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It Started with 2 Billboards.

Anyone familiar with the Cleveland Cavaliers is familiar with the team’s star player LeBron James, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. And if you’ve been paying especially close attention, you know there’s a bit of a billboard war happening.

It started with a Philadelphia-based company who commissioned three billboards, all in a row, that said Philadelphia wanted LeBron to play for the 76ers. A couple of other Cleveland companies then responded via digital boards of their own and small splashes were made.

Then Alison Baranek came along. She recently put up two billboards — launching #ThisIsHome. She took things a step further, however, and employed us. To spread the word, we sent out local press releases to key influencers. Then we sat back and watched the impressions grow! From local to national, outlets like ESPN, CBS Sports Illustrated and the New York Times all picked up the story. Twitter, which had already been buzzing about the billboards, went crazy.

This campaign demonstrates a few important takeaways: first, it all starts with the right message at the right time to the right audience. Second, message distribution is key. The hashtag addition helped create a social conversation that we can aggregate. All in all, the power of social connections cannot be underestimated. Oh, and who says outdoor advertising is dead?

Now let’s see what we can do for your business. Call us today!

4 Ways Your Brand Can Improve Customer Experience

The customer journey is not a simple funnel anymore. With the introduction of multiple digital channels, it’s become more complex with touchpoints across multiple channels over time. How do you improve the customer experience while implementing effective touchpoints?

Here are four ways you can get started.

#1. Sweat the Small Stuff
Even the best companies have some gaps in their path to purchase. Places where customer experience is lacking, and they drop out or become dormant. To fix this problem, you need a partner to research your customer path, identify the problem points, and work with teams across your organization to solve unearthed issues.

#2. See Through Your Customers’ Eyes
The best organizations have mastered the art of creating customer experiences start by learning everything they can about their customers’ behaviors. At every step, you need a partner to evaluate the journey from the customer perspective and provide you with options to accomplish your desired goals.

#3. Collaborate Across Teams
Stellar customer experience starts at the top of the organization and bleeds into everywhere else. Every department needs to be aligned to be truly successful. If you need help changing and implementing a customer experience plan, call us.

#4. Eliminate Data Silos
Data is essential to discover how your customer interacts with your brand online. To better discover how your customers interact, you must break down the data silos that are in place. Once you can see all of the data that has been collected, you can make important decisions and take your customer experience from lukewarm to hot!

If you need help dramatically improving your customers’ experiences, call us, We can make an immediate impact on how your customers interact with your brand, input in place the right touchpoints to win you more business.

4 Signs It’s Time to Fire Your Ad Agency


There are many reasons companies let their agencies go, but how do you know when it’s time to pull the trigger? How does a company discriminate between a rough patch, and a relationship from which there is no return?

Here are four critical signs that tell you it’s time to find someone new.

  1. Creative Output Isn’t Performing
    The main task of an advertising agency is to deliver its final product, let’s call it creative output. According to the 2016 SoDA (Society of Digital Agencies) Report being unhappy with the creative output is the reason clients change agencies 24% of the time. If your agency’s creative isn’t performing, it may be time to make a change.
  2. The Data Doesn’t Add Up
    In today’s marketplace, everything can be measured. If your agency is not providing you with the data, and a complete picture of your ROI, it’s time to find someone who can.
  3. Poor Project Management
    If your project manager isn’t adding value, communicating with you every step of the way, or simply not completing the work on deadline, you deserve better
  4. Strategy is Underwhelming
    A comprehensive, and effective marketing strategy is something every business must employ to succeed. Simply put, to grow your business, you have to have a solid Marketing strategy in place. If you’re underwhelmed with the strategies that your current agency has provided, it’s time to move on.

The most important question that you can ask yourself when evaluating your agency is… “Has my agency stopped challenging me?”

If the answer is yes, maybe it’s time to talk with us.

We hope you will. Give us a call – We know we can have an immediate impact on your business.

5 Reasons Your Brand Should Consider An Influencer Marketing Campaign

“Influencer marketing” seems to be on the tip of every marketer’s tongue this year…But what IS influencer marketing?

Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that focuses on using key, industry leaders to drive your brand’s message. This is often done by using social media, and content marketing.

Simply put, It can open up a ton of new opportunities for brands to infiltrate their target audiences social media feeds more directly, and organically. Below, we outline the 5 reasons why your brand should consider an Influencer Marketing Campaign.

