Category Archives: integrated communications

The brand continuity of stop signs

One peril of the networked age is everyone wants everything to be new, improved, wired … including brands. We recently thought of the stop sign, which was born in Michigan in 1915 and after several design variations, including a yellow phase from 1924-1954, was finally made red to align with the “stop” signal in street lights. Today, the sign is recognizable around the world (photo from Thailand, above).

The best brands understand the power of frequency and endurance. Alas, the typical chief marketing officer changes posts in the U.S. every two years, and so the new executive in marketing often wants to tweak the brand. If you’re changing just for the sake of change, maybe it’s time to stop.

Gimme a beat

Yves Van Landeghem of Saatchi notes the world of music is getting too loud. He writes:

“There is kind of a similar thing happening in marketing and advertising today. Brands are trying to shout at the top of their lungs in the same channels, repeating the same message with the same colours and the same sounds, losing the subtle touches that are often needed to become more than a onedimensional promotional idea.

“That’s actually the way the basic media approach worked: turn it up in all frequencies in order to get a maximum of reach. And that’s precisely the reason why planners should be more involved in the media planning process: on the lookout for those frequencies and areas where it might be more interesting to approach people from a different, potentially more subtle, angle. As the video rightly states: you need silence to be able to hear a sound.”

The context of communications, or why babies are so smart

A new study by Indiana University finds the reason babies learn language so quickly is they process the context of words against thousands (or millions) of other variables. That’s right. Wee brains act like computer data mining software.

In the past, young children were thought to learn one word at a time. But researchers tried a new approach with tots ages 12 to 14 months, where each child was shown two objects at a time while two words were read to them. No other clues were provided. After the series was shown, the children demonstrated they had learned most of the words.

How in the world did babies pick the right word to go with the right object? It seems children cross-reference the new images and sounds with the massive data they’ve already collected in their heads, match, sort, de-dupe, rule out dead ends, and pull up the relevant right answer. Like a massive computer crunching enormous data sets, the little minds spin and somehow learn reptile is like a snake.

Scientists believe adults continue to learn the same way, though at a slower pace, due to early mornings and weekend libations, no doubt. It backs up the thesis by marketing authors Rex Briggs and Greg Stuart, in What Sticks, that the most effective advertising campaigns are those in which messages hit the consumer from different angles. Three impressions from a billboard and newspaper ad and radio spot work better than three equal impressions just from the radio. The point for communicators is to note that every message you send forth enters the consumer’s mind in the context of all prior communications. They may interpret it the way they see fit.

The strange case of Jacob Freeze (or why most PowerPoint sucks)

How can any of us be brilliant at everything? The revolution of computer technology is that now all of us can dabble in art, communication, arithmetic and business planning. Most of us aren’t very good in our best category and we usually stink in our worst. This is why most PowerPoint is so awful, because the format encourages business authors to try to postulate, evince, sketch, write, lay out, calculate, organize and conclude at the same moment of creation. Edward Tufte, the noted visual-display-of-information author, goes so far as to blame the 2003 Columbia space shuttle disaster on one poorly conceived PowerPoint slide.

Which brings us to the brilliant exception of Jacob Freeze. Freeze is an intense author/artist/analyst whose most recent post on Daily Kos dissects how Atlanta and its conservative politics are shriveling as the result of drought.

Considering the fantastic cloud of ambiguity that the petroleum industry and its friends throw over every environmental issue, it’s probably a good idea to be explicit about the sort of thing that you would normally expect any idiot to understand. So… when Atlanta runs out of water, Atlanta will die.

Whatever your politics, you have to admire the attack, a verbal equivalent of a boxer in a bad street fight. Which brings us to our next investigation of Jacob Freeze. He’s actually an artist producing work such as this:

And this:

While writing this:

The United States is happy to reserve the privilege of ‘humanitarian war’ for itself and Israel, preserving ‘universal human rights’ against the threat of terrorism, but now that Turkey is claiming the same privilege to defend itself against Kurdish terrorists, ‘the community of civilized nations’ has undergone a strange contraction.

