small business can afford this level of celebrity endorsement, but many use this marketing approach at a much smaller scale. Regardless of the number of zeroes in the deal, the same rules of engagement apply. These five celebrity criteria should be true, if you want endorsement deals to work for your brand.

They sell more value in units/interactions than their endorsement costs.

Somewhere, Nike and Hanes have determined that Jordan makes them more money than it costs to retain his rights and services. It’s hard to believe that, but I trust their accounting departments. All marketing initiatives should be judged on whether they pay for themselves. That goes for specific media, specific campaigns, and even specific endorsers. While you might like having a particular celebrity shill your brand, they can actually be hurting your business, especially if they cost you more than they contribute. The question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be well known; or do I want to be profitable?”

They add credibility to your product or service.

One error businesses make with endorsement deals is hiring people with fame instead of people with influence. Michael Jordan can sell a ton of basketball shoes and apparel. President Obama and JK Rowling could not. Beyonce Knowles can get beauty products moving off the shelves; Will Ferrell and Michael Jordan could not. Your paid endorser should have obvious connections to what you’re selling—whether that’s industry credentials, subcultural significance, or endeavors that require use of your category of product or service.

They don’t need identification or introduction.

I regularly laugh when I see an ad with a celebrity endorser, and they say their name or have it printed with an explanation line in a print ad. Doesn’t that defeat the definition of “celebrity”? Sometimes, I need that introduction, because I have no idea who they are. Other times I wonder who doesn’t know who the celebrity is. In either case, few celebrities can influence a purchase without first being known by the audience.

One exception would be spokespeople whose role is a quiet one but whose choice would be deemed critical. For instance, I saw an ad for a waterproof watch represented by the current record holder for free diving. Duracell does this with firefighters and medical professionals—and a relatively-unknown deaf professional athlete who depends on batteries in his hearing aid.

They reflect the personality of your brand.

Red Bull sponsors extreme athletes because they want to be connected to a highly-caffeinated lifestyle. Ford paid Mike Rowe for seven years because of his affiliation with Dirty Jobs—the kind of work that often requires their fleet trucks.

Not only do you want your spokesperson to be a likely user of your product or service, you want them to fit your organization’s core values and public perception. That proves true for rebranding or growth cycles, too, when they can give credence to your aspirational image.

Their contract comes with a clause for personal conduct.

When your paid endorser gets a public DUI or attention for racist tweets, you want to be able to get out of the deal. Should your professional athlete end up in a slow white Bronco or beaten in his SUV by his wife with a golf club, you will want to create space between them and your brand. It would be wise to schedule their payments over the term of the contract rather than having to sue them to get that money returned later.

The celebrity endorsement strategy makes your advertising a high wire act. Some brands will find the risk worth the reward. If that’s you and your brand, ask yourself these five questions before you and your celebrity sign on your respective dotted lines.

Taking It Personally

One of the most frustrating aspects of identifying with American Christianity is the affiliation with its celebrity endorsers. Politicians and pundits, athletes and entertainers regularly make the rest of us look like idiots and bigots, blind sheep and doomsdayers. Their debacles or demises fill cable news shows and social media with a lot of negative attention.

But the hypocrites that turn people off to the Gospel, the Bible, and even absolute truth as a concept don’t always live in gated communities and the tabloids. Much of the time they are you and I. It still amazes me that Jesus leaves us here as imperfect spokespeople and embarrassing ambassadors; but I think what he wants us to dispense is grace, mercy, and authenticity. Thankfully, we don’t have to be be perfect to demonstrate those aspects of his character.

That doesn’t let us off the hook for growing in holiness. It just means that our foibles don’t negate our eternal contract with an unbelievably merciful God.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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129: What Is Your Competitive Advantage?

In the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to consult several entrepreneurs who were starting new companies or starting new brand initiatives. When someone is asking me for advice, I tend to ask a lot of questions. In these situations, it’s been interesting to me how many times I’ve stumped someone with a two-part question I didn’t intend to be difficult.

“What is your competitive advantage? Why would someone hire you instead of your competition?”

The answer to those two sentences should be easy. You need that answer to determine what your brand is and what that brand’s ensuing message will be. You can and should be leading your presentations by addressing how you solve your clients’ problems. Soon after that promise, though, you’ll probably need to explain why your firm best solves those problems.