  1. It’s Native – Influencer marketing is different than traditional advertising, which interrupts user experience. Native advertising can put your brand’s services and products within organic content. According to MDG Advertising*, 70% of internet users want to learn about a product through content rather than traditional advertising.
  2. It’s Trackable – Every website visit, social like, and picture posted online can be stored, and analyzed yielding specific data that can help you report ROI for your brand’s efforts.
  3. It Helps Your SEO – Influencer marketing helps your brand get talked about more. The more people that mention your brand online, the more popular you will be on Google.
  4. It comes with credibility – Teaming your brand up with the right influencer often means that you’re getting a trusted, and established voice in your market saying that your products and services are worth buying.
  5. It’s Targeted – When you’re paying an influencer to post about your brand, you aren’t just buying reach and exposure…you’re buying targeted reach and exposure. You’ve identified a voice that can your target audience knows, trusts, and wants to believe.

Influencer marketing is gaining in popularity. If your brand needs help creating an Influencer campaign, contact us. We can find the right influencers for your brand,  and increase your word of mouth presence immediately.

5 Emerging Digital Trends That Will Make A Difference In 2017

In 2016, we saw numerous ups, downs, and unexpected digital trends. As you kick off 2017, prepare to see some exciting developments that may impact your marketing plans.

1. Live platforms – a new media play
Live platforms like Periscope and Facebook Live have emerged over the past couple of years, quickly becoming a popular way to engage with customers. Live streaming hasn’t fully taken off yet, but expect it to grow in 2017. New live streaming platforms, better content, faster connection speeds, and bigger data plans, will lower the barriers for adoption. Additionally, advancements in live stream technologies will encourage more brands to test out new ad products in the space.

While we expect to witness a rise in live streaming, we’ve already seen more than a handful of failed attempts. Earlier this year, the Grammy Awards live stream failed, citing technical glitches; cord cutters who eagerly aimed to catch the music industry’s important night were furious and lashed out on social media. Other live streams like Twitter’s Thursday Night Football saw some initial success. We had a successful test this year during the Green Bay vs. Chicago game. In an average minute, 243,000 people streamed the game via Twitter, but those numbers paled in comparison to TV, which reached 15.4 million watchers on the NFL Network and CBS. While we might anticipate significant growth in live streaming, it remains to be seen if it will rival audiences on television.

2. Augmented reality apps – involve customers with your brand
Augmented reality (AR) has been the talk of the town this year. Over the summer, we witnessed an AR cultural phenomenon with Pokémon Go. The nostalgic game was a hit worldwide, garnering over 720,000 downloads on peak days and 650 million installs within 80 days of launch. In turn, it has excited a lot of marketers, apps, and consumers about the future of AR. BIC has dabbled with AR, inspiring kids’ creativity by bringing drawings to life on its app, DrawyBook. We expect to see brands continuing to experiment with AR in different ways, from retail outlets enriching customer shopping to travel agencies facilitating bookings.

Even though the potential for AR is huge, we’ve only seen one phenomenal story so far. This begs the question of whether AR in general will go the way of the failed attempts of Google Glass and 3D TV. It’s a complex technology, challenging to implement for brands, and is only now starting to be adopted by consumers en masse.  Test with care.

3. Chatbots – to engage customers
Believe it or not, chatbots have been around for decades. But in 2017, we’re expecting chatbots to improve significantly and to be used in new ways. Messaging platform WeChat has pioneered the way brands use chatbots to interact with their consumers. The app is a go-to hub for consumer needs like banking, hailing cabs, and even booking doctor appointments. Facebook has invested in the burgeoning bot industry, rolling out tools for businesses and developers to build bots on its messaging platform. So far, the social media giant has unleashed a 30,000-strong bot army that provides news updates, sends flowers, responds to users in a personalized way, and much more. We expect this trend to continue into the new year.

