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Bob Fosse was one of the world’s best-known choreographers. Over his 40-year career, he designed memorable dance scenes for films and Broadway musicals, including All That Jazz, Cabaret, Pippin and Chicago. (Watch a salute to Fosse here.)
He earned an Oscar, three Emmys and nine Tony Awards, while creating a dark, sensual, instantly recognizable look and a unique physical vocabulary that still inspire dancers decades after his death.
Yet, much of his signature approach was born of his weaknesses.
In a 1984 BBC interview, Fosse said, “Truly, my style came from my own physical problems. I always had a slight hunch in my shoulders, so, as a dancer, I began hunching.”
He started losing his hair as a young man, “so I started wearing a lot of hats.”
“And I never had the ballet turn-out, so I said, ‘well, I can’t turn [my feet] out, so I’m going to do the opposite and turn them in.’ The whole style has come out of my defects.”
Fosse said, “I thank God I wasn’t born perfect.”
Of course, nobody is perfect. Nor is any brand. But, while you’re walking the endless path to improvement, consider how you could capitalize on your company's weaknesses.
Start by re-positioning what you perceive as negatives. Instead, think of them as quirks, unique qualities that could have value as differentiators. No one saw Bob Fosse’s hunched shoulders or thinning hair as impairments because he leaned into them. He looked right through the cons and saw the pros on the other side. Then, he put those features to work for his dancers.
So, for example, is your company smaller than you’d like it to be?
Instead of going into debt to grow your local inventory, focus on just one product and work to earn your status as a respected national expert on that item.
Instead of hiring more people, invest in training the staff you already have so that they come to exemplify a new pinnacle of customer service.
Instead of upgrading to technical systems you can’t afford, embrace old-school business practices: personal phone calls, face-to-face meetings, hand-written thank you notes.
Each of those is an example of looking at a perceived problem through Fosse-like eyes. And each could elevate you and your brand in the hearts and minds of customers.
I drove behind a pick-up truck for a few miles the other day. On the truck’s rear window was a hard-to-read, dated, ultra-fancy logo for a local florist. My immediate thought was, “I’d never call that place for flowers.”
Why? Because of how poorly they presented their information, even though they're in the presentation business.
Whether the florist designed or just approved the gaudy logo, I assumed they’d also do a bad job of designing tasteful floral arrangements or, at the very least, that their idea of what’s beautiful is not consistent with mine.
To me, that florist’s logo was an indicator. And often, indicators speak louder and more truthfully about a company’s abilities and commitment than its advertising and marketing content do. For instance…
- Is the restaurant’s front window filthy? If so, you don’t want to see their kitchen.
- Is the wireless provider’s website an endless maze? There’s a good chance their customer service feels like that, too.
- Is the physician’s office always short-staffed? That suggests that the doctor who cares for your health doesn’t know how to care for his employees.
Indicators are red flags that may provide insight into future encounters. A company’s commercials or online ads might allude to a great buying experience, but when its callers are kept on hold in silence or their store environments are old and tired or the staff isn’t trained and friendly, customers are sure to be disappointed with what they find in real life.
Distinctive, memorable advertising and marketing content is important, but it must also be an accurate representation of what you deliver. Exaggeration for the sake of bringing people through the virtual or actual door can quickly backfire in the form of bad reviews and angry customers.
On the other hand, you may be the best landscape architect in town, but if the lawn and bushes in front of your office are brown and crispy, potential clients might be suspicious of your good reputation.
As a consumer, it’s important to look for indicators before you buy. As a marketer, it’s even more important to recognize when your message or visual brand is misleading, inaccurate or potentially damaging in any other way.
As a marketer, what do you believe in?
What's the philosophy that guides or differentiates your work?
Those questions may seem challenging at first, but they're worth considering, since you could easily apply the answers to what you do every day going forward. Whether it’s one simple statement or a few basic rules you commit to, a personal marketing philosophy can be a handy tool.
As an example, these are my three philosophies:
1) Always ask the question “who cares?” about anything I write. (Is the target audience likely to find value in my copy or content?)
2) Express ideas as concisely as possible. (Respect the audience's time.)
3) When appropriate - and sometimes when it's not - use humor. (Work to give the audience the memorable gift of unexpected laughter.)
If you're a writer or another type of creative, your philosophy can hone your creation and editing processes. Let it serve as your standard or a “filter” through which you run marketing content. And when it’s well-reasoned and time-tested, you can share your philosophy with clients or members of your team to support the choices you make.
If this is a new or strange concept for you, identifying your core principles may be tough, but don't feel like you need to adopt someone else's viewpoint. Your marketing philosophy should matter deeply to you. You should be able to defend it. Ideally, it'll come to you organically, after you've had enough first-hand exposure to both the good and bad practices of the industry or your specific craft. But you still may need to ask yourself the hard question, "What do I believe in?"