Maybe you do it faster than anyone else or for the lowest net cost.
Maybe you have innovative technologies that aren’t available anywhere else.
Maybe you can offer exclusive, dedicated personal to their account and only their account.
Maybe you have more narrowly-niched personnel for their asset type and/or location.
Maybe your brand leads your market in recognition, social reach, and consumer participation.
Maybe your terms are the most friendly to buyers or sellers.
Maybe you have the most efficient and targeted advertising campaigns.
Maybe you have the best track record for monetary results and the data to prove it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Also, you may have more than one answer. In fact, you might have different answers depending on the competition. In my business, I typically have two categories of competition: designers or print shops in my prospect’s local community and national auction-industry vendors. My competitive advantages for those two categories have some overlap but are typically different.

Auctioneers compete with other auctioneers, but they also compete with other types of businesses. So, part of your primary competitive advantage might be the auction method in some situations. In others, where everybody is using a similar method, it will be other other criteria that separate your value proposition.

If you can’t answer this question of value proposition, how do you expect to differentiate your company from the pack? If you can’t differentiate yourself from the pack, what’s your plan for acquiring new clients? My guess is that you’ll end up with the riskier reserves, the headache clients, and the lowest commissions—the projects other companies don’t have to take. Then again, maybe that’s your intentional brand image: that you work harder for less.

Taking It Personally

I pretty much know what my professional value proposition is, but I wanted to know what my competitive relational advantage is. So, I asked my wife why she chose to marry me. She had thousands of options, just at our small college—and interest from a few other dudes in the communicative arts building alone.

“You made me laugh.” (Also, I didn’t pull my pants halfway up to my armpits like one of the guys who had taken her on a handful of dates.) She told me that she came to college from Bolivia wanting someone tall, dark, and handsome. I replied, “Well, you got the tall part.”

I try a lot of humor on her that doesn’t work. When I do make her laugh, she almost always tells me, “That was a good one.” This is good affirmation, as I work to maintain some job security. (I don’t think it’s unrelated that a lot of my social media posts and face-to-face social interactions seem to have the same relational strategy.)

I’d love to know what most drew you to your significant other. What made them so different from the other fish in the sea?

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com.

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126: Your Company History Matters Less Than You Think

Small businesses and multinational corporations alike regularly tout how many years they’ve been in business. You’ll often see it in or near their logo. It’s that important to them. The longevity gives a sense of security to them which they hope represents reliability to potential customers.

Auction companies go so far as to translate their heritage into generations to make it more impressive. For a while, it was common to see an auction company’s history on the home page or one of the primary pages of their website. Now, most companies have moved it to the About Us area of their site, where it makes more sense.

See, consumers don’t care how long you’ve been in business. At least it’s not a priority to them. Buyers want to know that you have what they want when they want it. Sellers want to know you’ve got a lot of recent experience marketing this exact type of asset in current market conditions. Whether you’ve been in business eight years or 80 years only matters as a tie-breaker, if all other considerations are equal.

This coming September, Ebay will celebrate its twentieth birthday. In the past five years, they’ve almost doubled their revenues, which now gross over $16 billion per year. I respect the family operations that I serve and those I know through professional contexts. That said, no auction company I serve and very few within the industry put up revenue numbers like that. Not the second generation auction companies. Not the third generation firms. Not even the fourth generation brands.

Sears was founded in 1893. Amazon was founded in 1994. With which of these companies is the average North American consumer most likely to make a purchase in the next 6 months?

Encyclopedia Britannica opened for business in 1768. Google didn’t open its doors until 230 years later. But if you wanted to research anything—anything—which one would you consult?

In some exceptional sectors of the economy, your time in existence is still influential. Ivy League universities are Ivy League for a reason. For most commercial ventures and nonprofits, though, years in operation is only an interesting piece of trivia. It’s not that your company’s heritage isn’t an accomplishment. It’s just that the Internet, big box stores, and niche specialties have made retail business less about relationships and more about transactions. Rapidly-changing technology and media have made the standard recent success instead of longevity.

One risk a business takes in showing the black and white pictures of their past and using years that start with “19” in their institutional promotion is that you can give the impression of old fashioned. If you’ve got a local barbecue joint or funeral home, that might be a good thing. If you’re a company that wants to be known for online (or in-app) bidding and cutting-edge marketing, that might not. Typically, social media consultants aren’t AARP members.

As in other areas of advertising like message, design, and media, you have to push aside what matters most to you to make space for what’s most important to the customer. So, promote your solutions, your results, and your empathy. Spend more time on relevance than historic significance.

Taking It Personally

I was almost 25 years old, when I started my business. Even with 50 industry awards already under my belt through my previous employer, I thought my youth would count against me in an industry where the average practitioner was over 50 years old. So, I intentionally made all of my marketing materials look old. Hence: “biplane” and the sepia-toned images on my early collateral. (I even paid for the rights to use the Wright brothers’ patent drawings as a design motif.) As I got more experience across various asset categories and discovered that my age gave the assumption of a fresh perspective, I rebranded the look and feel of all of my media. I started writing blog posts and relied on my words—instead of my age—to convince people I was a valuable resource.

