Category Archives: Branding

Book Review: Be Like Amazon, by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg

I am going to recommend this book, Be Like Amazon, by Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg, to all my clients. Here’s the review I just posted on Amazon.

Book review-Be Like Amazon - Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg

When I read that the Eisenberg’s new book was a dialogue, I cringed a little. I usually find that style overly precious or pedantic, like a business-aimed Jonathan Livingston Seagull (not in a good way). But style is, well, just style, and I knew Be Like Amazon would be worth reading because I have read most of Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg’s previous works. So I grabbed the Sample and within a few pages, I had downloaded Be Like Amazon.

And glad I did. Be Like Amazon is short, easy to read, and chock full of gems. I’m a marketing strategy consultant and always on the lookout for ways I can help clients see the big picture. Values, mission, how to align all your people so that you don’t feel any need to micromanage — it all comes from core values. The Eisenbergs call them “unifying principles” and says they “are an operating system.” And they talk about how these feed the brand, which is built on actions and performance.

“We believe.” I got that from this book. I have seen and read the “Start With Why” work by Simon Sinek and make all my clients view his videos but damn, I missed the “we believe” messaging. If that were all I got from Be Like Amazon, it would be a huge win. “You’ll find your corporate ‘why’ when you write 10 true sentences that each start with ‘We believe….” I am so going to steal that.

But wait, there’s more!

Be Like Amazon is built around Amazon’s Four Pillars but you can see those in a two-second Google search. What they do here is bring them to life and relate them to other businesses, some of which use values well, some not; some used to and don’t succeed any more. Costco, Walmart, HP, and some tiny businesses you don’t know (but perhaps should).

Story. Culture. “Brandable chunks.” Unrelenting customer-centricity. It goes on. Mostly things we know but perhaps don’t always remember that we know.

The two measures of the value of a business and marketing book for me are:

1) How much highlighting do I do. Each highlight is something I plan to use with my clients. And my copy of BLA is pretty yellowed up! So a +1 on that.

2) Is it full of fluff? Because here’s the typical business or marketing book: One or two interesting ideas, three or four reasonable use cases, and then the author realizes no one will buy a 40 page book, so they fire up Word and write 260 redundant pages full of generalizations and contrived examples everyone knows. 80% fluff to support the one or two simple ideas the author has. Bleh.

The dialogue approach made me fear the fluff but no worries, this is a well-researched, concise book full of real examples of how Amazon’s four pillars apply to the real world.

Naming

One of the most popular articles here is about the simplest and most complex aspects of marketing a business: Naming it.

I ran across a wonderful real-life story today, from Alex Blumberg’s StartUp about how they named his fledgling Gimlet Media. He encounters and explains all the typical challenges and along the way reports, in a very honest way, the missteps, discoveries, and musings. (Be warned, there is a very obscene South Park clip; no worries, he gives ample warning.)  It’s a great overview of how to (how not to) name something.

StartUp: Episode 5: How to Name Your Company

And here’s my article, Naming a Product or Company.

We claim as our brand: truth

Brand isn’t about logos and colors and an attractive home page. It’s about the instantaneous, gut reaction you want people to have when they think about you. If you are very, very skillful, or very, very lucky, your brand can command a core human value. Today, The New York Times is both.

I would love to be on their marketing team right now.

On the luck side, the nation’s Brand Manager in Chief has taken them on:

The failing New York Times? Not today.

One can debate whether there is “no such thing as bad publicity,” but anyone who looks at marketing history knows that a fast, smart response is everything. The Times is responding with skill, using the President’s attention as an opportunity to grab a brand value that’s not usually available: Truth.

There are values a company can’t claim without seeming phony. You can’t tell everyone you’re trustworthy or honest in so many words; similarly, claiming truth is a dangerous proposition — unless you’re lucky enough to be under attack by someone your constituents consider an enemy. The New York Times has claimed a high ground that will help it take a leadership position.

In multiple media, the Times is investing in the banner of truth.