Even with rapid development, chatbots are, at best, still imperfect. They can be slow, have difficulties understanding questions, and don’t always interact using conversational language. We’ve seen a lot of chatbot failures, which have alienated some customers from certain brands. Earlier this year, Microsoft’s chatbot on Twitter, known as Tay, ran into some problems and was taken down. What started off as playful and engaging conversations quickly flew off the rails when Tay began making offensive, racist, and misogynistic comments. The bot was pulled off the Internet about 16 hours after its launch. But despite the many bot failures, chatbots could still dominate the future of messaging apps. Their future depends on the development of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

4. Immersive video – to gain leverage for your brand
Immersive viewing experiences could really break ground in 2017. Videos are no longer just one dimensional, as shoppable films and 360° videos break the fourth wall and immerse viewers. Early adopters include auto and real estate, where 360° has been around for a while. It’s time for other industries to get in on the action. GoPro released viral spherical videos that give viewers a unique experience of surfing an enormous tube. Shoppable videos are similarly immersing users. Recently, lifestyle brand Ted Baker released a spy-themed entirely shoppable film, Mission Impeccable, that dominated its home page. The Guy Ritchie shoppable collaboration allowed viewers to add items to their online carts with a simple click, switching up the usual online shopping experience.

And we can’t forget about the immersive video disruption brought to you by Snapchat and its Spectacles. This product gives people even more control to shoot and share their videos in the moment.  It’s genius. Mass adoption of immersive video will depend on new technology that could be developed in 2017. At the moment, distribution of these video types is limited to a few platforms, such as YouTube 360° and shoppable video. For brands, pre-roll is still the largest source of inventory, and it has limited capabilities to implement  immersive video. Brands need to understand that although immersive content can engage users in exciting ways, it is restricted to a few available platforms.

5. Beyond viewability – measure based on objectives
Brands tend to use viewability to measure success. While it’s important to ensure that a brand’s video campaign attracts eyes, viewability is table stakes and doesn’t necessarily move the needle. It’s time for brands to move away from media-based outcomes, such as views or clicks, and shift towards tangible business objectives such as sign-ups, downloads, and purchases.

To focus on business objectives, agencies must go beyond CPMs in favor of performance-based metrics. Additionally, the industry needs to develop reliable attribution models to help connect the dots for marketers. We’ve run several campaigns where measurement is in cost per link, cost per download and cost per content engagement – as those are the real measures of success.

It will be an exciting and action-packed year, ahead. Stay abreast of these and other trends in 2017. Contact us  if we can help you improve performance in your digital marketing plans.

Is Your Agency Style Without Substance?

We’re all familiar with agencies whose portfolios flash one campaign after another. Take a closer look at their case studies — did they accomplish specific objectives?

At Hardman Group, we think through marketing problems and build programs that deliver measurable results.

We recently launched a new brand strategy and social media campaign for VISION EASE Lens, a global ophthalmic lens manufacturer. In just six months, we increased engagement on Facebook by 6x, on LinkedIn by 10x, and on Twitter by 5x.

The numbers are important – but substantive engagement with customers…that’s the real objective.

Want new thinking when delivering your brand?  Give us a call. I’m sure we can help.

3 Questions To Ask About Your Ad Agency

You did your homework and hired the ad agency you thought would take care of your brand.

Have they? If the answer is no, you’re not alone.

Ask yourself three simple questions:

  1. Do you like how your agency thinks?
  2. Did your agency help solve your marketing problems?
  3. Do you like the insights your agency provides you?

If you can’t answer yes to all three, it might be time for a change.

Hardman Group will focus on your brand, find the triggers that help displace competitors and perform to accomplish your objectives.  We have a proven track record.

Give us a call. Let’s see how our skills match with your needs.

2016 Election: All About the Message

When I last posted, I talked about the advertising lessons then-candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton offered to us. We looked at their strategies through the AIDA lens. Now that we have a winner, we can review the campaigns even further.

Donald Trump crafted the winning message and, as Paul Ryan noted, heard something that nobody else heard. He acted on it by crafting a message that answered the voters’ pain point: people had trusted government to help them, and they felt betrayed. He connected emotionally by adopting the almost inarguable Make America Great Again slogan. He positioned his campaign on this promise and maintained consistent in his message. Voters interviewed after the election reinforced his message. They believed he’d bring both pride and prosperity to all working Americans.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, made an institutional promise in we are Stronger Together. Her supporters (e.g., President and Mrs. Obama, VP Biden) focused on Trump’s negatives instead of her positives. They all talked about a continuation of the Obama legacy, but what they didn’t understand was that apparently the majority of Americans felt that legacy wasn’t working. They didn’t believe his policies helped them. These voters saw that things would stay the same under Clinton, so they decided to take a chance.

Now let’s review in terms of AIDA. To recap, the AIDA model posits that first we must create brand Awareness. Then we generate Interest in our product’s benefits. Next we focus on Desire and emotionally connect with our audience. Finally, we move the buyer to Action.