Write down your marketing philosophy. Then, share this blog post with the rest of your team and ask them to do the same type of thinking. Once they have, look for any commonalities in your philosophies. Where do you align? Can your company actively focus on those mutual principles to maximize their impact?
Then, how might harnessing the power of your shared beliefs affect your company culture and morale, your hiring practices, even the customer experience you deliver?
These wonderful animals live in the Pemberville, Ohio Public Library. They're the work of Laurel Rakas, the Coordinator of Children's Services there since 1996.
"We get boxes of books that are padded with this wrinkly, brown paper," she wrote. "We used to throw the paper out, which drove me crazy. I always wanted to do something with it."
So, she did.
"In 2020, our summer reading program theme was 'Imagine Your Story.' I thought, I can look at this packing paper and imagine it as something else. Then, we asked other libraries in our system for their paper and, boy, did we get a response! We were inundated with paper!"
As the raw material came in, her menagerie grew. And the reaction from visitors was immediately positive. "People have been very complimentary. I love to hear the response from children who have never been in before. They're full of wonder. It's been very gratifying."
Laurel is not paid to create art, but she seized an opportunity to make something out of nothing because it was important to her.
As a result, she's made her workspace a more interesting place to be.
Her paper creatures have surprised and delighted countless Library visitors.
She's led by example, quietly encouraging kids to stretch their imaginations and look for possibilities, even when they might not be readily obvious.
Laurel may have even inspired her co-workers to undertake their own art projects or learn new skills.
And down the road, who knows? Her creations may attract more good P.R. from area newspapers and via social media. She might even be able to auction off her animals for the benefit of the Library.
What if your company followed Laurel's lead?
How might the freedom to create or take on passion projects impact your culture? Your employees' engagement? Their loyalty?
What if they could experience the pride Laurel takes in her paper sculptures? What if they could generate that same type of positivity? In other words, what if you prioritized finding different ways to help your people shine?
By the way, Laurel's project is ongoing. "This year's reading program theme is 'Oceans of Possibilities.' I'll be building some sea creatures and I'm planning a kelp forest that will hang from the lights."
Prospective buyers might be drawn to your company through your advertising, a random encounter with your social media post, an online search or for many other reasons. And they may even purchase a product from you.
But then what?
How do you encourage those customers to come back?
One answer: by providing an exceptional customer experience. According to many studies, people are more loyal to brands that prioritize positive customer encounters. They’re often willing to spend more money with those brands, too.
The opportunities to create memorable experiences are endless - from providing friendly service at the point of sale, to building an intuitive online ordering process, to producing quality products - but this post will focus on just three efforts, all of which you can write into your marketing plan.
1) Present Your Brand Consistently
Creating a memorable brand is tough enough when every campaign and all the elements are executed perfectly, but when your exterior signage varies from store to store and the brand voice changes from week to week, you make it even harder for potential customers to pick your brand out of a crowd and recall your unique value.
People WANT to encounter brands they like. They WANT to discover companies they can identify with. So, make it easier for them to find and remember you.
Maintaining consistency across all touchpoints also sends the message that your brand cares about details, that you’re reliable and, yes, even trustworthy.
2) Craft Your Messaging with Customers in Mind
Is your copy and content self-focused? If so, there’s a good chance your audience is ignoring it. But when you use your marketing and advertising to tell interesting stories, provide valuable information and even help people live and work easier, you’ll create loyal consumers of the articles, videos and ads you publish.
When the marketing channel allows, tailor your message to each customer’s position in the buying cycle. Email is especially flexible that way. CRM systems can track that position and create workflows that allow you to send messages to customers based on their readiness to buy. That personalized outreach can also prevent the burnout that comes with repetitive or irrelevant ads.
3) Act on Feedback
Do you encourage customer input via your website, social channels, surveys, review sites or comment cards? And once you receive it, how do you react?
People want to know their thoughts are taken seriously. When you acknowledge and respond to their feedback you reinforce that their time and opinions matter and that they’re important to your company. You'll help customers feel included and remind them that they play a role in your mission or culture. And that can strengthen their connection to your company.
As a marketer, you may always be looking forward, trying to come up with new ways to present your company's product or service.
But you can find plenty of inspiration by looking backward, too.
Got milk? Whassup? Where's the beef? Think small. Those are all successful ad campaigns from decades past. By analyzing them and other examples of great advertising, you can identify the elements that made them appealing and memorable. Then, you can apply the takeaways to your own creative efforts.
Here's an example.