It comes at a fortunate time. The company has had credibility and financial issues but the public’s memory is not very long, and the timing seems perfect. A strong, protracted statement — a branding campaign — is just what The Gray Lady needs.

Obviously, there’s a sizable percentage of the population that won’t buy this. But they’re not in the newspaper’s potential audience anyway.

For years, many of us have been wondering how newspapers will survive. People didn’t seem to see value in reporting and investigation, or even in writing. The Internet was drowning traditional news values. But some will survive and some will thrive. There are glimmers of hopes for the news business, with a few rising stars, like The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and now, the “failing” New York Times.

Dear CEO: Mixing politics and business

mixing politics and business is risky business

Mixing politics and business: Risky business?

Just as politics is a risky topic at a party, most of us believe it’s dangerous to mix politics and business. But in these days of social media and online outrage, old rules are constantly up for question.

penzeys-ceo-letter on mixing politics and business

You may not know Penzey’s, unless you’re a cook. They’re a popular online and retail spice merchant (Side note: I am a fan: Get spicy. Once you buy cinnamon online, you’ll never buy it in the grocery store again).

Their social presence has always been personal, with heartfelt letters from their CEO, Bill Penzey but in election 2016, his letters turned from homey missives about baking pies for our loved ones to the storms outside the kitchen window.

The issues aside, there’s a lesson — or at least, an example — for those of us in business, because Penzey has published his business results in a “letter to CEOs.” The letter is repeated below because oddly, I can’t find it on the company website  yet (it appeared on Facebook today). He says that 3% of their customers abandoned them in a rage, while “online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%.”

Mixing politics and business is a personal choice, not a business strategy, and it’s clearly not broadly applicable. But I take it as one example of where close relationships with customers change the rules. I’ve written before about empathy — it’s not just a modern buzzword — and I think the reason this worked in Penzey’s favor is that he was talking to his customers, heart to heart, over a cup of coffee and a slice of pie at the kitchen table. Whether we agree with his stand or not, it’s authentic. And it appears to have resonated.

———

Dear CEO,

Please give us a moment to share something we hope you will find very valuable.

Our customers come from all walks of life. The kindness of cooks knows no borders or divides. In the aftermath of the election, seeing the intentional damage inflicted on so many outside the white heterosexual male world, we raised our voice. We felt we had to. We did this because we are Penzeys. The Spice business is so intertwined with history that it’s not really possible to have one without the other. It became clear to us that we are now in a moment history will long have its eyes upon. For the sake of our customers, and for the sake of future generations, we felt the time had come to stand on the right side of history.

And while the reasons for why we took a stand might be specific to our unique outlook, what we learned actually applies to all commerce in the United States. What we learned is that President-elect Donald Trump has no real support. Voters, sure, but no constituency. Running a campaign on “that horrible-terrible-woman who should be locked up,” while at the same time working to raise fear of minorities among white voters with limited access to education, clearly achieved its goal. But none of it left Americans with any sense of connection to the candidate they actually voted for.

Willing to take a hit for what is right, we did what we did. In the two weeks since, online sales are up 59.9%, gift box sales up 135%. And we didn’t have a catalog arrive in this window this year, while last year we had 1.1 million! Yes, maybe for the moment we have lost 3% of our customers because of the so-called “right wing firestorm.” And, yes, they send emails of rage, and ALL CAPS, and bad language with the hope of creating the perception that they are bigger than they really are. But what we learned is that, in terms of retail spending, Donald Trump simply has no one supporting his views for America. He has no constituency.

America’s Values, on the other hand, have a really sizable constituency, and that constituency moves quickly to support those that stand up for the values of America. If, as a company, you have values, now is the time to share them. You may well lose a chunk of your AM radio-listening customers, but if you really are honest and sincere, don’t be surprised to see your promotions suddenly, finally, find active engagement with the Millennial generation.