Trump’s message created the desire while Clinton’s did not.

In terms of delivery, Trump focused on integrated media. He advertised in key states, unleashed the power of social media, and held events where believers showed up in inordinate numbers to show their support for his campaign.

Clinton, on the other hand, invested heavily in paid media, in get-out-to-vote canvassing, and held a moderate number of events.

His media plan took into account the emotional state of the voters who were truly for him. And it lead to the Action he desired.

Trump, Hillary, and Lessons in Advertising

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know there are a few things that I repeat, namely strategy and measurement. Make sure you have a strategy and make sure you measure it to know whether or not it’s effective. That’s what we’re about to do thanks to the always-engaging presidential race.

Because typical elections feature paid media campaigns by both candidates, we’ve never really been able to determine their value. Until now.

The New York Times tells the story of how we’re in a unique position: Donald Trump has generally run the publicity wave only while Hillary Clinton has paid for television spots. In the few places where Trump did pay for ads, where he out-advertised Clinton, he is winning. And vice versa. Where Clinton out-advertised him, she leads. This is an over simplified-summary of the study, of course, and I encourage you to read the entire article.

What strikes me is that these results confirm what the AIDA model of marketing suggests: people cannot buy something that they’re not aware exists. First we must create brand Awareness. Then we generate Interest in our product’s benefits. Next we focus on Desire and emotionally connect with our audience. Finally, we move the buyer to Action.

This is the type of common sense approach we take here at the Hardman Group. It’s strategic. And it’s measured. Contact me if you’re interested in learning more!

It’s All about the Results

Having the most creative campaign ever doesn’t mean a thing if you haven’t achieved your goal. The classic case, of course, remains pets.com. That sock puppet was hilarious! But the site eventually went out of business.

Measuring the success of a campaign is crucial to being effective. I’ve written about this before, and it’s so important that I think it deserves more attention. One of the first facets of measurement is determining a baseline. Where are we now? Next, we want to determine our goal. And remember that it’s not always actual product sales. Maybe it’s increased brand awareness. Maybe to change brand perception. Finally, how are we going to measure? What are the tools we need in place?

In a world where people are barraged with messages on a minute-by-minute basis, standing out is key for sure. But standing out is only effective if it’s done its job.

Why Your Business Should Be Blogging

Blogging is easily one of the most important assets to your brand’s inbound marketing strategy, and with the right content, your brand can greatly benefit from blogging’s effects.

Blogging works. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

  • Companies nearly double their sales leads by increasing blogging frequency from 3–5 times per month to 6–8 times per month (Hubspot).
  • Websites with blogs have 434% more indexed pages and 97% more indexed links. This means that it’s easier for search engines — and prospects — to find your business (Ignite Spot).
  • 61% of US consumers made a purchase based on a blog post (Ignite Spot).

As we discussed in our Content piece, blogs can be placed on your websites and linked through emails, social media accounts, and a plethora of other places. So while a blog may only be one piece of content, most, if not all of your media channels, can use it.

Not only do blogs give your brand more exposure, but they also lead readers straight back to your website where they can then learn more about your company. Because that’s really what it’s all about.

Data. Beyond the Numbers.

What do we mean when we say data? For me, it means any and all information we can gather to help us know our audience and the market. Too many times new clients come to me with a list of failed campaigns. They ask what went wrong? What will you do differently? My answer often lies in the data — in research.

Data helps define facets vital to precise marketing:

  • We want to define your product. What problem does it solve?
  • We want to define your audience. Who needs this solution?
  • We want to define your market. How do we reach your audience?

While the Internet marched in a whole new (brave?) era of being able to track people and their habits, it wasn’t the first time we had research. And sometimes I think the ubiquity of online data can make people less effective because regardless of how much data we have, we still need to think critically. We need to analyze the data appropriately and most importantly, we need to adjust.

The Differences Between Content, Publicity & Advertising

I remember the days when it was simple: advertising was coverage you paid for while publicity was coverage you got for free. (And yes, “free.”) Then content marketing came on the scene. Where does that fit in? A lot has been said on the subject, and while there are certainly some overlaps, I find it helpful to keep it simple. Advertising is still paid coverage, publicity is still free coverage, and content is what we provide for both.