In my church life, I now regularly lead or even counsel guys older than me. It’s not because I’m some interpersonal guru—far from it. God asks his followers to bring people on the journey we’re walking, and he doesn’t specify ages or age disparity. The Apostle Paul told his young disciple Timothy not to let people discount his youth. We can be a friend at any age. We can be influential at any age. We can make a difference no matter how long we’ve been on the planet or on the journey.

Stock image purchased from iStockPhoto.com

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120: Ask 4 Questions to Get More Sellers

Every once in a while, an auctioneer will ask me how to grow their business. What they’re really asking is, “How do I find more sellers?”

I usually answer this question quickly. “Where do you get your current sellers?” That’s the first of multiple questions I’ll ask, as I try to wrap my head around their situation.

My clients tend to be residual accounts; and it’s fairly easy to discover who hires me and why. Most auctioneers, though, have to be finding new sellers constantly, as few of their sellers are repeat clients.

Asking enough questions and asking the right questions will take a lot of the guesswork out of the prospecting process. Some of these questions you can answer on your own after some personal reflection or staff conversations. Some of these questions, though, will require you to interview your past and current sellers. All of these questions will give you insight into how to most efficiently maintain and even grow your client base.

QUESTION 1: What are the common denominators of my current sellers—especially the ones that drive the most efficient and/or largest-transaction revenue?

The answer could be professional occupations, demographic similarities, or organizational affiliations. Maybe it’s situational realities—financial, relational, or transactional positions your sellers are typically facing.

QUESTION 2: Where would I find more people with the same common denominator?

Sometimes this is a geographic area which you can saturate. Other times, it might be a trade group, a publication audience, or specific website traffic. It might be social events, volunteer organizations, or collector clubs. It could even be referral agents—the people who are consistently recommending your solutions to their connections.

QUESTION 3: Why were those sellers selling?

Typically, not everyone in that prospect group is selling their assets. Something motivates your sellers to move from the kinetic value of ownership to cash in their hands. What is that? There are typically one or two reasons that each seller puts an asset or group of assets on the market; and they vary from seller to seller. If you query enough sellers, though, you can start to see common themes in the triggers, motives, or situations that lead to selling. These trends will tell you what solutions the marketplace is craving. If you’re smart, they will also guide your brand’s value proposition(s).

QUESTION 4: Why did those sellers hire me?

Don’t guess at this. Don’t assume you or your employees know. Ask your previous sellers. Again, listen to reoccurring similarities. These answers, combined with your learned value proposition(s) from the previous question, will give you your brand message. The nature of seller responses will also let you know what kind of supporting content will best convey that message. Examples of these include the following: promise or guarantee, stats and info graphics, testimonials, relational empathy, financial incentive, and creativity.

Armed with this collected data, you will be able to specialize—to concentrate your efforts where you get the most bang for the buck. Specialists typically generate more efficient and predictable income, too. Knowing the answers to these questions will let you spend less money in unproductive media or social initiatives—even if your perceived competition has a big presence in them. You’ll waste less time and energy convincing people to hire you, because you’ll be more likely to speak to the heart of a seller’s concerns or goals. And, more than likely, you’ll notice a higher conversion rate in your seller presentations.

Don’t take it from me. Take it from the people answering these questions.

Taking It Personally

I have never taken a psychology or counseling class. I don’t like confrontation and awkward relational conversations—let alone with people who aren’t related to me. Since moving into leadership positions at my church, though, I’ve been dropped into uncomfortable situations on a regular basis—times when I don’t know what to say and when I don’t know if silence is the best response.

One of the things I’ve learned to do is ask questions.

  • “Help me understand: so, what does that look like?”
  • “What do your conversations with God look like right now?”
  • “What would it look like for you to feel this situation is resolved?”
  • “What is a small first step you can make in that direction?”
  • “What does your [love interest, family member, or mentor] say about this?”
  • “How can we as a [ministry environment] make this easier for you?”

The answers to these questions help me know if I need to refer them to someone with special training or similar experience. If I can remember Scripture that speaks to the situation, the answers help me narrow my personal database of memorized Bible passages to share. In the least, it gives me a better idea what to pray—which is often the only thing I know to do.

I don’t know all the questions to ask, let alone all the answers. Thankfully, I know the One who does.

Stock photo purchased from iStockPhoto.com