Stan Freberg's 1967 commercial for Sunsweet Prunes is one of my favorite TV spots of all time. Take a look at it here or above.
If you like it, too, spend a few minutes to break it down. Why does it work for you? What makes it unique? How does its style impact its effectiveness?
A few thoughts.
1) Consider the relatively conservative advertising environment at the time this first aired. Before Freberg, satire was rarely used in commercials, if at all. Throughout his career, he lampooned advertising itself, poking fun at its many conventions. In the Sunsweet spot, that skewering took the form of the disagreeable consumer, the over-the-top announcer and the melodramatic tagline.
Takeaway: When you start, as Freberg did, with the understanding that most consumers don't take advertising literally and certainly not as seriously as brands do, you give yourself great freedom to create for your audience without restraints. You won't be bound by what's "normal" for any marketing channel.
2) Freberg was not afraid to bite the hand that fed him! For nearly half of the commercial, his stuffy, ascot-wearing antagonist expressed disdain for the product, and not in a subtle way. The fact that the character referred to Sunsweet Prunes as "disgusting" was not only groundbreaking, but it was creatively brilliant.
Takeaway: By insulting the prunes, Freberg was giving voice to what his audience was already thinking. He didn't try to ignore or hide the fact that the product has pits and wrinkles; he acknowledged it - in a very funny way. By telling the truth - even if it's an ugly or uncomfortable truth - you earn consumer trust. And by making fun of the product, you can rouse empathy and even encourage people to rally behind it.
3) At 48 seconds into the commercial, the prune eater sniffs. In a late 1960s context, that sniff could have easily been seen as a mistake. In Freberg's spot for Jacobsen's Lawnmowers, a homeowner being asked about the grass in his front yard interrupts the interviewer three times so realistically that the audio is affected in a negative (but intentional) way. And in his Cheerios commercial, the woman being questioned on screen mistakes the cereal for a headache remedy.
Takeaway: The sniff, the interrupting and the confusion are all very human. They added a sense of realism and a unique twist that was notably odd for TV commercials of the era. What "mistakes" or human characteristics can you add to or leave in your advertising? Think of how they might draw attention or differentiate your work and how they might surprise your audience.
4) Visually, the Sunsweet commercial is just one steady shot with two quick right pans, two quick left pans and a product shot at the end. No fancy set. No special effects. No animation. The remarkable writing and perfect performances are allowed to shine even brighter because of the sparse presentation. That style makes it easy for viewers to focus on what the characters are saying and retain the message.
Takeaway: A big budget and elaborate concept don't automatically produce a great campaign. As Stan Freberg showed in so much of his advertising work, a fresh idea executed well can produce effective, memorable work that we can all learn from.
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Are you considering a career in marketing? Whether you’re about to graduate from college, transitioning from another type of work or ready to move from the client side to the agency world, read these tips before you start your job search.
Define Your Value - Think about your potential employer’s needs and pains first. Research what they do well, but focus on how you might fill a void at their agency. You’ll make a strong impression if you can say to an interviewer, “I believe I can help you in this area or with that problem.”
Then, back up your assertions with samples of your work, relevant solutions you’ve developed for others and testimonials that support your claims. In other words, show your unique and specific value.
Choose Carefully - If you’re not in a hurry to find your next job, take the time to look deeply into each agency you might join.
Learn about their culture, financial health, the industries and clients they serve. Have they had any public relations or legal issues? On average, how long do clients and employees stay with the agency? Can you talk with their current and former team members to get a sense of what the environment is like?
By doing your homework, you have a better chance of identifying the agency that’s the best fit for your skills and work style.
Here are a few thoughts from other MadAveGroup team members.
Ask Questions - Begin by asking yourself, “Why do I want to work in marketing?”
What is it about the field that excites you? Which of your skills and qualities would be valuable to an agency and its clients? How would you define a successful marketing career?
If you can’t answer those questions, marketing may not be your true calling.
And then, do you like working alone or as part of a team? That answer can help you decide if you should join an agency or cut your own freelance path.
Present Your Virtual Self Well - Be careful how you present yourself online. The digital impressions you leave behind are fair game for any employer evaluating everything from your personality to your language skills and opinions.
Make sure your social media pages showcase the person you want your potential employer to see, even if that means removing potentially objectionable content. Update your LinkedIn page to share stories of how you thought creatively and solved problems. Post testimonials from former managers and clients who can attest to your past work experience and successes. And consider presenting your ideas and work samples creatively on your own website or in a blog or portfolio.
Those efforts can round out your digital footprint and give you more opportunities to show your talent and versatility to potential employers.