Let’s look at case studies, for instance. It costs us money to create them, but once they’re done, they’re placed on our own websites and linked to through our emails, social media, etc. While we pay for the labor, we don’t necessarily pay for placement. We may pay for an advertisement that links to the content, but we don’t pay for the content itself. We forever own it.

What do you think about this distinction? On point? Too simple?

Make Facebook’s Timeline Change Work for You

Facebook announced that it’s changing how content is served up in user news feeds. They’ll start to favor friends and family’s content over publishers. While direct posts from media outlets won’t be at the top of your newsfeed quite as frequently, content that is shared and liked amongst your friends and family will appear.

This means that creating content that engages and is share-worthy becomes even more important. And it was pretty important before this change. How do we do this? Making sure your branding strategy is in place is key. What does your brand stand for?

It also shows how Facebook is honing in on its pay-to-play strategy. If you want your content to break through, you’ll pay for it. So knowing your audience is essential in order to launch a cost effective campaign. (This has always been true but social media previously allowed marketers to cast a wider net.)

All is not lost. We can help! Give us a call to learn about our success stories.

A Closer Look at Specialized Social Media Content

Have you ever asked Why can’t I write one message for all my social media channels?

Good question. One of the main reasons we want specialized content is because each social media outlet has its own culture and attitude. We want to fit in.

Let’s look at the top three B2B channels:

Facebook: Social site that has over one billion users worldwide. The Largest opportunity for engagement is communicating with users in a non-intrusive way. With over 58% of users being adults, it’s a must for any business and offers the best advertising platform of any channel
Twitter: Twitter has 560 million active users and its culture is all about quick- hitting messages and joining in on a communal conversation. With a 140 character limit, marketers must be clear and concise to capture a users’ attention.
LinkedIn: LinkedIn has 240 million active users and is the best social media marketing tool for B2B brands. With the opportunity to target users based on job titles, LinkedIn can have a direct impact on your company’s connection with influencers and decision makers.

An understanding of the tone and voice that is expected on the various platforms will increase engagement with your audiences. We can then implement a lead-capturing program and drive users to content that benefits your business.

Do you need help with your social media program? Call Hardman Group, we can help.

Brand Semiotics & Audience Design

Semiotics is the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation. In the marketing sense, it looks at how consumers interpret imagery and the relationship that interpretation creates.

When you see a gecko, what do you think of? Chances are, you think of the insurance giant Geico. You also, whether consciously or not, think funny, cute. Geico has determined that its brand essence reflects quirkiness more so than say Allstate.

One of the first things I do when given a branding assignment is to analyze whether current use of iconography, visual images, and text in advertising campaigns aligns with the brand strategy. If they don’t, we develop new campaigns that portray our brand more accurately. Why this is important comes from a sociolinguistic process called audience design.

Decades of research shows that we change the way we speak and present ourselves depending on our audience. The more we like or feel aligned with an audience (which may be as small as a single person), the more our speech or self-presentation becomes similar to theirs. This process is both conscious and unconscious, and is one of the ways a person shows a positive association with another.

The process of audience design is central to branding. Successful images and text are designed to evoke the qualities of the brand vision, brand personality, and brand positioning. The best advertising has been shown to create positive associations that generate such a strong sense of alignment and affiliation that it leads to sales

All of this is part of semiotics. And it’s part of what we do to help our clients.

Maintain Brand Authenticity

Your agency comes to you and says they have a campaign that is “out of the box!” “attention grabbing!” Great! That’s what you want — right?

Maybe not.

The answer depends on your brand strategy. In an atmosphere where web links serve not to provide good content but to get you to click (an actual tactic called “clickbait”) and single Tweets can make tomorrow’s front-page headlines, losing sight of authentic content can happen all to easily. That’s why I preach brand strategy. If, for example, your brand stands for integrity and is (or hopes to be) a cultural icon, your creative campaigns should reflect those standards and reject gimmicks. If your brand wants to position itself as humble, then a campaign that mimics those of a used-car salesmen doesn’t make sense. People won’t associate you with humility.

Remember the old adage that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

Managing the Creative Process

Many companies out there promise to drive down the cost of doing business. And some probably do. But I think there are some basic steps agencies can take to help keep their projects on time and on budget. Namely, they should develop a strategic brand map.