And the time for this really is now. We understand all too well that, with the holidays, December is a tough month to get things done. We understand that a change in direction will not be easy, but you are where you are because you don’t need things to be easy. If you wait until after the wheels come off the track for the incoming administration, this moment will have passed. And while there’s no bad time to do the right thing, to do the right thing at the same time as others in your industry will work so much better than waiting until someone else has shown the way.

In this moment there is finally the real chance to unite our nation in our shared rejection of sexism, homophobia, and racism. This is your chance to stand up for America’s values and make January a tent pole in your company’s history. Opportunities to do the right thing at the time when doing the right thing makes all the difference come once in a lifetime. Make your history proud.

Thanks for reading,

Penzeys Spices

Start With Why to Reach Customers

Reach customers with benefits

Do you want to reach customers in a more effective way, to help them understand why they need what you do? To help them see how your products and services fit their needs? To help you talk in customer-centric, benefits-focused terms? Here’s a powerful device to reach customers: Start With Why.

To reach customers, start with why

Why do we need “why?”

It may seem simple to talk about products and services in a way that connects with customers. Most of us naturally start talking about what the product is and what it does, how it works. We love to talk about features! But what we may not realize is that while those are important points to cover, it’s not how humans make buying decisions. We decide using a deeper portion of our brains, one that is powered not by words, but by feelings. This is why sometimes we make decisions that defy logic, or why we spend weeks agonizing over a decision despite the fact that we already have every bit of information we need.

How do we come up with marketing messaging that speaks to the feelings-powered portion of the brain, a portion that doesn’t use language?

Watch the video, Start With Why. Simon Sinek does the best job I have seen of explaining not just what kind of communication works, but why it works.

Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Most of us talk about what we’re offering; how it works; and finally, maybe, why we make it and why you would want it. Powerful marketing flips that around and talks first about why. Solution marketing is the example best known in the business world — it talks first about the customer’s problem.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

In a hurry? There’s an edited, five-minute version. I suggest that my clients watch the full version and then watch the short one to lock the ideas in. Here are links to both versions.

Bathroom humor hits the spot for a utilitarian B2B brand

How do you boost a utilitarian brand like SurveyMonkey? Most marketers would be thinking about “what it is and what it does.” Functional, pedestrian, and boring. Eli Schwartz thinks bigger with this clever release about — well, about what cell phone users do in the bathroom.

surveymonkey-bathroom-1

This is genius marketing because it:

  • Highlights a skillful use of a survey, using SurveyMonkey’s Audience tool.
  • Is an attention grabber with high viral potential.
  • It’s relatable and tells a story (one more than a few readers will relate to).
  • Is one of very few quality uses of an infographic.
  • Made me LOL. And made me think about SurveyMonkey. And made me pass the word!

The execution is great, too, with bright, humorous graphics.

surveymonkey-bathroom-2

(Disclaimer: I know Eli and spotted this because I follow him on LinkedIn.)

Tell me a story

I was afraid. Standing at a lectern in downtown Manhattan before a room full of experts, I was easily the youngest person there. I was sure they could see me sweating. I prayed for the end before I said my first word. But then, I closed my eyes, took a breath, and began to talk about the future, a day in the automated office, when computers were connected. And when I was done, people came up to ask questions about our office automation architecture. The 20-something budding marketer from HP with the soaking wet collar had connected.

tell a storyCredit: Wikipedia

Is there anything more viscerally connecting than a story? It’s how humans have expressed themselves, convinced, controlled, enrolled, sold, and created value for millenia.

And yet, in marketing materials, we keep seeing, “The GM-X is an innovative solution for enterprise-ready network service stacks that ensures rapid deployment, cost savings, and the infinite connectivity of a cloud-based architecture.”

In the New York Times, “Storytelling Your Way to a Better Job or a Stronger Start-Up” reminds us that stories persuade. They also generate a happy hormone, oxytocin, in the brain. Researchers diagrammed Super Bowl commercials based on storytelling elements and successfully predicted their outcome. The key elements? It’s what we learned in high school:

It probably sounds familiar from middle-school English class: Act 1, scene setting; Act 2, rising action; Act 3, the turning point; Act 4, the falling action; and Act 5, the denouement or release. Variations of this include fewer or more stages, but they all follow the same pattern.

