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Monday, June 2, 2014

Suck (suk) verb. Be very bad


During one of our Leadership Communications workshops a participant jutted his chin and threw out a challenge, which he disguised in the form of this question, “Can you tell me why my communications don’t work?” I responded, “Yes, of course. Your marketing communications suck.” We’re not trying to be funny. Sadly, there is a vast wasteland out there, regardless of the medium, filled with marketing communications that suck big time.


This is the third DISPATCHES’ article, in a series of five, to address this subject, “Why our communications suck” more times than not. The first article deals with The Essential Creative Brief, which provides the appropriate strategic direction for messaging (click here to review it). The second addresses the Campaign Idea, which is used to dramatize the strategic messaging (identified in the Essential Creative Brief) in compelling customer language (click here). This issue, Part 3, deals with “execution.”


You may ask, “What’s there to cover in execution? Didn’t we address it with the Campaign Idea?” Most certainly, the Campaign Idea is the “center of the plate” of the execution of your marketing communications. It is what provides your customers with the nourishment, and satisfaction, they need to choose your offering. The purpose of all other elements in the execution of the message is merely to serve-up the Campaign Idea in a way that showcases, and ensure that the target-customer absorbs, it.


The role of the execution is to:

  • Arrest the target-customer;
  • Engage the target to stay with the message;
  • Share the Campaign Idea in the most favorable way; and
  • Create strong brand linkage such that the target-customer remembers the brand, and its strategic message.


Execution plays a supporting role in presenting the Campaign Idea.


Arrest the Target-Customer

We are confronted with more than 2500 commercial messages per day. But few get through to us. And fewer yet stimulate us to act on behalf of the advertiser. Why? Getting beyond the obvious, a lack of a relevant, meaningfully differentiated strategic message, and the absence of a Campaign Idea, executions are so very similar. They’re like wallpaper. They are out there but we don’t really notice them. Beauty care communications carry the requisite models airbrushed to perfection. Pharmaceutical communications feature couples walking hand-in-hand on the beach, with their faithful Golden Retriever racing ahead or romping, with wagging tail, beside them. Medical Device & Diagnostic communications gratuitously feature a photo of the surgeon or the product itself. Oh sure, there are some variations on these themes (such as the smiling customer or patient). But in the end one execution is indistinguishable from another. Advertisers employ the same executional look, and feel, as their competitors. How can one possibly hope to break through the clutter and gain the attention of the target-customer this way? The answer is “YOU CAN’T!” The first task of the execution is to arrest the target-customer; stop her/him from going to the bathroom during the commercial break, or turning the page of that journal ad, or tuning-out the messenger on a face-to-face sales call. So your opening scene, line or headline has to be a grabber. It has to stand out.


Engage the Target-Customer

Okay, so let’s imagine we have arrested the target-customer. Our communication has caused them to stop. What’s next? That’s where engagement comes in and takes over. Engagement is about getting the target-customer to stick with you after you have captured her/his attention. The practice of turning-up the audio so it is louder than the programming is not engaging (nor is it arresting). It’s shouting! And, it’s likely to drive target-customers to run for cover (to the bathroom, kitchen, or another room). At the very least, if your target-customer is alive, s/he will turn down the volume and probably mutter some negative comment directed at your communication, and product. No one likes to be shouted at. And while the face that you display prominently in your communications may be looking out, making eye contact, and flashing a bright smile it will do little to add interest to your message. It will contribute to, at best, a pause, which will be quickly followed by a turn of the page, a changing of the channel, a stroke of the delete key.


The communication needs to connect and involve the target-customer. Connecting is about establishing a link with the target-customer that ties back to your offering, and what you are promising. Involving is about getting your target-customer to participate in your message. Scot Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, believes it’s important to get the audience to “connect the dots.” In other words, let them get involved in absorbing and discovering your messaging. He feels that the smarter the audience the more you can trust them to connect the dots. It helps them make the messaging their own and internalize it.


Many marketers confuse “entertaining” with “engaging.” Entertainment is only one way to engage. Nor is “humor” a sure-fire way to engage. These are merely approaches to engaging the target-customer. Don’t go into the communication development process with preconceived notions as to what approach you need. And, don’t let tonality define your approach. The approach is a function of the Campaign Idea. It should direct the approach that is eventually taken.


Executional Format

The execution needs to showcase the Campaign Idea. When you go into a steak restaurant and order their Porterhouse steak, it’s your center-of-the-plate. It’s your Campaign Idea. The jumbo baked potato with sour cream, and the accompanying sautéed broccoli, serve to complement the steak. That’s the role of the executional format, to complement, dress up, make the center-of-the-plate even more fulfilling.


There are a number of video (TVC, YouTube, etc.) executional formats: announcer voiceover, presenter, slice of life, demonstration, animation, and vignettes, to name the most frequent. Many global brands will choose announcer voice over. Why? For them, they believe it is more efficient. They shoot the commercial and then change the voiceover based upon the language spoken in a given country where it is aired. However, this efficiency is merely an illusion. In reality, this format rarely supports an idea. Moreover, indirect communication is less arresting, engaging and less memorable. Direct voice, as in the “presenter” format, is typically more effective. Of course, it depends upon the appropriateness, and charisma, of the presenter. By the way, our intension is not to tell you what format to use, but to awaken you to the role of the execution in showcasing the Campaign Idea, which carries your strategic communication. There are other proven principles in communicating with video, among one of which is “audio-visual synch.” This is about the words and pictures going together. Yes, there are more principles, many more.