I’ve written at length what a strategic brand map can accomplish for the brand itself, but noting that it can also help the actual creative process is important. In short, it keeps everyone on the same page by providing the brand’s key attributes in one place. This can be especially vital when a client has different agencies working on different communication channels. Truly successful brands produce cohesion throughout all of their channels: public relations, advertising, brand activation, social media, etc.

People often and erroneously believe that they must create something new for each communication channel; however, the opposite is actually true. If you make an advertising claim, the same claim in the same language should be made in all other channels. A brand map helps guides people, helps them stay on task. This helps the overall creative process stay on time and on budget.

Do you need help creating this brand map? Call me.

Purell: A Case Study In Strategy

Adweek recently published an article on the PURELL brand’s success. We played a role in its early success, and it’s exciting to see the brand sustain its effectiveness.

PURELL’s parent company is GOJO, who produces products for healthy skin and on-the-go hygiene solutions. A privately owned company, GOJO is a global leader in hygiene production and marketing.

Our challenge involved grocery shopping: research showed that one of the biggest complaints about grocery stores was that they’re dirty. Many stores had wipes at their entrance, but most consumers felt that they were being told to wipe their hands because they’re about to enter a dirty store.

We came up with a messaging change and found that it laid the foundation for success. We put PURELL wipes at the entrance with a sign that told consumers that  grocery employees used PURELL wipes, so you can trust that we’re clean — our clean store starts here.

If we had only focused on tactics, we might have dismissed the wipe dispenser and missed out on this opportunity to fulfill a brand promise. By looking at research and thinking strategically, however, we were able to adjust and produce results. This is one small example of what we do, and the fact that PURELL continues to be a trusted brand shows how important one small example can be.

Will You Keep Your Brand Promise?

It’s February. Have you kept your New Years resolutions?
One resolution we, as brand marketers, need to keep in order to be successful is our brand promise. Last August, I went through the four Brand Attributes, of which your brand promise is one.
And it’s an important one.
Your promise represents the benefits your brand communicates to your customer. Because it sets expectations, we must deliver upon that promise, every day. If we say our promise is to invent, then we need to be on the cusp of innovation. Customers buy products (really, they buy brands) based in large part due to what the brand promises to give them, so your brand promise is really about aligning your actions with customer expectations.
This isn’t just true for business-to-consumer products. For example, one of my clients is a business-to-business food manufacturer. One of their specialties is creating private label products for grocery store chains. Our brand promise is that we’ll give you products that are not only of the highest quality but also that will compete against — that will outsell — the national brands. We deliver on this promise through strategic packaging and relationship selling. We then track our sales to see if we’ve met our goals. If not, we adjust.
Does your brand have a promise? Do you know what it is and if you’re delivering? Call me. We can help.

Extending the Product Life Cycle; The Evolving Product Claim

Surely we’ve all seen the Cialis commercial where two people are in a bathtub looking out at the sunset, hoping that the male won’t suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED). Then the ad calls out that the product can help manage benign prostatic hyperplasia (PBH).

This got me thinking about product claims.

When consumers compare products, what are they comparing? They’re comparing a product’s claim, right? So it should follow then that making claims is the first step in defining how well a product not only meets the needs of a consumer but also — and maybe more importantly — creates a preference. What I find particularly interesting is how products, like Cialis, find new claims to help extend the life of their products.

If our product is amazing, we need to be able to prove that. Using these claims can be a powerful part of our marketing strategy. A sound marketing strategy, therefore, seeks out reliable sources and proof to substantiate its claims. We do this through product trials. If the product performs, we’re on our way to sustainable results through consumption. At least initially.

But how do we sustain this preference?

For Cialis, a new treatment brings new potential. For other products, the claims may actually evolve. For example, the claims made by Quaker Oats have evolved as our interest in health has grown: from a product that is “more nourishing than wheat-based products or meat” to Wilford Brimley assuring us that eating Quaker Oats is “the right thing to do” to today’s claim that Quaker Oats “helps remove cholesterol.” All for a product that started out claiming that its difference was the fact that it was “rolled.”

Both of these examples show how powerful claims can be in extending the life of the product – and how important claims are in meeting the needs of their consumer.

So ask yourself

  • What claims can I make about my product?
  • Do they resonate with my consumer?
  • Do they differentiate my product from competitive products?
  • Can I make additional (or new claims) that will extend the life of my product with the consumer who buys it?

As marketers, we often think we have to innovate our way into growth. But the answer may be right in front of you: finding new — or evolving older — product claims to make to make the sales you need to keep your product alive.

