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The law of selling

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 “Advertising may be described as the science of arresting human intelligence long enough to get money from it,” said Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock.

Advertising is a means to an end. We are here to ring up sales not win gongs. Trouble is, too much advertising has become adept at drawing too much attention to itself for its own sake, without being able to go that final 95% of the distance, closing the deal for the product that is behind the idea.

It is argued by clients that advertising creative people have too many non-commercial preoccupations, like creative awards and funny shaped, glittering prizes.

The desired response most creative people want from their ad is for their peers to say, “Gee, I wish I’d thought of that.” Why we get paid to do what we do? Are we TV sitcom writers, to make people laugh?

Are we gag writers for observational comedians, putting our finger on telling truths?
Are we prose stylists, delivering beautifully written passages of literature?

What really clever people do is “brand building” brand diamonds, brand signature, brand architecture, brand onion, brand hado. Say the word “brand” often enough and everything will be okay.

Now, I’m not saying that building the brand isn’t ever the answer. What I am saying is, it isn’t always the answer. But it’s become a simple knee-jerk solution to avoid the discomfort of thinking about the “S” word.

There are great brands which can charge a premium for any product with their name attached.

How the brands got built was that the advertising sold the product in an appropriate way. The brand building is the part that’s underlined. And a brand got built.

Now, once a brand’s built, you can sell the brand because it exists. But before the product builds the brand, you can’t sell the brand, because it doesn’t exist. And it’s silly to sell something that doesn’t silly?

All agree on one thing, “brand” is totally mysterious to the mind of man, and “brand” is all powerful.

The problem is if you substitute belief for thinking, you believe your answer is always right in every situation, no matter what.

And, of course, it isn’t which is why we have so much expensive advertising failing all the time.

One problem with blindly following this route is that, handled lazily, many brand values are the same within a particular market.

If all the brands in the market are selling similar brand values, who wins? It’s a no- brainer because, unless you change the dynamics of the market, the market leader must win more from any market growth. So, given that there’s usually only one brand leader in any it’s right.

But if “brand” advertising isn’t infallible, what else is there? I’d like to suggest thinking for ourselves as an alternative to blind faith.

The problem, as we’ve seen with “brand”, is that we have a whole industry of people dedicated to making what we do as complicated as possible, dedicated to making it virtually impenetrable to any outsider.

We need to demystify the process. We need to give everyone access to it. We need a device so simple anyone can use it.

So that the best solution wins, not just the most complicated one. That’s where what I call, the Binary brief comes in.

It’s called “binary” because all you do is choose between two alternatives,
Like the zeros and ones of binary code. Like the binary code, it’s fast, and it’s unambiguous.

But the real value of the process is the rigid discipline that you need to apply to the result.
You must only choose ONE of each pair of alternatives.

The questions are ranked in three levels.
(1). What?
(2). Who?
(3). How?
That’s it.

(1). What does the advertising need to achieve? Should we grow the market, and (if we’re number one) take the major share of the increase? Or should we go up against whoever’s bigger than us, and try to take a share from them?

(2). Who should we target? Can we get our current users to buy more of our product, or buy it more often? Or should we be looking to get people who’ve never tried it to switch to it/?

(3). How do we’ do it? Do we have a genuine unique Selling proposition (USP)? (A”[received” USP is fine, but the letter “S” is really important. It’s all very well being unique, but does anyone want what we’re unique for?)

Or should we be selling the brand?

If so, how?
NOW is when vast army of brand-building specialists can get involved, because now we know what we’re doing, who we’re doing it to, and why.

In fact it’s so simple it’s hardly worth bothering with Century to get to this clarity of thinking?

In fact, just to illustrate how it works, let’s hold the two cola giants against the Binary brief.

Coca-Cola was obviously number one in the cola market. All they needed to do was sell cola values and they’d get the major share of any growth in the market.

Pepsi looks at Coca-Cola, sees they got successful and thinks: “We’ll do the same thing.”
You see it in very market.

Numbers two and three are so hypnotized by number One that they let them make the rules for that market, and are scared to deviate.

“Brand advertising worked so well for Number One, we’d better do the same thing, but with our name on the end.”

And, because you’re in the same market, the brand values you are selling are usually the same brand values that number one is selling.

So the market grows, and Number One takes the major share of that growth, thank you very much.

It took Pepsi many decades to wake up and realize that as long as they were selling cola values, they were just doing Coke’s advertising for them.

They had to start talking people out of Coke and into pepsi. They had to aggressively go for brand share.

So how to do that? Well obviously they had to be talking to people about why they should try Pepsi. They had to go for Triallists.

Fair enough, but what message was going to get coke drinkers to change brands?
Well, selling Pepsi according to cola values hadn’t worked. Why would anyone switch from Coke?

They needed something differentiating. They’d needed a reason. “Pepsi Tastes Better” is a good place to start, if you can back it up. They had research that could.

So they went for USP: Take the Pepsi challenge. The aggressive nature of advertising (selling a product in an appropriate way) became the Pepsi brand. Now they have better advertising than they’ve ever had, and none of it’s for Coke.

Meanwhile, coke was more interested in growing the market. They figured they could get much more growth from increasing the overall size of the market than they could from worrying about taking share from their smaller competitor.

So they kept selling Cola values. The problem was everyone, everywhere had already tried coke, so how do you increase sales? The answer was get existing customers to consume more.

So the message became “Don’t just have a Coke on your own, have one with a friend, it’s much nicer to share.” “I d like to buy the world a Coke.”

Finally, Coke virtually built the cola market, so it could just appropriate all the market values to itself.

They must do brand advertising. So, against the binary brief, coca-Cola went for: market growth, current consumers, brand.

So that’s how it works. You make three simple choices and you have one of eight possible advertising strategies.

All your advertising is briefed according to those choices. All your advertising is judged against them.

You can make the decision-making process as complex and thorough as you want, you can take days arguing back and forth over each decision. But at the end, you must have chosen only one of each of the alternatives.

That all sounds simple enough, right? Well it is simple. But it’s not easy. It’s very tough to make those choices. And that’s the whole point.

Most marketing people, clients and agencies, live in denial. They want their advertising to include all of those alternatives.

They don’t want to leave out anything. They refuse to make those choices. So they get made for them by the consumer. Remember the old analogy of throwing six tennis balls at the consumer, and they won’t catch any?

Well that’s not quite true. Throw six tennis balls at the consumer and they’ll probably catch one.

But there’s a five in one chance that it won’t be the one you wanted them to catch.
So make the decision up front, don’t trust to luck.

If you’re a creative, take a look at the brief you’re working on: have they made those choices?

If you’re a client, take a look at the advertising you’re being shown: Is it clear from the ads what those choices are?

Because if it isn’t clear to you, what possible chance has the consumer got of working it out?

That is, of course, assuming that we’re still doing advertising for consumers. And not just as some vague “extension of the PR component of the brand building exercise.”

Understand, there’s nothing wrong with brand-building. But only when it’s appropriate.
My problem is that, because it’s kept so vague and ephemeral, it’s used to cover up an awful lot of lazy thinking.

That’s why I think we need to demystify the whole process. We don’t want ordinary thinking and clever words.

We want clever thinking and ordinary words. That’s why it’s time to bring the “S” word out of the closet.

I think we can stop being ashamed of what we do, and pretending we’re doing something else.

I think the consumers have worked out what those little films between the programmers are for. I think they know they’re adverts. They just don’t know: who, what or why.

Keywords: selling, advertising, ad, ads, brand, market,


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