The marketing world is filled with trends and buzzwords and bull…oney, so we combined our more than 20 years of experience—geeze, when did that happen??—to pinpoint the elements of marketing, communications and branding that will never go out of style regardless of hot new mediums, industries, technology or data points. These are the trends that are not trends at all.
1) Be different.
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book and still goes unnoticed by the majority of marketers. We get it, every business tries to differentiate themselves from their competition, but rarely do they act on it. Ever since Apple's "1984" Super Bowl commercial dropped and asked us all to think different, we've all been trying to do so. When they zig, you should zag.
Did you hear about the time Burger King sent their customers to McDonald's to buy a Whopper? Or how Domino's gives you points for taking pictures of pizza, even if it's not theirs? Rational thinking tells you they're both bad ideas, but that's exactly why they are great. And both were effective.
While we're using consumer-facing examples to prove a point here, there are plenty of B2B examples out there. Our friends at furniture maker SIXINCH North America have become masters at being different. While their competition's marketing is focused on sleek product shots and minimalist design, SIXINCH is showcasing bright colors and illustrations that appear to have nothing to do with seating. Their marketing is focused on the experience their product brings to their customers.
They had one of the most unique showrooms at NeoCon this year, centered around a 1990s video game theme. You might be saying, "Ray, what's that got to do with baseball?" and that's the point. It's not about the seats. It's about the people using the seats. It's about trying to connect with people who are looking to mix some fun into their atmosphere, so why not have some fun?
Everyone does the same thing over and over again, and that's a HUGE opportunity for your business. If you don't take advantage of it, someone else eventually will.
2) Companies are people, too.
Yes, B2B and B2C marketing strategies exist for a reason, but at the crux of it, companies are made up of people and those people are the ones making the decisions. With their intuition and their hearts. They are basing it off personal experiences and interactions they've had with you, your product, with your brand. Relationship building is key. And you don't need to be face-to-face to do that successfully.
Growing up, there was one rule every member of my extended family abided by, regardless of age, location, insert whatever excuse you can come up with: If you receive a gift, write a thank-you note. The note didn't need to be anything long or fanciful, but it did need to be personal and meaningful. As our family grew, those notes helped us show our appreciation of the gift and of the family member who gave it, even if we couldn't be together.
Relationship building isn't just one thing; it's the sum of all parts. It's a thank-you note or a phone call. It's recalling a past conversation or moment when you see that person next. It's a comment on a social media post or a follow-up email. It's being in the moment and intentional when you speak with someone.
Red Wing Boots, a classic B2B/B2C crossover caught the attention of the world when they told incredible stories not about their boots but about the people wearing them. Even creating a hall of fame to honor in their name.
The best way to avoid becoming replaced by a robot is to stay human.
3) Linda, listen.
Performance and product, we can often forget to sit and listen. Leaving your employees and customers feeling like the "Linda, Linda, listen" kid. They may want you to hear a new idea, or what they think of a certain feature, or just that they want a cupcake, but you have to take the time to listen.
Here's a scenario for you: Ask someone to sell you a pen. Most will jump to the features and benefits of the pen. "It's easy to hold." "It will last longer." The problem here? Their assuming what you want from a pen, rather than just asking you. The point of this scenario is to show you that the first thing you should do whenever you get the chance to sell something is ask them a question. Are you even in the market for a writing utensil? This question-first approach works with selling anything. If you ask questions of your prospect, it gives you a chance to tailor your pitch or your story to what they're looking for.
Now, we get that this is a lot easier to do one-on-one. To scale this method for marketing, it really comes down to getting feedback from users and prospects and using that to tailor your product and story to provide a benefit that hits their sweet spot (remember, companies are people, too). Research, data and feedback are your versions of asking questions.
4) Tell a story (even if it's not about you).
Content is king, but it doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you're not saying anything of substance. Use your content marketing to set yourself apart in your industry. Use it to tell stories that are uniquely yours. Your customer service doesn't necessarily set you apart, and your products might not, either. Find out what does and tell that story. Whether it's your company's why, or a certain process, the impact your company had on a particular client, or even on its community. Stories allow you to humanize your brand, making your company more relatable.
Challenge yourself and your team to think creatively about storytelling. You don't have to tell a story about you. Actually, it's even better if you don't. You can tell a story about someone who embodies the same values as you. If you haven't been to Yeti's YouTube page, it's a must-watch for anyone with a pulse. Sure, there are product demos, but the stars of Yeti's content are people who live life on their own terms. I challenge you to even find the Yeti products in the "Yeti Presents" videos. Seriously, go spend some time there. Wven if you never come back to this story, you'll be gaining a master class level of storytelling skill...
