Sunday, October 23, 2011
What’s the meaning of “same-o, same-o?” It’s an idiom used to express “same-old, same-old.” It refers to doing something in the same way we’ve always done it or the same way everyone else is doing it. It is not a positive connotation. In fact, it suggests that the action, and/or result, is rather uninspiring, routine, dull.
What are we referring to with the use of this idiom? Well, we could be writing about the “sameness” of packaging, or promotions, or marketing strategies, or even products. But, in this issue of DISPATCHES, we are focusing on advertising (or, if you prefer, marketing communications). What’s same-o, same-o about it? It communicates the same thing, and says it in the same way, as competitors’ communications. And that’s far from being a good thing.
Recently, we participated in a meeting that was held in the New York offices of the design department for a large multi-national corporation. Festooned on the walls of the meeting room were ads taken from the very same publications this company placed their print advertising. The ads were those of category competitors. It was instantly apparent to us that the communications all carried the same messaging and delivered it in the same way. The company’s brands were no different.
How curious! In this “age of sameness,” where products do the same things and perform in the same ways, the marketing communications are also the same. In an age of sameness, customers (regardless of whether your customer is a consumer, health care professional, retailer, payer, etc.) commoditize whole categories of products. And, with the sameness in communications (content and presentation), marketers and their organizations commoditize their communications, further reinforcing customers’ devaluation of the advertised products.
Moreover, when your communications look like your competitors communications we have “wallpaper.” Namely, we’re talking about something that is in the distant background, and fails to get noticed. As Bill Bernbach, the legendary adman and founder of the agency Doyle, Dane and Bernbach said, “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.”
Just this past week we conducted a High Impact Ad College in Shanghai. We shared advertising from the many categories that the participants’ competed. The “sameness “ in messaging content and presentation prompted them to laugh, and scorn the work. We weren’t trying to be funny. But, they recognized how ridiculous it is to communicate the same message, in the same way, as their competitors – both external and, even, internal competitors.
Take the Challenge
Do you think your communications are different? Do you think they stand-out from the crowd to arrest, engage and compel customers? Take our challenge. Find the mediums that you use for supporting your brand. Gather your and your competitors’ communications and post it on a wall of one of your conference rooms, or even your office. Audit and compare the following among the competitive set:
- Claims – What messages are being delivered?
- Visuals – What is being visualized? How is it being visualized?
- Key Copy Words – Do they exist? What benefits do they communicate?
- Ideas – Are there any campaignable ideas (i.e., more than one in a row that can be translated to other mediums)? Are there differences? (We would say that if the idea is a metaphor then every competitor that uses a metaphor is on equal footing.)
- Execution – What execution formats are being used? (Celebrity formats are the same even if there is a difference in the celebrity being employed. Ditto for vignettes, announcer voiceovers, etc.)
What did you learn? Point proven! You suffer from same-o, same-o communications.
Why Do We Have “Sameness” of Communications?
What contributes to this same-o, same-o in messaging content and presentation? Here are some thoughts:
1. Dogma – Marketers delude themselves into believing that the elements common to these commercial messages is what it takes to communicate effectively. This traces to what may have worked in the past (but is clearly past its prime by virtue of nearly everyone doing it and/or you doing it for much too long). Paradoxically, it is reinforced by what everyone is doing in the present. The fact that others are doing the same things provides false comfort that the herd knows what it is doing. Bill Bernbach had something to say about this too: “Imitation can be commercial suicide.” This is particularly true if you have an inadequate share of voice, or market share. By the way, when the messaging is the same among various competitors, customers will tend to equate it to their brand. So in effect, you may be helping your competition.
2. Marketing Research – Before you start taking-up arms against us for being anti-research let us make it perfectly clear that we believe in marketing research. We believe in it as an aid to judgment. We believe in it when it is used to address the correct issue, and then the appropriate research design is employed. (The research must be designed to address the questions that need answering, rather than by what the standard tool available to you addresses.) Unfortunately, much of what passes itself-off as research gets at the past, addresses the wrong issues, uses standard designs (as in one size fits all) and drives sameness. As Bill Bernbach said, “Research can trap you in the past.” Your research is telling you what your competitors’ research is telling them and is, as such, driving you to engage in same-o, same-o. Why do we see so many smiling faces in print advertising? Because marketing research informs us it is what customers want to see. Consumers and health care professionals claim to like it because it communicates that people are satisfied. However, if we were to take one of these smiling faces from the ad and ask why the subject is smiling the vast majority of people would not be able to identify the benefit. (We know this because we’ve tested this!) We should be asking customers: a) can you identify the benefit; b) is it important to you; c) is it different than competition; and d) what is your purchase intent?