A few years ago, souls like Jacob Freeze would have been confined to a news room, or an art gallery, or a photo studio shooting newlyweds — but only one of them. Now, thanks to connections and computers, he can move from media to media.

Professor Tufte missed the point. Sure, PowerPoint may have messed the shuttle planning logic. But the problem wasn’t software; it’s just we all can’t communicate on every level as well as Jacob Freeze.

Why Fake Steve is selling Sikorsky Helicopters

Talk about integrated advertising. Came home from work, picked up the WSJ, noticed a wrapper and big insert for United Technologies. Then booted up Fake Steve for a quick laugh before dinner … and saw his blog is now running banner ads. For United Technologies.

Some smart marketers have our demo down. Two impressions in 3 minutes for UTC! We’re either upwardly HHI-bound potential stock investors, or we’re thinking of purchasing a S-92 direct-lift aircraft with X2 Technology that flies at 250 knots painted with low to zero volatile organic compounds. Nice coordination of offline and online to hit a demo target.

Are your marketers and sales guys fighting like this?

Admit the problem. Your sales and marketing teams are not in synch.

Marketing directors rarely think about the sales force. They aren’t mentioned in the top 150 marketing blogs. Your marketing chief rarely discusses strategy with the sales czar. Your web gurus don’t think about sales. Your media plan doesn’t list them as a line item. Heck, we googled “marketing strategy + sales” just to check, and the only thing that popped up was

Reason? Marketers and sales often compete internally in organizations. At their worst, marketers can think sales is just brute force, and sales can think marketers have their pointy heads in the clouds. Sometimes organizations create opposing incentives — sales reps may get a commission if they close a deal or sign a customer, but leads coming from marketing go to an inside sales phone bank, cutting the field sales team out. Sales thinks marketing is overhead. Marketing wonders in its heart why sales is needed.

Too bad, because it all needs to work together. This is particularly true in internet marketing, where lead generation culminates with a prospect filling out a form online … and if no one follows up quickly, that consumer lead will die. If your web team never talks with the sales force, you have a problem.

Here’s a handy checklist to see if you have a sales vs. marketing smackdown:

1. Money fights. Does your organization create opposing incentives, where sales is not rewarded for marketing activity?
2. Org imbalance. If prospect leads are handled by different organizations (field, inside sales, customer service), do the teams talk with and train each other?
3. Delayed response. If a prospect comes in any “door” — internet, phone, print, retail — and wants to sign up/buy immediately, can each part of your organization sell them quickly?
4. Hole in the flowchart. Review your marketing plan … does it indicate clearly how advertising media, direct marketing and field sales activity are synchronized each month of the year?
5. Broken budget process. Think about your planning cycle. Do sales and marketing directors collaborate in planning how your budget will be invested? Or do they each have a separate budget, and create siloed plans that are not in synch?
6. Measurement madness. Ah, this, the biggest sin, may reside with the top exec, if he or she is measuring each part of marketing and sales as silos. We’ve had clients wonder why print results are down, while internet results are through the roof. Direct mail can be slipping, but field sales is getting more leads. Do you really know how all the metrics fit together?

Marketers must remember that prospects hear your message as a series of integrated communications, and their response may shift from channel to channel. If you don’t measure how each channel affects the others, you’ll be giving praise and casting blame unfairly — and the sales vs. marketing imbalance may spin further out of control.

There is no easy fix. We suggest in your next annual budget cycle, just put the sales and marketing chiefs in a room, and tell them to build one plan. Watch the spears fly.

My cell phone can now wash clothes

Talk about integrated design. We own a Samsung cell phone (third in cool, after iPhone, then Razr), and when our washing maching busted this summer with a cascading leak, we went to Lowes to see — guess what — a Samsung washing machine. Same color, same style, as the cell phone in our pocket.

Didn’t buy it. Sweetie had Consumer Reports in her pocket and the thing was one half-circle too short. But the temptation was real. “Hey, it’s red!” Interesting take in how integrated communications can build on each prior impression to drive up the transaction utility of a purchase impulse. As in, “Hey, it’s red!”