When it comes to text (e.g., magazine, journal ads, advertorials, viz-aids, etc.), the headline, sub-head, visual and body copy comprise the execution. Even the font contributes to the execution. A common error is to focus on the brand identification (i.e., the logo and/or packaging) above and beyond the messaging. Another is to take a frame out of the video communication to use in a text format (such as a print ad). Yet another is to use reverse-out print (white fonts scratching through a swath of color), which often makes it very difficult for the reader to, well, read. Another error is to make the reader work to get through the communication by too-cute placement of the aforementioned elements. Target-customers will allow themselves to be engaged, but they will refuse to allow you to make them work. They just won’t do it! Additionally, so much of what passes for text communications is so very pedestrian, so very predictable.


One practice that enhances the effectiveness of print is to include a “creative twist.” A creative twist is a provocative element designed to engage the target-customer in a relevant way in presenting the Campaign Idea. The title of this series, “Why Your Communications Suck,” might be considered a provocative element. Art least one element needs to be twisted; otherwise the communication will be boring. If more than one element is twisted the communication will very likely confuse the target-customer. What you twist depends upon whether the communication is lengthy (like in a letter) or short (like in a postcard). In the instance of this series of articles, each of which is lengthy, the only part that can be twisted is … ? The title!


Don’t get locked into a specific medium, or format for that medium. Think of your communication as advancing the Campaign Idea. Follow proven principles and best practices to connect with the intended target-customer.


Brand Linkage

It’s critical that the communications link to the brand, and its message, if the marketer intends to drive sales to her/his brand versus the competition. When communications for products in a given category lack a Campaign Idea, tell a similar story, and use identical executional formats, the target-customer will typically associate it with their most often used brand (i.e., the leader). So, if you think about it, your communications may be reinforcing sales of your leading competitor. That sucks!


Once again there are some proven principles and best practices that we need to adopt if we are to create strong brand linkage. The most important are to: make your brand integral to the story you tell; make the brand, not the advertising, the hero; and link the brand with the Key Thought. Tell a story, and in a way, that only your brand could tell it.


It’s also important to stay single-minded in the communication. Resist the urge, and pressure from others, to add more to your messaging. Less is more. More merely serves to obfuscate the message, burden the communication, and undermine brand linkage. Oh, they may remember the brand but they’re not likely to remember the message. And, if they do remember the message, it’s unlikely that they will feel compelled to act on it.



Execution is another area where our communications can fail our brand. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make execution productive in arresting and engaging our target-customer, showcasing the Campaign Idea, and establishing strong brand linkage. Here are some actions for your consideration:


1)    Start with a Campaign Idea – Okay, we’re taking a step back (to Part 2 of this series of articles). But this is critical to successful communications. Remember, the Campaign Idea is the center-of-the plate of the execution. Don’t just start with a Campaign Idea, make is a BIG, juicy idea;


2)    Showcase the Campaign Idea – This is one of the key roles of the execution. Therefore, wrap the Campaign Idea in story. People, and target-customers are people, love good stories. They spark our interest and engage us. However, make the story integral to the brand, and its idea;


3)    Make it your brand’s story – Strive to make it a story that only your brand could tell, and tell it in a way that only your brand can tell it. Tell it in such a way that if another brand tried to tell the same story, or tell it in the same way, it would ring false. This will serve to establish linkage to your brand;


4)    Don’t be predictable – This is a build on the previous point. We would prefer to encourage you to be unique. But, something that is unique stands-out. Many marketers, and their risk-averse organizations, are fearful of standing-out. So, instead of suggesting something you are not likely to do, we’re suggesting that you refrain from doing what your competitors are doing. (That’s not so difficult, is it?) If they are using a “presenter” executional format then find another way to tell your story. Otherwise you are contributing to hanging wallpaper. We do not want our communications to be wallpaper, because it will not get noticed;


5)    Get “twisted” – Breaking out of the pack is not enough. It’s important to stop and engage the target-customer. Seek communications with a “creative twist” to help it emerge from the clutter, engage the target-customer and incite them to act in selecting your brand;


6)    Learn, and develop yourself, so you may be better equipped to develop Leadership Communications – To paraphrase the legendary adman, Bill Bernbach, your communications are not effective unless they sell. (He said, “It’s not creative unless it sells.”) Leadership communications do more than sell. They sell big time. Leadership communications stimulate the achievement of stretch business objectives by changing target-customer attitudes in a way that incites strategic behaviors. If you are really interested in developing leadership communications reading these DISPATCHES articles is a good start. But to go further, consider hosting our High Impact Communications College program. This program address: The Essential Creative Brief; BIG Campaign Idea; engaging execution; strong brand linkage; professional assessment of creative work; and skillful coaching to add-value in making the work more productive.  If you are interested in learning more reply to this email or call Richard at 847 256-8820.


It’s time to go from creating communications that suck to communications that are awesome. These will be communication you can be proud of having developed. These will be leadership communications.


Richard Czerniawski and Mike Maloney

Richard Czerniawski

430 Abbotsford Road

Kenilworth, Illinois 60043

tel 847.256.8820 fax 847.256.8847

reply to Richard: or



Mike Maloney

1506 West 13th

Austin, Texas 78703

tel 512.236.0971 fax 512.236.0972

reply to Mike: or

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