Seriously? We didn't think you'd come back, good thing we finished this up, just in case. It's not just the romantic in us that's saying you should tell a story; even the little scientist inside us says so. Storytelling is scientifically proven to sell. We won't bore you with those details, but there are quite a few books you can read on the subject. Just Google it.
5) Give a darn.
People want to feel like they're part of something larger than themselves. Newman's Own has been donating its profits to charity since the early '90s. Toms has been giving shoes to kids since the start in 2006. More and more companies are building giving into their product and brand. The thought being, what's good for people is good for your business. It doesn't have to be charity, though. It can be a position that makes your solution part of the bigger picture. Something people can buy into.
Take our friends at InUnison Design. They actually use the give-a-darn mentality on many levels, including providing free services to nonprofit companies as well as thoughtfully selecting materials in their designs based on quality and longevity. They mindfully select products that won't soon find their way into a landfill. While humanity and sustainability aren't necessarily strategic marketing tactics on the surface, in the end they attract similarly minded clients. It's a marketing tool as much as it's good honest HUMAN gesture. Put good out and you get good back. It's that simple, and it has worked and will work for years to come.
DISCLAIMER: With great power comes great responsibility, so don't just use "good" as a sales tactic. Make it part of your DNA. It goes back to the culture of a company—not just slapping a logo on something but living and breathing a brand. Whether your mission is to bring an industry together or to create sustainable building materials, it's important to communicate that higher mission within your own walls in your culture and outside with your marketing, products and services.
6) Dream big, but think small.
Another classic for you here, but there's a reason Volkswagen's "Think Small" ad is known as one of the greatest of all time. The strategy never gets old. Never.
Smaller audiences: Rather than think about everyone as your audience, think about the small audience that's the best possible fit for what you're doing. Get them to love you. If you can do that, you can get more to love you. Even if you can't define a small audience, it does help if you can define who is not in your audience. Draw your line in the sand and say we're not going after this group. We're willing to sacrifice the retail sector if it means we're able to delight the healthcare sector. Go smaller and deeper, rather than wider and shallower. Again, this is easier said than done. There will be people in your company who think you're crazy, but you can point to proven cases where this works. Over and over again.
Smaller messages: People think microtargeting is new, but catering your marketing to different audiences isn't new. Don't be afraid to have a different message for different audiences. Geico has been a master of this for years. Geico caveman goes to one audience. Gecko to another. And so on and so on.
Smaller budgets: Don't be afraid to get scrappy. Your budget may be small, but if you center your work on a big idea that resonates with people, you can get away with your production quality being a little underwhelming. When you can, it's always worth it to hire experts, but don't be afraid to make something. Around here we take comments like, "Funny video but it looks like you shot it on an iPhone," as compliments.
Smaller phases: This doesn't just apply to ads but to building a product or evolving services. Don't be afraid to think big, but start with small phases 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. Our team is constantly challenging ourselves to design for today and tomorrow. We're often looking three steps ahead. This is incredibly important. The challenge comes with being able to take that big-picture view you see and divide it into little chunks you can accomplish along the way. We call it the Brick by Brick mentality and it's part of our DNA.
If you feel like your brand is caught up in the abyss of mediocrity, just try thinking smaller. Do all the little things better and it will start adding up to a better whole.
7) Lean on data but trust your gut.
What keeps most members of our profession from being replaced by robots is our ability to use intuition to solve challenges. Data is amazing because it gives you a chance to trust your gut and try crazy stuff with a net. Our Spidey senses tingle every time we get some fresh data, and with it a chance to come up with some ideas on how to take advantage of it. It's like walking a tightrope wire with a harness or swimming with sharks in a cage.
CP+B, the agency behind legendary brand campaigns, has been a champion of guts for a long time. Recently they've introduced a new system for creating and testing campaigns based on real-world data. They're calling it gut + and we love the way it balances creative with insights along the entire campaign creation process. We'll be honest, we're still trying to wrap our heads around how exactly this works, but we like the idea of using creativity and data together to lower the risks associated with doing bold work. If you test a bunch of good ideas before deciding which one to produce, your chances of that final production being a home run are better.
Need more proof? Look to the gutsiest campaigns from the most successful brands and agencies behind them—TBWA, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Wieden + Kennedy. Do you think the data said Nike should run a campaign starring a football player who hadn't played in three years? It depends how you look at the math.
8) Always leave them wanting more.
If you made it this far, you'd better bookmark this story, or if you're like Cole, just leave it open in a tab and come back to it later. Or as Howard Luck Gossage would say...
Cole and Jen