Follow Your Passion - If you’re just starting your career, don’t make the mistake of simply chasing the money. Find something you're passionate about and then find an agency that will give you the best opportunity to excel in that role. Your 45-year-old self will be very glad you pursued work that’s important to you. The financial wins will come when you show up every day, invest your care and creativity and enjoy what you do.
Most importantly, when you’re interviewing for that role, prove your passion. Show your potential employer how the work you’ll be doing is important to you and how that commitment will benefit the company.
Do you allow yourself time to be inspired?
Do you put yourself in situations to experience everyday life in new ways?
Especially if you’re a writer, designer, videographer or anyone else who makes something from nothing, seek inspiration often.
When you have more experiences to draw from, you have more perspectives and solutions to offer.
I encourage our creative team to explore music, fine art, nature, even unique foods. Then, I remind them to keep their senses tuned into those experiences. The sights, sounds and flavors can inform their work and infuse it with a fresh excitement.
One example: our agency’s writers spent a recent afternoon at a glassblowing studio, learning how to make glass paperweights. (Watch the video.) That work has nothing to do with the marketing services we provide, but it put our team into an unusual creative atmosphere for a few hours and allowed them to use their imaginations in a different way.
And at least twice a month, we analyze the work of creators from many diverse disciplines - never to copy it - but to expose ourselves to other points of view and see how we might apply the essence of what we like about it to our own content.
You can't pull water from a dry well. So, regardless of what you do, give yourself and your team permission to refill your creative tanks now and then. Read. Travel. Learn a new skill. Work with a different set of tools. Volunteer. Talk to strangers.
Actively seek inspiration.
It’ll be time well invested.
During my lunch at a local restaurant yesterday, the waitress asked me three times, “Is everything fine?”
Yet, each time she posed the question, she was walking away from my table.
It was clear she didn’t care about my reply. In fact, she was almost out of sight each time I answered.
She was merely checking a box.
And checking boxes doesn’t produce memorable experiences, in a restaurant or any other kind of business. It won’t create loyalty or spread great word-of-mouth, either.
Doing only “what you’re supposed to do” will never surprise and delight a customer. And it won’t encourage your audience’s empathy. (Read how Minneapolis residents came to the rescue of a beloved local shop in May of 2020.)
Is a similar lack of sincere interest in your customers’ feedback showing up anywhere in your organization?
- Have you buried your company’s contact information deep within your website?
- Do you purposely keep callers on hold for long periods so they’ll hang up?
- Are you ignoring comments on your company’s social media pages?
- Have you avoided asking key customers for their input before developing a new service?
- Do you quickly email customers post-sale for their positive feedback even without expressing concern for their needs before the sale?
- Have you delayed training every member of your team on how to respond to customer complaints?
It’s important to always be asking some version of “is everything fine?” But it’s even more important to actively listen to each customer’s reply, then respond in a way that makes them glad they answered your question.
RELATED POST: Will You?
For more than a century, The Cleveland Press was a daily newspaper.
It was the first of many owned by the influential E.W. Scripps Company, later known as Scripps-Howard. The Press was recognized for its journalistic excellence and, in the mid-1960s, was named one of America's 10 best papers by Time Magazine. And when I was growing up in the 1970s, The Press was delivered to our house each afternoon.
Yet, even with its rich history, its impact on the city and the hundreds of articles I read about my beloved Indians in its sports section, one memory of the newspaper stands out above the rest.
Each October, on the Friday before Halloween, the paper published a gift for the kids of Cleveland. It was the pumpkin pictured above, printed across two full pages.
Every year around trick-or-treat time, we'd see that familiar fold-out taped to windows and storm doors all over town.
Displaying his smiling orange face was a tradition as important as any associated with Christmas. I'm not exaggerating when I say the pumpkin seemed like an old friend who paid us an annual visit.
He was a unifying symbol of our city, linking us together, house to house and across neighborhoods. He was something we looked forward to; something we had in common.
So, when I saw The Cleveland Press pumpkin on a Facebook page a few weeks ago, I was immediately taken back to my youth and memories of that funny grin peeking out from homes all around town. One person who commented on the post wrote that, when he was a child, The Press pumpkin was the only Halloween decoration his family ever had.
It was just an image on a piece of newsprint. Yet, more than forty years later, that pumpkin still evokes powerful feelings for me and - I've no doubt - thousands of others.
What if your brand were the source of a wonderful memory like that?
I'd bet the people at The Press didn't set out to create a local tradition. My guess is they just wanted to surprise their readers that first year. Then, the pumpkin caught on. When you start with intent that pure, your efforts are likely to mean more.
The idea is not to sell something; it's to give of yourself for the joy of others, in however small a way. (Here's another example.)
Fulfill a need. Share your talents. Print your pumpkin.