3. Lack of Belief in the Power of Advertising – We hear it over and over again. Advertising doesn’t work in our category. Well, here’s what we have to say to that: BS! It’s not that advertising doesn’t work, it’s that their advertising doesn’t work! It’s no wonder. Marketers are communicating the same message in the same way as competitors. Same-o, same-o. How can these marketers expect to drive preference when there is no basis for preference? This belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Marketers who don’t expect their communications to be effective don’t put much into it. And their agencies can sense it too. As a result, the product gets shortchanged. We shouldn’t have to tell anyone that advertising can build brands. We’ve seen what it has done for commodity products such as credit cards. American Express, Visa and, today, MasterCard, have benefited from having a relevant, meaningfully differentiated story and telling it in a novel way.
4. Less Risk – This perception of it being less risky to be part of the crowd versus apart from the crowd is a myth that needs to be dispelled. There is, at minimum a significant drag on return on investment and, more likely, a significant opportunity loss in being part of the crowd. Our messaging is, ultimately, lost on customers. As such, when we engage in same-o, same-o communications we leave our entry vulnerable to competitors who are willing to undercut our pricing, or provide relevant differentiation to steal market share. Now understand that we are not suggesting that marketers stand apart solely for the sake of being different. The differentiation must be relevant to the target. Moreover, it is important to checkout the new creative with your customers before activating it in the marketplace. We encounter risk by doing the same-o, same-o as our competitors, and also by launching communications that have not been assessed by customers.
5. Ignorance – Uh oh, we’ve said it. It is so sad. Many marketers don’t know how communications work. They’re ignorant. They are unaware of the proven principles, best practices and quality processes that contribute to leadership advertising. And, those that are in the know often have to swim their way upstream against the tide of senior managers who feed on and serve dogma, refuse to drive home from work without a report from marketing research, and are not convinced of the effectiveness of advertising. (Yet these same managers look for new mediums in hope of finding a silver bullet. Go figure.)
6. Mediocrity – This is not about knowledge. This is about attitude. One must have the desire to standout from the crowd. To put in the effort to excel. Few have the desire, particularly when one or more of the previous ills are prevalent. It takes courage to depart from the herd and champion ideas. Yes, champion ideas. Effective communications are far less about technique than they are about the aforementioned proven principles, best practices and quality processes. But even these are not enough for leadership advertising. It’s the stuff of ideas. And, what is common to the sameness in communications are not just executional elements, it is a lack of an idea that can arrest, engage and compel customers to action. It is the absence of drive and determination, driven by knowledge and courage, in creating work that one can be proud of.
Okay, so what can we do about it?
BOATS & HELICOPTERS:
Here are some suggestions to breakout of same-o, same-o communications:
1. Get smart – You wouldn’t enter the Golden Gloves boxing competition without learning how to box and/or training for the event. Why should we be entrusted with precious brand resources if we haven’t learned what makes for leadership advertising and trained to achieve it? If we don’t first learn before doing we will, in all likelihood, be squandering precious resources. If you are interested in learning how to achieve leadership communications contact us about our corporate and open programs.
2. Commit yourself to the road less traveled – Be committed to separate from the herd. Set your communications apart from those in your category. Don’t dare to air communications that are even remotely similar to your competitors. But don’t be foolhardy either. Checkout your communications with target-customers before launching to ensure it differentiates your offering in a way that is relevant, and meaningfully differentiated.
3. Be a Patron of Ideas – Get beyond execution. Be a patron and champion of ideas that connect with your customers. Look for ideas that tell your brand story in such a way that if another brand tried to tell the same story it would ring false. Bill Bernbach advises us to “say it in such a way that people will feel it in their gut. Because if they don’t feel it, nothing will happen.” Big ideas, like the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign, help make target-customers feel it deep in their gut and, as such, trigger behaviors.
4. Seek outcomes – What outcomes? Sales and market share growth, of course! The marketing communications process isn’t about developing ads or viz-aids or merchandising materials or packaging. It’s about achieving specific customer behavior objectives that will ring the cash register today, while building brand equity for the future. Measure your communications on their ability to stimulate the customer behavior you need, and intend. One more quote from Bill Bernbach. While this quote was directed at agency creative personnel it is relevant to this point, and to all client advertisers. “The purpose of advertising is to sell. This is what the client is paying for and if that goal does not permeate every idea you get, every word you write, every picture you take, you are a phony and ought to get out of the business.” Exactly.
Put an end to same-o, same-o communications Viva la (relevant) difference. But ensure this difference is relevant to the target-customer and capable of triggering customer behavior.
Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.