In business writing, especially in email and on the web, we don’t have much time to get the reader’s attention. But then, neither does a Super Bowl commercial. The Times article cites Hemingway’s six-word story: ““For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” So we really have no excuses.

How do we tell a story? We have to remember the basics, then practice the ancient art.

Most important, I think is to tell the story, rather than telling about the story. We tend to judge, categorize, summarize but a judgment ends the narrative and kills the tension.

We also shy away from feelings, when feelings are the best way to connect, establish trust, and build empathy.

It doesn’t come naturally, at least for me. I find I have to remind myself to connect. The way that young, sweaty kid from HP did in New York.

The benefit of benefits

features and benefits Copyright 2014 Moe Rubenzahl

Features and benefits: People tend to talk about that as if it’s easy. It’s not. But it’s super-important. When you really reach the benefits, you’re really reaching the customer and distinguishing yourself from all the poor marketing out there. 

Here are some tips to find the benefits, and a link to a really great — and free — book.

But the very first thing I want you to know is:

Writing benefits is hard!

Even with years of practice, I have to ask myself if what I just wrote is truly a customer benefit. Often, it’s a feature masquerading as a benefit.

A feature is what it does and how well it does it. A benefit is why the feature matters — how it solves the customer’s problem or delights the customer. Benefits are “what’s in it for me?”

quarter-inch-hole

The reason it’s hard is that we think we are logical and sensible, that we want features. But we don’t — features tell but invariably, benefits sell.

benefits-featuresCopyright 2014 Moe Rubenzahl

Features and benefits: Here's what our product can do; here's what YOU can do with our product.

How to find the benefits

A great way to find the benefit is to ask:

So what?

When you’re looking at a feature or benefit, ask, from the user’s perspective, “So what?” Why does the customer care? Then when you answer the “so what” question, ask it again. Continue until there is no answer. 

Example:

You have a portable medical gadget and the product manager tells you it uses less power than any other. Here’s the dialog:

Feature: Lower power

So what?

Uses less battery

So what?

You have to charge less often

So what?

Goes all day without recharging!

Another example

This time, you have a portable exercise monitor. Again, the product manager tells you it uses less power than any other. But the dialog goes differently:

Lower power

So what?

Uses less battery

So what?

Batteries are smaller

So what?

Lighter weight

So what?

Our exercise monitor fits in your shirt pocket — you will forget it’s there!

Same feature, different context means different benefits

Notice how the same feature might be a completely different benefit. In all cases, benefits are what connect with customers. 

Learn more

Writing with benefits is not easy and for most of us, not automatic. It’s a discipline. Want to master it? Here’s a quick read:

http://www.enchantingmarketing.com/features-and-benefits/

and download the free book, “Write Benefits to Seduce Buyers” offered there.

henneke-write-benefits-book

It’s an easy read, just a dozen pages, and it will make you a better marketing writer. Your writing reach customers better and need less editing. That will make you and your team more productive. (See what I did there?)

Nobody Cares About You

“The hard truth is that nobody is interested in you, your company, or your products. Because people are only interested in themselves.”

— Henneke Duistermaat

henneke-customers-want-benefits

When talking or writing about products and services, one of the hardest challenges is to focus on benefits rather than features, on solving the customer’s problems. It seems to be especially difficult for technical people. But it is critically important because it is how we matter to customers and prospects.

henneke-write-benefits-book

I found an excellent, free article on this topic — and you can read it in about 10 minutes. It talks about customer focus and a great way to get from features to benefits every time, using the “so what” method.

Even if you already understand features and benefits, we all need to remind ourselves, over and over. Because every day, we’re focused on us: our company, what we do, what we sell. We tend to describe products and services, talk about features, tell everyone how great it all is. Customers don’t care about all that! They don’t care about us, they care about themselves. They want to know that we can solve their problems.