We can help. Contact me today!

Content Marketing: Establish Credibility

Content marketing, according to the Communication Advertising Marketing Foundation, was 2015’s most important digital marketing trend. As we close out the year, let’s look at this important marketing strategy.

Remember that it is a strategy — or at least it should be. Marketing basics applies here too: what is your brand essence? Who is your audience? How will we measure success? All the facets of a strong overall marketing strategy are required for content to engage the right people. After all, its purpose is to (ultimately) sell a product or service by establishing credibility.

I’ve heard some people lament that there’s just too much out there. They’re overwhelmed by terms like white papers, Tweets, posts, etc. Where do we begin? My answer depends on who you are, what you sell, and who you want to reach. There’s no doubt that content marketing presents some challenges, but so does traditional advertising. (And online content marketing can be significantly more cost effective than traditional media.) With the right strategy, these challenges become opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning how content marketing can help your business, drop me an email or give me a call. We can help.

Who Are Your Customers?

A client of mine recently told me who their customers were — “everyone!” This is a common response. And at first glance, it makes sense: who wouldn’t want to sell to everyone? We all do! But strategic marketers know that focus is a key to success, and that a successful brand defines itself at least partially based on target audience. Remember that our brand attributes rely upon knowing to whom we’re talking.

USC Marshall published a consumer behavior study that helps outline why defining your audience is so vital to success. The section called Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning helps us come to conclusions about our audience that will ultimately increase our return on marketing dollar investment. To improve marketing productivity, we want to:

SEGMENT: Group customers to identify which market(s) you want to pursue.

TARGET: Qualify your chosen market(s) to determine a match between your value proposition and customer need.

POSITION: Create comparative claims that make your value proposition attractive to the target market.

Every step of the way, we need to understand the options and ramifications, creating a strategic plan that can be measured and adjusted. It’s this focus that gets us the most for our marketing dollar. Because it’s so important (and often misunderstood), you’ll be hearing from me on this subject for a while. I look forward to your thoughts!

Successful Brands Empower Their Employees

We just launched a new brand strategy for VISION EASE, a Minnesota-based ophthalmic lens manufacturer. The external launch took place at a major trade event as part of our strategy to influence our valued trade partners.

In revitalizing the brand, we continued to build upon the established values of VISION EASE and the emotional connection it already has with its customers, but we’re articulating the brand meaning and promise in refreshing and exciting ways. To empower our employees, we’ve initiated a progressive change management program that will help ensure both their understanding and their deployment of this new brand strategy.

We understand how important measurement is when executing a strategy like this for VISION EASE. And we know the questions to ask to determine success, so we presented the brand concept to the employees in order to establish some benchmarks. According to SurveyMonkey, more than 70% of marketers struggle with measuring the impact of their branding campaigns because they measure the wrong metrics. That’s where we come in. We know what to ask.

We gauged their commitment to areas like company purpose, brand promise, and customer approach. We also asked for comments about the brand purpose and, in doing so, we empowered VISION EASE employees (without whom there would be no company nor brand) to give their opinion.

Good leaders are enthusiastic about their cause. By defining a solid change management plan, we determine metrics that help us measure our success. Only by measuring our internal employee reaction in addition to the traditional external customer can we be truly effective. We must work as hard inside as we do out.

In the end, we’ll have excited and engaged employees. And we’ll have an even stronger brand.

Find Your Brand Essence

The word essence represents the qualities that define something. It’s the nature of the being. We’ve been talking about defining the qualities — what I call attributes — that make our brand what it is. Understanding your brand’s attributes helps you connect with both its functional and its emotional benefits. But the real meaning comes when you understand the motivation behind the purchase —that’s what your brand should connect with the most.

Brand essence is about the core brand value.
Without knowing what our brand represents, we cannot make healthy, strategic decisions about communication tactics. Everything we do, as marketers, must be measured against our brand essence.

How do we get to our brand’s core?
We go through a means-end analysis that gets to the heart of what is really most important. For example, let’s take a bank. What we really want is for our bank to respect that it’s taking care of our money, money we’ve worked hard to save, money we’ve entrusted to it for safekeeping. Look at any consumer product, and ask yourself, is it about the quality of the ingredients or is it about what the brand says about you, the consumer?

Defining this essence is what we do here at the Hardman Group. It’s what I love about marketing. If you’re looking to create an authentic brand, give me a call.